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

Friday, February 27, 2009
I AM ASSIMILATED: I have given in to the crushing social pressures and
joined Facebook. In what is probably an insane and horribly misguided plan, I am trying to limit my friends list to people I actually know. Wish me luck.

If I follow this up by starting a Twitter feed, please kill me.

One sign of the new era: When my column on the near-bankruptcy of XM Sirius went up on the Reason site this morning, I announced it on Facebook within a couple of hours but am only now mentioning it here. Slowly but surely, I'm moving out of 2002 and into 2007.

posted by Jesse 5:58 PM
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Thursday, February 26, 2009
PHILIP JOSE FARMER, RIP: It's been more than two decades since I read anything by Philip José Farmer, the venerable science fiction writer who
passed away yesterday. So you'll have to take the following words of praise with a caveat that applies to all the literature I enjoyed in my early teens: I can't promise I'd still like his books if I opened any of them again today.

But in my memory, Farmer was the sophisticate on the science fiction shelf. This wasn't just because he was one of the first scribblers in the sf ghetto to write directly about sex. It reflected the clever literary games he loved to play. Farmer tinkered with characters invented by everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to L. Frank Baum, plus some bona fide historical figures as well. (His Riverwold series threw dead men as varied as Mark Twain, Tom Mix, and Sir Richard Burton into the same setting.) I suppose you could call Farmer an exceptionally talented author of fan fiction. Like the most disreputable fanficcer, he often inserted stand-ins for himself into his stories -- he conveniently gave them his own initials, the better for readers to recognize them as the author -- though unlike the typical Mary Sue, the fictional PJF might turn out to be a villain or a fool.

Thinking back all these years later, two of his short stories stand out in my mind. One was about a mysterious object that appears in the sky and gradually begins to erase everyone's memory. It was written in diary form, as the narrator gradually regresses to childhood. The other was a double pastiche: an attempt to imagine what the Tarzan stories would have been like if they'd been written by William Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Google reveals that the latter tale is called "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod." That title alone should be enough to guarantee Farmer at least a minor literary reputation.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 12:28 PM
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
KINKY FOLLIES: My radio show today was a three-hour tribute to the Kinks. The playlist follows:

The Kinks: The Village Green Preservation Society
The Kinks: This Is Where I Belong
The Kinks: Sweet Lady Genevieve
The Kinks: Rosie Won't You Please Come Home
The Kinks: Powerman
The Kinks: Sleepwalker
The Kinks: Till the End of the Day
The Kinks: Lola (instrumental version)
The Kinks: Introduction to a Solution
The Kinks: When a Solution Comes
The Kinks: Uncle Son
The Kinks: Yes Sir, No Sir
Ray Davies: Expectations
The Kinks: Here Come the People in Grey
The Kinks: Whip Lady
The Kinks: David Watts
The Kinks: People Take Pictures of Each Other
The Kinks: Sunny Afternoon
The Kinks: Holiday Romance
The Kinks: Holiday
The Kinks: Holiday in Waikiki
Ray Davies: The Tourist
The Kinks: In a Foreign Land
The Kinks: King Kong
The Kinks: A Little Bit of Abuse
The Kinks: Animal
The Kinks: Two Sisters
The Kinks: Young Conservatives
John Carpenter & Dave Davies: Burning Desire
The Kinks: Strangers
Dave Davies: Love Gets You (live)
The Kinks: This Man He Weeps Tonight
The Kinks: Love Me Till the Sun Shines
The Kinks: Susannah's Still Alive
The Kinks: You Don't Know My Name
The Kinks: Living on a Thin Line
The Kinks: Death of a Clown
The Kinks: Predictable
The Kinks: Do It Again
The Kinks: In a Space
The Kinks: Stop Your Sobbing
The Kinks: Maximum Consumption
The Kinks: Unreal Reality
The Kinks: Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues
The Kinks: Gallon of Gas (acoustic version)
The Kinks: Completely
The Kinks: Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl
The Kinks: Muswell Hillbilly
The Kinks: Scattered
The Kinks: Big Sky
The Kinks: Get Back in Line
The Kinks: Celluloid Heroes
Ray Davies: Thanksgiving Day

The instrumentals from Percy and Village of the Damned served as music beds while I spoke on the air. As for how I managed to air three hours of Kinks songs without finding the time to play "Days"...well, I'm sure there's a rational explanation somewhere.

posted by Jesse 8:41 PM
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Monday, February 23, 2009
SELF-PROMOTION: I don't think I ever got around to announcing the March issue of Reason, which includes my review of Nathaniel Deutsch's fine book
Inventing America's "Worst" Family. At any rate, the article is now online as well. And now the April Reason is en route to subscribers and newsstands. I contributed a brief review of a Firesign Theater box set.

posted by Jesse 3:56 PM
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OSCAR ROUNDUP '09: NIXON'S GOT GAMS: Jerry Lewis finally got an Oscar -- for his telethons? Every surviving auterist just threw up a little in his mouth.

Also, while I'm as pleased as anyone that Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor, surely he deserved a chance to pair it with the Academy's grandest prize: the Most Applause During The Death Montage award. You win, Paul Newman. But you won by forfeit.

Update: Yes yes yes, I know that Ledger was in the montage last year. In other news, I'm not really mad at Paul Newman.

The real reason I'm posting this update: to direct you all to the ineffable Oscar-night
liveblog at the right-wing film site Big Hollywood, where you'll find this post from someone named Brett Joshpe:
Hmmm....why did Mickey Rourke win Best Actor in every other award ceremony besides this one? As I said, the Academy punished Mickey for his gratitude towards President Bush for keeping our country safe from Islamo-facist [sic] terrorism. Instead, it chose to award its biggest donkey, Sean Penn. I would looooove to debate Sean Penn and explain to him why his [sic] such an insufferable idiot and jackass.
I was cheering for Rourke too. The Wrestler is a great movie, and Rourke's performance was the best thing in it. But Hollywood conservatives have reached a new level of self-congratulatory victimization -- we're talking The Ancient Egyptians Were Black Men Who Invented Airplanes levels of crazy -- if they need a theory like that to explain why an orthodox biopic with a tamely liberal message beat an unconventional film made outside the studio system. (Meanwhile, another Big Hollywood contributor seems to believe The Dark Knight didn't get a Best Picture nomination because of its alleged pro-Bush politics, and not, say, because the middlebrows at the Academy felt insecure about honoring a superhero movie.)

Note: Joshpe headlined his comment "Sean Penn Makes Me Puke In My Mouth," which lends support to Graphite's charge that my post's opening paragraph concludes with an overplayed cliché. Chastened, I promise to throw that phrase under the bus, to kick it to the curb, or, if all else fails, to lose it in a perfect storm.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 12:03 AM
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
SELF-PROMOTION: My most recent Reason column is called "
Corporate Workfare."

posted by Jesse 11:11 PM
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TITICUT JOLLIES: The playlist from Tuesday's radio show:

Eddie Cochran: Nervous Breakdown
Ronnie Dawson: Reelin' and Rockin'
Johnny Cash: Solitary Man
Jerry Lee Lewis: Just a Little Bit
The Flamin' Groovies: Louie Louie
Richard Hell and the Voidoids: The Plan
Iggy Pop: Repo Man
Penelope Houston: Harry Dean
Nick Drake: Time Has Told Me
Fairport Convention: Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Judee Sill: Lady-O
Karen Dalton: It Hurts Me Too
Howard Tate: Get it While You Can
The Meters: 6V6 LA
Sam and Dave: Wrap it Up
Solomon Burke: Proud Mary
Otis Redding: Look at the Girl
The Meters: Soul Machine
Junior Parker: Lady Madonna
Ann Peebles: Come to Mama
Marty Stuart & The Staple Singers: The Weight
Bob Dylan: Dixie
Mickey Newbury: An American Trilogy
Mahalia Jackson: He Will Remember Me
The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir: I Want to Ride That Glory Train
Madam Mattie Wigley: Power
Angola Quartet: I'm Stranded on the Banks of Ole Jordan
Johnny Lee Moore: Eighteen Hammers
Charles Mingus: Jelly Roll
The Five Blind Boys of Alabama: The War in Vietnam
Peter Tosh: Johnny B. Goode
The Selecter: James Bond
The Pogues: The Old Main Drag
The Bothy Band: Slides
Elvis Costello: Veronica
The Kinks: Victoria
Dave Davies: Climb Your Wall
Merle Haggard: Honky Tonky Mama
Billy Joe Shaver: Low Down Freedom
Dave Alvin: Amanda
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D
Mark Knopfler & The Chieftains: Lily of the West
Bob Dylan: Wigwam

Yes, I've played both "The Old Main Drag" and "Lily of the West" on previous shows. I got a little sloppy about that not-repeating-myself thing.

That's my favorite Beethoven piece, by the way. I originally intended to broadcast just one movement from it, but then a friend I hadn't seen in 16 years walked into the studio and I decided to play the whole 40-minute thing so we could talk without distraction. Later I got an email from another friend, telling me he'd tried to tune in to my radio show online but got some classical music feed instead.

posted by Jesse 11:07 PM
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009
COUNTRY LIFE'S PUBLIC IMAGE: An ad campaign that
worked out well:
It has been one of the more unlikely celebrity endorsements; John Lydon, a member of the seminal punk band the Sex Pistols, advertising Country Life butter. But it appears to have worked.

Dairy Crest today said the campaign, featuring a spiky-haired Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, dressed in tweeds, had helped lift sales of the brand by 85% in the most recent quarter. Lydon, once better known for sending chills down the spine of middle Englanders, now appears adept at sending them to the chiller cabinet.
I don't know how much of that 85 percent can actually be attributed to the ads. I do know that the campaign is genuinely entertaining -- much more so than the Pistols' dimwitted Mountain Dew spots, not to mention the last few PiL records -- so I'll praise it anyway. Bravo, butter boys.

Before some Brit John Banzhaf sues Rotten for increasing England's cholesterol counts, I should remind readers of the usual pattern in cases like this. With a familiar product like butter, the general effect of advertising is to make established users switch brands, not to persuade people who had been eating their bread plain all these years that they really should try this newfangled "spread" stuff. Rotten may have changed the way people think about the Country Life brand. He probably hasn't altered their perceptions of butter.

Bonus Johnny Rotten trivia: He's a fan of former Reason editor Virginia Postrel's book The Future and Its Enemies, and he hosted both Virginia and Nick Gillespie as guests on his long-defunct Internet radio show. I think Nick will agree that one of the high points of his career was when he innocently asked Rotten why the punks never embraced Margaret Thatcher.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)

posted by Jesse 10:34 PM
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THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED: Tuesday's radio show fell on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. I meant to mark the occasion by playing some Waylon Jennings, but I never got around to it:

The Beasts of Bourbon: Ten Wheels for Jesus
Buck Owens: Truck Driving Man
Rick Moranis: Three Days Rest
Elvis Costello: Stranger in the House
Jerry Jeff Walker: L.A. Freeway
Mickey Newbury: 'Frisco Mabel Joy
Tom T. Hall: The Little Lady Preacher
Michael Hurley & The Unholy Modal Rounders: Griselda
Bill Monroe: The Long Bow
Mark Olson and the Creekdippers: One Eyed Black Dog Moses
Beck: Beercan
Lord Rhaburn: Disco Connection
Kool and the Gang: Funky Stuff
Re-Birth Brass Band: Same Thing On
The Kinks: Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues
Louis Armstrong: Cornet Chop Suey
Jelly Roll Morton: Buddy Bolden's Blues
Bob Dylan & Mavis Staples: Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
Howard Tate: How Come My Bulldog Don't Bark
Michelle Shocked: Hold Me Back (Frankie and Johnny)
Sleepy LaBeef: Frankie's Man Johnny
Millie Jackson: Cheatin' Is
Cesaria Evora: Amor Di Mundo
Tulipa Negra: Tulipa Negra
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Tropicalia
Ghettobillies: Steve
Bettye Swann: Today I Started Loving Her Again
Jim Ford: Harlan County
Billy Preston: Will it Go Round in Circles
O.V. Wright: Drowning On Dry Land
Ann Peebles: Somebody's On Your Case
Roberta Flack: Trying Times
Tom Waits: Clap Hands
Los Lobos: Saint Behind the Glass
BeauSoleil: L'Amour ou la Folie
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn: Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man
Randy Newman: Birmingham
Glen Campbell: Galveston
Emmylou Harris: Miss the Mississippi
Bill Monroe: Jekyll Island
Devo: Mongoloid
The Sex Pistols: Sub-Mission
The Kinks: All Day and All of the Night
John Cale: Graham Greene
Don Covay: I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In
Bobby Womack: Tarnished Rings
George Jones & Melba Montgomery: We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds
Bob Dylan: Wigwam

That "Tulipa Negra" bit isn't a typo: The name of the artist and the name of the song are the same.

posted by Jesse 10:15 PM
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Sunday, February 01, 2009
FINISHING THE EIGHTS: We've listed the best films of
1998, 1988, 1978, 1968, 1958, 1948, and 1938. Time for the last stop of the tour.

The Motion Picure Academy split its Best Picture award for "1927-1928" between two movies released in 1927, and it gave its "1928-1929" prize to a film from 1929. So it never did get around to honoring 1928, a fine year for silent clowns, Soviet propaganda, and Poe adaptations:

1. There It Is
Written and directed by Charley Bowers and Harold L. Muller

One of the strangest, funniest comedies of the '20s, or of any decade.

2. The Fall of the House of Usher
Directed by Jean Epstein
Written by Epstein and Luis Buñuel, from a story by Edgar Allan Poe

European surrealists do Poe.

3. The Fall of the House of Usher
Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
Written by Watson and Webber, from a story by Edgar Allan Poe

The American version. Briefer and even more dreamlike than the French effort.

4. Speedy
Directed by Ted Wilde
Written by Al Boasberg, Albert DeMond, John Grey, Jay Howe, Lex Neal, Howard Emmett Rogers, and Paul Girard Smith, from a story by Grey, Howe, Neal, and Rogers

Baseball-crazy Harold Lloyd drives New York's last horse-drawn trolley. Is it possible to be nostalgic for another generation's nostalgia?

5. The Passion of Joan of Arc
Directed by Carl Dreyer
Written by Dreyer and Joseph Delteil

I'll steal from Ebert: "There is no scenery here, aside from walls and arches. Nothing was put in to look pretty. You do not leave discussing the costumes (although they are all authentic). The emphasis on the faces insists that these very people did what they did. Dreyer strips the church court of its ritual and righteousness and betrays its members as fleshy hypocrites in the pay of the British; their narrow eyes and mean mouths assault Joan's sanctity."

6. The Seashell and the Clergyman
Directed by Germaine Dulac
Written by Antonin Artaud

The movie that produced the British Board of Film Censors' most infamous judgment: "This film is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable."

7. Arsenal
Written and directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko

It's supposed to be communist propaganda, but Dovzhenko, as always, has a more complicated political agenda. This was early in Stalin's reign, when it was still possible to get away with this.

8. October
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein with Grigori Aleksandrov
Written by Eisenstein and Aleksandrov, from a book by John Reed

Eisenstein, on the other hand, was a committed Bolshevik. But he ran into trouble with the Soviet authorities anyway: The aesthetic police didn't approve of his riveting montages—i.e., the reason we watch the picture today.

9. Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Directed by Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner
Written by Keaton and Carl Harbaugh

Keaton's last comedy before his deadly move to MGM.

10. The Wind
Directed by Victor Sjöström
Written by Frances Marion, from a novel by Dorothy Scarborough

One of the bleakest westerns ever made.

posted by Jesse 5:01 PM
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