May 29, 2004

About that comments function....

I've had a week or so of experience with the new Blogger comments function, so let me pause and assess and explain. At first, there were too many zeroes, which looked so lonely. Then, commenters started showing up--during a week when I was getting a lot more traffic on the website generally. I was impressed by how smart and well-thought-out nearly all the comments were, which was great, especially since I allowed anonymous comments, with no registration required. But ... the last couple days I've been getting a fair number of comments that were getting abusive and repetitious, and I was not enjoying having to monitor these. Since nearly every commenter was Anonymous, I couldn't tell if it was just one overenthusiastic poster or several people, but I got tired--in the last 24 hours--of getting dragged over to the comments pages just to keep things from looking ugly. I'm certainly not blogging so I can spend my time writing out thoughtful answers to an anonymous person who is being abusive.

Here's a list of things people who were not being reasonable were saying about me:
1. I claim to be a moderate, but I'm only posing as a moderate for some nefarious reason.

2. I think I'm so great because I'm a moderate, and I keep showing off by doing this whole "I'm a reasonable person" routine--which is obviously a manipulative trick.

3. I am outrageously right wing, and this is especially bad because my parents served in the military during or just after WWII.

4. I'm showing off by writing about legal matters, and I think I'm so great because I know more than other people about such things, and I'm taking unfair advantage by resorting to the use of this knowledge.

5. It's bad of me to indulge in humor if I'm writing anything that tinges on the Iraq war.

6. I shouldn't express outrage about art unless I first express outrage about things that are more outrageous--chiefly the war.

7. I shouldn't be writing about whatever I'm writing about because I should be expressing outrage about the war.

8. I don't know anything about country music because I heard Shania Twain and thought it was Melissa Etheridge.
I can't be running over to the comments page every few minutes to respond to this sort of thing. I'm going to keep the comments function, because most people are really great about comments. For all I know, there was just one person who decided to sandbag my blog. To him I say: get your own blog. (And to the charming person who asked if my (now deceased) parents got married two weeks after they met because my mother got pregnant, I say: do you know anything about the menstrual cycle?) To the rest of you, keep commenting, I do appreciate it, but now you've got to register, because I want to be able to bar posters that I decide are wasting my time and annoying me.
"Oh, so you think I'm annoying you, you right winger? You think it's all about you, don't you? Oh, boo hoo hoo, you're annoyed. Our soldiers in Iraq are being killed every day! Why don't you write about that!"
UPDATE: I thought I could delete individual commenters if I used the registered commenters setting. If I can figure out how to do it, I'll put the comments back. The comments already written still exist, and I can redisplay them. Sorry for the many excellent commenters I've undisplayed. If you comment on my posts in your blog and link to me, I will try to respond (to reasonable things), but I can't handle comments here unless I have a way to bar the people who aren't willing to live up to my standards. It's not a matter of excluding viewpoints--I love good debate--it's entirely about the form of expression and the personal remarks, and, especially, the intolerable remarks that were made about my dead mother.

"You have to understand. There was a war."

The AP reports:
Bells tolled from the National Cathedral and swing music from the 1940s rang out at the Mall as veterans of World War II assembled by the tens of thousands Saturday for the dedication of a memorial to their great struggle.

A service of celebration and thanksgiving at the cathedral opened a day of remembrance for a passing generation. Old soldiers, many gripping canes or in wheelchairs, welcomed the tribute to their service while lamenting that the memorial has come too late for so many of their comrades.

"I wish they would have done it much sooner because there's a lot of people from that generation who are gone," said Don LaFond, 81, a Marine Corps veteran from Marina Del Ray, Calif., taking his seat at the Mall on a cool spring morning.

Only about one in four veterans of the war is still alive.
My mother was a WWII veteran. She joined the Women's Army Corps for reasons she would never put in personal terms. I used to ask her, "Why did you join the Army?" I wanted to hear the details of a teenager who cared for her infant sister, named Hope, who was doomed by spina bifida, incapacitating the poor baby's mother with grief, and who went to college, at the University of Michigan, when she was only 16. I wanted to hear about how she had a great passion to leave Ann Arbor, where she had lived all her life, to have new adventures. But her answer was always devoid of a personal story. It was always: "You have to understand how it was for everyone at the time. There was a war."

My father was drafted into the Army after the end date of the war, so he was not, technically, a veteran. They are both dead now and so are among the many of their generation who did not live to see the memorial. They met in the Army. My father had one of those Army office jobs, and so did my mother, who was transferred from working on battle fatigue cases to an office job when it was learned that she could type. My father had made some coffee in his office, and my mother went into the office attracted by the smell of coffee. They were married two weeks later. Personally, I owe my own life to the Army and the smell of coffee, but to be more like my mother, I shouldn't tell it as a personal story: There was a war. People did what had to be done.

The high cost of hot chocolate ... and the joys and anxieties of speaking without notes.

Jeremy explains "why a hot chocolate at starbucks is $3, while a hot chocolate at borders is $133," with suitable photographic illustration. And scroll down for the harrowing tale of how he reconfirmed his belief in the proposition: "go with only minimal or no notes for any talk of 30 minutes or less." Hmm ... I have a 15 minute talk I need to do next Friday .... Note: he doesn't say go with minimal preparation, just minimal notes.

Anyone worth listening to speak at all is much better to listen to when they are speaking straight from their head not their notes. (Which is why closed book exams are better, by the way.) You just have to get over the anxiety of worrying that the pressure of the occasion will cut off your access to the place in your head where the relevant information resides. Too bad politicians have to read their speeches: they have to worry that one misstatement or misguided locution will cause them trouble. That's why my plan for the campaign is: submit it in writing. If it's already in writing, let me read it. I can do that in less than half the time it will take you to deliver it as a speech.

That reminds me of an anecdote about F.A. Hayek that I just heard this morning on C-Span--yes, I watch C-Span while getting ready in the morning!--told by the author Gregory Nash.After adding the word "serfdom" to my Google search when the whole first page came up Salma Hayek, I found the anecdote told by another author (here). The C-Span version of the anecdote included the additional detail that Hayek had never given a public speech before and was told he would need to do so only the night before, but here's the key part:
After The Road to Serfdom (1944) became a bestseller, the University of Chicago Press rushed the author F.A. Hayek into the lecture circuit, a new experience for him.  He told an interviewer,  “When I was picked up at my hotel [in New York]...I asked, 'What sort of audience do you expect?'  They said, 'The hall holds 3,000 but there's an overflow meeting.'  Dear God, I hadn't an idea what I was going to say.  'How have you announced it?'  'Oh, we have called it 'The Rule of Law in International Affairs.'  My God, I had never thought about that problem in my life…I asked the chairman if three-quarters of an hour would be enough.  'Oh, no, it must be exactly an hour...you are on the radio." 

It turns out, the talk was a big success. Was that because Hayek was so brilliant he was able to do well even with shocking disadvantages, or did all of these nightmarish problems make him better? He was no doubt shocked into a very energetic state and he was forced to be spontaneous and tap straight into his inner resources. But who with fair warning could plan to do things this way? We hear the anecdote about the time it worked, but many speakers have fallen disastrously when unprepared. Still, many overprepared speakers are horrible. Yet they are never horribly exposed and humiliated as they experience their failure. Notice that no one ever has a real nightmare about standing at a lectern reading a prepared speech that is very dull. (Yes, I know that might be because it is impossible to read in a dream).

Kerry's mysterious mix of issues and the muted left.

Adam Nagourney, in today's NYT, examines the mystery of "Why the Democrats' Left Wing Is Muted" about Kerry, given the positions he's been taking lately about the war. Hmm ... I see I just wrote "positions," and I notice that the article running right next to Nagourney's (in the paper Times) is "Kerry Redoubles His Attack Over the War" by Robin Toner. While Nagourney concentrates on Kerry's failure to appease antiwar Democrats and explains their seemingly mysterious support of him in terms of intense hostility to Bush, Toner writes of the Kerry "campaign's current mix of patriotism, support for the troops in Iraq and scalding criticism of the policies that put them there":
On the second day of a two-week drive to establish his credentials on national security, Mr. Kerry also told an audience of veterans that Mr. Bush had shortchanged their health and benefit programs while carefully protecting tax cuts for the wealthy....

Mr. Kerry said it was impossible to predict what the situation in Iraq would be when - if elected - he took office. But he said neither the United States nor its allies could afford a failure in Iraq, and repeated his call for Mr. Bush to engage more countries in the transition.

"I promise you this," he said, "I am going to get the troops home as fast as possible, with honor and the job accomplished in the way it needs to be, and we will bring other people into the process."

One can easily portray Kerry as a man who takes so many different positions in such a confounding mix that no one--no one with any real potential to actually vote for him--ever gets too upset. Yet, obviously, Kerry has a careful balancing act to perform, and he seems sensible about trying to hold on to the middle. For the antiwar side, he seems to be offering only a feeling that he's going to wind things down more quickly and effectively than Bush, but Bush is trying to reach the same goals Kerry is stating. (This is why I'm not deciding between the two candidates until October: I'll see what Bush has actually done between now and then.) Kerry is urging--Toner reports--that we get away from "partisan politics" and "just think common sense about our country, about what it should be doing." I don't argue with that. It's hard for him to get specific about what he would do, since he wouldn't be starting to do anything until over eight months from now. How can he use common sense to figure out what should be done that far in the future when things are changing every day so far out of his control? That's the downside of not being an ideologue.

Ralph Nader is puzzled that the left wing of the Democrats isn't more active pressuring Kerry to move in their direction, as Nagourney reports:
"There are antiwar Democrats who will fume and still vote for Kerry," Mr. Nader said, adding: "I don't think Democrats should give their candidate a pass on the war. If Democrats are so freaked out by Bush that they are, like, 'Do anything you want, John, we'll support you,' well, as I told him in our meeting, he's not going to be left with a mandate." ...

Mr. Nader said he could not understand why unions, antiwar groups and other traditional Democratic constituencies were signing on with Mr. Kerry without insisting they get something in return. And he criticized Mr. Kerry for not making real concessions to the antiwar crowd.

"He's listening to Shrum," said Mr. Nader, referring to Mr. Kerry's senior political adviser, Bob Shrum. "He's listening to all the cautious advisers. They are saying don't cater to these antiwar people, they have nowhere to go. They are going to vote for you. You know the old game."

So Nader really wants something in return for supporting Kerry, but he isn't finding that he has a constituency to deliver over in the deal. He's becoming irrelevant. There seems to be a lot of common sense going around these days.

May 28, 2004

Old bumper sticker fulfilled, but Al Gore isn't.

Surely, you've seen this famous lefty bumper sticker:



Luckily, there was a high level of competence on the part of our soldiers, even though they were denied the tools in the numbers they needed for their mission. But what a disgrace that their families had to hold bake sales to buy discarded Kevlar vests, so the soldiers can stuff them into the floorboards and sides of the Humvees that they have to ride around in without any armor. Bake sales for body armor! What kind of policy is that?

Note: Try finding the transcript of the Gore speech on the web! It's not on the Moveon.org website anymore. The Washington Post article about the speech shows what is supposed to be a link to the transcript of the speech, but the link just takes you to an empty Moveon.org page. I transcribed the quote above from my TiVoed C-Span coverage.The Moveon.org home page has a link to a transcript of a Gore speech, but if you click on it, it turns out to be a speech from February 5, 2004 (which I printed and read, assuming it was this week's speech--no speech date appears on the home page). There's also a link to a January speech by Gore on the home page. Moveon.org sponsored the Wednesday's speech, and in the words of the Washington Post, it was "the highest-profile appearance by Gore since he endorsed former Vermont governor Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination." I tried my best to find a link to the transcript before taking the trouble to transcribe it myself. I realize links go dead, and unintentional snafus occur. Send me the link if you have it. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to have been deliberately eradicated. I feel compelled to conclude that it's been roundly judged a complete embarrassment.

UPDATE: Now that I've watched the entire speech, let me say that I think much of the coverage of it has been unfair. Drudge and others acted as if he freaked out. I haven't gone over the speech and checked the accuracy of all of the statements, but it is simply untrue that he appeared crazy in some way. There were perhaps two points when he resorted to yelling, but he was shouting over a loud ovation in the auditorium. His voice, as heard over the television, is not ideally modulated, but it was probably adapted to the acoustics in the room as he heard his own voice. He gets a little Jimmy Stewart-y in places. He wipes his brow a few times with a big towel, which looked funny, but clearly the room was too hot, and he was sweating. Most of what he said sounded rational to me: it is important to take the Abu Ghraib abuses very seriously. There's some political posturing in calling for various resignations, but there was nothing irrational about that. People who found the most ridiculous freeze frame or replayed an isolated clip treated him very unfairly. I will say that the NYU crowd was not as serious as the subject matter required. They did not just applaud, they laughed, sometimes inappropriately. The audience seemed so excited about laughing at Bush, that it lost touch with the subject matter being discussed. I think one could see that Gore did not approve of this response. Maybe my perceptions are skewed: I thought he did well in the first debate with Bush in 2000 and was surprised at the way he was ridiculed in the press. Maybe I have I higher tolerance for Gore attitudes than most people, but I really can't see why he's being shredded for this week's speech.

FURTHER UPDATE: A reader figured out a way to get to the transcript:
Take a gander at this:

http://www.moveon.org/pac/gore-rumsfeld.html

I found this by looking for "rumsfeld" in the URL of a MoveOn webpage (it's the last result when you do that search)...

That's a strange way to find it, so it doesn't dispell the impression that they are trying to get rid of it.

ADDED SATURDAY MORNING: The difference between the URL the reader found and the one in the Washington Post link is that that latter has "-transcript" after "rumsfeld." Also, and more importantly, the Moveon.org home page now has the Wednesday speech featured at the top of its home page with a good link. But none of that was there last night when I wrote this post. It can't be that they are just slow putting up material on their website, because the Post had a link that went dead. You'd think if the Post website was linking you, you wouldn't let the URL go dead, and then later use a different URL. Especially a group like Moveon.org which specializes in being a website and sponsored this important speech. I see that they are now trying to sell a DVD of the speech. And the new URL has a lot of Quicktime clips from parts of the speech. Maybe last night when I couldn't find the transcript, they were shifting over to this really elaborate new page. Clearly, they aren't trying to scuttle the material, which I suspected last night. The presentation of key clips is a good way to counter the unfair clipping that Gore's critics were doing. I approve!

The miniature mogul of blogging.

So I read How Can I Sex Up This Blog Business? (which I nerdily picked up on via How Appealing). Who knew Wonkette and Gawker and Gizmodo and Defamer were part of a miniature media empire run by a man with a very large head who lives in a SoHo loft but has to move his laptop around in it to try to pick up a WiFi signal from outside his building? Did you know that a blog like Gawker or Wonkette draws $5,000 to $10,000 a month in blog ads and the writer gets something like $1500 or $2000 of that to submit to the direction of this small-time mogul--whose name is Nick Denton--who pushes them toward sex and sadism and (oh, what did we do before we had a word for it?) snarkiness. Denton isn't exactly getting fabulously rich pocketing the difference, but he does get to keep the brand name if the writer moves on (like to a better paying job). So Wonkette isn't Wonkette?

Lust for Lunch.

We had some lunch today at Crave, which seems to be a worthy new restaurant, just off State Street on Gorham (easy to miss if you're walking up State Street, but just a few steps away):

Image-5702DD66B0DB11D8

Walking back to the Law School, I saw a man preaching from the concrete pulpit that overlooks Library Mall:

Image-570251ACB0DB11D8

He was holding up two signs and imploring people to open their hearts to religion.

Image-57020F04B0DB11D8

A man with a long white ponytail, sitting on a metal bench just in front of the pulpit, was trying to eat his box lunch in peace:

Image-57029C20B0DB11D8

Suddenly, the white ponytail man starts shouting back at the preacher man: "Why don't you just shut the f*ck up? What makes you think you have anything to say to me?" The preacher yells back, getting quite passionate, saying he was trying to teach love. The white ponytail man taunts the preacher, he shakes a plastic fork at him and dares him to come down from the pulpit and confront him face to face. The preacher man gets angry and throws down his signs and turns but then stops himself. The white ponytail man gets more heated up, saying, "You are so f*cking arrogant! You have nothing to offer me!" Sounding uncannily like Kirk Douglas playing Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life, the preacher seethes, "I want to help humanity!"

Image-57034766B0DB11D8

"What scenes would one like to have filmed?"

This is a great question that Robert Hughes asked Vladimir Nabokov in 1965. You can read his answer in one of my favorite books, Strong Opinions. (If you want to get an idea of what Nabokov wrote about in Strong Opinions, you can consult this elaborate index, which someone was nice enough to put together.) Feel free to use the comments section to answer the great question, which assumes someone could have been present at any time and place in history with the equipment to make a film. Here's Nabokov's great answer to the great question:
Shakespeare in the part of the King's Ghost.

The beheading of Louis the Sixteenth, the drums drowning his speech on the scaffold.

Herman Melville at breakfast, feeding a sardine to his cat.

Poe's wedding. Lewis Carroll's picnics.

The Russians leaving Alaska, delighted with the deal. Shot of a seal applauding.

Reliving the chad experience ... and CNN preening.

Last night, we watched CNN Election 2000: 36 Days That Gripped the Nation, which came in the mail yesterday. I explained my reasons for wanting to see it here. It was okay, it provoked some laughs, and it got us to pause at one point and get into a whole big debate about the best way to count the ballots all over again. (I said that Bush's best argument was that the punchcards were designed to be read by machines, so the best stopping point was the machine recount, because at least the machine had no opinion about who should win, and if human beings started looking at the cards, which were never designed for human eyes, human subjectivity would necessarily creep in. And that reignited the old argument.) But I was disappointed by the way CNN constructed its little documentary. It was TV hackwork. Having just last week seen a beautifully constructed political documentary--The Fog of War--I cringed at the lameness of CNN's little paste job. At least they could have maximized the footage of the historic events. There was a decent amount of footage of county officials squinting at punchcards, people holding signs with saying like "Sore/Loserman" and chanting "Get out of Cheney's house," and reporters trying to report on a Supreme Court opinion as they were glancing at it for the first time. But far, far too much of the documentary consisted of various CNN reporters, well-dressed and made-up and overlit against a black background, reminiscing about how they felt when the events were occurring. It was like those "I Love the 80s" shows on VH-1 were they plunk a celebrity in front of the camera to reminisce about something they'd just shown a clip of (e.g., show historic footage of Rubik's cube, then have, say, Juliette Lewis prate about how she had a Rubik's cube when she was ten years old and found it very hard to do). It's always so glaring that it's filler, as the celebs talk especially slowly, with pauses, and usually seem to be making half of it up or doing a retake. The real message is, we don't think you will pay attention to the footage (or we can't edit it into a good enough form to make it worth paying attention to), so we' ll just mesmerize you with a celebrity. Now, the intense focus on a single talking human being can, in fact, be great. The Fog of War is the example of how to do that well. But there is no way on earth that the diverse ramblings of Judy Woodruff about waiting out the election results can compare to the brilliantly edited speech of a brilliant and complex man--Robert S. McNamara--who lived through the most interesting events of a century!

The blatantly partisan blogosphere.

This blog is a mix of things. Like many, perhaps most, blogs, the mix is based on what catches my attention and inspires me. I enjoy discovering what the mix turns out to be. Some of what catches my eye is political. A political observation, especially if it catches a presidential candidate making a mistake, draws a lot of traffic to the blog. I like to think some of these people will stay around for the other components of the mix, but I realize it will only be a small percentage of the people who are drawn by the political gotcha that got the link. But I was quite struck by comments on this post yesterday, taking the position one ought to avoid politics altogether:
The blogosphere is blatantly partisan. ... I think it's quite difficult if not impossible to find any well-reasoned political debate on the internet .... It's hard to appear to be an equal-opportunity offender or critic much less actually be one. I haven't seen any large-scale blogger who really effectively does either.

I know, politics is important, and potentially interesting, but when I see stuff like this I am reminded both of why the Supreme Court doesn't hear political questions and what a very wise famous computer named JOSHUA once said:

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"
I think that's well put, but terrible if true. We should cede the political speech to the hardcore partisans? A moderate observer of political things ought to opt out of political speech because of the danger of being used by the hardcore partisans that somehow rule the blogosphere? That's far too big a price to pay and far too pessimistic. It's far too perfectionistic too: of course, no one can become completely balanced in the center and dish out criticism in precisely balanced portions. And what does it mean to be "really effective" as a blogger? It's always just one more day of assorted posts, one more sampling of the mind of this particular blogger, out there for the world to dip into. If I were more of a hardcore partisan, I suppose I would worry that I might somehow, in my meanderings, hurt Kerry/Bush, and then I will have lost the game. The demonstration of my nonhardcore, nonpartisanship, is I don't care enough about that to worry the way this commenter thinks I will.

Whatever happened to "minimizing the template"?

I just noticed that the photographs overlapped with the sidebar. Why I spent as much time on changing the template as I did last night without noticing the problem--that's something I can't explain, other than that I just forgot the problem from the last time I tried to change the template and the photos happened to be low enough on the front page not to be next to any sidebar content and the lack of a sidebar dividing line left the side space clear.

Sour grapes version: the type on Minima was too hard to read and was hurting my eyes, the white background made the dark ad banner much more obvious, and that template had a problem with line spacing that was undermining its prettiness. Now, back to substance!

UPDATE: Blogger has some sort of bug that is causing the template to jump back to Minima when I edit an old post. What could cause that? Let's see if it happens this time ....

FURTHER UPDATE: Ah, good. I have no idea why the problem cured itself and I don't trust it not to happen again. It's definitely a good idea to keep a copy of your template in a separate document, so you can copy it back into the window if it decides to revert to an earlier incarnation.

May 27, 2004

Minimizing the template.

I've switched to one of the new Blogger templates. This is called Minima. I hope it's subdued enough for you. It's aggressively mellow. Why it seemed better than the old template ("Tekka"):

1. Tekka had an inexplicable interest in dotted lines and an irritating sans serif font. It was nicely minimal, but Minima is more minimal.

2. Minima, being one of the new Blogger templates, has that nice "previous posts" list in the sidebar.

3. Minima isolates and colorizes the titles in an appealing way. The text is not black but gray in a way that is pretty. (It does have the downside of making me feel that my vision is failing, and since my vision isn't so great anyway, that's a bit of a pain. But it's not that far from black, so I'm going to see how that wears on me.)[UPDATE: I adjusted some colors, and made the text black.)

One thing I've got to deal with is the way the blog title at the top is in a box with the blog description, which calls so much attention to the blog description that I had to delete what I had and am not trying to figure out what to put there. I'm going to have a quote, I think, but I haven't decided on what yet. I was going to try to get something from "My Dinner With Andre," but what I had was too long and rambling. ("Do you want to know my actual response to all this? I mean, do you want to hear my actual response? ... I enjoy reading about ... what people said ... and what people said about what people said ... And I just don't know how anybody could enjoy anything more ... I'm just so thrilled when I get up and I see that coffee there just the way I wanted it. ... Isn't it pleasant just to get up in the morning ... and the Times is delivered?" I like that for a lot of reasons and think it says something about blogging, but it just didn't look right in the box.)

One other problem is that the posts begin with the lines separated by a half space, but if you do a blockquote, not only is the blockquote single-spaced but the regular text after the blockquote is single-spaced. If anyone knows how to fix that, please let me know.

Amazon package of the day.

I really don't want to say what percentage of my days include the delivery of a package from Amazon. I just feel like saying what just came in the mail today.

1. CNN Election 2000: 36 Days That Gripped the Nation. Okay, what's the reasoning there? I just wanted to live the excitement of the last time around, what with the 2004 election getting so much attention. Remember that guy holding the punchcard up and gazing in search of the daylight that a detached corner might admit? Yeah, I wanted to relive that old feeling. It seems so archaic now. It was all so ordinary at the time: James Baker repeatedly saying "the votes have been counted and recounted" and Gore's people with the other mantra ("count all the votes... count all the votes..."). I feel like seeing it all again, made new through nostalgia (and boredom with the current election).

2. Dry: A Memoir, the audiobook, unabridged, read by the wonderful author Augusten Burroughs. Because I love the audiobook of Running With Scissors and want to know what happened to that poor boy and also just want to hear more of the amazing comic voice of Augusten Burroughs--who reads his own story wonderfully well. For the full comic power, get the spoken word version. Running With Scissors didn't quite suit my usual audiobook needs: I like to fall asleep listening to spoken word. But there are quite a few things in that book that you don't want playing while you're asleep or trying to get to sleep. It was nice getting Dry in the mail today. I like the liner note: "Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a higher power."

Which reminds me ... I'll be back later.

The Times tsks about blogging.

The NYT is running an article about people who blog obsessively, so I'm going to blog it obsessively.

First, there's an anecdote about a woman who went on a vacation with her husband, and he got up and went in the bathroom, where he stayed for a long time. Turns out, he was blogging! Okay… and? What if he was reading? The guy was nice enough to try not to disturb her. Why is it a problem? Well, because:

For some, [blogging] becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

So, secretive blogging: it's like drinking on the sly. If you're hiding how much you do it, then you must have a problem. Except, if you're blogging, the whole point is to expose all your writing to everyone, so how can you really ever be doing it on the sly? Is this Wiggins-Matthews couple worth our attention? He wants to do something he likes and she wants more attention. Isn't that the old marital story? What's the difference between them and some couple where the husband watches sports too much? Couples will forever be mismatched in their preferences for solo versus joint activities. That's not really getting to the core of anything significant about blogging.

Next up for the Times is the fact that bloggers may not have much of an audience:
A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few.

Wait a minute: what about all the centuries of letter writers, when many, many people would write pages and pages to be read by only one person?
[I]f a blog is likened to a conversation between a writer and readers, bloggers like Mr. Wiggins are having conversations largely with themselves.

The suggestion is that blogging is masturbatory ... which explains why Wiggins locks himself in the bathroom.
Mr. Wiggins …does not know how many readers he has; he suspects it's not many. But that does not seem to bother him.

Enough with this Wiggins character! We're told he blogs about technology issues, yet he doesn't know how to install a Sitemeter?

The next problem is that a blogger might have too much of an audience:
Perhaps a chronically small audience is a blessing. For it seems that the more popular a blog becomes, the more some bloggers feel the need to post.

Tony Pierce started his blog three years ago while in search of a distraction after breaking up with a girlfriend. "In three years, I don't think I've missed a day," he said. Now Mr. Pierce's blog … averages 1,000 visitors a day.

But too big of an audience doesn’t really seem to be Pierce's problem (assuming he's got a problem):
Mr. Pierce … said blogging began to feel like an addiction when he noticed that he would rather be with his computer than with his girlfriend - for technical reasons.

"She's got an iMac, and I don't like her computer," Mr. Pierce said. When he is at his girlfriend's house, he feels "antsy." "We have little fights because I want to go home and write my thing," he said.

Everything is an "addiction" now. (I'm cutting many of the repetitive statements in the article on the theme of blogging as addiction.) This guy can't get a laptop? Or is he just one of those people who take every opportunity to say they don't like Macs?

Okay, we've got our anecdote guys out of the way. Time to talk to an expert:
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

Like people who cook, garden, and pursue other hobbies?

Finally, a voice of reason is brought in:
Jeff Jarvis, president of Advance.net, a company that builds Web sites for newspapers and magazines, and a blogging enthusiast, defended what he called one's "obligation to the blog."

"The addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It's that you're involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through the blog."…

Mr. Jarvis characterizes the blogging way of life as a routine rather than an obsession. "It's a habit," he said. "What you're really doing is telling people about something that they might find interesting. When that becomes part of your life, when you start thinking in blog, it becomes part of you."

"Thinking in blog"—that's a good phrase.

I've talked about blogging a lot with other bloggers, and it seems that if you enjoy doing it you also feel pulled into the activity and have trouble tearing yourself away. But don't we want to have avocations like that? Isn't that what it's like to love doing something? In fact, I'd rather have an obsession than a "routine" (Jarvis's word). Bloggers are actively reading and engaging with what they read. Writing is a way to think and understand. Blogging lets just you share those thoughts with anyone who decides to show up. … and become fascinated by how many people show up and who links to you and where you rank on various charts and all sorts of other things that the Times would be tsking about if it noticed.

UPDATE: Nina agrees.

So what is the official Columbia Journalism Review position about factchecking quotes?

Zachary Roth at CJR Campaign Desk thinks he's found a way to attack me for "attacking" Kerry:
Ann Althouse thinks she's found another way to use the delaying-the-nomination idea to attack the Massachusetts senator. Kerry told the Boston Globe that "it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated ... Harry Truman was in Independence [Mo]." Althouse, citing David McCullough's biography, says Truman was clearly at the 1948 convention, and delivered a speech. But that doesn't necessarily mean the convention didn't then travel to Independence to nominate him, as Kerry said. We eagerly await comment from historians of the presidential nomination process.

Since Roth is an arbiter of fairness, operating under the name of the Columbia Journalism Review and presumably dedicated to journalism ethics, how about some fairness to me?

First, I'm not looking for ways to attack Kerry. On what basis does he insinuate that attacking Kerry is my motive? I include in the very post he links a reference to an earlier post where I criticized Republican William Safire for getting the history of the conventions wrong. As I've said many times, I'm a moderate who has not chosen between the two candidates yet and don't intend to do so until October. I'm an observer of human nature and I found it funny that Kerry pompously chided the Republicans for not knowing history while making a glaring mistake of his own.

Second, so I didn't specify that the speech was an acceptance speech, but the link to the speech text has the words "I accept the nomination" as the third sentence and the pages in the McCullough biography leave no doubt this was an acceptance speech. Roth doesn't bother to check that as he stretches to find a way that it might somehow be true that Truman went to the convention but then left and had to be informed of the nomination later. Truman was already President when he was nominated as his party's candidate, as anyone writing about politics should know. What are the chances a President who is running for a second term would go to the convention without knowing he would be nominated and making an acceptance speech?

It doesn't take much of a historian to look up these prominent facts. It took about 2 minutes on Google for me to get this information. Instead of bizarrely trying to paint me as someone looking for ways to slam Kerry, why doesn't Roth criticize the Boston Globe for printing Kerry's quote without having enough of a sense of history to wonder whether Kerry might be wrong about Truman or checking the basic facts within the quotes?

Back in March, another CJR Campaign Desk writer, Brian Montopoli, responded favorably to a post I had made pointing out a factual error in a Kerry statement and criticizing the mainstream press reports for not noticing questionable facts within a quote and just repeating quotes without factchecking:
We come to this a little late, but, as University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse pointed out over the weekend, Sen. John Kerry was wrong when he claimed during last Thursday's debate that "we have 111 people who have been now released from death row ... because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime of which they were convicted."

According to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, 113 people have been released from death row since 1973. But in only 13 of those cases did DNA evidence play a significant factor in the prisoner's release.

In the other 100 (or so) cases, says the American Civil Liberties Union, "those exonerated were found innocent because someone came forward to confess committing the crime; key witness testimony was found to be illegitimate; or new evidence was found to support innocence."

The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, New Republic, CBS News, and countless other outlets all ran stories quoting Kerry without checking the facts to figure it out.

It's difficult for a reporter writing on deadline to fact-check every assertion that comes out of a candidate's mouth, of course. But in a primary season, once a misstatement such as this gets into the echo chamber, it's awfully hard to set the record straight.

So I'd like to ask Roth and Montopoli to get together and figure out the journalism ethics issue here. Do we take factual assertions within candidate's quotes seriously or not? Are we going to be critical of newspapers that repeat the candidate's quotes without factchecking the assertions within them or not? And if a blogger takes on the work that the newspapers shun and points out an incorrect fact within a candidate's quote, should a website devoted to the "critique and analysis of 2004 campaign coverage" show no interest in figuring out what the fact actually is and accuse the blogger of looking for ways to attack the candidate (the Roth approach)? Or should it express appreciation for the work of the blogger who has made up for the deficiency of the mainstream press (the Montopoli approach)?

UPDATE: This recent post of Roth's was pointed out to me, and, in fact, it shows that he does think news media shouldn't be "complicit in allowing the candidates to repeat their spin without criticism" and should "point out ... distortions, immediately and unequivocatingly, using their own reportorial (as opposed to editorial) voice." This is very close to my key point.

"Death with Dignity," "Compassionate Care," and federalism.

The NYT, reporting reporting on yesterday's Oregon v. Ashcroft case (which I discussed at some length here), quotes Dr. Greg Hamilton, of Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group opposed to doctor-assisted suicide:
"It's amazing when a federal court allows any state to nullify federal laws ... Vulnerable people in the state of Oregon are deprived of the protections available to people in 49 other states."

It would be amazing if a federal court recognized a power of a state to "nullify federal laws," but of course that didn't happen. If the federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, had clearly stated its intent to bar doctors from prescribing drugs to enable a person to commit suicide, the court would have recognized that federal law preempts state law. The problem was banning doctor-assisted suicide by virtue of the opinion the Attorney General alone, rather than having a decision thought through by Congress. It's obvious that Congress never went through the exercise of deliberating about physician-assisted suicide, and it's also obvious that the people of Oregon, acting democratically through a ballot measure, did think about this specific subject and reach a decision. The question is whether Attorney General Ashcroft should be permitted to use the Controlled Substances Act, which Congress passed while contemplating other sorts of drug problems, to impose his ideas about physician-assisted suicide over the decision reached by Oregon. Nothing prevents Congress from taking up the issue now and providing the necessary clear statement of intent to prevent doctors from prescribing drugs for suicidal purposes, nothing except all the political disincentives. If the national legislature cannot get up the nerve to address this question, why shouldn't the view adopted by the people of a state prevail?

Dr. Hamilton expresses concern that the people of Oregon have a law different from the laws in all the other states. He characterizes the structure of federalism as a lack of protection for people, as if uniformity of law is in itself beneficial. But it is traditional in American constitutional law to regard federalism as a device to protect individual liberty. Why should we think that there is a loss of liberty if the law varies from state to state, rather than to think that the ability of one state to break away from the others and try something new holds some promise of bringing new benefits to people? Hamilton's group has a policy preference, and he may very well have the better answer about physician-assisted suicide. But to analyze the federalism problem, we need to picture it the other way around: what if all the states permitted doctors to prescribe drugs for patients to commit suicide and one state decided to ban it? Would you still believe in the benefit of requiring the whole country always to move in one hulking pack? Permitting one state to engage in a policy experiment is not "amazing." It is fundamental consitutional law and a time-proven way to generate good policy (though it necessarily leaves room for bad policy too).

If the policy adopted by Oregon is really so bad, presumably Hamilton's group can convince Congress to make a clear federal law. If he can't do that, the shortcut of accepting Ashcroft's view of the matter should not be enough to override the policy the people of Oregon adopted.

May 26, 2004

The big American Idol revelation.

Why not begin with the national anthem? It is American Idol. And it's at least as momentous as a baseball game. Is this the beginning? Aren't we at least a quarter of the way through? Well, that first quarter was the red carpet pre-show, so that wasn't the show, per se.

"The Impossible Dream"--ah, now the cheese-fest kicks into gear as Diana and Fantasia are joined by Kelly and Ruben. Good lord! Ruben's gained another hundred pounds. We know what his "unreachable goal" is. Words said in my TV room: "I think Kelly's the best." "She's the one I feel the most love for. That's when the show was innocent."

We use TiVo to get through the two hour ordeal and watch an old episode of Will and Grace (a show I've never seen before) to pass the time. It's the episode with Madonna, and I enjoy Madonna's comic performance. Someone needs to get through to her that comedy is her acting place.

Oh, but back to American Idol. We're just whiling away the minutes trying to get to the one second of info that the show tonight exists to reveal ... What are we seeing here? ... I've lost track. A little Kimberly Caldwell.... Some not-quite-so-great Kelly ... Here's Ruben.... Drag out Diana and Fantasia again to wail through crap about dreams and believing. Oh, the horror of it all... no, not horror, just dead-end, relentless cheesiness. Oh, just tell me already! One of these two kids won. Just say it! ... Oh, okay, finally, it's Fantasia. So all's right in the world. Now, go ahead, get the hell out of here, leave me alone for another year. But, then, when you're ready to come back, I'll be right here, your big sucker, ready to go through the whole damn thing again.

Doctors, federalism and the Controlled Substances Act.

Today, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Oregon v. Ashcroft rejecting the "Ashcroft Directive," the Attorney General's position that a doctor using a controlled substance to assist a suicide violates the federal Controlled Substances Act and faces criminal prosecution and the loss of prescription privileges. The court tapped federalism values as it made room for Oregon's experiment under its Death With Dignity Act.

In Washington v. Glucksberg, a 1997 Supreme Court case cited in today's opinion, Justice O'Connor wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that there is no federal due process right to physician-assisted suicide and arguing for the narrow interpretation of constitutional rights because the states were actively serving as "laboratories," working through the complexities in this complicated area of policy. The laboratory that is Oregon subsequently produced the Death With Dignity Act, and the Ninth Circuit cited O'Connor's Glucksberg opinion as it showed great respect to Oregon's policy work today.

The court also cited another Ninth Circuit case about doctors, federalism and the Controlled Substances Act: Conant v. Walters (2002), which protected doctors who recommend marijuana for medicinal purposes under California's Compassionate Use Act. In Conant, the court saw the states as having the central role of supervising doctors and looked askance at the federal government's attempt to use the CSA to horn in on the state's area of responsibility. The Ashcroft Directive at issue in today's case also involved the federal government's use of the CSA to prevent doctors from carrying out the state's ideas about good medical practices. Conant involved the recognition of the doctors' First Amendment right to communicate with their patients, though Judge Kozinski's concurring opinion relied much more on federalism values. The case today saw a special role for the states with respect to doctors, and based on that traditional role, it chose a narrow interpretation of the CSA to leave that traditional role untouched.

In opting for narrow statutory interpretation to serve the interests of federalism, the Ninth Circuit cited the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case, Gregory v. Ashcroft. Gregory stands for the proposition that federal statutes will not be read to change the traditional federal-state balance unless they make a clear statement of their intent to do so. (John Ashcroft was a party to that case as a state governor, successfully avoiding the application of the federal law against age discrimination to state judges.) Today's decision uses the Gregory presumption in favor of the traditional federalism balance and finds enough unclarity in the Controlled Substances Act to justify reading the CSA not to permit the Justice Department to punish doctors who are engaged in the practice of medicine within the standards set by state law.

One judge (on the three-judge panel) dissents. Judge Wallace relies heavily on the principle that courts should defer to the Attorney General's interpretation of the act he has the duty to enforce. Let Congress change the statute if he's wrong, or let the people elect a different President and bring in a new Attorney General. (Note that Clinton's AG, Janet Reno, took the position that the CSA did not reach the Oregon doctors). The majority rejected that sort of deference though, again, on federalism grounds. It cited the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, which rejected the Army Corps of Engineers' interpretation of the Clean Water Act to apply to nonnavigable streams. In the Solid Waste case, though, the Supreme Court wrote, "Where an administrative interpretation of a statute invokes the outer limits of Congress’ power, we expect a clear indication that Congress intended that result." The problem there was that Congress may have reached the end of its Commerce Clause power if it meant to reach isolated wetlands. But there is no question that Congress could reach doctors in the practice of medicine under the Commerce Power. The Solid Waste Court premised this departure from the usual deference on a "prudential desire not to needlessly reach constitutional issues and our assumption that Congress does not casually authorize administrative agencies to interpret a statute to push the limit of congressional authority." That is not true in the Oregon case.

The Solid Waste court did also say that its concern about a statute reaching the edge of congressional power was "heightened where the administrative interpretation alters the federal-state framework by permitting federal encroachment upon a traditional state power." And that is the issue the Ninth Circuit is relying on. So a key question that should face the U.S. Supreme Court very soon is whether to accept this idea that medical practice is a special area of state power to be protected from federal intrusions. The Ninth Circuit has taken the federalism cases of the the conservative Supreme Court and applied them to protect the autonomy of states like California and Oregon that are engaged in the sort of policymaking that tends to bug the hell out of conservatives.

Unlike individual constitutional rights, which can be found to extend to some substantive areas but not others, constitutional federalism protects state autonomy, and the state may do all sorts of different things with that autonomy. If you think you like (or don't like) federalism, you may want to rethink it if a state starts to do something you don't like (or do like). To want to do things with federalism, judges have to want to take the good policies and the bad, to trust local decisionmaking--unless they are reckless enough about their appearance of neutrality to turn their support for federalism values on and off, depending on whether they approve of what a particular state has done.

Why I want Kerry to pick John McCain for VP.

I keep thinking the old Joni Mitchell song "Carey"--listen here--and can see it would be easy to take the lyrics and do a song parody replacing "Carey get out your cane" with "Kerry and John McCain." And after Kerry's uncharitable crack when Bush fell off his bike, you could just keep that line "Oh, you're a mean old daddy, but I like you." Feel free to use the comments page with other suggestions for "Carey" to "Kerry" parodizing.

Lithwick on O'Connor.

Dahlia Lithwick witnesses a luncheon appearance by Justice O'Connor and observes, "she seems to have no idea how extraordinary she is." Oh, the key word there must be "seems." Modesty is a virtue. And good lawyers know to let the facts speak for themselves.

Geek God.

Maybe--as discussed in Slate--the universe was created by some science nerd who never even got to see his own creation, let alone rule over it. But what if a scientist in our universe sets off his own new universe?
If you started off a Big Bang in a lab, wouldn't the baby universe you created expand into your own universe, killing people and crushing buildings and so forth? [Stanford physicist Andrei] Linde assured me that there was no such danger. "The new universe would expand into itself," he said. "Its space would be so curved that it would look as tiny as an elementary particle. In fact, it might end up disappearing altogether from the world of its creator."

But why bother making a universe if it's going to run away from you? Wouldn't you want to have some power over how your creation unfolded, some way of making sure the beings that evolved in it turned out well? Linde's picture was as unsatisfying as Voltaire's idea of a creator who established our universe but then took no further interest in it or its creatures.

"You've got a point," Linde said. "At first I imagined that the creator might be able to send information into the new universe—to teach its creatures how to behave, to help them discover what the laws of nature are, and so forth. Then I started thinking. The inflation theory says that a baby universe blows up very quickly, like a balloon, in the tiniest fraction of a second. Suppose the creator tried to write something on it[s] surface, like 'Please remember I created you.' The inflationary expansion would make this message exponentially huge. The creatures in the new universe, living in a little corner of one letter, would never be able to read the whole thing."

Great article! Linde, who sounds awfully brilliant, thinks he knows that it takes hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter to start a universe. If he could manage to do it, would it be wrong? I don't see how you could ever be confident enough that it would create its own space to expand into, considering the potential consequences. I think anyone smart enough to figure out how to do this would be smart enough to refrain, so if this ever did happen, it seems it would have to have happened by mistake.

Oh no! TiVo is making me watch commercials!

Here's some important technology research, reported by Mediapost:

[R]esearch concludes that DVRs "recapture" TV commercial exposures that otherwise would have been "zapped" by non-DVR viewers. The study estimated that 51 percent of non-DVR viewers zap TV commercials, usually by using their remote control to change the channel when they come on. However, 96 percent of those viewers actually watch TV commercials when they become DVR subscribers, albeit in fast-forward mode.

While such fast-forwarding clearly diminishes the communications effectiveness of TV commercials, the study found that most fast-fowarders "notice" TV commercials either "always" (15 percent) or "sometimes" (52 percent) while zipping through the spots. Moreover, some big ad agencies and digital TV developers are exploring methods that would digitally compress commercials in such a way that would enable an abbreviated real-time version of the spots to be viewed during fast-forwarding.

Ah, this is true in my experience. I used to change channels when a commercial came on. For a while, until it broke, I had a ReplayTV device that had a button that jumped forward in 30 second increments (and then let you back up if you overshot in 6 second increments). But with TiVo you fastforward, and that forces you to look attentively at the material you are trying to skip so you can stop when the show reappears.

So now there needs to be some really crafty construction of the commercials so that they work to deliver their message when you are speeding by them, for example, by keeping words or pictures in a fixed place long enough that a speeder would see them.

(And I found that Mediapost article via Defamer, which I bookmarked, even though it didn't understand the TiVo fastforwarding phenomenon accurately (or didn't want to talk about that), because it has some nice gossip and celebrity photos (an Olson twin appearing to eat food, Clay Aiken boosting his reputation).)

Kerry's embarrassing history lecture.

The Boston Globe reports John Kerry's response to criticism about his proposal to avoid accepting the nomination at the Democratic convention:
The senator chuckled at the criticism.

"Once again, the Republicans don't know history, and they don't know facts," he said. "The truth is that it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated. Woodrow Wilson was at his house in Princeton, N.J.; Harry Truman was in Independence," Mo., he said. "They're trying to make an issue out of something that they're surprised by, because . . . they're very upset someone might have a way of neutralizing their advantage."

Yes, but wouldn't it be funny if Kerry himself got history wrong? It just so happens he did!

Read pages 637-646 of David McCullough's biography "Truman." Listen to the speech here. Truman was quite clearly at the convention in 1948 and gave a big speech, the first televised speech. The band played "Hail to the Chief," and Truman strode out. Here's a description:
[A] dispute occupied so much "prime time" that when the party's candidate, President Truman, came to the podium to speak to America on TV, it was 2:00 a.m. and most sets were turned off. Truman was dressed perfectly for TV, however, in a crisp white linen suit with a black tie for the cameras. And he'd prepared his speech on small notecards so he could face the cameras when he spoke....

One viewer who'd stayed up to watch Truman was TV critic Jack Gould of the New York Times. To him, Truman looked "relaxed and supremely confident, swaying on the balls of his feet." And he claimed that Truman's performance "removed any doubt that television was going to place an increasing premium on personality in politics."

Ah, how I would love to hear a candidate deliver a speech extemporaneously from note cards that he'd written up himself!

(Note: I criticized Republican William Safire for misstating the history of the conventions here.)

UPDATE: Thanks for linking to Instapundit and to the official Bush campaign blog. By the way, in my post title, I meant that Kerry was lecturing us and it was embarrassing for him to take such a pedantic tone and then turn out to be wrong (especially about one of his own party's heroes). I didn't mean to cast myself as a lecturer out to embarrass him, but if you want to see me as the lecturer, okay.

May 25, 2004

Help Jeremy

buy a platform bed. And marvel at the power of seven, as each bed is named according to one of the seven dwarves and one of the seven deadly sins. (I voted for Grumpy Confirmation, because I'm a sucker for furniture that I think would help me do more reading.)

UPDATE: As Jeremy notes in the comments, that should have been "sacraments." Hmmm.... what does that say about me?

FURTHER UPDATE: And I had the wrong link ... to the photo from the top of the previous post, an apparent bed of ferns! You know, Nina has commented that I "never" post at night. I think this may show why!

The American Idol finale.

Well, I found that all quite ugly and boring. I thought it was just mean to show over and over that the judges preferred Fantasia, especially when Simon criticized Diana for the unbelievability of the words of the damned song they forced her to sing! And there is a limit to how much credit Fantasia deserves for the fact that Summertime is a beautiful song. Frankly, I thought there was a lot of weird yelling, a lot of lame judicial pimping, and a lot of insanely inappropriate gospel choir embellishment. And that horrid song, "I Believe"? That's the kind of song that makes me never want to hear music again. I really don't care who wins, and I really don't want to hear the ridiculous assertions people are going to make if Diana wins. But I'll just say, I think, if Diana wins--and she probably will--it will be because they generated sympathy by being mean to her and undermined their credibility by gushing over Fantasia. The worst remark was Simon's saying that Fantasia is the best of all American Idol contestants: there are quite a few Clay Aiken fans who should hit the ceiling over that and even some sensible, rational Kelly and Ruben fans who can take offense. Even the old Frenchie fans can get mad. And they may all express it tonight by voting for Diana. I do think Fantasia is the better of the two, but I don't think she sang very nicely tonight. But there is one thing I'd like to say about the show tonight and that is that I got a big laugh when it seemed as though the show was all over and they announced momentously: here's Paul Anka--as if we cared. And then this leathery orange being emerged and croaked "My Way." The hell?

The peony conversation.

The trees in my neighborhood darken all the yards and lead good gardeners to indulge heavily in ferns and other groundcover instead of flowers and vegetables and grass. What might, without the trees, have been lawn looks like this:

Image-07F575CEAE9B11D8

Once a new homebuyer sent her gardener over to my door to ask me to let her come into my yard and cut some branches off one of my backyard trees so she could plant a "sun garden." I was understanding up to a point, but then I said "these are wooded lots" (here in this neighborhood she had chosen instead of the sunny, treeless suburbs) so maybe she should plant a garden that does well in the shade. The gardener got quite snippy and started lecturing me about the law and asserting that she had a legal right to cut back the trees in her yard. One of the benefits of being a lawyer is that when someone decides to lecture you about law, it doesn't take you any time at all to decide that person is an ass. I didn't say, "You're lecturing me about law? I'm a law professor!" I just said, "You want to assert your legal rights. Fine. So do I. You can't cut any branches off my tree." I love the way she was so wrapped up in getting what she wanted and using any argument that she reminded me to stick to my own preferences and not do her any favors. And: great way to make a good impression as a new neighbor.

But that was an anomaly. Most homeowners here in University Heights work within the beautiful shadiness. A neighbor two houses down has this neatly kept arrangment with stone rabbit:

Image-07F5D448AE9B11D8

And my next-door neighbor has a yard full of shade-loving flowers, with the peonies beginning their days of glory. As I take this picture, the neighbor's mother comes out and talks to me and as we talk about peonies she almost remembers some lines about peonies by Keats and--elsewhere--Danny Kaye:

Image-07F61A6CAE9B11D8

I say I'm going to put some of these pictures on my website, and I'll find those peony quotes and put them up as well, and I give her my blog address. The Keats poem is Ode on Melancholy:
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

And the Danny Kaye lines? Here you see one of his songs was "The Peony Bush." But I can't find the lyrics, so you'll have to buy the album, which seems to be a nice big collection of comic songs.

Anyway, I arrive at my own yard and see my overgrown oleaster hedge in bloom with its teeny-tiny, very un-peony-like flowers:

Image-07F63C0AAE9B11D8

Mammary government.

After the Janet Jackson nipple hoopla, it's nice to see the Brits having their own little media nipple problem. The Guardian reports:
For free-loving Eurocrats, an image of a breastfeeding baby seemed the perfect way to promote the joy of voting in the European elections.

But a glimpse of an exposed nipple in the soft-focus advertisement has proved too much for flustered British censors to bear: the image has been cut from the production before it could outrage cinemagoers across the UK.

The new EU states made no objection to the uncut version, a montage of images depicting people making choices, including an opening shot of a baby deciding which nipple to feed from.

Prudish British censors felt differently. While the British Board of Film Classification gave the short film a "U" certificate, the Cinema Advertising Association ordered that the nipple must go.

In an edited version approved for British audiences, the baby's hand at first obscures the nipple, while a second brief shot of the child's mouth closing around the nipple has been completely axed.

I just have two things to say about this (other than that's a jarring use of the word "axed.")

1. The Janet Jackson nipple exposure was in much better taste because it connected the viewer's sexual interest to actual adult sexuality, whereas the EU ad exploits the viewer's interest in sex by showing a breast in a context that isn't sexual at all.

2. Portraying the voter as a suckling infant and government as the mother's breast really says something about the European conception of government!

Thumping global warming sermonette.

Is "The Day After Tomorrow" going to be worth seeing? Here's the Film Threat review. Bottom line:
“The Day after Tomorrow” is cinema at its loudest, biggest, most spectacular and funnest. Having said that, it has to be seen in a theatre – one with a good set of speakers aligning the wall and a nice elongated screen – otherwise you won’t experience the full effect of the thumping soundtrack. If you’re the type that doesn’t mind leaving your thinking cap with the usherette before the show, you’re going to have one hell of a time, and get an economical ‘environmental’ sermon as well.

Hmmmm.... who talks like that--"usherette," "thinking cap"? And find me a theater (or theatre) where the speakers don't just line the wall, they somehow manage to align it. (It was crooked.) I'm sorry, I can't trust this guy, even though he had the "funnest" time. The more gigantically, in-your-face fun a movie tries to be, especially if it relies on a "thumping soundtrack," the less fun it is for me. Oh, and CGI makes me ill. And an environmental sermonette? No, thanks.

Speaking of global warming ... when I went looking for a law school teaching job 20 years ago, I actually took global warming into account. I ruled out the south because I genuinely believed that within a few years the south would be impossibly hot and the north would become what the south had been. That's what I kept hearing. That's what the sermonettes circa 1983 were preaching! Meanwhile, it's May 25 and it wasn't even 50 degrees when I left the house this morning.

Don't forget your "I Believe" bingo card...

...for tonight's big American Idol finale. (Explained here in the Television Without Pity Idol Speculation thread.)

About those movies....

Tonya's talking about my profile: she hasn't read any of my favorite books and she hasn't seen any of my movies. She thinks I may even have made up a fake title in "Grave of the Fireflies." And she thinks the profile function would be a good way to find a boyfriend ... except that clicking on my movie links either gets you only me or gets a bunch of 18 to 21 year old guys. Guys younger than my sons. Guys who like geocaching, which actually sounds like fun but about which Tonya says "What the hell is that? Is Mark into some freaky stuff?" I think we can safely say Googling is not one of Tonya's interests.

If I wanted to use my profile to search for boyfriends, would I come up with this as a list of favorite movies? Note that it looks like I have a taste for madmen (My Dinner With Andre, Aguirre the Wrath of God, Crumb, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, Dr. Strangelove) or maybe just geeks (Fast Cheap & Out of Control), or lovable old clowns (Limelight, It's a Gift), and I am a feisty outcast (Grey Gardens, The Nights of Cabiria) who enjoys immersing myself in the saddest movie ever made (The Grave of the Fireflies).

Several of those movies make it part of the way into my heart with music: My Dinner With Andre, Crumb, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, Fast Cheap & Out of Control, Limelight, The Nights of Cabiria. To a lesser extent: Aguirre the Wrath of God, Dr. Strangelove.

Several of them affect me because they are about a person profoundly dedicated to art: My Dinner With Andre, Crumb, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, Limelight.

Three of them are about war, but very different aspects of war, all very moving in different ways: Aguirre the Wrath of God (delusional conquest in the jungle, looking for an unknown city, attacked by an unseen enemy), Dr. Strangelove (horrible, hilarious mistakes and nuclear weapons), The Grave of the Fireflies (the struggle to survive in the aftermath of firebombing and defeat).

Anyway, those really are my movies. (If I wanted to seem more serious than I really am, I wouldn't blog about American Idol all the time.) Of Tonya's recent favorite movies, I also love Election and Memento. (A couple other movies I love that are Memento-like are Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, and The Matrix.)

Tonya mentions Wonder Boys, but I have to steer clear of that because I loathe Michael Douglas. Why don't you like Michael Douglas, you might ask, but the question really should be: What is it about everything else you don't like that reminds you of Michael Douglas?

Politics and "the testosteroned."

After writing that last entry, I was struck by this Andrew Sullivan statement:
Josh Marshall has just done a survey of his readers. It's an interesting contrast with mine. First off, the similarities. Josh's readers are 81 percent male; mine are 85 percent male. This is no big surprise: for some reason, political opinion sites (and magazines) always skew toward the testosteroned....

Last night, after Bush's big speech, I listened to some of the analysis, flipping back and forth over the cable news channels (avoiding commercials), and the one comment I kept hearing is that Bush needed to put something in his speech to engage women, and he didn't. Dick Morris leaned on this point. He (or someone else) seemed to think there needs to be special woman-friendly material, something warm and emotional. Maybe some anecdotes about an Iraqi child at school or an Iraqi mother who smiled because of some damn thing we did?

Speaking for myself, but maybe reflecting a few conversations I've had with other women, I just think there are many enjoyable aspects to life, and soaking up political material has a place, but not a huge place. Politicians can't get more of my attention by blabbing about those other aspects of life, though. And I'm annoyed when they waste my time and try my patience by thinking they can appeal to me with such tripe. It's not necessarily that women don't care about the traditional hardcore political issues like war and the economy, just that they are not as interested in spending time going over and over it. Enjoying politics as an avocation is different from caring about the actual political issues.

I've certainly noticed that I get the most traffic on this blog when I've written about a political issue and get linked by another blog that is much more political overall than mine is (e.g., Instapundit). But usually if I say something about politics, I'm speaking as more of a distanced observer of human nature and human folly. I'm interested in the way language is used in politics, because I like to analyze how it affects the human mind and because there is so much humor to be found. And I'm certainly interested enough in human nature to want to contemplate whether I would feel quite differently about all of this if only I was--in Sullivan's slightly inaccurate locution--"testosteroned."

So "for some reason, political opinion sites (and magazines) always skew toward the testosteroned." What is the reason? Well, of course, there's reason not to speculate about the reason. You can't do it without seeming sexist. Sullivan is perhaps well-advised to say "for some reason" and leave it at that. But if I had to speculate, I'd say that men might generally enjoy the feeling of being inside the big conflict, being in the game, and women generally experience politics as stress and discord. I don't think it's that women are more emotional than men, but that different emotions are being felt. I'm a big advocate of reason and think reason is a bridge between the (positions stereotypically associated with the) sexes. Both are concerned about problems and would like to find solutions. Some people feel stimulated by the fight itself and some feel moved to avoid conflict, but all want solutions.

Avoiding the greedy grasp of Presidential politics.

On an interior page of the paper NYT, this front page article ("Campaign Ads Are Under Fire for Inaccuracy") continues alongside this article ("Chance of Delayed Nomination Vexes Boston"). The problem of unfair advertising is getting worse, and the annoyance of having a convention in your town is also getting a lot worse, both because of 9/11 precautions and because you notice it a lot more if it doesn't even accomplish a nomination. Boston, which is hosting the Democratic convention that Kerry might manipulate into a nonnominating event, is undertaking some fairly extreme measures:
Convention organizers recently announced that North Station, one of the city's main commuter rail terminals, will be closed convention week and that miles of busy Interstate 93 will be shut down during evening hours.... Many Boston commuters have said they will take the week off, while others plan to car pool or telecommute. Bars and restaurants near the convention site expect to prosper, but other nearby businesses were considering closing for the week -- even before Kerry's possible convention strategy became public.

The FleetCenter presents special security challenges because of its proximity to North Station, overhead rail lines and the tunnels of the newly completed Big Dig highway project.

Although [Mayor] Menino's office had projected the convention would bring $154 million to the city, two recent studies concluded that the loss of worker productivity and tourism traffic, combined with the cancellation of other events, has turned the gathering into a net loss for Boston.'

You can't ignore a convention taking over your city, but why not ignore those ads, which are obviously not a good way to get information? The fact that all that money is spent is a good indication that ads work, even though, you would think, Americans are pretty savvy about advertising and its distortions. The NYT interviews some experts:
"Even people who don't think there is much information in these ads and say they don't learn anything from them tell us they believe factoids they could only have gotten from these ads, and they're wrong," said Brooks Jackson, director of Factcheck.org, an Annenberg Public Policy Center Web site that vets political advertisements for accuracy. "It's beyond subliminal — it's something else I haven't come up with a name for."

This month the Annenberg Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, released a poll of voters in battleground states that found many believed misleading statements made in the advertisements....

Kenneth M. Goldstein, an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said it was to be expected that the campaigns would take liberties, and that with both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush flush with cash, there was plenty of time for them to answer each other's claims.

"Politics is about putting your best foot forward and putting the other person in the worst light," Mr. Goldstein said. "Do we expect someone who's advertising to say, `You know, I really don't want to put this person's record in the worst light because that's not fair'?"

In the end, Mr. Jackson of Factcheck.org said, all that can be done is to continue to vet commercials for accuracy and try to set the record straight as publicly as possible. That, he said, is an occasionally thankless task:

"I've had consultants tell me, `Your ad ... runs once, my ad runs many times; who's going to win?'"

Well, that's all very depressing, and obviously the vaunted campaign finance reform does nothing to solve these problems. I usually only watch the ads if I want to make fun of them, but I suppose I need to worry that they will affect me subliminally--or beyond subliminally!--even if I think I am completely above their influence. I don't know if I want everyone to skip commercials the way I do, since I appreciate all the free media that is supported by advertisers who are only participating because they do manage to influence people. And, more seriously, I don't think you can clean up the world and purify the processes that influence public opinion. The world would be entirely different if people were forming their political opinions based entirely on true information and rational thought. If people were already elevated to that pure state, the issues that politicians today use to promote themselves probably wouldn't even exist. So I'm not going to wring my hands too much about all the money, the pointless conventions, and the horrible advertisements. It's all part of the messy, complicated world we must live in and can find our own little ways to enjoy. Personally, I'm going to avert my eyes from the vast load of crap that the money is spent on, and try to figure a few things out from the news, and make a decision sometime in late October about who would make the better President.

May 24, 2004

Gay marriage and the coming singles backlash.

Gregg Easterbrook, in this TNR article, anticipates a backlash against gay marriage coming from single persons:
[F]or every gay or lesbian pair who weds, winning benefits, a couple of single people must be taxed more to fund these benefits. Benefits can't just be demanded; someone must provide them. Marriage benefits for gays and lesbians will not come from the pockets of those in traditional one-man-one-woman unions. The benefits will come from the pockets of the single....

A utilitarian might care more about the denial of privileges to the unmarried, than to gays who wish to wed, simply because the numbers in the former category are so much larger. At any rate, complaints from the single seem the next logical progression of this debate, and complaints from the single are going to be hard to rebut.

Easterbrook still supports gay marriage, he's just urging less reliance on the argument that gay persons deserve the various financial benefits available to married persons. But is he really right that singles will complain? He seems to think they are likely to make a lot of noise because they are such a huge group, but they haven't complained much so far about the benefits given to the married, and the sheer size of the group compared to the number of homosexuals who want to get married means that the cost of new benefits will be spread out so much that it won't be noticed. And even aside from that, why assume that the cost of the new benefits won't be offset by savings elsewhere? Even if gay married persons receive some new benefits, they may become happier, more stable, more productive citizens so that the net effect on the community is positive.

Bloggers and the literary agent who is trying to reach them.

The New Yorker has a piece about a literary agent, Kate Lee, who searches for bloggers to represent. In this search, she spends an hour a day reading blogs. (An hour!) The hitch is, they have to be willing to produce books:
Sometimes she writes to a blogger only to get the e-mail equivalent of a blank stare. The pseudonymous author of The Minor Fall, The Major Lift was particularly unreceptive. “What am I going to write a book about?” he replied. …

[W]hile she loves her bloggers, and has faith in them, it can be difficult to get them to be productive. “They all have day jobs,” she pointed out. Writing anything longer than a blog post is a commitment they don’t always seem up for.

Isn’t it just possible that people who blog blog precisely because they like this literary form? It’s not as if the idea of writing a book wouldn’t occur to a person without the prodding of a literary agent.

MORE: And I love the assumption that writing a book would be more time consuming. You can write a 365 page book in a year if you write a page a day. Don't you think the bloggers who impressed Lee were writing at least a page a day? It seems to me that the bloggers she contacted who didn't want to write books were genuinely interested in writing blogs, writing time-stamped entries that immediately reach out to the whole world. I'll bet the really good bloggers are generally much more "up" and energetic than your average novelist. A blogger has to leave entries every day, and the entries have to be good enough to make people want to come back. I have a sneaking suspicion a good percentage of novelists have long unproductive spells and are among the least up people around. And finally, if Lee really is interested in bloggers, why doesn't she have a more positive attitude toward blogging? I mean, aside from the fact that there is no role for the agent in blogging.

The self-Googling vice becomes a virtue.

The Corner links to this article, which advises people to self-Google every day to monitor their own reputations. It used to be considered egotistical to Google your own name, but now people who have been careful to maintain their own modesty can go right ahead and self-Google because it has been recast as a virtue of sorts. One must guard against slander.

A problem I have doing this is that my first name, being annoyingly plain (annoyingly plain), is used to great excess as a middle name. So even though I've never run across another Ann Althouse, there are enough (blank) Ann Althouses to gum up the self-Googling. That said, I always rather enjoy re-encountering Lydia Ann Althouse who appears in this 1861 case.
Commonwealth vs. Lydia Ann Althouse — Assault and battery, on complaint of John Hinkle, Jr., of Richland township. The defendant is the wife of Mathias Althouse, whose name also appears in the report of the proceedings of this term. The prosecutor is the constable of Richland township, and having an execution in his hands against Mr. Althouse, went to where he lived to levy on some of the property, when it was claimed by the defendant as hers. The constable being disposed to disregard her claim, she assaulted and beat him – and hence this complaint. The goods, were however seized, and sold by the constable, and a civil suit is now pending by the defendant against the constable for damages therefrom. This prosecution for assault and battery was now settled by the parties, and a nol pros. entered. Gilkyson for Commonwealth.

That was pretty feisty of her.

And here's a discussion I'd never seen before. It's amusing to see that a bunch of people found something I wrote a while back funny.

But actually, it's too much trouble to wade through most of this stuff. Maybe it's better to stick with the low tech practice of just worrying about what people might be saying about you!

Monday in Madison.

I'm going with alliterative titles now whenever possible, because my alliterative title over the weekend snagged me a couple of key links and produced the second highest traffic I've ever gotten for a single post.

It's a gloomy Monday morning in Madison, with the temperature not yet up to 50 degrees. At least a new, albeit miniature, semester is beginning, a three-week intersession. That means there will be a few more people around, and the in-house snack bar has reopened. Normally, at this time of year, I'd look forward to a jaunt down State Street for a mellow work session in one of the cafés, and the snack bar wouldn't be important. But the weather has been not just cold but threatening. So I will hole up in my office today and do some writing of an academic, not bloggy, kind and grade a segment of exams.

Nothing in the news or at the links I normally check in the morning is inspiring me to write something here at the moment, so I will get to work and maybe come back later.

May 23, 2004

Sopranos! Look out for the glass! Kumquats!

What a truly great episode of The Sopranos! I just have a completely off to the side remark. When Tony was watching TV, the movie was It's a Gift, which is officially one of my favorite movies (see my profile). "Look out for the glass, Mr. Muckle!" "Where are my kumquats?"

Tagliatelle Bolognese ... with tornado.

I don't spend much time cooking, and I normally go to great lengths to avoid setting foot in a grocery store, but when I saw this recipe in the NYT Magazine today, I tore out the page, got in my car, drove to the store, bought all the ingredients on the list, drove home, and immediately put together the meat sauce. As I was checking out with the ingredients and some extra bottles of red wine, the young man behind me in line said, "I want go to your party." So now the sauce is almost done--it needs to cook for 3 hours--and the pasta water is coming to a boil. If there is one food I love it's Bolognese meat sauce. For many years, I've used the recipe in this book. I'm not really looking to replace that fine, fine recipe, but ... YIKES!! The tornado warning just went off!!! Ah, don't worry about me .... I'm well positioned near my basement door and ready to seek shelter if I see some significant wind activity from this vantage point. I'm not going to the basement yet though. Because I'm still hungry.... and I fully intend to eat some pasta if it's the last thing I do.

UPDATE: I'm still alive. The tornado warning is over. And the old recipe is still the best. The new one is fine, but if you want to invest three hours in sauce-making, go with Marcella Hazan's recipe.

Convention drama, convention cliché.

William Safire, the former speechwriter, displayed some speechwriter vanity on Meet the Press when he was asked about Kerry's proposal to refrain from accepting the Democratic nomination at the convention. Safire said it would be "the stupidest move that John Kerry could possibly make." Why? His whole point was: could you imagine leaving out the classic applause line "I accept the nomination," which has been written into the candidates' speeches for 200 years? So that's the real issue: how to write the speech? (Actually a truly arrogant speechwriter would believe there were plenty of elegant ways to draw cheers and applause while refraining from actual acceptance.)

But is it even true that there have been 200 years of conventions culminating in candidates proclaiming "I accept"? According to William Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, before FDR went to a convention in 1932 to accept, the convention would take place and a delegation would travel to the candidate to tell him that he had been nominated weeks later. 200 years, 70 years--how accurate do we have to be? But, really, it seems to me that the key date is 1968, when the lesson was learned that you've got to have a disciplined convention that frames and flatters the candidate, not a real-life event of any kind. The convention is a big advertisement, and, in that setting, it's become a tradition to make the statement "I accept" feel like a dramatic climax, even though it is really a big, boring cliché.

So can you imagine a convention without that big dramatic moment? I'll answer Safire's question. Yes, I could live without that phoney climax. I'd miss my chance to quip from the sofa, "Wouldn't it be funny if he said no?" But I'd survive. In fact, I'd like to see the entire convention eliminated. It's just a big show, and it's not even an entertaining show. Please credit $14 million dollars to the U.S. Treasury and get off my television!