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'I'm Off My Meds!'

Audio (.wav) of the panel discussion.

I charge into the LA Press Club at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 11, 2006, find Matt Welch in a natty suit and tie studying silently, jam my tape recorder into his face and bellow into his ear, "I'm off my meds!"

He turns to me and smiles. "Hi Luke."

"What contribution to the civic discourse that makes democracy possible has Hustler magazine made?"

Matt claims he's seen only two issues. "At the front of the magazine," says Matt, "they have these terrible graphic jokes."

Luke: "A lot of them are racial. Just plain racist."

Matt: "I haven't seen that. It's harder core than I'm able to enjoy in my pornography. But as those jokes intersected with politics, I found them amusing and useful by juxtaposing and occasionally disgusting sexual acts with political issues and personalities of the day, it treated politics with the seriousness and perhaps accuracy that it deserves."

I email journalists I know, beginning with Reason magazine's Editor Nick Gillespie, because he's the most indulgent of my antics:

Dear Dr. Gillespie,

As one great magazine editor, do you have any thoughts on the job Allan MacDonell did with Hustler and how he informed the national conversation about our society's pressing issues?

PS. If you purely had a physiological reaction to Hustler, it would be groovy to hear that too.

Nick replies: "Luke, interesting interview (as always). I'm afraid I haven't read Hustler in something like 15 or 20 or more years, so I can't comment on the job Allan MacDonell did with it. He sounded pretty sharp, though I disagree with his admiration for Lewis Lapham."

The other indulgent Editor I know is Rob Eshman of the Jewish Journal. He responds to the same question: "Huh?"

A certain female journalist at a certain ethnic/religious weekly claims she's never read Hustler.

I don't know if I can trust her journalism now.

Jack Shafer of Slate.com Press Box replies:

Nope.

My reflections: As long as Larry Flynt is publishing Hustler we can be assured that nearly all possible editorial options are being considered in America.

Why this Chinese wall of silence?

Why can't we have an adult discussion of Hustler magazine in this greedy uptight society?

Why do we live in a country where an author of four books who was once Hustler's Asshole of the Month can land on the cover of LA Weekly and not find comfort in the arms of a loving woman?

Welch says he has special glasses to adjust to his oddly-shaped face.

I tell Matt that he looks like Billie Jean King who grew up a block away from Matt in middle class Long Beach.

Adam Parfrey (Feral House) wonders if Matt and Billie were extracted from the womb by the same tongs.

I'd like to get Matt fired from the Times so I won't feel inferior to him anymore.

I use Emmanuelle Richard's phone to call Cathy Seipp but she's taking a bath and won't deign to speak with me.

I'll show her. I lean over and tell a man that Adam was Cathy Seipp's first boyfriend. The man gives me a disgusted look and says that's too much information.

Ben Sullivan notices and appreciates that I've lost 20 pounds (from not taking my lithium).

I tell a leftie that John and Ken at KFI radio have an impact on the electorate because they articulate and give direction to to what were previously unformed emotions. I often listen to the radio or read an article and say, "Yes, that's it!" Someone has crystalized my thinking and given me impetus to do something.

Four people sit on the panel:

Censorship, Cowardice, or Good Taste? The L.A. Press Club is pleased to host a lively panel discussion debating the ongoing fallout of the infamous Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. Were newspapers prudent or cowardly for refusing to reprint the images? Do smaller publications and websites who reproduced them deserve praise or scorn? Are Muslims truly offended at all depictions of all religious figures? Is it censorship when private entities like Borders Bookstores refuse to carry issues of the Free Inquiry that include the cartoons?

Panelists include:

Eddie Tabash -- Chair of Center For Inquiry-West, constitutional lawyer, and chair of the national legal committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. www.tabash.com.

Edina Lekovic -- Communications director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (www.mpac.org).

Brian Doherty -- Senior editor, Reason magazine (www.reason.com), and author of the forthcoming Radicals for Capitalism: A History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

Moderated by Matt Welch (www.mattwelch.com), assistant editorial pages editor of the Los Angeles Times.

"This set-up is so like Insider the Actor's Studio," says Edina who charms most of the audience.

The conversation is carried on at a high level that makes me feel comparatively dirty. How can I think impure thoughts about girls when Muslims are dying in the streets protesting blasphemous cartoons?

Luke Y. Thompson wears a t-shirt that pictures a man fornicating with a dog.

I tell him I can't set him up on dates because of his proclivity for tattoos, piercings, colored hair and obscene t-shirts.

"I didn't realize that the crowd you hang out with had such lofty standards," says Luke. He notes I also color my hair.

Yeah, but I'm more subtle. My hair looks natural, thick and alive, pulsating with my manliness.

Nathan Nance writes me: "Luke Y. Thompson is my personal hero and fave movie critic. I'm glad to see he garnered a mention from the L.A. Press Club event."

Brian Doherty exceeds my expectations. He takes the least time and makes the best points. Why doesn't Europe get rid of its blasphemy laws, hate laws, etc?

Eddie Tarbash, the whore's best friend, says his mother survived Auschwitz yet he wants to rescue Holocaust-denier David Irving from an Austrian jail where he's incarcerated for the crime of denying that six million European Jews were murdered during WWII.

Tarbash looks like the quintessential Jewish nerd -- he's short with bad eyesight and a paunch. His eyes blink rapidly and his face twitches constantly while on stage. He's hyper-intellectual and hyper-verbal.

Sartorial Splendor award goes to Eddie. Matt gets an honorable mention. Edina's OK. Brian's as rumpled and ratty as you'd expect from someone at that pot-smoking dog-f---ing filthy rag Reason.

A man who runs an organization to turn Iranians secular gives a long disjointed speech at the end (I clap and yell my approval at its conclusion), "which is a marvellous note to end on," says Matt Welch.

"Let such people blog!" I scream when asked my opinion of that last speaker. "When people are that socially inept, that inconsiderate of their audience, that unable to get to the point, let them blog!"

"But would you read their blog?"

"Never!"

I tell Diana of the LA Press Club that they can auction me off for dinner (but not to a cannibal or a homosexual predator).

I badger the COO of the Center For Inquiry-West about his lack of a sex life. What kind of star power does his COO title carry at bars? He says he doesn't go to bars but we suspect we know the answer to my question.

So what's the point of doing something if you don't get Heaven or chicks?

I demand to know why he's not screwing around on his wife (she lives in Illinois). He's an atheist, he has the whole building to himself, he can offer to show girls a bust of Steve Allen, enlargements of his publication's covers, or his etchings of David Hume, yet he's as chaste as a monk.

The Role of Hustler Magazine in our Civic Discourse

I email:

Dear Mr. Rutten,

Do you have any thoughts on the job Allan MacDonell did with Hustler and how he informed the national conversation about our society's pressing issues?

PS If you purely had a physiological reaction to Hustler, it would be groovy to hear that too.

Tim Rutten (from The Los Angeles Times) replies:

I've never been a Hustler reader, so I'm afraid I don't have any thoughts on Allan MacDonell or his contribution. However, I always have admired the willingness of Huster, Playboy and similar publications to pay serious writers serious money to do serious journalism and to defend the First Amendment freedoms on which we all rely. I'm aware, of course, that they have economic and status reasons for doing so. . .but, at the end of the day, who cares? The fact remains that they did these things when others wouldn't. As far as my "physiological reaction to Hustler" goes, suffice to say that my response is about the same as that of most men when presented with pictures of attractive women unclothed.

I email Reason magazine senior editor Brian Doherty: "What is its cultural significance and does it play a significant role in your history of libertarian thought in America?"

He replies:

In the current draft, no role at all, though I am aware that writings of a libertarian nature have appeared in HUSTLER's pages. The researching of such magazines, saved and archived in few libraries, is difficult, and time is a scarce resource for any book one actually wants to finish. I focused in my forthcoming RADICALS FOR CAPITALISM: A FREEWHEELING HISTORY OF THE MODERN AMERICAN LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT not so much on every eruption of libertarian thought or action in our culture, of which Hustler has certainly represented some (its very existence and certain legal actions and suits it has been involved in represented a valued expansion of freedom of the press, which I do firmly believe should and ought to apply to the impossibly offensive, and Flynt had a least a brief flirtation with support for the LP, if I recall correctly--was this before or after his brief turn to born-again Christianity?), as on those thinkers, institutions, and publications that a self-conscious movement libertarian recognizes as "part of our story."

In truth, I'm sure I don't know as much about HUSTLER as I ought. Nothing like writing a book to give you that nagging feeling about all sorts of things. I do intend to read that new book about it Adam P is publishing. I might have avoiding learning about it ever since finding a copy of it in the woods as a 9 year old with pictures of women smoking through their anus. (Perhaps that was in Penthouse? I'll never know, I suppose.) I did hope to interview Playboy's Hugh Hefner for my book regarding certain libertarian-important figures who worked for him (such as Robert Anton Wilson) and libertarian-important articles he ran (such as Karl Hess's "The Death of Politics") and whether he saw any explicitly libertarian implications in his "Playboy philosophy" and how he can make that philosophy jibe with any of the standard political party and ideological choices in our culture, but got no response from his p.r. flaks and had no direct means to contact him.