Drug Policy

Briefly Noted Books, Video Games, and More

The dystopian politics of Fallout 3, The Official High Times Pot Smokers Handbook, Standpoint magazine, conspiracy theories, and Wacky Packages


Post-Apocalyptic D.C.

You're born in an underground vault, armed by age 10, abandoned by your father at 19, and violently ejected from your radiation-proof sanctuary. Fallout 3, a new video game from Bethesda Softworks, brings to Imaginary life the darkest fears about the nation's capital, thrusting players into a year 2277 Washington reduced to a post-nuclear badlands.

But wandering around killing mutants with Lincoln's .44 repeater isn't all despair. Even amid the chaos, a fragile economy with a bottle cap currency arises, and it's more than the usual game-world artificial scoring construct. Each microeconomy values the scraps differently; some put more stock in barter than in cash.

In what was once the seat of U.S. government, you will encounter a few characters clinging to the archaic ideas of a big central state. But most characters are simply trying to maintain human relationships, unflinchingly holding onto individuals who matter to them, constructing their own tiny oases of order in a chaotic world.—Allen Carrington Brooks

Pot Mythology

"Marijuana is not anti-establishment because it's illegal," writes High Times Executive Editor David Bienenstock. "It's illegal because it's anti-establishment."

I doubt that, and I worry that such pharmacological essentialism reinforces the ideology underlying the war on drugs. The Official High Times Pot Smoker's Handbook (Chronicle Books), by Bienenstock and other editors of the magazine, suggests that marijuana's fans, like its detractors, do not really believe "it's just a plant." Even while decrying marijuana "stereotypes," Bienenstock reinforces his own.

Still, this copiously illustrated, easily digestible book is filled with useful and entertaining features, including tips on joint rolling and pot growing, advice for avoiding trouble with the police while driving, and ratings of Manhattan's marijuana delivery services. Contrary to Bienenstock's contention that marijuana's meaning does not hinge on its legal status, very little of this material would make sense without prohibition.—Jacob Sullum

Second Encounter

When you first pick up the new British political magazine Standpoint, John Dugdale writes in The Guardian, you notice immediately "how good it looks."

What else would you expect, given that the artist David Hockney sits on Standpoint's advisory board? Since the first issue, published in June, editor Alan Johnson has commissioned a series of exclusive new sketches from Hockney, plus contributions from firstrate writers ranging from Clive James to Robert Conquest.

Published by the Social Affairs Unit, a right-leaning think tank, Standpoint hopes to revive the tradition of Encounter, the anti-communist (but not right-wing) journal whose glory days were in the 1950s. Encounter was also, for a time, secretly funded by the CIA. Johnson isn't following that tradition. But Standpoint is living up to Encounter's reputation as a conclave of the world's most interesting and influential intellectuals, chewing on everything from the The Sopranos to Solzhenitsyn to the overrated spy novels of John Le Carré.—Michael C. Moynihan

Cracking the Conspiracy

How do we know what we know? This is the meta-question probed in a new collection of conspiratorial investigations and speculations, Secret and Suppressed II, edited by Adam Parfrey and Kenn Thomas of the imaginative-fringe publisher Feral House.

Some of the specific questions explored: Are Western elites pursuing a centuries-long scheme of mass murder in the name of population control? Are alien technologies in the hands of the U.S. military, and can that military secretly control the weather? What really went down at Jim Jones' People's Temple? Has a neglected scientist already perfected cheap nuclear fusion reactions?"

One essay, which reveals that its insights derive from someone stalking '80s pop start Tiffany, might be earnest—or might be pranksterishly kicking the props out from under our gullibility. The book as a whole, whether you find it believable or not, makes you wonder how such gullibility shapes our understanding of the world.—Brian Doherty

Bubblegum Subversion

Topps, the candy and card company, brightened the dark years of 1973 and 1974 with Wacky Packages, a series of stickers parodying popular household products. Argo cornstarch became "Argh: Coarse Stench." Comet cleanser became "Commie: Gets Rid of Reds, Pinkos, Hippies, Yippies, & Flippies."

The jokes were juvenile—so of course Wacky Packages struck a chord with kids in an America where consumer products and cynicism were equally ubiquitous. For those two glorious years, Wacky Packages were Topps' top-selling product, outpacing the company's famous baseball cards.

Wacky Packages, a new collection from Abrams, reproduces images from the series' glory days. "Wackies," the Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist and former Topps employee Art Spiegelman writes in the book, "were a young child's first exposure to subverting adult consumer culture." Thus they may have helped us all become smarter shoppers, whether for ideas or for Blisterine mouthwash.—Nick Gillespie