Critic, columnist, and author (A Year in the Dark, Toward a Radical Middle, Speedboat, Pitch Dark, and Reckless Disregard), Adler offers up here a dozen essays harvested from past magazine publication. Despite the book's title, five of the twelve essays are works of cultural criticism. The other, political essays--on the National Guard (of renewed interest in light of the recent Quayle stories), Watergate, Biafra, G. Gordon Liddy, the Bork nomination, and a review of Woodward and Armstrong's The Brethren--often get lost in convoluted arguments that, due to historical distance, might bore readers. Some murky (and unconfirmable) conclusions also arise--such as Adler's stating that the real crime of Watergate was probably that Nixon was taking personal bribes from South Vietnam to keep American soldiers there. But in her cultural criticism, Adler shines. In ""The Perils of Pauline,"" a review of film critic Pauline Kael's collection When the Lights Go Down, Adler devastates Kael's reputation: ""The degree of physical sadism in Ms. Kael's work, is, so far as I know, unique in expository prose."" Making fun of Keel's tendency to frame dozens of questions to her readers, Adler responds: ""Yes. No. What. I Don't Know, sweetie; you're the one who saw the movie. . ."" Another essay on soap operas states, ""One thing about a work of art is that it ends. . .the soaps. . .are eternal and free. . .whole audiences can grow up, marry, breed, divorce. . .and die while a single program is still on the air."" Her final essay on TV game shows makes the incisive point that ever since the quiz-show scandals, such programs ""have succeeded only in muddying the point of the questions, the point of the answers, and have come up with uninvestigable non-contests of non-cash cupidity for prizes that serve as unacknowledged ads. It is bizarre."" Bold and bristly commentary from a porcupine essayist with acid-dipped quills.