The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, November 19, 2002
NOT IN DEFENSE OF HANSON: Now Gene Callahan is writing in, too. Since this
debate began with him, I'll give him the last word as well:

"Although I suppose my piece could be read as putting Hanson and Bellesiles on the 'same scale,' that wasn't what I meant. I don't think Hanson ever makes stuff up, but rather that he cherry picks.

"And sure, Thucydides made up the speeches. But when he says that Cleon is 'the most violent man in Athens,' it's hard for me to envision that is meant to be read as, 'So you should follow the advice I'm putting in his mouth.'"


posted by Jesse 5:23 PM
. . .
IN DEFENSE OF HANSON: Evan McElravy, whose binational
weblog is worth reading regularly, writes: "Although I would say that Callahan gets a few reasonable points in (like Hanson quoting from both the Spartan and Athenian position without making it altogether clear that he's doing so), to be fair to Hanson, that's not much of a distortion, let alone on a Bellesilian scale. Greek historians in fact tended to make up the speeches they attribute to others, and although Thucydides was probably less fanciful than Herodotus, the speeches substantially represent his own feelings on the events, his particular feelings for Pericles for instance. Hanson is a classicist, not a historian, and is no doubt used to referring simply to 'Thucydides' as all classicists (and ancient historians) tend to do."

I grant the point about the Bellesilian scale. I don't buy the idea, though, that Hanson was "referring simply to 'Thucydides'" in the classicists' manner. Hanson's article took the form of a mock interview with the Greek writer, in which his words were clearly assigned to the historian himself, not to "Thucydides" as a matrix of views embraced by the historian or as a shorthand term for a text. That's a distortion, and Callahan was right to call Hanson on it.


posted by Jesse 3:46 PM
. . .
ABUSING HISTORY: What does National Review's Victor Davis Hanson have in common with Michael Bellesiles, the disgraced author of
Arming America? According to Gene Callahan, they both alter the historical evidence to fit their preconceived political conclusions. In Hanson's case, "a little study of the original text reveals that on a number of occasions Hanson has excerpted from speeches that Thucydides is quoting, but treated them as if they were the wisdom of Thucydides himself."


posted by Jesse 12:48 PM
. . .
Monday, November 18, 2002
DOMESTIC PROCEDURAL: Last week in Slate, Michael Kinsley
revealed a fascinating discovery: Around the country, high-achieving women are tuning in to Law & Order reruns, at times watching them back-to-back, despite the sometimes substantial derision of their mates. I just described this as "fascinating," but a better word might be "reassuring": it tells me that my household is not unique. Apparently, R.'s strange fondness for this show, an affection which allows her to spend time unwinding even in front of episodes she's seen before, is not unique to her; and neither, apparently, is my general distaste for the series. At last I understand that I'm-not-alone feeling that other people must join 12-step programs or alt.sex.sockpuppets to enjoy.

Not that I hate the show, you understand. Indeed, having been forced to watch so many more episodes than I ever would have viewed on my own, I've been forced to concede that it has some things going for it. Oh, sure: the plots are formulaic (quarter past the hour -- time to arrest the red herring), Jerry Orbach's wisecracks are invariably dumb, the acting is somehow both too flat and too mannered, and the Ripped From The Headlines! conceit apparently derives from the belief that all it takes to explore the events of the day is to plagiarize them. But Fred Thompson is amusing as the new district attorney, Jesse Martin is occasionally allowed to shine in his sidekick role, and every now and then an episode will dispense with the formula and actually engage in some creative plotting. In the meantime, we've both grown fond of one of the L&O spinoffs, Special Victims Unit, which boasts both better writing and better acting, though it still has those annoying scenes in which every member of the cast crowds onto the screen and takes turns hyper-competently explaining the state of the investigation to their superior officer, who then chimes in with his own brief paragraph of information, leaving one to wonder just who was getting briefed.

But at bottom, I don't care for Law & Order, and she does. Each Wednesday night, we debate what to watch at 10, Sam Waterston or South Park, before returning to domestic comity when it comes time for The Daily Show. Until now, I thought this disagreement was unusual (unlike most of our recurring debates, such as the proper placement of used bathroom towels or the proper apportionment of blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I assume are rehearsed by couples everywhere). Now I learn that we're part of a social trend.

Footnote: R. asks me to add that she likes the show "because it engages you for an hour, and then you don't have to think about it anymore. Why are you blogging now, anyway? Law & Order is on."


posted by Jesse 10:01 PM
. . .
YET MORE SELF-PROMOTION: The new issue of
Cool and Strange Music -- the one with Les Paul on the cover -- includes a piece I wrote on "fake" Middle Eastern music. Unfortunately, due to some sort of editing snafu, the first two sentences of the article are missing. I offer the proper opening paragraph here, in hopes that it will move you to visit your local music-store newsstand and read the rest:

"There is a barely clad belly-dancer on the cover, her right arm raised as though beckoning the record-store browser, though on closer examination she appears merely to be playing a pair of finger-cymbals. Below the album's title -- The Music of Port Said -- we are promised 'Exotic Rhythms of the Middle East captured in High Fidelity.' The exotic rhythms are attributed to Mohammed El-Sulieman and his Oriental Ensemble, though on the record itself the artist's name has transmorphed into 'Hassan the Assassin.' The title, too, is different on the actual record: Port Said forgotten, it is now Music of the Middle East."


posted by Jesse 12:12 PM
. . .
SELF-PROMOTION: I have a
column on the Reason website today about so-called "free speech zones," a threat to free assembly on college campuses and, more recently, at presidential appearances.


posted by Jesse 11:27 AM
. . .
MORAL EQUIVALENCE?: The headline to this Australian IT
article is misleading: to judge from the actual quotations in the piece, Star Wars producer Rick McCallum did not say that movie piracy is "like terrorism." He did, however, say that we need "as concentrated an international event as the war on terrorism" to fight media pirates, which I suppose means that China and Gnutella should be granted seats in the axis of evil.

You'll note, incidentally, that Al Qaeda doesn't seem to charge for those Osama tapes. I wonder what their business model is...


posted by Jesse 11:06 AM
. . .
Thursday, November 14, 2002
RAINBOW STEW: In his syndicated
column this week, Alexander Cockburn raises a familiar topic: an antiwar alliance of left and right. He brings it up in an unusual context, though: in the wake of his last Merle Haggard concert. Hag has been speaking disapprovingly of John Ashcroft and other dark Washington forces on this tour, and Cockburn thinks he sees a possibility of alliance. "Merle's political positions have evolved somewhat since the late Sixties," he writes. "There's a slab of the Right that's denouncing America's imperial wars. That wasn't happening in the early Sixties. If the Left could ever reach out to this Right, which it's almost constitutionally incapable of doing, we'd have something."

Has Merle really changed? Yes -- but he didn't have to change all that much. It's not so hard to imagine a bridge between at least some of the leftists who launched the '60s and the Haggard who sang "Okie from Muskogee." One link would be Woody Guthrie, who's up there with Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Lefty Frizzell in Hag's personal pantheon. It's no surprise that Haggard sang about an "Okie" from Muskogee, even if the message of that song was a little distant from Guthrie's "Talking Dust Bowl Blues." (These days fans argue over whether "Muskogee" was meant as a joke or as a serious bit of hippie-bashing. I've always taken it as a dramatic monologue, sung from the view of a character Haggard likes but who isn't necessarily himself. As he once told an interviewer, "Son, Muskogee's just about the only place I don't smoke it.")

As for "Fightin' Side of Me," the song says quite directly, "I don't mind them switchin' sides and standin' up for things that they believe in." What roused his ire was something else: "When they're runnin' down my country, hoss, they're walkin' on the fightin' side of me." Not a bad distinction, and one that a lot of people, left and right, don't seem able to learn. (Granted, the same song includes this bit: "I read about some squirrely guy who claims that he just don't believe in fightin'/And I wonder just how long the rest of us can count on bein' free.")

Guthrie's influence suffused Haggard's output during this period. His albums were filled with terrific songs about dust bowl refugees and their latter-day successors -- from "If We Make It Through December," about a laid-off worker who can't afford Christmas, to "Working Man Blues," which might have appealed to a Wallace voter in Michigan, to "Irma Jackson," an interracial love story that the Wallace voter would've liked somewhat less. In the last decade, he's chatted up interviewers with militia-style conspiracy theories about foreign troops on U.S. soil, even while happily posing on the cover of a hemp-oriented magazine. If Haggard embodies American crossover populism today, it's because he's been doing it all his life.

Not a bad credit for someone who's also the best bandleader in current country music, one of the finest singers in American pop, and, along with Bob Dylan and Ray Davies, one of the three greatest songwriters of the last century.

Footnote: Left-right cooperation still has a ways to go. A few months ago, Haggard posted a note on his website saying he'd like to host his own radio show. "Not everything can be set to music," he wrote. "If anyone cares to respond or help me in my endeavors, please email me." I passed this along to some friends at a certain leftist radio network, mentioning that "a Pacifica that gave Merle Haggard a talk show would be a Pacifica to be proud of." Never heard back about that.


posted by Jesse 10:37 PM
. . .
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
MORE MAIL: Rob Fagerlund of Ann Arbor, Michigan, writes: "I had a dream last night that I watched Green Acres. I remember the opening title sequence was different than it usually is. Oliver stumbled over something -- a rake? -- and went sprawling in a meadow by a stream. Then I saw you and I asked you if you like the show. You said, 'Back when I was in college I used to hang with a bunch of guys who thought it expressed the disparate array of human values and the lives of people who are a living anachronism.'

"Your quote I remember word for word -- I wrote it down during breakfast. I've never remembered actual dialogue from a dream before."

It's letters like these that make this weblog worthwhile.


posted by Jesse 4:03 PM
. . .
JUGGLE NO MORE: For out-of-towners, the most famous part of Baltimore may be Harborplace, a rather bland stretch of waterfront chain stores not far from the finest in generic hotels. There are tourists who never venture out of that part of town. Most of the natives, in turn, rarely visit it. It's sort of a social contract.

The zone was built by one of those public-private partnerships that increasingly litter the American municipal landscape, and is managed by the private side of the partnership, the Rouse corporation. Last month,
according to the Baltimore City Paper, Harborplace informed a juggler who had worked the waterfront that he was no longer welcome there. Apparently, he had offended some cops with a joke he'd told about the sniper investigation. "I was driving downtown this morning," he had said, "and on the radio I heard that they've finally come out with a composite of the sniper, so there should be an arrest forthcoming. Apparently, he's a white guy that speaks Spanish and looks like he's Arab."

According to the performer's dismissal letter, such comments "are not in keeping with our very clear standards for a first-class oriented environment." In academic economics, the technical term for this is corporate prissiness. I only hope we can keep it from infecting the rest of the city, lest we find ourselves living in some ugly combination of Canada and Singapore.


posted by Jesse 11:21 AM
. . .
ANNOTATING BRAKHAGE: Sunday I
commented that "a film shouldn't require an external annotation to have its effect." Now Little Fyodor writes to object. "Why not?" he asks. "I'd dare say it's rather arbitrary and constraining to insist that any work of art CANNOT be enhanced by information outsided the direct experience."

I agree. Indeed, I have a hard time thinking of a film that couldn't be "enhanced by information outside the direct experience." But it shouldn't require such information, and I think the work in question, Stan Brakhage's Self Song & Death Song, does just that. This film doesn't have any impact unless you know what you're looking at, and I didn't know what I was looking at until I read the program notes.

Fyodor goes on to relate an anecdote about the director. "Back in the '80s, I hung with a crowd that was in with Brakhage, and so I sometimes attended get togethers at his domicile where he would show films and accept the worship of his followers. One film of his that he showed he introduced by saying that it depicted the history of England. It turned out to be brief, blurry images of some castle or somesuch in England interspersed with periods of blackness that lasted longer than the blurry images. Now, I hate it when people dismiss something 'weird' out of hand, but suffice to say I found myself no more edified on the history of England after this viewing!

"Probably the best part of the experience was hearing Stan describe how people on the street in England where he shot this film came over to ask him if he were okay, due to the way he was leaning over at various angles while shooting. Now THAT was charming!"


posted by Jesse 10:54 AM
. . .
Monday, November 11, 2002
ARMISTACE DAY: In lieu of posting today, I'll turn the mike over to Eric Bogle, and to all the subsequent singers who recorded his most famous song, "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda":

When I was a young man I carried my pack,
and I lived the free life of a rover.
From the Mary's green basin to the dusty outback,
I waltzed my Matilda all over.

Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
it's time you stopped rambling, there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
and they marched me away to the war.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda"
as the ship pulled away from the Key.
And amidst all the cheers,
flag-waving, and tears,
we sailed off for Gallipoli.

Oh and how I'll remember that terrible day,
when our blood stained the sand and the water;
and of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay,
we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.

Johnny Turk he was waiting, he'd primed himself well.
He showered us with bullets and he rained us with shells.
And in 10 minutes flat, he blew us all to hell,
nearly blew us right back to Australia.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda"
as we stopped to bury our slain.
We buried ours,
and the Turks buried theirs,
then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive,
amidst all that blood, death, and fire.
And for 10 weary weeks I kept myself alive,
while around me the corpses piled higher.

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me ass over head,
and when I woke up in me hospital bed,
and saw what it had done, then I wished I were dead.
Never knew there were worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more waltzing Matilda,
all around the green bush far and free.
To dance on his pegs,
a man needs both legs.
No more Waltzing Matilda for me.

Then they gathered the wounded, the crippled, the maimed,
and they shipped us all back to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane:
those proud, wounded heroes of Suvla.

And as our ship pulled into Circular Key,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
and thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
to grieve or to mourn or to pity.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda"
as they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered,
they just stood and stared,
then they turned all their faces away.

So now every April I sit on my porch,
and I watch the parade pass before me.
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
reliving old dreams of past glory.

But the old men march slowly, their bones stiff and sore,
the tired old heroes from a forgotten war.
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question.

But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda,"
and the old men still answer the call,
but as year follows year,
more old men disappear,
Someday no one will march there at all.

"Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"
And their ghosts may be heard
as they march by that billabong:
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"


posted by Jesse 3:23 PM
. . .
Sunday, November 10, 2002
COLD CINEMA: I can't find much fault with Auto Focus, Paul Schrader's softcore biopic about the sex-mad TV star Bob Crane, except this: After a while -- like, say, 25 years -- Schrader's obsessions get a little ... repetitious. Sometimes this is literally true: There is a scene in Bringing Out the Dead, directed by Martin Scorsese from a Schrader script, that is almost identical to a scene in Schrader's earlier Light Sleeper. But usually it's true in a broader, duller sense. It's fine to spend a career exploring the psychic residue of your youthful Dutch Calvinist repression, but you shouldn't expect the results to connect with more than a small audience most of the time. There are filmmakers I really love, and there are filmmakers I somewhat coldly respect. Schrader falls into the second category.

So does
Stan Brakhage, though I like him enough that I drove to Washington today to watch two back-to-back programs of his films. Just as I never really appreciated Peter Greenaway's movies until I stopped thinking of him as a storyteller and started regarding him as a painter, I never really understood Brakhage until I stopped regarding him as a painter -- even though he sometimes eschews photography altogether and paints directly onto the celluloid -- and started thinking of him as a documentarian. Sometimes the connection is obvious: The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, an unflinchingly graphic half-hour of autopsy footage, is clearly a documentary, though it eventually transcends that category, achieving a sort of snuff poetry. But even his purely abstract films are inspired by such familiar phenomena as the strange dance of light on the inside of one's eyelids. One of his life's obsessions is finding ways to present such universal yet rarely articulated visions on film. "Imagine an eye un-ruled by man-made laws of perspective," Brakhage wrote in a 1963 essay that is, conveniently, quoted on the cover of the afternoon's program notes: "an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure in perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of 'green'?"

Sometimes this works for me: I loved the dancing colors of Interpolations I–V, though I don't have the vocabulary to explain why. More often, I was diverted but not engaged: Abstract impressionism isn't usually my cup of tea, even when it's animated onscreen. Brakhage's photographed films also blow hot and cold for me: The Act of Seeing... is a difficult but rewarding experience, for example, while Self Song & Death Song simply mystified me until I read the program notes' explanation of what I was seeing. A film shouldn't require an external annotation to have its effect.


posted by Jesse 11:44 PM
. . .
Friday, November 08, 2002
SELF-PROMOTION: I have a brief
essay today on the Reason website, about a referendum in Gibraltar.


posted by Jesse 12:29 PM
. . .
FROM THE RIGHT, I'M ROBERT PLANT: The new conventional wisdom is that if the Democrats want to recover from Tuesday's crushing blow -- that is, if they'd like to represent a staggering 51% of America rather than a measly 49% of it -- they need to offer a real alternative to the Republican vision. In other words, they must embrace liberalism again. This may well be true, but it begs the question: What the hell is a liberal these days?

There was a time when libertarians would complain that the Truman/Humphrey crowd had stolen the word "liberal" from them. But there are similarly giant gaps between the labor-left liberals of the '30s through the '60s, the post-New Left liberals of the '70s, and the Clintonite liberals of today. There are other definitions, too: In high school, when someone overheard me commenting that Led Zeppelin was overrated, he interrupted to say, "Jesse, I don't care what you think, because you are the most liberal person I know." So apparently, it can also refer to an unorthodox taste in pop music.

At this point, the Clintonites are more likely to call themselves moderates, the Naderites are more likely to call themselves progressives, and the folks who call themselves liberals just leave me confused. What kind of liberal, man? Do you dig the Wagner Act, the McGovern campaign, or Senator Hillary? Or are you just tired of hearing "Stairway to Heaven"?


posted by Jesse 10:40 AM
. . .
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
SELF-PROMOTION: For more electoral commentary from yours truly, visit Reason Online today, where I've published a
piece on political dirty tricks.

Meanwhile, December's print edition of Reason is now out. I don't have any feature-length articles in it, but I do have two short items in the "Citings" section, one on anarchistic parallel institutions in Argentina and one on the movement of private enterprise into outer space.

While I'm at it: I added a new post this afternoon to the antiwar weblog Stand Down. And one of my older columns has just been reprinted by the Atlanta weekly Creative Loafing.


posted by Jesse 7:24 PM
. . .
ELECTION ROUNDUP: Every election there's at least one bit of news that makes me smile, however terrible everything else may appear. In 1998, it was the surreal victory of a pro wrestler running on a third-party ticket. In 2000, it was the sheer chaos of the Florida results. This year it was the defeat of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Bobby Kennedy and goddaughter of Joseph McCarthy, in her effort to capture Maryland's gubernatorial mansion.

Other good news? I was glad to see Gray Davis struggle so much in California; the fact that he ultimately won was a testament more to the awfulness of his opponent than to anything else. And I was perversely happy to see Jim "Jailbird" Traficant pull 15% of the vote in Ohio, a rare display of adventurousness from an electorate that seemed intent on avoiding anything remotely experimental.

Which leads us to the bad news. Decriminalization of marijuana lost in Arizona and Nevada. A measure to repeal the state income tax was defeated in Massachusetts. A jury-rights initiative failed in one of the Dakotas. The Ventura organization appears to be collapsing in Minnesota, where the Independence Party's gubernatorial nominee, Tim Penny, finished third. Those of us who hoped that party might become more than a support network for one charismatic man -- that it might take on a role comparable to the same state's old Farmer-Labor Party, or Wisconsin's old Progressive Party, or North Dakota's old Non-Partisan League -- should shelve our illusions. It's finished.

The worst news of all: The Republicans have taken the Senate. I'm no friend to the Democrats; indeed, I was glad the GOP held the House. But the prospect of one party controlling both houses of Congress plus the presidency is frightening, especially in a time of war. That aside, there's a strong chance that many of the creepier Republican initiatives, from the unvarnished Homeland Security proposal to subsidies for religious organizations to the suppression of stem-cell research, will now go through. Not to mention the implications for "preemptive" war with Iraq...


posted by Jesse 11:51 AM
. . .
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
A SURREALIST VOTES IN BALTIMORE: I hadn't planned to support the Libertarian candidate for governor, but I did: He and his running mate looked so lonely, the only third-party ticket on the entire ballot, that I just had to give them my vote. Besides, my original plans for the gubernatorial race were in tatters. I had intended to write in a certain acquaintance of mine, but she refused the honor when I told her my plan, informing me that if I really wanted to help her I could clean one of the bathrooms before she gets home from the late shift.

A series of more successful write-ins followed. If Fred Savage lands in Congress, he can thank me for doing my part. Other votes went to such fine fellows as God, Popeye, and (tipping my hat to the summer movie crowd) Spider Man; for attorney general, I wrote in MY MOMMY, who I can't imagine sending her eldest boy to prison.

Then came the initiatives, the vast majority of which were bond issues. What a pleasure, to hit so many No keys. It's what voting's all about, at least for us anti-tax curmudgeons.


posted by Jesse 7:50 PM
. . .
Monday, November 04, 2002
REJECTED MONDALE CAMPAIGN SLOGAN #23: "We know you'd rather vote for a dead man. This is the closest we could find."


posted by Jesse 11:50 PM
. . .
MICROCINEFEST 2002: Baltimore's
MicroCineFest, held at the G-Spot this past weekend, is an annual showcase for ultra-low-budget film and video with a psychotronic edge. This year, alas, I made it to just one screening, but it was a good one: the Saturday night collection of 19 "experimiscellaneous" shorts.

I can't say that the program was entirely free of underground-film clichés or that every movie they showed was worth watching. But most of them had merit, and some of them were excellent; only one came close to violating my Screensaver Rule. ("In order to be taken seriously, an experimental film must show more craft, and be less predictable, than a screensaver.") I attribute this high batting average to the MicroCineFest's admirable aesthetic: They like films that challenge audiences, but not ones that ignore them.

Some highlights:

* Infomercial Aesthetics: My favorite film of the evening, directed by Daniel Martinico. From the program notes: "Built entirely from the eerie debris of late night television advertising, this piece takes multiple fragments from a week's worth of infomercials and pushes them together into a desperate video remix." Pointed, hilarious, and disturbingly catchy.

* Composition in Red & Yellow: My girlfriend's favorite film of the evening, directed by Roger Beebe. A Super 8 tribute to McDonald's, in road-film format, presented to the tune of "Hands Across America." Funny stuff, though I still can't forgive Beebe for getting that awful song stuck in my head for the next two days.

* Kinetic Sandwich: The crowd's favorite, from local filmmaker Eric Dyer. I'm sick of quoting the program notes, so I'll quote the Baltimore City Paper instead: "...rips the lid off the standard American midday meal, one layer at a time. The result makes visual poetry out of the same-old, same-old white bread, lettuce, tomato, and lunch meat. As Dyer's camera burrows through the ingredients, it catches folds of iceberg curling and unfurling with dancelike grace. Seedy tomato interiors come alive and writhe while Swiss cheese bubbles like a pot of boiling pea soup. In the less-than-three-minute video's most memorable sequence, Dyer even makes olive loaf sing."

* To Hug You and Squeeze You: Wago Kreider's short is a cinematic cut-up, splicing animal footage into a home movie of a wedding, while the audio track mixes two stories of -- to quote the program notes again -- "the doomed marriage of a Hollywood starlet and an African prince." It may sound like a dry formalist experiment, but it was actually one of the most compelling films of the night.

* Kerry May: Here's a rarity for you: an avant-garde feminist film with a sense of humor. And I mean actual wit, not just self-congratulatory jokebots. Made with considerable craft by one Christina Vantzos, on a very low budget of just $7.

I could spend time dissecting the films I liked the least, too, but for now, I prefer to praise.


posted by Jesse 11:33 PM
. . .
AMOUR FOU: There's a species of movie -- think Serendipity -- whose ads promise a magical universe, romantic in more ways than one, and whose actual films deliver yet another tired rehash of an increasingly abrasive romantic-comedy formula. The great thing about Punch-Drunk Love -- one of the great things -- is that it eschews that formula to present a universe that is just as strange as a romantic fantasy ought to be: where musical instruments appear out of nowhere, pudding can take you around the world, and even a socially awkward and deeply disturbed man like Adam Sandler's character can find a woman willing to fall completely in love with him. It's a silly story, but this is silliness with grandeur.

I didn't have as much trouble as some people did in adjusting to the idea of a good Adam Sandler movie, since I actually enjoyed his early stand-up work and some of his roles on Saturday Night Live. It's true I didn't like any of his movies, but with this picture he's broken out of that pattern -- and not just by putting himself into the hands of a better writer-director. What separates this Sandler performance from its predecessors is that he gets through the entire film without mugging. On the strength of that alone, I hereby retract my earlier
description of his post-SNL career as "wretched."


posted by Jesse 11:35 AM
. . .
Friday, November 01, 2002
LOVECRAFT IN NIGERIA: Spammers beware:
Cthulhu is after you.


posted by Jesse 10:16 AM
. . .
SUBLIME: Not long ago, I picked up a nice Louis Armstrong
anthology drawn from the Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings of 1926-29. Michael Brooks' liner notes include this description of the song "King of the Zulus":

"This track starts off like a New Orleans funeral parade, but is interrupted by the bizarre West Indian, Clarence Babcock, who demands an order of chitlins, annoying Louis, who accuses him of interrupting his solo! Babcock's culinary needs satisfied, Louis goes on a rampage, cutting and dicing everything in his path, until he surrenders the last word to Babcock who, as far as I know, never appeared on another record."


posted by Jesse 10:06 AM
. . .
Thursday, October 31, 2002
SELF-PROMOTION: My most recent
article for Reason Online is about the instant (and baseless) conspiracy theories that have emerged about the death of Paul Wellstone.


posted by Jesse 2:09 PM
. . .
HAPPY HALLOWEEN: In my early twenties, I decided that the best policy toward Halloween was, each year, to try to create a costume more minimal than I wore the October before. So in 1991, my then-girlfriend and I put on some relatively fancy clothes and declared that we were dressed as "Republicans." A year later, I attached a pair of makeshift fake ears (two pieces of cardboard, I think), put on a homemade button that said "Hi, I'm Perot!," and otherwise relied on a vocal impression to impersonate the presidential candidate. By 1994, my costume consisted of a single magic-marker dot at the end of my schnoz. Asked who I was, I replied, "a man with a big black spot on his nose." And with that, I drove the idea into the ground.

Subsequent costumes were mostly unmemorable, except perhaps in 2000. That year, I went to
Eugene Volokh's Halloween party, which had a film theme: you were supposed to come dressed as a movie title. I affixed a halo to a Microsoft baseball cap, and went as Errol Morris' classic documentary, Gates of Heaven.

Most of the guests seemed to think this was pretty good, though several -- far too many -- guessed that I was Angels in the Outfield. Others reversed the title and asked if I was Michael Cimino's western Heaven's Gate (not bad, but the guy's named "Gates"), while a few others guessed Heaven Can Wait. I guess they'd had some bad experiences with tech support.

I'd like to report that I wore the evening's best costume, but there were quite a few people who outdid me:

* A woman adorned with ten peanut-butter logs. She was The Decalogue.

* A heavyset fellow with a tiny doll attached to his shirt. He was Fat Man and Little Boy.

* A guy wearing a copy of the First Amendment. He was Say Anything.

* A woman carrying half a pair of dice and a Viagra pen. She was Die Hard.

* A man wearing a picture of Clinton and a picture of Gore. He was Liar, Liar.

* A man decked in orange with a watch dangling from his pocket. He was A Clockwork Orange.

* A man wearing a calendar page for May 2000 and the cover of a box of Trix. May ... Trix ... yep, he was The Matrix.

* A man with ten sticks of gum and a bag of mints hanging from his neck. He was "ten gum and mints," which, if you squint your ears real hard, sounds like The Ten Commandments.

I figured out some of the tough ones, but stumbled on a couple of costumes that should have been easy. Like the woman dressed in normal street clothes. I made a few guesses: first Ordinary People; then, noting her drink, A Woman Under the Influence. After a few more tries, she took pity on me and mentioned that her mother's name was Rosemary.

"Ah!" I said. "You're Rosemary's Daughter!"

She gave me a look, and I suddenly felt Dumb and Dumber.


posted by Jesse 11:42 AM
. . .
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
DAVID HOROWITZ MENTAL STABILITY WATCH: I was under the impression that Communism had only miniscule support in this country. David Horowitz feels differently.
Writing in FrontPage about last weekend's antiwar demonstrations, the red-diaper baby turned right-wing firebrand headlined his report "100,000 Communists March On Washington To Give Aid and Comfort to Saddam Hussein." I presume all those heretofore hidden commies learned their Leninist catechism at America's leftist universities, despite Horowitz's valiant efforts to debrainwash them via carefully placed newspaper ads.

Comparing today's antiwar movement to what he calls the "communist New Left left" (sic), Horowitz declares, "The size of these demonstrations is a reflection of the growth of a treacherous anti-American radicalism in this country that has no Communist Party per se, but is just as dedicated to America's destruction." I think he means it's the radicals, not the country, who want to destroy America, but sloppy construction is the least of that sentence's sins.

If you want evidence that "the desire to hurt this country and its citizens is uppermost in the protesters' minds," Horowitz has the proof: "The demon singled out by the demonstrators for the greatest opprobrium was Attorney General John Ashcroft -- the man responsible for the security of 300 million Americans." I guess that settles it.

Horowitz's claim to expertise is that he used to be a Communist himself, though why this should make us take him seriously is beyond me. At any rate, I'm glad he's managed to wash the red out of his diapers. I look forward to the day he removes the infant underwear altogether.


posted by Jesse 2:46 PM
. . .
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
STAND DOWN: Several bloggers of both the left and the right -- plus some politically non-Euclidean folks like me -- have created a cooperative weblog for writers opposed to the pending war with Iraq. It's called
Stand Down, and I recommend reading it regularly. I probably won't have time to contribute to it very often, but I did write something for its first day, called "When Do-Gooders Kill." It's about the Moscow hostage disaster and its implications for the war on terror.


posted by Jesse 11:35 PM
. . .
Monday, October 28, 2002
JESSE'S HELPFUL HINTS: There is one surefire way to get out of jury duty. You wait until they ask if anyone has any questions. You raise your hand. And then, in as flat a tone as you can manage, you ask:

"If we find him guilty, do we get to keep his stuff?"

Guaranteed to work. Don't tell too many people, or they'll spoil it for the rest of us.


posted by Jesse 6:06 PM
. . .
Friday, October 25, 2002
SELF-PROMOTION: I
eulogize the late Sen. Wellstone on Reason Online today. I don't often say kind things about politicians, but I've long had a soft spot in my heart for this one -- one of the few men in Washington with principles, even if they weren't always the same as mine.


posted by Jesse 6:28 PM
. . .
LEADERLESS RESISTANCE: Justin Raimondo has written a blistering
column about pundits who equate the accused snipers with Islamist terrorists. Most of his points are well-taken, but I think he's giving short shrift to the notion of "leaderless resistance." As I understand it, that model allows people to act without any coordination at all; it is not a conspiracy, or even necessarily a network, in the conventional sense of those terms. If it turns out that Muhammad and Malvo were motivated by some sort of support for Osama's jihad -- and that still isn't clear one way or the other -- then it may make sense to categorize their spree under the leaderless-resistance label.

That is, of course, a long way from the model that Jim Robbins, Jonah Goldberg, and others were positing before the apparent snipers were caught, in which the shootings were part of a "Fall offensive" coordinated by Al Qaeda.


posted by Jesse 11:34 AM
. . .
IF YOU AREN'T A SERIOUS DYLAN FAN, YOU CAN SKIP THIS ONE: I like the way
Radley Balko has organized his blogroll, with his hyperlinks sorted by Dylan album. Blood on the Tracks is Balko's favorite, so it refers to sites he hits daily. The Times They Are a-Changin' is filled with political songs, so it covers weblogs by hard-core libertarians. Love and Theft is Dylan's most recent studio album, so it gets the most recent additions to the link list. And so on.

I thought I'd extend the idea a little:

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: A blog of few words.

Self-Portrait: You're not completely sure, but you think it might be a joke.

Bringing it All Back Home: Alternately long-winded and electrifying.

World Gone Wrong: You keep going back to it, even though there's no original material.

Planet Waves: More interested in personal matters than in politics.

Biograph: Tries to cover everything.

Slow Train Coming: Very well-produced, but it gets creepy sometimes, epecially when it starts to talk about Arabs.

Infidels: Hawkish on Israel, incoherent on labor.

Another Side of Bob Dylan: This blog is liberal, but to a degree. It wants everybody to be free. But if you think that it'd let Barry Goldwater move in next door and marry its daughter, you must think it's crazy. It wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.

And, of course:

Desire: Really good, except for "Joey."


posted by Jesse 10:46 AM
. . .
Thursday, October 24, 2002
AN HONEST BLOGGER: I think
Sara speaks for all of us.


posted by Jesse 7:25 PM
. . .
SNIPER WATCH, CONT.: As the sniper mysteries begin to resolve themselves, we're left with a scenario that has something for everybody. The alleged killers are Muslims, but not Arabs or Asians. One is a veteran, but he isn't a white supremacist -- indeed, he isn't even white. They've expressed sympathy for Islamic terrorism, but have no apparent connection to any "Fall offensive." Assuming that they are indeed the shooters, the biggest puzzle to be sussed out is whether they were working entirely on their own or are part of a larger network. For reasons I've already
laid out, I think the on-their-own theory is more likely, though that doesn't exclude their receiving aid or training, witting or not, through some suspect associations.

Some thoughts. First: Assuming that I'm right and that this is not part of a centrally planned Al Qaeda offensive, this has both good and bad implications for the fight against terror. On the negative side, it shows that, as a lot of us have warned, you can't stop terrorism by simply cutting off the head. Decentralized "leaderless resistance" is almost impossible to contain, especially by conventional military means.

On the plus side, there is the relatively low level of damage involved in the attacks. I don't want to minimize the death and suffering of the last few weeks, but by the standards of war this was a battle with very few casualties -- largely because, even if the shooters had political motives, it isn't war. It's crime, and it can be contained the way crime ordinarily is contained, through good policework and vigilant self-defense. If this is the future of the war on terror, than maybe we should stop thinking of it as a war at all.

As I wrote a few months ago: "You can't fight this [kind of] threat with the standard hawkish strategy. You can't fight it with the standard dovish strategy either. There's no single source to target, no single grievance to mollify. You can only try to make your society as resilient as possible, to minimize the damage attackers can do and maximize the opportunities for other citizens to stop them."

Of course, there's still a lot that hasn't been explained: the Tarot card or cards, the demand for money, the exact nature of the killers' ideology. They may turn out to be closer to the Black Muslim style of Islam than the Taliban kind, while freely adapting ideas from the media image of serial killers (e.g., the Tarot deck). They might have wanted the money to pay for further attacks, or they might have been using their Muslim ideas as an excuse to grab some money. Their motives are still murky, though they seem much clearer now than this time yesterday.

Me, I'm still waiting for the other batch of conspiracy theorists to weigh in. Any moment now, I expect I'll get an e-mail with this header:

Bush Knew Sniper Attacks Were Coming!


posted by Jesse 1:05 PM
. . .
JESUITICAL PARSINGS: A friend faxed me a page from the November issue of Liberty, in which editor R.W. Bradford replies to a reader's letter:

"I did not make the first assertion that Mr. Jett ascribes to me. I wrote that 'it is doubtful that the Pentagon was their [the hijackers'] intended target,' which is substantially different from saying that it was 'probably not the intended target.'"


posted by Jesse 12:07 PM
. . .
SOPHISTICATED WIT CORNER: Perhaps I've
misjudged James Taranto. My colleague Chuck Freund suggests that The Wall Street Journal's house blogger may have "taken the phrase 'Arab basher' as a descriptive moniker, similar to 'Italian stallion,' and thus would have prefered Jesse to have called him a 'Turk basher.'" Reader Jim Ancona agrees, commenting that "the way I read it, James Taranto was making a play on words." And John Tabin writes that Taranto was being "deadpan."

Maybe so. When the article Taranto disliked was in galleys, I actually argued for hyphenating the phrase "Arab-basher," precisely because it might otherwise be misconstrued in that manner. My suggestion was rejected on the grounds that no one could possibly be that stupid. It didn't occur to us that someone might be bright enough to understand what I meant, yet thick enough to think there was a clever play on words to be made.

I had forgotten about Taranto's peculiar sense of humor. The one time I met him, it reared its head when someone mentioned the black comic George Wallace. Taranto perked up and commented, in a voice that was far from deadpan, "Are you sure that George Wallace is a black man? I thought he was a segregationist." To this day, he probably believes he's the first person to have noticed that the two men share a name.

I replied, incidentally, with a weak joke about "the gangsta rapper, MC Lestor Maddox." Taranto stared blankly at me, and I realized with discomfort that he thought I was being serious.


posted by Jesse 11:39 AM
. . .
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
READY, AIM, WRITE: I was going to write a parody of Jon Wiener's awful
defense of Michael Bellesiles, published in the October 17 Nation, but I've got another piece due tomorrow and it's gotta take priority. Besides, it's not like there's a shortage of scathing take-downs of the article. Clayton Cramer, one of the first writers to pose serious criticisms of Bellesiles's scholarship, has penned a solid rebuttal, and Glenn Reynolds is doing a good job of linking to other critiques as well as offering sensible comments of his own.

I have only one thing to add: Please, don't limit your criticisms to cyberspace. The many bloggers who are damning Wiener's piece on their sites should also write letters to The Nation, keeping their tone moderate (no "fiskings," please) but their critique sharp. Wiener's article could not possibly be meant to persuade people who are actually familiar with Bellesiles's errors and frauds; it was more likely intended as reassurance for Nation readers who were vaguely aware that the Second Amendment crowd was winning an argument but hadn't been following the debate closely. They deserve to hear the other side make its case.


posted by Jesse 1:39 PM
. . .
LITMUS TEST: There are two types of people in the world: those who will find
zombo.com deeply hilarious, and those who will be puzzled and annoyed that I sent them there.


posted by Jesse 11:25 AM
. . .
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
BEHIND THE SCENES: I
babble a bit about the Beltway sniper on Reason's website today. The manuscript originally included a paragraph that I later suggested the editors cut, for reasons of taste. I'm going to put it here instead, partly on the grounds that you folks are an elite group of readers capable of recognizing irony, and partly on the grounds that no one looks at this website anyway.

The published piece includes this sentence: "With so many revelations and un-revelations to choose from, it's easy to absorb whatever facts serve your theory and ignore the rest -- or else to accept on faith that the contradictions will eventually resolve themselves in your favor, like a devout believer's conviction that fate's twists will be reconciled by God's ineffable plan."

Then came the part we decided to cut: "God is, in fact, the only force to actually take credit for the murders, at least so far as we non-cops know, having identified Himself on a calling card left for policemen two weeks ago. No one seems willing to take the Tarot message literally, but doing so would explain, if nothing else, the Killer's ability to elude capture so completely."


posted by Jesse 1:34 PM
. . .
ENTREPRENEURIAL DEAD END: For years I've wanted to make a bumper sticker that says Infanticide: A Woman's Right. Trouble is, I can't figure out which side of the abortion debate would be my market.


posted by Jesse 12:52 PM
. . .
Monday, October 21, 2002
A CALL FOR READER INPUT: One thing you'll never read here is a mindless exhortation to cast ballots before swine -- or to cast ballots at all, for that matter. I'm not one of those anarcho-purist types who believes it's immoral to participate in the political process, but I'm not one of those goo-goos who thinks it's oh so important to get out the vote, either. Elections are spectacles, and are best regarded as such; my favorite candidates are invariably those who want nothing more than to make the race more interesting. When Norman Mailer promised to bring jousting tournaments to New York's Central Park, when Hunter Thompson pledged to put Aspen's dishonest drug dealers in stocks, when Jello Biafra announced he would rehire San Francisco's laid-off city workers as panhandlers at 50% commission -- those were candidates worth voting for.

Of course, like anything else, such prank campaigns can be done poorly. When I lived in Seattle, one Jim "Davy Jones XLV" Guilfoil, who played a pirate at the annual Seafair,
ran for mayor on a platform that consisted mostly of stale jokes about fruitcake. Apparently, no one eats them, so gosh, maybe we could use them to fill potholes. (What's next, a platform of mother-in-law jokes?) The worst thing about the campaign wasn't its weak wit, though -- it was that it advertised itself as a get-out-the-vote drive. "The real motivation behind this campaign," a Guilfoil aide told the Seattle Weekly, was to get "a huge number of people" to "come out to the polls." And then, naturally, to vote for one of the real candidates.

Ahem. Prank campaigns do not exist to encourage people to participate in the system. They exist to make fun of the system. Think back to would-be governor Howard Stern's suggestion that New York fill its potholes with the bodies of executed prisoners. Dead bodies in potholes are funny; fruitcakes in potholes are not.

I prefer Richard A.C. Greene, who without campaigning nonetheless became Washington's Republican candidate for state land commissioner in 1968. Greene quickly high-tailed to Hawaii, leaving the campaign to his staff. Some excerpts from the platform they concocted:

* Land Use: Land should be used gently but firmly.
* Whidbey Island: Whidbey Island must be replaced.
* Indian Fishing Rights: Individual catches will be limited to four Indians. All those under five feet two inches must be thrown back.
* If Elected: I shall be the sort of Land Commissioner who will go out fearlessly and commission the land.

Greene also demanded that Idaho "annex a large part of Eastern Washington, especially Spokane." And what did he think of the Democratic incumbent, Bert Cole? "Cole is simply too good a man for the job. I'd like to see him move on to something more challenging."

The campaign had its semi-serious side, or at least a semi-serious point to make. A week before Election Day, Greene staffer Lorenzo Milam wrote and delivered a speech on the candidate's behalf. "Sometimes I think about that 15,000 vote plurality I received in the primary campaign for state land commissioner," he said. "Richard A.C. Greene became Republican nominee for the office of Washington State Land Commissioner not because of his pretty smile, nor because of his knowledge of Greek and Latin -- but because all these people thought it was their duty to vote. They didn't give a damn, really; I know, because that's why they got in the booth and fumbled around with all those unfamiliar names and finally said: 'Land Commissioner. Hm. Greene. That sounds nice.'"

Guilfoil might want to meditate on those words the next time he urges people to bum-rush the ballot-box. And on these, from the same talk: "I think the voters who have to be dragged from the offices, yanked from their TV sets to get them to vote: those are the wrong ones to be in the booth. If their motivation is so lousy, their knowledge of the candidates and issues must be equally as lousy; I'd just as soon see them stay in bed on election day."

Surely there is no shortage of Greenes, or at least of Guilfoils, in America's precincts this year. If there's a prank campaign worth noting in your neck of the woods, please let me know about it. It can be funny or it can be lame; it can have its own spot on the ballot, or it can rely on write-ins. Someone's got to keep track of this stuff, and it might as well be me.


posted by Jesse 9:53 PM
. . .
YOUNG TURK: While I was away, James Taranto, the man behind The Wall Street Journal's ineffable "Best of the Web,"
discovered a short article I wrote about federalism and 9/11. Taranto complains that the piece is "mostly a mishmash of complaints about things that don't really have anything to do with federalism, unless you think that the federal government has no business in such matters as airport security, the detention of prisoners of war, and criminal investigations that cross state lines or involve terror-related offenses."

Taranto has not been reading very carefully. With regard to air travel, for example, my article cites "federalized airport security" and "new unfunded mandates on local transportation authorities," which are obviously federalist issues, whether or not you think the feds have "no business in such matters as airport security." Similarly, while the piece does allude to the prisoners at Guantanamo, it does not claim that their detention is related to federalism. (It's interesting, though, that Taranto describes the detainees as "prisoners of war," a phrase he's previously made a point of rejecting.)

Taranto's actual problem with the article is that it describes him as an "Arab basher." The characterization is obviously true -- Taranto's column discusses Arabs the way much of the Arab press discusses Jews -- but he objects to it because "we're actually of Turkish descent." Note to Taranto: Turks aren't Arabs. Both groups do tend to be Muslim, but by that standard, you could refer to Boris Yeltsin as a Frenchman.


posted by Jesse 11:28 AM
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For past entries, click here.


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