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Preview: Katherine Mangu-Ward: Reason Magazine articles.

Katherine Mangu-Ward: Reason.com articles.





Updated: 2017-04-28T00:00:00-04:00

 



Good Neighbors Can Make Good Fences

2017-04-09T06:00:00-04:00

Good fences make good neighbors, or so Robert Frost reminds us in his annoyingly overused and frequently misquoted high school literature class staple. The poem that made the adage famous actually offers a more ambiguous take on the utility of border barriers than its signature line would suggest, with the speaker musing: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence." The question of what exactly is being walled in or walled out by Donald Trump's barrier—he issued commands for the "immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border" in a January 25 executive order—is trickier to answer than it initially appears. The short answer, illegal immigrants, is an unsatisfactory one, in part because so many other goals tend to get lumped in once the policy rationalization process gets rolling, including drug interdiction, terrorism prevention, and tariff enforcement. The question of who will be offended is easier. From Trump's unflattering remarks about Mexican immigrants while announcing his candidacy in June 2015 to his ongoing insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall, much offense has been given, and much taken. During the campaign, Trump flew to visit Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Upon returning home, the candidate claimed that they had discussed the wall but not who would pay for it—an assertion his counterpart denied. Shortly after his inauguration, tensions built around a planned visit by the Mexican president to the north. "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall," Trump tweeted, "then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting." When Peña Nieto did just that, Trump made it clear that he would consider garnishing some of the $26 billion in annual remittances from the U.S. to Mexico. The Associated Press also reported the following astonishing threat by Trump, gleaned from (disputed) transcripts of a phone conversation between the two men: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." Simultaneously on the table during that period: A 20 percent tax on goods at the Mexican border, though that idea was withdrawn almost as quickly as it was proposed. When Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on February 28, he reiterated his intention: "We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border," he told the assembled lawmakers. This time, notably, he didn't say that Mexico would pay for it, reportedly as part of a deal he struck with Peña Nieto. The following day, however, his vice president reiterated that this was still the plan. "He didn't say Mexico is going to pay for it," said George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. "Well, they are," Mike Pence quickly replied. In Mexico City in late February, when I visited for a conference sponsored by Arizona State University, the chattering classes were waiting with bated breath to hear whether Trump's capricious treatment of their leader would be returned. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were cooling their heels before a planned meeting with the Mexican president. Would they be turned away? In the end, the three men spoke briefly before the American officials returned to U.S. soil. While the intrigue was titillating, the general sense was that conversations with Cabinet members didn't much matter, because Donald Trump could and would do whatever he liked. "The only thing that is certain is uncertainty," said El Universal columnist and journalism professor Ricardo Raphael. "Trump talks about renegotiating [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and figuring out Mexico's 'debt' for the wall later, but we have no way of knowing how he will extract what he imposed. Some ways will be worse than others." That sort of uncertainty is a tax on human activity. It makes every decision more costly. It's expensive for the busin[...]



The World's Smallest Camera Drone

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

(image) It sounds like a deranged hummingbird, it has a comically small range, and its photo quality is abysmal, but there's something weirdly appealing about The World's Smallest Camera Drone ($26.99 from the BoingBoing online store; also available at Amazon).

The temptation to personify the wee unmanned aerial vehicle—with its cheerful red and blue led lights, drunken bumblebee flight patterns, fleeting battery life, and tendency toward rotor jams—is almost irresistible. From the first jerky takeoff, the bright orange mini-drone feels more like a recalcitrant pet than cutting-edge tech, even though it can capture a rather large volume of video footage and still photos on the 2GB of storage on the included micro SD card.

If you're looking to conduct stealth surveillance, take keepsake photographs, deliver tacos, or rain death on your enemies from the sky, this is not the drone for you. But for all its failings, The World's Smallest Camera Drone really is a remarkable piece of engineering: For less than the cost of a couple of pizzas, you can own a remote-operated quadcopter so small it can land in the palm of your hand. And while the current model is little more than a fluky novelty item, it's not hard to imagine how traveling with a personal drone videographer and archivist could easily become a staple of modern life.




Safe Sex, Dangerous State

2017-03-14T06:00:00-04:00

The kids these days are incredibly lame. They barely do drugs. They hardly have sex. When they do finally get around to doing the deed, it's at much later ages than previous generations. They're responsible about birth control and disease prevention. They probably even make it home in time for curfew. Skeptical? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the average age of self-reported virginity loss is now nearly 18 years old. The percentage of high school students who say they have had intercourse has been falling for two decades. Two-thirds of the students who are having sex say it's with a steady romantic partner. Eighty percent say they used contraception their first time, up from less than 50 percent in the '80s. They're also using more effective fertility-fighting methods than previous generations: IUDs, implants, and other forms of long-acting reversible birth control with lower failure rates have become much more popular, with use rising from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent by 2013. The rate of teen births fell 8 percent in 2015, capping off a 46 percent decrease since 2007. The rate of teenage abortion has also fallen sharply from its peak around 1990. It seems like the combined efforts of America's adults to scare the bejesus out of kids about the dangers of the horizontal mambo while subsidizing the wazoo out of birth control have, in fact, paid off in fewer teens knocking boots. But all of this responsible behavior has created a generation gap. The Boomer version of the birds and bees is on the verge of becoming worthless, and the GenX sex talk isn't far behind. Coaching preschoolers as they carefully roll condoms onto bananas simply doesn't make sense as the exclusive focus of sex ed anymore. Jimmy hats are still a good idea, of course. But even as the physical act of sex becomes safer—at least as practiced by today's older, wiser, romantically involved, pharmacologically reinforced, temporarily sterile teens—the legal risk of many common sexual choices is skyrocketing. Leaving aside the fact that Generation Alpha will probably be conceived in the back seats (or the front seats!) of autonomous vehicles as they speed untended down the highway, there's really nothing new under the sun, and that includes sexting. Teenagers have managed to communicate intemperately about their desire to get it on—often right underneath the noses of their guardians—since at least imperial Japan; court ladies anxiously awaited morning-after haikus in one of the world's first novels, Murasaki Shikibu's 11th century Tale of the Genji. The new danger doesn't spring from the fact that digital Romeos and Juliets are communicating about sex in a way that might generate a permanent record. In fact, by the time today's 15-year-olds run for office, youthful nudie pics will be a prerequisite for reassuring the American people that you're a normal human being, not a disqualification. Instead, the serious threat is from meddling cops, bureaucrats, school officials, and other avatars of officialdom. The state has always had an unhealthy interest in sex—think Comstock laws, Loving v. Virginia, Bowers v. Hardwick—but as we increasingly infantilize teens and young adults while disregarding privacy protections that once shielded intimate communications, more "kids" are being caught in a legal dragnet that is purportedly designed to protect them. Consider a case in Cañon City, Colorado. After following up on a call to a state bullying tipline in December, a public high school official uncovered widespread sexting. Rather than taking a moment to consider whether the common nature of the behavior suggested an appropriately proportionate remedy, the administrator decided to follow the letter of the law in Colorado (and many other states), in which the sender of a sexually suggestive selfie is both victim and perpetrator of the heinous crime of possessing and distributing child pornography. Under Colorado law, producing or distributing sexually explicit[...]



Commissary Kitchen

2017-03-01T12:00:00-05:00

"The system tries to kill you in many ways," writes Prodigy, half of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, in the introduction to Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook (Infamous). The book, co-written with journalist Kathy Iandoli, chronicles what the rapper cooked and ate while serving three years in four different prisons for gun possession.

Built from staples available from the prison commissary, recipes include "Fake Ass Pad Thai" made from ramen noodles, peanut butter, and canned veggies and "P's Prison Potstickers," which involve the clever expedient of overcooking macaroni in order to make it into dumpling dough. And, of course, there's hooch.

He admits the recipes aren't Chez Panisse, or even Olive Garden. "You think I wouldn't have cooked with extra virgin olive oil and shit if I had the chance to?" he writes. "Nah. This is prison."




John Stossel: The Man. The Myth. The Moustache.

2017-02-11T06:00:00-05:00

When John Stossel was diagnosed with lung cancer in April, he announced it in the most characteristic way possible: He dashed off a column from his hospital bed with a quickie economic analysis of why nurses don't care when your out-of-date heart monitor beeps all night long. (The explanation involved the word sclerotic and the phrase "hospitals are largely socialist bureaucracies.") Stossel, 69, is now cancer-free and ready to move on to the next thing. In recent years, the man with the moustache has developed an alarming habit of giving away the Emmys he won as a consumer reporter, saying he considers them ill-gotten gains; they all predate his conversion to libertarianism and the subsequent realignment of his career to preach the gospel of free markets and consumer choice. First as a reporter at ABC's 20/20, where he made his name with his signature "Give Me a Break" segments, and then as a commentator at Fox for the last seven years, the television newsman has served as the most recognizable face of libertarianism, appearing on America's TV screens week in and week out and invading the minds of America's youths with his Stossel in the Classroom educational videos. With a penchant for antics like piloting onto the set on a Medicare-subsidized mobility scooter or printing out the entire federal register, Stossel has always prioritized making arcane economics intelligible to the boob-tubing masses. The final episode of his eponymous show on the Fox Business Network aired in December. Starting in 2017, he'll be working with Reason TV to produce web videos and with the Charles G. Koch Institute to mentor young media professionals. He'll continue on as a commentator in a role that he describes as "libertarian senior statesman" at Fox. Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Stossel over the phone in December about the past, present, and future of video. Reason: Is television getting dumber? Was there a golden age of news broadcasting, or was it always dumb? Stossel: TV has always been relatively shallow. You can read at seven times the speed you can listen. And when there were five channels, we had to try to appeal to everybody. If you watch programming from what people call the "golden age," there was not much nuance there. Also, our brains have changed. When I was on 20/20, we would do a 17-minute piece on gay marriage, say, or the transgender world. And when the executive producer would say, "You've got to take out two minutes," I would resist because I just didn't think you could take out those two minutes and have the story be nearly complete. All of it was so important! And yet now if I watch those stories, they are tediously long. And do you think that's because we've gotten better at the craft of storytelling with video or do you think it's because the attention span of the viewer has changed? The attention span of all of us has changed. We are just doing so many more things at a time. Is this worse? I don't presume to make a judgment. Before you called I was in my car listening to the Iliad, and there are parts that go on and on. Ugh, Homer. There's so much padding. Somebody should really edit that guy. Exactly. If you were beginning a media career right now, would you be looking at cable news or broadcast television? No. When I started to make video, you had to have a camera that cost $100,000, an edit bay that cost—I don't even remember what it cost! We would go out with a three-man band to cover things: a lighting guy with all the heavy lights, and the sound specialist, and the cameraman. You had to go work for a television station or a movie company. Now everybody has all this equipment in their smartphone and their laptop. So why go through those cumbersome steps? Do you think your job is the last to go in your industry, the guy with the face in front of the camera? I would be arrogant to say last, but one of the last certainly. I'm thinking about the writers. What about the guy [...]



The Carrot, the Stick, and the Buggy Whip

2017-02-08T06:00:00-05:00

As 2016 came to a close, dictionary makers Merriam-Webster posted a pathetic little tweet—a cry for help, really—that quickly went viral: "'Fascism' is still our #1 lookup. # of lookups = how we choose our Word of the Year. There's still time to look something else up." Why the sudden interest? As Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination and then the presidential election, political commentators and opinionated uncles at dinner parties started tossing around this vintage 20th century political terminology with abandon. Which caused a bunch of intrepid dictionary searchers to wonder: Here at the dawning of the Trump era, does fascism mean what we think it means? In a technical sense, the word is a pretty good descriptor for what we've seen of Trump's economic policy so far. That is to say, he seems to be embracing the notion, which blossomed in Benito Mussolini's Italy, that the business of government is best conducted where an authoritarian state dominated by a powerful strongman and the leaders of large corporations meet and decide the fate of a nation. But in its more common use, fascism is at once too generic—it's frequently deployed to describe any old bossy jerk, and is formally defined as "a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control"—and way too specific and extreme, with its grace notes of Blackshirts, one-party rule, nationalization of industry, and violence. What's wanted is a way of describing the love-hate, push-pull, utterly dysfunctional, and horrifically co-dependent relationship between big government and big business that Trump was already expert in, just from the other side. The gentler term for this is crony capitalism, or cronyism for those of us who don't like to see one of our favorite words besmirched. Yet that phrase shows up most frequently in contexts where the corporations are in the driver's seat: They come to elected officials or bureaucrats to demand special favors. They are granted those favors in exchange for promised gains for the tax base or contributions to the campaign funds of the relevant politicians—classic rent seeking, in the jargon of economics. If they're really lucky, the corporations manage to cozy up to and capture some regulators to keep in their back pockets as well. But as far as we know, the heating and air company Carrier was minding its own business when Trump came a-knockin'. The firm was in the midst of executing a run-of-the-mill decision about the best place to locate a production facility when boom, it became the very first test case for the fledgling Trump administration in the none-too-judicious application of the carrot and the stick. The carrot was subsidies to keep jobs in the United States; the stick was almost certainly the threat of the revocation of valuable military contracts from Carrier's parent company. (For a deeper exploration of how this deal went down, check out David R. Henderson's cover story on page 18.) Carrier isn't alone on the receiving end of Trump's attentions. Boeing's stock price took a hit after he tweeted in December that "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!" Trump also took credit for keeping an auto plant in the U.S.: "Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford," Trump tweeted in November, "who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky - no Mexico." He followed up: "I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!" Ford quickly clarified that it was only considering moving production of one model, the Lincoln MKC, out of the Kentucky facility, but also carefully said nice things about the incoming administration. And a Boeing spokesman obligingly responded to the president-elect's tweets: "We look forward to [...]



Soylent

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

The corporate motto of Soylent, the cheekily named meal-substitute company, is "maximum nutrition, minimum effort." The firm's disarmingly plain monochrome packaging and scientific sell are designed to appeal to geeks, especially Silicon Valley types keen on the efficiency offered by sustenance that costs $2, takes 30 seconds to consume, and entirely replaces the need for actual food.

But the hipster SlimFast competitor has had a tough autumn. The company had to pull two of its four product lines, including its signature drink powder, due to reports of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in a small segment of customers. A possible culprit, though the firm is playing coy for now, is powdered flour made with algae.

Soylent's model relies on constantly releasing updated iterations of the product; the recent trouble was caused by version 1.6. That software-style release model increases the likelihood of bugs getting to the customer level, but it also means that the company is agile enough to pull problematic products and replace them with suitable alternatives quickly—far faster than regulators can get into gear.




U.S. Out of Space

2017-01-11T07:00:00-05:00

Barack Obama, privatizer. That's not how historians will likely describe him. But when Obama killed George W. Bush's Constellation program—a roadmap for getting humans back to the moon and eventually on to Mars—he declared it "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." In other words: a government program. Conceived in a state of panic triggered by the impending death of the space shuttle program, Constellation was larded up with space pork. By the time Obama got around to scrapping it in 2010, the effort had already burned through $9 billion with little to show for it. Anything that Washington touches pretty much immediately turns treyf; a certain amount of bacon buildup around any appropriations bill is inevitable. After Obama nixed Bush's pie-in-the-sky scheme, stick-in-the-mud Republicans hustled to remind anyone who was paying attention that they, too, could be the party of big government and bureaucracy. The Space Launch System, an expensive post-Constellation scheme, was designed by Congress to Frankenstein heavy-lift rockets and a capsule out of the scavenged remains of the shuttle program—to be built, naturally, in the districts of powerful lawmakers, including Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida. It is sometimes affectionately referred to as the Senate Launch System, for obvious reasons. Amid the usual horse trading, though, the Obama administration managed something rather remarkable: It carved out a little money and a lot of room for the private space industry to flourish, extending another Bush-era program that most people assumed was on the chopping block. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project—funded at the cost of less than a single shuttle flight—was aimed at encouraging private companies to develop the capacity to serve the transport needs of the International Space Station (ISS). The result was successful public-private partnerships with Orbital Sciences and Elon Musk's SpaceX. An adjacent effort created Commercial Resupply Services contracts with private companies to deliver cargo to the space station, and later commercial crew vehicles to carry human passengers. The Republican Congress repeatedly tried to cut funding to these programs, intending to redirect the money to the old space-industrial complex. Obama's original budget asked for $5.9 billion over five years to fund the effort. The House countered with an offer of $250 million in the first year. These programs work thanks to a wonky but essential fact about their creation: The contracts they create are different than the NASA norm. The government and the contractor agree on a price for a certain number of runs back and forth to the ISS, for instance, and the firm provides that service at that price. This is, of course, the way people handle most transactions in their normal lives. But these common-sense practices frequently don't apply when government money flows to contractors under so-called cost-plus arrangements, especially those who are perceived to be doing something with relevance to national security. To understand the weirdness of cost-plus, try this: Imagine you want a cone of mint chocolate chip ice cream. You walk into an ice cream store and say, "How much for mint chocolate chip, please?" They either say, "That'll be $3," or, "We don't have that flavor right now. Try the shop next door." Here's how the U.S. government conducts the same transaction under cost-plus. It stands in the middle of the street and shouts "I WANT ICE CREAM" until someone who makes a related product—pudding, say—comes by and says, "I might be able to make you some ice cream. What were you looking for?" Then the government says, "Great, we will draft hundreds of pages of specifications for the ice cream, and send officials to your R&D facility, your factory[...]



Lionel Shriver Doesn't Care If You Hate Her Sombrero

2017-01-08T07:00:00-05:00

When Lionel Shriver took the stage at the Brisbane Writers Festival this fall, her speech was billed as a talk on "community and belonging." And in a way, it was. Modern writers, she argued, have been put in an untenable position. In our age of "super-sensitivity" about identity politics, we insist that novelists populate their books with diverse casts of characters, while simultaneously warning that writing a character from a different background than their own may carry the taint of "cultural appropriation." Shriver raised the specter of being "obliged to designate my every character an aging 5-foot-2 smartass, and having to set every novel in North Carolina," which would surely make for dull reading. "We fiction writers have to preserve the right to wear many hats," she said in closing. She then produced a sombrero, popped it onto her head, and left the podium. Shriver has made a career of writing about things she's not supposed to write about. Whippet thin, she chronicled her sibling's morbid obesity in 2013's Big Brother. Childless, she explored what it means to dislike and fear your own offspring in We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 and was subsequently made into a chilling film starring Tilda Swinton. In 1994's Game Control, she sends her white protagonist to Nairobi with a modest proposal to deal with overpopulation. Her most recent book, The Mandibles, is a near-future dystopia in which the United States has finally, and catastrophically, defaulted on its debt. In a mode that is reminiscent of Ayn Rand, the characters in The Mandibles claw, bite, squabble, and sulk over the economic and political world where they find themselves, struggling with what they are allowed to say—and what they are allowed to think—about the people they live with and among. In October, shortly after the Brisbane speech, Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Shriver about gender politics, the likelihood of economic collapse, and coming out as a libertarian in The New York Times. Reason: Talk about why you wrote that New York Times piece—rather brutally titled "I Am Not a Kook"—about, essentially, being a libertarian. Shriver: Out of frustration. Because I think there are a lot of people that don't regard themselves as libertarians who, if you take their views apart one by one, belong in that camp. But because the word has become associated with some rather strange views, and even stranger people, a lot of the people to whom it would naturally apply disavow membership. This whole business with being fiscally conservative, preferring a more effective but less ambitious government that takes a smaller piece of the national pie, but also being socially liberal, so I have no problem with gay marriage, I want abortion rights, I would legalize recreational drugs rather than have a war on drugs that doesn't work and puts a lot of fairly harmless people behind bars, many of them minorities—I just think there are a lot of people who have those same views. And the truth is that the libertarian rubric of "You should be able to do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt anyone" is the core concept of the United States of America, and something that we should be proud of. So every time a national election comes up I get frustrated, and I think I have a lot of company in that frustration. Because the Democratic Party meets some of but not all of my liberal social agenda, but it's still the party of taxing and spending. And yet the Republicans are nuts, and very religious, which I am not. I was absolutely shocked that every single one of those 16 candidates that ran originally on the Republican primary ticket was anti-abortion. And, OK, some of them talk a good game about restricting the size of government and keeping taxes short of confiscatory, but I can't vo[...]



Trump and the Power of the Presidency

2016-12-30T23:00:00-05:00

The day before this issue went to press, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.

Many people—and not just Democratic partisans—experienced a sinking feeling in their stomachs as Hillary Clinton's widely anticipated victory turned to ash. Faced, suddenly, with the prospect of a political neophyte snagging the awesome power of America's executive office, they became anxious about what he might do with it.

Welcome to the party, guys. Such intestinal-level disquietude is the lot of libertarians the morning after every election.

In their shock, some on the left will act like the United States is merely experiencing a bug—as if the system that normally works so well unexpectedly glitched on November 8.

That is incorrect. The problem isn't that the wrong person won or that our mechanisms for picking winners are rigged or corrupt. The problem is the power itself.

Every time Obama made a recess appointment, or issued an executive order on gender-neutral bathrooms, or limited the comment period on a new regulation, or denied a Freedom of Information Act request, or disregarded state marijuana laws and sent in federal law enforcement, or allowed the IRS to investigate his ideological opponents, he made it easier for President Trump to do the same. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. Likewise, George W. Bush knew what he was doing when he used the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to launch a protracted, decade-long multinational war, began indefinitely housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, issued signing statements that waved away restrictions on torture, and much more.

Those who eagerly handed power to Obama, or who cheered when he grabbed it himself, did so because they genuinely believed he would use that power for good, to help those who needed it—women, minorities, the disabled, the poor.

Trump's supporters believe the same thing: that he will slide behind the Resolute desk, pick up the phone, and do his darnedest for the Americans who have lost their jobs to immigrants, their free speech to political correctness, their sense of safety to Islamic terrorists.

Democrats have spent the last eight years paving the road to this particular hell with good intentions. But good intentions aren't what separates Obama from Trump.

The prospect of an eventual handoff should itself be the biggest check on the growth of government: Power grabs, in theory, ought to be less frequent in a world where you can be virtually certain that the bad guys (however you define bad guys) will get their hands on the levers of power, the nuclear codes, and the veto pen in short order. It's bad practice to load a gun you're likely to lose in a wrestling match.

Unlike some of his Republican predecessors, Trump has chosen to dispense with the traditional conservative rhetoric about humility and restraint. His agenda, insofar as it is currently known, involves fully deploying all of the tools at his disposal. But the weird myopia of being in charge seems to afflict people from all parties, and has for a long time.

You won't find much about the president-elect in the pages that follow. Drowning in polling that almost universally missed the mark, this magazine's editors figured on a Clinton victory and therefore less sturm und drang. No matter; Reason's message won't change. But as we hurtle toward a period of Republican control of the White House and the Capitol, advocates for limited government may find ourselves unexpectedly popular with down-and-out Democrats. At least until they win again.




99% Invisible

2016-12-30T21:00:00-05:00

The 99% Invisible podcast is "about all the thought that goes into the things we don't think about." The quirky weekly show pokes its microphones into questions like "Where did people get ice before electric refrigeration?" and "Why are there pictures of kidnapped kids on milk cartons?" and "Why is there a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert?" The host is Roman Mars, whose voice perfectly combines the resonant authoritativeness of the golden age of broadcasting with the slight vocal fry mandatory in the post–Ira Glass era.

At just 22 minutes, each audio-only podcast conveys an astonishingly large amount of oddly compelling information, typically about something the listener almost certainly had no previous reason to care about at all—no mean feat. The production quality is reliably high and the website offers good citations for the curious. The only consistent disappointment is the show's casual pro-regulation bias: When faced with tales of creative destruction, rivalrous goods, or bureaucratic malfunction, Mars and his team consistently take refuge in "there oughta be a law" platitudes in the show's final minutes.




Interview: Penn Jillette

2016-12-21T06:00:00-05:00

"People don't brag about going up a grassy slope," says Penn Jillette. "They brag about going up Everest." That sentiment—that nothing worth celebrating was ever found in moderation—animates everything the juggler turned magician turned occasional pundit does. Jillette has been known as the "larger, louder" half of the magic-and-comedy duo Penn & Teller for three and a half decades. Back in the 1970s, the pair were upstarts, fresh off a stint as part of a high-concept three-man stage act they called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society. They were armed with an obsessive belief that practice makes perfect, and that conviction served them well: Their show, which started at L.A. Stage Company, made its way to Broadway and is now in residence at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Along the way, they spent eight seasons hosting Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, a Showtime series in which they debunked myths and misconceptions from a decidedly libertarian perspective, and had cameos in everything from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch to Dancing with the Stars. Jillette also faced off with Donald Trump on The Apprentice. His magic competition show on The CW, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, just finished its third season. Even before he was famous, Jillette had no interest in fitting in. He claims to have spent his childhood mouthing off at school and incessantly honing his juggling skills. A product of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he later did time as a street performer in Philadelphia hurling knives for pocket change. At 6-foot-6 and "obnoxiously loud," he would have been hard to miss: A 1989 New Yorker profile characterized his hairdo as "a sort of frizzy ponytail and another fistful of hair tumbling over his forehead," adding that "he wore clear polish on all but one fingernail, and that one was painted red." Jillette retains his distinctive manicure but is now lacking some of his trademark mass. Down significantly from his top weight of 330 pounds, the performer has baited headline writers everywhere into variants of the "magician makes himself vanish" joke. Indeed, he beats them to the punch in the title of his recent book on the subject, Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (Simon & Schuster). The secret to his weight-loss success? Realizing that, with food as with everything else, moderation is no virtue. In October, Jillette chatted with Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward about his gastronomical, philosophical, and political views. Whipsawing between the profane and the profound, he described a variant of libertarianism driven by first principles, made the case for why porn actors and The New York Times are ultimately in the same business, and explained that sometimes it's harder to drop 30 pounds than three times that much. Reason: You're a skeptic—you've built a career by being skeptical about conventional wisdom, religion, and traditional magic. How did that influence your approach to diet? Jillette: I'm a libertarian. My political beliefs are way outside the mainstream. My religious beliefs are way outside the mainstream. My musical tastes, my theater tastes, my book tastes are way outside the mainstream, and yet I was eating fucking pizza and hamburgers. It's very odd that the one area that I chose to be the most typical American possible was food and diet. And once I got sick enough, my doctors said that I should consider getting stomach band surgery, and all of the sudden I realized I could be weirder. And I realized that not only am I not good at moderation, but I also simply don't respect moderation. If you're good at moderation, I don't like you. When you say that you had to get fat enough before something radical was allowed—the same is true in the medical field, [...]



Welcome to the New Reason

2016-12-05T14:00:00-05:00

When Lanny Friedlander assembled the first issue of Reason in a bedroom in his mother's house in 1968, he was working with a limited budget and an even more limited set of tools. The name of the magazine was applied using Letraset press type—each black letter painstakingly transferred from a transparency onto the cover by rubbing the back of the page with a rounded stick or a ballpoint pen. Helvetica, the type he picked, is now so famous and fetishized that there's a cult-hit documentary about it. At the time, the choice was revolutionary. The rest of the text was executed on IBM compositor typewriters and copies were run off on a mimeograph machine, because that's all Reason could afford. Subscription labels were hand-addressed. Within those limitations, perhaps even because of them, Friedlander wound up making bold choices that continue to inform Reason's look and feel. His selection of Helvetica and the simple, open, text-based aesthetic (see, at left, the sovereign singular numeral that adorned the cover of the September 1975 issue) were in keeping with the International Typographic Style of graphic design then popular at MIT Press, where the Boston-based Friedlander liked to hang out. The Swiss grid, as the style is also known, with its emphasis on rationality and objectivity in presentation, was an obvious choice for a fledgling Objectivist magazine, but an inspired one nonetheless. In fact, the "form follows function" aesthetic is so baked in to modern style that it's nearly invisible to today's casual consumer; it dictates the look of everything from retail websites to the menu at that hot new restaurant in your neighborhood. Here's what Reason got right from its very first issue: Instead of trying to compete with top-of-the-market mainstream glossy magazines, Friedlander served up a cheap product with almost no bells and whistles to a segment of the market previously disregarded for being too small, too weird, too low-margin, and too hard to reach. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of disruptive innovation, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in 1995. The phrase is now so commonplace in business bigthink that it has become a PowerPoint cliché. As applied in the for-profit world, it's one part inspiration for entrepreneurs (look for the untapped niche, the underserved market, the problem that you can solve to get your foot in the door) and one part cautionary tale for incumbents (while you're busy offering an ever-increasing slate of expensive premium services and add-ons, better watch your back for the scrappy upstart creeping up on your market share). Reason's quirky philosophy, simple look, and disconcertingly direct sell were a classic case of disruptive innovation, decades avant la lettre. Our task, in redesigning Reason, was easier than Friedlander's in many ways. Every hour of every day, millions of robots scramble to assemble and label photos and images for us to choose from. Contacting photographers, artists, and writers in Johannesburg or Bangkok is only a moment's work. When we set out to choose our new typeface, Art Director Joanna Andreasson was afloat in a sea of typographic options. Necessity is the mother of invention, but abundance can be too. In a world where nearly everyone was hungry all the time, Henry VIII's girth (and gout) were status symbols. But when everyone can feast on overstuffed steak burritos, the rich stay thin. For most of history, the only thing scarcer than printed matter was educated, free people with enough leisure time to fill those pricey pages. Reason is a child of plenty, and one response to profusion is to experiment with empty space. Not every inch of every page needs to be dense with data when print[...]



Sex, Drugs, and Crypto

2016-11-25T12:00:00-05:00

(image) The first episode of Start Up has three sex scenes and a startlingly good description of how cryptocurrency works—and the latter is actually more compelling TV.

The show debuted in September on Crackle, Sony's bid to compete with Hulu and Netflix. It follows a prickly, sexy hacker (Otmara Marrero), a pretty boy investor (Adam Brody), and a Haitian drug lord with scruples (Edi Gathegi) trying to go legit by building an entrepreneurial venture using the bitcoin competitor she invented. On their trail is the inevitable corrupt, conflicted FBI agent (Martin Freeman).

The best bits are the technobabble and business speak; the show's writers seem to have taken their industry consultants seriously, and the result is believable storytelling about server closets and boardrooms. The scenes of running, shouting, sweating, gun brandishing, and screwing, on the other hand, are exhausting and only occasionally relevant to the plot.




Free Speech Gave Us Trump

2016-11-04T06:00:00-04:00

As the 2016 election judders to a halt, cable news and cocktail chatter seem to consist of little more than endless incredulous repetition of Donald Trump's most quotable quotes. His 2005 hot mic comments about the appropriate way to interact with women, his preferred characterization of Islam, his views on the character of our southern neighbors as well as black citizens here at home have each come up for scrutiny. Trump, in turn, decries political correctness and shrugs "It's just words, folks." There's something heartening, however, to be found in the deep awfulness of his public statements over the years: the fact that he remains a free man despite uttering them. Because in quite a few otherwise civilized countries, a good deal of what leaves the GOP presidential nominee's mouth on the topic of Muslims, women, and Mexicans could land him in jail. In the two years since he published his controversial screed against Islamic immigration, Le Suicide Français, the French polemicist Éric Zemmour "has spent half his time collecting prizes and the other half defending himself in court," The Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell explained in a devastating October cover story. Zemmour's crime is writing sentences like these: "Islam is incompatible with secularism, incompatible with democracy, and incompatible with republican government. Islam is incompatible with France." Stack those strong words up against Trump's comment to CNN's Anderson Cooper in March: "I think Islam hates us." Spokeswoman Katrina Pierson expanded on the candidate's view of the world's second largest religion the following day, saying: "We've allowed this propaganda to spread all through the country that this is a religion of peace." Or how about this famous line, which Trump dropped into his announcement of the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015? "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They bring crime. They're rapists.…And some, I assume, are good people." Sounds awfully similar to a bit of 2012 radio commentary about Roma immigrants by the Canadian provocateur Ezra Levant. "Too many have come here as false refugees," he said. "They come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.…They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging." A month later, Toronto Police constable Wendy Drummond confirmed, "The hate crime unit is investigating." Levant had already run afoul of Canada's hate speech laws in the late '00s, when the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission targeted him for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. That battle spanned two years and cost him $100,000. And how do Trump's comments about the need to temporarily halt all immigration from Muslim-dominated countries compare with the remarks of the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who was busy in court at the end of September, asking that charges against him be dropped? In 2014, Wilders told supporters who were chanting for "fewer" Moroccan immigrants, "We'll take care of it." The case is ongoing. Before that, Wilders had been acquitted of insulting Islam in 2011. There's not much daylight between Trump's remarks and those of his European and Canadian counterparts. The big difference is that in the United States, Trump has no fear of prosecution. And thank Cthulhu for that. In his defense of a free press, John Milton declared that enough vigorous argumentation between competing views would result in progress: "Let [...]