September 7, 2004

"THX 1138."

George Lucas's first film, "THX 1138," is about to come out as a "director's cut" DVD. You can pre-order it on Amazon and get "at no additional cost--a collectible aluminum replica of the THX 1138 ear tag featured on the DVD packaging art (while supplies last)." Good thing it's collectible, because I wouldn't want an aluminum replica of an ear tag that somehow stood in the way of my collecting it. And what does it even mean to collect a single item? If there's only one, isn't it just ... keepable? A keepsake? And what is the charm of an ear tag anyway? I'd like to run across someone actually wearing a THX 1138 ear tag, just to test the image I have in my head of the kind of guy who would wear a THX 1138 ear tag. I'll just leave it at that.

I won't be buying this DVD, even with the added incentive of the ear tag, because I've seen this movie. I saw it when it came out in 1971, and I consider that a bit of a distinction, because it was a pretty obscure movie. The name George Lucas meant nothing then. Francis Ford Coppola produced this movie, but it was still a year before "The Godfather." Back in those days we had a bit of a thing for "You're a Big Boy Now," the 1966 Francis Ford Coppola movie, but I doubt if that was the draw. As nearly as I can remember, we just liked science fiction movies. "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Green Slime"--whatever. And "THX 1138" was "supposed to be good," which was enough. I saw this movie at a drive-in that summer (the same summer when I saw Alice Cooper in concert--or thereabouts). I was stranded in southern New Jersey. You know how you feel when you've gone away to college and then you come back in the summer and live with your parents? But it was worse because my parents moved right after I graduated from high school. So instead of going back to Wayne, New Jersey, where I knew people and could easily get to New York City, I had to go to Blackwood, New Jersey, a desolate place--literally "The Pine Barrens" (that is not just the name of an episode of "The Sopranos").

It was really dull and depressing, somewhere along the White Horse Pike, midway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City (pre-gambling Atlantic City). The closest thing to anything to do there was to play pinball in a bowling alley. I've only been punched in the face once in my life, and it was in the parking lot of that bowling alley. I made fun of the words to "Born to Run" yesterday, but "a death trap ... a suicide rap" is about how it felt. People think of those early Bruce Springsteen songs as being about New Jersey, but they are about southern New Jersey, and it really was an awful place to be in the early 1970s. People in New York who laugh at New Jersey are talking about northern New Jersey. Southern New Jersey is a big step down.

But we did have a drive-in, and they were playing "THX 1138." I remember that the set was blank white, but not in the happy "Isaac Mizrahi Show" way, in the extreme sensory deprivation way. And--if I remember correctly--everyone was dressed in white, had shaved heads, and spoke in a flat, lifeless way. I was already living in southern New Jersey and that was already more sensory deprivation than I could take. Normally, I loved bleak cinema: we saw every Ingmar Bergman double feature that played at Cinema Guild during the school year back in Ann Arbor, and, believe me, Cinema Guild showed a lot of Bergman double features. But that summer, in that place, in a drive-in, "THX 1138" was profoundly, profoundly boring.

So I will not be competing with all you ear tag collectors and George Lucas fans. In my alphabetized DVD bookcase, "Three Kings" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" will for now remain side-by-side.

UPDATE: Chris points out that "THX 1138" is getting a theatrical release too.

Tuesday in Madison.

The new school week starts, a day late. The morning is spent reading cases about the Constitution's religion clauses and teaching the class at 11--lots of good discussion, both in class and after class. I tried to memorize the 33 names on the seating chart before class today, then in class, I kept getting the names slightly wrong. I'll get the first letter right, for example. I called Mike Matt, a mistake caused by my mnemonic device, which let me know it was an "M" name, and my readiness to say Matt, which seems to be a really popular name for this cohort. (You know what has become a really popular name in recent years, that I've never run into anyone in Madison actually having for a name? Madison.)

But now it's time for a little lunch and some fresh air, so I walk down Bascom Hill and into the Library Mall. There's the Red Gym and lots of students enjoying the day:



The view toward State Street, with food carts. Notice anything about that tree? It's this tree. See the remnants of the art project?



I go to Fair Trade Coffeeshop and set up at a little table by the window. The garden tables look enticing, but I like it here by the flowers.



The table seems a little wobbly, so I set my coffee mug on the windowsill.



I start to download my photographs. I like this one of a lamppost plastered with leaflets, with a bit of a view of Park Street, as it runs toward the lake.





And here are the nice sidewalk cafés along State Street.



But what is this strange image? Some message from the spirit world? Somehow it's well composed and intriguing. I don't know what it is, but I like it.



And what is this? A leftover photograph from the blogger dinner last Thursday. I was struggling to upload my photos and for some reason, I decided to photograph my struggle. Man, look at the beautiful torte and that lovely glass of cognac. How can I have put a computer on that table! But I wasn't the first. Look, there in the upper right corner of this picture. That's Jeremy's computer.



September 6, 2004

The grandiose propagandist.

Filmmaker Michael Moore gloats (via Drudge):
My pollster friend told me that he believes if Kerry wins, "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be one of the top three reasons for his election.
Yes, why don't you just go ahead and take credit in advance? One thing about Moore, which is kind of a safeguard against Moore: his ego is bigger than his desire to help the candidate he supports. Moore wants his movie "Fahrenheit 911" to air on television before the election, but the mean old DVD distributor says it would violate the contract. But the greater problem, he asserts, is sacrificing Oscar eligibility:
Academy rules forbid the airing of a documentary on television within nine months of its theatrical release (fiction films do not have the same restriction).

Although I have no assurance from our home video distributor that they would allow a one-time television broadcast -- and the chances are they probably won't -- I have decided it is more important to take that risk and hope against hope that I can persuade someone to put it on TV, even if it's the night before the election.

Therefore, I have decided not to submit "Fahrenheit 9/11" for consideration for the Best Documentary Oscar. If there is even the remotest of chances that I can get this film seen by a few million more Americans before election day, then that is more important to me than winning another documentary Oscar.
I love the way he flaunts his willingness to forgo an Oscar, when the home video contract also prevents him from intruding himself into the last days of the presidential campaign. It's obviously not going to be on TV, so the gesture of stepping out of the Documentary Oscar category obviously has other motives. Isn't it hugely big of him to forgo the Documentary Oscar for the sake of the greater good, when it doesn't make him ineligible for the Best Picture Oscar? Read for yourself how Moore asserts that he was a sure bet to win the Documentary Oscar, so that his withdrawing will give some of the lesser documentarians--whose success he made possible!--a chance.

How is Moore disadvantaged in any way in all of this? He gets to parade as some sort of political saint, promote his DVD, and put pressure on the Academy to nominate him for Best Picture! Does this grandiose character even help Kerry? But I'm not going to feel sorry for Kerry until he distances himself from this propangandist!

"Of course I pitied the children."

From a surviving Beslan terrorist:
"Of course I pitied the children, I swear to Allah. I have children myself. I didn't shoot. I swear to Allah," he said. "I don't want to die. I swear to Allah, I want to live."
I was going to call this post "Abject cowardice," but I just heard on a Fox News broadcast that some of the Beslan terrorists did not know that children were going to be the hostages and had the humanity to refuse to participate when they saw what they had gotten themselves involved in. According to the news report, these persons were killed. Conceivably, the quoted terrorist was another who was willing to participate initially and actually did withdraw his support when he saw the children. It is impossible for me to imagine people so evil that they would do the things that took place at Beslan, and a relief to think that at least some of those who willingly participate in the lowest evil still have something beyond what they will do.

If this man really refused to kill children, why was he not killed like the others? Conceivably, he hid his noncompliance with the others and avoided the fate of those who openly objected. Whether he pulled the trigger or not, he is still a murderer, because he went too far into the conspiracy to back out and avoid responsibility for their acts. My first thought with respect to this terrorist who survived was: he'll say anything now, begging for his own life. So I'm not inclined to believe him, yet even though I think he's loathsome to try to avoid his guilt, I take some shred of solace in his plea "I want to live." The inhumanity of persons who reject their own lives has been one of the most appalling aspects of terrorism. Loathsome as it is to try to beg for your life when you were willing to kill others, it is at least a very human form of loathsomeness. There is some small hope in that.

Necco Wafers redux: the Catholic version.

One of the nice things about having this blog is that former students of mine happen upon it and drop me an email. Yesterday, I heard from a student who attended the Law School back in the mid-80s when I was just starting out. What particularly amused me about the email was that she commented on what I have always considered my most obscure post, the Necco Wafers post! The former student wrote:
By the way, as a Catholic kid, Necco wafers were THE candy we all used to play "Communion". We meant no disrespect...we just wanted to practice receiving the Body of Christ before we actually got to do it for real in 2nd grade.

I wrote back and asked if I could quote her and if she wanted to be named, and she said yes. Her name is Ruth Anne Adams. In her email reply she added some detail:
In our house of 3 daughters and one son, it was an elaborate rainy-day activity. My brother who was an altar boy back when it only could be boys was de facto the priest. He wore his blue robe backwards [closest he had to black in his closet], so as to look clerical. We were post-Vatican II kids, so we didn't fashion a kneeling rail. Anyway, the three girls would rotate through the line until the package of wafers was nearly exhausted. Then my brother would return to the "altar" [piano bench] and consume the remaining hosts. We didn't have a pretend ciboria or tabernacle, so all the hosts had to be consumed. I'm pretty sure this is a universal experience, with minor variations, for the cradle Catholic kids. I've checked. You know, once is an anecdote; thrice is a trend.

Consult Shrinkette.

The blogging psychiatrist. She just got started yesterday. (I noticed because she linked to me.) She's promising to do political commentary with some psychiatric expertise on subjects like: "Does Zell Miller really have a psychiatric diagnosis (as many bloggers have decreed)?" and (in response to Frank Rich's "How Kerry Became a Girlie-Man") "Is every contest between powerful males inevitably a macho slugfest, with primitive, libidinous, murderous undertones, and is the weaker opponent always an emasculated, pitiable loser?"

Ideas for the official Wisconsin state rock song: Part I .

Earlier today, I asked readers to email suggestions for the official state rock song. I'm getting some good email, so I'm going to do a Part I post. More parts to come (presumably). If you're in a state other than Wisconsin (or Ohio, which already has a state rock song), feel free copy the idea and try to get an appropriate song for your state. Or country. Feel free to send me ideas for the official United States rock song. My choice is not "Surfin' U.S.A." and of course not "Born in the U.S.A." ("You end up like a dog that's been beat too much") or "Living in the U.S.A." ("We're living in a plastic land"). It's clearly and definitely "Back in in the U.S.A."! ("Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A./Yes, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A./Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.").

But back to Wisconsin: keep sending Wisconsin suggestions. And here's what I've got so far.

As expected, I'm getting some cheese-based ideas. But another Wisconsin product, motorcycles, seems much more suitable for a good rock song. In that vein, one reader suggests Bob Seger's "Roll Me Away," which expresses some appropriate sentiments. The rider starts out in Mackinaw City, and the question is does he take Route 75 south on his way out to California, or does he go north, via the Upper Peninsula so that key events in the song take place in Wisconsin? "Twelve hours out of Mackinaw City/Stopped in a bar to have a brew…" I say he took the northern route: first, it's much more scenic and in the spirit of the motorcycle, and, second, he had "a brew" in a bar and that sounds like Wisconsin. It also gets in a plug for a second Wisconsin product. On the downside: local do-gooders will not like alcohol in the state rock song, especially in the driving context. I'll just note that he says "a brew." The emailer notes that the singer meets a woman in the bar—"definitely a Wisconsin woman"—and that as the lyric goes on she "misses her home and heads back (which I think is a common story for Wisconsinites who leave then come back.)" The song also has a hawk, as a symbol of hope, and we have some fine hawks here in Wisconsin. So I like this idea.

To follow Ohio's lead, you could look for who the Wisconsin musicians are. I see there's Steve Miller, who wrote "Living in the U.S.A.," mentioned above. There's also "Space Cowboy," where he says "I told you 'bout living in the U.S. of A." and explains why he prefers space:
I was born on this rock [in Wisconsin]
And I've been travelin' through space
Since the moment I first realized
What all you fast talkin' cats would do if you could
You know, I'm ready for the final surprise.

Now, that's just too pessimistic. It reminds me of how New Jersey once contemplated making "Born to Run … the unofficial rock theme of our State's youth" (here's the resolution)(don't ask me why they would go to so much trouble to make it unofficial!). But the lyrics really aren't what the state ought to be saying to the youngsters:
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young …

"Rips the bones from your back"? What kind of an attitude is that? Personally, I would vote against any Springsteen song for the Wisconsin rock song, because he's too associated with that other state. And, since he's endorsed Kerry, we can't get both campaigns to play us our song.

One Wisconsin band suggestion is "Closer To Free" by the Waukesha band, the BoDeans. The words are appropriate, I think:
Everybody wants respect
Just a little bit
And everybody needs a chance
Once in a while
Everybody wants to be
Closer to Free

Not a bad idea!

UPDATE: An emailer notes that there is this album, "Viva Wisconsin," by the Wisconsin group Violent Femmes. I don't think we need an official state rock album, and I don't know the album, so someone else will have to suggest a song. Some of these titles--like "Dahmer Is Dead"--make me suspect that nothing is going to express the right sentiment.

Observing Labor Day.

In observation of Labor Day and the time-honored labor tradition of getting paid for working, I'm adding an Amazon PayPage for this blog. I love writing this blog--I love my regular job too--but it seems appropriate to make it possible for readers to support my work here and to help me cover some of my expenses. I've written over 300,000 words and almost 1300 posts since starting the blog on January 14th. Check the SiteMeter and see that it is about to hit to the quarter-million mark, after hitting 100,000 less than a month ago. So I've picked up a lot of new readers lately. Maybe some of you, new or old, will be in the mood to chip in a dollar or a few dollars just to show you care. Whether you do or not, thanks for reading. It's a huge gratification just to see that there are so many people reading this!

Absent tools.

Kerry senior advisor Tad Devine blames Kerry's failure to convey a clear message on the lack of a sufficient number of advertisements in the last five weeks:
"If you want to deliver a powerful message, you need all the means of message-delivery at your disposal. Absent those tools and those means it's just harder to deliver that kind of message."

Having a clear message might help too.

Bush campaign music, especially "Hang On Sloopy."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in today's NYT about the music used by the Bush campaign. I took note the other day of the Kerry campaign's use of the Springsteen song "No Surrender," so let me take a look at the Bush campaign's selections. They've got a new video that uses "Taking Care of Business," and they follow something called the Karl Rove rule, according to campaign strategist Mark McKinnon:
"We go by the Karl Rove rule," Mr. McKinnon said, referring to the president's 53-year-old political adviser. "If Rove has heard it, we can't use it."
Hmmm.... Karl Rove and I are the same age. Same age as Rush Limbaugh too (Rush and I were born on the very same day). Karl Rove doesn't know "Taking Care of Business"? I guess it's not terribly hard to find songs he hasn't heard.

The Bush campaign is really sick of "Eye of the Tiger":
"We finally sent out the mandate that if anybody plays 'Eye of the Tiger' again we're going to come out and kill them," Mr. McKinnon said.
They also play "Hang On Sloopy," supposedly, according to McKinnon because it's "so old it's cool." Wait, I think "Hang On Sloopy" has always been cool. It was cool when it came out, it was cool in the 70s, and it was cool in the 80s. When wasn't it cool? Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is one song that did not have to age to regain coolness.

The Times notes that it's the "official rock song of Ohio State University," and they were playing it in Ohio, which, we all know, is the single most important state in the union. This is an election about what Ohio wants, it seems, so by all means, play them their song.

Wisconsin is a swing state too, not as big as Ohio, but I bet we could make them cater to our taste too. But we don't have an official rock song, so I think we ought to have one. Email me at althouse at wisc dot edu with some ideas for an official rock song for Wisconsin. I don't like our rival Ohio having one and not us. We've already got a better state song, so maybe that means we don't need a state rock song, but it would be interesting to try to think up what the right state rock song would be.

If you're wondering why "Hang On Sloopy" is the state rock song for Ohio, you can read the actual resolution here. The "whereas" clauses include:
WHEREAS, In 1965, an Ohio-based rock group known as the McCoys reached the top of the national record charts with "Hang On Sloopy," and ...

WHEREAS, If fans of jazz, country-and-western, classical, Hawaiian and polka music think those styles also should be recognized by the state, then by golly, they can push their own resolution just like we're doing; and ...

WHEREAS, Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town, and everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down; and ... therefore be it

Resolved ...
UPDATE: Maybe I'm too hard on the New York Times. I appreciated this article quite a bit, and I loved learning about "Hang On Sloopy," but did you notice the Times referred to it as the "official rock song of Ohio State University," when research shows it's the official rock song of the whole state?

As I write this, I can hear the UW marching band practicing playing "On Wisconsin!"--which is not just our official school song, it's our official state song. For an early post discussing my interest in state songs, go here. You can see all the Wisconsin state symbols there, including the state fossil (trilobite!). I remembered blogging about the state motto, "Forward," and I found the post back here in mid-February. It turns out it's a post about John Kerry being boring by working "Forward" into a speech he gave in Wisconsin.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I've gotten some email doubting that "Hang On Sloopy" is really the official rock song of the state of Ohio, so I did a little Nexis search and found plenty of confirmation, including a March 14, 1999 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written by Joe Dirck. Here are some highlights:
14 years ago I led the successful drive to have "Hang On Sloopy" named Ohio's official rock song.

It started as sort of a joke. The state of Washington was considering making "Louie, Louie" its state rock song, and I suggested in a column in the old Columbus Citizen-Journal that Ohio adopt "Sloopy," which never fails to send Ohio State fans into a frenzy when the OSU marching band plays it at football games.

Well, the thing took on a life of its own. A team of morning radio jocks ran with the idea, and pretty soon there were "Sloopy" rallies and petition drives being held around town. … I picked my sponsors carefully. …

Well, I don't want to brag, but we won. Big. It passed at a festive session marked by the OSU band performing its rendition of "Sloopy" in the hallowed chamber. …

Answers to two recent blogpolls.

On Saturday, I asked readers to guess which one of three performers--Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, or Alice Cooper--I had seen in concert, and then Sunday, I asked readers to spot the lie in a particular post about the construction of Madison's Overture Center. I've been checking the results all along and find it interesting how stable the numbers are, which gives me some inkling of why actual scientifically done polling based on relatively small numbers is reliable. And not only has the pattern of answers in both polls stayed about the same all along, but the answers have been correct! I saw Alice Cooper (and only Alice Cooper) in concert and I completely lied when I asserted a belief that the dome is "beautiful." So, now, why did people do so well getting those answers? Do readers know me so well and am I that knowable on the question of what concert I would happen to have seen and what I would lie about, or were both questions surrounded by clues and cues that helped people guess correctly?

The easier question, by far, is spot the lie. With five potential answers, purely random guessing would lead to more errors, but having more answers dilutes the strength of the random-guesser vote. And two answers are quite unlikely to be lies ("gleaming" and "elegant," which came in at the bottom of the vote, with 8.5% and 11% respectively). Also near the bottom was the fussy-about-facades answer, with 11.4% of the vote. Of course, a place like Madison would tend to have historical preservationist types who would get involved in a big project like this. The second place answer, that I find random junk "picturesque" still only got 28.9% of the vote. People were attracted to this answer above the other wrong answers, I assume, for the obvious reason that junk is not in fact "picturesque." Regular readers might remember earlier pictures of junk on this blog and know to avoid this answer. The correct answer--that the dome is "beautiful"--got 40.2% of the vote. I'm thinking people got this because they were looking at the picture and did not themselves think the dome was beautiful. Certainly, it does not approach the beauty of the other dome in the picture, the one on the state capitol building. By the way, I regret writing "I knew I was lying" in the post setting up the poll, because it implies that one can tell a lie without knowing it is untrue, and I am critical of people who do that in political debates. And I was even alluding to the political slogan "Bush lied!" in the title of the poll ("Althouse lied!").

But, now, why did you guess that I would have seen Alice Cooper (51.2%) of the vote and not Pink Floyd (34%) or Bruce Springsteen (14.8%)? My theory is that you thought about my present day motivation to ask the question. Since Alice Cooper was the most interesting choice, I probably felt like doing that particular poll because Alice Cooper was the answer. It's too boring to have gone to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and that's why that answer came in last. Thus, correct answering doesn't really have anything to do with an understanding of my musical taste. In fact, it's pretty random that I even went to see Alice Cooper at all. It was a long, long time ago, by the way. It was back when "I'm Eighteen" was a hit (1971). I'm not even sure if "School's Out" was out yet (1972). It was the summer of either 1971 or 1972, in an obscure part of southern New Jersey, and my younger brother wanted to go to the concert. Even though I thought it was embarrassing to go to an Alice Cooper concert--people my age (20 at the time) considered him a joke--I loved the single "I'm Eighteen," so I went. There was an elaborate stage show, which I can't remember anything about. I do remember, I think, that at one point he stripped off a layer of his costume and had on a skin-tight gold lamé body suit, and that was the sort of thing that just wasn't done at the time by anybody my friends would respect. In fact, I remember Iggy Stooge performing on campus (at the University of Michigan) in 1969 or 1970 and everyone shaking their heads and expressing pity for this late-stage has-been who was taking off his shirt, writhing on the ground, and suddenly stooping to the pathetic ploy of renaming himself Iggy Pop. How astounded we would have been if we could have known that 35 years later these two would still be around and would be respected and that Iggy would still look good with his shirt off.

UPDATE: One of the reasons we thought Alice Cooper was a joke was because he was seen as a Frank Zappa side project, a Zappa prank. The album I listened to every day back then was "The Mothers Live at the Fillmore East," which includes some comical references to Alice Cooper:
Well, it gets me so hot
I could scream
ALICE COOPER, ALICE COOPER! WAAAAH!
ALICE COOPER, ALICE COOPER! WAAAAH!

You can read all the lyrics here. [Not for the faint-hearted.] I still love that album! People who love the song "Happy Together" but don't know "Live at the Fillmore East" are missing a key perspective.

September 5, 2004

"Hero."

I almost never go to the movies anymore. I used to go out to the movies two or three times a week and watch movies almost every day on videotape/DVD. But for some reason, a year or so ago, I lost interest in watching movies, not that I've turned against movies, just that on any given day, I don't feel like spending my time watching a movie. In the last year, I think I've only gone out to see "The House of Sand and Fog," "Kill Bill--Volume 1," "Kill Bill--Volume 2," and "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." So, clearly, it takes a lot to draw me into a movie theater. I've tried to analyze why. Sometimes I say I don't like committing to the physical confinement of two hours stuck in a chair. Sometimes I complain about the people: Why are they eating and drinking so much and walking in and out of the theater? Maybe it's that I'm never bored when I'm on my own and always bored some of the time when I'm at a movie, and I'm just trying to avoid having to be bored. Maybe it's that movies are really made for other people, not for me. For example, I detest "women's" movies like "The Hours" or "The English Patient." And "action" always bores me. Sometimes I encounter a movie I really love. In recent years, I loved "Memento" and "Fight Club." But the chances are high that I'm not going to like a movie, so I just don't want to make a commitment.

But, as I said a while back, I wanted to see "Hero." My primary reason: Beauty. I want to see beauty, and I had plenty of reason to see that this was a movie that went very far toward the extreme of cinematic beauty. So today, we went to see "Hero." I fixed my eyes on the beauty of the images and that caused me to miss a subtitle here and there, and pretty soon, I had to admit to myself: I don't understand the story! God forbid they should use dubbing instead of subtitles! Though the letters on the screen mar the image, the attitude about dubbing versus subtitles is so intense that they simply have to stick with subtitles. Snobs would denounce a dubbed art movie. But this movie would have been much better dubbed, because you have to choose between reading the text and seeing the grand images. I made my choice, then I had no idea what was going on, and as time passed, the images began to bore me. I started thinking things like: Has there ever been a movie with so much swirling, blowing fabric? And what's with all the cast of thousands? Why do they sometimes shoot a million arrows simultaneously and sometimes just stand back and allow the fate of a nation to be determined by two people having a sword fight? I could tell this was a movie that was designed to make other people very excited and to feel deep feelings. I didn't feel it.

This movie has gotten incredibly good reviews. Critics can see, as anyone can, that the filmmakers cared deeply about beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, beautiful shots, beautiful landscapes, beautiful images. It is hard not to give credit for that. But I did go to the movie out of a love and desire for beauty, and it left me cold, so I am going to have to admit that. I had an "English Patient" reaction: Everyone else is saying this is great, and these two lovers suffering in a grand landscape is supposed to be mindbendingly tragic, but I'm not feeling it and I'm resenting feeling that I'm supposed to be feeling it.

Interview with the would-be SLOTUS.

So, Elizabeth Edwards, you have a husband who tons of women think is incredibly attractive, and you're asked what's it like traveling around now without him, and this is what you come up with:
Since I quit traveling with my husband, I no longer have the air-conditioner set so high in the hotel room, so I am not getting sick anymore.

In other words: he was making you sick!

And you, elite New York Times Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon, you want to ask a question about Elizabeth Edwards' campaign efforts meeting with groups of women, and here's how you ask it:
You've been making an effort to meet with groups of women. It reminds me of Tupperware parties.

What the hell? This reminds me of the way years ago men would refer to any group of women as a "kaffeklatsch." But I think Solomon's theory of this interview is to try to push Edwards to reveal that she doesn't appreciate being relegated to a retrograde women's role, because later she asks, "Do you find it hard to play the role of the submissive wife?" and "Do you ever wish that you, not your husband, were the candidate for vice president?" Of course, Edwards is savvy enough not to take the bait.

Great new "Hardball" ad.

The ad for "Hardball" that ran midway through this morning's "Meet the Press" featured a clip of Zell Miller saying to Matthews, that quote for the ages: "I wish we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel." (And also ZM's "Get out of my face!") Is that duel challenge a real gift to Matthews? It does also call attention to Matthews propensity for talking way too much and interrupting people. But maybe that hilarious interchange can make people think that Matthews is quite a lot of fun ... as opposed to incredibly annoying.

The time I outright lied on this blog.

I really do try to be honest on this blog, but last night, I had to admit that there was one time when I just plain lied. I knew I was lying and I just went ahead and did it anyway. It's in this post. See if you can spot it:



UPDATE: The correct answer is discussed here.

"How 'Flex Time' Became a Republican Idea."

Is it "simply a scam to avoid overtime payment"?

The Kerry that didn't roar.

Regular readers of this blog will know why this paragraph--from an article written by Adam Nagourny and Jodi Wilgoren--on the front page of today's NYT caught my eye:
President Bush roared out of his New York convention last week, leaving many Democrats nervous about the state of the presidential race and pressing Senator John Kerry to torque up what they described as a wandering and low-energy campaign.
Yes, it's "roared." Friday's New York Times had an article, which I blogged about here, that began:
Roaring back at his Republican rivals, Senator John Kerry called President Bush "unfit to lead this country" for "misleading'' America into war in Iraq and said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney avoided fighting in the Vietnam War.
I found it a little hard to believe that Kerry was "roaring," and today, with two days to cool off from the post-convention mania, the Times is seeing Bush as the roaring one, and Kerry as still having failed to roar. I was thinking of roaring in terms of a lion, but now I'm thinking it's more of a motorcycle: Bush "roaring out of" New York, and Kerry needing to "torque up." As I wrote on Friday, the Kerry roaring was mostly a matter of the Times's wishful thinking. I've watched the whole Kerry midnight speech, and I don't think it's much of a roar in the sense of the lion (noise and fierce fighting) or the motorcycle (noise and momentum).

But as to this article today, the one that has Bush doing the roaring and Kerry "wandering and low-energy," it seems that everyone is constantly badgering Kerry to fight harder, to do more, to emphasize domestic policy and not national security or vice versa, and telling him to become "more engaged." What is the poor guy supposed to do? He was already trying to do all of that with the midnight speech. How can he do more without seeming unhinged, which is the kiss of death, as Howard Dean knows? Do something! Anything! people seem to be telling him. Don't be so "cautious," so stodgy! But isn't all of that to say, his style and image were never very good? He got the nomination when Dean's candidacy imploded, and he got it because he was just standing around, being the most normal, solid, grown-up person left on the stage. He is what he is. If he tries to change, he will seem bizarre. Remember in 2000, when Al Gore radically changed his style after each debate? Long ago, it was a brilliant strategy to "let Nixon be Nixon." Let Kerry be Kerry.

Of course, Kerry does seem to be on the path to defeat right now, so his supporters can't help panicking and find it hard not to yammer a lot of (conflicting) advice at him. But I think his best chance lies in continuing to be the lumbering, dull but solid and grown-up guy that he is, so that when election day finally comes and the excitement-seeking is over, people will look at him and say--perhaps: Yes, he's a frightful bore, but put him in the office and he'll probably earnestly work hard and make a decent share of good-enough judgments, which is all we really ever hope for anyway.

"We never knew how happy we were."

C.J. Chivers, in the NYT, writes the story of the Beslan tragedy.
People did what they could to take care of themselves, shedding clothes to cool down, and tearing apart textbooks to use as fans. "For two days I was continually waving my arm to fan my children," Ms. Bekoyeva said. [Paper copy adds: "They kept asking for more.] ...

Azamat recalled one terrorist, a man with a short beard whom the others called Ali, saying, "Have you ever seen such kind terrorists?" ...

Another boy who survived, Atsomaz Ktsoyev, 14, said the hostages were so hungry they ate the floral bouquets they had brought to school for the first day of class. "I never thought in my life I'd be eating flowers," he said. ...

Others who survived dived for shelter, pressing flat. Emma said Azamat fell atop her and his younger brother, trying to cover their bodies and hold them to the gymnasium's floor. "He said to me, 'Don't be afraid,' " she said.

September 4, 2004

Who says "strong"?

Joe Klein on Tim Russert's CNBC show this evening:
One thing I'd like to do is check and see how many times the President used the word "strong" or "strength" in his speech ... on Thursday night. I don't think it was very many. John Kerry used it again and again and again. Only someone who, kind of, on some level thinks he's weak or thinks the public thinks he's weak is going to use the word "strong" so often.
This is a good point, but I can't understand why Klein, if he was planning to make this comment, didn't locate the text of the speeches and actually do the count. Here, I'm going to do it, over here on my little blog. Bush said "strong" twice, neither time referring to himself (the references are to the Prime Minister of Iraq and to military families). He said "strength" four times, again, never referring to himself (the references are to Americans, to his wife, to "American strength" (which should be used "to advance freedom"), and to military families). Kerry says "strong" or "stronger" 21 times, also not directly referring to himself, and "strength" five times. That took less than five minutes to figure out. Come on, Klein!

UPDATE: Typo corrected: I had "Joel" for "Joe," as an emailer pointed out. Sorry.

Kerry's late night speech.

I've been trying to capture a clip of John Kerry giving that late night speech after the convention closed on Thursday. I wrote about the NYT article about the speech and made fun of the Times's characterization of the speech as "roaring," so I really wanted to see some actually footage of the event. Why aren't we seeing it? Did he look too ridiculous? I TiVo'd hours of news analysis shows on three cable news networks on Friday, and no one had any film of it.

Anyway, I was just looking for the text of his remarks, which I didn't find, but I did find an additional quote from the speech that struck me:
"With two months to go, the choice could not be more clear," the statement continued. "A president who sides with the special interests or the Kerry-Edwards team who will put middle-class families first."

When and why did we start assuming that government should "put middle-class families first"? Why not children? Why not lower class people who would like to make it into the middle class? Or is "put middle-class families first" now what politicians say to oppose those they accuse of putting the "wealthiest Americans" first when they are afraid of making of voters worry that tax money will be channeled to the underprivileged? (And it's always "families" now. Has anyone ever heard a politician offer to lift a finger for single people?)

UPDATE: There is streaming video of the event at the C-Span website. So now I've watched it. Kerry seems looser than usual, grinning happily in the beginning. Words here and there are dropped and some words are garbled. At least twice he says "our guntry" for "our country," and he says "I dink" for "I think," and "attack" for "the fact." He refers to "the sunset goin' down"--not to be confused with the sunset goin' up. It's late at night and he may be quite tired. But it's not especially embarrassing. It's not that exciting either. It's a long speech that is basically the stump speech, punched up a few times with references to the Republican Convention. These references are what the press has excerpted and printed in the articles. There's a large banner behind him that reads "A Stronger America Begins at Home." A tad isolationist for my taste. He calls this "the most important election of a lifetime," which of course it is for him, but I'm tired of hearing that assertion. There are plenty of important elections, and it's a distortion to assume the one closest to you is so much bigger than the ones farther away.

The event begins and ends with the blaring of Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender": "Well, we busted out of class, had to get away from those fools/We learned more from a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school." Is there a more anti-education song this side of "School's Out" and "Another Brick in the Wall"? I guess he doesn't want to be the Education President. And why would you blast the lyric "had to get away from those fools" just as the two candidates are walking out on stage? Anyway, here's a quiz that made me think up:



ANOTHER UPDATE: The Sunday NYT has a funny collection of old quotes making the "most important election" assertion. The truest quote comes from George W. Bush. Asked by Larry King whether this is "the most important election ever," Bush said "For me it is."

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The correct answer to the poll is discussed here.

How to film a remake: more character development ... for King Kong.

So you're remaking "King Kong," and you're Peter Jackson. Why remake a classic? Others might say, because of the computerized special effects now available. Jackson's idea is more character development, especially for Kong:
"He's a very old gorilla and he's never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature," Jackson said.

So a lot of thought has gone into exploring what would happen if there were a relationship between an old, brutalized gorilla and a young woman.

"You introduce this other person into his life which initially he thinks he's going to kill and then he slowly moves away from that and it comes full circle," he said. "That's what we're exploring and its really fun to go into that psychological depth with it."
Who knew Kong was old? So his interest in the girl is of the dirty old man variety. These Hollywood movies: they always put an older male with a much younger female. Or is Jackson going to de-sexualize the story? Maybe a war and peace allegory? Kong is the victim of empire, driven to terrorism. The girl, Ann Darrow, then somehow affects him so that he throws off his terrorist ways (and falls from a tall NYC building). But what is Ann in this War on Terror allegory? The U.N.?

UPDATE: Can you imagine how different the history of the United Nations would have to have been before it would work to have a remake of King Kong in which the building he falls from is the U.N.?

"Barking mad."

I've been trying to chase down the "barking mad" meme. Wonkette has a post a couple days ago about Googling "Zell Miller" and "barking mad": only 16 hits at the time, but it was still early. It's up to 74 now. But it's not just a reaction to Zell Miller. On "The Daily Show" in mid-August, Maureen Dowd called Dick Cheney "barking mad." Since then, I've been noticing the phrase, which I think is funny, because I have a literal mind, and I picture the person actually barking. There's a great section of Spalding Gray's "Monster in a Box" where he describes going a bit mad and literally barking. But it seems to have become the standard way to call someone crazy. When did that happen? I used Nexis to try to trace the meme down, but unfortunately I was using a newsgroup file that included British and Australian newspapers. I could barely see the American examples! Clearly, the phrase has a British origin. But why the sudden outbreak here? And it's not just that people have gotten crazier lately, so don't try to sidetrack me. I know everyone likes to call people crazy in this election season, especially since "he's crazy" worked to down the most promising of the Democratic candidates in the primaries. Maybe it will work again: Cheney's crazy! Bush is crazy! Wolfowitz! And they're not just crazy, they're barking mad!
I'm going with the suspicion that Maureen Dowd is the American infection point. (Email me if you have another suspect.) Here's the Google result for "barking mad" and "Maureen Dowd." 213 results. I see she made a big impression a year ago, after the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the University of Michigan affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger. She wrote:
The dissent is a clinical study of a man [Clarence Thomas] who has been driven barking mad by the beneficial treatment he has received. It's poignant, really. It drives him crazy that people think he is where he is because of his race, but he is where he is because of his race. Other justices rely on clerks and legal footnotes to help with their opinions; Thomas relies on his id, turning an opinion on race into a therapeutic outburst. In his dissent, he snidely dismisses the University of Michigan Law School's desire to see minority faces in the mix as "racial aesthetics," giving the effort to balance bigotry in society the moral weight of a Benetton ad. The phrase "racial aesthetics" would be more appropriately applied to President George W. Bush's nominating convention in Philadelphia, when the Republicans put on a minstrel show for the white fat cats in the audience.
Ah! But the Maureen Dowd "barking mad" infection point could be traced even farther back, as a Nexis search revealed. I found an October 14, 1999, piece in The San Francisco Chronicle interviewing the writer Edmund Morris (author of the Reagan biography "Dutch") about what he thought about Dowd calling him "barking mad." (He said "Like all barking mad people, I feel perfectly normal.")

Well, I don't claim to have solved the mystery of the "barking mad" meme. My sketchy research leads me to think Dowd has only labeled three persons "barking mad": Morris, Thomas, and Cheney. And she's already dealt with Zell Miller's speech, and she did not call him "barking mad" or even "mad." She said:
Zell Miller, playing Cotton Mather behind the cross-like lectern, made Mr. Cheney seem rational, with a maniacal litany of weapons he said Mr. Kerry had opposed that can destroy any mud hut in any third world country: B-1 and B-2 bombers, F-14A Tomcats, F-15 Eagles, Patriot and Trident missiles, and Aegis cruisers.
She did imply Miller was way beyond "barking mad" though, if he made the "barking mad" Dick Cheney seem rational. I guess Miller was so crazy, in her view, that one cannot speak directly of that craziness but can only indirectly approach the topic with a comparison to another person already established--in Dowdworld--as "barking mad."

And speaking of memes, is it Dowd who got the lectern-looked-like-a-cross meme going? "The Daily Show" used it later the same day. No, here's an earlier reference (in the NYT). I wrote about the lectern on the second day of the Convention, and, though I said it reminded me of a pulpit, I didn't see the cross. But clearly we can't blame Dowd or the NYT for setting off the observation that the lectern looked like a cross. How do I know? Because a Google search using the word "lectern" produced 409 hits, and a Google search trying the misnomer "podium" produced 7,350 hits.

First sign that it's a football Saturday.

I don't go to football games, and I don't keep track of the Badgers' schedule, but I do live about five blocks from the stadium. I'm sitting at my dining room table, next to open windows that look out on my quiet street in University Heights. Rarely does a car even drive down my street, because it's a very slow route: there are stop signs at each end of the block, and it's a two-way street that is so narrow one car has to pull over to let another car pass. So I hear the footsteps and the quiet conversation of anyone who walks by. And they all look in at me. They aren't nosy. People just can't help it. The window is close to the sidewalk, because the front yards are very small in this old neighborhood, in the style that was considered suburban in the early part of the twentieth century. I hear the shuffling footsteps of a slightly large group of pedestrians--maybe six. I look over. I see red and white clothing. Okay, it's a football day. Over the course of the next few hours, the pedestrian traffic will increase, the people will be wearing a lot of red and white, and every parking space on my street will be taken. If I wanted to make fifty dollars, I could repark my car on the street, and let people park up my long driveway. My kids used to do that years ago. Good luck to the Badgers and to all Badger fans. If I hear a cheer drifting over from the stadium, I will feel a mild half-second of pleasure.

UPDATE: This surprised me:
Today, the entire season is already sold out and the Badgers will draw over 81,000 for their 2004 opener against the University of Central Florida. This will mark the 70th consecutive crowd of at least 70,000.

I really had no idea that many people were converging on my neighborhood.

From "gauzy-sounding talk" to "slashing indictment."

The NYT continues its effort to cheer up Kerry supporters. Today's front page piece by David M. Halbfinger tells us that John Kerry has issued "a slashing indictment of President Bush's record on jobs and health care, saying he had misled the United States into war in Iraq and left a trail of broken promises and worsened problems at home." Yes, that indictment really slashes.
Mr. Kerry has for the most part avoided harsh political attacks on the president, instead emphasizing his expansive plans and offering gauzy-sounding talk of sunrises and grabbing onto dreams. But he returned to the offensive after his character, voting history and even his patriotism were questioned by Republicans in New York this week, and after Democrats faulted him for a hesitant, halting response last month to televised attacks on his military record.
You know how gauze sounds, don't you? In fact, some folks would rather listen to "a thin, loosely woven surgical dressing" than the Senator's drone. But don't worry, he's got a whole new approach. He wasn't actually on the offensive before, because he's too big a man to attack the President just as a way of campaigning to defeat him. But now that Bush has dared to question him, now he's going to fight. Isn't it great that the NYT doesn't clutter its print with too many quotatation marks, such as around "even his patriotism"? You all know the Republican Convention was an outrageous, low, unfair, personal attack on Kerry's character and patriotism, don't you?
Criticizing the Republican convention as bitter and insulting one moment, then calling Mr. Bush dishonest the next, Mr. Kerry attacked against what he called his rivals' distortions and said the president's address Thursday made clear he "will literally say anything and do anything in order to try to get re-elected" - a line stolen from Mr. Bush, who used it regularly against Al Gore.
Bush absurdly misused the word "literally"?

Unlike bloggers, by the way, the NYT has editors, who polish the writing on every page, but especially make the front page perfect. For example, they won't let a sloppy writer get away with saying "Kerry attacked what he called his rival's distortions" It will be "Kerry attacked against what he called his rivals' distortions," because you need to establish that he didn't "attack for," he "attacked against." Every misplaced apostrophe will be moved to its proper position.
Mr. Kerry was upbeat and feisty on the attack, even noting "this lonely voice over here" of a Bush supporter on the periphery of his rally. When his supporters yelled, "Two more months!" at the man, Mr. Kerry did their barb one better.

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste, ladies and gentlemen," he said, laughing.
Stop, you're literally killing me with these upbeat, feisty barbs!

September 3, 2004

"Every Picture Tells a Story."

I don't know what got into me, but I'm listening to my vinyl LP of "Every Picture Tells a Story" tonight. "Night time is only the other side of day time."

I think there are a lot of people who first heard "Amazing Grace" here.

The "therefore" symbol.

Have you ever stopped to think about how different everything would be if the "therefore" symbol (a triangle of three dots) were one of the standard symbols on a keyboard like % or # or @? I think we would be more rational, and "the world would be a better place," as Jackie DeShannon once sang ... not about the "therefore" sign, or rational analysis, but ... Jackie DeShannon is a wonderful artist, so when she crosses my thoughts, even to take them astray, I feel like giving her some credit.

UPDATE: Tony Rickey emails html instructions, so let me try:
&there4

But that doesn't satisfy me, because it's still easier to write the word out. And I'm interested in how the long-ago choice of which symbols to put on the number keys has shaped our world. Many years ago, I used to wonder why @ was chosen. Obviously, it was not on the level of & or $ or * as a useful symbol. But then email addresses were created and @ earned its place. But if, instead of @, long ago the choice had been made for &there4 , who can know how things would have turned out?

"Kerry has been given a little favor."

On Fox News this evening a panel of commentators was asked about the supposed problem of Clinton's surgery and Hurricane Frances overshadowing Kerry's attempt to fight back after the Republican Convention. I was struck by Morton Kondrake's response:
I actually think that Kerry has been given a little favor, because ... what Kerry said today diminishes him, actually. His response to this soaring speech ... of President Bush's was a petty, small response, talking about Dick Cheney's draft deferments and how his patriotism had been questioned, which his patriotism had not been questioned. You know, Zell Miller delivered some low blows, but they weren't questioning his patriotism. And for him to start out, out of the box, resuming the campaign, with that as the lead story, I think, would have undercut him. So, he's probably lucky ..."

The interviewer, Brian Wilson--he's good, sitting in for Brit Hume--posited that John Kerry's people were just "crazed" by the Clinton surgery development.

UPDATE: At the end of the interview, Brian Wilson asks the panel which speaker helped Bush the most. Was it Miller? Schwarzenegger? Giuliani? McCain? Everyone on the panel says it was Bush himself. Interesting point not mentioned: the poll they were discussing, which showed Bush with an 11 point lead, was completed before Bush gave his speech.

Coronary bypass surgery.

Instapundit mentions that his grandfather died from complications of early coronary bypass surgery. My grandfather had one of the earliest bypass operations, in, I believe, 1954, and he lived another 15 years as a result. He was fortunate to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan where the surgery was being developed. I'm sorry I don't know the specific history of the development of the surgery. But I remember that my Grandpa Beatty died in 1969, and that the family always said he lived 15 more years because of the new surgery. I remember being a little kid--I would have been 3 in 1954--and seeing my mother prepare to fly to Ann Arbor to see her father, having been told "If you want to see your father alive again," you must come immediately. That said, both of my own parents died in Florida, where, I believe, inferior medical care deprived them of many years of life. In fact, I believe medical malpractice caused both of their deaths. And let me add that no lawsuits were possible. Suffice it to say, I don't cheer when arguments about "frivolous lawsuits" are bandied about. It would be pleasant to believe that there are too many medical malpractice lawsuits, as our President does, but highly disturbing to find out that there are too few. From my personal experience, I feel there are far too few. That said, I also think it is very hard to be a doctor, and mistakes are part of what happens. I am thankful good people go into medicine, even though they will go on to carry the burden of seeing their own mistakes grievously injure people. But there are also people who are not so good, who lay their hands upon human bodies every day. It is easier to whine about lawyers than to think about them.

UPDATE: Regular readers know that I voted for John Edwards in the Democratic primary. This post contains some of the reason why I respect him.

Two things about the Clinton bypass story.

1. It's 8 Central Time, and Salon is still running the retracted story that a Bush crowd booed when the President asked that people pray for Clinton. Drudge has been reporting all afternoon that the booing story was retracted. Instapundit is linking to this. My question: Was the false report an anti-Bush dirty trick or an honest mishearing of the soundtrack? I've heard the clip a few times on radio and on TV, and there is a confusing sound in the beginning of the crowd reaction that might be people saying "no" or something, but there is a positive crowd sound after that and certainly nothing to justify tarring Bush for failing to chide the crowd. It is such an easy dirty trick to go to the rallies of the candidate you don't like and act like a jackass in one way or another.

2. Do you think it's in bad taste to cover the Clinton surgery story in terms of the effect on the Kerry campaign? Two points I've heard more than once on TV tonight: Clinton won't be able to campaign for Kerry and the Clinton story today is messing up Kerry's chance to respond to the Republican convention. New spin potential: Kerry's lackluster campaign is Clinton's fault. Or, what the hell, why not Kerry's poor campaign is the fault of the fast food industry that put Clinton in his current condition? (And I'm hearing similar commentary about the hurricane: everything that happens can be characterized as depriving Kerry of the opportunity to have his message heard, because anything in the news is keeping Kerry from finally getting his chance to speak to us.)

UPDATE: I'm ashamed of myself for thinking about such things, but I wonder if the Kerry and Bush campaign people are brainstorming about how Clinton's death would affect the campaign. Are the Kerry people speculating that a Clinton death would create warm feelings that would radiate onto Kerry and weighing that against the negatives: that a Clinton death would absorb an immense amount of attention and lead to the replaying of Clinton's best moments that would be so obviously more attractive than Kerry? Are the Bush people running through their own version of the analysis? Are they planning ways to revive the Reagan death story and thinking about the beautiful role the current President would play in any Presidential funeral? Sorry. I love Bill Clinton and want the best for him. When Bush said pray for him, I contemplated praying for him. When Kerry said yell for him, I contemplated yelling for him. Good luck to dear, sweet Bill and to everybody, everywhere with a heart problem or any medical problem of any kind.

For Democrats looking for ways to spin the devastating Time poll.

I emailed the link to the Time poll to my son, John Cohen, and he wrote back what seemed to me to be a fine effort at putting the best face on it. So, with his permission, here it is:
Clearly Bush has a really good trajectory. Remember that in 2000 Nader got surprisingly few votes. There might be a lot of people defecting from Nader to Kerry at the last minute out of pragmatism. Nader has 3%; assuming (arbitrarily) that two-thirds of Nader voters will end up defecting to Kerry, then we should consider Kerry to be at 43% right now instead of 41, which would mean we should consider the split among likely voters (which is the headline of the story) to be Bush 51 / Kerry 43. The margin of error is 4%, so that's a statistical tie. (Even if you don't buy my calculation about Nader voters, it's still CLOSE to a statistical tie.) So I would consider this one poll obviously a great sign for Bush, but it's not proof that Bush is in the lead. Bush can only be considered to have a strong lead if other polls corroborate this one.

He adds:
The poll was done from Aug 31 to Sept 2. It will be interesting to see what the numbers are like after the convention. As I've said before, considering that Kerry got almost no bounce from the convention, I think it will be terrible news for Kerry if Bush gets a significant bounce out of his convention, since people's views of Bush are more solidified. If Bush doesn't get much of a bounce out of his convention, then you could say that both conventions were ineffective for reasons unrelated to the specific candidates or parties (the country is polarized, the conventions got relatively little coverage, etc.).

Yes, when Kerry got no bounce, the spin was: conventions don't really produce bounce anymore. So what can you say now? I predict: the Republicans did very bad things at the convention and thereby unfairly obtained the bounce that they got; if they had conducted an honorable convention, like the Democrats, there would have been no bounce.

UPDATE: An emailer observes:
I wanted to note this:  a 51/43 split with a margin of error of +-4 is not a statistical tie.  It does indicate that there is the possibility that there is a statistical tie in the actual populace, but there is no reason to think that the likelihood of this possibility is any different from the likelihood of a 55/39 split in the actual populace (which would render Kerry about as significant as I am in the coming election).  Moreover, neither of those extreme possibilities is as likely as a 51/43 split in the actual populace.  Similarly, rolling a sum of 2 on two dice is as likely as rolling a sum of 12 is, but neither is as likely as 7.  Obviously, the dice rolling is not correlated in the same way that the polling is, and while this correlation does support your son's comment, it does so only weakly.

I agree, definitely. But what I like about my son's comment is that it's amusingly in the vein of what would Susan Estrich say if she had to figure out something positive to say. I'll see if John comes back Estrichishly and re-spins.

ANOTHER UPDATE: If you want to shore up your knowledge of what "margin of error means," go here. And Matthew Yglesias argues about that here. I don't think you really need to invest a lot of time in studying all that, but if you're bummed out about the poll, it might cheer you up. Especially the first link. I'm pretty sure John is literally correct about the meaning of the term "statistical tie." At the same time, the emailer is right about likelihood of different results. But if you were trying to spin the bad news, you would avoid pointing that out. Indeed, I think Yglesias, who supports Kerry, was saying what he was saying because he was enjoying polls that showed Kerry ahead and he didn't want his pleasure spoiled by people wielding the "statistical tie" concept.

Finally getting around to TiVo-blogging last night's convention.

I wasn't really properly simulblogging the Convention last night, and I'm told that I had my priorities straight. Yikes! Going over to Vodkapundit for that last link, I saw this new poll information. Wow! That's distracting me from my plan to watch the TiVo'd night 4 of the Convention. An 11 point lead for Bush now! "57% trust Bush to handle the war on terrorism, while 36% trust Kerry." I'm surprised but also not that surprised. I predicted a landslide for Bush a long time ago. Well, let me nevertheless record a few observations about last night.

1. I was a total sucker for the film about the Bush twins. Showing the home movies is a little exploitative, but they are so damn cute! I like that one of things they love about their dad is that he didn't come around to politics until fairly late in life. That is usually held against him--proof he's a lightweight. But I like the other side of the argument: the best person to trust with power is someone whose psychological makeup does not contain a needy urge toward power. Kerry, of course, is usually portrayed in a positive light for rising into the limelight of leadership early in life, but obviously there is a negative way to portray that history.

2. After all the bad music, they have a really great singer doing "Dancing in the Streets," but the camera can only show her from a distance. She's standing down with the band and is not identified.

3. Seeing the arrival of President Bush's motorcade, I stop and think how good it has been that both conventions (and the Olympics) took place without a terrorist attack.

4. Now Donnie McClure is singing, along with a bunch of really cute kids. He's great!

5. Pataki gives a decent speech. Somebody seems to have coached him in how to use that passionate whipering effect like a cornball actor. Did he say "With supreme guts and rightness"? That's a rather awkward turn of phrase.

6. The short film. The in-person narration--by the sublimely resonant and folksy-sounding voice of Fred Thompson--is very effective. The framework of the film is a series of vignettes about Bush and another man : Bush and the firefighter (he put his arm around him as he did the megaphone speech); Bush and the dead police officer whose badge was given him (and whose mother remains Bush's friend), Bush's invitation of a man who'd lost his leg in the war (the two "ran the track three times, three laps on the White House lawn, and then they just hung out for a while"); Bush and Derek Jeter (Jeter goads him into pitching from the mound, and Bush took up the challenge, not mentioning that he was wearing a heavy bulletproof vest and could "hardly move his arms"). These vignettes convey the message that Bush is a man that admirable, manly men relate to in a very natural way. Bush comes across as modest, compassionate, and manly.

7. After the film two flag panels move across the stage from opposite sides, and after they overlap and pass by each other, Bush is there standing in the center. It looked like a magic trick. Kind of comical.

8. The speech itself is quite good. He is forceful and clear and with almost no flubs--and no embarrassingly funny flubs. Nothing makes me laugh out loud, like Kerry's "senators and menators." That still makes me laugh.

Bush has lots of specific details, making it seem as though he has a well-thought-out plan. Biggest applause line (it seemed to me): "We must make a place for the unborn child." A couple complaints about too many lawsuits. The amendment banning gay marriage is characterized as protecting marriage "from activist judges."

A woman protester is dragged out kicking--we see Bush's face: he winks. I love that calm, subtle confidence, like the time during the debate with Gore, when Gore was weirdly invading his space and he turned to Gore and gave a little friendly-style nod.

His main theme, woven through the domestic and foreign policy: freedom. "Free" or "freedom" appears 23 times in the speech. [And "liberty" appears 11 times.]

I liked this line:
So our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is clear. We will help new leaders to train their armies, and move toward elections, and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly as possible. And then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.

That contains a subtle slap at Kerry, who is attacked for playing a leading role in depriving Vietnam vets of honor when they returned home. I cannot help but think of the Swift Boat Vets criticisms of Kerry, though Bush says nothing against Kerry's war record. The implication seems plain: if Kerry is President, somehow he will arrange things so that Iraq war vets will come home, after all of that effort, and be seen as the bad guys. Bush never says anything like that. But enough was said to make me think that, and I don't believe I'm alone. This passage, somewhat later, made a similar impression:
I've met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me. 

Where does that strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost.

Funniest line: "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called 'walking.'"

9. Minimal balloonage. I think the idea was let's not show off that we can do balloons so much better than they can. Confetti! Upward shooting streamers: the crowd loves them. Bush pays a lot of attention to how Laura feels, I think. It's a big moment, and they all know they really only have to make this look right, and maybe pretending to care about whether she feels okay is part of making it look right, and maybe I'm a chump, but I think he really cares.

The Kerry that roared.

The New York Times begins a news article about a Kerry speech this way:
Roaring back at his Republican rivals, Senator John Kerry called President Bush "unfit to lead this country" for "misleading'' America into war in Iraq and said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney avoided fighting in the Vietnam War.
I didn't hear it. I'm just reading it. But I don't know what it would have been about Kerry's speech that would have constituted "roaring"--aside from the Times's dear wish that Kerry would turn into a lion-like fighter. I suppose it took some courage to bring himself to say the word "unfit," so searingly used against him in recent weeks. But what is this roar? It's this:
"For the past week, they have attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander in chief ... Well, here is my answer to them ... I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could've and who misled America into Iraq."
So, your big answer, after all of these attacks, is that you somehow "will not have" any questions. I simply will not have it. You hear that? He does not want to be questioned. He went to Vietnam, and therefore, he simply will not have any questions about whether he has the qualifications to be President. Come on, that's a roar, isn't it?

And by the way, any man who didn't volunteer to go to Vietnam who was of age at the time--all you Baby Boomer men who had student deferments or even if you served in the National Guard, I mean were in the National Guard--you were all refusing to serve.

Give 'em Zell.

I was going to write a post about how a lot of people commenting on Zell Miller's speech the other night took advantage of the Zell/Hell rhyme to go for some easily within reach wordplay, but the first example I found was Jonah Goldberg commenting on how everyone was doing Zell wordplay:
First off, as a journalist, let me take the time to do what no other pundit has been willing to do: thank Georgia Senator Zell Miller for being named Zell. It’s been a long time since a politician offered such euphoria over euphony in political commentary. From the conservatives I’ve already heard “Give ’em Zell!” and “Zell it like it is!” and “Zelling it Old School!,” and from the other side of the aisle we’ve had “Zellotry” and “Zell-out.” Who the Zell knows what else is coming down the pike — Zello-Dolly?

September 2, 2004

Day 4 of the Republican Convention.

I see that Instapundit advance-linked me, before heading off to a poker game. Yet here I am at Nina's, consuming a glorious gourmet meal, eating the last of the chocolate torte with the cassis creme anglaise, with a glass of cognac. We've put the Bush speech on. There's a little postage-stamp-sized TV on the counter and now we're all blogging. No one is throwing things at the screen. Occasionally, I put in a good word. Nina is saying "Come on, oh, come on!" Anyway, here are some pictures from earlier in the evening. I'll try to get it together to say something more apt about the President's speech later, but my general sense of the speech, overhearing it through a cognac-haze is that he's saying the things he always says with the speech mannerisms he always has.











I've got to say, getting those pictures up, under the influence of the cognac, has been really really hard. I hope you appreciate the look of this dinner party and forgive me for not minutely dissecting the speech. I will need to do that later. Ah! There is our President and Our First Lady all in orange-red. Now, let's just sleep on all of this speech-making, and wake up tomorrow and begin to take the details of all of these arguments seriously.

UPDATE: "There is our President and Our First Lady ..." That was not a subtle allusion to "Is our children learning." That was just me, blogging under the influence! And what's with the religiously tinged "Our First Lady"? What does that mean? I have no idea at all. Anyway, here's how I looked as I was making these mistakes:



That's from Tonya, whose account of the dinner can be found here. She's got a closeup of the torte and pictures of Jeremy and Nina looking surprised. I forget why. Jeremy has the most dinner coverage, the only real play by play. Good comments section too. Nina, because she did all the cooking--she love to cook! she wanted it this way!--was restricted to after-blogging. And there's another picture of me there too.

The first day of school, the last night of the convention.

Today was the first day of law school, and I had my first "Religion and the Constitution" class. It seems like a lively group. After some preliminaries, we had a nice discussion about a 19th century case that refused to find a religious exception to a ban on polygamy. That class, like my other class, Civil Procedure II, meets at 11 am and runs for an hour, so I'm looking forward to the consistent rhythm through the week. Today, it was a bit hard because we had a long faculty meeting that began at 12, and I had not planned ahead and packed a lunch. So my usual antsiness at long meetings was exacerbated by hunger. But today is a good day for hunger, because Nina is cooking dinner for Tonya, Jeremy, and me. And it is the last night of the Convention I've been simulblogging all week. So unless some frightful breach of dinner party etiquette occurs, my convention blogging will get a later-than-usual start. I probably won't comment on the early evening doings, such as how they performed the National Anthem and what the cleric giving the invocation was wearing. But I'll have my TiVo'd convention to review and I intend to stop back here later and hit the high points or say whatever I happen to think. Now it's time to hop in the car, stop at Steve's to buy some cognac, and make my way over to Nina's.

UPDATE: Okay, live from Nina's, let the record show, Jeremy and Tonya got their computers out before I did. Nina's doing all the cooking, so she's not blogging. Outrageous! I can believe Jeremy is blogging this, but Tonya? Tonya! She's the one who called us on what a breach of etiquette it would be if people blogged at a dinner party. Ah! I took some pictures of Nina rattling the pots and pans. She fried sage leaves in olive oil and they came out like sweet potato chips or some such un-Atkinsy snack, but they're totally Atkins-compliant. Other things that are not so Atkins-compliant include gougere. And now, haricots verts. Nina's a master chef of some kind and now she's ordering us to put away the computers. She's got another course coming. It's tomato, basil, etc. risotto.

What is a "personal" attack?

I see there is a lot of fallout from the Zell Miller speech last night. And "fallout" is an especially good image if you take Chris Matthews seriously ("[I]t‘s as if somebody dropped the atom bomb on the Democratic Party"). Unfortunately, I missed the big fight between Miller and Matthews last night. So I read the transcript (previous link), and I'm not going to call the shots there except to say that I think Miller really did mishear Matthews at a key point. [ADDED: Since I'm about to get picky about language usage, let me point out that "call the shots" is the wrong expression there! I mean I'm not going to dissect it.] What I want to talk about is the "personal attack" meme. First, Tim Russert says:
[T]he question is, will Zell Miller‘s comments attract the so-called Bubba vote that Democrats, Republicans call it down South, particularly in north Florida, or will it turn off swing, independent voters or proportionally women who don‘t like negative attacks, because it was very, very personal?
(I love the way he sees us all as Bubbas or faint-hearted females or some such thing, reacting only to the tone of things.) Russert's "personal attack" meme infects Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews, who repeat it several times. At one point, Matthews says:
That attack about Ted Kennedy and John Kerry was personal. Nobody is going to step back and say it wasn‘t. The idea that this guy is going to shoot spitballs in defense of country that he risked his life to defend some years ago is a personal attack on the guy. This is serious business. I want to ask everybody, did Democrats make a mistake in not shooting at their opponents?
Okay, I just want to step back and say it wasn't personal. Aggressively pointing to the deficiencies in a politician's political record is a political attack, not a personal attack. A personal attack aims at the candidate's personal or family life or addresses some more intimate matter outside of his political actions. Miller certainly attacked Kerry last night, and it was powerful and harsh, but it was not about personal matters. It was effective precisely because it pointed to and characterized the candidate's political record. You can complain that it was exaggerated, that it was incorrect or slanted, but it wasn't personal. It was political! There actually is a difference!

Now I'm sure plenty of people will tell me that "personal" ought to include anything that specifies an individual person. That would fit with one dictionary definition of the word. But why should we have a problem with a political argument that specifies an individual when that individual is the candidate? He's the candidate; we're allowed to single him out! So the attack wasn't personal in any way that is illegitimate in a political battle. I think the reason the attack was called personal is that it would be lame to admit the real complaint: the attack was strong. The Kerry campaign and the various people who support it, like Matthews, spend a lot of time expressing outrage that their opponents are fighting hard. But it is a political fight. Fight back! Don't whine that it's somehow unfair for Miller to point to your record. Defend your record. Presumably, you've got arguments. If you don't, you deserve to lose.

A NYT headline to disapprove of.

Here's the main point of this article about the police in NY this week:
[I]t appears that the New York Police Department may have successfully redefined the post-Seattle era, by showing that protest tactics designed to create chaos and to attract the world's attention can be effectively countered with intense planning and a well-disciplined use of force.

It sounds to me as though the police deserve lavish praise for their work. So what's with the headline?
Tactics by Police Mute the Protesters, and Their Messages

It sounds as though the police set out to squelch free speech. And who knows what those tactics were?

Who's got the nuance?

The NYT editorial page approves of President Bush's acknowledgement of the complexity in the idea of "winning the war on terror":
President Bush was absolutely right when he said it was impossible to win a war against terrorism - it's like announcing we can win a war against violence. Terrorism can only be minimized and controlled ... The president has been honest about saying we will never be totally safe. ..."

Of course, the editorial is full of criticisms too, but that's not my point here, so I've elided them. The Times and its columnists usually slam Bush for the "lack of nuance" in his thinking. He thinks he knows the right answer and then he doggedly sticks to it. And that's bad. Kerry, on the other hand, has all the nuance and complexity, we're told. He sees all sides. And that's good.

But what is this?
"I absolutely disagree with what he said in that interview in a moment of candor," Mr. Kerry said here at the American Legion's national convention a day after Mr. Bush, before the same audience, retreated from a televised comment in which he said he did not think the United States could win the war on terror.

"With the right policies, this is a war we can win, this is a war we must win, and this is a war we will win," Mr. Kerry said. "The terrorists will lose and we will win, because the future does not belong to fear, it belongs to freedom."

When Kerry sees an opportunity to make some headway against Bush, where's the nuance? He claims to be the one who can get to the "right" answer, he predicts the future, and he predicts victory. Well, the whole "nuance" theme of this election has long seemed phony to me. It's a buzzword thought up to knock down Bush and excuse Kerry's record of taking multiple positions. But Kerry doesn't even seem to want to be Mr. Nuance. So can we please stop saying "nuance"?

Medical news from Madison.

The front page of the Wisconsin State Journal reports: "UW-Madison researchers think they've found a protein that could stop Alzheimer's disease in its tracks."

September 1, 2004

Day 3 of the Republican Convention.

Here I go again. As before, I'll keep all my commentary in one post and use numbered paragraphs to indicate the updates.

1. A Baptist choir sings a terrific version of the National Anthem (even if they did quite clearly sing "Whore the land of the free..."). The Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios, wearing beautiful vestments, gives a beautiful invocation. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle gives some introductory remarks. She's wearing a lei, and Chris complains about it. I defend it as an emblem of her state. Chris rejects the defense: "Would the governor of Wisconsin wear a big cheesehead hat?"

2. Senator Rick Santorum: a boo is heard in the room here in Madison. He has a smug, wise-guy attitude, and I don't think I'm saying that solely because I disagree with his attitude about gay rights. "The torch of marriage is dying out." Do we want the federal government to pay for marriage counseling? Even if it is religious? That's a hard question. He has a good line: "[Kerry] says he is concerned about the separation of church and state. Senator Kerry should worry more about the separation of children from their fathers."

3. Wisconsin, for some reason, and I don't object, is recognized to make a motion to proclaim Dick Cheney the VP candidate by acclaimation. "And the motion is agreed to." A little "Cheney" chant breaks out.

4. I caught up to the live feed and I needed to let TiVo get back out in front of me to re-enable fast-forwarding, so I went upstairs to fold laundry, and I put on the upstairs TV--the TiVo-less Sony Wega (where the colors are always so comparatively crisp)--and I caught a little of Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff, and Jeff Greenfield on CNN. And what were they punditizing about? It was practically word-for-word taken from this Instapundit post, from way back this morning, about manipulating the Iowa markets!

5. Representative Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. You can tell he's from Wisconsin because he clearly pronounces Wisconsin "Wi - SCON - sin," not, as I say even after 20 years here, "Wis - CON - sin." [ADDED: They're really playing up to Wisconsin tonight, aren't they? It must be something in the polls.]

6. I think it's a good sign that there is so much amateurish material. The party really isn't that slick. So much bad music! The faux interviews with community leaders. That lame comic segment with Barney the dog (who at one point had a debate with a white French poodle puppet dog named Fifi Kerry). I think 20 years from now the political convention will be a seamlessly acted entertainment extravaganza that everyone will watch and enjoy. But right now, we still live in the real world, because everything's a little bit pathetically ragged.

7. The tribute to Reagan. Beautiful. Many beautiful images. Reagan's voice: "We got America to stand tall again."

8. Is there some rule that every woman has to wear a light blue suit?

9. Finally, Zell Miller. It seems silly to say that and an indication of how much filler we've had to put up with tonight. I like Zell Miller and think he's a good speaker. He's speaking quickly for some reason. "My family is more important than my party." Only Bush is good enough for his family, he asserts. Then he reels back to the story of his life: he's a little boy, FDR is President, there's an "overriding public danger." He brings up Wendell Wilkie, with whom he clearly identifies. He's making a plea to overcome partisanship in a time of danger. He condemns the Democrats of today for putting their partisan politics above the nation's security. His voice trembles with anger as he says: "Nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling America's troops occupiers rather than liberators! Tell that to the one half of Europe that was free because Franklin Roosevelt led an army of liberators, not occupiers!" Similarly, Eisenhower and Reagan. The soldier, not the protester, has given us our freedom. Don't dare to think of being President if you don't think of our soldiers as liberators! But the leaders of the Democratic party see America as the problem! They blame America. They believed in Carter's pacifism. "And no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry!" Miller is unleashed. His opposition to his own party erupts here tonight. Kerry voted against so many arms programs, so what would he mean to be Commander in Chief of? "Spitballs?" Kerry would wait for the UN to approve of military action: "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending." He would "outsource our national security." His opposition to Kerry slams down heavily. John Kerry would give terrorists "a yes/no/maybe bowl of mush." Bush would clamp down hard and not let go! He admires that Bush believes God "is not indifferent to America." He's like an old-fashioned preacher. He speaks with straight conviction, with almost a defiant sneer on his face. It's very effective!

10. Lynn Cheney introduces her husband, who, as a teenager in Casper, Wyoming, did not, like the other kids, cruise back and forth between root beer stands. He did not do the twist. She knew he was the guy for her. Imagine Dick Cheney as the love of your life! That's the way it is for them. Who are we to question love? Now, here he is. The grinding, grim flatness of Dick Cheney is just what it is to be Dick Cheney. He is what he is. It doesn't play to the big hall terribly well, especially not after the great revivalist Miller, but what did you expect? Perhaps even less. He lays it out. And you can take it or leave it. He's not doing the twist. He's Dick Cheney.

11. "A Senator can be wrong for twenty years without consequence to the nation, but a President always casts the deciding vote." Cheney is warming up as he lays into John Kerry. He's amusing himself. He chuckles: "Senator Kerry's liveliest disagreement is with himself. ... Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual. America sees two Kerrys." A man in the audience is seen rhythmically waving two flip-flops.