You’re a virgin once.


(Um … please ignore my previous comments on this subject.)

I will not be seeing Paranormal Activity 3 this Halloween. Not because it’s bad or unimportant. I think 2 was very well made. I cheer for the series and enjoy overthinking it. But it has a very basic problem.

You can only do this once.

Paranormal Activity begins full of mysteries. Then it slowly reveals them. Then it ends. Resolving all the mysteries. "Resolving" with a capital "!". Those mysteries are resolved as fuck.

For this reason, all that’s left is to flesh out the backstory. Both 2 and 3 are prequels. We know everything. We know who survives, what the spook is, and what it will ultimately do. Heck, from the setting of #3, we know what happens to the house. We know what they keep from the house. This story is so spoiled I could fill out the insurance claims.

The choices they made in the first movie were good. But they were one-movie choices. Now they can manufacture the creepiest setups and the shockiest shocks anywhere, but it’s like a haunted house you’ve already walked through. You can’t get back the ignorance, so you can’t get back the fear.

Such is life.

Splat. Thump. Eeek.


Horror comedy is beautiful.

Like all great slapstick, it needs choreography, impact, and just the right wet sounds. Like all jokes it needs wit, dedpan and zest. Put these together with the opportunity to make great, gross, imaginative sets and to work the revulsion angle and you get something that is very fun to look at, very fun to hear, and will stay with you for life.


So why can’t it get any respect?

It’s great that Shaun of the Dead found success. But in our lifetime, what else has broken out of the genre? Scream, I guess. Which was so misunderstood that its legacy is Scary Movie and all the shame that came afterward. People saw that spoof, and thought, man someone needs to do a spoof of this! Lighten the mood a little.

So the problem may be that a good parody is a good thing-it-parodies. To be absurd a story has to take itself seriously. So a horror comedy will have horror. Think of Nick Frost being eaten alive. Or Drew Barrymore 20 feet away from her parents, bleeding out. Or the deer in Evil Dead II. Did you see that in nightmares? I did.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil has several of those scenes. There’s rape, there’s torture, some of the kills have real pathos. There’s POV from inside an oven. 

This is really uncomfortable, but that’s the point. It makes laughter more of a release. It heightens contradictions. And shock humor is not exclusive to the genre. There’s a huge audience for revulsion in The Hangover or Kingpin. Some people like Tom Green. He gets major studio releases.   

So why do I have to sit in the one dirty theater to see the one weekly showing of Tucker and Dale? I’m hidden away like I’m watching porn. Porn with cats.

Okay, so some of the jokes are insidey. Your viewing experience will be enhanced if you’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pumpkinhead and The Hills Have Eyes and Cabin Fever. The after-teaser opening shot may actually be the after-teaser opening shot from The Descent

But hell. None of that is necessary. Strictly. Unless of course you don’t want to see dismemberment slapstick? Or you don’t have a choice? Because it’s unpleasant to you?

There is a wall between us, hypothetical person. 

A wall of zombies

I can still remember how the rug in my basement felt. The loose thread in the rug I would pick at while I stayed up untill 2AM or 3AM, watching Tremors and The Fly and Friday the 13th Part VI. I was twelve and so were my friends, and we’d go downstairs after my parents went to sleep.

Today I could still find the hotel room on the first floor of the Holiday Inn. Where I’d sit up against the couch, my cousins to either side, my parents and aunts and uncles on the sofa or milling around, getting beer. Family reunion was the perfect time to share taped episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Which was a Wisconsin cult theater show when they were in college, and a cult cable show now that I was 10. I can still recite every gag from Giant Spider Invasion. ("Ya’ll want a piece of milk?!?").

I doubt all this desensitized us to real violence, or even screen violence (see below). But it helped fill our world with a context. Gushing blood, absurd costumes, deserted swamps, blondes running in high heels, dudes saying "Hello? Guys?" then getting decapitated to a violin sting. These things were a style. They could be dark or funny or stupid or plain old loud and entertaining. We understood "camp" before we knew the word.


Tucker and Dale will be loved by us because it picks up what feels like an old conversation, and tells great jokes in its turn. 

To those outside the conversation? To people who can’t easily slip into the asummptions that mean here, now, murder is hilarious? I can almost peer over the wall, to see why they think we’re weird.   

When I was 17 I left the theater halfway through There’s Something About Mary. I couldn’t handle the violence. 

There was something very wrong with the tone of that movie. It’s a romantic comedy about a hard-luck guy, who can’t seem to get ahead because his dick gets ripped open and fishooks pierce his face and cars run him over. The zany scamp!

I felt misplaced empathy. Some part of my brain thought they were really torturing Ben Stiller. People around me gasped and laughed and I wanted to punch them. If you asked me to step back and explain the joke, I could. But I really didn’t feel it.

I had to go home. Get Ben Stiller off my mind. Watch something light. Cleanse the palate.


There’s no accounting for taste.

Except that yours is wrong.

Abortions for all!


Yeah. The new edgy, dark, golden-age-of-cable-drama show on FX. That one. Have you seen it? Has anybody? I hope not.

It is the goofiest, campiest, chicken-slapping shit I have seen in this life or in my secret past life as a 19th century fetus. The dialouge is from Jerry Springer. The performances are from All My Children. There’s a hunchback who kills people with a shovel. Yes, with the DONG sound. Three people died in the episode I watched and all three times I laughed.

My god, the fetuses. You could have a snowball fight with all the fetuses.

I wish I could say more. This show would be improved by a cross-dressing Tim Curry. It would be improved by marijuana. It would be improved by most things.

In Which Zero Dutch Disagrees with People Smarter Than He

Bernard Harcourt looks like the sort of guy who, if one were to say “He got a BA from Princeton under Sheldon Wolin, then went on to get a JD and PhD from Harvard and now teaches Foucault and is the chair of the University of Chicago Department of Political Science,” you would nod and say, “Of course,” as if his life could not have taken any other course. Think a non-douchy version of Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park. With better hair.

If you want to feel better about yourself, though, 
just google a pic of him with a moustache.

I briefly met Professor Harcourt when I came to visit U of C in the spring of 2010. He kindly let me sit in on a class on critical theory he was teaching at the law school. The class reminded me why I wanted to return to school, I decided to turn down a PhD program elsewhere, and enrolled in U of C’s MA program. And then promptly failed to take any class with Professor Harcourt before I finished. This, I am sure, will be one of those poor life choices that will still result in a facepalm when I am sixty.

Yesterday, Professor Harcourt had a piece up on the New York Times’s Opinionator section of their website discussing the nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement, identifying OWS as a sort of Foucaultian critique in action. Money quote? Money quote:

Occupy Wall Street, which identifies itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many … political persuasions,” is politically disobedient precisely in refusing to articulate policy demands or to embrace old ideologies. Those who incessantly want to impose demands on the movement may show good will and generosity, but fail to understand that the resistance movement is precisely about disobeying that kind of political maneuver.*

In this he agrees with Mike Konczal, who wrote a couple weeks ago about the theory underlying the OWS protests, who further draws on David Graeber’s work to identify the small-a anarchist and small-d democratic theory underlying OWS’s method’s. Konczal quotes a review of Graeber’s Direct Action (sorry for the large blockquote, but it’s kinda important):

And what seemed like a tedious attention to meeting process was the result of a commitment to direct democracy and rejection of a politics of representation in favor of a politics of participation. Instead of focusing solely, or even largely, on ends, the global justice movement focused on means, attempting to live out its ideals in the present and sneak moments of liberation on the sly.

While anarchists formed the avant-garde of the global justice movement, they generally did not try to convert other protesters and sympathizers to an explicit belief system. Instead of pushing a party line, they spread practices, advocating the adoption of affinity groups, consensus-based decision-making and spokescouncils. Graeber argues that the Direct Action Network, the most significant organization of the global justice movement, while short-lived, was extraordinarily successful in diffusing a directly democratic model of organizing.

This rings true, at least to me, given reports of OWS’s operating methodology: their concensus-based General Assembly, complete with complex hand signals, their committee structure, and – more than anything – their complete unwillingness to articulate demands at the organizational level.

[Read More]



Professor Harcourt doesn’t mention the anarchic roots of OWS’s methodology (thought given his oeuvre it’s unlikely he’s unaware). Instead, he focuses on the relationship between this methodology and normal partisan politics. Arguing against Slavoj Kizek*, who complains that “opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst, Harcourt responds that “these movements are precisely about resisting the old ideologies. It’s not that they couldn’t articulate them; it’s that they are actively resisting them”. OWS, for Harcourt, refuses to articulate policy positions because it is actively resisting the partisan politics of both sides, rooted in “Cold War ideologies,” epitomized by the Chicago Boys on the right and the Maoists on the left.

This is all fine and good, I suppose. Theorists and advocates of participatory democracy argue that the very act of democratic participation is salubrious to the participant, and the idea that voting makes one a better citizen goes back to the Founding, if not further. And if I thought that OWS was just trying, in the words of the review of Graeber, to “live out its ideals in the present and sneak moments of liberation on the sly,” I would be satisfied with Harcourt’s analysis. But this isn’t a commune in Oregon. This is a group of dedicated individuals camped out in the heart of the world’s financial capitol, sleeping on cement and tangling daily with often abusive police. Hundreds have already been arrested. This to me doesn’t seem to be the strategy of someone hoping to be made better by participating in an experiment in radical democracy; this seems to be a genuine attempt to effect change. In fact, if the slogan “Change” hadn’t just recently been coopted by one of Harcourt’s worn-out ideologies, I’m guessing it would be almost as prevalent a theme as “The 99%”. Resisting old ideologies is all well and good, but unless a movement is willing and able to engage with them, I find it hard to envision a path towards change.

Harcourt defends OWS towards the end of his piece:

On this account, the fundamental choice is no longer the ideological one we were indoctrinated to believe — between free markets and controlled economies — but rather a continuous choice between kinds of regulation and how they distribute wealth in society. There is, in the end, no “realistic alternative,” nor any “utopian project” that can avoid the pervasive regulatory mechanisms that are necessary to organize a complex late-modern economy — and that’s the point. The vast and distributive regulatory framework will neither disappear with deregulation, nor with the withering of a socialist state. What is required is constant vigilance of all the micro and macro rules that permeate our markets, our contracts, our tax codes, our banking regulations, our property laws — in sum, all the ordinary, often mundane, but frequently invisible forms of laws and regulations that are required to organize and maintain a colossal economy in the 21st-century and that constantly distribute wealth and resources.

This is the part of Harcourt’s argument that frustrates me the most. A call for “vigilance” of all the nitty gritty details that make up the modern welfare and regulatory state calls seems to me to call for more, not less, policy engagement. Signs like these should be a whole lot more common.

Signs like this make Matt Yglesias moist.

And trust me, every nerd-bone in my body is tickled that they’re there at all. But that’s not the way OWS is going as a movement.

Part of this may be that I don’t understand Foucault. That’s Harcourt’s specialty, and he may be eliding over arguments that would be obvious were I operating at the same intellectual level as he. Another professor a U of C explained Foucault’s definition of freedom* using Andrew Sullivan as an example: roughly paraphrased, “Be a gay, HIV positive, conservative supporter of Obama who mentions Oakeshott daily. Confound expectations.” Again, like participatory democracy, this is all well and good on its own merits, but it’s not conducive to societal change. I feel like, in the final analysis, the OWS protestors are operating using the same logic as underwear gnomes.

  1. Embody theories of radical participatory democracy
  2. ???
  3. Societal change!


We’re part of the 99% too!

I’m firmly in OWS’s corner. I agree with the problems they have identified with contemporary American political and economic life, insofar as I can tease any one set of critiques out of their protests. I just worry it’s not going to amount to anything.

Konczal concludes his piece by cosigning Doug Henwood. After detailing OWS’s philosophically-sourced lack of policy points, Henwood writes,

But without those things, as Jodi says, there can be no politics….Occupiers: I love you, I’m glad you’re there, the people I talked to were inspiring—but you really have to move beyond this. Neoliberalism couldn’t ask for a less threatening kind of dissent.

Everybody and their mother has noted that OWS doesn’t seem to have a typical policy agenda and predict this will make it difficult to enact change. I appreciate people like Harcourt and Konczal who go farther and proffer a reason why this is. What I’m looking for is a smart person who understands and supports OWS’s operational methodologies to articulate the next step. But I haven’t seen it yet.

There’s a certain romanticism to cheering the hero on a hopeless quest. SImilarly, there’s a romanticism to the guy that stands alone before a tank in Tiananmen Square. But it’s 22 years later and China’s still an authoritarian state. And it’s more frustrating than romantic when the quest is hopeless because the hero refuses to draw his sword when he meets the dragon.


[fn1] Bizzo rightly wonders via email, "can you ‘disobey’ a ‘maneuver’?"

[fn2] I haven’t heard of him either

[fn2] Or at least one of them. Foucault changed his thought constantly, apparently to avoid reification. So not only do I not understand Foucault’s philosophy, I don’t understand any of his philosophies, let alone his meta-philosophy.


Something Real



We’re stuck with a lot of privileged liars in this country, talking this way but not understanding or living it. And not wanting to.

But the real thing, messy and crazy, exists.

"I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

I believe that thrift is essential to well-ordered living and that economy is a prime request of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth."

Steve Jobs, great American, RIP.



Emping ain’t easy

Eccentricity is good.

No. Wait. Let me back up a bit.

Ten years ago Dutch, Bizzo, myself and a number of other miscreants were lucky enough to be placed in the same hall. This hall, named Norton Hall after David Z. Norton, a philanthropist from the great city of Cleveland, OHsd, was the beginning of my growth into the person that I am today. Which, for the most part, I’m pretty happy withsd2.

Before Norton, I was a completely shy, unadjusted, and overall really sad kid. I basically had (have?) no friends from high school outside of my now ex-girlfriendsd3. No friends from middle or elementary school. None from my neighborhood, really. I just never fit in anywhere.

But fittingly on the day of my 18th birthday, that arbitrary day in which you become "a mansd4" I started to grow up. Or, at least, found people who were accepting of my, well, eccentricity.

I can’t put into words how big of a deal this was for me. Coming from an entire lifetime of not fitting in and being too different and unable to figure out how to achieve any semblance of normality, and moving on to a situation in which I was accepted damn near immediately did wonders for my psyche. Because of Norton, I am ditriech. Which, makes sense actually. Partially because I registered the (highly inventive) screenname ditriech on 8/29/01 with AIM. But mostly because my entire level of comfort of who and what ditriech and ditriech_actual are stems from meeting, knowing, and becoming friends with these extraordinary people.

That is to say they accepted my eccentricity. Mostly. Because some of the shit I do still fucks with Dutch. But thems the breaks.

But what’s the point behind all of this? Well, on this day in 1859, one of the more eccentric American personalities in history, Emperor Joshua Norton I became emperor of these United States. Oh, and protector of Mexico.

I mean, I could get into how he deposed Congress, abolished both the Democratic and Republican parties and, most awesomely, banned the word "Frisco" over the years. But that’s not the point of Emperor Norton I. Hell, there are probably homeless people throughout DC that have this shit done by 0900.

What is important about Emperor Norton I is that he was accepted. Norton dined for free–with his dogs–in the finest restaurants in the city. He was given balcony seats in theaters across San Francisco. But the best example of his acceptance occurred in 1867, when he was arrested on the grounds of insanity. Newspaper editorials were written decrying the incident and he was subsequently released, received a formal apology from the Chief of Police and was saluted by police on the streets. No one man should have all that power.

Especially one that doesn’t fit in anywhere else.

So happy Emperor Norton Day from all of us here at Psi Upper Norton

sd: Oddly, pretty much everything that he donated to had a pretty major influence on my own personal life. Which is kinda a big deal for me.

sd2: Though, oddly, I did not drink at all freshman year. Which is something that no one (still!) believes even though there is no net benefit in me lying about it. But it’s true. Swear

sd3: Who I’m still good friends with. Oddly.

sd4: Cue that song from "Mulan" that I’m sure I heard like once. Or the one DVDA song, which makes a lot more sense, actually.




I’ve tried to avoid or ignore commentary on the thing that happened on TV last night. I make exception for Ta-Nehisi Coates


"But as the exchanges intensified, one of the candidates, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, chastised the moderators of the debate, from NBC and Politico, and said they were trying to stoke divisions among Republicans in a way he said would help Mr. Obama."

Dude, it’s a debate.

Newt Gingrich is such a hack it’s impossible to know if this was clever stupid or regular stupid. Debating is a tool of the liberal media! Is it really a "primary" if the result isn’t final? What is it to be voted for? What are words, really? I am Newt Gingrich and I am freaking your mind. I poop in a shoe.

There is a larger issue here, which I don’t trust Boot Toilet to represent. In my days at Holiday Inn podiums, I ran into kids who didn’t know what debate was. They would express confusion while at the podium, debating. Once or twice they cried.

It went like this: 

 There is no better way to protect the Brown Owl, to protect our American natural hertiage, than the Act we consider today. I direct the judge toward the strong evidence and the need for action, and urge you to decide for the Affirmative. 

Debater’s Partner: *table thump*  

Judge and Bizzo: *polite clap*

Judge: … okay. It was a close round and both teams made strong points. Affirmative, you failed to respond to the cost arguments made by Neg conclusively, and dropped the feasibility point from openers. Neg, you dodged a bullet because "owls are too greasy to eat" and "therefore cannot be loved" was a non-sequitor. But I’m giving you the round. You advance.

Bizzo: Thank you! *goes to shake the hands*

Debater: But! But … no! No, judge, you can’t do that! Think about the damage this will do! 

Judge: Affirmative, my decision is final. It was a good debate but …

Bizzo: *stands there, hand awkwardly out*

Debater: But we’re RIGHT. Ohmygod why are you doing this? It’s in National Geographic. They really will die! WHY WOULD YOU LET THEM DIE.


Bizzo: *brain make squeak noise*

Debater: I TOLD you how important this was! We’re going to HAVE NO FORESTS. FORESTS ARE IMPORTANT.

Judge: Debaters, please clear the stage. Neg advances.  


Bizzo: I never touched an owl.

And I never have.

At the time this baffled me. What do you say to that. "Sir, when you lose at Monopoly, do you file for unemployment?" "Are you sick?" "Were you kicked by a mule?" "Are you Newt Gingrich?" 

Today I know better. What goes on in Newt Gingrich’s head does sound like two rats fucking in a pile of sawdust, but his words appeal to a common misunderstanding.That the point of debate is to win. Or that the point is to be right.  

Anyone can be right. It takes someone working within a very complex system to turn their rightness into action without killing or raping everyone who thinks otherwise, then setting their books on fire. Whatever the Democrats or the GOP have latitiude to do today exists within a tiny civilized window, framed on at least one side by boring civil consenseus. On at least one other by the rules of non-rapey persuasion. 

The first point of debate is to have one. This souds obvious, but we’ve got honors students crying over dream owls and an ex-congressman saying hey what if we skipped all the stuff before I win. And no one tazered him.  

Please. Anybody.

My opinion is when six political leaders show up, say hateful things about each other and each other’s ideas, shake hands, go home alive, and everyone treats this as banal, the big win is behind us. That sort of thing is never normal enough. We should use every opportunity to its fullest. This is why I hate the soundbite format. This is why I think kids should internalize the rituals and rules and tactics of debate. Right after learning to read.

A key part of that lesson should be arguing for things you hate. Do you love the Brown Owl? Argue that we need the timber. Do you hate affirmative action? Argue it’s vital to society. Do you eat three cookies at lunch? Argue to replace them with vegetables. Do it well. You’ll be graded. You’ll develop an ear for reason and persuasion. They’ll come to be normal.

There’s a lot of power in making things normal. If Rick Perry gave a speech pantless or speaking pig latin (or both), no pundit would tease out its impact on South Carolina. Headlines would read "Governor has hairy thighs, forefits race."

I fantasize about an America where that applies to debate. Where arguing well and submitting to rigor is what you need to even show up. Where storyboarding an interview or scripting a press conference or saying candidates shouldn’t argue because they might lose carries the social weight of stapling hot dogs to your chin and yelling "I’M SANTA MEAT."

In a country like that, we’d wind up with fewer Newt Gingriches and fewer Michael Moores. Or at least fewer people who respect them.  

Maybe we’d have real debates.


A Newsweek writer says the obvious:

‘I consider it deeply demeaning, to me personally, to the voters of this fine land, and to the electoral process of this great democracy, to limit answers to complex questions to one minute. … The challenges we face are difficult, and what is needed is not another slogan or applause line … but an actual conversation among thoughtful people, uninterrupted by a flashing red like to say the time is up. High-school debaters are given more time to present their arguments than we were given here on this stage.’

Remember, this non-debate is for a non-election. There are no primaries this month, or next month, or this year. No vote will sweep the stage of the pizza guy or the internet guy or the guy who why isn’t he a Democrat or for the love of god Newt Gingrich. They invited Rudy Giuliani because it’s close to 9/11. They invited Sarah Palin because (armpit fart noise).

Remember also, the key issue on which Newt Gingrich will be asked to speak for 30 seconds is employment. An issue on which the President will not lay down his cards until Thursday. These candidates and their congressional leaders went out of their way to make sure this debate happened before that speech, not after. To ensure that even if any of these … humans they’ve assembled … want to say something short but useful on this subject, they can’t.

So. That’s a full stage of non-candidates having a non-debate over non-issues for a non-election.

Welcome to the Keebler elf tree.

Tonight, Americans will tune in and see the magic happen. They’ll see a factory where one TV journalist inserts a lede, and a bouncy line of gnomes churn it into word nuggets for tomorrow’s TV journalism. All through the night loompas will squeak and giggle, turning out little premises. While we sleep, the old putterin’ Politics Truck will pull up to the stage, and wrap each blurt and burble in its "-gate." 

The nothing reporters want to say goes in, the nothing they will say comes out.

And the product is pure! Hundreds of catty little quotes. Hours of spin. No hard-to-summarize thoughts, no questions of fact, no implications for the world beyond the catering truck. More fact-checkers can be fired. More news bureaus can be closed. Twitter interns can replace researchers for less than half the price.

We’ll never run out of angles! on breaking campaign controversies!.

After tonight’s magical journey, you too can understand why.

And if Brian Williams wears this I will watch