September 18, 2004

The effect of blogs on the news.

Here's a nice little colloquy about blogging from Tim Russert's CNBC show today:
TIM RUSSERT: You mentioned, Byron, that you think the influence of the internet or the bloggers is a bit overstated, but do you see, in the future of campaign coverage, a role for the internet and for the bloggers and the online writers as opposed to the traditional Washington Post, New York Times, and the major networks?

BYRON YORK: Oh, sure, I think that you're seeing ... first of all, a lot of the blogs are simply rants that just comment on what's in the New York Times or the Washington Post each day, but certainly, in the CBS documents issue, you're seeing people doing their own research or offering up their own personal knowledge about things. That is what makes more of a difference, because we all have opinions and some of them are interesting; most of them aren't. But when you've got facts to offer, which people out there in the blogosphere do have, that's when it begins to affect coverage.

Actually, I could quibble with that. Not all opinions are rants, and at least some bloggers have something to offer in the form of pure opinion. I don't agree that we only become useful if we have otherwise unavailable facts to serve up. And submerged in York's point is the notion that the mainstream news itself is not doing something that ought to be classified in the rant family. I think one thing this CBS episode has taught us is that that is not always the case.

What is Nader's game in Wisconsin?

I just got a computerized telephone call asking me to hit phone buttons in answer to a series of questions: would I vote in the coming election, who did I think I'd vote for, and what chance was there that I'd vote for Nader. When I pressed the button indicating "slight or no" for that last question, I was thanked and the call ended. It seems like a pretty efficient way to identify potential Nader voters. Too bad I didn't think of that and pick a different answer on that question so I could monitor what they planned to do with that information.

Dealing with the NYT poll.

Kausfiles has some good analysis of Adam Nagourney's Kerry-favoring reporting of the NYT/CBS poll that appears on the front page of the NYT today. Thanks to Kaus, I'm paying some attention to the language I'd just skimmed over, and it really is quite comical how every line of the report is couched in terms of Kerry's struggle, which the reader--it seems--is presumed to share ("Senator John Kerry faces substantial obstacles...").

Clicking through some of the extra materials available at the Times website, linked above, I noticed 89% of the people polled said they "will definitely vote," so we know right there that a good bunch of these folks are liars. Or as Nagourney might say, John Kerry can take some solace in the fact that the persons polled where lying at least some of the time.

A dare not taken: the name Adair.

I was tempted to say this when Red Adair died recently, but now that I've written about Virginia Hamilton Adair (see previous post), I'll comment on the name Adair.

My middle name is Adair. I've never used the name or the initial other than to fill out forms or to sign checks written by my mother. Only late in life did I start to think I should have used it, when I first noticed that it has the effect of transforming my first name into Anna, which then isolates the second syllable, a homophone for the excellent word "Dare." That it took me decades to notice that proves that, unlike Virginia Hamilton Adair, I am no poet. Now, when I think about the missed opportunity of using my middle name, I torment myself with thoughts like: "You were not daring, you would not take Adair."

Why did I resist Adair? Because as a young girl I sensed that it meant a lot to my parents, and being contrarian, I didn't want that imposed on me. But I didn't think they were trying to define me as daring, or to offer me the chance to give my ultra-plain first name a slight infusion of fanciness. Strangely, I envied three-syllable girl's names, like Alison, and was annoyed at my parents for leaving me with the stark name Ann, and never noticed that AnnAdair was that three-syllable name. The reason I never perceived the feminity of the Anna-creating name Adair, was that Adair was my father's middle name, and that made the name permanently masculine. The homophone "a dare," which I declined to perceive, also felt masculine in those pre-Women's Movement days. I was jealous of my sister for having my mother's middle name, which was a lovely feminine name: Elaine. Don't you think giving me, the second child, the father's middle name, after the first child had been given the mother's middle name, conveys the message: we wanted you to be a boy? Later, they had that boy and they made his middle name my father's first name, which left me stranded as the inappropriately named child in the bunch. If they had known my brother would be coming along soon enough, they might have been able to give me a prettier middle name.

They used to pressure me to appreciate Adair, but always in the context of rejecting Althouse. I was told "Ann Adair" was a good stage name. Just lop off the Althouse and you can be an actress. When I was very young that made me feel that I was supposed to be an actress, and then when I was older that annoyed me. Maybe that was an elaborate parental scheme to keep me from being an actress. In fact, my father had wanted to be a lawyer. World War II and the subsequent drive to start a family redirected him to take good employment which was available to him based on his undergraduate education as a chemical engineer. So maybe in the end, having his name did lead me into law. If so, it was a clever plot indeed, because if he had ever suggested that I should one day go to law school, I probably never would have done it.

Another reason I never used Adair is that I considered the triple initial A ridiculous once I reached a certain age. As a young child, I thought it was great having all As, as if it were a report card. Later, I found out "AAA" was an awfully boring insurance program. The common practice of dressing up one's name with a middle initial was always out, because A before Althouse sounds to my ear like stuttering. And the use of the middle name in place of the first name--A. Adair Althouse--did not seem suitable, because it was so unfeminine and it also had that stuttering A-A effect.

So the opportunity is long lost. I can never claim my own middle name. I look at it with some longing on the cover of "Ants on the Melon." Ah, well! If I had the chance to make the decision again, I'd use the full name my parents gave me: Ann Adair Althouse.

UPDATE: For blog purposes, I've added Adair. One last opportunity, taken.

FURTHER UPDATE: No, I'm not doing that! It just doesn't look right to me.

"Here end my tracks of passion, reason, rhyme ..."

From "Take My Hand, Anna K.," the last poem in "Ants on the Melon," the book of poetry published by Virginia Hamilton Adair in 1996, when she was 83. The book made a big sensation because it was good and because she'd written poems all her life with almost no publications. Adair died on Thursday.
Here end my tracks of passion, reason, rhyme
Before the terminal rush and roar of light,
All together under the wheels of Time.
Coming to a crossing the train cries in the night.

Here's the NYT obituary.

September 17, 2004

Remember when Nixon said "Sock it to me"?

Here's Kerry today:
"I've got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and trust, 'you're fired.'"

He didn't do the cobra strike hand gesture though. He did a double karate chop. And he didn't use Trump's inflection. Nixon did do his own inflection of the old catchphrase, making it a question: "Sock it to me?" And saying it like that really was hilarious, because because he seemed to be making fun of himself. Kerry just imposed the usual leaden Kerry cadence "You're ... fired," adopting the pop culture phrase to express the usual indignation.

I wonder if some of Kerry's many advisors are telling him he needs to use pop culture references to make himself likable, the way Nixon used "Laugh-In" in 1968. Here's an article from The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert from last spring about Presidential candidates using pop media. This is interesting:
[The Nixon episode of "Laugh-In"] was broadcast at the height of Nixon’s (ultimately successful) campaign against Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, and was an immediate sensation. George Schlatter, the creator of “Laugh-In” ... told me that Nixon had been extremely reluctant to be on the show; although the producers had repeatedly entreated him to appear, his campaign aides had even more insistently urged him not to. Eventually, the race brought Nixon out to Los Angeles. He gave a press conference, and Schlatter and one of “Laugh-In”’s writers, Paul Keyes, who happened to be a close friend of the former Vice-President’s, went over to watch it, bringing a TV camera with them.

“While his advisers were telling him not to do it, Paul was telling him how much it would mean to his career,” Schlatter recalled. “And we went in, and he said, ‘Sock it to me.’ It took about six takes, because it sounded angry: ‘Sock-it-to-me!’ After that, we grabbed the tape and escaped before his advisers got to him.

“Then, realizing what we had done—because he did come out looking like a nice guy—we pursued Humphrey all over the country, trying to get him to say, ‘I’ll sock it to you, Dick!’” Schlatter went on. “And Humphrey later said that not doing it may have cost him the election. We didn’t realize how effective it was going to be. But there were other factors in the election, too—I can’t take all the blame.”

Nixon on “Laugh-In” is often cited as a watershed moment in the history of television—the unthinking man’s version of Nixon in China.

But Kolbert's theme is that Presidential candidates need to make fun of themselves and be a bit self-deprecating--as Bush was when he went on "Saturday Night Live" to say "offensible" and the “Tonight Show” to say “flammamababable.” The thing about Kerry saying "You're fired" is that it isn't in any way self-deprecating. He just sounds pissed about Halliburton. (Halliburton seems to be the issue of the day for some reason: Paul Begala was fussing about Halliburton today on "Crossfire.")

Feingold speaks.

I'm sitting in a café and the phone rings, it's Chris saying Russ Feingold is speaking right now on Library Mall. Funny, I just walked right through the Mall and saw the signs and even took a photo for later blogging. Here, look, political activity is occurring in Wisconsin:

Somehow, I didn't catch the message that a personal appearance was in the near future. I would have stuck around. With luck, Chris will have some remarks and I'll be able to update this.

UPDATE: Chris reports that Feingold expressed opposition to the war in Iraq and seemed to think John Kerry would do a better job of handling matters. I thought you'd like to know.

Adios to Johnny Ramone.

I have a little hearing loss in my right ear as a permanent memorial to you. Here's the NYT obit. Blog readers may enjoy this political part:
Mr. Ramone was often at odds with the members of his band, over dress, politics and relationships. A staunch Republican, Mr. Ramone clashed with Joey over that singer's liberal causes, and when the band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mr. Ramone said, "God bless President Bush, and God bless America."
UPDATE: Let me add two things. First, an emailer called attention to this line of the NYT obit: "Mr. Ramone once described his guitar style as 'pure, white rock 'n' roll, with no blues influence.'" Elsewhere, the obit calls his style "fast, buzz-saw blasts of noise [that] laid the foundation for a school of rock guitar" and quotes him as saying "I wanted our sound to be as original as possible. I stopped listening to everything." I hadn't noticed that "pure, white" line when I first read the obit, and I have to admit that I can't help reading that and finding it racist or at least too racial to be an appropriate thing to want to say, even given the extra latitude given rock musicians. But the emailer notes that we commonly call music black, and I'm sure Eric Clapton's obituary will emphasize that he adopted a black style. So is there something wrong with calling a style "white"? I mean, other than as a put-down.

Second, I wanted to note that one of the long answers in today's NYT crossword puzzle is the name of The Ramones last album ("Adios Amigos"). The clue contains no reference to The Ramones, but I wonder if this was just a coincidence or a deliberate tribute to The Ramones.

Younger voters shift to Bush.

The new Gallup poll shows a huge, recent change in the opinion of voters under age 50:
Kerry had a one-point advantage (48% to 47%) among 18- to 49-year-old voters just before the Republican National Convention, but now Bush enjoys a 13-point lead among this group (54% to 41%). This represents a net increase in Bush's standing of 14 percentage points.

The other two age groups show much smaller changes. Among the middle age group (50 to 64), Kerry gains slightly. Now Bush leads Kerry in this group by 50% to 49%, while he led by 51% to 44% three weeks ago.
Hmmm.... 18-49 is a pretty large group. Why put three decades of age in that group and only 15 years of age in the "middle age" group? I know some people in their 40s chafe at being called middle aged, but that shouldn't affect Gallup. Anyway, I suppose we should conclude that the convention was well crafted to win over the non-old.

News from the horse race.

The new Gallup poll shows Bush pulling way ahead of Kerry, beyond the margin of error. Former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile puts the best (horse) face on it: "Sen. Kerry is like Seabiscuit: He runs better from behind."

But it is Bush and not Kerry who looks energized by campaigning lately. Kerry seemed to be dragging himself through the motions yesterday. It didn't help that he was speaking to a cold, stone-faced National Guard audience. Bush, on the other hand, seemed charged up, having a grand time skewering Kerry about his most recent statements about Iraq: "The fellow I'm running against has had about eight positions on Iraq. Yesterday, in a radio interview, he tried to clear things up."

Here's the transcript of that radio interview, conducted by Don Imus. Key lines:"Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq -- any?" "Not under the current circumstances, no, there are none that I see." This, of course, blatantly contradicted many earlier statements about Iraq.

Today, Imus started off his show talking about that Kerry interview and whining, "I tried to help him." Imus and his assistants then went on about how Kerry needs to start fighting hard, which is the advice everyone offers poor Kerry. But that line about Iraq from the show is an example of trying to fight hard. The problem is to fight hard one has to take specific, strong positions, and Kerry can't do that without contradicting earlier statements and exposing himself to the kind of ridicule George Bush gleefully dished out yesterday.

What Bradford should have said on "The Apprentice" last night.

My resistence to the cultural vortex that is "The Apprentice" is truly pathetic, because I watched last night's episode (on TiVo) even though I came home late from a dinner, the episode itself was bizarrely long (100 minutes), and my 15-year-old TV is entirely bereft of the color red (see previous post). The episode had been promoted as "The Most Shocking Boardroom Scene Ever" or some such thing, but what that really turned out to mean was that the entire competition out on the street selling ice cream had little if anything to do with deciding which contestant to fire. (Why do we love these pick the loser shows like "American Idol," "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," and so forth? Is the process of elimination, the Last Man Standing, really so compelling? Apparently, yes.)

The assigned competition last night was rather boring. Like last season's selling lemonade, the episode entailed a lot of obvious street-corner-picking and getting lost. Getting lost was especially dumb last night, given the self-explanatory grid pattern of midtown New York. Admittedly, the placement of Broadway provides a minor challenge and they managed to get confused, despite the "180 IQ" of all the contestants--according to the not entirely reliable Donald Trump. The real competition on the show is in the boardroom, and the loser last night was a guy who did the gutsy, cocky thing of saying he was willing to give up his immunity. Bradford was the only person with immunity, and I think he was doing something that normally wins respect on the show: stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for your actions. Trump went wild and couldn't stop saying how stupid it was, and "had to fire him" because of that. I think Trump was testing Bradford and giving him a chance to explain his sacrifice of immunity as a great strategy.

Where Bradford went wrong was not in sacrificing his immunity, but in conceding, repeatedly, that it was indeed a stupid thing to do. Bradford should have said, "Mr. Trump, I do not like sitting back, resting on the immunity I was fortunate enough to receive for my strong play last week. I am so confident about my work for the team this week, in a week when I could have simply taken it easy, that I want to be judged along with the rest of my teammates. I'm here for the long haul, and I want you to see that I don't just take advantage of a chance to slough off. I want you to see that my work is always at the top level, and I am so certain that I am one of the best players, that I am throwing my immunity aside as a way to make a very strong statement that I am one of the best." Had he said something like this, he would not have lost.

September 16, 2004

Watching television yesterday.

I watched a few of the news shows yesterday, including that Dan Rather "60 Minutes" interview with the feisty octogenarian Marian Carr Knox, whose line "I know that I didn't type them, however, the information in there is correct," makes me think it would be good to collect a lot of quotes under the heading of: Greatest Unintentionally Comic Yet Politically Revealing Quotes. Rathergate, like Watergate in its time, is a goldmine of quotes. My favorite old Nixon quote of this type is "We could do it, but it would be wrong." Anyway, despite the comedy, I found it difficult to watch the Rather show for two reasons.

First, Rather seemed very strange, anaesthetized and zombielike. Well, the poor man has been through a lot. Lost sleep? Who knows? Or was he just talking in that eerie whisper out of kindly deference to the unusually old interviewee? She seemed completely up to the interview, however, so there was no reason not to ask at least one tough question, most obviously, about her political predilections. Knox seemed quite ready to provide just the information Rather wanted, because several times after answering one question, she'd add "But I will say this" and then drop the very nugget Rather might have needed to ask another question to get. I'd love to see the pre-interview for their little session.

Second, my TV decided to start dying a slow death about a week ago. It's more than 15 years old, and it's been a trusty TV all this time. It's seen a lot. And it's a kindly old TV to up and start dying the way it did, slowly, just giving up on the color red, allowing things to drift into the green and purple gradually. It could have just suddenly gone dark or silent and then we would have said, "Damn, we have to go buy a new TV." This way, the realization has grown slowly as the realization that red is really gone sank in. Part of the eerie unwatchability of Dan Rather for me was the purple lips, the gray skin, the cyanotic creepiness of the picture itself.

I can solve part of my problem by buying a new TV. Chances are Dan Rather will still be on the new TV, but at least I will have red back, so if he ever blushes, I'll be able to see it.

Any tips on buying a new TV? I need something for the big room, to replace a 32" TV. Chris and I drove over to Best Buy to look at the TVs, and the array of products is mindboggling. The price range is insane. The store fed a continuous loop of giraffes into its TVs. How can you judge picture quality looking at giraffes? They have a nice sharp reticulated pattern that looks spiffy against zoo greenery, but I'm interested in how the human face will look. How can you tell if you want to pay extra for HDTV when all they show is a high definition loop? I want to know if regular shows are going to look weird on HDTV. The Best Buy guy was ready to explain everything in detail, but a minute into it, I get that high-tech-information-burnout feeling and just wanted him to go away. What is this EDTV? Wasn't that a movie about a guy named Ed who was on TV? Is a plasma screen better in any way other than being thin, or is it actually worse aside from its thinness? I really don't know. Well, I will have to go through at least another day without being able to see the newsmen blush, because I left without buying anything. Maybe I'll just crank the color adjustment down to zero and watch the news in black and white, the way I did back in the Nixon Era, the time today's news keeps getting drawn back into anyway.

UPDATE: Thanks for the TV-buying tips. I ended up ordering this. One solid fact about TVs I think I figured out is that the conventional CRT screen has the best picture. That simplified the search, as did my decision to limit myself to Sony, highly rated on C-Net and in Consumer Reports and a brand I personally like. After that it was largely a matter of size and deciding whether to go for the widescreen and the HDTV, which in the end I did. I bought the thing on the Sony website, and they are supposedly going to hand-deliver it, set it up, and take out the trash, so I'll be reporting back on how well that worked out. I wonder if they'll remove my old TV, the redless hulk.

September 15, 2004

Under the circumstances ...

I found this paragraph, in a Washington Post report describing an interview Kerry gave on the Don Imus show today, quite perplexing:
When asked whether there were any circumstances under which the United States should have gone to war in Iraq, Kerry responded, "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see." He voted to authorize the administration to use force against Saddam Hussein but has said Bush used the authorization in the wrong way.
Strange double use of the word "circumstances." There were no circumstances under the current circumstances? The only way to make sense of that is to say he was just not answering the question and was only saying that given the way things turned out, he now thinks it would have been better not to have gone to war. But that reverses what he recently said about going to war. I thought his position was that Bush went to war the wrong way, as the Post indicates, which implies that there was a way--a circumstance--that was justified.

"Slacker"--on DVD at last!

Ah! The new Critierion Collection DVD of "Slacker" just arrived! How exciting! How many times have I watched my deteriorating old VHS copy of this film, which I never saw in the theater. Nice packaging. Lots of extras. Why isn't this on the list of favorite movies on my profile? I'll add it.

Tim Michels vs. Russ Feingold.

After yesterday's primary, we now know it will be Tim Michels challenging Senator Russ Feingold. So no more "the wrong Russ" commercials from Russ Darrow, who came in second. I saw my first Russ Feingold TV ad yesterday, a very charming ad featuring his daughter saying he runs a tight budget within his family and therefore can be trusted on matters financial in the Senate. Actually, it sounds corny described in writing. But it appears that the big issues will be the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, both of which Feingold voted against. Feingold has the additional distinction of being the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Michels is described as "a relative unknown who ran largely on his experience as an Army Ranger and who, in his acceptance speech, vowed to renew the Patriot Act."

I heard on the radio this morning that there is a proposal for five debates between the two candidates. It will be interesting to see how much effort is made by the Republicans on behalf of Michels. My sense is that many people in Wisconsin think Feingold is a good man, who deserves to be re-elected, even if they disagree with some or even many of his votes. So maybe Feingold will be so far ahead in the polls that no huge efforts will be made on behalf of Michels. But since the Bush campaign is forced to concentrate on Wisconsin, it seems likely that Michels, who has already been making appearances with Bush, will get some solid assistance.

By contrast, Feingold will not be appearing alongside Kerry as Kerry makes a major appearance in Madison today. The official word from Feingold is that he has business in the Senate to attend to. Feingold is probably the politician whose assertions I am most willing to take at face value, but I cannot help thinking that Feingold perceives no political advantage to be gained by appearing with Kerry. And perhaps Feingold is in no position to help Kerry either, because the two disagreed on what are Feingold's two key issues: Iraq and the Patriot Act. It will be very interesting to see the effect the debates between Feingold and Michels about these two issues will have on the Presidential candidates here in Wisconsin, but people should notice that Feingold will be put in a position of arguing to Wisconsinites that the positions Kerry took were wrong.

September 14, 2004

Judicial humor.

There's not a whole lot of humor to be found in Supreme Court cases, but sometimes you find a little witticism tucked away somewhere. I like this, in a dissenting opinion by Justice Jackson, in United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944), discussing what it would take to defraud someone with an assertion of a religious belief:
All schools of religious thought make enormous assumptions, generally on the basis of revelations authenticated by some sign or miracle. The appeal in such matters is to a very different plane of credulity than is invoked by representations of secular fact in commerce. Some who profess belief in the Bible read literally what others read as allegory or metaphor, as they read Aesop's fables. Religious symbolism is even used by some with the same mental reservations one has in teaching of Santa Claus or Uncle Sam or Easter bunnies or dispassionate judges.

New Orleans.

Say a prayer for the great city of New Orleans and for the many people who are trapped there!
The mayor said that he would "aggressively recommend" people evacuate, but that it would difficult to order them to do so, because at least 100,000 in the city rely on public transportation and would have no way to leave. In addition, he said 10,000 people were in town for conventions, and there was nowhere for many of them to go except high floors in their hotels.

By midday Tuesday, traffic on Interstate 10, the major hurricane route out of New Orleans, was at a near standstill, and state police turned the interstate west of the city into a one-way route out. U.S. Highway 61, the old major route between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, also was jammed.

In the French Quarter, businesses put up plywood and closed their shutters. A few people were still hanging out at Cafe du Monde, a favorite spot for French roast coffee and beignets, and a man playing a trombone outside had a box full of tips.

"They said get out, but I can't change my flight, so I figure I might as well enjoy myself," said George Senton, of Newark, N.J., who listened to the music. "At least I'll have had some good coffee and some good music before it gets me." Tourist Dee Barkhart, a court reporter from Baltimore, was drinking Hurricane punches at Pat O'Brien's bar.

"I looked into earlier flights, but they were hundreds of dollars more and I wasn't sure I could switch flights," she said. "I figure I'm happier sitting here drinking hurricanes than sitting at the airport worrying about them."

What does the good writer wear, anyway?

Brit Hume talks about bloggers on Fox News Tonight. He interviews Scott Johnson of Powerline, and asks if it's fair call bloggers "guys in their living room in their pajamas" and "what about the charge that you guys are not subject to verification?" Johnson gives just the right answers: we only have readers because of our track record, the verification to be found by following the links, and we make quick corrections when we go wrong. Johnson is, not surprisingly, wearing a suit for his TV appearance. But let me say a word about writing at home, dressed for sitting around at home: that's nothing unique to blogging. How do you picture the great writers writing their books? Are they sitting in an office in a suit and tie?

UPDATE: A reader with a good memory sends this link about the historian Robert Caro: "Though he spends his days at the office alone, he goes to work in suit and tie. 'To remind me that I'm working,' he said." That's reminiscent of the stories about President Reagan always putting on a jacket to work in the Oval Office. Which always reminded me of those old pictures of Nixon wearing a suit to go for a walk on the beach. Back in the Nixon days (where we like to spend most of our time, this crazy election season), that excessive suit-wearing was considered a mark of deceit, and men wore jeans and a work shirt to demonstrate their seriousness.

Kerry event in Madison tomorrow won't be downtown.

John Kerry was going to have an event up at the Capitol Square tomorrow at noon and I was going to head up there after class and see if I could get some interesting photos or other bloggable tidbits. But I found this announcement:
Due to inclement weather, please note the change in venue for the Madison rally

Join our campaign today! Fill out the form below to print out your complimentary ticket(s).

Rally with John Kerry in Madison with a live performance by Sheryl Crow

Wednesday, September 15
Gates open at 11:00 a.m.

Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center
1919 Alliant Energy Center Way
Madison, WI

Parking is extremely limited. Please use public transportation (Metro Route 5) or carpool.

There is a forecast for thunderstorms later in the day, but it's terrible to miss out on the beautiful Capitol Square backdrop and the vital crowd that will be on the street at lunchtime. And why are they further discouraging attendance by saying "Parking is extremely limited" at the Alliant Center? The Alliant Center is a big concert and sports venue, with a parking lot designed to accommodate the crowds that fit in the buildings. The only reason to have this at Alliant, as opposed to some place in town, like the Kohl Center, is so that people can drive there. Well, I suppose they will get their indoor crowd for the free Sheryl Crow concert, and you wouldn't want Sheryl to get caught in the rain. But I bet the real reason for the move was that the City told the Kerry campaign they'd have to pay for the security. Anyway, I won't attend.

UPDATE, WEDNESDAY MORNING: Actually, the whether does look pretty threatening.

ANOTHER UPDATE: There actually is something of a parking problem today, with some paving being done on part of the lot. But the event is at the Exhibition Center, which seats 7,000, not the much larger arena, so it still wasn't a great idea to discourage people from driving.

"George took a hatchet to the film."

What are we to think about "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," a documentary film directed by an old friend of John Kerry's (George Butler), that is being distributed by a Canadian company (ThinkFilm)?

The film is set to open on October 1--a date chosen with the hope of affecting the election and foreclosing effective debate about any new or deceptive material that might be in it. The film has also been re-edited, according to the NYT:
"Going Upriver" has shifted in content and story line almost daily. Three weeks ago, the film was far different, before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth emerged to attack Senator Kerry's wartime record, the filmmakers said.

"George took a hatchet to the film," said Mark Urman, the head of distribution for ThinkFilm, and the focus was tightened exclusively to the Vietnam era. "The film was suddenly printed in capital letters. He took out anything that didn't address the point: who is this man, and why do we care about him?"

It sounds as though the filmmaker began with a film of some complexity, which might have been a worthy film, but then decided to sacrifice his significance as a documentary film director for the sake of helping his friend get elected. Yet the end result is that he's made something no one will see. Maybe the hope is in the advertisements for the film that will run--presumably free of campaign finance restrictions--and the free coverage the film will get on entertainment and news shows. In any event, Urman is positively giddy about it all:
"This film is being made as history as being made," Mr. Urman said. "I've never been involved with something that is so now. It's film distribution as performance art, and it's very exciting. We're making it up as we go along."

I love the way the film distributor Urman (who is probably Canadian), sees the film's distribution as the work of art, now that he seems to have squelched any potential for art in the original film that has now been edited into a commercial.

September 13, 2004

"He declined to be prescriptive..."

Catching up with the news shows tonight, I'm struck by the snickering--on "Special Report With Brit Hume"--over that quote characterizing a response by John Kerry, which appeared in today's NYT in an article by David Sanger. Kerry had telephoned Sanger on a Sunday--something Sanger wrote was "highly unusual"--to accuse Bush of allowing "a nuclear nightmare" to develop in North Korea. In Kerry's words:
"I think that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver."

But will Kerry deliver? Here's Sanger's presentation of the Kerry response:
When Mr. Kerry was pressed about how he would handle the threat of a North Korean nuclear test if he was in the Oval Office, he declined to be prescriptive, other than to say that the issue would probably have to be taken to the United Nations Security Council. "Hypothetical questions are not real," he said, arguing that North Korea was a case for preventive diplomacy, and that Mr. Bush's "ideologically driven" approach had kept him from truly engaging North Korea. "The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated," he said.

The "Six Feet Under" Finale.

Virginia Heffernan offers her theory of the big finale episode: "the urgent question at the heart of many 'Six Feet Under' relationships" is "Are you insane, or am I?" and the question was answered, nearly always, that the insane one was not the Fisher family member. I note that the original tag line for the Television Without Pity forum about the Fishers was "Nate, David, Claire, and their mother. Not a sane one in the bunch." But now, apparently, per Heffernan, they only looked crazy because absolutely everyone anywhere near them is so damn crazy. In real life, if you find yourself thinking, "Why am I the only sane one around here? Is everyone but me crazy?"--you're crazy.

But, really, what did you think of the finale? Anything seem a little ... abrupt?

UPDATE, August 21, 2005: To bad so many people are Googling here looking for discussion of the 2005 finale. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet. I should be blogging about it later in the week. Meanwhile, try Television Without Pity

20 Questions for Chief Justice Abrahamson.

Wisblawg calls attention to the new "20 Questions" from How Appealing, which are directed this month at Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, who was also a lawprof here at Wisconsin. Three things I found interesting:

1. Abrahamson favors elections for judges (along with long terms): "Too much of what goes on in the appointment and confirmation process is kept behind closed doors; the public does not have an opportunity for meaningful participation in the process. Ideally, the elective system can also be an educational experience for both the judges and the electorate."

2. The judge--living or dead--she most admires is Chief Justice William Rehnquist! She appreciates his skill at handling the role of chief justice, plus he's from Wisconsin.

3. She faces up to the challenge of defending the Wisconsin "diploma privilege," which means that law students who graduate from Wisconsin law schools (i.e., Wisconsin and Marquette) do not need to take the Wisconsin bar exam: "For states with only a few accredited law schools, the diploma privilege is a terrific system. In fact, some states are currently considering adopting the diploma privilege. Wisconsin should not be viewed as the last to retain the diploma privilege; I like to think of Wisconsin as the leader on this issue, not the holdout."

Those horrible law school outlines, Part 2.

I've complained before about the class outlines that law students pass on to other students and about the intolerable presence of these outlines on my law school's own website. I want students to engage with the assigned readings during class discussion, not pick a phrase out of some former student's outline. I don't go out of my way to notice such things, but sometimes it's rather obvious, for example, when a student confidently states an answer that would be a plausible answer to a question I plan to ask a half hour later, or when a student gives what might work as a good answer but then has no idea what language in the assigned text supports that answer. But if there is one thing in all of the four courses I teach that most reveals that a student is relying on a former student's outline, it is something that would come up in today's Civil Procedure II class (on the procedure that applies in federal court diversity cases). The dead giveaway is a request for a "flow chart." If--who am I kidding? when--someone asks for a flow chart, it will take some effort not to shriek, "Why are you relying on someone else's crappy outline!"

"W is for ..."

"W Stands for Women" is the theme for Laura Bush as she appears today at the Marriot Madison West:
The visit to Madison is somewhat unusual for the GOP: President Bush has been to Wisconsin more than 20 times since 2000, but the closest he's come to Madison is Waukesha County. The last Republican presidential candidate to campaign in Madison was Bob Dole in 1996.

"Somewhat unusual?" It never happens and it's not happening today either, because the Marriot Madison West is not in Madison, but Middleton, Wisconsin.

Anyway, about this "W is for ..." business. Last week the Kerry campaign was sponsored by the letter W, with much accompanying scorn.

I don't blame the Bush campaign for wanting to restore the good reputation of the President's middle initial--and there are so many good W words to choose from, like "win" and "wonderful." But the childish, "Sesame Street" quality of the "W is for" phrase is quite annoying, and not really what a candidate mocked for reading a children's book too long ought to want to associate himself with. What irks me the most about "W Stands for Women" is the usual idea that women need a specialized campaign, in a different voice, preferably the candidate's wife's, rephrasing every issue to be about family and children, and even selecting language ("W is for") straight out of a children's introductory reader.

UPDATE: I note the double meaning in "W Stands for Women": there's the idea of representing or standing up for women but also the idea of putting up with them!

September 12, 2004

Rope-a-dope politics.

Prof. Ribstein--who links to me strictly for my interest in memes--comments on the meme "rope-a-dope" in connection with the current election squabbling over Vietnam Era matters. Arguably, either Kerry or Bush could be characterized as playing "rope-a-dope" and intentionally exhausting the opponent by luring him into wasting his energy fighting back with blows that don't cause any harm. But I think most commentary suggesting that one candidate or another is playing rope-a-dope is a characterization after the fact--like saying "I meant to do that" after you trip over something. I'd say if the meme catches on in this election season, it will be because somebody needs an excuse for fighting so poorly.

A third-rate forgery.

Somehow my effort to read the NYT this morning got stalled in the middle of Frank Rich's explication of how Iraq is like Vietnam. It's printed on a page with a big, color illustration of a galloping horse that is kicking up a lot of dirt. The text of Rich's piece looks dusted with brown dirt, and this is heightening my usual aversion to Rich. But I did read enough to start thinking about how no one can seem to stop talking about events from the Nixon Era, and then, that Rathergate is a bit like Watergate.

Watergate--a "third-rate burglary" that brought down a President--was not just an outrageous and bold thing to decide to do, it was done so clumsily. Couldn't they have wrapped the fateful tape around the door jamb a little less conspicuously? The idea of forging documents to question Bush's National Guard service is similarly outrageous and bold and clumsy. It's a third-rate forgery. [ADDED: I realize I am assuming it is a forgery and that there is some chance it's not.]

It's one thing to decide to do the forgery, but who would dare to do it and also dare to do is so badly? Kausfiles notes the pro-Kerry conspiracy theory: some Bush operative--who is this "Buckhead"?--intended first to trick "60 Minutes" and then to have the forgery discovered. I find it hard to believe that bizarrely over-clever pro-Bush people generated the documents, because this story reopened actual questions about Bush's Guard service and, more importantly, eclipsed the Swift Boat story that was hurting Kerry so much. It was the Kerry people who were desperate to kill the Swift Boat story. Their man was in decline and that story would not die. Do something, anything! The call went out for dirty tricks. (Bloggers who linked to Susan Estrich's much-blogged "dirty tricks" column may want to check their links: they don't go where you want them to anymore!)

Rathergate is a third-rate forgery, but who, if anyone, will it bring down? It may never be traced to anyone of importance within the Kerry campaign. I'd like to think that no one at that level would be so reckless and so stupid. Yet CBS fell for the forgery, so stupidity and recklessness at high levels is surely not impossible. The one person most likely to fall is Rather himself, who must truly have wanted to help Kerry if he fell for this feeble forgery.

Nice design: graphic depiction of links.

Well done!

UPDATE: And speaking of memes, read the comments at that link to see the progress of the great "pajamas" meme.

Kerry submits to an interview!

John Kerry's long avoidance of interviews had gotten to be awfully conspicuous, and he finally submits. Time's Karen Tumulty receives the favor of his responses. Let's see how he does. Much of the time he robotically plugs in the well-worn lines of his stump speech. This is interesting, in response to "How would you go about winning the war of ideas in the Middle East?":
What I intend to do is to put in play the economic power, the values and principles, the public diplomacy, so we're isolating the radical Islamic extremists and not having the radical extremists isolate the United States. It means bringing religious leaders together, including moderate mullahs, clerics, imams—pulling the world together in a dialogue about who these extremists really are and how they are hijacking the legitimacy of Islam itself. That takes leadership, and that leadership has not been put on the table.

You have almost 60% of the populations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia under 30, and 50% under 18. We have to engage in a way that offers them some alternative to the radical madrasahs that are educating them to hate and to go out and strap explosives around themselves.
It would be a bold move indeed for the President of the United States to convene a meeting of Islamic religious leaders--moderates only!--and to attempt to lead them to reshape the meaning and culture of Islam. Time's next question is, let's get back to politics ... how about those Swift Boat ads? What's the point of getting an interview if you don't press with follow-up questions? Kerry is constantly making claims that he will bring leaders together and win cooperation. This is the first I've read of a plan to lead a religious reformation. How would he do this? Why is it more than a pipe dream?

Least believable assertion: "Polls don't mean anything to me right now." Runner-up: "I didn't see one minute of the [Republican] convention." Most hard-to-believe assertions strung together in a single answer (to the question whether he wishes he'd responded more aggressively to the Swift boat ads):
No, I think we did absolutely fine, and I think we are doing absolutely fine. I think this is a close race, and it's going to be a close race. I think we are doing extraordinarily well. If anybody had told me we'd be points apart from the sitting President of the United States, well, would you have believed them?

I feel very confident in where we are and confident about the direction of this race. And the American people are beginning to listen and listen carefully.
I like the last part especially: Kerry has long relied on the assertion that people either haven't started listening yet or are not listening carefully. For example, if you still don't think you know what he will do in Iraq, you're not listening!

Bottom line: a puff interview.

UPDATED: Bad link for the Time interview corrected.

"Wrong direction."

I notice language memes. This morning I was on the trail of "wrong direction," which I know Kerry has been using in his speech this week, but which I've heard in ordinary conversation a lot recently too. Words make me see concrete images, so "This country is moving in the wrong direction" bothers me, because it forces me to picture the country as a car driving on a highway going somewhere and to think of the speaker as having a proper place to drive to that is completely in another place. The speaker--e.g., Kerry--is saying, "Let me drive for a while," and he's planning to turn the car around and go ... where? I don't really know, but it will be in another direction. I know it's just rhetoric, but I find it quite unappealing.

Googling "wrong direction," I run across a website called "Language Monitor," which goes to some trouble to produce a monthly list of political buzzwords. "Swift boats" and "girlie men" are doing well lately. Presumably, "proportional spacing" and "superscript" will make their appearance soon. I'm happy to find this website, but why is the website design so amateurish and annoying? Still, it's worth dropping in over there, if for nothing else than to reinforce what you really already know about the rise and fall of language memes.

UPDATE: The word "across" was left out of the previous paragraph before, making it look as though "I run" the Language Monitor website! Sorry!

ANOTHER UPDATE: According to the L.A. Times, Kerry's recent use of the word "direction" represents a deliberate "compromise" in dealing with conflicting views of advisors about how aggressive Kerry--as opposed to his spokespersons--should be in attacking Bush. Supposedly "new direction" has become preferable to the word "change." It's hard to see why, but apparently they spent some time working that one out.