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

Monday, November 24, 2003
PERSONAL NOTE: As of yesterday, I am a married man.

Do not expect more blogging from me this week.

posted by Jesse 11:36 AM
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: On the Reason site today, I
weigh in on the alleged Osama-Saddam alliance.

Also, the rest of the November Reason is now online, which means anyone desperately interested in reading virtualized versions of my quickie squibs on libraries and the Handschu guidelines can now do so.

posted by Jesse 4:52 PM
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IMITATION FITNESS BLOG ITEM: The other day I ate at Popeye's. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a great big buttery biscuit. Mmmmmmmmm.

(With apologies to
Jim Henley.)

posted by Jesse 12:35 PM
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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Can't Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980): I vividly remember the first few seconds of January 1, 1980. Just nine years old, I had stayed up to watch my first changeover of decades. There on TV, right after the big ball had dropped in Times Square, the host was exultantly proclaiming the first words of the new year: "And now here's a band I know we'll be hearing a lot from in the eighties -- the Village People!" It took me a few years to recognize this as funny.

If the numeric seventies ended with a disco song at midnight, when did "the seventies" as an era come to a close? Mostly over the course of 1979, as an Iranian revolution, a resurgent gas crisis, a couple of San Francisco assassinations, and the massacre at Jonestown forced a sharp swing in the country's mood. Or, perhaps, on Election Day 1980, as Ronald Reagan rode that new spirit into power. But the key moment arguably arrived midway through 1980, when a pseudo-biopic about the Village People -- originally to be titled Discoland, but the producers realized at the last minute that disco's day was waning -- failed spectacularly at the box office, washing away the starring band's popularity in the process. This quintessentially 1970s picture was released in the first year of the subsequent decade, and its characters periodically announce "it's the eighties" when they want to defend their behavior or criticize someone else's. But the real sign that the eighties had begun was the public's unwillingness to watch their movie.

Two decades later, one production number from Can't Stop the Music -- the "Y.M.C.A." sequence -- awaits your rediscovery. It's a deeply hilarious piece of filmmaking, something Busby Berkeley might have directed if he were under the influence of both poppers and mushrooms and was simultaneously engaged in an illicitly carnal act. The rest of the picture is mostly disposable, but there are some unexpected bright points: notably the leatherman character's audition for the group, in which he performs "Oh, Danny Boy." The lyrics seem to take on new meaning when sung by a hairy gay biker wearing S&M gear.

No, this isn't a good movie. But you haven't really lived until you've seen it. And surely it is Steve Guttenberg's finest film.

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977): "Banditry is freedom, but in a peasant society few can be free. Most are shackled by the double chains of lordship and labour, the one reinforcing the other. For what makes peasants the victims of authority and coercion is not so much their economic vulnerability -- they are indeed as often as not virtually self-sufficient -- as their immobility. Their roots are in the land and the homestead, and there they must stay like trees, or rather like sea-anemones or other sessile aquatic animals which must settle down after a period of youthful mobility....

"However, there are always groups whose social position gives them the necessary freedom of action. The most important of them is the age-group of male youth between puberty and marriage, i.e. before the weight of full family responsibilities has begun to bend men's backs....Nevertheless, there is another category of potential bandits...the men who are unwilling to accept the meek and passive social role of the subject peasant; the stiff-necked and recalcitrant, the individual rebels. They are, in the classic peasant phrase, the 'men who make themselves respected.'...

"These are the men who establish their right to be respected against all comers, including other peasants, by standing up and fighting -- and in so doing automatically usurp the social role of their 'betters' who, as in the classic medieval ranking system, have the monopoly of fighting....They may also become the kind of outlaws about whom men sing ballads: champions, heroes and avengers."

(Eric Hobsbawm,
Bandits, fourth edition, 2000, pp. 34–6, 39–41)

Keep your foot hard on the pedal, son, never mind them brakes
Let it all hang out 'cause we got a run to make
The boys are thirsty in Atlanta
And there's beer in Texarcana
And we'll bring it back no matter what it takes

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' Bandit run.

Ol' Smokey's got them ears on, and he's hot on your trail.
He ain't gonna rest 'til you're in jail
So you got to dodge 'im and you got to duck 'im
You got to keep that diesel truckin'
Just put that hammer down and give it hell

("East Bound and Down," traditional ballad, southern U.S., late twentieth century; popularly attributed to the Bandit's legendary accomplice, known variously as "Cledus Snow," "The Snowman," and "Jerry Reed")

posted by Jesse 5:39 PM
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Thursday, November 13, 2003
MEA CULPA: A while back I
speculated that the New York Press' new management would push the paper into decline. Nine months later, I have to admit I've been proven wrong. Among other highlights, the Press remains the place to go for witty assaults on the incredibly overrated Thomas Friedman, memorably lanced there a few years ago by Alexander Cockburn and attacked enjoyably this week by Matt Taibbi.

I do wish Cockburn and Christopher Caldwell and John Strausbaugh still had columns there, but I guess you can't have everything...

posted by Jesse 1:03 PM
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Monday, November 10, 2003
article for the Reason website is about the new Matrix movie and the decline of the Paranoid Gnostic Sci-Fi Thriller genre.

Also, my column from November's print edition of Reason is now online. It's about business improvement districts and the sometimes blurry boundary between public and private.

posted by Jesse 1:42 PM
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BEST CONCERT OF THE YEAR SO FAR: It's the Del McCoury Band playing bluegrass in Towson on Saturday night. They shared the bill with a Phishish band called Leftover Salmon, which meant the audience was probably a bit crunchier than the usual McCoury crowd. The two audiences got along fine, though, and the McCoury pickers even joined the rockers onstage at the end of the night, first for a couple of long newgrass jams and then for an acoustic session. (To be honest, we ducked out for burgers during most of Leftover Salmon's electric set. I don't dislike jam bands, but I'm not wild for them either.)

The high points: covers of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats" and Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," plus all of fiddler Jason Carter's solos. Low points: None, really. Maybe we missed them while we were eating.

posted by Jesse 12:44 PM
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Thursday, November 06, 2003
SELF-PROMOTION: The November-December issue of
No Depression includes my secular defense of Bob Dylan's Christian albums.

posted by Jesse 12:09 PM
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PASSINGS: Baltimore lost a vital part of the city last week, and it may soon lose another.

The first loss was
Paul Darmafall, a.k.a. the Baltimore Glassman, a mad and sometimes homeless veteran who made strange, beautiful objects out of broken glass and discarded junk. The man just died of a heart attack, at age 78.

The second is the American Dime Museum. This Wunderkammern of sideshows past, co-founded by Shocked and Amazed editor James Taylor, announced earlier this week that it was closing, and Taylor has definitely withdrawn from the project. But his former partner, artist Dick Horne, now says he hopes to keep the gallery going.

I have nothing clever to say about these events -- just that the Glassman will be missed, and that I'll miss the museum too if it closes for good.

posted by Jesse 11:32 AM
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Wednesday, November 05, 2003
YOU DON'T KNOW JACK: Far-right fixture Jack Wheeler is circulating a
screed against "the anti-American right," by which he means conservatives who oppose either the war in Iraq or the Ashcroft approach to homeland security. By Wheeler's account, Howard Phillips is now indistinguishable from Howard Dean, Grover Norquist has "long-standing connections to a network of financiers of Moslem terrorists," and Bob Barr is "a paid whore for the ACLU." Such men, he writes, are "left-wing conservatives"; they hate Bush and Ashcroft "because Bush and Ashcroft are actively protecting American national security."

I'll concede half a point to Wheeler: the many legitimate criticisms of John Ashcroft have sometimes been undermined by critiques with far fewer roots in reality. For a parallel, go back to the '90s, when those of us who were disturbed at Janet Reno's war on civil liberties had to distinguish ourselves from her more paranoid critics. More bluntly, we had to distinguish ourselves from folks like ... Jack Wheeler.

In 1995, Wheeler wrote this in the newsletter Strategic Investment:
The slaughter of dozens of women and children in Waco by government stormtroopers under the command of Field Marshall Reno may pale in comparison to what has been planned for late March: a nationwide BATF/FBI assault on private militias as the prelude to a possible declaration of martial law throughout the United States.

All leaves and vacations have been canceled for BATF/FBI personnel, and for various State Police and National Guards such as California's. The Army's infamous Joint Task Force Six (which did the training for Waco) has been training BATF jackbooters with Bradley Assault Vehicles at Ft. Bliss, Texas. Government agent provocateurs are set to plant fully automatic and heavy weapons, like rocket launchers, on the property of militia leaders. Every militia in the country -- and there are dozens, many of which are well-armed and well-lead by former or even active-duty officers -- is on a state of Red Alert. Should Reno be stupid enough to actually attack them militarily, there is going to be a lot of blood.

The establishment media is programmed to immediately thereafter thunderously bellow for nationwide gun confiscation and even martial law. The Senate Armed Forces Committee has been alerted and is questioning key Defense and Justice people behind closed doors. Hopefully, Reno's Waco 2 can be stopped in time.
When the appointed date came and went with no "Waco 2," Wheeler was unapologetic. I do not remember whether it was him or one of his defenders who declared that the assault never took place merely because Wheeler had bravely exposed it. The following month brought the Oklahoma City bombing, and some conspiracy theorists tried to link it to the crackdown that never was, but that's a pretty hard case to make.

I don't fault Wheeler for blasting Reno -- Reno deserved criticism, and it sure beat his other infamous '90s crusade. (Wheeler was obsessed with the notion that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian.) But it shows a lot of chutzpah for a man who credulously spouted some of the weirdest tales about the last attorney general to turn around and denounce even the most moderate conservative critics of John Ashcroft.

Especially when so many of the laws that Ashcroft's pushing are just warmed over proposals from the Reno era.

(Side note: Back in the '80s, Wheeler was a big booster for the Afghan mujahedin. He might want to tread carefully when attacking Norquist for his alleged ties to Islamic terrorists.)

posted by Jesse 12:44 PM
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