The opening of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire begins with a ship waiting in the middle of the night. It is dark, foggy, unsettling. Another boat approaches and they begin shifting boxes of whiskey from one ship to the other. A nameless character asks them to hurry, “I’m a sitting duck out here,” while another refers to the whiskey as “liquid gold.” The show about prohibition begins with the risks taken by rum and whiskey runners to import booze into the United States throughout the 1920s. Like other facets of popular culture that represent this period, the majority of show dwells on the criminality: the gangsters, the corrupt politicians, the members of law enforcement/IRS/Post Office that are attempting to hunt the “bad guys.” Scarface, Some Like it Hot, Robin and the 7 Hoods, The Untouchables, Lawless to Boardwalk Empire focus their efforts on the sordid, seedy, and sexy details of breaking the law. Hugh Ambrose’s posthumously published Liberated Spirits, takes a different tack. More… “Kindred Spirits”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.


“By the next day his corpse had bloated into a thing like a crashed zeppelin, with legs stuck out straight, his thick hide splashed white with droppings that ran down the cork-tree wrinkles of his flanks.” -Journalist Aidan Hartley wrote about the stinking carcass left behind in yet another instance of ivory poaching in Kenya.

The number of African elephants slain every year for their tusks? A staggering 25,000.

This unsustainable slaughter has led to a global outcry from animal lovers, scientists, schoolchildren, politicians. Public revulsion is now at a level reminiscent of the run-up to the 1989 ban on cross-border sales of ivory imposed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 1990.

But this time there’s an additional layer of despair, stoked by mounting fears that the situation is out of control. As Hartley confessed, “Whatever we have been doing up to this point has failed.”

More… “The Dark Side of Ivory Prohibition”

John Frederick Walker is the author of A Certain Curve of Horn and Ivory’s Ghosts. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic News, World Policy Journal, and other publications.


Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the Marine Corps and the only “Devil Dog” to ever win two Medals of Honor and a Marine Corps Brevet Medal. For two years, Butler, known occasionally as “Old Gimlet Eye,” was the Director of Public Safety for his hometown of Philadelphia. Given the unenviable task of enforcing the Volstead Act in extra wet Philly, Butler’s first forty-eight hours in office constituted a “shock and awe” campaign against the city’s illegal speakeasies, cabarets, brothels, poolrooms, and other dens of iniquity. According to Hans Schmidt, Butler’s greatest biographer and the author of Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, in those two days Butler and his men closed down 973 of the 1,200 saloons that sold blackmarket hooch in the city, while another 80 percent of known underworld haunts were closed temporarily. Philadelphia bootleggers showed their appreciation for Butler’s tactics by firing shots at the top cop one morning in 1924.

More… “The Bite of the Devil Dog”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.


People — women in particular — have been making themselves up for centuries, often despite fear of public derision and threats to personal health. Makeup has been used as art and artifice, for subjugation and empowerment. Read about how it has changed through the years and how it looks today, as seen in the mirror of The Good Wife. (Open Letters Monthly, The Smart Set)

Blood may be thicker than water, but alcohol is stronger than both. Read about the truth and cliché of vodka in Russia and the hangover left by Prohibition in the United States. (Gastronomica, The Smart Set)

What do you do when you know you’re losing your mind? Read about a journalist who knows Alzheimer’s inside and out and a young, forgetful woman trying to ward it off. (Nautilus, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.


How, though, to explain that I boarded the bus at Kent State University with a two-liter bottle filled with Seagram’s 7 whiskey and 7-Up?  My brothers didn’t drink the stuff. I could have sourced some other intoxicant, say beer or vodka, or better yet, a nice bottle of Bourbon.

My answer is simple: Prohibition.

Kevin R. Kosar is the editor of and the author of  Whiskey: A Global History (Reaktion).

Part of Chicago froze in the 1930s. I’ve been thinking of my old home city of Chicago a lot lately, and of my new home in Berlin. The thread that ties them together seems to be that they’re both stuck in time. In the same time. They have one foot in this chaotic contemporary period, but the other is still in the 1920s and early ’30s, each summed up as a Bob Fosse experience (Chicago and Cabaret).

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry. 320 pages. Viking Adult. $25.95.

And why not? It was a glamorous age for both. Berlin had its cabarets, Otto Dix, sex, and liquor. Chicago had its speakeasies, gangsters, and gunner girls. With what followed — rubble for one, crime and poverty for the other… More…