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Published: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:50:47 -0400


Vampires and Spies Dominate Frothy Fun Television Choices

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:01:00 -0400

Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies. CNN. Saturday, July 22, 9 p.m. Midnight, Texas. NBC. Monday, July 24, 10 p.m. It's the time of the television year, safely past the May upfronts where all of next season's advertising is sold and just before the big promotional push for the fall shows begins, when all the TV bosses flee for a few weeks to Malibu or the Hamptons or wherever it is that wealthy, imperious swine go to exchange tips on the most satisfying ways to whip the household help. And while the cat's away, the junior programmers will play, unleashing hordes of vampires, spies and what-have-you who would never see the airwaves if the grownups were around. The result is usually shows that are kind of fun if not necessarily any good. Which is a pretty fair summary of the week's premieres: NBC's pleasingly trashy spook opera Midnight, Texas; and the CNN spy documentary Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies, which is either a carefully coded revelation about American espionage or mammothly incompetent documentary filmmaking, take your pick. Midnight, Texas, is based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris, who authored the vampire novels that became HBO's epic True Blood. But if you're expecting a True Blood clone, you're going to be wildly disappointed; the two series of books are completely different. True Blood was about life in a creepy little Louisiana town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic fairies. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about a creepy little Texas town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic gypsy psychics. So, we're on, like, different sides of the moon here, or at least different sides of the Sabine River. Actually, the major difference in the two is the absence this time around of executive producer Alan Ball, who picked up one of the True Blood novels to pass the time after showing up early for a dentist's appointment and somehow divined in its pulpy goth confusion a tool with which to slice and dice culture, theology, sexuality, identity politics, and gender migration. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about biting people. Just as the mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse turned the ignition key in True Blood, ghost-whispering medium Manfred (François Arnaud, The Borgias) sets off the sparks in Midnight, Texas. Manfred's act is mostly fake, though he does occasionally hook up with a real spirit, almost always with disastrous results. Under pursuit by somebody he conned, he heads for tiny middle-of-nowhere Midnight, a place his grandmother—she's dead, but still full of the bad ideas that got her killed—tells him would make a good hideout. It turns out Grandma wasn't the first one to have the idea. Most of Midnight's population share allergies to garlic, wolfsbane, and silver bullets. The preacher (Yul Vazquez, Captain Phillips) gets a bit growly during full moons. The nightshift clerk at the pawnshop (Peter Mensah, True Blood) is friendly, but never seems to be around during the daytime. And then there's that mysterious shopkeeper Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley, Luke Cage). "Some people say she's a witch," a local cop warns Manfred. "Or a lesbian." Even the town cat has a lot more on his mind than mice. Midnight's unusual demographics are due in part to its metaphysical geography. "The veil between the living and the dead is awful thin here," one local explains to Manfred. (Go ahead, insert your own George Bush/Ted Cruz punchline here.) Not only that, they turn out to be an unruly lot, popping the veil at the slightest provocation, to drip (no, you don't want to know what) on the carpet, introduce their pet demons, and so forth. Add to that the problems with the town's non-metabolically-challenged citizens, who include a motorcycle gang whose comportment can be deduced by its name, Sons of Lucifer, and an overachieving professional hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel, Ballers) whose signature line is "I need ammo," and you can see how an ectoplasmic repair guy like Manfred would stay busy. He scarcely even has time to woo that cute bartender Creek, who is so re[...]

'Humans of Freedom Fest': Portraits from the Largest Annual Gathering of Libertarians

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:56:00 -0400

Editor's note: FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is the largest annual gathering of libertarians in the country. Today is the first day of the four-day long conference, which is being headlined in its 10th year by William Shatner, John Stossel, Greg Gutfeld, and others. Taking inspiration from the site Humans of New York, Reason is happy to offer Humans of FreedomFest, a series of portraits and brief interviews with various attendees. This is the first installment.

Victor the SnakeMannn


"This hand and this tattoo is in more pictures with celebrities than anybody else's hand or tattoo. I've got the most famous GOP tattoo."

Are you the black sheep of the family?

"Oh yeah. My dad was a Marine and a Democrat. And he was one of those guys who voted because of my mom, so his vote wouldn't be canceled out. I've been a conservative and a hippie for most of my life."

Jaden Stubbs and Roy Lee Stubbs


"My dad couldn't make it to this year's [FreedomFest], so I came with [my cousin's Jaden's] family. I earned my money so I could come."—Roy Lee (above, right)

You earned your money so you could come?

"I work. I do a little bit of flooring. Construction. I'm helping pay for gas. Paying for food."

"Our parents teach us to be individuals."—Jaden

Nick Cooper


What is your most controversial opinion?

"Among the general public? Eliminating the Federal Reserve. Among libertarians? I'm not a huge open-borders guy. There's a joke that if you get five libertarians in a room, you'll get 10 opinions."

Coming Thursday: "Stossel on Reason," New Video Collaboration with the Legend!

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 15:45:00 -0400

I'm excited to announce that tomorrow we will debut "Stossel on Reason," a collaboration with the libertarian news legend John Stossel. Stossel will be providing weekly documentary segments, video op-eds, and interviews and more for our website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. The first video is a look at how enterprising conservationists are trying to save rhinos from poachers by bio-engineering and 3D-printing replicas of the animal's sought-after horns.

Over the years, Stossel has been effusive in explanation of how encountering Reason changed his way of thinking. For instance, in his book Give Me a Break, he says that he spent time looking at right-wing and left-wing magazines before finding Reason during the Virginia Postrel years. "It was a revelation," he writes. "Here were writers who analyzed the benefits of free markets that I witnessed as a reporter. They called themselves libertarians, and their slogan was 'Free Minds and Free Markets.' I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but what they wrote sure made sense."

Here's the "sizzle reel" that the Stossel crew put together. Make sure to come back tomorrow—and to check your Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter feeds—for the very first "Stossel on Reason" collaboration.

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The Price of Press Bias

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

How seriously should one take President Trump's complaints about the press? About $37.06 a year seriously, to be precise. Trump tweeted earlier this week: "With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!" The most sinister interpretation of Trump's attacks on the press is that they are an effort to undermine public confidence in one of the few independent institutions that could challenge his grip on power. Trump's Republican Party controls Congress. Conservative-leaning justices hold four of nine Supreme Court seats. The Democratic Party is in disarray. That leaves the press—with the possible exception of the quasi-permanent federal bureaucracy—as the most formidable obstacle to whatever Trump wants to get done. The most charitable interpretation of Trump's complaint is that, even if he may be exaggerating or painting with an excessively broad brush, he's nonetheless performing a valuable service by highlighting a genuine problem. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. But Trump is right about the "highly slanted" part. I can say that as someone who has been documenting bias at The New York Times in items for my website now for 17 years. How can I quantify the cost of press bias so precisely—$37.06 a year? That's the amount my property taxes increased after the City of Boston voted to approve a tax surcharge. The slanted coverage came from the local National Public Radio affiliate, WGBH, which aired an indefensible piece that quoted two people in favor of the tax increase but not a single person who opposed it. Now, one might argue that the press is just serving its audience of left-leaning Boston-area voters. The voters approved the tax increase in 2016 with about 74 percent in favor. But it's a bit of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg" type of question. Are WGBH and the Boston Globe liberal because the citizens of Boston are? Or do the people of Boston lean left because the press is feeding them a diet of slanted information on which to make their judgments? The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. The new property tax bill from the city, admirable in its transparency, has a line that itemizes the amount of the "community preservation act" surcharge. It's a line that didn't exist on last year's tax bill. The line is labeled "community preservation act," but I prefer to think of it as a "media bias" tax. For $37.06, I could buy a pair of shoes for one of my children, make a donation to WGBH, or hire a local teenager to mow the lawn or shovel snow off my driveway. Instead, the money will go to local politicians for spending on their pet projects. It's rare that the cost of press bias is as clear, and the consequence of it as direct, as with this property tax increase. But the price we pay is there, in every doctor's bill and every health insurance bill, every electric bill, every estimated tax payment, every payroll tax deduction, every sales tax imposed on every purchase at every store or restaurant. When the press tilts in favor of higher taxes and more regulation, against energy exploration, and for more government spending, democracy is indeed, as Trump accurately observes, distorted. The true cost, on annual basis, is probably well more than my $37.06 tax increase. The First Amendment wisely prevents Congress from making any laws to address this problem. But President Trump is free to complain. And the rest of us are free to read, watch, and listen with skeptical eyes, ears, and minds, and to call out egregious cases of slant when we see them. If we don't, we'll all be stuck with the bill.[...]

McCain and the Trump-Russia Dossier: What Did He Know, and When?

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Did John McCain and a controversial D.C. lobbying group conspire to get the infamous "pee dossier" into the hands of the press? A lawsuit making its way through court in the UK hopes to determine just what role the senator and his associates had in making the lurid dossier public. New filings in the lawsuit, obtained by McClatchy, detail how David Kramer—employed by the nonprofit and purportedly non-political McCain Institute—acted as a representative of McCain in the Arizona senator's dealings on sensitive intelligence measures. It also reveals that McCain was one of a just few people with whom the dossier's author, ex-British spy Christopher Steele, shared a copy of his final findings. So how did they get from there to publication in Buzzfeed? One possible—and intriguing—pathway lies with Orion Strategies, a group known for using the media and the McCain machinery to lobby on behalf of foreign governments. While the Steele suit doesn't mention Orion, a closer look at the two-man lobbying shop showcases too-close-for-comfort ties to many principal players in the dossier's leak and a long history of influencing McCain policy and press coverage when it comes to Russia-related issues. By now we know the basics behind the dubious document: it was prepared by Steele in December, largely from work done between June and November 2016 for Fusion GPS, a D.C.-based political consulting firm. Fusion was paid first by anti-Trump Republicans and later by Hillary Clinton supporters to produce evidence of Trump's alleged financial and political ties to Russia. In January 2017, a leaked copy of the dossier was published by Buzzfeed, under the editorial direction of Ben Smith. Smith said the document was obtained by reporter Ken Bensinger and vociferously defended Buzzfeed's decision to run a document it called "not just unconfirmed" but also inclusive of "clear" errors. "This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country," Smith said on Meet the Press. It was McCain who gave the FBI the dossier, in December. It alleges the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to "hack" the U.S. election. "The Russian regime had been behind the leak of embarrassing email messages emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the Wikileaks platform," and as a result Trump had agreed to "sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue," the dossier claimed. It also claimed Trump had personally commissioned a "golden showers" show from Russian sex workers. A federal investigation was reportedly underway before McCain handed over the dossier, but his copy was a more complete version than the one obtained earlier by U.S. intelligence agencies. McCain said he turned over the document out of civic duty. "I received that information from a credible source and I thought the only thing for me to do would be to give to the FBI," he told Fox News in January. Having it and doing nothing "would be a breach of my oath of office." Yet McCain's well-known feud with Trump, his longtime advocacy against Russia, and a possible personal beef with the firm behind the dossier—Fusion was also paid by Russia to push for the repeal of sanctions authored by McCain as part of the Magnitsky Act—provide reason to suspect altruism may not have been McCain's sole motive. It was "late summer/August 2016" when Steele began briefing reporters on his research, according to a recent document filed by Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, in response to the lawsuit Aleksei Gubarev filed against them. Gubarev, a Russian venture capitalist, claims he and his companies (Webzilla BV, Webzilla Limited, and XBT Holding S.A.) were falsely identified as part of the DNC hacking operation in the dossier authored by Steele and published by Buzzfeed. Steele's company first began working with Fusion back in 2010, according to what he told the court. In 20[...]

Millennials Stare Down Looming Midlife in Friends from College

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Friends from College. Available now on Netflix. Nothing jingles at the box office like that first intimation of generational mortality. From the wistful yuppies in The Big Chill mourning the loss of their Woodstockian certainty that property is theft to the crushed Gen-Xers of St. Elmo's Fire who've just realized that the baby boomers already said, thought, did, ate, drank, smoked and fornicated everything worthwhile, age-demographic genocide is one of Hollywood's best loved themes. And now time's up for the millennials, who with Netflix's new series Friends from College get to marvel at the squalid failure of their lives while weeping with nostalgia for 9/11, the dot-com bubble and all the other deliciously dope days of their youth. But as clichés go, you could do a lot worse than Friends from College. It mostly avoids portentous "Voice of a Generation" claptrap and sticks to a character-driven story of six college pals who for 20 years have clung to a dysfunctional friendship that's less a lifeboat than a pocketful of lead weights. If the tagline for The Big Chill was, "In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm," Friends from College's might be, "You need your friends to remind you that, though the world has grown, you're still the same shallow, emotionally stunted dork you were as a teenager." At the center of the phalanx of six pushing-40 Harvard alumni is Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele), a novelist whose work is wildly popular with critics and ruthlessly shunned by readers. His move to New York with his wife and fellow alum Lisa (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother), a former ACLU lawyer who has just jumped ship to the corporate dark side, reunites the circle of friends—but also threatens to surface some damaging secrets in a group that imagines it has none. The most threatening is Ethan's long-running but totally clandestine affair with upper-crust interior designer Sam (Annie Parisse, Vinyl), which predates even his marriage. Almost as complicated is Ethan's relationship with another member of the group, Max (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years), who doubles as his agent. Their friendship has, until now, kept Max from saying what he really thinks of Ethan's flock of literary awards: "You won a ton of shit that one's ever heard of." He advises Ethan to give on writing the Great American Novel and turn to young-adult books. Specifically: "Vampires with cancer. They live forever, they die forever!" Rounding out the group are Marianne, (Jae Suh Park, The Mindy Project) an aspiring actress who has just hit the apogee of her career with a role in a waaaaaay off-Broadway (specifically, in a high-school gym) reverse-gender production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nick (Nat Faxon, Married), a trust-fund playboy whose major concern in life is the impending demise of the C-word. "When they came for 'retard,'" I said, 'that's okay,'" he broods over a drink. "When they came for 'that's so gay,' I said nothing. But you gotta draw the line—you can't take away 'cunt'!" Superficially, the interactions among these characters often concern the here and now, particularly the concerns of impending middle age from infertility to infidelity. But often they seemed to be literally continuing arguments from sophomore year, as when one yells, out of the blue, "You are such a Kantian!" during an argument over a dead rabbit. (Don't ask.) And nearly always they seem to take place within harsh emotional and intellectual parameters established 20 years earlier. Sighs Sam's exasperated husband, who didn't go to Harvard, after one dinner: "Every time you get together with them, you all become a bunch of little bitches, all this sniping and shoving." And the petty backbiting has taken a toll over the decades, among other thing, in unasked question like: What's lacking in my marriage that has fueled a 20-year-affair? And why hasn't my spouse sensed anything wrong in all that time? That's[...]

Game of Thrones: Libertarian Edition

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:20:00 -0400

As HBO's blockbuster series Game of Thrones returns for its seventh season, Reason offers its own freedom-filled parody. A libertarian paradise north of the wall? What's happened to Westeros' social security trust fund? Should it take low-income Dothraki four years to get a hair-braiding license? Watch!

Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Shot and edited by Bragg and Bragg. Starring Andrew Heaton, Austin Bragg, and Remy.

About 6 minutes.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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Salvation Will Have You Hoping for the World’s End

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Salvation. CBS. Wednesday, July 12, 9 p.m. In one of the first scenes of Salvation, an astrophysicist whose giant hydrocephalic brain is second only to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to explain to a bunch of dumb-cluck MIT students and professors that a meteor could hit the earth like at any second because even a cyclopean intelligence like his own doesn't know where every single meteor is all the time. "There have been at least five mass-extinction events in the last few hundred million years, people!" he shouts into the glassy-eyed faces of the bovine MIT fools. "Five!" What's interesting about this—and, honestly, just about the only thing interesting about Salvation—is the show's conceit that Americans would be dumbfounded at the suggestion of a meteor striking the Earth. Tales of planetary fender-benders have been sci-fi bestsellers since a couple of rogue planets came our way in 1933's When Worlds Collide. (Spoiler alert: there was a sequel called After Worlds Collide.) Hollywood alone has generated at least a dozen pictures in which inauspicious encounters with random space crap have variously left Earth battered by quakes and tidal waves (1998's Deep Impact), under attack by homicidal vending machines (1986's Maximum Overdrive), being devoured by hungry plants (1963's Day Of The Triffids), or besieged by zombies who can be vanquished only by locked-and-loaded Valley Girls (1984's Night Of The Comet). In the most terrifying of all, 1958's The Blob, a puddle of meteorite gloop threatened to destroy Burt Bacharach's career before it even began. That gloop would be a towering dramatic presence if it came crashing into Salvation, the latest and least summer popcorn series from CBS. Insufficiently inane to be funny, way too sloppy and foolish to qualify as tense, it's a grimmest foretelling ever of the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, just a strangling snore. As usual in big-bang apocalypse tales, a lone scientist—in this case a nerdy MIT grad student named Liam Cole who's mapping the entire universe so people will stop running out of gas on their way to Ursa Minor—blunders onto the track of a meteor hot-rodding its way in from Jupiter, six months off. Cole is reluctant to get involved with a lot of save-the-world-and-whatnot because he doesn't want to be distracted from porking this smoking little sci-fi writer chick he recently picked up (Jacqueline Byers, Roadie). Nerdporn, by the way, is quite common in Salvation, with hot girls constantly flopping down to be ravished, their heads spinning—whether in lustful ardor or despair that the human race is worth saving, I could never quite tell—at pickup lines like, "When two celestial bodies cross paths, it can change their trajectories forever." Eventually, though, Cole teams with astrophysicist-tech zillionaire Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera, Big Little Lies), a Randian madman who believes the entire human race can be reconstituted from 160 survivors of the impending collision. They, naturally, will escape in rockets manufactured by one of his companies at a very reasonable price. Their chief adversary is slithery Department of Defense official Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale, Hawaii Five-O), whose bearing suggests a credibility unseen in military affairs since Saddam Hussein's spokesman Comical Ali was doing daily briefings in Baghdad. Wavering someplace between the two sides is Grace Barrows, a Pentagon press spokesman who would really love to help keep the Earth from being blasted into space confetti, you know, but it's just so exhausting being a single mom and all. It seems the Defense Department has known all along about the meteor. And even though all its rockets keep blowing up on their launching pads, the Pentagon won't be deterred from its plan of shooting a transmogrifier—I mean, gravity tractor—at the asteroid to modify its path and [...]

Do Americans Have a Right to Know If Their Government Is Incompetent?

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

A new report put together by the staff of the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs warns of an "avalanche" of leaks from President Donald Trump's administration. The report contends these leaks are threats to our country's safety and security, but we should be very wary about accepting such assertions given how little evidence the report provides. From Inauguration Day to May 25, the report notes, at least 125 stories have appeared in the news that are sourced from "leaked information potentially damaging national security." That's about a leak a day. The authors calculate this is seven times higher than the number of similar leaks in the early months of George W. Bush and Barack Obama's administrations. The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a "harsh light" and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama. The implication is that people within the intelligence apparatus want to undermine Trump so much that they're willing to compromise national security. The report concludes: President Trump and his administration have faced apparent leaks on nearly a daily basis, potentially imperiling national security at a time of growing threats at home and abroad. The commander-in-chief needs to be able to effectively manage U.S. security, intelligence operations and foreign relations without worrying that his most private meetings, calls and deliberations will be outed for the entire world to see. As matter of establishing a baseline of "shared facts" that everybody can agree upon here—it's obviously true that more people working within the Trump administration are willing to leak information to the press that makes the White House look bad than previous administrations. Clearly there are people within the intelligence community and in other positions of prominence who are deeply concerned about the behavior of Trump and his staff. Whether or not their fears are justified, it would be stupid to pretend that the number of unauthorized leaks hasn't gone up. But it would also be stupid to blindly accept the assertion that these leaks all have the potential to damage national security. The report does not go through any of these news stories to detail what American interest is threatened by the leak of confidential information. It merely argues that the threat exists because the disclosures violate the law. At one point the report even says that the justifications people often use for leaks—that they're bringing to light illegal behavior or bad policies—don't have any legal foundation. This is often true, which is why Edward Snowden is hiding in Russia rather than arguing his case in the American courts. But the implication is that the government should punish leakers even when they provide valuable, vital information to the public. As if to undercut the report's argument, the appendix lists all the headlines, media outlets, and bylines of the news stories written from these leaks. Do these sound like stories that threaten national security, or are these stories that provide information Americans should know about their government's or president's behavior? "More immigration measures weighed" – Washington Post "Trump had heated exchange with Australian PM, talked 'tough hombres' with Mexican leader" – CNN "Justice Dept. warned Trump team about Flynn's contacts with Russia" – Associated Press "DHS report casts doubt on need for Trump travel ban" – Washington Post "Chaotic Yemen raid still reverberates for president" – Washington Post "Justice Dept. is weighing prosecution of Assange" – New York Times "NSA feared hacking tool would get out. Then it did." – Washington Post That last story is particularly important, because it details how our own National Security Agency is responsibl[...]

Impeach Eisenhower!

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 12:29:00 -0400

Impeachment talk has been in the air this week, with rallies in dozens of cities calling for Donald Trump to be ousted from office. Impeachment talk has been in the air for nearly a quarter-century now—you have to go back to George H.W. Bush for a president who didn't inspire a big chunk of the opposition to talk about kicking him out of the White House, and even then there was a small chunk of the opposition who wanted to kick him out of the White House. There always is.

In that spirit, here's the anarcho-pacifist Beat writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading his 1958 poem "Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower" (with bonus video footage assembled ably by an anonymous YouTuber):

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If you'd rather read to yourself than be read to, you can see the text of the poem here.

Ferlinghetti's four pages of antiwar verse did not inspire a mass movement to remove Eisenhower from office (nor was that the point), but it did help inspire a young broadcaster named Lorenzo Milam to try to start a pacifist radio station in Washington, D.C. I tell that story in chapter three of my book Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America; the short version is that it was 1958, the Cold War was in full swing, and the FCC wasn't about to license a dissident radio outlet in the nation's capital. After two years Milam gave up, applied for a license in Seattle instead (on the theory that maybe the authorities wouldn't care about an outlet located far away from the nation's capital), eventually got the go-ahead, and founded KRAB-FM, which in turn inspired a wave of listener-supported non-state, non-commercial radio stations around the country. Not a bad legacy. Certainly a better legacy than actually impeaching Eisenhower, which would've just saddled us with Richard Nixon a decade early.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Snowfall Presents Cracked View of Drug History

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Snowfall. FX. Wedneday, July 5, 10 p.m. John Singleton was once the buzz king of Hollywood. At 24, he was the youngest nominee ever for a best directing Oscar for Boyz n the Hood, which he wrote while a film student at the University of Southern California. His film launched a whole generation of stars. (Cuba Gooding, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Regina King, and Angela Bassett all got their first major exposure in Boyz.) These days, however, the biggest buzz around Singleton is about films from which he's been bounced. He mostly works on remakes and sequels with lots of flying lead and crashing cars; he hasn't written or directed a movie or, apparently, had a thought of any importance this century. Nothing in the hackneyed and ahistorical Snowfall is likely to change that. Billing itself as the story of "how crack began," Snowfall is really just a collection of cliches and set pieces you've already seen in other, much better narcodramas. Set in Compton in 1983, Snowfall represents the collision of two overworked genres: the growing-up-in-the-hood melodrama and the drug-dealer-as-rebellious-resistance-leader action flick. And it's all wrapped up in the old story, thoroughly debunked but eternally popular among hipsters who just know it must be true, that the CIA foisted crack cocaine on America to finance a war in Central America. All your standard characters are present: Franklin Saint (British TV actor Damson Idris), the straight-arrow ghetto kid who plays by the rules until one morning when he realizes "the game's rigged ... I'm rewriting the rules." His loving mom Cissy (Michael Hyatt, True Detective), leery about Franklin's new direction. His uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph, The Shield), a burnt-out coke dealer who still knows the ropes. Lucia Villanueva (Emily Rios, Quinceanera), the daughter of a Mexican crime lord desperate to show daddy that girls can be ruthless mafiosi, too. Avi Drexler (Alon Moni, Body Of Lies), a crazed Israeli cocaine trafficker, because what's a conspiracy film in the ghetto without a sinister Jew? Gustavo Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Love Ranch), a dim but brawny ex-wrestler who just wants to be loved, if only by murderers and torturers. And Teddy McDonald (stage actor Carter Hudson), a CIA officer "banished" to Los Angeles (such a comedown once you've seen the bright lights of Kabul) for behavior too mischievous even for his employer. What sets all these characters spinning toward one another is the arrival in town of a vicious Nicaraguan contra (TV character actor Juan Javier Cardenas) with a planeful of Colombian cocaine and a need for a sales force. Working together, the group comes up with cheap, addictive crack, the greatest drug marketing ploy of all time until the Yves Saint Laurent TV ad for its Belle d'Opium commercial, in which a seductive blonde model plugged perfume by appearing to shoot up. As history, Snowfall is drooling idiocy. The story of the CIA using cocaine to underwrite the anti-communist civil war in Nicaragua at a time when Congress cut off funding, advanced in the late 1990s by a San Jose Mercury News reporter who was long on ambition and short on facts, was shot to pieces by other news media. (Not to mention that Congress didn't cut funding to the contras until 1985, two years after the time frame of Snowfall.) And there is no evidence that crack originated in Los Angeles; it seems to have been derived from the smoking of coca paste, which was popular in Peru and the Bahamas in the 1970s and then spread to the east coast of the United States. But, okay, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may have been thinly sourced, but it was pretty entertaining anyway. So perhaps we shouldn't judge Snowfall as a history text. Unfortunately, it's no better as an entertainment vehicle. No[...]

Fox Hosts for Legalizing Heroin

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 12:54:00 -0400

Like a lot of 78-year-old white men, my father was watching Fox News Monday, and decided to click the next channel over to catch the rapid-fire libertarian stylings of our friend Kennedy. There, in a segment interviewing Wall Street Journal U.S. News Editor Glenn Hall about a recent story on drug smugglers increasingly sending their product through the mail, the eponymous host of the fast-growing show (up 35 percent in overall ratings in the second quarter this year) pivoted immediately to the underlying policy: KENNEDY: So, this is obviously sad and tragic, the fact that opioid overdoses have increased in recent years. But I don't think the problem is that FedEx and UPS and the postal service need more screening tools. I think the problem is that heroin is illegal. And so people go to nefarious means in order to get a drug they would get anyway. […] If you legalize these things and people have access to them and may know what's in them, do you think knowing the ingredients in a drug you're taking increases or decreases the chance that you will overdose on it? HALL: Well, I don't know the answer to that question exactly. KENNEDY: It decreases the chance because you know what's in there, so you know exactly what you put in your body. This isn't Kennedy's first time making the on-air case for heroin legalization—back in March 2013, when then-host John Stossel talked about how he once struggled with legalizing hard drugs, but then concluded that owning one's body is a "powerful" counter-argument, the non-drug-using former MTV VJ replied "amen," and added: "having drugs be illegal is downright deadly. It's dangerous. And, you know, Ron Paul always made a good point, which was, let's say heroin was made legal right now, like who really wants to go out and jack their vein with heroin?" And in September of last year, when our own Katherine Mangu-Ward reacted to a story about elephant tranquilizers getting cut into smack by saying "this is why we want to legalize heroin now because it would save lives," Kennedy replied "Yes, absolutely. But instead, the problem here is, you know, not that legislators and…city council members are going to wake up and smell the cat food and realize that prohibition is directly leading to death." But Monday's blunt comment was not some response to a how-far-would-you-go libertarian dare, or a legalize-bazookas type of thought experiment, but rather a deliberate insertion of anti-prohibition policy argument into a story that the Bill O'Reillys of the world would surely treat as reason for another crackdown on opioids. As such, I flagged the occasion on Twitter: "I think the problem is that heroin is illegal." -- @KennedyNation, on Fox Business Network, on the show she anchors. — Matt Welch (@MattWelch) June 27, 2017 One guy responded that Greg Gutfeld and his former Red Eye-mate Andy Levy (who leaves Fox tomorrow, BTW) were pro-legalization, to which I added Kat Timpf, co-host of The Specialists, though with the caveat that I didn't know if they all went as far as heroin. Yesterday, Timpf cleared that up: Yes, I'm pro-legalization. Including heroin! — Kat Timpf (@KatTimpf) June 28, 2017 Gutfeld, meanwhile, has made the conservative case for hard-drug legalization multiple times on air, including in November 2013, when The Five co-host said, "I believe heroin could be legalized if done in a delivery system which makes it more like a cigarette." What's striking about all this is that the comments from Kennedy and Timpf come one year to the week that the Libertarian Party nominee for president, a man who previously was most famous for being the first major elected official in the U.S. to favor legalizing marijuana, could not bring himself to fully advocate legalizing heroin at a crucial CNN to[...]

Gawker Documentary Fails to Make Case for Publishing Sex Tape

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. Available now on Netflix. I'm afraid that merely to disclose the subject of the Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is about—the dire threat to the First Amendment posed by a jury's decision that a website did not have a right to show a stolen video of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan's penis in action—is to give away the entire plot: Yes, this is the latest and greatest chapter in the news media's eternal proclamation of martyrdom at the hands of prigs and fascists. And yes, it rises to such an awesome level of whining self-aggrandization that it threatens to spoil the good name of hogwash. So, spoiler alert. The case that's the subject of Nobody Speak is possibly the most fascinating and least significant in the three-century history of media litigation. It's full of depraved sex, villainous intrigue, and lurid betrayals. But its ultimate contribution to legal canon was not exactly epic. As longtime media lawyer Charles Glasser (an interview of whom would have been a welcome addition to Nobody Speak) wrote after the verdict, the case's lesson was simple: "Don't publish secretly-made sex tapes." The story begins in 2012, when celebrity wrestler Hogan (nom de real life: Terry Bollea) got an unusual gesture of friendship from his best pal, radio shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge: Hey, wanna sleep with my wife? Hogan knew this was a frequent recreational activity of Bubba (nom de non-perv world: Todd Alan Clem) and the busty Mrs. Sponge and had previously declined to participate But this time, down on his luck—and wallet—after a series of business reverses and an expensive divorce, he agreed. What Hogan didn't know was that the Sponges routinely and secretly taped these marital guest appearances. (After the case blew up, Bubba claimed Hogan knew all about the taping, but he wouldn't repeat it under oath during the trial.) That might not have mattered except that a copy of the recording, apparently stolen by one of Bubba's employees, found its way into the hands of the scabby gossip website Gawker. Founded in 2002, Gawker regularly trafficked in sex tapes and such scoops as the grooming of Republican senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell's pubic hair. Founder Nick Denton, the British journalist who built Gawker into the centerpiece of a $200 million online media empire, routinely defended his celebrity-bullying scandal sheet as a champion of truth and democracy in a world of lickspittle mainstream media. "Everybody knows what usually appears, certainly, in the establishment media bears little resemblance to what's really going on," he says in Nobody Speak. Speaking truth to Bristol Palin and Justin Beiber! Gawker posted a chunk of the tape; Hogan's attorney asked it be taken down, and when Gawker refused, filed a breach of privacy lawsuit. What followed was a series of potboiler plot twists: Another sex tape, with racist remarks by Hogan that would get him booted out of pro wrestling; intimations that Gawker, wittingly or not, was acting as a stalking horse for blackmailers; an FBI sting against a sex-tape broker; and a series of legal stratagems by Hogan's attorneys that the Gawker legal team considered inexplicably stupid but which turned out to be brilliant. The real stupidity occurred on the Gawker side of the courtroom, none so lethally damaging as the swaggering arrogance of the site's former editor, A.J. Daulerio, who wrote the story accompanying the Hogan sex tape. During his testimony, Daulerio insisted that images of boinking celebrities are always newsworthy. Always? wondered Hogan's attorney. Well, maybe not if the celebrity was a child, Daulerio conceded dismissively. Under what age? asked the attorney. "Four," sneere[...]

The Mist Gets Lost in a Baffling Cloud

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Mist. Spike. Thursday, June 22, 10 p.m. Stephen King's novella The Mist, published back in 1980 before he was too important to suffer editors, was a marvel of taut, muscular prose. A bunch of shoppers are marooned inside a grocery store when a heavy mist suddenly rolls across their small town. Inside it are a pack of fantastic creatures: Pterodactyls. Giant bugs. Other huge things, indiscernible through the fog except for their enormous, questing tentacles. They are hungry. They eat. A handful of people escape the grocery store and drive as fast and as far as they can in hopes of escape, but as the story ends, there's no real sign that they've succeeded. The whole thing was sort of like walking outside and discovering you had stumbled into a better-dubbed and shockingly realistic Japanese monster movie. There was a single subplot that extended directly from the action: the devolution of many of the people inside the store into superstitious religious mania. No soap-opera detritus, no Sophie's-choice moments about saving kids or mistresses over wives, no Freudian agonistes, not even all that much time pondering the cause of the events. The Mist landed like a brutally hard punch. Frank Darabont's 2007 film adaptation took almost exactly the same approach to great effect (though he did add a Hitchcockian surprise ending that, purposefully or not, seriously subverted King's contemptuous treatment of religion). If it doesn't seem to you that The Mist sounds like a good fit for a television series, then I've got bad news and worse news. The bad news is that you'll never be a production executive at Spike, Viacom's manly-men cable channel, which thought a TV version of The Mist sounded like a capital idea. The worse news is that a legion of demons did not burst from the ninth circle of Hell during production, set upon the cast and crew with fangs and claws, and leave them dangling from the sound-stage lighting towers by their own shredded intestines. Okay, it's possible I'm overreacting here just a smidge. But Spike's version of The Mist is one dumb piece of work. It's a "reimagination" (Spike, mindful of the scant resemblance of its show to King's novella or Darabont's film, has been careful to avoid the word "remake") by Danish TV producer Christian Torpe, whose shows are much beloved there. But his notion of U.S. politics and culture seems to be drawn in equal parts from a video archive divided between smarmy liberal-moralist soap operas like Peyton Place and redneck drive-in paranoia like Jackson County Jail. Cops beat the bejeezus out of practically anybody they encounter, just on general principle. A teenage girl who reports she was roofied and raped at a party is immediately branded a lying slut by the whole town. A popular teacher is fired for explaining to her high school class where babies come from. (And it's not from giant prehistoric eggs coaxed into hatching by tiny Japanese fertility goddesses.) That's just in the first episode. By week two, I'm sure we'll have worked our way to the Scopes Trial, Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, and a mayor who takes a sledge hammer to Elvis Presley on the steps of city hall. Even if Torpe's characters hijacked a time machine to escape 1955 America, though, his conception of The Mist is dreadfully wrongheaded. Virtually every one of his changes conspires to rob the work of its gut-punch power. Stretching out the show's timeline and giving its characters extensive back stories (even if they were less silly ones than these) distracts from the story's sheer horror. Trapping the survivors in a shopping mall instead of a grocery store dissipates its air of claustrophobia. What you're left with is a version of As the World Turns in which[...]

Shakespeare and the Assassins

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:59:00 -0400

(image) Last weekend's Big Fake Outrage involved a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar that features a Caesar based on Donald Trump. Caesar, as every schoolboy knows, is murdered in Act 3, so the show was denounced as "assassination porn" (note: the play is famously anti-assassination) that proves just how uniquely crazy Trump has made people (note: modernized productions of Julius Caesar are a cliché, and just a few years ago a high-profile performance featured a Caesar based on Barack Obama). Under different circumstances the hubbub might have faded by now, but on Wednesday some jerk tried to kill a bunch of congressmen and then some people started suggesting he was somehow influenced by the play (note: that's nuts). So we're still hearing about it.

But enough about Julius Caesar. Want to know what a tasteless assassination-themed appropriation of Shakespeare really sounds like? Check out MacBird!, Barbara Garson's MacBeth parody in which Lyndon Johnson plots the death of John F. Kennedy. Below you can hear a performance directed by Phil Austin, of Firesign Theatre fame, that aired on one of the Pacifica radio stations in 1967. If you'd rather read the script, it's here; but honestly, it's more fun when you can hear the actors' faux-Kennedy accents:

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The original performance of the play starred Stacy Keach in the LBJ role. Sadly, I don't have a recording of that one.

Bonus links: Matthew Lasar has more on MacBird! here. Garson has a cameo in my review of a rather different piece of literature here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another Friday A/V Club with a Firesign Theatre connection, go here.