Mother American Night

My Life in Crazy Times

[Amazon Link]

Back in the day, I attended John Perry Barlow's keynote address at the Winter 1994 USENIX Conference. And was favorably impressed. (And, holy crap, that was over a quarter century ago.) Barlow had a lot of insights into what the Internet was and could be, he had a lot of criticisms of "Internet Inventor" Al Gore, and (above all) he had a Hayekian grasp of the power of emergent order.

So I kind of paid attention over the years as he flitted in and out ot the news. And last year …

Well, let me put it this way: the "Acknowledgments" section at the end of the book is dated "February 5, 2018". And then follows the "About the Author" section, which (in its entirety) states that "On February 7, 2018, John Perry Barlow died in his sleep of natural causes. He was seventy years old."

Now that's poignant. (And causes some morbid reflection: he was only 3.5 years older than I.)

Anyway, this is his sort-of memoir. To understate things significantly: Barlow led an interesting life. He grew up in a Wyoming ranch family, and the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir was a childhood friend. He came east to Wesleyan University, where he attempted a suicide bombing in Harvard Yard. This did not keep him from graduating, and he was later accepted to Harvard Law. (That's only one of the things that will make you say: "Geez, the sixties were different.")

Also during college, he fell in with Timothy Leary's crowd, and became a frequent acid tripper. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the book: he was an extravagant User of Substances both legal (alcohol, tobacco) and not (everything else, as near as I can tell).

This did not stop him from becoming a lyricist for the Grateful Dead via his friendship with Weir. Well, actually, that's something you might expect.

What you might not expect is his deep admiration for fellow Wyomingite Alan Simpson (yup, the Republican Senator) and his relationship with Dick Cheney (Barlow was not so much a Cheney fan). Barlow actually held positions in the Wyoming GOP.

Also, Barlow was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For which all current Internet users probably owe him a debt of gratitude.

Along the way, Barlow drops names as frequently as he drops acid. He was good buddies with JFK Jr. Daryl Hannah. Alan Alda. Snowden and Assange. Andy Warhol. Anita Hill (dated not once, not twice, but thrice!). Steve Jobs.

Like I said: an interesting life. Unfortunately, the continual themes of sex, drugs, rock&roll is de rigueur for this kind of memoir; I would have liked to see a little more emphasis on the brilliant insights that turned me into a fan, twenty-five years ago.

But it could be that twenty-five years of hard Substance-based living can dull that brilliance quite a bit.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • David Harsanyi tells it at the Federalist: The Media Have Done Irreparable Damage To The Country.

    For the past two years, a large swath of the media engaged in a mass act of self-deception and partisan groupthink. Perhaps it was Watergate envy, or bitterness over Donald Trump’s victory, or antagonism towards Republicans in general—or, most likely, a little bit of all the above. But now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has delivered his report on Russian collusion, it’s clear that political journalists did the bidding of those who wanted to delegitimize and overturn Trump’s election.

    While bad behavior from partisan sources should be expected, the lack of skepticism from self-appointed unbiased journalists has been unprecedented. Any critical observer could see early on that Trump-era partisan newsroom culture had made journalists susceptible to the deception of those peddling expedient stories. Our weekly bouts of Russia hysteria all sprung from one predetermined outcome: the president was in bed with Vlad Putin.

    The credibility of "self-appointed unbiased journalists" had been near-zero here for awhile, but it has now turned negative.

  • Our Google LFOD News Alert rang for this Politico story about a former self-described Libertarian for life: Weld sets April deadline for Trump primary challenge. In an interview with a local radio talk show:

    "I always get a fair shake in New Hampshire. Live free or die, baby. That's my motto, too," said Weld, who will spend several days in the state this week. On Tuesday, Weld will meet with GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.

    Weld's actual motto: "I was just kidding."

  • At the Volokh Conspiracy, Keith E. Whittington writes About that Campus Free Speech Executive Order.

    During President Donald Trump's appearance at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, he made a surprise announcement that he would soon be signing an executive order to improve the free speech climate on college campuses. His initial statement was brief and vague, but threatened that if colleges do not allow free speech "it will be very costly" because it would put their federal grants at risk. Last week, the administration finally released the promised executive order, and it was promptly buried by the news that the special counsel had completed his investigation and submitted his report.

    The executive order turned out to be a nothingburger, though one with some potential for mischief. As has been so often the case with the Trump administration's policy announcements, the executive order is vague on the specifics and a great deal will turn on the details of implementation to be announced at some unknown future date. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things of note about the order.

    For a slightly more positive take on Trump's order, see Eugene Volokh, who advocates a wait-and-see approach.

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson points to U.S. Natural-Gas Production: Bigger & Cleaner than Ever.

    While the amateur schemers in Washington dream of a “Green New Deal,” the people who actually know what they’re doing have achieved a reduction of nearly a third in carbon-dioxide emissions related to electricity production — and not at great cost and inconvenience but while reducing expenses as cheap, abundant, and relatively clean (there isn’t any such thing as “clean energy,” only relatively clean energy) natural gas displaces coal. That wasn’t the result of the fiat of some central-planning committee with godlike powers over the economy; it was the result of innovation, competition, and market choices. That hard work was done while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was still trying to figure out how to change the margarita mix at Flats Fix.

    Here in New Hampshire, even UNH Professors Emeriti genuflect to environmentalist hysterical dogma when it comes to natural gas. Apparently preferring that we continue to rely on (relatively) dirtier fossil fuels for the future.

  • At Reason, Declan McCullagh has some good news: The Internet Doesn’t Need Saving. This in response to the latest (hopefully) futile bit of "network neutrality" legislation.

    The bill, H.R. 1644, is grandly titled the "Save the Internet Act of 2019." The problem, of course, is that the internet seems to be sputtering along—even with plastic straw emoji bans, politicians Instagramming their dental visits, and progressive tears over the Mueller report—about as well as it has for decades. That's despite the lack of Net Neutrality rules imposed by bureaucratic fiat and monitored for violations by federal bureaucrats.

    Democrats' response has been to double down on apocalyptic rhetoric. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, recently warned that the lack of Net Neutrality regulations could make it "harder to find a job, harder to get the training [Americans] need, and harder for their kids to keep up at school." A bike store in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Pallone suggested, without giving details, could somehow be "blocked from reaching their customers."

    I might trust the FCC to regulate the Internet if they could first manage the much simpler task of stopping incoming fake-caller-ID robocalls to my landline and cell phone.

    No, sorry, I lied. I wouldn't trust them even then.