Thursday, October 30, 2003

Speaking of "Authoritarianism"

Have you noticed that the New York Times wine panel is really hard-assed?

I love it. They don't like anything! Moderate-priced Burgundies; California chardonnays; California syrahs -- they're unafraid to pronounce entire, lucrative wine categories "disappointing."

This week they taste a bunch of expensive "Super Tuscans," a globe-hopping category created by Italian growers who experiment beyond the traditional regional grape blends. Only one of the wines (which mostly clocked in at $35 - $50) mustered even three stars!

* "Impeccable, but not very interesting," [Frank Rich] said after our blind tasting. "You can see the wheels turning."

* "They're good wines, but I won't remember them tomorrow," [Amanda] Hesser said.

* "[Eric Asimov] found them for the most part to be corporate, jet-setting wines that definitely were not of the earth."

It's nearly as much fun as watching William Logan, the New Criterion's legendarily hard-to-please poetry critic, go to work on a new collection of verse.

What keeps the game interesting is that you can't dismiss these critics as mere spleen-venters. This is because (1) their criticisms are attentive to actual qualities of the objects criticized (they see through a glass darkly, but with an eye for detail); and (2) what little they do praise is indeed praise-worthy. Thus, the wine panel has celebrated the wonderful 2001 German Rieslings, they have recognized that Oregon Pinot Noirs are an exciting category, and they enthused over a tasting of affordable red Cotes du Rhone wines -- one of the best budget wine categories anywhere. (My house red, if I had one, would be Jaboulet's Parallele 45.)

I've said it before: What a contrast between the NYT's often irresponsible editorial and news pages, and its Dining pages, where its writers (even Frank Rich!) discharge the fundamental duties of the conservative intellectual: to articulate, guide, and defend standards of civilization. For more on this dichotomy, see David Brooks.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Homestar Runner Halloween '03 Toon is Up


Not as funny as previous years. Some of the costumes are great, though -- esp. Strong Bad, Strong Sad, and the Poopsmith. And be sure to click on the rightmost candy-corn light in the final scene ...

UPDATE: Are the Geto Boys really "old school"?

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Internet Political Quizzes and Slanted Labels

Taking a cue from the Prof, I took a couple of those Internet quizzes that purport to situate your views on a continuum. On the Political Compass, I come up almost dead center, with a slight tilt toward economic interventionism and social cohesion. On the World's Smallest Political Quiz, I come up just inside the so-called "Authoritarian" range.

I have to complain about that obviously slanted label. Most of these quizzes use the same basic 2-D scheme to plot your results -- there's an economics axis (nonintervention vs. intervention) and a moral/cultural axis (nonintervention vs. intervention). Those who tend to think government should not act to preserve mores, tradition, social capital, etc., are classed as "Libertarian." "Extreme" libertarians, it is explained, are sometimes called "anarchists." Those who tend the other way are all bunched together as "Authoritarians" -- even though this category, too, includes a wide swath of perfectly respectable opinion. "Extreme" authoritarians are sometimes called "fascists" or "socialists," we're told.

Um, yeah. As though "authoritarian" isn't already almost as derogatory as "fascist."

Here is the story, as I understand it. The two-axis scheme used by the World's Smallest Political Quiz (and a bunch of other quizzes) originated in a political science paper in the 1960s, except that the original author labeled the top quadrant as "communitarian", a genuinely even-handed term. Web libertarians picked up on the idea and popularized it in the quiz format (the quiz link above is to a libertarian group's site), but apparently couldn't stand to see their ideological opposites receive a neutral name, because they relabeled them as "Authoritarians," the label that has taken root on the Internet.

If the above account is wrong, I'll cheerfully correct it, but I do remember reading this a few years ago.

So ditch the propaganda. If you want to call me a moderate communitarian conservative, that's fine. So was Burke. "Authoritarian" I certainly am not. Read my blog, for heaven's sake.

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UPDATE (10/29): Changed the post to make clear that this is my recollection of the Quiz's origin story.

Permalinks Updated

After my hiatus, the least I can do is clean up the place a little.

New permalinks have therefore been added on the left to Professor Bainbridge, who is rapidly ascending into rarefied levels of blogdom, and Gregg Easterbrook, who got royally shafted (see The Ambler).

Also, I've fixed a broken link to Ex Parte, the Harvard Law Federalists blog.

Also, the Kansas City Chiefs are 8 and 0.

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Speaking of Japan

Slate ran a cool Tokyo travelogue by Seth Stevenson a couple of weeks ago. I've never been to Japan (it's the foreign place I'd most like to visit) but I did spend six months once in an office where I was the only non-Japanese, and several of Stevenson's observations ring true. Check out the slides as well.

I've been interested in Japan ever since my teenage days as an anime geek.

"You make it sound past tense. Are you still an anime geek?"

Well, yes, to a degree. I've got some DVDs around the place; I keep my eyes open. You'll find a restrained nod to anime in my "Recreations" links, where you'll find the official US site for the landmark 1995 series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

One comes across artsy and media types who know Evangelion even though they follow no other anime. It's psychologically deep, theologically fraught, depressing, disturbing, and immensely well directed. It also subtly crackles with sex. Indeed, Freud and gnosticism/Christianity/Kabbalah are the two chief explanatory templates that underpin the series. Anyone who likes The X-Files (a much less intense series) or SF generally should check it out. (Please watch the subtitled version, not the flatter US dubbed version. In Japan, voice actors for successful animated series are big stars, and the Eva voice cast is fantastic.)

"So who's your favorite character?"


But like I said, I'm keeping things low-key around here. You'll find no permalinks to the spirited SF comedy Martian Successor Nadesico (1996), or to the military epic Zeta Gundam (1985), which was to me back in high school what Star Trek is to a lot of people: the absolute epitome of cool.

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Eat More Eels

It is high time for eels to return to the American culinary mainstream. They are delicious, as was once widely recognized. The Pilgrims loved 'em.

"Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. ... These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us."

(Edward Winslow, "A Letter Sent From New England"). The English practically emptied their rivers of eels in earlier centuries, so popular were the ugly but unctuous little critters. C.S. Lewis casually worked into his Narnia books a scene of two children delightedly eating fresh-cooked elvers (I think it's in The Silver Chair).

Today, a few French bistros in big cities offer eel dishes -- I had one in New York a couple of years ago. But for most of us, the only convenient way to get an eel fix is by ordering unagi by the piece at the local sushi joint, and that gets expensive. In my experience, few US Japanese restaurants (at least here in Red America, where there's no Japan Town) offer the full-blown cooked eel dishes that are popular in Japan. It's a shame. On a chilly fall evening I would love to be able to sit down to a nice plate of barbecued eel over rice -- unajuu -- and a bottle of Sapporo Draft.

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Happy 100th, Evelyn Waugh

Hello! If nothing else suffices to pull me out of a shamefully long blog hiatus, Waugh will. Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of the notoriously difficult Brit writer with the exquisite prose.

It was a pleasure to watch all the mini-tributes to Waugh spring up from conservative blognauts: everyone from The New Criterion to Steve Sailer to Prof. DeBow at Southern Appeal flew the flag.

The nonconservative TLS ran a fine critical essay by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Wheatcroft mentions several of Waugh's recent biographers; in a forgivable bit of Anglocentrism, he omits to mention the excellent, revisionist Life of Evelyn Waugh by Prof. Douglas Lane Patey. But Patey's is by far the best analysis of the role of Waugh's Catholicism in his authorship, and since religion is in fact the key to Waugh's literary concerns, Patey is able to shed much light on the aesthetic issues.

I read anything by Waugh with pleasure. I laugh my ass off at Decline and Fall. It is fashionable to bash Brideshead Revisited, but I must confess I love it too, in a pre-critical way not easy to rationalize to a disinterested observer. I wish I had a little sister like Cordelia; I wish I had lunched with Anthony Blanche in college and recited "The Waste Land" through a megaphone at the returning crew team. That sort of thing.

I also recommend Waugh's shrewd and almost pathologically readable Essays, Articles and Reviews (ed. Gallagher). Alas, they are out of print: you will have to find a used hardback copy, as I did.

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Thursday, October 09, 2003

[never mind]

Monday, October 06, 2003

One More From Sir Mix-A-Lot

You libertarians out there might be saying now, "Hmm, from your prior post we can see that Sir Mix-A-Lot is sound on the Second Amendment and on tax reform, but what can you tell us about his views on the Fourth Amendment?"

I refer you to the first song on his breakthrough Mack Daddy, "One Time's Got No Case." "One time" is slang for police. Over a choice Stevie Wonder keyboard sample, the song tells an anecdote in which some bad police stop Mix-A-Lot for driving around in an expensive car that's "pumpin much bass" and try to find something to nail him on:

I'm whippin' out my IDs
My gat sits under my seat
The cops throw me out in the street
They found my gun like thieves
Officer Friendly has got a new beef
So I show him my gun permit
I told him I roll legit
Give me a test to see if I'm drinkin'
They claim my breath was stinkin'
They had me walk on the line
I walked backwards stopped on a dime
My female just reclines
Cause she knows I know the time

He adds a characteristic touch:

They ask what I do for a livin'
Should this information be given?

(I was asked a similar question last year by a couple of officers who stopped me while I was strolling through a leafy neighborhood, not my own, at night.)

Mix finishes the verse:

This is what keeps me driven
Some cops want a brother in prison
So I got me a few attorneys
Just in case a cop wanna burn me
They protect me from the state
Cause one-time's got no case, break it on down

Very Lew Rockwell.

In the next verse, Mix gets harassed, beaten up, and taken into custody by the officers who stopped him (without reasonable suspicion, it would seem).

He responds by filing a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against the officers for illegal search and seizure. When's the last time you heard a rapper boast about litigation? Check it out:

They took me on down to the jail
P.L.B. came to pay my bail
Then we called Goldstein and Claire
Them's my lawyers
Walkin' up the stairs
To the courtroom dressed in suits
[This is nicely represented in the video. -- ed.]
'Bout to give a couple cops the boot
So the female cop takes the stand
Took her oath with the wrong damn hand
My lawyers ate her up like catfish
The other cop pleads the Fifth
She lost her job [. . .]
Sorry baby, one-time's got no case

I need scarcely remark that the role-modeling in this song compares favorably with the brutal anti-cop rhetoric of some other '90s rappers. The song ends with a few extemporaneous remarks: "Y'all hate to see a brother get smart. ... I fought with the brain and not with the gat. Peace."

Look, if you'd all prefer to watch Pres. Bush debate prescription drug benefits with Howard Dean, be my guest.

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Friday, October 03, 2003

Sir Mix-A-Lot for Libertarian Party Nominee in 2004

[Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics]

You all know who Sir Mix-A-Lot is. Some of you think you don't, but you do, because he wrote "Baby Got Back", known in the '90s to a national cohort of junior high kids as "That Big Butt Song." It was vulgar and funny.

Mix is from Seattle. His real name is Anthony Ray. He wasn't the one-hit wonder a lot of casual FM listeners thought: by the time "Baby Got Back" appeared on the sonorously titled Mack Daddy (1992), he already had two successful independent albums under his belt. I'm quite partial to the title track from 1989's Seminar, with its unusual, stop-and-start dactylic flow:

Intelligent, packed, so inadequates step back, Mix-A-Lot's here to enforce what's dope
A brand new album, better than the last one, listen up close or you might get smoked
Some say rap has become repititious, mixin' up beats over old break jams
Some hate me, some imitate me, but take me out? I'll be damned!
This album is a demonstration of various styles of the hip hop art
I get paid, but I do it cause I love it, all enemies hush, let the seminar start

Sigh. Thinking about early Mix albums reminds of when commercial rap was cool and entertaining, as opposed to now, when it sucks. I digress.

As "Baby Got Back" suggests, Mix has a knack for funny songs, especially songs about cars (he was a pioneer in this respect). Some of you who were a little more plugged in to '80s-'90s music might remember "My Hooptie." ("Somethin' on the left front tire keeps clickin.") In his heyday he was a little older than many prominent rappers; he's now pushing 40, and has a comeback album about to drop. His voice is nasal, instantly recognizable, but it's the nasal voice of a big man, which I think he is. Crisply articulated, often salty lyrics.

You're wondering where this is going? Well, in addition to a lot of songs about strippers, the female body, and macking, Mix-A-Lot also dropped some political songs that reflected an ornery, classic libertarian point of view unusual in rap.

I'm not a fan of sex rhymes, so my favorite cut on Mack Daddy is the last song, "No Holds Barred." All of the pro-firearm ownership libertarian types in the blogosphere ought to know about this song. It's the only hip-hop track I'm aware of that functions as an explicit defense of Second Amendment individual rights.

Check out the lyrics here. The first verse is the weakest, with some typical exploitative rap bluster about how Mix-A-Lot is going to get violent on folks who mess with him. But it starts to become clear he's talking about defending his home:

I don't give a damn about a stupid ass burgular
It's all circular:
The dope dealer sells dope to the dope smoker
The smoker breaks in and tries to choke ya
But I ain't the one to run from you, son
This is MY HOUSE, and it's full of guns

Home and hearth.

Second verse brings in some more explicit politics:

When my house got robbed, a top notch job
Cops laughed while my mom just sobbed
9-1-1 only works for the rich ones
So I collect guns
So step right through if you're down for the wrong move
Most crews are moved by my twelve gauge BOOM!
How can I love when I gotta
protect my neck from a punk suspect?
Gun control - I ain't wit it
They banned the AK and any fool can STILL get it
The innocent have been beaten, bruised and scarred
But for this citizen, there ain't no holds barred

And then he threads in some samples from a freaking NRA speech!

"It is an absolute infringement on my second amendment rights"
No holds barred
"When is this attack on gun owners going to end?"
No holds barred
"Education, versus restriction"

The third verse is the coolest. Mix ain't Tom Paine, but he's in the tradition, and this is some good, blunt propaganda:

Hypothetical situation:
Gun control starts sweepin the nation
Now you got a bunch of unarmed innocent victims
Gettin FUCKED by the system
Sittin at home with a butter knife, huh,
Any fool could rape your wife
So what's up when the criminals can't be stopped?
The only one with guns are the cops
But it's hard for a brother to trust police
Huh, so the shit don't cease
So I go downtown to buy a hot gun:
I hated criminals, and now I'm one
Because I bought a gat to protect my house,
The cops wanna bust me out?
So it's illegal to protect yourself? Hell,
You either get killed, or you're in jail!
So when you vote
You better think about what I just wrote
And fuck writing a note to your Congressman
You got the fool hired
Now help get the fool fired
A scary scenario
And I put it in your stereo
So when a fool tries to run up on my car:
R.I.P., no holds barred

Admit it, more American popular music should be like this. Beats the snot out of the exploitative, homogenized, bling-bling porno garbage on 95% of large-selling rap albums today.

If "No Holds Barred" doesn't convince you Mix should be brown-bagging it with Randy Barnett at the Cato Institute, he also wrote a song about his tax disputes with the IRS called "Take My Stash"! It's on his later, less well known album Chief Boot Knocka (1998). Here you go:

The IRS got a thing for a brother like me
Uncle Sam wanna buy another missile (yep)
Strip Mix-a-Lot straight down to the gristle (mm)
I made a few mil' and the auditors come
Sounds dumb, but this is how the phone got hung
Somebody hated that Mix-a-Lot rep
Straight-up snitch tryin to get Mix swept
But I'm back, the black dynamo's on track
I got jacked for the big tax
Yep, they freezed my accounts, put a lien on my house (mmm)
Straight left a nigga ASSED OUT
Helicopters over my house (my house)
Takin pictures of a brother in his drawers with his thing out (uhh)
Livin the life of a suspected crook
Cause I never play the game by the book
If you're living too large, you better watch that ass
Cause the IRS
Is gonna take yo' stash

I thought of "No Holds Barred" the other day while talking to a friend about buying my first gun. Yes. I'm taking the Second Amendment plunge, for self-defense, and the principle of the thing, and perhaps for some recreational shooting. I'm leaning toward a .357 Smith & Wesson 66 revolver, which two different people have independently recommended as a reliable, utilitarian gun. Since I know zilch about shooting and gun safety, I will also be investing in training. I'm searching for a good local range and waiting for the next gun show to come into town.

Those who've read this far will enjoy this recent interview with Sir Mix-A-Lot on VH1's web site. He seems very level-headed, even as he promotes his new album's lead single about men lying about their (ahem) "Big Johnson." I make no promises about the album, but Mix deserves some props regardless.

In light of the foregoing, I was amused, but not surprised, to see that one Eric Leaver, in the comments section of the Libertarian Party's web site, recommends drafting Sir Mix-A-Lot as Libertarian candidate for president in 2004.

Now I'm no libertarian. I'm pro-union, anti-NAFTA, and like most Americans who don't write for the prestige media or post on the Volokh Conspiracy, I favor major reductions in immigration. But if the LP were to field, say, a Rep. Ron Paul / Mix-a-Lot ticket in '04, well ... the debates'd be a lot of fun. (Maybe Mix could have a talk with Rep. Paul about the whole gold-standard thing.)

Not much more far-fetched than voting for Maria Shriver's husband.

ADDENDUM: I just remembered, the Mix-A-Lot-for-elective-office meme has cropped up before. The Onion had a hilarious "News in Brief" last year that went as follows (N.B. randy content):

Senator Mix-A-Lot Sponsors Titties-On-Glass Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC -- Seeking to stem a four-year decline in freaky Yolandas
throwing they titties on U.S. glass, U.S. Sen. Mix-A-Lot (B-WA) introduced
sweeping new putting-'em-on-glass legislation Tuesday. "Now listen up,
Uncle Sam / I wanna see soul sistas pressin' that ham / Make me say damn /
I wanna rear-end 'em / So I'm callin' a Senate referendum / Bounce by the
ounce don't make no fun / I'll take 'em by the ton, son," Mix-A-Lot said.
"Don't hand this bill down to no committees / 'Cause Mix don't wait on
monster titties / Note to my colleague Tom Daschle / That if the babies be
gettin' bashful / No melons droppin' on my windshield / So get them nudie
laws repealed." Mix-A-Lot then gave props to the authors of H.R. 1610,
from which several key clauses were sampled.

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NYT Dining This Week

Decent NYT Dining & Wine section this Wednesday. As usual, I agreed with the judgment of the wine panel, which found itself underwhelmed by a slate of California syrahs. Believe it or not, I happened to try a couple different Cali syrahs by the glass with dinner earlier in the week at a local bistro. I found them harmless (not as brutally oaked as some of the panel's seem to have been) but essentially characterless.

Australian syrahs/shirazes are far superior for everyday sipping; the wealthy should be drinking Cote Rotie.

I also approved Amanda Hesser's principled diss of Sandra Lee's doctrine of "semi-homemade" food, a fast-growing and heretical culinary splinter sect. Ick.

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