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

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
YE OLDE MOVIE REVIEWS: Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953): A strange, engrossing nightmare of a movie, starring Jean Peters and Casey Adams as a couple taking a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls. The husband is a vapid salesman, and Adams' deliberately grating performance brings to mind a young Don Knotts. Later they encounter another couple who seem to be exactly what you'd expect Peters and Adams to be 20 years down the road: He's jocular and annoying; she's an anchor in common sense; both are all surface, no depth.

But Peters does have depth. She's caught between that potential future and another one, represented by a third couple, played brilliantly by Joseph Cotton and Marilyn Monroe. These two are nothing but depth -- desperate love, seething hatred, rage, despair, madness. They haunt Peters, and not just figuratively: By the end of the picture one of them is, in effect if not in fact, a ghost that only Peters can see.

All this is cast against a Hitchcockian plot and Joe MacDonald's dreamlike photography, fusing the shadows of noir, the bright shades of Technicolor, and the natural beauty of the falls. It's the best Hathaway movie I've seen, probably because it isn't especially meaningful to talk about "Hathaway movies": The most important creative forces behind this film appear to be Monroe, Cotton, Peters, MacDonald, and Charles Brackett, best known as Billy Wilder's writing partner in the '30s and '40s, who here serves as producer and co-screenwriter.

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930): Marlene Dietrich's first American film. The photography and the soundscape are beautiful. Aside from one late scene in a desert bar and one bit of dialogue in a dining room, the hackneyed script is not. And while Dietrich is fine as a singer caught between two suitors in Arab Africa, Gary Cooper is even stiffer and duller than usual, wrecking any chance that the film will rise very far above its story. There's no particular reason why this should be remembered as a "classic," yet it is; I suspect it's famous mostly for one priceless pre-Code moment, when Marlene gives another woman a sudden Sapphic kiss.

Resisting Enemy Interrogation (First Motion Picture Unit, 1944): A real oddity: a military training film from the Second World War, dramatizing the ways German captors might attempt to extract information from their prisoners. It's not a documentary as the term is usually used today, though it was nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category. Instead, it's a surprisingly well-crafted yarn about a crashed crew tricked into revealing important information.

Here's the odd part. The story delves so deeply into the nitty-gritty of the interrogators' methods, watching as they piece together their puzzle, that it effectively becomes a police procedural shot from the German point of view. Any Law & Order junkie will probably catch herself unwittingly cheering for the Nazis, a problem which presumably didn't afflict the picture's original audience.


posted by Jesse 7:50 PM
. . .
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: Today I wrote a column about
media ownership rules for Reason Online.


posted by Jesse 7:00 PM
. . .
THE MATRIX RELOCATED: Early in The Matrix Reloaded, a pilot declares that Keanu Reeves' character is "doing his Superman routine." A later scene is an almost direct analog to the conclusion of Superman: The Movie, in which the caped one brings Lois Lane back to life. Another chunk of Reloaded recalls Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Here, as there, we have an underground city whose denizens live in an uneasy relationship with machines and wait in catacombs for "The One." At yet another point, the film incorporates footage lifted directly from the 1960 flick The Brides of Dracula.

The second Matrix movie pulsates with allusions, quotes, parodies, and plagiarisms. The story feels less important than this free-floating set of cultural signifiers, as though the filmmakers decided to throw every pop archetype into a blender and hit "puree." And so we leap quickly from vampires to a car chase to some kung fu; we have religious symbolism, video-game imagery, even dance numbers.

The dance numbers, I should add, are technically called "fight scenes." But when the fighters are uninjurable ghosts and gods, when their steps are carefully choreographed, and when the music is closely timed to their movements, they qualify as dance. This is especially true when Reeves, a.k.a. The One, battles Mr. Smith, who might as well be called The Many. No life or limb is at risk here, and no one expects to see blood. Fighting? Please. This is a Chicago for guys.

I enjoyed the first Matrix but was ideologically uncomfortable with it: While its contemporary releases eXistenz and Being John Malkovich took a more plural and uncertain view of reality, The Matrix seemed to suggest that an ultimate truth is knowable and that those who know it constitute a superhuman elite. Everyone in the audience could project themselves onto Reeves' messianic hero, not least when he casually crushed his subhuman foes. But the second movie yanks the rug from below those certainties, hinting both that control systems run far deeper than the first movie suggested and that there might be more to freedom than "liberating" yourself from this endless series of controls.

At the same time, Reloaded is an enjoyable spectacle itself, probably all the more so for being such a muddle. You could be unkind and compare it to The Empire Strikes Back, another sequel that performed its chores by (a) adding much mystical speechifying and (b) not bothering to include an ending. Or you can praise it for actually attempting to go beyond the first film's simple setup, whether or not it's heading anywhere coherent.

My fantasy for how the trilogy should conclude: After learning that absolutely every level of reality is just another matrix, The One shrugs his shoulders and walks off the film set. A digital camera follows him across the street to a lecture hall, where a professor is denouncing metafiction and declaring postmodernism a literary dead end. Keanu's cell phone rings: It's his agent. We hear them chatting about how much they're making from all that Matrix tie-in merchandising. Then the wall collapses and the cast of Blazing Saddles falls into the lecture room, throwing pies.


posted by Jesse 1:19 PM
. . .
Thursday, May 22, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: My interviews with Ralph Peters, Benjamin Schwarz, and Gene Sharp, originally published in the June Reason, are now
online.


posted by Jesse 4:42 PM
. . .
REFORM CORNER: A recurring debate in Britain: how to
reform the House of Lords. All factions are ready to jettison the old arrangement, in which the scions of England's decrepit aristocracy inherit their parliamentary seats. But what system shall replace it? The Conservatives want a regime that will maintain their hold on the House. The Labourites, naturally, want something different. And the far left, as always, whispers plans to abolish the House of Lords altogether, and perhaps the royal family as well.

I propose that they take their cues from the American experiment in welfare reform and from conservative proposals to privatize PBS:

1. Members of the House of Lords should have two years to find jobs in the private sector; after that, they will be booted from Parliament. The state should, of course, take into account the centuries of dependency that have rendered the British upper class so dysfunctional and indolent, and provide the departing Lords with life-skills training.

2. The crown jewel of the British aristocracy -- that is, the crown itself -- should take advantage of its status as a popular commodity. Just as Sesame Street and Barney could easily survive without public subsidy, the Windsors should capitalize on their franchise. There exists a large and apparently insatiable market for royal-family merchandising, even outside the Empire. Thus far, only outsiders have taken advantage of this, as with Elton John's decision to release a Lady Di tie-in CD.

It is, of course, difficult to release creative energies that have for so long been wasted on ritual ceremony, low-key activism, bulimia, and inbreeding. But with the right incentives, the English aristocracy might finally be transformed from parasites to productive members of society.


posted by Jesse 10:00 AM
. . .
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: Wednesday at noon I'll be discussing
media consolidation on The Marc Steiner Show, on Baltimore NPR affiliate WYPR. Locals can tune in at 88.1 FM. Anyone else who's interested will have to listen online.


posted by Jesse 10:03 PM
. . .
EXQUISITE CORPSES: A four-year-old exchange between
Bryan Alexander and myself, uncovered unexpectedly as I searched my old e-mails for a long-lost document:

Bryan: I've been reading theories about schizophrenia and the telephone all day.

Jesse: I thought the phone was ringing, but it was a frontal lobe disorder.

Bryan: I thought my lobes were ringing, but it was only the phone, ordering.

Jesse: I thought I was ordering a pizza, but it was only my shadow laughing.

Bryan: I thought I was mocking the pizza toppings, but it was only the animus orduring.

Jesse: I thought I was topping my anima, but it was only the phone ringing.


posted by Jesse 6:39 PM
. . .
Monday, May 19, 2003
THE WRONG DEBATE: A fellow from Salon called me last week to talk about media consolidation. I rambled, as I often do, and criticized both sides of the debate -- so much so, in fact, that I'm not really sure how I'm going to sound in the finished article. Maybe he'll have me attacking the Clear Channel types, maybe he'll have me attacking their critics, maybe he'll bring in a bit of both -- and then again, maybe he won't quote me at all. Like I said, I rambled.

For those who came in late: On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether to loosen the remaining regulations constraining media mergers. (Fearless prediction: It will.) We're talking about a legally enforced cartel here, which means I don't really have a cock in this fight. On one hand, we have purported deregulationists with no interest in removing the regs that have skewed the marketplace toward the current media giants. On the other hand, we have purported defenders of independent voices sticking up for rules that do very little to foster real media diversity, at a time when a much more important fight -- the battle for spectrum reform -- could really, really use their support.

I'll begin with the second group. They're worried about consolidation for a lot of reasons, most of them valid. But because the rules on the table deal specifically with the number of TV and radio stations a single company can own (and, similarly, with limits on the cross-ownership of print and broadcast outlets), they've been thrown into the role of defending the current regulations, none of which are particularly defensible. Consider the most controversial of the proposed changes: the removal of the 35 percent cap. This rule governs the number of TV stations a network can directly own, as opposed to just providing them with programming, restricting them to 35 percent of the national audience. The FCC is likely to replace this with ... a 45 percent cap. Man the barricades!

What, speaking frankly, would such a change do? It would give the networks a chance to make more money. It would give the remaining independently owned stations a little less room to maneuver. But it strains the imagination to believe that it would seriously reduce the number of local voices on the air, if only because so few stations present meaningfully local material during network programming hours anyway. Indeed, when The Washington Post
covered the issue last week, the example it cited of a station-network conflict involved an effort, not to put a local show onto the air, but to take a national one off: "When [an affiliate in North Carolina] received Fox's 'Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?' reality show, station management refused to air it, saying it would offend Raleigh community standards."

There is no magic number -- 35 percent, 45 percent, 25 percent -- that represents the perfect amount of stations a TV network should be allowed to own. Nor should the government be in the business of trying to compute such a figure. If you're satisfied with TV programming now, you will probably continue to be satisfied with it under the new rules. If you're dissatisfied, there's no way to rejigger this reg upwards or downwards that's going to please you.

Perhaps for that reason, the ideological opponents of media consolidation -- as opposed to the miscellaneous industry lobbyists who oppose the changes for reasons of their own -- have also made an issue out of the way the new rules are being passed. It's happening too fast, they say, and with not enough public input. When the FCC reduced the number of public hearings it held on the issue, Democratic commissioners organized independent forums of their own, in theory to get more views on the table and in practice to show how the decision-makers at the agency aren't interested in listening to The People.

On one level, the critics have a point: Federal communication policy is made by unelected bureaucrats with closer ties to the industry they regulate than to the public they nominally represent. On another level, though, the critics are playing make-believe. The commissioners are already aware of all the arguments about these issues, and delaying the decision so more people can be heard isn't likely to change the outcome. If the system is undemocratic, it is because it concentrates so much power into so few hands, not because the rest of us have so little time to make our case. At best, those guerrilla forums are a form of theater, a way to dramatize the cozy relationship between the regulators and the regulated. At worst, they're complaints aimed at the wrong target.

Meanwhile, the defenders of deregulation are being even more disingenuous. The revised rules will (mostly) loosen the government's control of the airwaves, and so the reformers present themselves as the advocates of economic freedom. But when it comes to a much more important libertarian issue -- opening the spectrum to new users and uses -- most of them have been AWOL. Serious changes in the way spectrum is allocated and allowed to be used could radically alter the airwaves, bringing in a world of cheap or free broadband-quality Internet access that is portable, wireless, and therefore capable of competing directly with AM, FM, and TV broadcasters. There is a serious debate over how best to accomplish this technically, but virtually everyone who's a part of that argument recognizes that the most important prerequisite is a matter of regulation, not engineering. The FCC must allow much more flexibility in how licensees may use their spectrum, thus eliminating the allocation bottlenecks that so aggravate the telecom industry; and it must make more room for unlicensed use of the ether, so shared-spectrum technologies such as WiFi and UltraWideBand can flourish. FCC chief Michael Powell has, to his credit, given a rhetorical boost to these new technologies. But his agency has offered very little in the way of real reform.

That could change. But if that happens, it will not be because the beneficiaries of the government's entry barriers make spectrum reform part of their "deregulatory" agenda. They care about real economic liberty about as deeply as their opponents care about the precise level of the ownership cap.


posted by Jesse 12:04 AM
. . .
Friday, May 16, 2003
THE LOST SAYINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN -- THE FINAL CHAPTER: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. I, on the other hand, am a bit of a lard-ass."


posted by Jesse 8:59 PM
. . .
SELF-PROMOTION: My
new column for Reason Online is about media bias. In retrospect, it's one of my weaker pieces -- poorly organized and not especially well-developed. But I do get off a few good lines.

Meanwhile, my brother Andrew has a long and fascinating article in the Baylor Law Review, Winter 2003 edition. It's a history of the application of Mexican law in the Texas courts, a topic that should interest anyone curious about polycentric legal systems. Along the way he covers a host of colorful tidbits, of which my favorite is the briefly independent Republic of the Rio Grande.


posted by Jesse 4:40 PM
. . .
JUNE CARTER CASH, R.I.P.: What a sad loss. I saw June Carter play live with her husband many years ago, and she was terrific. To quote the anonymous young man who approached the couple in Johnny's
autobiography: "Mrs. Cash, you kick ass."


posted by Jesse 2:23 PM
. . .
POSTMODERN META-ALBUM: Reader Justin Slotman informs me that he received his copy of Boom Selection the same day
I did. Like me, he got his copy without the anthologist collecting his payment; unlike me, he got it without mentioning his long wait on his blog. So much for my theory that I'd been singled out on account of my online babblings.

At any rate, it's a terrific collection, one I've been exploring slowly over the last 24 hours. So far my favorite track is Osymyso's "Intro Introspection," an epic mash-up that combines the introductions of maybe 100 famous songs, from "My Way" to "Come On, Eileen." No mere novelty, this mix is DJ genius.


posted by Jesse 1:26 PM
. . .
Thursday, May 15, 2003
THE POWER OF THE PEN: Ask and ye shall receive. Months after I ordered it but just 10 days after I
mentioned on this site that I didn't receive it, a copy of Boom Selection_Issue 01 arrived in the mail. And they say no one reads weblogs!


posted by Jesse 12:50 PM
. . .
THE LOST SAYINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, CHAPTER FOUR: "Hoard copper and get rich."

(Today's installment comes courtesy of
Micah Holmquist, who evidently has his own cache of lost Franklin bon mots.)


posted by Jesse 10:41 AM
. . .
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
THE LOST SAYINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, CHAPTER THREE: Benjamin Franklin, Disraeli, and Nasrudin walk into a bar. "You see that horse?" asks Franklin. "I'll bet you ten Euros that Nasrudin here can teach it to fly."

"That would depend," comments Disraeli, "on whether he embraces its principles or its mistress."

"Stop saying that," mutters Franklin. "It's getting really old."


posted by Jesse 1:09 PM
. . .
MOVIES MOVIES MOVIES: Another roundup of movies I've either seen recently or am just now getting around to describing:

Johnny Learns His Manners (Charles McGirl, 1946): A while back I
mentioned a classroom movie they showed us every year at Glenwood Elementary School, in which a little boy named Johnny is so rude that he turns into a pig. I've since learned that this film is called Johnny Learns His Manners, that it was released in 1968, and -- most oddly -- that it's a remake. The original movie (available online) isn't quite as weird as the '60s version, but it tells the same basic story and is filmed in an entertainingly low-budget manner: as a series of hand-drawn still shots that only occasionally seem to move, with a narrator who plays all the parts himself.

The Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder, 1978): Speaking of elementary school: For years I half-remembered the other kids at Glenwood going on about a Star Wars Christmas special. For years I assumed that I had either imagined this or completely misunderstood what they were saying. Then, in 2000, I found a bootleg copy and watched it, mouth agape.

The show is gloriously, hilariously bad. Somehow they managed to bring in most of the cast of the original movie, yet the picture itself is directed on the Ed Wood level. It's over 90 minutes long, with much padding devoted to matters such as domestic life among the wookies (there is a long, preternaturally dull sequence of Chewbacca's wife watching a cooking show) -- and, in what is surely one of the most disturbing sequences ever aired on television, some asexual virtual-reality wookie porn.

I thought I was going to be able to get through the tape without hitting fast-forward, but then special guest star Bea Arthur started to sing...

Shaft (John Singleton, 2000): There's things I like about this movie, and there's things I don't. If you draw just one lesson from it, let it be this: Samuel L. Jackson is one bad motherfucker.


posted by Jesse 11:38 AM
. . .
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
THE LOST SAYINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, CHAPTER TWO: When the Constitutional Convention concluded, a woman asked Franklin what sort of government had been devised. "None of your goddamn business," he replied, and hit her with a kite.


posted by Jesse 12:34 PM
. . .
Monday, May 12, 2003
ANOTHER TRUE TALE: "Hi, Jesse. I'm just dropping by to see if you've got any copies of Hustler I could look at."

It's my neighbor J., the UFO abductee, knocking on my door in 1996. At the time I'm living in the rural hamlet of Port Townsend, Washington, population 8,000; my apartment is upstairs from a convenience store, adjacent to a trailer park, across the street from a funeral parlor, and maybe two minutes' walk from the production offices of an infamous survivalist catalog. It's also close to some sort of outpatient clinic for people who've been diagnosed as schizophrenics, which is why J. lives next door.

I don't know where she got the idea that I might be sitting on a pile of skin magazines, and I tell her I don't have any.

"Oh," she replies. "Well, do you know how I might get in touch with Larry Flynt? I need to write him again."

"You've been writing Larry Flynt?" I'd known about her one-sided correspondence with Alan Greenspan, but Flynt was a new one.

"I used to write him a lot, but it turned out I was sending them to a fake address." I offer her a seat. "This was back in the '70s. I read an article that said that both fundamentalists and feminists hated this man and his magazine, and I decided that I had to see it for myself. So I went down to Pike Place Market and found a copy of Hustler. The cover showed a woman being put through a meat grinder, and the caption said, 'We will no longer treat women like meat.' And right then, I felt the Tap on my shoulder. It was a really spiritual experience. I felt the Tap on my shoulder, and God whispered in my ear: 'Larry Flynt is Jesus Christ.'

"And so I wrote him and I told him about it. But he never wrote back. Later on I found out they'd given me a fake address and my letters weren't getting to him."

As always, I don't have much trouble getting into the spirit of the conversation, which is probably why she and I are friends. "I think Paul Krassner used to publish Hustler for a while," I comment. "I have an address for his magazine The Realist; maybe he could tell you how to get in touch with Larry."

"Oh, The Realist? I've got some issues of that. Thanks, I'll try him." She gets up to leave. "I hope you don't think that I'm interested in the pornography. I hate porn. But I love the articles."

"Really?"

"Oh, yes. If I get some copies of Hustler, I'll let you borrow them, and you can see what I mean. They're brilliant, really funny."

"OK," I say. She never follows up on this promise, which is probably just as well.


posted by Jesse 9:55 PM
. . .
ROLE MODELS: Were there ever any kids whose favorite superhero was Robin? Maybe the young Ed McMahon. "When I grow up, I wanna be a second banana."


posted by Jesse 8:30 PM
. . .
THE LOST SAYINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, CHAPTER ONE: "Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve ice cream."


posted by Jesse 2:04 PM
. . .
Sunday, May 11, 2003
WEEKEND HIDEOUT: We're back from a relaxing weekend in North Carolina. My old friend
Meg and her wife Angela hosted us in their cozy Durham home, and Todd Morman gathered a fun group together for a Saturday night dinner (including Fiona Morgan, who edited the first piece I wrote for Salon and is now employed by the Independent Weekly, which I grew up reading). Mostly I wandered through old haunts, took in the distinctive sights and smells of the North Carolina Piedmont -- I had forgotten all about honeysuckles! -- and spent pleasant hours in the company of kind and interesting people. All trips should be this nice.

Except the drive there and back. Driving on I-85 is enjoyable enough. Driving on I-95 is not. If there's a part of the country I've come to hate, it's that swath of northern Virginia that long ago ceased to have any connection to the south and now consists mostly of office parks, D.C. spillover, and the occasional crazy driver. (Friends of mine who live in this area needn't worry: My distaste applies to the landscape, not to the people who live there. Well, not all of them, anyway.)


posted by Jesse 6:52 PM
. . .
Thursday, May 08, 2003
DAILY KOAN: "You know, I knew a guy who ate a whole chair, just because no one stopped him."

(from David Mamet,
Lakeboat, 1980)


posted by Jesse 5:48 PM
. . .
WHERE DID I PUT THOSE MEMORIES?: One of my favorite Dennis Miller jokes is an old one-liner from Weekend Update. "The statute of limitations on respecting Bob Hope for his early work ran out today," he said, apropos of nothing and all the funnier for it. The gag got a good laugh from the audience -- this was in the 1980s, when there were still some people who remembered Hope's early work and why it might be worth respecting.

Hope turns 100 later this month, and the tributes are beginning to flow; Mark Steyn published a very
perceptive one in the Sunday Telegraph earlier this week. I'm a big fan of Hope's movies from the 1940s (my favorite is The Road to Morocco, but almost all of them are good). Tell that to most people these days, and they'll look at you kinda funny, like you've just confessed to crying whenever you read the verse of Rod McKuen. It's been so long since Hope was funny that most of the hip young turks who dethroned him 30 years ago have themselves become witless gasbags in the latter-day Hope tradition. My own father thinks I'm nuts for liking the man. As a comedian, Hope hasn't aged very well.

But those early movies have -- and, by Steyn's account, so has his early standup. Indeed, Steyn argues that Hope invented modern standup comedy, an argument that is at least partially true. But it's the pictures that have got a hold on me: Monsieur Beaucaire and The Ghost Breakers and all those road movies with Bing Crosby. (Well, not The Road to Hong Kong. That came from a later, fatter period.) They're still out there, on tape and DVD. Come May 29, when Hope becomes a centenarian, rent one in the old man's memory. Once upon a time, the guy was really good.


posted by Jesse 2:29 PM
. . .
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: My new
column for Reason's website is about political speechmaking. Also, a couple of short squibs I did for the May Reason -- one on "empowerment zones" and one on radio censorship -- are now online.

Meanwhile, I see that Steve Kaye is telling his readers how we spent my first evening in New York last week. Monkeys make a cameo, as do chandeliers.


posted by Jesse 12:50 PM
. . .
AN OLD BOOK REVIEW THAT NEVER FOUND A HOME: In June of 1991, I read a syndicated column by William F. Buckley, Jr., titled "Universities Should Protect Free Thought." I assume that this title was provided by the newspaper's editors, not Buckley, for nowhere in his essay did he assert that universities should protect free thought. Nowhere, in fact, did he assert much of anything; instead, he meandered around the issue of political correctness, fondling a few non-sequitous thoughts before concluding that we should "lean in the direction of civility." Or, more specifically: "The challenge becomes to distinguish between language in the thoroughly abusive mode and language that is merely contentious. Why is that too great a challenge for a modern university?"

It apparently is too great a challenge for Buckley, who ended his column there, the required number of words written and the afternoon free for yachting. In 13 paragraphs, Buckley let his readers know his opinion of a particular university administrator and a particular course description in the Brown catalog, plus three fellow-columnists' opinions about P.C.; he also worked in a sentence-long history of censorship in America. He did not tell us where he thinks the line between "contentious" and "abusive" speech is, nor why he feels that line is the proper dividing-point between protected and unprotected expression. Why did he write the column? Beats me.

"Universities Should Protect Free Thought" is not reprinted in
Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist -- or if it was, I slept through it -- but over 400 pages of other columns are. Five or so are complete, intelligent, well-written essays. The others either lead nowhere or suffer from terminal thoughtlessness; virtually all bear the unhappy marks of Mr. Buckley's flabby and pretentious writing style. Worst of all is the author's self-indulgent assumption that the rest of us are innately interested in whatever happens to be passing through his mind when he happens to be typing.

The book's title contains two lies: first, that it is libertarian; second, that it is journalism. Aside from its mild (some would say half-assed) opposition to the war on drugs, the book's libertarianism never extends beyond the most universally held pro-freedom sentiments: that Communism is bad, that government regulation sometimes goes too far, that there are goofy goings-on on college campuses. Meanwhile, Buckley issues paeans to Sidney Hook and Richard Nixon, defenses of military action everywhere from Vietnam to Nicaragua to Iraq, and unqualified praise for Franco and Pinochet.

So what kind of libertarian is Buckley? "I do not understand," he writes, "where Congress got the idea that it has any business telling an adult American what he can and what he cannot purchase from a willing seller, if you're not talking drugs or machine guns." Ah -- a libertarian for drug laws and gun control. Interesting kind.

As for journalism, its primary purpose is to relate facts, and this book offers little more than passing, effervescent opinions. A few of these are odd enough to become news in their own right, in a Ripley's-believe-it-or-not way (e.g., Buckley's bizarre belief that Princess Di is the most attractive woman in the world). More often, we are treated to this sort of drivel:

"Bob Dylan comes on stage, and on either side of him are two famous guitarists from the Rolling Stones. He last shaved, oh, three days before (Why?). He is wearing blue jeans and a scruffy T-shirt arrangement of sorts (Why? Trademark? Change trademarks?). The two guitarists arrive smoking cigarettes, which dangle from their lips for the first minute or two of the first song (Why?). Their arms are entirely bare, and they otherwise wear what looks like a stripped-down dark-colored T-shirt (Why? Heat?)."

...and so on, and on and on, for longer than I care to transcribe. I don't necessarily object to reading a columnist's passing thoughts, if he or she is a columnist who writes particularly well or whose opinions I've come to respect. But I find it hard to respect someone who wastes my time wondering whether blue jeans and a T-shirt are Bob Dylan's "trademark."

William Buckley was once considered a dynamic young turk, long before I was born. By my day, he had already been absorbed by celebrityhood, and National Review had slipped into boredom and predictability. If the Review has been somewhat rejuvenated since then, it is mostly because Buckley no longer has much to do with running it. His last significant contribution to its pages was the double-issue-length essay "In Search of Anti-Semitism," a dull and intellectually dishonest meditation on whether Gore Vidal, Pat Buchanan, Joseph Sobran, and the Dartmouth Review dislike Jews. Mostly, Bill churns out spy novels and books about sailing, which many people purchase and some presumably read.

Buckley had almost as little to do with the production of this book as he does with the production of his magazine: It was edited by his sister, Patricia Bozell, and contains no original Buckley writing beyond its acknowledgements page. It is, in short, a slapdash commercial product, created with little care and blessed with little merit. It raises only one significant question: After two or three decades of going through the motions, can Buckley tell the difference anymore?


posted by Jesse 11:58 AM
. . .
Monday, May 05, 2003
WAIT 'TIL SHE HEARS I THINK A ISN'T REALLY A: A woman named Diana Hsieh, apparently an Ayn Randian of some sort, is
accusing me of "moral equivalence." I didn't know people were still using that term. It seems so 2001, you know?


posted by Jesse 4:07 PM
. . .
THE LOST ANTHOLOGY: Mash-ups are homemade remixes, typically welding the music from one pop song to the lyrics of another. They are usually made without the original artists' permission, and the chief place to find them is that grand resting place of semi-legitimate amateur projects, the Internet.

It is also possible -- sometimes -- to buy mash-ups on CD. Several dubiously legal compilations exist, of which the most extensive is the mammoth Boom Selection_Issue 01 (2002), between 34 and 42 hours (account vary) of MP3 files stored on three compact discs. Like the music it collects, Boom Selection begs to be unpacked: It is not an album so much as an album-making kit. Daniel Sheldon, the British boy who assembled the package, urges his customers to select their favorite files and burn their own CDs.

If you have the right software, of course, you can also reassemble those tracks into mixes of your own.

I wanted to review the anthology for Reason. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared: My order went unfulfilled, my payment uncollected. Sheldon himself is unreachable, leaving one to speculate as to why a 15-year-old in another country might stop mailing out copies of what is -- as Michaelangelo Matos
put it in the Baltimore City Paper -- "minute for minute...the most illegal album in history." (One or two theories jump to mind.) A substitute writer on Sheldon's weblog declares that the anthologist "is still Missing In Action. I think he went into hiding after receiving dogdirt and razor blades dipped in the trailer trash blood of Mr Marshall Mathers through the postbox of his home." I don't advise taking that literally, but hey, a story's a story.

I ended up doing a piece on mash-ups anyway, without Sheldon's compilation to assist me. It appeared in the May Reason, and was posted to the magazine's website today.


posted by Jesse 11:03 AM
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