January 15, 2005

Four posts before 5 a.m.?

Did you notice today's posts, up until this one, are all before 5 a.m.? If they have a "bleak, icy" tone, it's not just the pre-dawn vibrations, it was 10 below zero. I love the pre-dawn hours. You feel you have the whole day ahead of you -- even after frittering away three hours, as I did, blogging, answering email, reading the NYT, and inking in the extra-hard (even for a Saturday) crossword. But I shook myself out of that early morning trance, cleaned up the kitchen from last night's ravagings, fried some eggs, watched the news on TV, and then sat down for a session of exam-grading -- yes, yes, there are still exams to grade.

All right. Enough of that. I went out in the cold -- the warmed-up cold: it was +1 now. A little banking. A stop at Mike's Liquor for some cognac and, in honor of "My Dinner With André," one of the favorite movies we might watch tonight, some amaretto. A stop at Whole Foods to get some ground beef for the Bolognese sauce. The man behind me was buying "Peace" cereal ("supporting peace") and vanilla soy milk. (Wonder if he enjoys Maureen Dowd columns about men who are looking for women to serve them?)

Now, it's time for another session with the exams. Tasks to choose from at the end of the next session: unpack the second of the two tables that came from Crate & Barrel and screw on the legs, put the Bolognese sauce together, clean the downstairs rooms, and finally hang the last of the five blinds I have been trying to put up since November. These things will all surely get done, because some blogger pals are coming by at 6 for some TV and pasta. I mean these things will all surely get done -- except the blind.

Can't stop talking about Maureen Dowd's column.

Having gotten a lot of email from my brief nod to Maureen Dowd's recent column about men choosing not to marry women who will not serve them, I was interested in the letters to the editor published in today's NYT. The first letter agrees with Dowd:
My girlfriends and I - all twentysomethings soon to graduate from college - couldn't stop talking about Maureen Dowd's column. But I was bothered by a number of things she mentioned - not because she was wrong but because she was so right.

The next two letters come from women who feel slurred: a mother and a female assistant to a powerful man want to be recognized as strong, powerful women too.

The last two letters are from men who represent the sort of men Dowd discounted: a powerful man who wants to find his equal in a powerful woman and a man happily married to a powerful woman.

The email I received, by the way, was in this last category. I'm a supporter of egalitarian marriages and don't deny their existence, so I'm not surprised that there are many people out there who can claim to want or even to have such marriages. I'm willing to believe that a controlled, objective study might even find that some of these claims are absolutely true, not just in the minds of those who make the claims, but in the actual division of energies within the relationship.

But Dowd never made an assertion about what all or even most men want. The core of her column consists of two questions and a statement about what "a lot of" men want:
So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? The more women achieve, the less desirable they are? Women want to be in a relationship with guys they can seriously talk to - unfortunately, a lot of those guys want to be in relationships with women they don't have to talk to.

Instead of just reflexively denying the problem, why not think deeply about equality?

I saw email and blog posts ridiculing Dowd, calling her a "53-year-old spinster," comparing her quite beautiful NYT photograph to the face of the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," and asserting that the powerful women she wrote about really can't get men because they are such nasty bitches.

Equality of the sexes is one of the truly excellent principles in this world, and there are great and complex forces militating against it. Please don't just sit back and say "I'm happily married" or "Men will have no problem with successful, powerful women as long as they are caring and loving." Look around! Think! It's not that easy!

"Everything slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster than the brain can process."

That's a description of what it looked like when a speeding submarine slammed into an uncharted mountain.

A big cheer for the "bleak, icy world. "

Ah! Beautiful! Delighted by "treacly, glacierlike slush"!

50-page opinions.

Why does it take 50 pages to state the obvious?

January 14, 2005

"Blog" makes the NYT crossword puzzle.

In a very nice Friday puzzle by Manny Nosowsky, "blog" makes what I think is its first appearance in a NYT crossword. The clue is 28-Down: "Blog predecessor." I won't spoil the puzzle by giving the answer. It's a 5-letter word.

UPDATE: You can see the answer here. Scrawlville thinks the answer is wrong.

One year old!

The day has finally come. This blog is one year old today. It's been pretty cool. I remember starting off in utter obscurity, thinking I'd better take care what I write, because I've got to assume that, eventually, some people who know me are going to find this. And now the Sitemeter is up over 900,000. Thanks to all the readers for coming by!

News reports of the Scalia-Breyer debate.

The previous post is my TiVo-blog of the C-Span feed of the Scalia-Breyer debate. Now let's look at some news reports. Here's Joan Biskupic in USA Today. She includes this relevant info:
Some members of Congress have denounced such references. Last year, Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., introduced a resolution criticizing the court for citing foreign legal authority. The resolution drew several co-sponsors but was not adopted by the full House. Shannon Conklin, a spokeswoman for Feeney, said Thursday that he intends to reintroduce the resolution.

I note that there was some discussion about whether or not to cite the law. Justice Breyer's point was: if I'm going to read it and take it into account, what's the big deal about citing it? Feeney's resolution wasn't mentioned, but it was implicitly diminished. To cite or not to cite did not come across as a very important point. Justice Scalia didn't harp on it. The main disagreement between the Justices is the same one it always is: is originalism required?

Here's the Washington Post report, from Charles Lane, who's fascinated by the chance to see the two Justices interacting with each other:
It was the first time in recent memory that two sitting justices representing opposing factions on the court took their disagreements so completely public, and the effect was, at times, electrifying....

The two men were a study not only in contrasting legal philosophies but also in contrasting personal styles. Scalia was characteristically intense, frequently shifting to the edge of his seat and punctuating his thoughts with brisk gesticulations. Breyer was all professorial cool, relaxing back into his easy chair and sipping spring water from a long-stemmed glass.

I would add that even though the two Justices present themselves differently and take different positions on how to do constitutional interpretation, they appear completely relaxed and friendly with each other. Neither has the slightest hope of convincing the other he's right, and they seem used to living with that situation.

TiVo-blogging the Scalia-Breyer debate.

I TiVo-blogged the C-Span feed of the Justice Scalia/Justice Breyer debate about the use of foreign law in American constitutional interpretation that took place yesterday afternoon at American University. I made my contemporaneous typings late last night, after a hard day's work and while drinking a glass of red wine, and let me post them now before I taint my impressions with any of the news reports, about which I'll blog in the next post. Here goes.

When the law school dean's introduction refers to the two Justices as "towering figures," the audience laughs and then we see a close-up of Justice Scalia. Presumably, he had some amusing reaction to the phrase, but the C-Span editing is too late to include us in the hijinks.

The Justices are sitting in gold brocade wing chairs, symbolizing the grandeur of the occasion. This gives a certain international look to the set: it resembles a meeting of Chinese leaders and not any sort of American scholarly event I've ever seen.

The introductory speeches are long, and Scalia betrays some impatience, tapping his hands on the chair arms. Justice Breyer places his fingers on his lips and gazes upwards, looking (to me) like one of the apostles.

Finally, the moderator, Norman Dorsen, is given the microphone. Dorsen reads the résumés of the two Justices and emphasizes the similarity of their backgrounds. Surprise: they both went to Harvard!

Dorsen is going to begin with some questions and then get out of the way. What body of foreign law are we talking about? Just foreign constitutional law or the interpretation of international treaties? How are we talking about using this law: as authority or just for whatever persuasive value it may happen to have? Why are we using foreign law: to enhance the legitimacy of our decisions within the U.S. or to the rest of the world?

Justice Scalia goes first and says you really should ask Justice Breyer and not me, because I don't use foreign law (except to interpret treaties). In constitutional law, it might be "nice" to know our law is like that of the rest of the world, but it isn't. The Framers would have been "appalled" if you'd have told them what they were doing is making us like the rest of the world. They didn't have much respect for European countries. He notes that Madison was contemptuous of countries that were "afraid" to let their citizens bear arms.

Scalia suggests that people who want to use foreign law want to use it selectively. They never say let's abandon the exclusionary rule or strong abortion rights because other countries don't have these things. And they only want to use the foreign law that supports what they want to do anyway, as in Lawrence, when the foreign law that supported the decriminalization of homosexual sodomy was cited, but foreign law that did not was avoided. Obviously, they don't want it to be authority. So then what is the criterion for using it? Whenever it agrees with you?

Justice Breyer says law "emerges" and the Supreme Court is just part of a "conversation" about what law is. Judges, professors, law students, lawyers – all are part of this "giant, messy -- unbelievably messy -- conversation." So Justices need to get out more, he says. Then he cracks a joke about how he's only been recognized as a Supreme Court Justice out in public ten times, and nine of those times, he was thought to be Justice Souter.

Scalia tries to top him, saying Breyer pretends to be Justice Souter on those occasions. (That reminds me of the fact that, years ago, strangers would sometimes ask my father for his autograph. He looked like Frank Sinatra, so he would sign "Frank Sinatra" for them.)

Breyer says people naturally cite what is "useful." Of course, it doesn't "bind" the court, but foreign judges "are human beings," and they have problems to solve, and the ways they've figured out to solve problems are useful to us "if it's similar enough." Why shouldn't I read it? And if I read it, why shouldn't I cite it? They cite us. And if we cite them, it might help them establish the rule of law where they are.

He talks about his own uncertainties, notably in the school vouchers case. He was influenced by France and Britain, which subsidize religious schools. What he believes in doing is "opening your eyes to things that are going on elsewhere -- use it for what it's worth." He notes that one of the reasons for the controversy is that the citation of foreign law has come up in the context of gay rights, abortion, and the death penalty – and these are already controversial subjects.

Back to Scalia: Judges who cast about for cases from other countries are really only looking inside themselves, for their own moral perceptions. But he doesn't want "that responsibility." He's only willing to look at old English cases. "I sleep very well at night, because I read old English cases. And there's my answer. " Scalia's point in this debate is really the same point he always makes about constitutional interpretation.

Breyer: You look other places precisely because you don't trust your own opinions.

Scalia: The only reason it can make sense to you to think it matters what some judge in another country thinks is because in fact you DO trust your own opinion.

Basically, Breyer is claiming a kind of humility in looking to what others think, which Scalia portrays as cloaked arrogance.

About halfway through the session, the two Justices have clearly made their points. It goes on and the clear points are restated clearly, but I won't trouble you with resummarizing them. Finally, members of the audience ask questions, and the questioners don't resist the temptation to give little speeches and ramble through multiple questions. It is very late, and I mentioned that glass of wine, but my impression is that nothing new is said.

UPDATE: The armchairs look international, as noted above, and thus symbolically support the Breyer side of the debate.

January 13, 2005

We will not serve.

And therefore, we will not marry. Maureen Dowd notes the trend.

"These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don't want it to work."

Today's Thomas Friedman column is one of the best-written and best argued pieces I've ever read:
[W]e are already in a civil war in Iraq. That civil war was started by the Sunni Baathists, and their Islamist fascist allies from around the region, the minute the U.S. toppled Saddam. And they started that war not because they felt the Iraqi elections were going to be rigged, but because they knew they weren't going to be rigged.

They started the war not to get their fair share of Iraqi power, but in hopes of retaining their unfair share. Under Saddam, Iraq's Sunni minority, with only 20 percent of the population, ruled everyone. These fascist insurgents have never given politics a chance to work in Iraq because they don't want it to work. That's why they have never issued a list of demands. They don't want people to see what they are really after, which is continued minority rule, Saddamism without Saddam. If that was my politics, I'd be wearing a ski mask over my head, too.

The notion that delaying the elections for a few months would somehow give time for the "Sunni moderates" to persuade the extremists to come around is dead wrong - literally. Any delay would simply embolden the guys with the guns to kill more Iraqi police officers and to intimidate more Sunnis. It could only convince them that with just a little more violence, they could scuttle the whole project of rebuilding Iraq.

Definitely, a must-read.

The mysterious Justice Ginsburg.

As noted yesterday, it was the vote of Justice Ginsburg that made the Sentencing Guidelines case so complicated. There were two sets of four justices, and she agreed with one set in finding a violation of the right to a trial by jury and with the other set for devising the remedy for the violation. Linda Greenhouse writes:
The mystery in the case was Justice Ginsburg, who joined the Stevens group, as she consistently has, in applying the Sixth Amendment to the guidelines. She then provided Justice Breyer with his fifth vote to preserve the system's architecture. She did not write a separate opinion to explain herself. The court took considerably longer on the case than had been expected. Many people thought a decision would be out by Thanksgiving, and it is possible that Justice Ginsburg's vote, and therefore the outcome, was in play until late in the process.

Oh, how I hate when that happens! You have a lengthy case, with multiple confusing opinions, and the one person who could explain why it came out that way is not talking. And you want me to read this? I protest!

Embarrassing correction of the year.

From the NYT:
An obituary of the civil rights leader James Forman yesterday misstated a word in describing his call, in 1969, for reparations to be paid by Protestant and Jewish groups for the crimes of slavery. Mr. Forman asked for $500 million for crimes perpetrated against generations of blacks, not "by" them.

The federal government thinks you're fat.

Here's Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson telling you what to do:
"Tonight eat only half the dessert," Mr. Thompson said. "And then go out and walk around the block. And if you are going to watch television get down and do 10 push-ups and 5 sit-ups."

Why don't they just have the TVs emit federal government orders to do exercises while we watch?
The Physical Jerks would begin in three minutes. ...

'Thirty to forty group!' yapped a piercing female voice. 'Thirty to forty group! Take your places, please. Thirties to forties!'

Winston sprang to attention in front of the telescreen, upon which the image of a youngish woman, scrawny but muscular, dressed in tunic and gym-shoes, had already appeared.

'Arms bending and stretching!' she rapped out. 'Take your time by me. One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! Come on, comrades, put a bit of life into it! One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! ...'

... As he mechanically shot his arms back and forth, wearing on his face the look of grim enjoyment which was considered proper during the Physical Jerks, ....

"I'm really elated, and I think most judges will be, too."

Instead of puzzling through the Supreme Court's knotty opinion in the Sentencing Guidelines case, let's look at how judges are reacting to it:
"I'm really elated, and I think most judges will be, too," Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Federal District Court in Brooklyn said. "It gives us the discretion to deal with individual cases without being unnecessarily harsh. This is now, if Congress leaves it, a marvelous system."

So, the inquiry turns to Congress. What are the pressures and motivations here?

The Supreme Court has taken a constitutional flaw in the Guidelines (which were meant to restrict judges) and fashioned a remedy that keeps the Guidelines in some sense but restores discretion in sentencing to the judges. The judges are "elated," but Congress may want to reassert its control over the judges.

As noted in the linked article (by Carl Hulse and Adam Liptak in the NYT), just last year Congress started requiring the United States Sentencing Commission to feed it information about which federal judges weren't following the Guidelines, an attempt to control those terrible federal judges who have the audacity to imagine that they occupy an independent branch of the federal government supposedly accountable to something they arrogantly call "law" and not to the will of Congress.

So here we go into a new season of judge-bashing (and, from the other side, judge-defending), which should go quite nicely with whatever new judicial nominations may happen to come up.

January 12, 2005

The Sentencing Guidelines case.

CNN reports on the important new Supreme Court case:
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that federal judges have been improperly adding time to criminals' sentences, a decision that puts in doubt longtime sentencing rules.

The court, on a 5-4 vote, said that its ruling last June that juries -- not judges -- should consider factors that can add years to defendants' prison sentences applies as well to the 17-year-old federal guideline system.

Here's the full text of the case, for people who like to figure things out for themselves. Looking at that site, you might well ask why Justice Stevens writes the opinion and a dissent. Here the actual breakdown:
Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in part, in which Scalia, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in part, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O’Connor, Kennedy, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which Souter, J., joined, and in which Scalia, J., joined except for Part III and footnote 17. Scalia, J., and Thomas, J., filed opinions dissenting in part. Breyer, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O’Connor and Kennedy, JJ., joined.

This will take some digestion! I think there's agreement about the point of law, but disagreement about exactly what the remedy is going to be. More on this later.

UPDATE: I have a feeling the law bloggers are all going to start glancing around asking, who's reading all of this? I think I'm going to pick my battles and pass this one up. It's not an area of constitutional law I teach. The horrible knot of a problem here is that the Justices who disagreed with the interpretation of the Sixth Amendment have the majority when it comes to figuring out the remedy. How did that happen? I can answer that: Justice Ginsburg! I'll let someone else explain exactly why and exactly how much of a mess we've got on our hands now.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's Instapundit glancing around and finding the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, which obviously has to do this one and can't do the hey-don't-look-at-me routine.

What if you had to choose between saving the rain forest and escaping from a fascist prison?

It happened to Germaine Greer! The "fascist prison" was the reality show "Big Brother," which she decided to participate in -- not to get attention but to raise money to save the rain forest -- and can you believe the experience of filming the show turned out to be quite a bit more annoying that she'd thought it would be? I hate fascism, too. You know like when Sylvester Stallone's mother, aka Brigitte Nielsen's ex-mother-in-law, shows up unexpectedly.
Greer said that in contrast to her housemates, who entered the program to raise their profile and further their careers, she had nothing to gain.

"I was a little naive. I didn't realize agendas.

"I had no idea who would be in here, and it's wrong for me to present myself in the same context as they are," she said.
Yeah, who are these people?

Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and me.

It's our birthday!

Faith and torture.

Here's a report of an Oxford experiment that entails torturing the subjects! The scientists want to know whether religious faith helps people withstand pain.

Slobby men, slobby women.

Why is "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl" bad when "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was good? You might think it's just because "Guy" was first, and the idea that was fun when it was new is dull when it's old. But Alessandra Stanley, in today's NYT, detects a different causality, and it has deep and disturbing implications:
There are plenty of women who do not comb their hair or throw out old newspapers, but on reality shows they seem more pathetic than cute. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" worked by tugging at all the endearing stereotypes of heterosexual men as unkempt, oafish and in need of a woman's - or a gay man's - touch. Giving Oscar Madison a makeover makes comic sense. It's not quite as funny for the Madwoman of Chaillot.

What is the larger message here? It's not just that the new show is "more unsettling than it is amusing," as Stanley concludes, but that when a woman looks messy on the surface, one ought to conclude that she has underlying problems. She's pathetic, and cannot be saved by mere stylists. When a man is messy on the surface, however, a surface workover will solve the problem. The logic seems to be that the heterosexual stereotype for the male is that of a slob, so the slobby "straight guy" is really a normal well-adjusted man, but the heterosexual stereotype for a female is someone who takes care of her appearance, so the "straight girl" who deviates from the stereotype is abnormal.

Stanley notes that in the midst of the makeover, the woman in Episode 1 of "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl" says "this is all superficial." On "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," when the stylists fixed the man's surface, they liberated his attractive inner self. The man's beautiful inside emerged, and everyone felt warm and fuzzy in the end. Stanley is saying, this is not happening for the woman, because there could not have been a lovely inner self just waiting to be liberated by a superficial makeover, because no such lovely inner self, if female, would have let herself go like that in the first place.

What are the implications of Stanley's observation? Of course, we judge people by the impression they make on us when we see them. And we probably are already likely to have a more negative reaction to an unattractive woman than to an unattractive man (even if we are consciously committed to avoiding unfair discrimination). But now this sex-typed judgment goes a step further. Our negativity toward ill-kempt women now includes a harsh judgment about their mental health!

Well, it's just one episode of a show, so there's still hope that nonconformity might spring from individualism and strong character. I note that the show's producers try to select a makeover candidate whose transformation will entertain us, and they may have just misjudged what would make a good show in making their pick for Episode 1. They might have thought evoking our tender sympathies for a fragile flower of a woman would work. So there's still plenty of hope that slovenly women have it together on the inside -- at least as often as slovenly men.

January 11, 2005

"Not One Damn Dime Day."

Have you noticed "Not One Damn Dime Day"? A lot of people have gotten many copies of this email that urges them to protest the war in Iraq by not spending any money on Inauguration Day:
On "Not One Damn Dime Day" those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.

During "Not One Damn Dime Day" please don't spend money...

For 24 hours, please do what you can to shut the retail economy down.

The object is simple. Remind the people in power that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal; that they are responsible for starting it and that it is their responsibility to stop it....

There's no rally to attend. No marching to do. No left or right wing agenda to rant about. On "Not One Damn Dime Day" you take action by doing nothing....

Here's a website about it, which doesn't explain why not spending money for one day is a good way to get a message across. Snopes declares it ineffective "slacktivism":
[T]he suggested scheme is one of the least effective forms of symbolic protest one could devise: it literally proposes that people do nothing, and doing nothing generates little, if any, publicity or news coverage. Massing thousands of people in one place and engaging speakers to make rousing public speeches provide vivid, well-defined images for the news media to pick up on, but pictures of people not spending money just don't make compelling fodder for newspapers and television. (Images of normally bustling malls, restaurants, and airports standing eerily devoid of human traffic might make for a good news story, but public opinion on this issue is far too divided for this protest to be able to bring all business to a grinding halt.) Even worse, when you call upon people to do nothing, how is anyone supposed to gauge the success of your efforts? There's no way to distinguish those who are doing nothing out of principal from those who are simply doing nothing out of habit.

This protest is so lame one suspects it started as a hoax to give people who support the President something to make fun of.

UPDATE: Citizen Z says: "'Take action by doing nothing.' It's a protest and a zen koan!" And now -- awfully late -- my blog's theme of the day has emerged: it's nothing! The first post today built toward the Seinfeldian "phone call about nothing." This post quotes Mel Gibson saying there's "nothing" to Gibson/Moore opposition. This post worried about the message implied by not blogging about something. So, if I were looking for more things to blog about on this relatively heavy blogging day, I would engage in some deliberate nothing-blogging. But nothing doing.

Backlash against a conservative Supreme Court?

Here's a piece by Jeremy Buchman in The New Republic arguing that social conservatives will regret it if they get their way and Bush appoints very conservative new Supreme Court Justices. On the assumption that such Justices would radically overturn precedent and resurrect the pre-1937 view of congressional powers, Buchman speculates that the new Court would provoke a backlash that would hurt conservatives the way the backlash against Roe v. Wade hurt liberals.

I doubt that the strong conservatives currently being discussed as potential nominees would overturn settled expectations as much as Buchman predicts, but of course it is necessary for him to posit extreme changes before the warning about political backlash seems plausible, because federalism-based limitations on Congress are not something that tends to stir up ordinary voters -- certainly not the way abortion did.

Screen Actors Guild Awards.

This looks like the best place to read the nominations. Jamie Foxx got three nominations. That can't happen too often. It's that extra TV movie category that lets you rack up the nominations. Hilary Swank got a second nomination that way, for something called "Iron-Jawed Angels." Who even watches TV movies?

Actually, if you count the "ensemble" nominations, Foxx is up for a fourth award.

Andrew Sullivan gives Lincoln a four ...

On the Kinsey scale. And he thinks the Tripp book is "engrossing" but "uneven." And he denounces the Weekly Standard piece as "a useful exhibit in the degeneration of conservative discourse." Yet Nobile's attack on Tripp's book is carefully spelled out, while Sullivan's attack on Nobile is detail-free namecalling. So which is more of "a useful exhibit in the degeneration of ... discourse"?

"No comment on the Rathergate report?"

An emailer asks that question, which I'll answer here in case other readers have the same question. I noticed Glenn Reynolds is chiding a few political bloggers for not posting on the subject, but I don't consider myself the type of blogger that is saying something by saying nothing. In fact, I regret posting this because it seemed to take on the obligation to note other things (and because it causes people to email me and say things like "Come on! You can do better!").

I didn't post on Rathergate because so many other people did so quickly. No one needed to be pointed to the story. And what are you going to say? Is everyone supposed to check in and say "that's enough" or "that's not enough"? If anyone's counting up the votes on the subject, you can add me to the "not enough" column. I don't really have the time to comb through the report itself, but from skimming, my general impression is that it tries to portray various people as too enthusiastic about getting a hot story out fast, which is a much nicer cause of error than intending to make the presidential election come out the way you want. Also, I felt that the proposed remedies had to do with saving CBS from ever getting caught in the act like this again. The report certainly didn't make me think that CBS was going to do anything about the way the people who produce the news use it to pursue the political outcomes they prefer.

Dreams, movies, shopping.

When you wake up in the middle of the night, go ahead and blog about the anxiety dream that woke you up. Jeremy did. His had a colleague who told him "the emerging helix of opinion is that your talk sucked." And Elliott Gould was there. What that means depends on which Elliott Gould movies Jeremy has seen.

Elliott Gould movies were once quite the thing. Especially "Getting Straight" (1970). "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" (1969), "MASH" (1970), "Little Murders" (1971), "The Long Goodbye"(1973), "California Split" (1973) -- we baby boomers got really excited about the new Elliott Gould movie for a while there, and then people completely stopped caring about him. He's been in a lot of films since then though, many of them very obscure. In others his role is small. The last movie I remember seeing him in was "American History X" (1998), where he has a small role, but it's absolutely key in one of the great family dinner table scenes in all of movies. I've been meaning to put together a list of great family dinner table scenes. You know the kind where it starts out as a regular family meal and then things go terribly wrong. I like the one in "Welcome to the Dollhouse," where Dawn is denied her dessert, and the one in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," where Richard Dreyfuss gets all "This is important, this means something" about his mashed potatoes.

Anyway, I'm guessing Jeremy saw "Ocean's Twelve," because he used it in a post recently -- this one, which is about blogs turning one year old -- as mine does on Friday -- and commemorates the birthday of Nina's blog.

Nina, by the way, is blogging about Virginia Postrel's book "The Substance of Style," which I used more than once during our Sunday shopping trip to justify buying things, to the point where it justified buying the book. Nina memorializes the shopping trip here, and my take is here.

UPDATE: I'm getting some good email suggesting items for my dinner scene list: "American Beauty" (think: asparagus), "Beetlejuice" (think: Banana Boat Song), "Annie Hall" (think: Grammy Hall), "Five Easy Pieces" (think: dead kitten). Here are three I can't vouch for because I haven't seen them: "Pollock," "The Incredibles," "The Aviator."

Those couples.

What's with those couples where the man talks all the time and the woman listens? What's really going on there? You can just imagine.

"It's just some kind of device, some left-right."

Michael Moore and Mel Gibson have more mutual admiration than you might think:
Asked if he had seen Mr. Gibson's film, Mr. Moore lighted up.

"I saw it twice," Mr. Moore said. "It's a very powerful film. I'm a practicing Catholic. My film might have been called 'The Compassion of the Christ,' though. The great thing about this country is the diversity of voices. When we limit the voices, we cease being a free society."

When Mr. Gibson walked to the press room lectern, he and Mr. Moore seemed delighted to meet each other.

"I feel a strange kinship with Michael," Mr. Gibson said. "They're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it's a hologram. They really have got nothing to do with one another. It's just some kind of device, some left-right. He makes some salient points. There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on. However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq? No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we're there, why we went there, and why we're still there."
The Left sees Moore as their man, and The Right sees Gibson as theirs. Fortunately, reality is more complex.

"When I was very small, this was kind of a dream job: a beautiful woman's profession, a life for a gentle person."

The hard life of a Chinese flight attendant.

"Making a stink about Tripp's book."

Here's a damning article about C.A. Tripp's book "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln." The article is written by an historian (Philip Nobile) who was at one time a co-author of Tripp's:
The book is a hoax and a fraud: a historical hoax, because the inaccurate parts are all shaded toward a predetermined conclusion, and a literary fraud, because significant portions of the accurate parts are plagiarized--from me, as it happens.
Nobile has a substantial legal dispute with the publisher, which must affect our assessment of his article, but he lays out his evidence well. I was particularly struck by this report of a phone call from AIDS activist and writer Larry Kramer:
"IF YOU DON'T STOP MAKING A STINK about Tripp's book, I'm going to expose you as an enormous homophobe," Larry Kramer telephoned me to say last October. "For the sake of humanity, please, gays need a role model." I replied that the book was so bad, it would backfire on the homosexual movement when reviewers and readers caught on to the fabrications, contradictions, and general nuttiness of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln.
How upset should we be about history books that don't meet the standards of professional historians? Many books that are superficially history books are easily detected as political propaganda or inspirational froth. Leaving aside Nobile's plagiarism complaints, does Tripp's book really fool anyone into thinking it's more than it really is? I don't know everything Kramer actually said to Nobile, but the core of his point seems to be: let gay people have their hero. Of course, that's also awfully sad and lame and infantilizing. I'd like to think all rational adults would prefer scrupulously researched and argued works of history, but people do enjoy reading rousing polemics and one-sided arguments that bolster their cause. This is the sort of book that sells, which I'm sure dismays some scholarly writers who have not quite gotten used to living in the real world yet.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Let me point you to this post of mine from later in the day noting Andrew Sullivan's objection to Nobile's article, and this post of mine from a while back asking what difference it would make in the way we think about any current issues if we were to believe Lincoln was gay.

"Your call may be monitored"... including when you're on hold.

Who knew that those people who monitor phone calls to ensure that a company's employees do a good job of serving customers are also listening to the customers when they are on hold? Now that I know, I won't be saying secret or embarrassing things to other people in the room, but I will use the hold time to communicate with the company or merely to bitch at the bad music or little commercials they annoy me with on hold. That said, I hope terrorists and other criminals don't read that article.

What is life like for the call monitor? Back here, I noted an article about how boring it is to do the job of monitoring the feed from security cameras. But listening in to phone calls turns out to be amusing: "It's like watching TV. There's always something interesting on."

Like the phone operators themselves, many of the monitors are in India and need to adapt themselves to the ways of American phone callers, including our puzzling, irrelevant chatter. Some Indian call centers train their phone operators to get the hang of American conversiation by showing them episodes of "Seinfeld" and "Friends." I'd like to listen in on the Indians' conversations about how (presumably) strange they think we are and how they (perhaps) use "Seinfeld" references making sense of us. That was a phone call about nothing.

January 10, 2005

A year older.

This week, I turn one year older and so does this blog. Since I've had many birthdays, I'm much more attuned to the blog's birthday, its first. That's on the 14th. Exciting!

Liberals should let Roe die.

So writes self-professed liberal Benjamin Witte in the new Atlantic. His reasoning:
[T]he liberal commitment to Roe has been deeply unhealthy — for American democracy, for liberalism, and even for the cause of abortion rights itself....

By removing the issue from the policy arena, the Supreme Court has prevented abortion-rights supporters from winning a debate in which public opinion favors them....

[A] pro-lifer who complains that she never got her democratic say before abortion was legalized nationwide has a powerful grievance. And there's nothing quite like denying people a say in policy to energize their commitment to a position....

Roe puts liberals in the position of defending a lousy opinion that disenfranchised millions of conservatives on an issue about which they care deeply while freeing those conservatives from any obligation to articulate a responsible policy that might command majority support....

These are points that have been made before, but Witte puts them together pithily. Note that he isn't really expressing a deep belief in democracy. He's only saying liberals shouldn't put so much energy into keeping Roe alive because if the matter is left to political decisionmaking, abortion rights will still win, and the upside of that will be that abortion opponents will have worked their grievance through their systems, and the abortion rights proponents will have been activated and enlivened by defending access to abortions rather than a flawed old Court opinion.

Yet little time is really spent now defending the reasoning of the Court opinion, which has lived for many years on the power of stare decisis. And you really can't assume you know what the end result of the political process will be. You can't even assume that the results of those surveys showing a majority of Americans want to preserve access to abortions will remain steady. If the political debate about abortions is opened up, people may very well change their minds on the subject. Witte thinks "Liberals should be salivating at their electoral prospects in a post-Roe world," but you really don't know how things would play out.

Niching down.

Here's a piece in the new Atlantic that approves of the media decentralization represented by blogs. The author William Powers compares this "niching down" to the media in the 19th century:
The nineteenth century was a time of intense national growth and fervent argument about what direction the country should take. Numerous political parties appeared (Democratic, Whig, Republican, Free Soil, Know-Nothing), and the views and programs they advocated all found expression in sympathetic papers. In fact, the parties themselves financially supported newspapers, as did the White House for a time. ... [B]y the middle of the nineteenth century 80 percent of American newspapers were avowedly partisan.

This partisanship was not typically expressed in high-minded appeals to readers' better instincts. As Tocqueville wrote, "The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices." When Martin Chuzzlewit, the central character of the Dickens novel by the same name, arrives in the New York City of the early 1840s, he is greeted by newsboys hawking papers with names like the New York Stabber and the New York Keyhole Reporter. "Here's the New York Sewer!," one newsie shouts. "Here's the Sewer's exposure of the Wall Street Gang, and the Sewer's exposure of the Washington Gang, and the Sewer's exclusive account of a flagrant act of dishonesty committed by the Secretary of State when he was eight years old."
Funny how much Dickens's joke names for newspapers sound like things people would actually call their blogs. Anyway, Powers's point is that it's for the good:
[E]ven though the media of this period were profuse, partisan, and scandalously downmarket, they were at the same time a powerful amalgamator that encouraged participatory democracy and forged a sense of national identity.

Phrases of the year.

A panel of linguists picked "red state, blue state, purple state" as the phrase of the year. I don't know how purple got in on that action. I heard very little of that and very much of the other two. Is Wisconsin a "purple state"? According to their standard, it supposedly is, but I've only heard it called a "blue state." But then, I'm here in the absolutely blue core of the place. There should be a word for something with a blue core surrounded by lots of red, which seems to be the usual situation in a supposedly "purple" state, but I can't think of any real life object like that. Maybe a fried egg, if only yolks were blue and whites were red, and yolks were a lot smaller.

What other phrases did the linguists consider? "Flip-flopper," "meet-up," "mash-up," "wardrobe malfunction." Hmmm... not terribly strong competition. No "Rathergate," but I'll bet after going through the phrase of the year ritual for 15 years, they are absolutely sick of "-gate."

Then there were the "most creative" phrases. "Pajamahadeen" won, but there were also "hillbilly armor," "nerdvana," and "lawn mullet." I've never seen the term "lawn mullet," but I see it's "a lawn that is neatly mowed in the front but unmowed in the back." Funny, but embarrassing for those of us who have it.

Is Russ Feingold running for President?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel speculates.

How to shop.

Do you shop better alone or accompanied? It depends on whom you're shopping with. It may be that shopping alone, you go exactly to the items you need and efficiently purchase them. No one grouses about the money or engages in any other wearying naysaying. But, alone, you may wander about aimlessly and think too much and decide you don't really need or like anything. Yesterday, three of us drove two-and-a-half hours to Chicago to shop, and, without question, the accompaniment facilitated shopping. Not only did nonstop conversation make the five hours in the car breeze by, my friends prevented the usual dithering. I could see that making a purchase entertained my co-shoppers. If you're going to spend money, it's good to bring people with you -- not naysayers, good shoppers -- because your yielding up of the credit card will delight them. Somehow I managed to spend the most money. (I live to entertain.) The shopping trip culminated in Tiffany's, where we all went in for fun and all left with those tiny blue shopping bags. Since I was the official high spender, mine had two little white-ribbon-tied boxes in it.

January 9, 2005

Sunday cabbage-blogging.

Can you identify today's literary cabbage-quote (without Googling)?
"Come, and eat my strawberries. They are ripening fast."

... Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere.

The future of fundamentalism.

Here is a piece in the NYT Week in Review about the rise of religion everywhere in the world except Europe. But it's not fundamentalism -- which one scholar defines as "essentially a backlash against secularism and modernity."

R. Scott Appleby, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, co-authored a book called "Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World." That book was published in 2003. Now, he's saying:
"There is some evidence, some literature that says fundamentalism is on the decline, that it has peaked or is peaking precisely because it has a tendency toward violence and intolerance, and those ultimately don't work. They lead to bloodshed, loss of life, and no recognizable economic upturn, and there is an exhaustion with it."

A family's reputation and a lobotomy for mild mental retardation.

A short, chilling obituary for Rosemary Kennedy.

Haunted?

The NYT writes that the "U.S. Is Haunted by Initial Plan for Iraq Voting":
In its struggle to transfer sovereignty back to Iraq last spring, the Bush administration made some tough decisions about the makeup of the political system and how Iraqi elections could occur quickly and fairly. But now a little-noticed decision on election procedures has come back to haunt administration officials, just weeks before the vote is to take place, administration and United Nations officials say.

The fundamental decision set up one nationwide vote for a new national assembly, rather than elections by districts and provinces. With a violent insurgency spreading through the Sunni Arab areas of the country, it now looks as if fewer Sunnis will vote, distorting the balance of the legislature and casting doubt on whether the election will be seen as legitimate.

Considering the endless difficulties we see in the U.S. over redrawing district lines, which is done by those who have already been elected to a government perceived as legitimate, it is hard to imagine how that line drawing could have gone well, even if much more time were taken. The headline has the "U.S. Haunted" by the decision – ostensibly made by Carina Perelli, chief of the United Nations electoral assistance mission in Iraq – but the regret of the decision is only traced to "some" former aides of Paul Bremer, the former American administrator in Iraq. Bremer himself has not expressed regrets, nor have White House officials.

Presumably, if a plan with districting had been adopted, an alternate set of problems would be "haunting" us now. You can't compare the idea of district voting to the reality of a nationwide vote. In fact, other former Bremer aides say that districting was preferred as an idea but "the practical problems were overwhelming." The Times seems to identify fixing the January election date as the root problem, and yet a later date would have brought its own set of practical problems. Practical people must move forward under the conditions that exist, and, presumably, practical people are in charge and don't sit around feeling haunted by what might have been.
The problem of underrepresentation of Sunnis in a future legislature has already stirred talk among Americans, Iraqis and United Nations officials of making adjustments after the voting. Among the ideas being discussed are simply adding seats to the 275-member legislature, or guaranteeing that the future government or constitution-writing committees have a fixed percentage of Sunni representatives.

UPDATE: The article I've linked here appears on the front page of the Sunday Times. I wrote that post before I reached the Op-Ed page, where I see now that is a piece written by Larry Diamond, the same Bremer aide who is the source for the main quote expressing negativity about the nationwide election. He recommends postponing the election.