All posts by Joel Schlosberg

The Amazon is Not Enough to Hold James Bond

A James Bond filming location in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.

“Even James Bond Needs Protection” warned John Logan, whose pen helped create the fictional spy’s most recent cinematic adventures, in a New York Times guest essay on June 2. Is Bond menaced by Vladimir Putin’s Russia reviving the KGB, or perhaps a betrayal by his American sidekick Felix Leiter under orders from the CIA? Or is he finally taking precautions against contracting an STD?

The three-letter words in the new threat are instead “WWW,” “dot” and “com.” To be sure,, Inc. may not have the lairs in the Amazon river basin and outer space of Bond movie villain Hugo Drax. But its mastery of international distribution chains and communications satellite networks has given it the power to reduce Bond’s formerly regal home studio, MGM, to just another sideshow under its big tent of products.

Drax eventually conceded to his nemesis: “Mr. Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.” Logan instead fears that Amazon’s “lawyers and accountants and e-commerce mass marketing pollsters” will be the end of Bond creatively.

MGM was always more commercial than the “art for art’s sake” of its motto, but it granted Eon Productions the breathing room to lavish time and money on efforts that could eventually recoup their budgets and plenty more — and to find their own ways of incorporating trends that seemed to be supplanting Bond in popular culture. The filmmakers could take an extra year or three to fine-tune Bond’s next big-budget blockbuster, and neither MGM nor Nintendo rushed video game developer Rare out of taking two years past GoldenEye‘s premiere to get its version right.

Eon has also avoided the temptation to dilute Bond with the “endless anemic variations” Logan worries that “corporate and commercial pressures” will make inevitable.  Bond creator Ian Fleming was so incensed by The Harvard Lampoon‘s “J*mes B*nd” parody Alligator that he demanded his estate never give its authors permission to officially use the character. MGM faced a raft of copycats and a couple of non-Eon Bond movies exploiting legal loopholes, but limited authorized variants to James Bond Jr., who Times reporter Caryn James found “amusing for five minutes” on Cartoon Network in 1995.

Yet it is worth noting that the same market forces which built Amazon can hold it to account far more firmly than any antitrust lawsuit. Science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch saw the “forty feet of shelf space devoted to Star Trek books” at his local Barnes & Noble as proof that “an age of franchises” was crowding out an audience for original genre novels in 1998, the year Harry Potter would cross the Atlantic to become the most popular British hero in the USA since Bond.

The World Wide Web may not be enough for Amazon, but without a charter to squelch or subsidies to outcompete alternatives, there will always be room outside the company’s tributaries for those who have had enough of it.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


If You Don’t Op-Ed, Will You Get Enough?

The New York Times Building. Photo by Ajay Suresh. Creative Commonse Attribution 2.0 license.
The New York Times Building. Photo by Ajay Suresh. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

After half a century, the New York Times will no longer publish an Op-Ed page — or at least not one under that name. Commentaries on the news written by contributors outside of the newspaper’s regular staff will be called “guest essays” to explain their role without using what opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury calls “clubby newspaper jargon” (“Why We’re Retiring the Term ‘Op-Ed’,” April 27).

Today’s readers may not realize that “op-ed” is shorthand for placement “opposite the editorial” page in the layout of unfolded newsprint.  Yet while some of its format is specific to what one book title called “The Vanishing Newspaper” as early as 2004, the op-ed’s essentials deserve better than to silently crumble like the yellowing journalism of last week’s newspaper.

The format might seem to exemplify what Noam Chomsky calls mainstream media’s efforts “to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views.” Chomsky’s own views were among the most critical and dissident solicited by the Times, an offer he declined because his academic background made “it enormously more difficult to write 700 words than 7000.”

Yet a tight argument made with a few hundred well-chosen words can lead general readers to more in-depth takes, and the range of disagreement that can be squeezed into them is broad indeed.  Nearly a century ago, the immense newspaper chain of William Randolph Hearst gave Bertrand Russell the space to recommend the individualism of anarchist philosopher William Godwin as an antidote to “docility, suggestibility, herd-instinct and conventionality” and the notion “that social conformity is the beginning and end of virtue.”

Kingsbury insists that the ability of the public to have its perspectives heard directly via websites like Facebook and Substack “is to be welcomed” rather than feared, but wonders whether “ideas can linger a while” in a cyberspace even more fixated on immediacy than the daily or weekly news cycles of print. The unfiltered energy of such formats, and of older ones like blogs and zines, can be focused rather than squelched by the sharpness and clarity pioneered by the humble op-ed.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


The Finest Trick of the Developer is to Persuade You That Free Markets Should Not Exist

“Henry George and the Dragon” cartoon. Public domain.

New York City Council candidate Alexa Avilés asserts that “the free market will never provide decent housing for all, and we should stop pretending otherwise” (“The Free Market Will Never Provide Decent Housing for All,” The Indypendent, April 2).  Who’s pretending?

Avilés doesn’t outright claim that the current housing market is free, but implies that a free market would reinforce the existing power of “banks and corporate landlords” over “tenants in private housing, NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] residents, and small homeowners.”

In treating the latter as the only beneficiaries of intervention in the market — and conflating a free market with policies that “let big developers take control” — Avilés ignores what Roderick T. Long notes are the far larger effects of “regulations that strangle competition in the housing market.”

Assuming that “developers’ greed drives gentrification and displacement” obscures the ways that limiting competition distorts supply and demand. Market competition compelled stockbrokers, who are not generally distinguished by an absence of greed, to reduce trading fees from $199 to $8.

Long concludes that a free housing market would be one “with landlords competing for tenants,” so that “rental contracts would cease to be as one-sidedly favorable to the landlord as they often are today.” Tenants would also enjoy more power to take many of the steps recommended by Avilés toward ownership, such as “the opportunity to collectively purchase” their buildings.

Moreover,  any free market approach must make unjustified land claims null and void. As Murray Rothbard put it, in such cases any “reform is picayune and fails to reach the heart of the question” short of “an immediate vacating of the title … with certainly no compensation to the aggressors who had wrongly seized control of the land.”

Avilés’s “Green New Deal for NYCHA” could take a page from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and revisit the writings of Henry George, who carried forth the tradition of combining free trade with land reform pioneered by such market liberals as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer. FDR wanted George’s works to be “better known and more clearly understood” since they “contain much that would be helpful today.”

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.