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

Monday, January 31, 2005
THE POLITICS OF GROWING UP: I have two articles in the March Reason: a brief squib on the WIPO broadcasting treaty and a much meatier review of Tom Frank's
What's the Matter with Kansas? One topic I didn't have room for in the review was the book's entertaining -- and inadvertently revealing -- chapter on Frank's days as a teenage conservative. Influenced by his alienated middle-class neighbors, "self-made" men disgusted by the changes of the '60s and '70s, Teen Tom embraced Ronald Reagan, the ideal of rugged individualism, and nostalgia for pre-'60s America. He turned left when he got to college and discovered that the frat-boy Republican crowd was filled with spoiled snobs. (He also got his first real jobs, and learned how unpleasant low-paid work could be.)

As a smart, funny description of a particular time and place, this is excellent stuff. As an insight into the conservative experience, it's less impressive. Frank's days as a suburban Reaganite may reflect the lives of many middle-class kids, but they don't say much about why someone might find conservative ideas intellectually attractive, as opposed to emotionally rewarding. I suspect one reason Frank often has trouble distinguishing free markets from crony capitalism is the fact that he didn't pay much attention to the theoretical case for markets when he was on the right, and subconsciously assumes that no one else did either. "Here was I," he writes, "a Mission Hills lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American capitalism, a place more like the grounds of Versailles than the average postwar suburb, and what I had managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Mission Hills possible."

I can sympathize. While Frank's chapter reminded me very little of most conservatives I've known, it reminded me quite a bit of my own teenage days, even though I've never been a Republican in my life. Five years younger than Frank, growing up in a liberal college town, Teen Jesse looked back with nostalgia not at the lost days before the '60s but at the lost days of the '60s themselves. My politics were skeptical, humanist, and leftist, a combination I'd absorbed from the city's old hippies, young punks, and liberal professors. Here I was, a Chapel Hill lad, growing up in one of the perfect regional arcadias of American academia, and what I managed to do was invent a romantic justification for precisely the system of social arrangements that had made Chapel Hill possible.

And what changed my mind? Well, I was already a libertarian of sorts by the time I reached college, but what made me decide I wasn't a part of the left was watching the P.C. authoritarianism of so many university progressives, a group whose high-handed bullying had more than a little in common with the frat hounds Frank faced at the University of Kansas.

Tom Frank's memoir was supposed to describe a political type. Instead it reveals a personality type. Like so much of his book, that makes for better literature than sociology.


posted by Jesse 8:39 PM
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Tuesday, January 25, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: My latest
column for Reason Online is about Prince Harry's swastika, an early contender for Most Inane Controversy of the Year.


posted by Jesse 10:52 AM
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SOME DAYS I FEEL LIKE QUOTING KROPOTKIN: "True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery."

(from his Britannica
essay on anarchism)


posted by Jesse 8:35 AM
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Wednesday, January 19, 2005
INAUGURATION DAY HISTORY: William Henry Harrison's two-hour
inaugural address wasn't his longest contribution to the country. He was also the most well-hung of the presidents, a fact that helped elect him in that earthier, more masculine time. He acquired his famous nickname when an appreciative whore declared, "You could tip a canoe with that."


posted by Jesse 9:10 PM
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
SELF-PROMOTION: My Reason column today is about
George Lakoff, linguist turned overrated political guru.


posted by Jesse 11:00 AM
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END OF THE LINE: I was going to post more
movie lists, but it seemed like time to stop. I did come up with a top ten list for 1954, but it felt padded: I was tossing in pictures that I like but which aren't anywhere as good as the films I was praising from the other years. Senso and Rififi might belong on a list of runners-up, but they aren't top-ten material -- not to my taste, anyway.

For the record, my favorite movie of 1954 is Rear Window. My favorite movie of 1944 is Double Indemnity. My favorite movie of 1934 is The Black Cat. And my favorite movie of 1924 is Sherlock Jr. I don't think I've seen any particularly good pictures made in 1914, so I'll stop again there.


posted by Jesse 8:05 AM
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Saturday, January 08, 2005
A BRIEF NOTE ON THE HISTORY OF CHILDREARING: In retrospect, it is hard to believe that the punishment box was even legal, let alone that it was regarded as the best way to discipline an unruly child. First introduced in the fall of 2006, this coffin-like item came in several sizes but invariably gave the child no room to move its arms or legs. The device's air holes were designed to let in oxygen but no light, and its lid was thoroughly soundproofed; thus rendered blind, silent, and immobile, a misbehaving boy or girl could be kept in the box for hours at a time. Widely used for nearly a decade, the boxes soon inspired furious opposition; after a few widely publicized deaths, they were banned.

Most people don't realize it, but PBCorp began its corporate life as a manufacturer of punishment boxes. These disreputable origins are rarely mentioned today, when the company regularly wins awards for its contributions to humane childcare. It was PBCorp, after all, that developed the safety box, a ubiquitous part of children's lives since 2015. It's still uncertain how a manufacturer of a cruel disciplinary instrument turned to producing these slightly smaller and utterly indispensable tools of child protection; someday, one hopes, the full story of this inspiring transformation will be told.


posted by Jesse 2:23 PM
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Tuesday, January 04, 2005
WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED ROB GORDON IMPRESSION: Having published top-ten lists for the films of
1994, of 1984, and of 1974, this blog arrives inevitably at 1964:

1. Dr. Strangelove
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern, from a novel by George

Hollywood's most clear-eyed vision of the arms race.

2. Woman in the Dunes
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Written by Kobo Abe, from his novel

Beautiful and spooky. Even better than the book.

3. Diary of a Chambermaid
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Written by Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere, from a novel by Octave Mirbeau

Sex, crime, fascism -- the story is much older than Bunuel's version, but he makes it his own.

4. Kwaidan
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Yoko Mizuki, from a book by Lafcadio Hearn

Four Japanese ghost stories. The first is mediocre, but the rest are riveting -- especially "Hoichi the Earless," which feels like an epic medieval poem but bears no resemblance to Hollywood's "epics" at all.

5. The World of Henry Orient
Directed by George Roy Hill
Written by Nora and Nunnally Johnson, from Nora's novel

Two children make a magical dérive through New York, then are initiated into adulthood. Angela Lansbury plays the bitchiest mom this side of The Manchurian Candidate.

6. Onibaba
Written and Directed by Kaneto Shindo

One of the great horror movies.

7. A Shot in the Dark
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Edwards and William Peter Blatty, from plays by Marcel Achard and Harry Kurnitz

The best of the Pink Panther series.

8. The Americanization of Emily
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Written by Paddy Chayefsky, from a novel by William Bradford Huie

Reminds me a bit of Stalag 17, except it has the courage of its convictions. Relentlessly funny, relentlessly anti-heroic.

9. A Fistful of Dollars
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone, Víctor Andrés Catena, and Jaime Comas, from a story by Dashiell Hammett

Hammett told this tale first, in his great novel Red Harvest. Then Akira Kurosawa made a superior samurai film of it, and then Leone and Clint Eastwood moved it to the Old West. Each time, there's something almost anarchist about the way the protagonist plays two powerful forces against each other -- someday someone should remake it with Bugs Bunny in the lead.

10. Kiss Me, Stupid
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, from a play by Anna Bonacci

Wilder's most underrated movie has a lot of things going for it, but the best is Dean Martin's self-lacerating performance as "Dino," the oversexed and amoral crooner.


posted by Jesse 7:00 PM
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Sunday, January 02, 2005
PROOFS OF DUMBISM: "There are two Infinities," the composer Edgar Varese once wrote: "God and Stupidity." From that it follows that God is Stupid and that Stupidity is God.

Varese thus presaged the central tenets of Dumbism, a religion I invented as a boy. Its prophet was a Fisher-Price toy that I called Captain Cuckoo-Head; its bible, which I wrote in green crayon, began like this, more or less:
In the beginning there was Captain Cuckoo-Head, and he was stupid.

And the earth was without form, and void, and stupid; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Captain Cuckoo-Head moved upon the face of the waters.

Then Captain Cuckoo-Head said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And Captain Cuckoo-Head saw the light, that it was stupid.
It went on like that for a while. I can't remember how much of it there was.

If I had been a little older, I might have extended the theology by constructing proofs for its doctrines. There are, for example, the widely accepted facts that God created man in his own image and that man is profoundly stupid; therefore, God must be stupid too. Furthermore, if you visit any nursery you will observe that it is at our moment of creation that we are dumbest: incapable of speech, barely capable of movement, completely ignorant of both literature and mathematics, more dependent on others than the most helpless invalid. And surely it is in this state of natural stupidity, when we are most unsullied by the corruptions of civilization, that we are closest to the Lord's own image.

Mankind is also very smart, of course, but intelligence and stupidity, the Dumbist theologian would argue, are independent variables. Being smart does not prevent you from being stupid. Some of the smartest people I know are also some of the dumbest jackasses on the planet. I'm a pretty smart cookie myself, and I know first-hand what a fucking moron I am.

On the other hand, many people are not particularly smart and not particularly stupid; they've attained a sort of cosmic mediocrity. This puts them in the camp of Satan. The good Dumbist's duty is to battle these servants of the Enemy with the most potent weapon he has: his stupidity. To that end, we have infiltrated the civil service.


posted by Jesse 7:10 PM
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