Subscribe: Brian Doherty: Reason Magazine articles.
http://reason.com/staff/show/132.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
Tags:
bilton  bitcoin  book  buchanan  fed  good  government  liberland  maclean  people  public  road  silk road  silk  years 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Brian Doherty: Reason Magazine articles.

Brian Doherty: Reason.com articles.





Updated: 2017-12-15T00:00:00-05:00

 



Bojack Horseman

2017-12-01T12:00:00-05:00

(image) Bojack Horseman, Netflix's cartoon about a washed-up sitcom star who happens to be a horse, has drawn critical acclaim for its masterful mix of animated humor and emotionally harrowing takes on depression and personal failure.

The fourth season, which dropped in September, delivers more gutpunching tearjerkers: an adopted kid seeking her mother, a son dealing with a mother he despises suffering from dementia, and the agonies of miscarriage, infertility, and troubled partnerships.

In a year with painfully weird real-life politics, this season's extended B story involves a goofily well-meaning but ignorant and easily manipulated canine TV star, Mr. Peanutbutter, running for governor of California against a seasoned, policy-smart, and dignified woodchuck.

While doubtless conceptualized before Trump won, the show winningly avoids heavy-handed callbacks to our lived political reality and depicts electoral politics as a realm of near-pure maddening absurdity, where voter allegiance shifts for silly reasons and to ridiculous effect. (An episode on fracking leads to a group of celebrities eating Zach Braff. An episode on gun control leads to a statewide weapons ban—painted, alas, as a trouble-free good idea.)

Our pasts, our minds, our families, and our ambitions are serious stuff, the show tells us; attempts to win our support with dumb promises are best seen as an absurd joke.




In Search of the Elusive Bitcoin Billionaire

2017-11-28T15:45:00-05:00

I am not a bitcoin multimillionaire. I could have been: I was aware of the cryptocurrency's existence in July 2010. I should have been: Dozens of smart people with sympatico worldviews to my own eagerly explained to me how the creation of an online "blockchain"—a reliable yet anonymous ledger of transactions—had the potential to change the world. And I would have been: Had I shelled out, say, $2,000 on this innovative, anti-inflationary currency even a lazy six weeks after I was introduced to it, today I would be sitting on 28,571 bitcoins, the equivalent at press time of over $212 million in cash. But I didn't. Libertarians have long contemplated the potential power of a currency free of government interference, control, or devaluation. Unsurprisingly, I found early bitcoin fanatics galore at Ron Paul campaign rallies and meetups, Free State Project get-togethers, and seasteader soirees. Back in 2011, finding someone to sell you bitcoins was difficult for U.S. citizens. Many of the enthusiasts I talked to then were excited about blockchain "mining" operations—essentially a way to anonymously use electricity and computer processing power to solve cryptographic problems and receive a certain set amount of bitcoin as a reward. This was a marvelous technological leap, an internet-enabled delivery on the promise libertarians had been buzzing about ever since F.A. Hayek's 1976 monograph Denationalization of Money. "The question we have to consider," the Nobel Prize–winning economist had written, "is whether competition between the issuers of clearly distinguishable kinds of currency consisting of different units would not give us a better kind of money than we have ever had." There are a number of qualities people might seek in a currency—such as relative stability in value—that bitcoin definitely lacks. But if you measure "better" by an ability to acquire more in goods and services, bitcoin so far has proven far superior to the U.S. dollar and other countries' government-issued "fiat" currencies. Less than a decade into its life, the digital token has enjoyed what is likely the largest, quickest rise in asset value in the history of the human race. From a starting point of $0.003, a single bitcoin is now worth $7,432—an increase in dollar terms of 2.4 millionfold in less than eight years. Yet those early adopters weren't focused primarily on wealth magnification. "No one thought of it as an investment vehicle" in those first couple of years, says Isaac Morehouse, a libertarian who runs a startup apprentice program called Praxis. "It felt more like fun, and like a charity, even. Like, if you are a libertarian you should buy it and use it, bear this cost and inconvenience, to support it." The concept of having stateless money alone was enough. "It was like Christians saying, 'Go support this movie' because it has a Christian message, not necessarily because it's a great movie. Holding bitcoin felt like being part of history, like holding a piece of the Berlin Wall." Bitcoin always had its bulls, of course. Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden's Pirate Party, a political party dedicated to informational freedom and privacy, announced on his website in May 2011 that he was going all-in on bitcoin with everything he had. Why? Because he foresaw a thousandfold increase in the cryptocoin's value within four years. Falkvinge was brutally savaged on Reddit's "r/bitcoin" online message board for such hubris. The top-voted comment on his post (reflecting mass opinion of bitcoin enthusiasts) declared that "I can't even begin to comprehend the depths of the stupidity of that kind of reasoning." Well, Falkvinge was wrong. It took six years, not four, for bitcoin's value to first hit $3,000, a thousand times the $3 it was worth when he made the announcement. Then again, it took just another four months for it to break $6,000. The $74 Million Pizzas My first traceable record of seeing the word bitcoin was in a pitch email from then–Reason intern Jesse Kline on July 1, 2010, less than 18 [...]



The Great James Buchanan Conspiracy

2017-10-01T12:00:00-04:00

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, Viking, 334 pages, $28 The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing." She takes it for granted that when public choice economists complain that special-interest groups profit from government, they're aiming to protect t[...]



The Show That Never Ends

2017-10-01T12:00:00-04:00

(image) In The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, David Weigel, a Reason contributing editor and a political reporter for The Washington Post, surveys the history of "progressive rock," a genre not beholden to American blues but relying instead on warped call-backs to European folk and the futuristic sounds of moog synthesizers.

For a while, this beautiful and ambitious musical form enjoyed massive worldly success. But huge bands such as Yes, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer were too quickly scorned by rock's vox populi and intelligentsia alike, accused of untoward grandiosity and boring pretension. Weigel tells engaging tales from the rise and the fall of some of the genre's biggest players.

Culture mavens of the 1970s will be reminded of disco's similar swift tumble from empyrean heights to barroom punchline. In our petty cultural high school, both the nerdy grind of prog and the flighty party girl of disco are too quickly mocked.

That's a shame: Both genres shaped a pop decade, and each deserves more of the sort of respectful consideration Weigel gives to prog rock.




A Really Good Day

2017-08-01T12:00:00-04:00

(image) Novelist and memoirist Ayelet Waldman does a good turn for the cause of sane drug policy reform under the guise of a quirky self-help memoir. Her project is in the title: She experimentally microdoses herself with LSD in pursuit of A Really Good Day (Knopf).

The author is charmingly—even goofily—fanatical about minimizing risk. She researches every conceivable health problem that could arise from taking 10 micrograms of the drug every three days for one month. And she frets over LSD's illegality, fearing that obtaining it might be dangerous and worrying about how others will perceive her if they know she's using.

Waldman winningly relates the problems with mood disorders, pain, productivity, and her relationship with her husband—the writer Michael Chabon—that led her to seek a solution in LSD. Finally, she describes how the self-guided therapy for the most part made her a more calm, happy, and open person (while never actually getting her high).

Many readers will come to this book looking for a memoir of a mom dealing with mental health issues. Waldman slyly leads them into a convincing medical and legal case for legalizing even strong drugs like psychedelics and MDMA, which she also admits to taking to shore up her marriage.




What Nancy MacLean Gets Wrong About James Buchanan

2017-07-20T21:00:00-04:00

The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing." She takes it for granted that when public choice economists complain that special-interest groups profit from government, they're aiming to protect the rich from the poor; it never seems to occur[...]



Selling the Silk Road Soap Opera

2017-07-15T06:00:00-04:00

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, by Nick Bilton, Portfolio/Penguin, 329 pages, $27 Nick Bilton's American Kingpin is the story of the hunt for Ross Ulbricht, the man behind the website Silk Road. Its flaws resemble those of Bilton's previous book, the 2013 bestseller Hatching Twitter (Portfolio/Penguin), which largely ignored the social media platform's meaning to its users or the world at large, instead dishing on the founders' squabbles over control, credit, and money. Similarly, while the ostensible topic of American Kingpin is an amazing combination of technologies that produced something new under the sun—a way to buy drugs that tended to be safe from the law as well as from rip-offs and overdoses—Bilton doesn't seriously explore the technical or social side of Silk Road. Nor does he delve much into the legal and ethical issues surrounding the drug war. Instead he tells a lurid cops-and-crooks story. The founder of Silk Road wanted to improve the world by creating an anonymous online space where people who enjoyed mind-altering substances could buy and sell them with no physical risk from each other, connected with a community rating system that added unprecedented—though never perfect—safety and quality control to the drug market. Starting in 2010, as the prosecution tells it, Ross Ulbricht worked relentlessly for about three years scaling the site up and keeping it running nearly flawlessly. Throughout this time, he was harassed by hackers, extortionists, and rivals. He is alleged to have earned for that work at least 174,000 bitcoins, whose current value would be over $300 million. Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI in October 2013, and is now in New York's Metropolitan Correction Center under a life sentence with no chance of parole. Bilton's "narrative non-fiction" approach means no fact is directly sourced in the text (though it's generally easy enough to guess who told him what). The boringly relentless quest for novelistic detail that comes along with that approach both overburdens the reader and underserves anyone interested in understanding the website. Readers of this book won't find a good explanation of the system whereby Silk Road protected buyers and sellers by holding their money in a cleverly designed escrow system, for example, but they'll get plenty of paragraphs about how certain federal building plazas looked or what was on the radio as a cop drove around on a certain day. Bilton got an old girlfriend of Ulbricht's to spill hours' worth of stories, and he transcribes what feels like nearly every tidbit he gleaned from her, to little benefit to reader understanding of the story of the Silk Road and its meaning. As you might expect from a book that relies heavily on police sources, the vast majority of the narrative pushes the reader toward the police perspective. We get long, paranoid interior monologues from two different law enforcement folk convinced that Silk Road presented a danger in some way equivalent to 9/11. Bilton never misses a chance to mention Silk Road gun sales, though guns were available on the site for only a brief time and were even then a tiny portion of its business (which was overwhelmingly, though the book doesn't explain this, pot, acid, and MDMA). Bilton does mention the libertarian vision that inspired Ulbricht, even name-dropping Murray Rothbard and describing a bewildered cop searching a Barnes & Noble for books on the Mises Institute. But that cop, as Bilton expresses it, sees libertarianism and Austrian economics as nothing but "justifications for doing things…without taking responsibility for how those actions might affect other people." In Bilton's good-guys-and-bad-guys context, Ulbricht's ideas come across as the dorm-room delusions and lame excuses of a villain. Meanwhile, so you don't miss the point about the evils of drugs, Bi[...]



Cassandra of the Crash: An Interview With Former Dallas Fed Researcher Danielle DiMartino Booth

2017-06-17T06:00:00-04:00

Danielle DiMartino Booth worked for nine eventful years at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas from 2006 to 2015 under Chairman and CEO Richard Fisher. Even prior to her Fed stint, as a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, Booth had written that "a huge amount of work will be required in the coming years to address the fallout of the largest financial bubble in history…far beyond the realm of residential real estate." She writes about her experiences in the new book Fed Up: An Insider's Take on Why the Federal Reserve is Bad for America (Portfolio/Penguin). Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Booth by phone shortly after the Fed announced in March its third interest rate target hike since 2006. Q: Is the Fed on track to interest rate sanity now? A: It's too little, too late. [Federal Reserve Chair] Janet Yellen continues to be drawn to her academic roots as a labor economist, and wants to keep rates lower for longer [because she hopes it will] bring marginal workers off the sidelines. But the price is what we are giving up in tomorrow's financial instability. Q: Do you think Fed policy might have influenced the past few years' stock market run-up? A: Might? You can connect the dots. With the lowest interest rates in 5,000 years, you have companies borrowing to buy back shares and have earnings per share go up. It's mathematical. Thank you, Fed! Yet what have they done in creating anything of lasting economic sustained growth? Look at productivity growth, and you'll see it's a whole lot of nothing. I'm not casting stones [at the companies whose stock price is going up]. They are behaving rationally in a world where central bankers are behaving irrationally. Q: Is propping up Wall Street at the expense of Main Street a meaningful way to critique the past decade of Fed policy? A: Check the average yield on a certificate of deposit [and it's clear normal savers, who don't want to play the stock market, are in trouble]. Even if you take the garbled inflation metric the Fed uses that doesn't apply to anything on planet Earth, core CPI [Consumer Price Index, which doesn't count things like energy and food that most Americans spend a lot on], you see Main Street cannot be prudent in its investment decisions. My 70-year-old retired mother asks, "Shouldn't I have something higher yield?" But I say, "Mom, you are 70, you are not getting junk bonds." Q: You make a bit of a joke in your book aimed at Ron Paul and his end/audit-the-Fed movement. A: My issue with Ron Paul is that if you install a political-agenda-free individual in leadership of the Fed, it won't need to be audited and will run itself appropriately. People can be put into the position of leading the Fed who have been on the receiving end of Fed policy [as businesspeople] and don't need it to be a shrine to [John Maynard] Keynes [the British economist associated with the idea that government often should borrow and spend to jumpstart economic growth]. There is not enough diversity in the way economics is approached inside the Fed, too much groupthink and too many academics.…Hire people who can read a balance sheet! [The real reform the Fed needs] is to take away its 1977 dual mandate [to keep both inflation and unemployment low]. Take it back to a single mandate to make the dollar in our wallet buy the same tomorrow as it does today, and call it a day. Q: You're critical of the bailout mentality, but you also think that not bailing out Lehman Brothers may have been a mistake. What can be done about "too big to fail"? A: We need to just take the taxpayer safety net out from underneath risk taking and bring back a two- to three-page [version of] the Glass-Steagall Act, [dictating] not that [a financial institution] shouldn't be able to engage in risky behavior. Just take taxpayer backing from any activity considered to be too risky. Risk takers should always be all[...]



Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story

2017-06-04T00:00:00-04:00

(image) In his latest work, cartoonist Peter Bagge (a Reason contributing editor) continues his venture into serious historical biography. The artist followed up his book-length comic about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger (Woman Rebel) with Fire!! (Drawn & Quarterly). His topic: the Harlem renaissance novelist, playwright, and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.

What Bagge seems to love most about Hurston, and gets across ably, is the fierce and ever-blossoming independence that led her, among other things, to celebrate the inherent values of black culture, from American southern life to Haitian voodoo, over white liberal uplifters' attempts to change them.

Fire!! perhaps tries to cover too many incidents over the course of 72 pages, though the copious historical text notes fill in many blanks. Hurston is remembered by many libertarians for being one of the few writers from her milieu to oppose statism and socialism. But Bagge doesn't bog her story down in politics.

Instead, he delivers a tale that's charmingly human (yet also tinged with sadness) about how a strong-willed contrarian's life of freewheeling adventure can lead simultaneously to glory and to deep loneliness.




American Kingpin Treats Ross Ulbricht's Life and Trial Like a Soap Opera

2017-05-30T12:40:00-04:00

Nick Bilton's American Kingpin tells the story of the hunt for Ross Ulbricht, the man who launched the website Silk Road. Its flaws resemble those of Bilton's previous book, the 2013 bestseller Hatching Twitter, which largely ignored the social media platform's meaning to its users or the world at large, instead dishing on the founders' squabbles over control, credit, and money. While the ostensible topic of American Kingpin is an amazing combination of technologies that produced something new under the sun—a way to buy drugs that tended to be safe from the law as well as from rip-offs and overdoses—Bilton doesn't seriously explore the technical or social side of Silk Road. Nor does he delve much into the legal and ethical issues surrounding the drug war. Instead he tells a lurid cops-and-crooks story. The founder of Silk Road wanted to improve the world by creating an anonymous online space where people who enjoyed mind-altering substances could buy and sell them with no physical risk from each other, connected with a community rating system that added unprecedented—though never perfect—safety and quality control to the drug market. Starting in 2010, Ross Ulbricht worked relentlessly, as his prosecutors would have it, for about three years scaling the site up and keeping it running nearly flawlessly. Throughout this time, he was harassed by hackers, extortionists, and rivals. He is alleged to have earned for that work at least 174,000 bitcoins, whose current value would be over $300 million. The FBI arrested Ulbricht in October 2013, and he is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center. (The conviction and sentence are both under appeal, a fact the book never mentions.) Bilton's "narrative non-fiction" approach means no fact is directly sourced in the text (though it's usually easy to discern who told him what). It also entails a boringly relentless quest for novelistic detail that both overburdens the reader and underserves anyone interested in understanding Silk Road. Readers of this book won't find a good explanation of the system whereby the platform protected buyers and sellers by holding their money in a cleverly design escrow system, for example. But they'll get plenty of paragraphs on how certain federal building plazas looked or what was on the radio as a cop drove around on a certain day. Bilton got an old girlfriend of Ulbricht's to spill hours' worth of stories, and he transcribes what feels like nearly every tidbit he gleaned from her; this brings little benefit to any reader's understanding of the Silk Road's workings or meaning. As you might expect from a book that relies heavily on police sources, the vast majority of the narrative pushes the reader toward the police perspective. We get long, paranoid interior monologues from two different cops convinced that the platform presented a danger in some way equivalent to 9/11. Bilton never misses a chance to mention Silk Road gun sales, though guns were available on the site for only a brief time and were even then a tiny portion of its business (which was overwhelmingly, though the book doesn't explain this, devoted to pot, acid, and MDMA). Bilton does mention the libertarian vision that inspired Ulbricht, even name-dropping Murray Rothbard and describing a bewildered cop searching a Barnes & Noble for books on the Mises Institute. But that cop, as Bilton expresses it, sees libertarianism and Austrian economics as nothing but "justifications for doing things...without taking responsibility for how those actions might affect other people." In Bilton's good-guys-and-bad-guys context, Ulbricht's ideas come across as the dorm-room delusions and lame excuses of a villain. Meanwhile, just so you don't miss the point about the evils of drugs, [...]



Seasteading in Paradise

2017-05-21T06:00:00-04:00

For nearly a decade, the Seasteading Institute has been working to create autonomous floating communities on the ocean, where settlers can make their own rules de novo, unbound by the principalities and powers based on land. Founded by Google software engineer Patri Friedman—grandson of the libertarian economist Milton Friedman and son of the anarchist legal theorist and economist David Friedman—it has weathered its share of thin years, previously dwindling to a two-staffer, no-office operation. But on January 13 in San Francisco's Infinity Club Lounge, institute chief Randolph Hencken signed a memorandum of understanding with a new partner, one Jean-Christophe Bouissou**, and put the construction of an actual seastead onto the cusp of reality. See also: 'To Live and Let Live' - The micronation of Liberland turns 2 Bouissou is no buccaneer or eccentric billionaire. He is minister of housing for French Polynesia, a collection of 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific, technically an "overseas collectivity" of France. Seasteading will not begin on the government-free open seas after all. If Hencken, Bouissou, and their respective colleagues have their way, the first seastead will float next year in a lagoon within French Polynesian waters. As Hencken prepared to sign the agreement, he declared that this shift from a freewheeling vision of a libertarian society in the open ocean to a more tightly managed experiment in an existing nation's territory was probably inevitable. "We are not turning our backs on who we are," he said just before the ceremony, "but we are recognizing that when we made the choice in 2012 that we weren't going to the open ocean—we didn't have a billion dollars to build a floating city—that we'd have to engage in the politics of nations. It's challenging, but that's the reality of the human world, right?" French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch was supposed to be there, but he had to stay behind to tend to some minor upheaval in his cabinet. (Bouissou informed the audience that he got on the plane in Tahiti as minister of tourism but landed in California as minister of housing.) But none of this was a big deal, Fritch assured the crowd via Skype. Bouissou was there representing the government's intention that seasteading will happen in French Polynesia. The agreement commits the parties to "studies addressing the technical and legal feasibility of the project in French Polynesia" and to preparing a "special governing framework allowing the creation of the Floating Island Project located in an innovative special economic zone." Since the Seasteading Institute is an educational nonprofit, the signing ceremony was also the public debut of a for-profit spinoff called Blue Frontiers, which intends to build, develop, and manage the first Polynesian seastead. Considering all that can go wrong when trying to craft a bold plan to save the planet from its political, economic, and environmental troubles, the path to the agreement was surprisingly short and untroubled. The Polynesian Fixer Marc Collins is kind of a big deal. Around Tahiti and its sister islands, he knows people who know people, and he knows all the people they know. A former Silicon Valley resident himself, Collins grew up in Mexico and made his bones in French Polynesia as a retail jewelry king and an internet service provider telecom magnate. He also worked in the Polynesian government for two years as minister of tourism**. He claims to have once been the only person on the islands with a paper subscription to Wired magazine. So Collins was hip to the scene that produced the seasteaders—he'd been reading about them since 2008. He noticed a 2015 article on Wired's website that said the seasteaders were ready to downsize their vision from a deep-s[...]



'To Live and Let Live'

2017-05-21T06:00:00-04:00

Thanks to a long-standing border dispute between two parts of the former Yugoslavia, there was a little slice of unclaimed land on the west bank of the Danube River. Croatia would prefer recognizing a border more closely corresponding to an older flow of the Danube, while Serbia is happy with the current Danube-defined border. That leaves a teardrop-shaped piece of land about 7 square kilometers on the Croatian side that neither country wants to claim. In April 2015, Vit Jedlicka, a Czech activist and market analyst, declared the disputed turf terra nullius and established his own country there: Liberland. In contrast with the gradualist approach taken by seasteaders and charter city founders, Liberlanders essentially came at Croatia "with both middle fingers up right away and just talked to the press," says Joe McKinney of the Startup Societies Foundation. Since then, Jedlicka has been traveling the globe flacking for a nation that will govern according to the principles of Bastiat, Mises, and Rothbard. Liberland's motto is "to live and let live." Its constitution vows, "No law shall prohibit any act or omission which does not directly harm any other Person or cause unwarranted suffering to an animal capable of conscious behaviour or harm to the environment beyond the boundaries of one's property." It also declares that the tiny nation will never go into debt, raise an army, or start a war. No one lives in Liberland. For one thing, Croatian law enforcement tends to arrest anyone who tries to enter. For another, there's nowhere to live. The microstate boasts a single structure: an old logging storage house without water or power. The ramshackle building was pictured on Liberland's website in late February festooned with the country's yellow and black flag. It's unclear how the flag got there. Neither Jedlicka nor others associated with Liberland will say, but Liberland's website insists this flag raising marks "their permanent presence in the area." What's more, "the Liberland government announced a plan to restore the building on its territory" and, shades of seasteading, "to begin construction of a floating Liberland community on the Danube River." Jedlicka and his people are holding an event in April to celebrate the second anniversary of Liberland's founding, but the website advertising the festival admits that "we are unable to stop at Liberland due to current regulations in force on the River Danube." Technically, Liberland has around 300 citizens (all living abroad, obviously), but Jedlicka boasts over 430,000 online applicants for citizenship, a national budget so far of over $200,000, and even a hint of an "in" with the Trump administration. Jedlicka came to America for the inauguration and told The Washington Post of "friends of friends" connections, saying that "Trump being in place definitely opened new doors" for Liberland. Jedlicka seems untroubled by the lack of resident citizens. "We can achieve 100 percent of our goals even without having full access to our territory," he says. The current model relies on "e-citizenship" and registering businesses—though the benefits of such registration are not yet clear. The latest Liberland brochure does promise a "tax advantage" and speculates that Liberland's digital currency, the "Merit," will become "another global alternative digital currency." And Jedlicka insisted in a March email that "companies operate under Liberland voluntary tax and regulations.…We are also talking about institutions like Liberland Red Cross, Liberland Settlement association or Bank of Liberland.…We are working on state of art company registry and we will as first jurisdiction offer companies to issue their shares on blockchain." What the state lacks is recognition from any ot[...]



We Told You So

2017-04-02T00:00:00-04:00

Like most comics devotees of the late 20th century, Gary Groth—co-founder of America's leading publisher of high-quality comics, Fantagraphics Books—started off as a superhero obsessive. But Groth grew out of that passion, and he loved a good fight. So in the mid-'70s he started slamming his aesthetic foes and advocating for smarter, more literary, more adult comics in his pugnacious and brilliant magazine The Comics Journal. By the early 1980s, he was seeking out and publishing such comics despite the total lack of a demonstrated market for such things.

Over the next four decades, Fantagraphics launched or elevated the careers of many of modern comics' most vital and brilliant creators, including Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, and Reason's own Peter Bagge. Publications of Robert Crumb, Charles Schulz, and others have established the publishing house as the medium's top archivist and curator as well.

We Told You So: Comics As Art is an excellent oral history of Fantagraphics by Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean. Histories of artsy young rebels changing the world are too often self-indulgent and unconvincing, or vaguely tawdy and juvenile. We Told You So, though, makes a compelling case for the revolutionary nature of the undertaking while being pleasingly self-aware about the childish absurdity of the flawed humans involved.

Fantagraphics, a portmanteau of fantasy and graphics, turned out to be a marvelously apt name. The notion of comics as a rich, vast literary art was pretty much just Gary Groth's fantasy. Forty years down the line, it's wonderfully real.




Revisiting Restrictions on the Right to Bear Arms

2017-03-22T06:00:00-04:00

You can't legally own a gun if you have been convicted of most felonies with a potential sentence of more than one year of imprisonment (or, if it's a misdemeanor, more than two years). Federal law, at 922(g)(1) of the U.S. Code, makes that clear. But some offenders who were banned from possessing firearms have succeeded in getting lower courts and a federal appeals court to agree that the statute can, in certain applications, violate people's Second Amendment rights.

In January, the federal government applied for certiorari to the Supreme Court in Binderup v. Holder, which consolidates two such cases.

One of the plaintiffs is Daniel Binderup, who had a consensual but illegal sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in 1998. He was sentenced to probation for three years under a misdemeanor conviction. The federal government believes this bars him from legal gun ownership forever, as it was a crime for which he could have been (though he wasn't) given over two years' incarceration.

The other plaintiff is Julio Suarez, who was found with a gun in his car in Maryland without a carry license. He was given 180 days of prison in a suspended sentence, plus a fine and probation.

Attorney Alan Gura, who won two previous Supreme Court cases for Second Amendment rights—Heller in 2008 and McDonald in 2010—is one of Binderup's lawyers. At issue, he says, is whether 922(g)(1) should cover people whose crimes present no evidence of danger to the public, now that gun ownership has been recognized by the Heller decision as an individual constitutional right.

One of the court filings from Binderup's legal team sums up the relevant issue well: "not one word of the Government's brief discusses the critical issue in this as-applied Second Amendment challenge: whether Daniel Binderup's possession of firearms would be in any way dangerous."

In a complicated September 2016 decision, an en banc panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Binderup's and Suarez's convictions "were not serious enough to strip them of their Second Amendment rights." Reasons given included that the offenses were nonviolent and earned light sentences.

The government hopes the Supreme Court will reconsider, and its certiorari petition spells out what's at stake from its perspective: "Section 922(g)(1) is by far the most frequently applied…firearms disqualification, forming the basis for thousands of criminal prosecutions and tens of thousands of firearm-purchase denials each year."

Gura already has other 922(g)(1) challenges in process and indicates many more could be waiting in the wings.




Bear

2017-02-01T12:00:00-05:00

(image) Robert Greenfield's Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III (Thomas Dunne) is the first biography of America's most legendary LSD manufacturer and sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, occupations melded in mutual desire to blow minds. Grandson of a Kentucky governor, the outlaw chemist was eventually caught. But given the enormous extent of his illegal warping of the consciousness of the '60s generation—likely 10 million doses' worth—it's almost a miracle that he served only three years in prison for his crimes against the "establishment" in all its manifestations, political, intellectual, and spiritual.