"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wThursday, July 31, 2003

THE ONE PARTY NO PARTY STATE: In response to my most recent column, my old colleague Rick Hiebert wrote to ask, If Washington State voters swing conservative on initiatives, why do they continue to pull the lever for the Dems. Why, with regard to statewide offices, is this basically a one party state. I answered at length and I thought readers might get something out of it:


Actually, there were two so-con candidates for governor: Ellen Craswell (96) and John Carlson (00). The conservatives don't necessarily have a lock (no pun intended) on the nomination process, but they do have a lot of say in it.

Both Craswell and Carlson ran horrible campaigns. The trick, for Republicans elected in statewide races, is to lose by as little as possible in Seattle and the surrounding area, and clean up in Eastern Washington. Both candidates ignored this simple electoral roadmap, and got crushed.

I was cramped for space in my column, so I didn't go into it, but voters in my state don't always swing conservative, or even libertarian, on initiatives. They sometimes up the minimum wage or are, IMHO, far too generous to the state's teachers. But they have made up their minds about two things: (1) Major tax and spending decisions are too important to leave to the politicians, and (2) We're really not so wild about the taxes thing.

This is such an effective pair of handcuffs that I'm surprised anyone with ambition would ever run for either the governorship or the legislature (now insurance commish -- that would be a challenge). They constantly have their plans upset by voters with other ideas, thank you, and who really don't care what their representatives think.

As for why people still vote for the Dems, I imagine that people do it for the same reason that they recycle: It's a low cost way to feel better about themselves.


posted by Jeremy at 12:34 AM


SPOKE TOO SOON: That bastard Tim Cavanaugh would wait until I've given Reason intern Kerry Howley a glowing sendoff to post her last article, wouldn't he? Well. Her final article is on the taming of Jennifer Lopez. (My nickname at the Report, BTW, was J-Lo. Other than the easy abbreviation, I have no idea why.)

posted by Jeremy at 12:23 AM

wWednesday, July 30, 2003

KEEP HOPE ALIVE: I remember a sketch -- I think it was on In Living Color -- of the final press conference of a Jesse Jackson presidency. Asked about his campaign promises, Jackson said that he delivered on the most important one, to "keep hope alive." He then had a cryogenically frozen Bob Hope wheeled out for all to see. For some reason, during the to do following Hope's death, it came to mind. Here's a fun tribute to Hope by Jesse Walker:

One of my favorite Dennis Miller jokes is an old one-liner from Weekend Update. "The statute of limitations on respecting Bob Hope for his early work ran out today," he said, apropos of nothing and all the funnier for it. The gag got a good laugh from the audience -- this was in the 1980s, when there were still some people who remembered Hope's early work and why it might be worth respecting.


It's been so long since Hope was funny that most the whole of the hip young turks who dethroned him 30 years ago have themselves become witless gasbags in the latter-day Hope tradition. [the whole thing is a bit more positive than this excerpt]

posted by Jeremy at 4:21 PM


KERRY HOWLEY'S PARTING SHOT: This summer's Reason intern left the building yesterday, her term of indenture having run its course. It was a reasonably productive summer, with articles on cranky jazz critics, same sex divorce, and why old people will be the death of us yet. Her final post on the Reason blog was on how to judge judges. A little bird tells me that she should be setting up her one website soon. I'll link it once it's live.

posted by Jeremy at 1:27 PM


LOCKE BOX: Man it was hot yesterday -- so hot that I didn't dare try to post this until this morning. My latest column is on Washington State's anti-political politics:

Critics of [Governor Gary] Locke's rebuttal may have been overwrought, but they weren't wrong to note some reluctance on his part. The governor is horrible in open confrontation, and prefers to rule by flattery and misdirection. As far as Washingtonians are concerned, the State of the Union reply was Locke at his snarling most belligerent. Before the last gubernatorial election, Dan Savage complained in Seattle's alt weekly The Stranger that Locke, "behaves as if he, like the queen of England, is a constitutional monarch, barred from taking a public stand on anything controversial or -- God forbid! -- political."

Savage meant it as an insult but the governor-as-constitutional-monarch crack isn't far off the mark. The governor of Washington State is a constitutionally weak office, and it has been made even more infirm by the increase in voter initiatives in the last two decades. I often summarize the new consensus as, We hate the legislature, and the governor had better play dead.

The normal way of things in Washington is that politicians work hard to raise fees and taxes and pass irksome regulations, and then citizens sign petitions and vote for initiatives, pulling the rug out from under said pols at the ballot box. If Locke had his way, affirmative action would still be in place in public education, hand guns would be restricted, and a high car tax would not have been repealed. This year, he managed to get a gas tax hike, along with a few other fee increases, through the legislature, but self-proclaimed "initiative whore" Tim Eyman has promised to get back every last nickel for the taxpayers, and, odds are, he will. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:36 AM

wMonday, July 28, 2003

AMBLING AT 230 MPH: KMG has a good article on the future of CART racing. He gets in a few digs at F1 racing while he's at it:

Paul Tracy can’t understand why Americans prefer NASCAR racing to CART. "It’s only in America that people are fascinated by the car your mother takes to the grocery store going around in a circle. This is not a Canadian thing; it’s not a European thing. Americans are fascinated with wrestling and Chevy Luminas going around in a circle."

The Canadian native lives by choice in Las Vegas, so he can’t be accused of anti-Americanism. He simply thinks CART is the most exciting racing series in the world. So does Dublin native Derek Daly, Formula 1 and CART veteran, now analyst for the Speed Channel and resident of Indianapolis. And so does all-American racing legend Bobby Unser, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

What is it about CART racing that so appeals to the racing cognoscenti? A combination of variables. CART cars are the fastest closed-course racing machines in the world, capable of 230 miles per hour. They are expensive but not nearly as expensive or complicated as Formula 1 machines. And Unser adds, "Passing is almost illegal in F1 these days." [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:19 PM

wSunday, July 27, 2003

DANCING BEARS: Latte Sipping Extra: Why Jack Kemp should take a long walk off something short:

Media junkies want to know: Just how much of a carnival is the race to unseat California governor Gray Davis likely to become? Shock jock Michael Savage may throw his hat into the ring, Arianna is mulling a run, the kindergarten cop hasn't made up his mind yet, and, oh yes, Jack Kemp is being "urged" by supporters to step into the breach. We're in dancing bear territory folks.

Or perhaps it's a quick game of Find the Lady. When Drudge announced last Thursday night that Kemp was thinking of running as a "consensus candidate," my immediate response was, "for whom?", and I suspect that wasn't an unusual reply. Jack Kemp?? The guy who got creamed by a human robot in the 1996 debates? The man who blamed slow economic growth for Roberto Alomar's rather Pavlovian response to a bad call? The same Jack Kemp who's recently taken to shilling for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez? [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:53 PM

wSaturday, July 26, 2003

SUE THEIR SOCKS OFF: Normally, I'm against large damage settlements, from either public or private entities. The one comes right out of my wallet in the form of taxes; the other tends to make things more expensive. That said, after reading about the Orwellian nightmare that Steven Hatfill's life has become, I hope he takes the government and the press for enough money to send his great great grandchildren to Harvard.

posted by Jeremy at 1:55 PM


AND THE DIG GOES ON: Ughh, what a week. I seem that a little outburst of mine has sparked all kinds of reaction. Here's Alan Henderson on Mark Ames' putrid, moronic, awful review of Jacob Sullum's new book, and here's Sullum's far too restrained response (though it does answer my question of why the book is called "Saying Yes," rather than the obvious, much sexier title "Just Say Yes").

posted by Jeremy at 1:46 PM

wWednesday, July 23, 2003

THESPIANS: Here's this week's column. It's about a new take on an old play:

What was it Oscar Wilde said about the death of Little Nell? Heart of stone or no, I couldn't make it through the D.C. Shakespeare Theatre's new "adaptation" of Ibsen's Ghosts without laughing. My lady friend tried a few quiet zingers but by the end, she'd gotten all the way to open mockery.

The husband-and-wife tag team, writer-director Edwin Sherin and leading lady Jane Alexander, were about as subtle as a pair of steroid addled pro wrestlers pummeling a helpless opponent. Anything worthwhile in the original was squeezed out by the sheer weight of the poor direction and the annoying rewrite. Set in the 1980s, Helen Alving is transformed from interesting widow and genuinely strong woman into a shrill feminist, and that's just for starters. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 12:27 AM

wTuesday, July 22, 2003

FRANKLY SOPHOMORIC: James Antle writes in response to my dig at Mark Ames stupid, stupid review of Jacob Sullum's latest:


I'm glad you thought Mark Ames' review of Jacob Sullum's book was idiotic too. I reviewed the book for America's Future Foundation's Brainwash webzine and never before had I taken a shot at another reviewer in a review, but this time I just couldn't resist.

You note that Ames can't stand the idea that someone would make a sober, reasoned case for drug use. Looking at his review again and his nutball response to Sullum's editor, I would amend that to say he can't stand the idea that someone would be sober.


posted by Jeremy at 10:14 PM


THE KVETCH: Matt Welch thinks I'm an authoritarian with a capital A (open comments and scroll down).

Worst review of the summer. Mark Ames, in the increasingly irrelevant New York Press, attacks Jacob Sullum for making the case for drug use without telling us too much about his own past usage. Ames the quasirebel can't stand the idea that someone could make a sober, reasoned case for drug use. At one point he admits, "I thought, 'Is Sullum fucking nuts' He's debating Christians!" The horror. Ames also comes out looking like an even bigger ass in his response to Sullum's editor, here (scroll down to "Ames in Flames?").

In case you were wondering, telivision does not cause syphilis. Ugh, that's such a Dave Barry joke.

Finally, my favorite diarist is blogging again:

Okay, so yesterday on Canadian Idol, everyone was SO cheap except for Ryan and Audrey and Sherry, but I only got to vote for an hour because Tim was on the phone, so I only voted for Ryan like 50 times, which isn't really going to do anything, but whatever. Right now I'm listening to Ace of Base, "Don't Turn Around". American Juniors is on tonight! I remembered the time when Casey was pretending to be Alistair, and he said, "I was wondering if you still liked me, because I'm coming back to Canada, and I'd like to take you out to dinner?" and I was just like, "Okay, what's wrong with you?" and then later he said, "Did you dye your hair?" and I'm like, "No..." and he's like, "Yes, you did, you dyed your hair!", and I'm just like, "No, I didn't" and he goes, "I walked to Canada the other day and I saw you and you dyed your hair, please don't lie to me!" and I'm just like, "Whatever..." and later he said, "Have I told you lately that I love you?" And I just totally freaked out. And then he was pretending the phone was messing up, and he's like, "No! You're breaking up! Please don't leave me!" He is SUCH a FREAK. Seriously.

posted by Jeremy at 9:06 PM


UNPLANNED HIATUS: Sorry for the absence, folks. First, there was a whirlwind trip across the country and back. Then my room decided it wanted to become a microwave. Right now, I'm working on my weekly column, but blogging should resume tonight or tomorrow at the latest.

posted by Jeremy at 8:54 AM

wThursday, July 17, 2003

AU CONTRARIAN: Some fun responses to my recent column on Christopher Hitchens and his idol. This e-mail (scroll down to "Daily Reader") was my favorite piece of... fan mail in a long time:

I enjoyed Jeremy Lott's review of the recent writings of Christopher Hitchens, but was a bit confused by his conclusion: "Hitchens tried for a sort of 'Politics of the English Language' lite and wound up with a bad McGuffey reader impression instead."

The McGuffey Readers, contrary to the impression Mr. Lott conveyed here, were a distillation of religious instruction, culture, manners, and knowledge unparalleled in the annals of the American Education system. Those who studied with them are better for it. If Mr. Lott would consult the originals, he would retract the parallelism with "lite."

I think he means "Dick and Jane."

But then again, maybe he was just drunk.

-- James N. Ward
Paris, France

Point taken. In my defense, I did say it was a "bad" impression.

For the more pictorally inclined, Joanne McNeil had a few things to say. My favorite line: "Ah, Mr. Contrarian. Perhaps he's still wrapped up in the Type 1/ Type 2 error his book Why Orwell Matters perpetuates, that Orwell is Everyman, thus Everyman is Orwell. If the book relied on that sentiment, it might have been more appropriately titled Releasing the Orwell Within and filed under self-help."

(While you're there, check out her new blog. Good stuff.)

Radley Balko titled his reply Lott v. Hitchens, which I admit to getting a kick out of. He also called Hitchens "the bastard love child of Charles Bukowski and George Orwell." But let's get to the important part:

Lott's right. Hitch's war stuff has been sub-par, and not merely because I disagree with him. All his Slate war essays have felt forced to me, like he's saying, "Look at me. I'm a contrarian. Watch what I'm about to do. Dammit, I'm so contrarian, I'm going to take a position that's contrary to my own position. How fucking contrarian is that?"


Paul Cella wrote to say that he enjoyed my piece, and pointed to a recent long post of his on the Hitchens brothers. After some consideration, which I will not attempt to summarize, he concludes:

I am not undertaking an ideological purge here. [Good instinct there! Go with that. - ed] I recognize that alliances in politics can be curious things from the more rigid perspectives of abstract principles. I recognize, further, that we are in the midst of a fragmentation of ideological, even philosophical, lineaments; that the bitterness in the politics of our day is probably proportionate to the steady decay of their concrete meaning, along with the decay of the rest of the Modern Age. In recognizing this, I tremble most; for it might be that the Right has chosen poorly, and lent its now considerable weight to something emphatically leftist in nature, that is, to something injurious to the transcendent moral order of liberty and sanity. The Right might thus be right on the narrow question of war with Iraq, but horribly wrong on the much larger and more consequential questions of intervention, the role of the nation-state, and democracy as a stable regime. By a tragic fate, borne in confusion and haste and faction, the modern Right might be debasing itself before the emerging globalist or postmodern Left; and therefore C. Hitchens might stand as a presentiment of this approaching ruin.

Those are, in my darker moods, my fears. They may be bogus; they may be foolish; but it ought not be forgotten how disastrous the Right’s previous associations of an immediate political nature have been. One example should suffice. The damage done to constitutional government, to the majestic theory of federalism, to local autonomy, by the Right’s countenance of slavery in North America is incalculable. And I do know that the ease with which conservatives have embraced a man like C. Hitchens and generally ignored the admonitions of his brother, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Too deep for me tonight but no doubt I'll appreciate it in the morning.

posted by Jeremy at 12:02 AM

wWednesday, July 16, 2003

HEIDI JULAVITS AWARD WINNER: I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank my first grade teacher for beating me with a stick, that English professor who flunked me for my "excessively caustic tone," and, of course, God, for the whole hellfire and brimstone thing. Sob. You hate me, you really hate me! It... just... means so much!

posted by Jeremy at 12:29 PM


DIG OF THE DAY: From Kathy Shaidle (aka Relapsed Catholic):

[W]ill the person who got here searching for "corrie ten boom" + "nude" please kill themselves immediately. I promise: God won't mind.

posted by Jeremy at 2:06 AM


NOMINATION FOR BAD REVIEW OF THE WEEK: My new "Latte Sipping" column is a review of Christopher Hitchens' latest:

I had what I thought was good idea for this week's column. Since the subject is the writing of Christopher Hitchens, and since "Hitch" does some of his best work in bars, I would go to the local pub, pen and scratch pad in hand, and not start writing until I had at least a few drinks in me. The idea was to get into his state of mind, if not his head.

"It won't work," said an old friend after he listened to my spiel.

"What do you mean it won't work?"

"I mean it won't work. In order to get into Hitchens' 'state of mind,' you'd have to show up with a few shots of vodka in you, and then down three or four beers before you could even start writing, and then drink your way through the article. You'll pass out before you even get close," he said.

So readers will have to cope with my sober analysis of his latest polemical thrust: A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.

posted by Jeremy at 12:02 AM

wTuesday, July 15, 2003

STEEL YOURSELVES: For a new offering from my old friend, and Reportster, Kevin Steel. This time around, he does the lyrics and one Debra Bachman Smith does the vocals. My first reaction, on hearing an earlier version of this, was, Is she married? (Answer: yes.) It's probably the best thing he's produced, though my personal favorite remains "The Martyr."

posted by Jeremy at 10:42 AM


USA! USA!: A story in Time picks up on something that we've be harping on (and on and on) for quite some time, the quiet dominance of USA Today:

The [New York] Times (weekday circulation 1.1 million), in contrast, makes headlines with every journalism prize, mini-scandal and intrastaff squabble. Journalists will tell you all this attention is justified because the Times is the nation's most important newspaper. And this is true, if you keep in mind that the journalist's definition of important is "important to journalists." USA Today is not in an urban hot spot. In 2001 it moved (along with corporate parent Gannett) to spacious new digs, complete with fitness club, in the remote office-park suburbs of Washington. Its comparatively quiet newsroom culture doesn't make for juicy media gossip. Rather, it just discreetly makes its way into the hands, and consciousness, of more Americans than any other newspaper. Says Mark Halperin, political director for ABC News: "The media élites in Washington and New York who don't read USA Today unless they're traveling underestimate its influence in the lives of Americans." Walter Shapiro, a USA Today political columnist, says, "There's no greater feeling than being out somewhere in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and realizing that one has a choice of two newspapers for the entire press corps and the entire campaign: the local paper and USA Today." [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:29 AM


HOCKING ATHWART HISTORY: Evan McElravy complains that a visit to National Review Online produces "no less than three obnoxious pop-up ads." That may be true for you puny IE users but Mozilla crushes pop up ads before they even get a chance to torment frustrated (but enlightened) surfers.

posted by Jeremy at 10:20 AM


ANOTHER DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER: It's too bad I don't have referrer logs, because I'd love to know if former Report editor Candis McLean stops by. Today the Edmonton Journal published the following letter:

If I read any more stories saying, "As a former employee of Alberta Report, let me tell you some amusing anecdotes that illustrate how clever I am and what impractical eccentrics the Byfields are," I will abandon all hope for journalists as a species.

These writers imply, with an urbane snicker, that had they been at the helm, the valiant ship would still sail on. What rot.

I worked for the magazine for five years and I have never met anyone who worked harder than the Byfields, or who struggled more determinedly to keep an ideal afloat. They ceased publication only after every courageous effort had been made to fight society's drift toward today's buzz word of "whatever!"

We watched as Link Byfield not only tackled the grinding, hands-on job of editor, but also co-hosted with his wife, Joanne, a daily radio program. Their aim? To reveal the wide range of topics covered by a magazine which, astonishingly, most of its critics had never even read. The demands of those two full-time jobs were brutal, yet Link somehow retained his sense of humour and caring for his staff and readers. The word for that is "commitment."

Septegenarian Ted Byfield wrote weekly nationally syndicated columns, while masterminding the breathtaking Christian history series. Less well known -- because he would never mention it -- are such deeds as he and his wife, Virginia, quietly opening their home, for months on end, to fellow church members down on their luck.

Impractical and atypical? Definitely. But whom does that fact condemn, the Byfields or society?

While former employees across the country recount stories of how they could have done better than these "impractical eccentrics," I would love to see the Byfields write a book about employees they have known. Yet, stoically, they do not respond.

I would love to hear some of their more lighthearted tales. For instance, Paula Simons' recent Journal column began: "I am Ted Byfield's bastard daughter." Simons' comment was intended to be metaphorical, as she went on to reveal her philosophical differences with her former employer. But the claim led to several curious calls to the Byfields, and the irrepressible Ted whipping off a note to Simons' father stating: "I deny paternity."

It's corny, I know, but sometimes on a hot summer afternoon I find myself dreaming that an intelligent backer will step forward to refurbish the ship that worked so tirelessly to ferry Canadians from the quagmire of "Oh well, whatever" to the terra firma of commitment.

Candis McLean,


PS: The alternate title for this post was MY GOD, WE'RE DOOMED AS A SPECIES!

posted by Jeremy at 12:42 AM

wMonday, July 14, 2003

GOOD SAVE: From Paul Cella:

Jeremy --

Man, you dig up a post from months ago and put me on the spot! But no, I did not intend to call you a "timid and industrious animal": I meant (awkwardly) to reference the Michael Kelly article (a hilarious and prescient spoof of P.C. lunacy) you cited as an example of what the modern state aspires to make of its subjects: "timid and industrious animals," which Tocqueville envisioned as the end-game of servitude in a decayed democracy.

Sorry for the confusion.


posted by Jeremy at 9:26 PM


OUCH: I learned of this this morning but I didn't know if he wanted it made public. From Razormouth.com:

Joel Miller, founder and editor of RazorMouth, has just been admitted into the emergency room for severe stomach pains. Apparently Joel has acute Pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. Acute pancreatitis usually resolves, however, acute pancreatitis can be a severe, life-threatening illness with many complications. The plan is to keep him in the hospital for a minumum of a few days in order to give his pancreas a chance to rest. Though not gauranteed, it is hoped that he will be home by this weekend. The doctor believes Joel should recover soon.

RazorMouth will continue to function this week, albeit at a much slower rate. We would appreciate your prayers for Joel and his family, and your patience with RazorMouth.

posted by Jeremy at 3:04 PM


BUT COULD IT LEVEL TOKYO?: Because of ongoing problems with Internet Explorer, I downloaded Mozilla. I've been testing it out this morning to find any wrinkles but so far so good. It's fast, it blocks pop ups and, best of all, it does those things that you would intuitively want it to do. I think this may be a winner.

posted by Jeremy at 3:00 PM


CHANNELING MARK STEYN: Colby Cosh takes on the subject of Canadian Senate reform, sort of. Actually, he uses the subject of Senate reform to get in a lot of jabs at the PM:

Senate reform has won its most distinguished convert: a Mr. J.J.J. Chrétien of Shawinigan. On Friday, a prime ministerial aide confirmed Mr. Chrétien is willing to look at lists of possible Senate picks presented by the provincial premiers. "It would be impolite," said aide Jim "Miss Manners" Munson, "not to take a look." At this early date, there is no guarantee the PM would actually focus his eyes on the names of proposed Senators, or sound them out phonetically. But it appears he has agreed to have a paper passed physically in front of his face, and given his history, this must be considered a major concession.


Last week's meeting of the premiers ended with what looks like a tacit agreement not to seek national consensus on renewed federal-provincial health care arrangements until the more congenial Paul Martin becomes prime minister. The whole thing was reminiscent of a pack of acquisitive children getting together in secret to pre-emptively settle the affairs of a dying father. "Be patient -- the old S.O.B. can't last much longer." In this context, Mr. Chrétien's improvised adoption of Senate reform was obviously no more than a demented, instinctual grab for headlines. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 1:29 PM

wSunday, July 13, 2003

THE KVETCH: I've read this a couple of times and I still can't decide: Did Paul Cella mean to call me a "timid and industrious animal"?

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen looks to have had only a so so opening, which wouldn't be so bad except that it lost out to the goshawful Pirates of the Caribbean. I hope word of mouth elevates it in the next few weeks to the sleeper hit of the summer. (Hey Jim! Isn't it about time for the Unqualified treatment?)

Chris Mooney began his write up of my recent B&C column thus: "You simply have to read Jeremy Lott's Christianity Today review of a recent book about atheist firebrand Madalyn Murray O'Hair." I hope readers don't think this an example of mutual backscratching when I point out his latest Skeptical Inquirer column on the dishonest documentary Capturing the Friedmans.

Finally, Marnie Ko's "Report expose" has moved from the front of her site to this link.

posted by Jeremy at 7:24 PM

wWednesday, July 09, 2003

STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED: Today, The Stranger got around to running my review of Jim Knipfel's new book. Normally, I would include a paragraph or two and a link, but here's the thing: The books editor heaped praise and then more praise on the original version of the piece and only reluctantly asked me to cut a hundred words or so to squeeze it in to a crowded schedule of reviews. So here's the link to the Stranger version, and here is the original:

Kook Beat
Jim Knipfel's Disoriented First Novel

In my very small Dutch hometown in a northwest cubbyhole of this state there sits a very bad pizza parlor. "Bad" because the pizza is usually burnt, the service is mediocre at best, and the prices are high. In fact, illness has almost always followed a trip to this establishment -- I once landed a genuine case of food poisoning. And yet, I keep going back, as do enough people to keep the place in business. I continue to return -- and I suspect that many of the others do as wel l-- out of what you might call an irrational fascination: How does a restaurant this bad manage to stay in business?

This same illogic, this tendency to meditate on why things don't work, kept me reading Jim Knipfel's first novel, The Buzzing. The protagonist with the odd-sounding name Roscoe Baragon is certainly not worth the price of admission, and Knipfel, to his credit, doesn't try to pretend otherwise. At 42 and 45 pounds overweight, Baragon is a once-great reporter who "no longer [has] the energy, the drive, or the cold viciousness it [takes] to get ahead in this business." He's also a slob, a hack, an obsessive and a borderline misanthrope. His parents are long dead and he has precisely one good friend, Emily Roschen, a gorgeous brunette drinking buddy who works in the city morgue.

As the story opens, we learn that Baragon has managed to survive in the news biz by taking on the "kook beat" at an otherwise boring mid-market New York daily newspaper. He writes stories about people who claim that ghosts are haunting museums or that aliens have stolen their pluming fixtures or that they've been kidnapped by the state of Alaska.

Actually, it began as more of a slump than a beat. Because Baragon tended to treat "the crazies" more respectfully than most reporters, and because fielding a few whacked out phone calls was easier than burning shoe leather, he fell into the pattern of writing up oddball stories, avoiding normal people, drinking far too much, and going to sleep by the flickering light of bad Japanese movies. But along the way, something happened. When Emily drags Baragon home from the bar one night, he confesses that his greatest fear is "that someday… I might… just… be… right" in suspecting that the crazies are onto something.

As far as the plot goes, The Buzzing is anorexic and dizzy. The book traces Baragon's retreat from reality, from intimacy, from life, as he begins to wrap disconnected strands from personal experience and press clippings into the mother of all conspiracy theories. He comes to believe that a race of underwater dwelling humanoids are triggering earthquakes, buying up property in New York, and using the destitute for experimentation; and that he needs to find Godzilla to rescue mankind from these evil sea people. Worse, Baragon suspects that Emily and Everyone Else are in on it.

Knipfel paints a thin veneer of unreality over the last part of the book. Some of the lines of Baragon's erstwhile friends are just weird and vague enough to make you wonder, for one brief moment, if he's onto something. This is played up in the book's advertising to appeal to X-philes. The author's bio explains that he lives in Brooklyn: "That much he knows." (Yeah, and the truth is way the hell out there, too.) Which is to say that the book refrains from saying outright what readers will be able to see: The guy has lost it.

Chronicling someone's degeneration is old hat for Knipfel, a decent writer for the alternative weekly New York Press whose interests are almost as offbeat as Baragon's. His first two books, Slackjaw and Quitting the Nairobi Trio, were about his own life: how he went (legally) blind and how he tried to kill himself and spent a year locked up under close observation. Comparisons of Baragon with Knipfel would be interesting, if you go in for that sort of thing. The important difference between Knipfel's previous books and The Buzzing is that the others had a nice cozy straight jacket-like plot imposed by real events, while this book struggles to find its way.

posted by Jeremy at 10:49 PM


AMERICAN GODS MUST BE CRAZY: Neil Gaiman, an acclaimed British writer living in the U.S., is having trouble with his Green Card:

There's sometimes a faintly Kafkaesque quality to dealing with some branches of American government -- for example, the immigration division of the department of homeland security. A year ago my Green Card expired, so I went to the INS (as it was then) in Minneapolis, and they took my Green Card away and stamped my passport, and told me that a new Green Card would arrive in a couple of months, and the stamp on my passport was all I needed. The stamp on the passport was valid for a year, and expires in a couple of weeks.

I called a helpline number a few days ago. Someone helpful answered. I explained that I didn't have a new Green Card yet. "That's because the average wait time for a new Green Card from the Nebraska Centre, who are processing your case, is fifteen months," I was told. "But they only stamped my passport for twelve months,"I said. "That's right," she said. "They only do twelve month stamps. You'll have to get another stamp. It's very routine."

I checked the Minneapolis Immigration offices website, which explained that the St Paul office was open to customers from 8.00am until 2:30 pm. I figured that, as a very routine thing, turning up around midday would be fine. (It was fine when I did it a year ago.) We strive to provide quality service to our customers, they proclaim on their website, which seemed pretty reassuring.

So I drove the hour's drive to the centre, and I walked in at midday. There was a new waiting room, with guideropes snaking around to guide the crowds, who weren't there. There were just a few doleful looking people sitting in chairs who were outnumbered by the armed security guards protecting the X-Ray machine and metal detector while striving to provide quality service to their customers. "You!" barked a security guard, at me. "What do you want?"

"Er, I've come about my Green Card," I said.

"We're closed," she said, bluntly. "Be here at 6.00am. Only the first 300 people in the line are seen each day. If you aren't here at 6.00am you won't be seen."

All the security guards seemed to think this was very funny, some English guy turning up at midday, six hours late and Mister Three Hundred and One, and actually expecting to be seen.

"Er, my Green Card expired and they put a stamp in my passport..." I said, hoping they'd say something about, oh in that case come on in, but another guard said "Card hasn't come. Stamp's expired. Right?" Obviously this was something that happens a lot.

"Right," I said.

"You better be here at 6.00 am," he said flatly. "We only see the first 300 people."

I've just spent about half an hour looking at the various official immigration websites, and am puzzled that they all state explicitly that I was meant to hang on to my original Green Card, the one that expired, although it was taken, and I was told the stamp in the passport was all I needed. And nothing I can find seems very clear on whether or not I'll soon be committing a crime by waiting hopefully for the Green Card to arrive, seeing all the forms and so forth were filled out, money was paid, two copies were attached of a really terrible photo of me looking faintly like a sheepdog (but displaying my right ear. Or possibly my left ear. Whatever the legal ear is, I was proudly displaying it in that photograph), all that... [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:37 PM

wTuesday, July 08, 2003

REPORT NOTES: Rick Hiebert gave a fun interview to Blogcritics.org. ESR ran an article by J.L. Jackson on "the rise and fall of Canada's only conservative magazine." Kathy Shaidle's website just came out of its terrible two's. Incidentally, I haven't abandoned the Report beat, by any means. In fact, I'm about to write a long article on the subject for an as-yet-unnamed Canadian periodical.

posted by Jeremy at 11:44 PM


TOURIST STEEL TRAP: This week's "Latte Sipping column" details my recent trip to Victoria:

I've never been much for omens, but the early morning before I left for Victoria it sure felt like something was brewing. A distant thunderstorm knocked out the power for miles and all the normal internal noises and distractions of my home went silent -- clocks and fans stopped, the refrigerator ceased its hum, the glow of CD players and VCRs faded to black. I stumbled through the house to open the front door onto the wraparound porch, and stepped out. A rotating beacon of light -- likely advertising a car sale in nearby Bellingham -- painted the underside of the clouds on this otherwise starless night. The wind blew steadily. The air was cool but loaded with humidity, signaling what was likely to be a scorcher come sun up. It was time to hit the road. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:29 PM


MY MISTAKE: Philip Jenkins e-mails to say that he enjoyed my review of his new terrorism book in the American Conservative (not online yet, but readers can download a Word version of it over at my portfolio site), but I got one thing very, very wrong:

I am however shocked - SHOCKED - that you think I might not have read a Dave Barry book. I am in fact one of his alert readers.

Here's what I had written:

DAVE BARRY is a funny guy but sometimes he isn't very bright. In the introduction to his book on the foibles of the federal government, he held up the alternate-reality Democrats-are-still-in-the-White-House television drama "The West Wing" as a good example of what is wrong with the culture of Washington, D.C. The characters on the show act as if every little thing that they do has enormous repercussions, as is often the case in real life. He singled out one episode in which the regular cast "hotly debat[ed] the question of whether the president should chide some environmental group for not condemning ecoterrorism. In other words, the issue was totally about words -- whether the president should say harsh words to a group because that group had failed to say harsh words to another group. Nobody was talking about doing anything."

Penn State professor Philip Jenkins has probably not read Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, but if he has he would have winced at the suggestion that White House debates about how to deal with any kind of terrorism didn't have real world repercussions. All that jaw-jawing sets things in motion. "If a movement associated with a particular cause is commonly agreed to be terrorist," Jenkins explains in his new book Images of Terror, "then…that stigma adheres not only to the armed group itself, but also to other peaceful groups that might share its views, whether or not they have any connection with violence."

At the law enforcement level, the terrorist label leads to greater surveillance of both the offending group and its peaceful fellow travelers, which in turn leads to deportations and other restrictions and inconveniences. Little wonder then, says Jenkins, that political movements work so hard to resist the application of the T-word to their violent but well meaning fellow ideologues. In fact, one might wonder what the West Wing's President Bartlett , a liberal Democrat, was doing sabotaging his own base. Maybe it was one of those post election Sistah Souljah moments for which fictional Democrats are so famous.

I stand corrected.

posted by Jeremy at 12:50 AM

wMonday, July 07, 2003

SMART SHEA READERS: This is an extremely low rent operation and thus has no interactive features, but every time Mark Shea links to one of my articles and I see the reader comments, well, it's tempting. In response to my most recent B&C column on Madalyn Murray O'Hair, one reader had this to say (the link goes to Shea's link; from there, click on the "comments" tag):

O'Hair was a tragic figure; IMHO she was more a hater of God than a true atheist. According to her son, William Murray, she developed a hatred of God while pregnant with him. His father was a married Catholic man who had an affair with her. When she asked him, he refused to divorce his wife and marry her because "I'm a Catholic and the Church opposes divorce"! Never mind the fact that the Church also opposes adultery!

Anyway, she took her fury out on God, standing in the rain during a thunderstorm, hurling profanities at the heavens and daring God to kill her. When she didn't get hit by lightning, she decided God didn't exist because He didn't strike her.

Guess she never considered that God may have actually had compassion on a distraught pregnant woman who had been abandoned by her hypocritical [paramour], and on her preborn child who would one day serve Him. What if He *had* struck her and her baby down, all because of her little tantrum - what a rotten fellow He'd be! Talk about "Damned if you do, damned if you don't".

Yes, a very tragic figure. I know she'd hate to know it, but I've prayed for her. Maybe she received the grace to repent right before she was murdered. I guess we won't know in this life. Lord have mercy on her soul....

In Jesu et Maria,

posted by Jeremy at 7:16 PM


'GOD IS DEAD' - NIETZSCHE; 'NIETSCHE IS DEAD,' GOD: My latest B&C column is on the life and death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair:

Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been gone for nearly a decade, so readers may have to strain mightily to remember her. One bogus petition occasionally makes the rounds asking all God-fearing readers to write to the FCC to protest her supposed attempt to ban religious broadcasting from the airwaves. Before I dove into University of Missouri history professor Bryan Le Beau's new biography of the famed atheist, I last ran across her name as part of a Progressive interview with Phil Donahue. "Oh, she was fabulous," Donahue said as part of a reminiscence about the golden days of '70s daytime television. My remark at the time, to no one in particular, was, How about that—a dinosaur praising a fossil. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 2:39 PM


BETTER FROM EZRA: Regarding the last post, Ezra Levant e-mailed to clear things up. I'd post his reply but I fear it would reveal more about the inner workings of his website than he would like. Suffice it to say that my blog was not taken off of his list of links due to his displeasure with any of the comments made here, or as I speculated earlier, because I'm an American. Glad to hear it.

posted by Jeremy at 12:40 AM

wThursday, July 03, 2003

I'M GOING TO TAKE MY BLOG AND: I learned from Jay Currie that my name been taken off of a blogroll I didn't even know it was on. Currie speculated that his name was removed from Ezra Levant's list because, well, he isn't a conservative. I have my own suspicions for why my name was removed, but let's leave it at this: I'm not a Canadian citizen and thus do not meet one of Leviant's criteria for linking to blogs. Er, that is all.

posted by Jeremy at 4:52 PM

wWednesday, July 02, 2003

MISERY AND DESPAIR: Wednesday is Kevin Michael Grace's birthday. Drop him a line, send money, etc.

posted by Jeremy at 12:43 AM


IF ANA MARIE COX CALLS ME GAY OVER THIS I'LL...: Shrug, I suppose. My latest "Latte Sipping" column is on gay marriage, which I believe is more constitutionally important than what to do with the salad fork. The money graphs:

The governing statute on gay marriage is the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. Theoretically, it would skirt the problem of some states recognizing gay marriage and others not. Practically, our newly activist Supremes (and can we please stop pretending that we have an even marginally "conservative" high court?) could shred it faster than you can say eminent domain. Now that serious constitutional interpretation has been replaced by counting to five, gay marriage is looking like the odds-on favorite.

Quite a few conservatives are not sure how to respond to all this. Marriage, historically, has been an arrangement between a man and woman with the ostensible purposes of carving out a place for access to guilt-free sex and the raising of children. To most Americans, the very idea of gay marriage is a contradiction. From one angle, the marriage amendment is all about protecting the institution from being defined out of existence. And as for the argument that the federal government shouldn't step in, they might point to Utah. There's a reason that the modern LDS church excommunicates polygamists, and it has little to do with Mormon theology.

Advocates of homosexual unions reply that marriage is hardly the inviolable institution that conservatives make it out to be. It was made less permanent in the 1970s with the introduction of no-fault divorce and the transformation of "shacking up" into common law marriage. Now, the reasons for tying the knot have shifted away from old notions of duty and legacy to personal fulfillment. It is less about doing good than being happy. And if marriage has already been changed, gays and lesbians are entitled to ask, why not again? Why deny its benefits, both tangible and otherwise, to us? [more]

posted by Jeremy at 12:36 AM

wTuesday, July 01, 2003

TTFN: I am out of here (and out of the country) until Sunday, late. But I may do an update or two, so feel free to stop by.

posted by Jeremy at 4:23 PM