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

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
DEPT. OF NEOCON STUDIES: The other day Matt Welch was
asking if anyone could explain what the hell a neoconservative is. I posted a long reply on his website, then decided that the issue was vexing enough for me to insert a cleaned-up version of my comments here. So:

When the term first emerged in the 1970s, "the neoconservatives" referred to three overlapping groups:

(a) Scoop Jackson Democrats, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who opposed the McGovern campaign and their party's related drift towards dovishness. Fiercely pro-Israel and pro–Cold War, they pretty much all re-registered as Republicans by the end of the '80s.

(b) ex-Trotskyist New York intellectuals, such as Irving Kristol, who were dismayed both at the aforementioned drift toward dovishness and at the New Left's "barbaric" attitudes toward Israel, higher education, and the old liberal establishment.

(c) formerly liberal academics, such as Peter Berger, whose research led them to reject the case for Great Society programs -- and, in some cases, the case for even larger swabs of the welfare state.

The third group is obviously somewhat different from the first two. It got roped in because its members were reconsidering their liberal or leftist sympathies at the same time as the others and because they often ended up publishing in the same magazines (The Public Interest, Commentary, etc.). Many of their then-controversial claims are now accepted by people who still consider themselves liberal; many of their articles are cited warmly by libertarians who otherwise profess to hate neocons.

If the third group has grown less essential to the definition of neoconservatism, then a fourth group has picked up the slack: second-generation neocons like Bill Kristol, who aren't "neo" in the sense of being former liberals but are "neo" in that their beliefs are in many ways distinct from those of the pre-neocon Right. Confusing matters somewhat, some libertarians and paleoconservatives have attempted to retrofit the word to describe the ex-Communists who seemed to join the Right en masse during the late '40s and the '50s (James Burnham, Max Eastman, etc.), helping turn its attention from limited government at home to an active foreign policy abroad.

Israel is a central foreign-policy concern of the neocons, in many cases the central foreign-policy concern (which is why I get annoyed when critics of Israel, such as Christopher Hitchens, are shoved under the neocon label). In terms of domestic policy, I think David Frum was right to divide the neocon tribe into two groups: the "optimists," exemplified by Jack Kemp, and the "pessimists," exemplified by James Q. Wilson. For the details, read his book Dead Right.

Finally: "neocon" is also an insult that some libertarians like to hurl at other libertarians. If one lib says another lib is "basically a neocon," it's his way of saying the other guy is too hawkish, too corporate, too gradualist, or altogether too close to the establishment.

Everybody got that? Good; there'll be a quiz on Friday.

posted by Jesse 1:27 PM
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Monday, January 27, 2003
A GLANCING REFERENCE TO FOOTBALL: Last Friday, Tim Cavanaugh asked me to review the Super Bowl ads for Reason Online. Unfortunately, there simply weren't many commercials last night that were worth reviewing. The dotcom-fueled era of impenetrable art ads seems to have receded, with the bulk of the evening's spots returning to the tried-and-true sporting-event format: the quick comic sketch. The best of these, to my taste, was the commercial featuring the horses and the zebra, which I won't attempt to describe here.

The worst ads of the evening were also funny, but unintentionally. I'm referring to the drug warriors' asinine public service announcements,
one of which advanced the novel thesis that pot can make you pregnant.

The game itself had its moments but was mostly a boring blowout. The entertainment, too, was a mixed bag. One minute we hear Celine Dion (who isn't even American, dammit) singing a predictably schlocky rendition of "God Bless America"; in the next, on the other hand, we have the Dixie Chicks harmonizing very nicely on "The Star-Spangled Banner." At halftime, an engaging performance by Shania Twain's cleavage was unfortunately marred by the presence of Shania Twain's music. (If this woman is a country singer, how come those songs sounded like Loverboy?) No Doubt was much more listenable, and Sting had the good sense to ignore his solo catalog and sing an early Police song.

As for my Reason column, I wound up writing about "The Myth of Media Deregulation." The piece contains absolutely no references to the Super Bowl.

posted by Jesse 4:05 PM
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Sunday, January 26, 2003
FROM FRODO TO HOICHI: Turns out I like The Two Towers better than The Fellowship of the Ring. (I'm referring to the movies, of course, not the
books.) Like its predecessor, it is uneven, overlong, and filled with high-fantasy speechifying of a sort I lost patience with before I'd even hit my teens; but, on the plus side, there are fewer shots of Elijah Wood's wide-eyed stare, much less sub-vaudeville slapstick from Merry and Pippin, and (praise the Lord!) absolutely no New Age yodeling from Enya. Meanwhile, the large-scale battle scenes are shot with far more art and care than the equivalent portions of most other Hollywood spectacles. And while there is less of Christopher Lee's enjoyably campy performance as Saruman to relish, Andy Serkis more than picks up the slack as Gollum.

Bias alert: I'm not usually impressed by "epic" films. My favorite exception is the "Hoichi the Earless" sequence in Kwaidan, a mostly brilliant quartet of Japanese ghost stories. "Hoichi" begins with the legend of a samurai battle, relating it in a way that actually feels like one of those epic medieval poems -- and bears no resemblance to a Hollywood epic at all. I recommend it highly.

Actually, I recommend almost all of Kwaidan. Its first sequence is mediocre and skippable, but the other three actually fulfill the promise offered and broken by so many movie trailers: "Unlike anything you've ever seen before."

posted by Jesse 5:53 PM
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Friday, January 24, 2003
AXIS OF EVEL KNIEVEL: The hawkish half of the blogosphere is pleased that one of its in-house
jokes -- that France and Germany are an "Axis of Weasels" -- is catching on in the outside world.

I'm against war with Iraq, but I have to admit that the line is funny. Of course, it also constitutes "moral equivalency," which I thought was supposed to be a no-no in those ideological parts. I suppose it's all a matter of whose ox is being gored.

posted by Jesse 5:25 PM
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Wednesday, January 22, 2003
article in The Wall Street Journal's Leisure & Arts section today. It addresses the ancient question, "Can a TV commercial be art?"

posted by Jesse 9:42 AM
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FLANN O'BRIEN ON POETRY: "Having considered the matter in -- of course -- all its aspects, I have decided that there is no excuse for poetry. Poetry gives no adequate return in money, is expensive to print by reason of the waste of space occasioned by its form, and nearly always promulgates illusory concepts of life. But a better case for the banning of all poetry is the simple fact that most of it is bad. Nobody is going to manufacture a thousand tons of jam in the expectation that five tons may be eatable. Furthermore, poetry has the effect on the negligible handful who read it of stimulating them to write poetry themselves. One poem, if widely disseminated, will breed perhaps a thousand inferior copies. The same objection cannot be made in the case of painting or sculpture, because these occupations afford employment for artisans who produce the materials. Moreover, poets are usually unpleasant people who are poor and insist forever on discussing that incredibly boring subject, 'books.' You will notice above that I used the phrase 'illusory concepts of life.' If you examine it carefully you will find that it is quite meaningless but since when did such a trifle matter? Poets don't matter and an odd senseless bit of talk matters little either. What is important is food, money, and opportunities for scoring off one's enemies. Give a man those three things and you won't hear much squawking out of him."

The Best of Myles, 1968)

posted by Jesse 12:15 AM
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Friday, January 17, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: Before today, it seemed like everyone was weighing in on the Eldred decision except the single figure who, more than anyone else, inspired the case. Now he's finally speaking out. Ladies and gentlemen: my exclusive
interview with Mickey Mouse.

posted by Jesse 4:27 PM
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FOUND ART: Letters to my old L.A. address still get forwarded to me, almost a year after I left California. A Michigan outfit called McCray Press, for example, has sent me a laminated bookmark that bears the image of many flowers and the text of the twenty-third Psalm. On the other side, there's an obituary: "Cora Nelson, 100, of Vallejo, Calif., died Monday, Nov. 11, 2002, in Vallejo. Mrs. Nelson was born Jan. 2, 1902, in Ozan, Ark. She was a homemaker. Survivors include one brother, Jesse Walker of Los Angeles..."

Evidently, I have a dead sister who's older than my grandparents.

A letter was also enclosed:


"Kindly permit us to extend our most sincere sympathy in your recent bereavement.

"Many families who have suffered such a loss have obtained permanent records from us of an Obituary Notice which appeared in the local area, in tribute to the memory of their loved one.

"We have made a photo copy of the obituary account and preserved it forever in laminated clear plastic which will never discolor or tear. We think this beautiful floral Memorial Card will be a treasured Memento for years to come, for you and your family and friends. (We have laminated only this one item at this time).

"We are sure you will like this Laminated Memorial and will desire to keep it, since it has been prepared especially for your consideration by Handicapped Personnel who receive no subsidy from any kind of Government Agency.

"While you are under no obligation whatsoever, we would appreciate it very much if you would send us $3.00 for the enclosed Laminated Obituary. This will assist us in continuing this service for other families also. 'Thank you.'

"You will undoubtedly want to order additional copies for other members of the family, friends of attendants. We will be able to process the laminating within a few days after receiving your order along with proper remittance.

"It is also possible now to include an 'Actual Photograph' of your loved one in the memorials, if you desire -- and can furnish us with one original photograph for reproduction. For complete prices regarding the addition of colored and/or black and white photos, please see bottom of order form. (Your original photo will be returned with laminations).

"Minor corrections can also now be made in the obituary notice at 'no charge'. We can also change the date at the top on request. (This is taken care of right after we receive your order and remittance).

"We will be looking forward to hearing from you in the very near future."

posted by Jesse 2:05 PM
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Thursday, January 16, 2003
A FACT THAT I HAVE UNDERSTOOD INTELLECTUALLY SINCE CHILDHOOD, YET APPEAR NOT TO HAVE COMPLETELY ABSORBED IN PRACTICE, EVEN AT AGE 32: If it's below freezing outside, one should wear one's shoes and socks while taking out the trash.

posted by Jesse 3:49 PM
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003
MORE CONCISELY: What I really mean to say about Pete Townshend is this: If he's innocent, then this is a witch hunt. And if he's guilty, then at last I know how the Catholics feel.

posted by Jesse 12:03 PM
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Monday, January 13, 2003
PRETEEN WASTELAND: Pete! Oh, Pete! We didn't care much about Gary Glitter to begin with, so it didn't unravel our minds to learn about his predilections. Jerry Lee Lewis hailed from the hills; we could write off his taste for cousinly young'uns as a bit of local culture. But you, Pete ... well, this is a bit much coming from you.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: Pete Townshend has been
arrested for viewing child pornography online. He has confessed to the deed but not to the presumed intent: He was researching the sexual exploitation of children, he says, not participating in it. As a longtime Who fan, I hope he's telling the truth -- hope his explanations for his behavior sound so defensive and so curiously repetitious because he's upset anyone would accuse him of pedophilia, not because he's desperately trying to weasel out of a tight spot. It's true that Townshend has been speaking out against kiddie porn for a while now, a fact which supports his version of events. Of course, it's also true that, a couple decades ago, he was simultaneously an anti-drug crusader and a junkie.

Even if he was looking at the stuff as a disgusted investigator and not as a lusty boy-lover, that doesn't mean he'll be spared a jail term. I don't know what the law is in England, but here in America journalists have been imprisoned for doing exactly what Townshend claims he was doing.

Meanwhile, the whole Who catalog suddenly seems a bit ... dirty. You can make your own foul jokes about the phrases "before I get old" and "the kids are alright." Me, I feel grimy enough for titling this item "Preteen Wasteland."

posted by Jesse 6:24 PM
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Saturday, January 11, 2003
MUSIC 2002: Next week the season of musical Oscars begins (how many ceremonies are there now? 600?) with the American Music Awards. My own favorites for 2002 follow, but with a difference: I made pretty much no effort to keep up with new releases, so this list simply features the 10 best CDs I bought last year, regardless of when they were published. Even the new albums are mostly made of older material.

1. Bob Dylan:
Live 1975 (2002)

His best concert album. Ever.

2. Sir Douglas Quintet: 1+1+1=4/The Return of Doug Saldaña (1970/71)

The reissue of the year: two of Doug Sahm's finest albums, one of them never before available on CD. The songs range from honky-tonk to jump blues to psychedelia to jazz -- if a musical style has ever drifted through Texas, Sahm can (a) play it brilliantly and (b) combine it casually with everything else.

3. Louis Armstrong: The Best of the Hot 5 and Hot 7 Recordings (2002)

A new collection of old music, recorded from 1926 to 1929 and released in countless forms since then. Surely you don't need me to tell you how good Louis Armstrong was?

4. The Klezmatics: Possessed (1997)

For lack of a better term, I'll call this avant-klezmer.

5. Penelope Houston: Birdboys (1988)

Sublime folk-rock from a punk pioneer. (Before she went solo, Houston was in the Avengers.) For years I only had a pirated tape of this out-of-print album; now, thanks to the Internet, you and I can acquire the CD directly from the artist. Best track: "Putting Me in the Ground."

6. The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

As with Birdboys, an illicit tape of this has been in my collection for years. In 2002 I finally got around to buying the damn CD.

7. André Popp: Delirium in Hi-Fi (1957)

Popp does to the recording studio what Spike Jones did to the jazz band.

8. Johnny Cash at Madison Square Garden (2002)

Cash's most recent studio album was a mixed bag -- but with this brilliant live set from 1969 hitting stores at the same time, who could complain? Bloggers caught between hawkish and dovish sympathies will especially enjoy the singer's declaration, re: Vietnam, that he's "a dove with claws."

9. Manu Chao: Clandestino (1998)

A European folky/punk who digs hip hop, too.

10. Clarence Gatemouth Brown: Gate Swings (1997)

One of the great bluesmen gets a swinging big band. If you don't like this music, you're un-American.

Honorable mention:

Beck: Sea Change (2002)
Dave Davies: Bug (2002)
The Quintessential Billie Holiday: 1933-1935 (1987)
The Holy Modal Rounders: I & II (1964)
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

posted by Jesse 2:42 AM
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Thursday, January 09, 2003
FROM THE WIRES: This apparently went out to around 800 media outlets. It's not the most flattering profile that's ever been written about me. Actually, it is, but only because there aren't any others:

January 3, 2003 - Wireless Flash
Fake Middle East Records Don't Make Collector Falafel

BALTIMORE, Md. (Wireless Flash) -- You might not be able to stomach fake bellydancing music but it doesn't make Jesse Walker "falafel." The Baltimore-based journalist is, perhaps, the world's biggest fan of "fake Middle East music," a genre that usually features American musicians playing a westernized version of Arab music.

Walker says "fake Middle East music" has been around for more than 100 years and was most popular in the 1950s and 1960s, during that era's bellydancing craze.

However, the genre's best known song is "The Streets Of Cairo," a 1893 ditty known by its schoolyard lyrics: "There's a place in France/ Where the ladies wear no pants/ There's a hole in the wall/ Where the men can see it all."

So far, there are no signs of "fake Middle Eastern music" becoming popular with anyone other than Walker. Still, he's optimistic, figuring that, given enough time, "even fake traditions become living cultural currents."

Walker discusses "fake Middle Eastern music" in the latest issue of "Cool And Strange Music Magazine."

posted by Jesse 11:56 AM
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Wednesday, January 08, 2003
WORK MEMOIRS: The strangest job I ever had was when I helped move a clandestine dog farm. I'm being deliberately sensationalist when I call it a "dog farm" -- that makes it sound like some sinister poodle-milking operation. A woman was simply raising a bunch of dogs, to sell as pets. As for the "clandestine" part ... well, we'll get to that later.

My friend Josh and I were recruited by the dog-raiser's son's girlfriend, with whom we worked at an Ann Arbor bookstore. The job paid $8/hour, she told us, all tax-free. That sounded good. So the next morning, we got up early and drove into the countryside, where we were given our instructions: dismantle these fences and load them into the truck; help corral the dogs into another truck; bring it all to the new location; then do the same for the dog-raiser's personal property. It should, we were told, take about three hours, tops.

Along the way, Josh filled me in on the backstory. The dog-raiser (I'll call her Mary) had no license for her breeding business and not much income. She had actually been evicted about six months before, but kept coming up with excuses not to leave or pay the rent she owed. She'd even told her landlord, quite falsely, that her son had died, and that she'd find the money once she was finished mourning. Today was her final deadline to leave before the landlord called the cops.

It was around this time that I started to wonder if she'd actually pay us for our help.

Much of our work, I soon discovered, consisted of sitting in the truck a safe distance from Mary's new house while she scouted around to make sure no one would see us at work. Turns out she hadn't told her new landlord about her business, and that she didn't want any of her neighbors noticing it either -- especially anyone who might tell the zoning authorities. A couple hours later, we finally set about re-erecting the fences and avoiding the hounds. The dogs' new home was located by a lake at the bottom of a hill, just low enough that no one could spot it from the road.

Were we done? No, not yet: we still had to move Mary's personal effects. Upon returning to her old house, we discovered that the landlord and his son had started this job for us, tossing armloads of her property into a sloppy pile in the yard: knick-knacks, food, CDs without cases, soiled paperbacks, silverware. Mary sat in the middle of the heap, crying, and Josh and I nervously began to load her stuff into the truck.

At some point during all this, it became clear that this was going to take much more than the promised three hours, forcing me to find a substitute on the fly for my afternoon show at the college radio station. It was a good thing I did: we wound up working a full 11 hours, 10 of which I was eventually paid for. A few years later, after I'd left Ann Arbor, I heard that Mary had been locked away in either a jail or a mental ward -- my informant wasn't sure which.

I came home, weary and emotionally drained, to find the place in an uproar. It involved a lot of bad craziness among some of the odder people who liked to hang out at our house -- rumors, panic attacks, even allegations of paranormal activity -- and it ended with my girlfriend and me breaking up in the wee hours of the next day: January 8, 1993.

So. What were you doing 10 years ago today?

posted by Jesse 10:55 AM
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Wednesday, January 01, 2003
WELCOME TO 2003: Every January I make the same resolution: to try, as best I can, to be less of an asshole than I was in the previous year. Since it's probably impossible to avoid being an asshole all the time, I expect I'll be making this promise each New Year's Day for the rest of my life.

I'm not sure I've managed to keep my resolution every year, but if you chart the course of my assholehood over, say, five-year increments, I think I've been making some rough progress. I may never eliminate my assholery, but perhaps, over time, I can diminish it.

Have a good new year, everyone. May you be safe, prosperous, and happy for the next 12 months, and don't let the rest of us assholes get you down.

posted by Jesse 12:09 PM
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