May 21, 2005

The congressional downward spiral.

Carl Hulse, in the NYT, writes about Congress's declining public image:
"... both Senate Republicans and Democrats have seen drops in brand images," said a memorandum from the Senate Republican Conference, "but Democrats are losing much more ground than we are."

Democrats and others dispute that notion, saying that Republicans - as members of the party controlling the White House as well as the House and Senate - are suffering the most and will pay the higher political price if the negative view persists into the next election cycle.
Yes, it does seem that each party imagines the other is going to take the brunt of the damage.

I think I'd almost rather look at the pictures of Saddam in his underpants than watch Congress these days.

Glancing up, noticing piles of things everywhere.

A pile of exams, needing grading.

A pile of things brought in from the car after the Ithaca trip, not yet put away.

A pile of bills to pay.

Piles of papers on my desk, some of which need to be put in some permanent place and some thrown away. If I wait longer to deal with this, will that enable me to put more of the things in the trash?

Piles of books I've started to read. If I delay longer trying to finish them, won't it become easier to toss more of them aside as never deserving to be read through?

Piles of magazines I've subscribed to, received, and not even opened. And this includes The New Yorker, which you'd think would at least get paged through to read the cartoons.

Piles of books to sell off at Half-Price Books. Is it even worth the trip dragging them over there and waiting while they determine the price? The task will take an hour, and I'll be lucky to get $25 out of it. But I need a way to rid the house of accumulated rectangular objects.

A pile of dry cleanables. What is more boring and more irritatingly expensive than getting dry-clean-only things cleaned?

A pile of beautiful archival gallery frames for photographs, still wrapped, bought years ago, back before I even had a digital camera. And did you know I've never printed out a single one of the thousands of photographs I've taken with my digital camera, which I've had since March 2004?

A pile of boxes that need to be broken down and tied up for recycling. Piles of newspapers and catalogues that need to be put out for recycling. Next week! Even worse: piles of last years phone books. Can they please stop making phone books -- or at least stop handing them out to people who don't want them?

A pile of framed pictures, recovered from a house I took part in dismantling, after a death that took place years ago.

Piles of videotapes that I just want to throw away after checking to make sure there is nothing important somewhere in them. No movie on videotape, by the way, is important anymore. If it isn't on DVD, I'm never going to watch it.

Piles of 8 mm home movies from the 1950s and 60s, also from the dismantled house, that I was supposed to have transferred on to videotape for everyone's convenience, which I never did because I realized the transfer should be to digital, but that I've also never done.

Piles of CD cases and inserts from CD cases that accumulated when I put all the CDs into a 500 CD player -- years ago.

Piles of vinyl records, which I love, but almost never play.

Piles of foreign coins that are no longer even usable.

Piles of receipts and other papers that I would shred if I had a shredder.

Piles of dust in corners that I remember, but don't look at.

Piles of dishes that haven't been used in years but that take up space because I have a lot of cupboard space.

Piles of food boxes that are long past their sell-by date, that keep their permanent spots in my excessive cupboard space.

Piles of clothes that should be taken over to Goodwill, that are just aging slowly -- some for over 10 years -- in my oversized closet.

Well, maybe if you wouldn't blog so much, you'd have time to deal with the real world that is closing in on you and making you feel so uneasy.

Ah, but I love blogworld, where each day is a slate wiped clean! The archive is always neatly whisked away and always perfectly sorted into chronological order and retrievable, easily, at the push of a button.

May 20, 2005

The "Piano Man" mystery.

Who is he?
[A] hospital in Kent [has] appealed for help identifying a man who had been found near Sheerness beach in a dripping-wet suit without labels - a man who refused to talk, and whose defining feature was a talent for the piano...

[T]he fact that the labels have been cut out of his clothes ... could mark him out as an asylum-seeker trying to hide his identity, or it could make him a "tactually defensive" autistic savant.
One theory is that the man is autistic and from a foreign country where the disabled are not treated well and that his family, calculating that England would take him in, dumped him on the beach in an unidentifiable condition.

UPDATE: Mystery solved?

You call that "fun"?

Steven Taylor tries his hand at a so-called "fun meme," originally suggested by Stephen Bainbridge: "10 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again If I Could Go Back in Time." In other words, things I wish I'd never done -- because I don't think we're supposed to take account of time travel perplexities. Who knows? If Taylor hadn't bought that Dodge Caravan, maybe all sorts of terrible things would have happened -- things more terrible than having a Dodge Caravan.

But I'm not doing this meme, because if I start listing things I regret, it will just get ugly. I'm not going to put all the things I'm ashamed of in one spot, for easy reference.

I had been thinking -- a propos of my earlier list of things I've never done -- of listing things I happen to have done once. This list might include things I did and regretted doing or hated doing or just things I happened only to do once, like riding a motorcycle. So let's see if I can come up with 10 Things I've Only Done Once:

1. Ridden a motorcycle.

2. Not kept cash that I found lying abandoned on the ground.

3. Broken a bone.

4. Ridden on the tailgate of a station wagon with my legs dangling over the edge.

5. Attempted to make myself vomit after overeating. (Couldn't do it.)

6. Talked about dieting with a Supreme Court Justice.

7. Set a man's hair on fire. (An accident! It flared up and burned out without him noticing.)

8. Not acted entirely submissive in an encounter with the police. (I was 18.)

9. Gotten robbed.

10. Gotten married.

A brief spin on the radio.

I just did the "Midday" show on Minnesota Public Radio, talking about the Constitution and the filibuster. It's always strange to do radio over the telephone while sitting at home. Suddenly struck by hunger ten minutes before I was to go on, I fried up an egg and made a sandwich, hoping to get it eaten before I had to go on. The station calls, then puts you on hold, where you can listen to the show as it approaches your segment. I extracted the info about how much time I had, so I knew when they got to the weather, I needed to swallow. Fortified by egg -- freshly hot-fried egg -- I tried to answer the question of what the Constitution says about the current filibuster controversy.

I should listen to it myself to see what I actually said, but my basic point was that the Constitution doesn't say anything more than "Advice and Consent," and the Senate itself needs to define its own role. Is it purely a political struggle? I think it is, almost entirely. One can refer to general constitutional ideas about balancing and checking power, but in the end, you still have to take responsibility for saying when there is a proper balance and how much one branch should check another. The assertion that the Constitution already tells us the answer is just rhetoric.

The show is live-streaming now, but I think there will be a recording eventually: here.

UPDATE: The recording of today's show is up now. I'm on starting at 27:53 for about 4 minutes. Enjoy!

Checking out the Madison bloggers.

Oscar's blogging from Poland:
The internet cafe is called "Cup of Pleasure," a sort of pseudo-Western sex themed cafe bar featuring cocktails named "Orgasm" and "Sex with Jennifer."

Nina's there too. Here's one of many posts. Go to her main blog and scroll to see all the pictures.

Jeremy was there
, but got back, and got recognized as a blogebrity in the Madison Paris airport.

Meanwhile, Tonya hasn't left town, but she has gone to the movies. Within a short space of time she got bamboozled into seeing the "Star Wars" movie and on her own volition attended "Monster-in-Law," after which she mused about how much I would require in cash to see that movie.

I like this new meme, by the way. When you see a bad movie, feel free to speculate about what price I would demand to see it. Actually, I'd charge less for a crappy comedy than for a long, draggy, CGI-ridden epic. On the other hand, a crappy comedy is not a rich source of blogging material, so I'd need to compensate for that. I'm setting the price for "Monster-In-Law" at $275.

How about a supermajority to reject judicial nominees?

Did you know that the Constitution's Framers considered requiring a supermajority vote in the Senate to reject the President's judicial nominees?
Mr. Madison, suggested that the Judges might be appointed by the Executives with the concurrence of 1/3 at least of the 2d. branch. This would unite the advantage of responsibility in the Executive with the security afforded in the 2d. branch agst. any incautious or corrupt nomination by the Executive.

Today, under the filibuster, the idea is that a minority of Senators can defeat the President's nominee, but Madison's idea at one point was that it should take 2/3 of the Senators to reject the nomination.

UPDATE: Betsy Newmark takes this post as a prompt to read through the whole debate on the subject of judicial appointments (and to make her own observations). Really, I recommend reading through the original debates when these questions come up. It is very easy, at the Founders' Constitution website to click on individual clauses of the Constitution and get to the relevant historical materials. It's often quite striking how different these are from the things people are saying about them.

Is it wrong to laugh when people cry?

See if you don't laugh. (Click the photo to activate the clip.) I recommend Daniel. I love the details: the kitty cat and the big mouthful of buckwheat noodles.

(Via Metafilter.)

UPDATE: Link fixed. Sorry!

May 19, 2005

Benjamin Franklin on picking federal judges.

So what did the actual Framers -- as opposed to the figments of senatorial imagination -- have to say about picking federal judges? They didn't seem to trust anyone very much. I liked this, from Benjamin Franklin:
Docr. Franklin observed that two modes of chusing the Judges had been mentioned, to wit, by the Legislature and by the Executive. He wished such other modes to be suggested as might occur to other gentlemen; it being a point of great moment. He would mention one which he had understood was practiced in Scotland. He then in a brief and entertaining manner related a Scotch mode, in which the nomination proceeded from the Lawyers, who always selected the ablest of the profession in order to get rid of him, and share his practice among themselves. It was here he said the interest of the electors to make the best choice, which should always be made the case if possible.

A real structural safeguard!

Some muddled blather about the filibuster.

On C-Span2, the Senators are still pontificating about the filibuster. I just caught a bit of Senator Mikulsi: "When Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton sat around at the Constitutional Convention, they wanted..."


Thomas Jefferson was not at the Constitutional Convention.

Milkulski assures us the Framers were devoted to checks and balances. I turned it off at that point, but she must have found a way to say they loved checking things so much they'd certainly love any additional checks the members of Congress might think up to make it even harder to get anything done. I did get a chance, however, to hear how seamlessly the Senator transitioned from talking about the Constitution to talking about "tradition."

But the Democrats don't normally base their arguments on "tradition," do they?

Remember the gay marriage issue?

Ah, let's just pay attention to the issue of the day, and make whatever the hell kinds of arguments work for that, and we'll think of a different style of argument to suit other occasions.

Isn't that the way a judge who's out of the mainstream would behave?

Of course not! The judges whom the Democrats fear and label "out of the mainstream" are the ones who are most devoted to a neutral methodology, who can't be counted upon to continue the makeshift, pragmatic case law that reaches the outcomes the Democrats like.

A question about I-90.

Somewhere along I-90 -- either in New York, Pennsylvania, or Ohio -- there's a colossal statue of an Indian -- a stereotypical character in a loincloth and a feathered headdress -- with his arm raised in what for all the world looks like a Nazi salute. Anyone have any information on that thing? It's in miserable taste for at least three reasons. Is there a positive side to it that I'm missing?

UPDATE: A reader sends this link. Apparently, these statues are everywhere. Maybe I saw the "Silver Creek Indian." If so, I was wrong about the loincloth. He's wearing pants. And that Nazi salute is supposed to be the "how" salute. Really? With the palm completely down and the arm fully outstretched? That's not how I remember it from old TV shows. Is the "how" salute considered respectful to Indian traditions? The linked website says:
The Silver Creek Indian was originally at the Iroquois Brewery in Buffalo, NY where he held bottle of beer in his outstretched hand. In the late 1950s, he was sold and moved to the Seneca Pottery and Gift Shop in East Avon, NY. His owners had the hand and bottle cut off and replaced with a saluting hand. When that business closed in 1998, the giant Indian was sold for $18,250 and moved to the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation where he salutes passing cars on I-90.

I guess my interpretation of what's offensive and what isn't should be affected by the fact that the statue is actually on an Indian reservation. And my reading of the hand gesture ought to be affected by knowing the character originally held a bottle of beer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Another reader suggests the Indian is part of the Muffler Man tradition. I'd thought of that, but believed the mark of the Muffler Man tradition was that the arms were in a position arranged for holding a muffler. But I guess they could redo the arm. Certainly, the basic Muffler Man statue gives you a big head start.

"Incredibly outside of the mainstream."

Yes, I'm following the filibuster fuss. The arguments have all been spelled out already, however, and all that's left is to wait and see how the standoff resolves. But they are debating on the floor of the Senate, so it's on C-Span2, and I go to set the TiVo to record it. Oh, there's Senator Stabenow in front of a big blue sign with the numerals 208 and 10 -- representing the proportion of Bush judicial nominees confirmed. She points at the big numbers didactically and intones "208 to 10" more than once. This is tedious. Of course, I know the Republican answer is that this presentation of the statistics, including the trial level judges, disguises the real level of opposition. Those 10 we opposed, she says, were "incredibly outside of the" -- you could bet your life on what the next word would be -- "mainstream." I reflexively click off.

UPDATE: I'll be on the Midday show on Minnesota Public Radio tomorrow at 11:30 or so, talking about constitutional aspects of the filibuster controversy. You'll be able to listen to it here.

The new "Star Wars" movie.

I'd love to blog about it, but I'd have to go see it, and, for that, I would need to be paid. I think $500 would be a fair price.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. I've added a link to an earlier post asking to be paid to do something I'd like to blog about, a running topic in the comments over here. And here's how the eggs topic got started.

Grounded, once again, in Madison, taking a brief account of a long trip.

I need to readjust to being home, to my familiar ritual of sitting at the dining table paging through the NYT and sporadically blogging. Today, there are the four extra NYTs that accumulated while I was off on my quick trip to Ithaca and back.

I spent nearly 14 hours strapped in the driver's seat yesterday. We emerged from the little car only three times, each time for less than 15 minutes. Things I bought at the stops and then consumed in the car:
1. White cheddar popcorn.

2. A venti latte (Starbucks).

3. A Rice Krispies treat, Diet Pepsi, and peppermint gum.
On the last leg of the trip, driving up into Wisconsin, finally freed of all toll roads, keeping myself going on Pepsi and peppermint gum, I had to struggle with pouring rain, wisps of fog, and lots of truckers who saw fit to get right up to the taillights to express dissatisfaction with the little silver sports car that had eased off from the 65 mile an hour speed limit as it racked up the last 25 miles of that 837 mile day.

In the car, we listened to rock music on lots of different satellite radio channels. I concluded, for the thousandth time, that the 60s music is the best, as "Help Me, Rhonda" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" played, somewhere between Beloit and Janesville.

At one point, we listened to a spoken word CD, a lecture about philosophy and religion, and when the teacher used the phrase "the dark room of your mind," we turned it off and had a long conversation, answering my question: Do you see your own mind as dark? That is, when you picture your mind, do you see a black place inside your head? Much of the space between Cleveland and the holy city of Toledo was devoted to this inquiry, which transitioned from a discussion of the color and light of one's mind to the issue of where we saw our selves. Are we inside our heads, contiguous with our bodies, or occupying a place that extended beyond our bodies into the space immediately surrounding us?

Okay, back to the lecture. Enough of that. Let's listen to talk radio. No, no, let's go back to music. Let's play 20 questions.

Things I guessed, on just about the last question:
1. The Erie Railroad. (That last exam was Civil Procedure.)

2. Monica Lewinsky's dress. (Guessed just after guessing "Abraham Lincoln's hat" on question 19.)

Yes, I'm home.

Don't worry about me. Worry about Vonzell.

May 18, 2005

Leaving Ithaca.

It's time for me to hit the road again. I've got to load up the car with John's things. (I hope it all fits in my little coupe.) Then, we're driving all the way to Madison in one great leap. See you later!

"There still resides, however, under my aging novelist's pate a volunteer intelligence agent, sadly manque."

Norman Mailer lumbers up to the HuffPo keyboard and taps out a conspiracy theory, in that wonderful literary style where things don't "stink" but are "redolent with bad odor."
In every covert Department of Dirty Tricks, whether official, semi-official, or off-the-wall, great pride is best obtained by going real deep into down-and-dirty-land—Yeah! Expedite the consequences.

What the hell is he ranting about? He's guessing that the Pentagon deliberately fed Michael Isikoff fake Koran-in-toilet info. And maybe those riots are "orchestrated" too.

Or is he just attempting to spoof blogging?

Supervising kids with their own shoes.

The BBC reports on a new kind of shoe:
The shoe - dubbed Square-eyes - is fitted with a unique insole that records the amount of exercise a child does and converts it into television watching time.

One button on the shoe records the amount of steps taken by the child over the course of the day.

Another transmits this information to a base station connected to the TV.

Anything wrong with this?

May 17, 2005

"American Idol" -- the final three.

We’re down to the last three, so it’s a big night. “Vonzie” is the underdog. Bo is my favorite. Carrie is the actual favorite.

They’re going to sing three songs each. The first song is the choice of Clive Davis, and he's sitting in on the judges' panel tonight. The second song is the contestant's own choice. The third is chosen by one of the regular judges.

“I’ll Never Love This Way Again” is Davis’s choice for Vonzell Solomon. She’s immobilized by a stiff black dress. She hits the high notes nicely. But there is something cold and meaningless about it. Randy comes up with his usual set of made-up adjectives: “Pitchy… rangy.” Paula: "pitchy" but you ended up “nailing the power.” Simon: you’ve got two more songs.

For Bo Bice, the song is “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” A great choice for him, because it fits his voice but is pop. Davis: “Heartfelt… passionate.” Randy: “That was hot.” Paula: “Pure brilliance.” Simon: “Great, really great.” Simon likes the pop Bo better than the rock Bo.

For Carrie, “Crying.” The beautiful Roy Orbison song. Beautiful! Best Carrie yet. And you know I don’t like her. Beautiful song. Horrid last note. You missed the falsetto end, Clive Davis moans. Randy: “Hot.” Paula: “Poignant.” Simon: “Not sure about that last note … a little wooden… Round 1: Bo.”

For her own choice, Vonzell does “Chain of Fools.” Again, the high notes are a thrill. But it’s missing some feeling. Clive: “You missed the soulful essence of the song.” Randy: “Perfect… in tune .. you made it your own.” Paula: “Nailed.. with gusto.” Simon: “You have the likeability factor.. Terrific… great fun.” Clive was right, but she’s 19. How much can you expect?

Bo will sing his song without the band. “Within a Dream.” I don’t know this song, but he sings it with real feeling. Is it a religious song? (It ends with a cross-shaped lighting effect.) Did Bo dismiss the band because it played so bad? Or was it a real choice? He stands with his hands clasped behind his back. No acting up. All sheer vocal power. Clive: “You took a risk.” Randy: “Unbelievable.” Paula: “You truly are a gift.. a gift on the inside too.” Simon: “You may have just put 34 musicians out of work.”

Carrie sings an Air Supply song. I don’t know this song. It’s yell-y, and I can’t find the melody. The performance is strenuous, with a show-off extra-long note. This is the kind of thing that leaves me ice cold. Clive: “Great job.” Randy: “You can definitely, definitely sing.” Paula: “You really got to power your voice.” Simon: “You may have pushed that song too much.”

Now the judges pick the songs, and Vonzell is given a Donna Summer song, “On the Radio.” Though I just titled a post "On the Radio" yesterday, I don’t really know this song. The judges all acknowledge she was "having fun." Seems they’ve designated her as the loser.

Bo is given “Satisfaction”!!!!! Paula chose the song. I vocalize my approval (all alone here in my hotel room, with my laptop balanced on my knees). Bo leaps out into center stage. He’s got to be able to do this. And he can. Clive: “You’ve nailed it.” Randy: “You rocked the house tonight.” Paula: babbling praise. Simon: “I’ve heard all this before at weddings. … That was just a bit of light fluff.” Well, Simon, Paula made him sing this.

Carrie is assigned “I Feel Like a Woman,” a Shania Twain song, which, of course, I’m not familiar with. The early low notes are incomprehensible to me. Ack! I hate this kind of song. Partly, it’s the band: just a big cacophonic mess. I don’t get the song at all. It isn’t musical. The judges all think this was a typical thing for her and that she did it right. Simon complained about the weird, early low notes, but thinks she’ll make it.

All in all, it looks bleak for dear Vonzell.

UPDATE: The impoverished language of the judges was quite obvious last night. One judge came up with "nailed" early on, and the word turned up in half the judges' comments after that. Simon's big slam of the night -- that Bo sounded like a wedding singer -- is one he's used approximately every other week. On alternate weeks, the reference is to a singer in any local bar. For a real stretch, he comes up with "karaoke." I'd love to see him for once concede that it's the nature of the show itself to push the singers into such performances. Or that it's the nature of the show itself to drain singers of real emotion and to cause them to rely on oversung long notes and ugly-sounding early low notes leading to thrilling late high notes.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Rereading this post, I notice Simon announced the winner of "Round 1," but then refrained from even mentioning the terms "Round 2" and "Round 3." I think that's because Bo, his winner for the first round, won Round 2 even more decisively, and the only interesting question became which of the two female singers was coming in second. And, really, almost nothing was said to push us to see Carrie or Vonzell as especially needing or deserving our votes. It was also interesting that the footage gleaned from the visits to the home towns was not used to try to inspire voting. I wonder if this was because it would have favored one of the contestants -- Vonzell? -- in a way that would tend to make this crucial vote more about personal warmth than actual singing.

Discriminating against interstate commerce.

Granholm v. Heald, the wine case I briefly mentioned yesterday, would have been a very easy negative Commerce Clause case -- the state laws discriminated against interstate commerce -- but it was made difficult by the 21st Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy says:
The aim of the Twenty-first Amendment was to allow States to maintain an effective and uniform system for controlling liquor by regulating its transportation, importation, and use. The Amendment did not give States the authority to pass nonuniform laws in order to discriminate against out-of-state goods, a privilege they had not enjoyed at any earlier time.
Dissenting, Justice Stevens, joined by O'Connor, looks at an early case interpreted the amendment (one that the majority regards as superseded by later cases):
The views of judges who lived through the debates that led to the ratification of those Amendments are entitled to special deference. Foremost among them was Justice Brandeis, whose understanding of a State’s right to discriminate in its regulation of out-of-state alcohol could not have been clearer:

“The plaintiffs ask us to limit [§2’s] broad command. They request us to construe the Amendment as saying, in effect: The State may prohibit the importation of intoxicating liquors provided it prohibits the manufacture and sale within its borders; but if it permits such manufacture and sale, it must let imported liquors compete with the domestic on equal terms. To say that, would involve not a construction of the Amendment, but a rewriting of it… . Can it be doubted that a State might establish a state monopoly of the manufacture and sale of beer, and either prohibit all competing importations, or discourage importation by laying a heavy impost, or channelize desired importations by confining them to a single consignee?” State Bd. of Equalization of Cal. v. Young’s Market Co., 299 U.S. 59, 62—63 (1936).

Justice Thomas also dissents, and he is joined by the Chief Justice, as well as Stevens and O'Connor. Thomas stresses a federal statute:
The Webb-Kenyon Act immunizes from negative Commerce Clause review the state liquor laws that the Court holds are unconstitutional. The Act “prohibit[s]” any “shipment or transportation” of alcoholic beverages “into any State” when those beverages are “intended, by any person interested therein, to be received, possessed, sold, or in any manner used … in violation of any law of such State.”
The Court has long held that Congress has the power to authorize the states to discriminate against interstate commerce. That is, there is no negative effect to the Commerce Clause if Congress has used its commerce power to permit the states to act. Thus, the dissenters would resolve the question purely on the statutory ground. But Thomas also goes on to address the 21st Amendment and finds that it too authorizes the states to discriminate against interstate commerce:
Though its terms are broader than the Webb-Kenyon Act, the Twenty-first Amendment also parallels the Act’s structure. In particular, the Twenty-first Amendment provides that any importation into a State contrary to state law violates the Constitution, just as the Webb-Kenyon Act provides that any such importation contrary to state law violates federal law. Its use of those same terms of art shows that just as the Webb-Kenyon Act repealed liquor’s negative Commerce Clause immunity, the Twenty-first Amendment likewise insulates state liquor laws from negative Commerce Clause scrutiny.

There is a great deal of disagreement about the meaning of the cases interpreting the 21st Amendment, and I won't try your patience by paraphrasing these arguments.

I must confess to being at a loss to think of a way to make the inner workings of this case interesting. It would be fun to draw some big conclusion about how Justice Scalia is different from Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas finds decentralized lawmaking especially appealing while Justice Scalia sees nondiscrimination as a central principle? I'm not seeing enough in this case to justify any grandiose statements like that.


My view into the gorge is not unlike everyone else's view into the gorge, but here:


That shows I'm in Ithaca.

The Cornell campus is beautiful, too beautiful to take the kind of pictures I like. I like when things are off or awry or in some state of decay.

Here's the view out my hotel window:


Here's the table at Olivia's where I had some eggs -- hot eggs, of course:


Here's the law school where my son is taking his last exam:


Campus graffiti.

I'm not endorsing the message or the practice of marking up things that don't belong to you, but I liked these:



When the family pet is a masturbating monkey...

You tend to want to get a dog when you grow up. And dammit, you didn't like the monkey and now you don't like the dog!

Theatrical productions you'd have to pay me -- a lot! -- to attend.

In the email:
You are invited to a free performance of provocative, interactive theater which will engage the audience in a discussion of classroom diversity and inclusive teaching. The play will take place on May 25th at 7:30 P.M. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, Memorial Union.

The actors are members of the CRLT Players of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan. Their sketches are a combination of comedy and drama. After each sketch, the actors emerge in character to converse with the audience. A trained facilitator leads the discussion and presents educational research relating to classroom diversity. The actors often perform the scenario again after the audience suggests changes to the characters' actions.
Free? Really?

Is there any sort of theatrical production worse than one designed to instruct you in proper behavior? Yes. It would be a theatrical production designed to instruct you in proper behavior where the actors, after performing their scenario, emerge in character, and, aided by a trained facilitator, engage the audience in a discussion of proper behavior, then redo the scenario. And keep in mind that this audience will be composed of people who would voluntarily attend this production.

I realize this would be ripe blogging material, but, seriously, you'd have to pay me at least $1,000 to attend.

"Special Voices."

Financially desperate, the NYT has decided to put what it calls its "Special Voices" behind a wall and make you pay admission. The "Special Voices" are the columnists: David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, Bob Herbert, Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, John Tierney.

I'm a longtime subscriber to the paper NYT, so I'll have access to the "Special Voices" without paying anything more, but the pay-wall nevertheless deters me from reading. Reading and blogging are a merged activity for me, and I'll invest my reading time in things I can link to. Perhaps the Times likes this. Those mean bloggers won't poke fun at Maureen anymore. She will be cosseted where old-fashioned readers can admire Mo's bon mots and Mo can can know there'll be no counter-mots.

The Times has obsessed so much about bloggers lately. One had to wonder which way they would go: will they embrace the blogosphere and interact with it, or will they go on the defensive? Now, we see, they've made the retrograde move. How very dull and stodgy of them! They tried to be trendy by publishing all those articles about blogging over the past year, yet now, they are cutting us off. The Times has been trying so hard to maintain a hip, youthful image for itself, and now its true, dinosauric nature is revealed.

UPDATE: Here's a Salon piece criticizing the Times. (Salon ought to know the effects of putting up a pay-wall.) Here's Kos on the subject -- anticipating missing Krugman and Rich. (Rich is fun to make fun of, but I never read Krugman.) Here's Atrios, predicting lots of money followed by lots of irrelevance. Links via Memeorandum. It looks as though only liberal bloggers care much about this. Is the Times unwittingly pushing young people away from liberal thinking?

Among the cadavers.

On Sunday I blogged about going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I didn't have time to write that I also saw the "Body Worlds 2" exhibit at the Great Lakes Science Center. I blogged about a Gunther von Hagens exhibition of "plasticinated" cadavers in my earliest days of blogging, but it was just by chance that I happened to be right next door to one of these exhibits with a couple extra hours to wander through. I went in.

What was it like walking right up to the dead, dissected bodies? For me, it was not disturbing. The bodies were amazing -- beautiful. You can look into a real human body and see the details of the organs --not bloody and pulsating -- but perfectly preserved. You know nothing about each individual -- who he was, how he died. But there he is, more fully exposed than a nude, for you to walk right up to and inspect. See those testicles, elegantly suspended on long ligaments?

On the walls are cloth hangings each with a single quote from a philosopher or other writer. You contemplate these great thoughts about the human body -- "this quintessence of dust" -- as you make your way around creatively opened-out corpses, perhaps posed as athletes or dancers.

Some of the exhibition is didactic. Take a look at these three sets of lungs, laid out in a glass case: normal, smoker, coal miner. The coal miner's lungs look as if they are made of coal, and the smoker's lungs are nearly as dark. Laid out on a table are vertical slices of two men, one lean and the other obese. The fat man's real body is stuck inside a thick wall of bland, inert material. Kids, don't smoke. Don't get fat.

And what about abortion? Was there a message here too? In a series of small beakers, we see the human embryo at each week of growth in the first trimester. A man and a woman look at the last one in the line. It's less than an inch long, and they are detecting the fingers and eyes. One feels challenged to make a judgment about which of these entities it is acceptable to kill.

The larger unborn bodies are in a separate curtained-off area, behind a sign that assures us that all of them died as a result of disease or accident. In the center of this part of the exhibit is the body of a woman who knew she was unlikely to survive her pregnancy and agreed to be immortalized this way. You can walk right up to her and gaze into her opened womb and see the 5-month-old fetus that died with her.

Arrayed around her are small cases containing fetuses of different ages. As you look at each one, you see into yourself. How do you respond? Do you think there is an interesting potential person? Or is there some age point where you cannot shake the sense of recognition of a fellow human being? Some visitors see that human being in the beaker that is not even shielded in the curtained area. Others gaze coolly on every single unborn body. Perhaps that 20-week-old evokes a primal human instinct to protect that you do not now realize lies within you.

Near the exit is a quote from Seneca:
Death is the release from all pain and complete cessation, beyond which our suffering will not extend. It will return us to that condition of tranquility, which we had enjoyed before we were born. Should anyone mourn the deceased, then he must also mourn the unborn.

May 16, 2005

On the radio.

For some reason, driving from Cleveland to Ithaca today, I felt like listening to talk radio, and I just kept switching back and forth between America Right and Air America -- occasionally mixing in The Power.

America Right was, understandably, fixated on the Newsweek story, but there was very little about it on Air America. Disturbingly, the only attempt at humor I heard from Al Franken in the hour or so I spent with him today was a joke that Donald Rumsfeld had ordered that a Bible and a Talmud be flushed down the toilet, along with an Encyclopedia Britannica "for the reality-based" people.

Franken's show was nearly humor free -- entirely humor free if you don't count bad jokes. It was grim indeed. Some of the things he said were truly awful. Within the space of perhaps half an hour, he said that George Bush could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if he had "paid attention" -- it's in the 9/11 report! -- and that Iraq would be better off if Saddam were still in power -- not merely that on balance, the improvement of having him out is not worth the cost, but that the Iraqis were better off with Saddam.

Painful. Just painful.

A great day for wine.

I spent the whole day driving, with much of the drive through wine country, and now, here in Ithaca, I would love a nice glass of wine, but I see that it's overall a great day for wine, because the Supreme Court did what it seemed rather obvious it would do and struck down the Michigan and New York laws that banned wine drinkers from ordering wine from out-of-state wineries. So hooray for wine and wine drinkers all over America!

Now, I need a little time to absorb this opinion into my bloodstream. I've already said that the answer was obvious: the state laws discriminated against interstate commerce, and there's a "virtually per se rule against" that. The only interesting thing, I think, is that four Justices dissented. They've made a special case out of the 21st Amendment. So I'll get back to you on that. I need to read a few things.

But, cheers!

Leaving Cleveland.

I've packed up my bags and called for the car. Time to roll out of Cleveland and take the scenic backroads route to Ithaca. But with any luck at all, I'll be back this evening, blogging, with photos, from the wilds of upstate New York.

May 15, 2005

Notes on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1. Photography is not allowed, so I can't show you the lovely Bobby Sherman stage outfit or the Devo hat or the Jimi Hendrix drawing of an eagle.

2. What touched me very personally: a flyer for a Byrds concert at Newark Symphony Hall on March 27, 1966. I was there. It was my first rock concert.

3. I enjoyed all the stage costumes. Real effort is put into the fashion side of rock music. Many nondescript outfits of jeans and T-shirts have been worn on stage, but a lot of people have really put their art into the visuals. I stood a couple feet away from the bronze-colored bustier Madonna wore in the "Like a Virgin" go-ahead-and-arrest-me performance on the "Blonde Ambition" tour. And you could violate the rules and reach out and touch the hem of three or four ruffled shirts worn by Jimi. But the most impressive costume, I think, is that amazing thing David Bowie wore in the "Ashes to Ashes" video.

4. You can see Jimi's handwritten lyrics for "Purple Haze," with the original title: "Purple Haze/Jesus Saves."

5. There's a tower of TV screens showing fast cut clips from MTV videos. When "Thriller" comes on, a group of five young guys does the zombie dance along with Michael. They do it perfectly. It makes me think about how much love there is for Michael Jackson. People aren't really talking about his trial -- his tragedy -- very much. Maybe we're all just waiting. It will end soon, and when it's over, Michael will go home, right?

6. There's a film that focuses on each year of Hall of Fame inductees. I find myself liking everybody. (Well, I couldn't care less about ZZ Top, but other than that...) I was sitting next to a lady who sang along with each clip. It was annoying, but I realized that if the audience was bursting with sing-along people, it would have been cool. Only one clip drew applause: Led Zeppelin. One clip elicited a mass "aw": The Jackson Five. I became conscious of how much I want Michael Jackson to be acquitted.

7. In front of a case full of Elvis memorabilia, a parent took it upon himself to translate Elvis to his 9-year-old daughter. They were gazing on a classic Elvis-in-Vegas costume.
DAD: When he started wearing these white jumpsuits that was kind of weird.

GIRL: That was awesome!
I loved that. I mean, us older folk assume we know that Elvis went wrong when he put on the white jumpsuit. But here's this girl, and she's correcting her dad. She thinks she knows. She's grounded in some new world. And there, the suit is awesome.

Beautiful Cleveland.

After yesterday's Cleveland picture -- the view from my hotel room -- I feel I owe the city this:


A war monument and a gleaming skyscraper.

A crisply angled skyline:


A sculpture in the park, to cheer up office workers:


And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:


Something French.

Americans have largely shunned the Segway, it seems, because you just look too damned foolish riding one. I mean, this says it all, doesn't it?

Aren't the French supposed to be -- or at least look -- more sophisticated than us? How then can you explain this? (That's one of a number of pictures from Paris, by my colleague, Nina Camic. For more, go to her blog and scroll down.)

Blogging, how hard can it be?

A history prof -- David Greenberg -- tries his hand at blogging -- guest-blogging on a well-established site -- and then dashes off a NYT Week in Review piece about how surprised he was that it was kind of hard. Well, at least he slams The Huffington Post on his way down.

The comparison to HuffPo is apt. Like the HuffPo bloggers, Greenberg didn't really give any thought to how to blog well.

I'll just find an article, opine something, then see if I get a lot of comments. Not as many comments as Dan Drezner? Waaaahhhh. This is too hard. I have a wife, a job, a baby. Those successful bloggers must be losers.

He admits it's hard but only hard in a way that's not really worth doing:
The best bloggers develop hobbyhorses, shticks and catchphrases that they put into wider circulation. Creating your own idiosyncratic set of villains to skewer and theories to promote - while keeping readers interested - requires as much talent as sculpting a magazine feature or a taut op-ed piece.

Let me go back to my taut, sculpted writing and leave the blogosphere to those less fussy writers who do shtick.

NYT message in publishing Greenberg's pathetic -- not taut! -- whine: Shun the bloggers! Stay here with us, where work is edited -- sculpted!

Lamely, the NYT attempt to link to Dan Drezner's blog doesn't go to the blog. And Greenberg's attempt to link to his wife's blog is taking us nowhere too.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan thinks I'm being too hard on (his old friend) Greenberg. He thinks I'm being "touchy." Oh, but Andrew, acting touchy is my shtick!

Infinite possibilities.

No Sunday Times to page through today. I'm here in Cleveland, firing up the camera for a day of Clevelanding:

Checking out the camera.

Back later.