Krassner To The Rescue


REVIEW by Willard Manus

In these parlous times, it's good to have Paul Krassner back among us. The former publisher of The Realist, a magazine packed with social and political satire, Krassner has been in relative obscurity in recent years, doing the odd bit of stand-up comedy, speaking at the occasional anti-war rally.

Now Krassner has returned to prominence with the publication of a new book, MURDER AT THE CONSPIRACY CONVENTION--AND OTHER AMERICAN ABSURDITIES (Barricade Books, $17.95). A generous collection of old and new articles, the book presents Krassner at his best--a wickedly funny commentator on current events and foibles. Some of Krassner's targets include the FBI, President Clinton, multi-national corporations, neo-pagans, the medical establishment, and former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffery.

Drugs are always on Krassner's mind (and in his bloodstream) if only because he is such a fervent believer in the 60s slogan, "Turn on, tune in, drop out." An early experimenter with LSD and a longtime smoker of pot, Krassner is, as he says, a believer in conscious evolution. His quest to equip himself (and others) with the power to change reality has got him in trouble with the McCafferies of this world, the "controller censors" who want to impose their beliefs and values on society, to such an extent that, as with the CIA, they are not above experimenting in mind control.

Krassner's quest has also led him to become friendly with some of the leaders of the counter-culture "discover yourself" movement--Timothy Leary, John Lilly and Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert). These men are Krassner's heroes and he rarely satirizes them, settling for question & answer sessions aimed at enlightenment, not humor.

Krassner isn't ashamed to show anger and bitterness, though. His piece, Who Killed Peter McWilliams?, is a Zola-like attack on the way our society and its corrupt mores condemned an innocent man to death. McWilliams, a Los Angeles author and publisher, was diagnosed with AIDS and cancer. As Krassner says, "McWilliams survived the cancer and got the AIDS under control with pills that nauseated him. Ironically, if he threw up his lunch, the regurgitation would also include the nausea-inducing pills he needed in order to stay alive. But if he smoked marijuana, it would not only increase his appetite, it would also counteract the nausea."

Although California's Proposition 215 became law, the DEA insisted federal law superceded state law, and McWilliams was arrested in 1997, not only for using pot himself but for setting up a program to provide the drug to other cancer sufferers. McWilliams was made a scapegoat because, as he himself admitted, "medical marijuana will eventually lead to the legalization of marijuana use for all adults, but not for the reasons the drug warriors paint...Once people personally discover how benign marijuana is, the next logical question becomes, 'if alcohol and tobacco are legal, why not marijuana?' There is no reasonable, factual response to that question...once enough people ask,'Why isn't the emperor wearing any clothes?' the game is over. All it takes is eneough people asking the question."

McWilliams was hounded by the U.S. government, which wanted to put him in prison for five years. "Two months before he was due to be sentenced, he was found dead in his bathtub. He had died from asphyxiation. He had choked to death on his own vomit," Krassner writes. "He had been murdered--but by whom? And for what reason?"

Krassner goes on to deliver a fiery j'accuse against Bill Clinton, Barry McCaffery, former Gov. Gray Davis and various U.S. district attorneys and judges for the murder of Peter McWilliams. They didn't kill him with a knife or gun, but by their failure to obey California law on the use of medical marijuana.

"These individuals participated in an unspoken conspiracy, all for the same reason. And what was it that they had in common? They all wanted to keep their jobs. They all wanted to advance in their careers. They all wanted prestige. They all wanted to live in a nice house. They all wanted to send their kids to college. They all wanted to be responsible to their families. And the price was simply their own humanity."

Elsewhere in the book, Krassner is his usual light-hearted and witty self. His takes on Monica Lewinsky, "A Christmas Carol" and "Chiquita Banana" are funny as hell, ditto his comic sketches "The MIssing Episode of Seinfeld" and "Jealousy at the Swingers Convention," to name but a few.

Krassner hasn't lost his touch. He remains, as George Carlin says, "funnier than Danny Kaye, more powerful than Jerry Lewis, as important as acid."