May 15

Foo on you, Asparagirl!

Asparagirl has committed a base calumny
against me. While it’s true she had something to do with me entering
the blogosphere, this business about threatening her with a Glock is
totally off-base. I would never do anything like that. My carry
weapon is a Colt Officer’s Model 45 ACP. It’s my wife who
carries the Glock…

May 15

Terrorism Becomes Bad Art

Minnesota art student Luke Helder has been charged with the recent string of Midwestern mailbox bombings. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he’s the perpetrator.

An art student. Yeah. That fits; the tone of the portentious twaddle in pipe-bomb-boy’s manifesto was exactly that of the artist manque, big ideas being handled stupidly by a doofus whose ambition exceeds both his talent and his intellect. He fronted a grunge band called “Apathy”, we hear.

You know what? I’d lay long odds the band sucks. And I’m not making that guess out of hostility or contempt, either, but because an artist with any confidence in his own ability would have found it a much better way to achieve his artistic goals than anonymously bombing mailboxes. (Artistic goals, in a guy that age, usually have a lot to do with meeting girls. I was a rock musician in my youth, and am therefore un-foolable on this issue.)

It was inevitable, I suppose, that sooner or later terrorism would become bad performance art. It’s easy to condemn pipe-bomb-boy for callously putting people at lethal risk with his toys, but difficult to summon up the kind of personal hatred for this perpetrator that Al-Qaeda’s flamboyant fanatic nut-jobs have so richly earned. I think our ire might be more properly directed elsewhere — at all the people who have cooperated in dumbing down the definition of `art’ so completely that Luke Helder actually thought he was doing it.

Once upon a time, art had something to do with achieving a meeting of minds between artist and audience. The artist’s job was to rework the symbols and materials of his culture into expressions that affirmed and explored the values of that culture and pleased audiences. Artists operated within interpretive traditions that they shared with the non-artists in the audience. The truly able artist earned the privilege of making his work personal and individual, but only by successfully finding an audience and communicating with it in acceptable conventional terms first.

In the late 19th century Western culture began to admit a new definition of `art’ and a new role for artists. Under the influence of modernism and various post-modern movements, artists began to see their job as the systematic subversion of the interpretive traditions they had inherited. “Back to zero!” was the cry. After zero, the new goal could no longer the meeting of minds in a culturally shared commons, but rather that the audience’s minds should be invaded by the disruptive brillance of the artist’s individual insight.

In the hands of a few early moderns — Stravinsky, Brancusi, Picasso, Joyce — the new agenda produced astonishingly fine work. In the hands of too many others, it produced vacuous, narcissistic nonsense. Luke Helder inherited its most vulgar form — the notion that all the artist is required to do is “make a statement” about the contents of his own muddled mind, and it’s the world’s job to catch up.

Luke-boy’s last art project at school was “a pencil sharpener embedded in a tree stump that was rigged to illuminate Christmas lights as it sharpened pencils”. No comedian could make up such a perfect paradigm of bad art. The pointless artifice, the banal superficial cleverness, the utter lack of respect for materials, and the complete disconnection from the millennia-long cultural conversation that includes all the great art of our civilization. It’s really not a long step from this garbage to pipe bombs as `art’. Not a long step at all.

No account of Luke Helder suggests that he’s particularly evil. I wonder…suppose he had learned formal prosody, or how to paint in oils, or compose a fugue, or do figurative sculpture. Suppose he had learned artistic forms and media that were situated in history, connected with the world, concerned with beauty. Suppose he had been taught something for art to be about other than the vacancy in his own head. Suppose he had been taught (shocking concept) standards?

Perhaps, then, he would not have required explosives to express himself.

UPDATE: And back in 1996, there were conceptual art bombs in Seattle.

Blogspot comments

May 14

Firearms and the dominant media culture

A recent flurry of
nearly identical editorials
in American newspapers conveys the
degree of fluttering endemic in dovecotes everywhere in the wake of
the Justice Department’s new statement of position on the Second
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The New York Times
and Washington Post have viewed with alarm, displaying an
almost pathetic degree of panic at the thought that lawmakers might
once again have to start taking that pesky “shall not be infringed”
language seriously.

The dominant culture of the American national media knows what it
believes about guns. Firearms are evil juju that have the power to
induce murderous violence in otherwise normal human beings. Firearms
owners are all either ghetto drug dealers whose idea of the good life
is a drive-by a day, or else tractor-cap-wearing rural sociopaths jes’
itchin’ to shoot up a schoolyard. Firearms-rights advocates are a
tiny nut-fringe of reactionary wackos barely one step from blowing up
a federal building. Gun-control boosters are virtuous crusaders
animated by selfless love of children and small fuzzy things. There
will come a day when all guns are banned, hallelujah, violent crime
will plummet, and we can stop being embarrassed for being
Americans.

Over the last thirty years this mythology has grown so thick, so
armored with smugness, that the dominant media culture is normally
incapable of noticing mere facts that happen to contradict it. Gary
Kleck’s Point
Blank: Guns and Violence In America
should have put paid the
demonization of gun owners back in 1993. John Lott’s 1998 book
More Guns, Less Crime demonstrated that civilian firearms
dramatically reduce crime and violence. And Sanford Levinson’s 1989
study The
Embarrassing Second Amendment
began a wave of legal scholarship
that established what is now called the `Standard Model’, that the
Second Amendment does indeed protect an individual citizen’s right to
bear arms.

That smugness has been shook, badly, by three different
events of which the Justice Department’s finding is only the most recent.
The media panic we’re seeing is a cumulative result of all three.

First there was Michael Bellesiles’s exposure as a fraud. His book
Arming America won the Bancroft prize and gushing encomiums
from the dominant media culture when it purported to show that the
armed and self-reliant American frontiersman was a myth — that the
gun culture of the U.S. postdates the American Civil War and was alien
to the framers of the Constitution.

Alas for the bien pensants of the world that the book
turned out to be a tissue of lies, invented but nonexistent evidence,
and willful misquotation of existing evidence. A fabrication, in
fact, so egregious that it has induced the National Endowment for the
Humanities to open its first official fraud investigation in thirty-seven
years. Suddenly the fraud claims gun-rights activists had been making
for years about other anti-gun scholarship (such as the infamous
Kellerman “43:1”)
study) were no longer so easily dismissible as paranoid ranting.

But worse was to come, on September 9th 2001. Because Al-Qaeda’s
ability to turns airliners into weapons of mass destruction using
nothing but carpet knives illustrated in the most dramatic possible
way the folly of believing that a disarmed world is a safe one. All
the “security” that kept civilian firearms off airplanes did was make
terrorism easier for the determined few who could smuggle weapons on
board.

Many tides turned after 9/11, and not the least result of it was
a huge groundswell in popular support for civilian self-defense and
firearms rights. The
Pink Pistols
and chapters of the
Second Amendment Sisters
on college campuses previously known
as strongholds of anti-firearms politics became impossible to ignore.
The new wave of popular pro-gun agitation could not be forced into the
“right-wing kooks” box so beloved of the dominant media culture.

It’s no wonder the Justice Department’s endorsement of a
pro-gun-rights brief in “Emerson vs. U.S.” has the mavens of the
dominant media culture feeling faint and panicky. One of the pillars
of their world-view (up there with the unquestionable sanctity of
environmentalists, say, or the importance of `diversity’, or the
superior virtue of the putatively oppressed) is creaking. Those loony
gun nuts night turn out to be (a) right on the facts, (b)
overwhelmingly popular, and (c) backed up by the Bill of Rights, the
Justice Department, and the Supreme Court, after all!

If the Supreme Court grants certiorati on the Emerson case, we can
expect the dominant media culture to get its knickers in a knot so
complicated it would baffle an algebraic topologist. Because given
the composition of the Court and the tenor of the times, the result
might well be a dramatic rollback in the reach of firearms regulation.
Gun-rights advocates can hope that laws touching the Second Amendment
may in the future have to pass the same strictest level of scrutiny
as laws touching the First. A wave of lawsuits successfully striking
down state and local gun laws under the doctrine of incorporation
could well follow.

The closest historical precedent for what may be about to happen is
the rediscovery of the First Amendment in the early 20th century.
Before 1919 speech advocating unpopular ideas could be made a
punishable offense. Oliver Wendell Holmes created the doctrine,
since become sacred to the dominant media culture, that unpopular
ideas demand the most constitutional protection, and that
the press has a broadly privileged role under that shield.

There is irony in the fact that, having benefited from the
reassertion of the first article of the Bill of Rights, the dominant
media culture should so be resisting the second.

Blogspot comments

May 13

Acting White

Eugene Volokh comments that
many of the leading promoters of racial identity politics in the
U.S. have begun to lump Asians in with white people, but declines to
attempt an interpretation. Actually this development is very easy to
understand. All you need to break the code is to know that “white” =
“assimilated”.

Asians tend to be perceived as “white” not
because they have white skin but because they behave as white people
are expected to behave — they pursue prosperity and value education,
and seek to blend into the U.S.’s broad middle class rather than
creating a defiant, adversarial ghetto or barrio culture. Compare the
epithet “acting white”, used among urban blacks to sneer at kids with
black skin who work at being good students or holding down regular
jobs.

This is nothing new. Historically, “whiteness” has never been a
purely racial category. As late as the turn of the 20th century,
Irish immigrants in the U.S. were sometimes separated from “whites” in
speech and writing. Later, Eastern Europeans and Italians had to
assimilate to U.S. cultural norms before being considered as “white”
as the English, Germans, and Irish who had preceded them. Today,
prosperous Asians have edged over that border. In our big cities,
Chinese New Year is headed the way of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,
becoming as American as apple pie.

So why aren’t black people white too? The answer, I suggest, has
very little to do with race and a lot to do with class —
specifically, the persistence of the black urban underclass. Not just
as a population but as a culture that remains mired in high crime,
high rates of single motherhood, high unemployment, and all the other
symptoms of high dependency on government largesse. The “Great
Society” programs of the 1960s and the race-hustling identity politics
that followed stalled out the assimilation process that turned Irish,
Italians, and (recently) Asians into whites.

Try to imagine a Korean equivalent of gangsta rap. Or a bunch of
Vietnamese high-school students taunting one of their own for “acting
white”. Or Chinese kids fixating exclusively on Chinese adults as
role models. These things don’t happen. And that’s why Asians are
white.

UPDATE: Several Asians have written to tell me that I was doing OK
until the last paragraph. There are anti-assimilationists among Asian
immigrants, as it turns out; there is, in fact, even Korean gangsta
music. However, my sources agree that these phenomena don’t persist
among American-born Asians. I think it’s also significant that Asian
anti-assimilationism is not a public phenomenon — it’s
visible to other Asians but there are no movies glorifying it nor
political organizations trading on it.

Blogspot comments

May 10

Testing

Welcome to Armed And Dangerous, an experiment in weblogging.

This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual
emergency, this post would be immediately followed by a pointer to
some old-media channel that would tell you what to think.