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

Saturday, September 27, 2008
NONE OF THE ABOVE: You can divide last night's debate into two parts: the argument about the economy, and everything afterward. In the first section, my basic reaction was Both of these guys are full of shit. In the second, my reaction was Obama is a mixed bag. McCain is a trigger-happy lunatic. I guess I prefer Obama. I'm still trying to figure out how McCain thinks he can reconcile his fiscally conservative rhetoric with the aggressive and expensive foreign policy he prefers.

Does that mean Obama "won"? Who knows? At some point in the last three decades, the modal pundit moved from frankly discussing how he personally felt about the positions espoused in a debate to second-guessing how the average uninformed voter might feel. This leads to a lot of projection, as writers mistake their preconceptions for the action actually transpiring on the screen. Here, for example, is
Amy Holmes at National Review:
McCain won, hands down, particularly when the conversation shiffted to war and national security. McCain was comfortable, fluent, principled and direct. Obama was weak and defensive.
There are many words to describe McCain's composure last night, but comfortable surely isn't one of them. And maybe I'm just stuck on the contrast with John Kerry, but Obama didn't seem weak and defensive to me; he stood his ground and hit back. I didn't always agree with what he had to say—when it came to NATO expansion, he sounded as crazy as his opponent—but he sure seemed to believe it himself.

They say the real winner of a debate is the man who exceeds expectations, so in that spirit I'll give the prize to Jim Lehrer. I haven't been a fan of his in the past, but I appreciated his dogged efforts to get a straight answer out of the candidates about whether they're backing the bailout. And it was good to see him encouraging the duo to engage each other. After the Blitzer/Matthews disasters, Lehrer acquited himself well; he was the only man on stage that I liked more after the debate than before it.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 6:02 PM
. . .
farewell to the salad dressing mogul, Nation underwriter, and star of such fine films as The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, The Sting, The Verdict, and this:

In each of those seven movies -- probably my favorites in his filmography -- Paul Newman plays either a rebel loner or a lovable loser. Is that enough to declare him an honorary libertarian?

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 3:15 PM
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Friday, September 26, 2008
BARACK OBAMA VS. FREE SPEECH: Here's an ad the National Rifle Association is running in Pennsylvania:

The Obama campaign disputes the accuracy of the advertisement, which is fine. It has also threatened regulatory retaliation against outlets that show it, which isn't fine. Instead of, say, crafting a response ad, Obama's team had general counsel Robert F. Bauer send stations a letter [
pdf] arguing that "Failure to prevent the airing of 'false and misleading advertising may be 'probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility.'" And, more directly: "For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement."

As a political move, this is stupid. Not only does it cast the campaign as a bunch of speech-squelching bullies, but it makes the ad itself into a story and thus guarantees that more people will see it. (A trivial example: I wouldn't have stuck it in a blog post if it weren't for the controversy.) But of course there's much more on display here than poor political judgment. Together with similar efforts elsewhere, the incident says something about how a President Obama might approach media regulation. In an article in the November Reason -- watch for it on newsstands! -- I point out that while Obama says he won't restore the Fairness Doctrine, he isn't opposed to other, more subtle ways the authorities can influence what is or isn't said on radio and TV. For those of us who are repelled by John McCain's lousy record on First Amendment issues, it's important to remember that his opponent might not prove to be any better.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 11:06 AM
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Thursday, September 25, 2008
TITICUT THE THIRD: The playlist from today's
radio show:

Charlie Rich: Life's Little Ups and Downs
Michelle Shocked: God is a Real Estate Developer
James Carr: Row, Row Your Boat
Wilson Pickett: Sugar, Sugar
Wayne Carson: Soul Deep
Jerry Lee Lewis: Revolutionary Man
Lyn Collins: Baby Don't Do It
Blind Boys of Alabama: Run On for a Long Time
Mavis Staples: Eyes on the Prize
Duffy: Syrup & Honey
Marianne: The Woman in Me
Arlo Guthrie: I'm Changing My Name to Chrysler
The Kinks: Did Ya
Randy Newman: Last Night I Had a Dream
Willie Nelson: Just Checked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Guy Clark: L.A. Freeway
Loretta Lynn: One's On the Way
Dave Alvin: East Virginia Blues
Emmylou Harris: Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight
Mickey Newbury: Mobile Blue
Johnny Cash: Heart of Gold
The Pogues: The Broad Majestic Shannon
Richard Thompson: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
The Del McCoury Band: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Uncle Tupelo: John Hardy
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons
John Stey: Fifteen Animals
Penelope Houston: Wild Mountain Thyme
The Specials featuring Rico: A Message to You Rudy
The Clash: Rudie Can't Fail
Blondie: The Tide Is High
Paul Young: Love of the Common People
The Klezmatics: Come When I Call You
Bob Dylan: We Better Talk This Over
The Band: Blind Willie McTell
Louis Armstrong: St. James Infirmary
Duke Ellington/Herb Jeffries: Jump for Joy
Firesign Theater: Sodom and Jubilee
The Beatles: Back in the USSR
Fairport Convention: The Deserter
Karen Dalton: Something On Your Mind
Bobbie Gentry: Penduli Pendulum
Jim Ford: Big Mouth USA
Steve Goodman: Somebody Else's Troubles
Alejandro Escovedo: Evening Gown
Steve Earle/The Supersuckers: NYC
The Clash: London Calling
Merle Haggard: Bareback

Brief comments about the bailouts were sprinkled throughout, especially in reference to the Shocked, Guthrie, Kinks, and Beatles songs.

posted by Jesse 9:46 PM
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Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Bush administration asked Congress for unchecked power to buy $700 billion in bad mortgage investments from U.S. financial companies in what would be an unprecedented government intrusion into the markets.

The plan, designed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, is aimed at averting a credit freeze that would bring the financial system and economic growth to a standstill. The bill would bar courts from reviewing actions taken under its authority....

As congressional aides and officials scrutinized the proposal, the Treasury late today clarified the types of assets it would purchase. Paulson would have authority to buy home loans, mortgage-backed securities, commercial mortgage-related assets and, after consultation with the Federal Reserve chairman, "other assets, as deemed necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets," the Treasury said in a statement....

The plan would raise the ceiling on the national debt and spend as much as the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services.
Let me quote that last part again:
the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services
From the occupation of New Orleans after Katrina to the financial socialism-for-the-rich we're seeing right now, the Bush Republicans' instincts in a crisis have always been to seize more power. And then -- just wait! -- to demonstrate how enormously unsuited they are to wield it.

And the Democrats, those alleged alternatives? Maybe it's their innate affection for economic intervention, maybe it's just the same spinelessness they've brought to issues ranging from FISA to Iraq, but they don't seem to be objecting to the Paulson plan. ("The consequences of inaction could be catastrophic," says Harry Reid, according to the Bloomberg report I quoted above. The consequences of really stupid actions must not be up for discussion.*) McCain's position on these issues keeps evolving; I expect that at some point next week he'll call for parading short sellers through the streets in dunce caps.

I'll exit with some cheery thoughts from Glenn Greenwald:
Haven't we heard all these years that national health care was an extremely risky and dangerous undertaking because of what happens when the Federal Government gets too involved in an industry? What happened in the last month dwarfs all of that by many magnitudes.

The Treasury Secretary is dictating to these companies how they should be run and who should run them. The Federal Government now controls what were -- up until last month -- vast private assets. These are extreme -- truly radical -- changes to how our society functions. Does anyone have any disagreement with any of it or is anyone alarmed by what the consequences are -- not the economic consequences but the consequences of so radically changing how things function so fundamentally and so quickly?

Other countries are debating it. The headline in the largest Brazilian newspaper this week was: "Capitalist Socialism??" and articles all week have questioned -- with alarm -- whether what the U.S. Government did has just radically and permanently altered the world economic system and ushered in some perverse form of "socialism" where industries are nationalized and massive debt imposed on workers in order to protect the wealthiest. If Latin America is shocked at the degree of nationalization and government-mandated transfer of wealth, that is a pretty compelling reflection of how extreme -- unprecedented -- it all is.
* Maybe he's expecting a bailout.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 10:30 PM
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Thursday, September 18, 2008
playlist for last week's radio show intrigued you, you're in luck: Hugh Stimson posted a recording of the program (plus the end of the jazz show right before it) on his site. Meanwhile, here's what I played today:

Aretha Franklin: Son of a Preacher Man
Clarence Carter: Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street)
Bob Dylan: A Satisfied Mind
Ben Harper/Blind Boys of Alabama: A Satisfied Mind
Tony Joe White: They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas
Larry Jon Wilson: Ohoopee River Bottomland
Waylon Jennings: Love of the Common People
Blondie: Here's Looking At You
Alberta Hunter: Miss Otis Regrets
Louis Armstrong: King of the Zulus
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Minor Stab
Blue Ridge Playboys: Gimme My Dime Back
Merle Haggard: Lonesome Day
Johnny Cash: I've Been Everywhere
Rick Moranis: I Ain't Goin' Nowhere
The Everly Brothers: T for Texas
Kinky Friedman: We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You
The Temptations: Psychedelic Shack
Love and Rockets: Ball of Confusion
Gladys Knight and the Pips: Midnight Train to Georgia
Tony Joe White: Rainy Night in Georgia
Tanya Tucker: The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
The Robins: Riot in Cell Block #9
Joe Tex: Papa Was Too
Bobby Womack: Across 110th Street
Marlena Shaw: Woman of the Ghetto
Connie Smith: If It Ain't Love (Let's Leave It Alone)
Wilco: That's Not the Issue
Josh Graves: Little Maggie
Hazel Dickens: Coal Tattoo
Texas Rubies: Blue Diamond Mine
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner
The Kinks: Gallon of Gas (acoustic version)
Solomon Burke: I Got the Blues
Johnny Cash: Spiritual
Dolly Parton: Early Morning Breeze
Cowboy Junkies: Sweet Jane
Two Nice Girls: Sweet Jane (With Affection)
The Velvet Underground: Stephanie Says
Beausoleil: It's a Sin to Tell a Lie
Fats Waller: It's a Sin to Tell a Lie
Benny Goodman: Sing, Sing, Sing
Kool & the Gang: Jungle Jazz
Madness: Night Boat to Cairo

posted by Jesse 3:51 PM
. . .
Saturday, September 13, 2008
BATTERED BY IKE: There's a popular stereotype, fed by films and other media, that says that natural disasters are almost invariably followed by looting. But in the real U.S., theft and violence are
extremely rare in such situations. In Texas right now, as Hurricane Ike moves northwards, you'll find reports of people fretting about looters as they refuse to leave their homes. Yet when you look at how neighbors in the storm's path are actually behaving, you see cooperation instead:
The water was rising at the Summerset Apartments in Galveston at 5:30 a.m., according to residents, who said they had been through a long night with little sleep, like many who stayed in the area to meet Hurricane Ike.

After the ceiling caved in on her mother's bedroom in their second floor apartment, Vee Thrasher moved into the bathroom and took in some neighbors from the first floor, which had already flooded.
And then there's this intriguing report from Houston:
The Black Panther Party says it deployed 17 of its members to area gasoline station convenience stores to protect them from theft in the hours before and after Hurricane Ike makes landfall.

Owners asked the group to provide private security for their property, said Major Kenyha Shabazz, chairman of Peoples Party No. 3, the Houston affiliate of the Black Panther Party.

"These are the places that service our communities with food, water and fuel," Shabazz said. "We don't want these places torn up."

During the daylight hours, Panthers were standing guard at boarded-up convenience stores in the East End, North Houston and Third, Fourth and Fifth wards. They planned to spend the night in the stores and be back out front at dawn.

"We hired these Black Panther people to take care of our two stores, one here on Dowling and the other one on Elgin," said Nabi Chowdhury, manager of a Mobil station on Dowling Street.

"We have confidence in them because for a long time we have known them, and their attitude and everything, we like," Chowdhury said.
That isn't the Black Panther Party, of course -- that group disbanded three decades ago. But whoever these new Panthers are, they're apparently more interested in keeping the peace than offing the pigs.

Also revived: the rumor mill. Yesterday afternoon, at a Circle K in southeast Michigan, an employee told me confidently that gas was going to go up to $6 this morning. He was wrong, though it did hit an impressive $4.05. That's higher than fuel costs in Houston right now. (In Galveston, on the other hand, gives me this message: "No gas prices found. Please choose another area." Note: If you're trying to drive in Galveston today, the lack of gas will be the least of your worries.)

(cross-posted at Hit & Run. for friends and relatives reading this: my parents, grandmother, brother, and sister-in-law are all safely holed up in College Station, waiting til it's possible to return to Galveston and survey the damage. thanks for your concern.)

posted by Jesse 2:06 PM
. . .
Thursday, September 11, 2008
THE 9/11 PLAYLIST: I made my formal return to the airwaves today, hosting episode one of Titicut Follies on WCBN-FM. Here's the playlist:

Tom T. Hall: Everything from Jesus to Jack Daniels
Slim Harpo: Folsom Prison Blues
Ray Charles: Ring of Fire
Bhundu Boys/Hank Wangford: Ring of Fire
The Beat: Tears of a Clown
Junior Parker: Taxman
George Jones: Life Turned Her That Way
James Carr: Life Turned Her That Way
Jean Knight: Take Him (You Can Have My Man)
Parliament: Ride On
Duke Ellington: Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)
Jerry Lee Lewis: Hold On, I'm Comin'
Little Richard: WLAC Commercial
Little Richard: Good Night, Irene
Jerry Reed: Good Night, Irene
Sly and the Family Stone: If You Want Me to Stay
Leo Kottke: The Ice Miner
Bob Dylan: Copper Kettle
Sir Douglas Quintet: One Too Many Mornings/Sing a Happy Song
Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Betrayal Takes Two
Roxy Music: Mother of Pearl
The Kinks: Introduction to a Solution
Dead Kennedys: Take This Job and Shove It
Johnny Paycheck: Take This Job and Shove It
Waylon Jennings: Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Robbie Fulks: Countrier Than Thou
Tom T. Hall: The Monkey That Became President
Leo Kottke: Bumblebee
The Staple Singers: Swing Down Chariot
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan: Swing Down Chariot
Louis Armstrong/Velma Middleton: All That Meat and No Potatoes
Merle Haggard: Trouble in Mind
Jesse Walker: Communists and Couches
Golden Gate Quartet: Stalin Wasn't Stallin'
Sesame Street: C is for Cookie
William Shatner/Joe Jackson: Common People
Rockpile: When I Write the Book
Michael Nesmith: Some of Shelley's Blues
Terry Allen: Truckload of Art
Roy Acuff/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Wreck on the Highway
David Allan Coe: River
Johnny Cash: The One on the Right Is On the Left
Bobbie Gentry: Okolona River Bottom Band
Kip Anderson: I Went Off and Cried
Candi Staton: You Don't Have Far to Go
Blind Boys of Alabama: Old Blind Barnabas
Susan Tedeschi: Lord Protect My Child
Sammi Smith: Kentucky
Jim Smart: You Make It All Worthwhile
Ben Bernie: Au Revoir, Pleasant Dreams

Yes, that's my name in there. As a lead-in to the Golden Gate Quartet's Stalinist gospel song "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'," I recited a little comedy bit I made up a while back riffing off Martin Niemoeller's famous "First they came for the communists..." quote.

posted by Jesse 3:59 PM
. . .
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
RETURN OF THE NATIVE: As of this week, I am again a DJ at WCBN, the campus station at the University of Michigan where I worked from 1988 to 1993. With a motto borrowed from a long-dead California freeform station -- "it's all country music, it just depends on what country you come from" -- I'll be playing a mix of soul, punk, ska, funk, gospel, country, klezmer, jazz, and random snippets of the Zeitgeist from 12 to 3 each Thursday afternoon on a show I call Titicut Follies. If you live in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, you can hear this at 88.3 FM; if you live elsewhere, you'll have to go to I'll post the playlists on this blog after each episode.

And speaking of lists: I participated in yet another poll this week at The Cinematheque. This time the topic was the best movies of film's greatest era, the '40s. My top five:

1. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
2. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1949)
3. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
4. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)
5. It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)

To see what made my runner-up list, and to read everyone else's responses, you'll have to go to the Cinematheque site.

posted by Jesse 4:02 PM
. . .
Thursday, September 04, 2008
series of squibs about Sarah Palin over at Hit & Run this week, which I would have cross-posted here if my Internet connection had been more stable. At the very least, I should link to the column I published at Reason yesterday about the pseudo-scandal surrounding her daughter's pregnancy. It describes how, "under the appropriate circumstances, a Christian conservative can be more tolerant of teen sex than a liberal Democrat."

For all of Palin's flaws -- topmost of which is her willingness to share a ticket with John McCain -- she is, both personally and politically, the most interesting candidate for the vice presidency since James Stockdale. (That isn't irony. I'm a big Stockdale fan.) The easy, boring joke about Palin is that she's turning the campaign into a reality TV show. My secret wish is that she'll turn it into an episode of Northern Exposure instead. Ideally the one where the town holds an election and Barry Corbin delivers that great monologue saying they should have stayed home.

posted by Jesse 5:09 PM
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