May 28, 2005

W.

We love W so much here at the University of Wisconsin that we plant a giant W every spring. (Click to enlarge.)

UW grounds

Later in the summer, it will be filled in quite lushly.

The iPod and the art museum.

I love these new iPod museum guides, which rival those pompous, official museum audio-tours.
[David Gilbert, a professor of communication at Marymount Manhattan College wants] to teach his students to stop being passive information consumers - whether through television, radio or an official audio guide - and to take more control, using as his model the guru of so-called remix culture, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School.

"It's not incumbent on us to, you know, praise the art necessarily," Dr. Gilbert said recently at the museum, wearing neon-green sunglasses and leading a group of students through the underground tour. "That's part of the playfulness and fun of this project. If we want to say something irreverent or something scathing about the art, that can come out." ...

So far, the unofficial guides cover only a few of the [Museum of Modern Art's] works - by artists like Pollock, Cindy Sherman, Francis Bacon, Picasso, Max Beckmann and Marc Chagall, whose well-known "I and the Village" comes in for a critical pummeling by Jason Rosenfeld, a Marymount professor of art history, who calls it "the worst, most reductive kind of art" and blames Chagall for all the "ugly menorahs" and tacky stained-glass windows in modern synagogues.

"It's the worst style that ever developed in the history of art," he declares.
Art museums can be so stuffy, so entombed. I love the idea of walking around with some brilliant, witty character talking in your ear. I don't even necessarily want someone knowledgable talking to me. Just say something interesting that goes with the experience of seeing the picture. It can even be counterpoint. Talk about life or talk about art. Riff on the images or gossip about some person you happen to see while you're there.

Next time I go to a museum, I expect to see people with white "earbuds" laughing inappropriately in front of serious masterpieces. Those who want to experience the art museum as a religious pilgrimmage are going to be disturbed, but let them buy a tiny iPod Shuffle and load it with Gregorian chants or Bach and they won't have to hear any of the irreverence that would spoil the spiritual ambience.

UPDATE: The Times article gives two websites to download these podcasts. I went to the Wooster Collective site and listened to a little of the Basquiat commentary mentioned in the article. This commentary had the same kind of problems that those Adam Curry soundseeing podcasts have: the people don't have much to say and aren't articulate. If the "uhs" don't drive you away, maybe you'll stay around long enough to notice that these people seem to have a vocabulary with only one adjective: "interesting." This was like having people near me in a museum who would cause me to look at paintings in a different order to avoid hearing them. I was imagining much better speakers!

Uh, here we are, uh, on our, uh, way, over to the, uh, show, which is really interesting, uh...

Let's try the other site mentioned in the Times article, Art Mobs. I'm listening to the Chagall one, the one that the Times singled out as sharp and witty:
That was the problem with Russia, is that it was full of orthodox religiosity and Christianity. That's why, you know, Lenin (a great Jew), Marx (a great Jew), had it right... Or was Lenin Jewish? ... I don't think he was, but we'll claim him, because he was a good egg... is because they wanted to get rid of religion, you know, religion was the opiate of the masses to Marx, who was a self-hating Jew, I guess, essentially. But my point about this painting is ...
You may find us screaming or groaning in front of those paintings and not laughing, I'm thinking.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Podcasts undoubtedly have their share of idiotic and contemptible statements. But you can't Google for them or see them in Technorati or link to them and critique them. I happened to transcribe one just now, but that's not much different from transcribing something I heard someone say down at the coffeeshop.

Thus, podcasting is not like blogging. It lacks the inherent structural safeguards that make the blogosphere work in service to the truth.

"What Lincoln Believed."

Michiku Kakutani writes about writing about Abraham Lincoln:
He has been feted as a noble visionary who liberated America's slaves and assailed as a die-hard racist and hypocrite. He has been hailed as the folksy embodiment of the Common Man, and both denounced and praised as a man of cold, calculating reason. He has been psychoanalyzed as a womanizer, a homosexual and a depressive. He has been accused of being passive and indecisive, canny and opportunistic, blasphemous and bigoted. In short, he has been deified, debunked, demonized and deconstructed: Honest Abe has become Abe of a Thousand Faces.
She's reviewing Michael Lind's new book, "What Lincoln Believed," which she calls "a not terribly original book" with "a rather glib and unsatisfying conclusion." Lind's Lincoln is a big racist:
Mr. Lind describes Lincoln as "a lifelong segregationist and opponent of black social equality," and a "white supremacist" with a "low opinion of black intellectual abilities."

Mr. Lind rejects the notion of Lincoln's capacity for growth promoted by other historians, who have argued that this quality enabled the 16th president to transcend the racist environment of his youth. Instead, he writes that Lincoln "seems to have gone to his grave without imagining any amendments to the Constitution beyond the abolition of slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment eradicated Black Laws by preventing the restriction of black migration by individual states. However, Lincoln apparently did not envision a constitutional amendment like the Fourteenth that would create national citizenship."

If Lincoln had lived, Mr. Lind goes on, "slavery would have been abolished in every state, but the states would have retained their discretion to deny citizenship to blacks. Lincoln was willing to let the states deny the suffrage to black citizens; at most, he would 'suggest' that black citizens be subject to literacy tests and property qualifications."...

As Mr. Lind tells it, Lincoln drew a sharp distinction between abstract natural rights and practical civil rights: the first, Lincoln believed, were possessed by all human beings, while the second, in Mr. Lind's words, "were and should be limited to whites only."

"While Lincoln, like most of his white contemporaries, believed that blacks were inferior to whites," Mr. Lind writes, "he passionately rejected the idea that whites had the right to rule blacks - either as slaves or as the subjects of white colonial empires. Lincoln wanted a white-only American republic...."

The "glib and unsatisfying conclusion" is that, despite all this racism, Lincoln believed in democracy and -- in Lind's words -- "was sincere and consistent in hoping that Latin Americans, Africans and Asians, as well as Europeans, would one day live under republican governments of their own."

"These people don't even know they are pagans."

So says a woman in a position to organize the Earth Day celebrations in her town and including "events with ritual content," according to this NYT article about the fast growth of pagan religion in the United States.
[This growth may be attributed] to several factors, including the rise of the women's movement, which was attracted to the notion that the divine includes feminine forms, and to environmentalism, which is prompting the search for religious expressions that see spirituality as being a part of nature rather than above it.

But about those Earth Day celebrations... If you're working for the city, you shouldn't be staging religious rituals. That's basic Establishment Clause law. But even if you're not working for the government, it's still not right to trick people into performing religious rituals. But some religions are treated as if they are just a sort of playful folklore. A little Paganism for Earth Day, a little exercise in Hinduism or Native American religion for the kids.

Is that a problem?

Maybe not. Most of us play around with religion on Halloween. Don't we often engage with the folkloric aspects of religions we don't believe in? Or maybe we engage in folkloric aspects of our own religion that we don't believe in. I suppose it is a matter for each individual to decides how purely religious or nonreligious he wants to be.

Strange things.

Things keep looking like other things today. (Click image to enlarge.)

A dying bat fluttering on the lawn?

UW grounds

A strawberry on the ground?

UW grounds

A bush growing shredded Parmesan?

UW grounds

The ethnicity of pain.

From the Journal of Pain.

At the café with an old notebook, trying to remember "Dog Day Afternoon."

I've got my New York Times, my large latte -- yes, large, not venti, this is not Starbucks -- my pen and little notebook. No computer today. I'm traveling light. Just reading the Times and taking some notes, so I can blog the NYT when I get home. I'm waiting for them to toast my bagel, so I take this picture:

Café

Instead of reading the Times right away, I start reading that little magenta notebook, which begins with some pages of notes, written nearly illegibly in the dark while watching "Dog Day Afternoon" in a theater about ten years ago. I suppose I thought of writing an essay. I can see the nascent thread here. If only I'd had a blog, I'd have written this up into a nice post back then. Now, I can only imagine what the ideas were. Here are the notes, word for word, with the original lack of punctuation and capitalization:
I'm a catholic/watch your mouth we've got young girls here/black hostage released/head teller's anger = anti-cop/They're all my girls I'm going back in there/Girls I was interviewed on television/We're entertainment/(obscene call)/cameras media/"Make your vacation dreams a reality --> Plan to ask for a jet --/Sal --> suicide/after S calls wife hear bank tellers reading dear abby: "sexual repression"/obcene caller --> give to "sexual repression" women who do heavy breathing/A-C goes off (hot-sex --> sal afraid of airplane (repression theme)/[illegible] in "the back"/shot fired/women's legs/pizza/guy -- likes S/jumps up/"I'm a f'g star"/"Your body is the temple of the Lord"/(don't smoke)/Leon faints like Jesus/Leon can't call the police/in barbershop -- men's space -- Leon tells of being a man in a woman's body/is a little sepia picture of a woman against the mirror behind the cop/Leon in bride dress -- priest was "defrocked"/Sal upset to be referred to as homo. "that's going out on the TV"/"I can't control what goes out on television ... it's just a freak show."/Maria gives Sal a rosary just before he dies
Religion. Sex. Media. Too late to sort all that out.

Let's see what's in the news today.

UPDATE: I just reread that and noticed "Leon tells of being a man in a woman's body," which really is what it says in my ancient notes. If you're at all familiar with the movie, you know it should be "Leon tells of being a woman in a man's body." Sorry for the confusion!

ADDED: Closed up the line-breaks in the notes -- just fiddling with the aesthetics.

My holiday weekend.

Blogging, Site Meter-checking, you can see that people go off and do things on holidays. For me, it's that period between semesters, and the holiday weekend merges with many other days, where I have work that I can either do or not do. Today is an especially lovely day. Maybe I'll treat it as a nonworking day. Maybe, on the other hand, the pile of exams will call out to me, and I can make my way through one question. Most likely, I'll do some combination: half downtime and grade one question on half of the exams.

I have two exams to grade. One class has 28 students and 4 questions. The other has 48 students and 3 questions. Ideally, I would grade one question per day and finish in seven days. More reasonably, I'd grade the smaller class in four days, and the larger class in six days. Soon enough, my summer Conlaw class begins. In fact, it begins on the day the Spring Semester grades are due, June 13th. You can see why, with a time line like that, I choose the days to regard as holidays. Maybe today.

What about just a day of devoted blogging? That's nearly always appealing, but I can see that far fewer people are reading when it's a weekend and a holiday. It's more of a day to go out, with my camera. Maybe drive into the countryside. I haven't had many pictures in a while, for some reason. No reason, really.

Holding out, until the very end.

The last hold-out Japanese soldiers from WWII, Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85.

The graceful Condoleezza.

Condoleezza Rice did a nice job of responding to protesters:
[A]bout five minutes into the secretary's 30-minute speech [at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco], three audience members donned black hooded robes and stood with their arms outstretched, referencing the infamous photos of detainees abused by U.S. military police at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Chanting "Stop the torture, stop the killing, U.S. out of Iraq," they were quickly ushered out by a police SWAT team, as the audience cheered and applauded.

"It's a wonderful thing that people are able to speak their minds in our democracy," Rice responded. "In Baghdad, Kabul and soon in Beirut, they, too, will be able to speak their minds."

From then on, it was smooth sailing for the secretary of state...

I happened to catch that on C-Span last night, and there was never an instant where she looked confused, worried, rattled, or angry. The protesters' noise interrupted a sentence, she waited a short moment for a break in the noise, then delivered her perfect line.

Those who think Rice isn't ready to run for President: take this incident into account.

UPDATE: There's some interesting back and forth in the comments, with one person saying Rice is not a good candidate because she's never run for elective office before and she's unmarried. I participate in the comments and say, among other things, that if polling shows people prefer a married candidate, maybe we could see a nice White House wedding.

May 27, 2005

About a girl.

Leave Courtney Love alone. She looks happy, and Frances Bean is utterly adorable. Oh! They were in the audience at the "American Idol" finale. How strange to think of Kurt Cobain's daughter as an "American Idol" fan. Wonder if she was for Bo or Carrie. Here's another picture. Aw!

Quadrupling Shuffle memory.

Great! I love my 1GB iPod Shuffle -- the way it looks, its near weightlessness -- but more memory is always nice.

When bloggers travelblog.

They blog about internet access: here, here, and here. And that's just one blogger.

This blogger does occasionally have something on another topic, like "Is it just me, or is Darth Vader a lot more sinister in German?" And the reason you don't want to take a train in Poland: "the robbers spray chloroform through the grating or the keyhole in the door and put people to sleep that way, then break in, then slash pockets, straps etc."

Look what's happening at the Mr. Snuff trial!

Oh, noooo!

People keep telling me to leave Blogger...

After my recent problems. They say they're not having problems where they are. But their place is much smaller than Blogger. How do I know it will stay around, as I feel sure Blogger will? And if it does stay around, won't that be because it gets bigger? If so, won't it encounter the kind of problems Blogger has had to manage?

I'm not Anne Elk.

And my body, in fact, does not resemble that of John Cleese.

School not fun.

WaPo discovers. Click on the link to read plenty of quotes from high school kids who didn't like that the teachers assigned so much reading, chose classics instead of the books they'd have picked for themselves, and pushed them to analyze sentences and understand metaphors instead of letting them enjoy their own meaning.

Why isn't the Post more critical of the students' cliché whines? And why is this news? Because nowadays we're blaming those standardized tests. They're ruining everything.

Or are they? Read this, from the New York Times:
Spurred by President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, educators across the nation are putting extraordinary effort into improving the achievement of minority students, who lag so sharply that by 12th grade, the average black or Hispanic student can read and do arithmetic only as well as the average eighth-grade white student.

Here in Boston, low-achieving students, most of them blacks and Hispanics, are seeing tutors during lunch hours for help with math. In a Sacramento junior high, low-achieving students are barred from orchestra and chorus to free up time for remedial English and math. And in Minnesota, where American Indian students, on average, score lower than whites on standardized tests, educators rearranged schedules so that Chippewa teenagers who once sewed beads onto native costumes during school now work on grammar and algebra.

"People all over the country are suddenly scrambling around trying to find ways to close this gap," said Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard professor who for more than a decade has been researching school practices that could help improve minority achievement. He said he recently has received many requests for advice. "Superintendents are calling and saying, 'Can you help us?' "

Inviting you into the army with a video game.

WaPo on the Army's on-line video game:
There are no statistics about how many people have joined the Army because of the game, or after playing the game, but Army officials have plenty of positive anecdotes and say it can only help in a very difficult recruiting environment.

"The game is never going to overcome someone's trepidation and fears regarding the ongoing war on terror," [Sgt. 1st Class Bo] Scott said. "But it does get some people talking to recruiters who might not have otherwise. It opens a window, and if they look in and they decide to join, great."

It's just another way to advertise about joining the military, but I suppose some people will have a big problem with this. Here's the game. I haven't tried playing it. I haven't seen anyone blogging about this article, but I would expect some to say that it takes unfair advantage of vulnerable people or that video games somehow undermine your mental powers.

May 26, 2005

Postsecret.

Secrets on homemade postcards. Fascinating, even though most of the secrets are quite ordinary. (Via About Last Night, via Asymmetrical Information.) This one struck me. And this.

UPDATE: The NYT has an article, dated 5/31/05, on Postsecret. Here's the conclusion:
[I]t is the fakeness, the artifice and the performance that make this confessional worth peeking at. The secret sharers here aren't mindless flashers but practiced strippers. They don't want to get rid of their secrets. They love them. They arrange them. They tend them. They turn them into fetishes. And that's the secret of PostSecret. It isn't really a true confessional after all. It is a piece of collaborative art.

Brazilian Institute for Oriental Studies ... really?

Don't click here if you're very prudish or near someone who is, but these Phallic Logo Awards are hilarious. Via Metafilter.

Pie and surrealism.

Sissy Willis comments on that Huffington's Toast photoshop.

Speaking of Althouse-related photoshopping, remember this one?

AND: Little Miss Attila says it's time for a restraining order. Aw, but look how merciful Allah's being.

Sitting in a café.

I'm sitting in a café here in Madison, doing a little blogging, answering my email, listening to samba music, gazing out the window at the sunlit passersby. I ordered a large cappucino. It's a 20 ounce glass, and the barista filled it half way with espresso. I've drunk two-thirds of it, and I'd have to be crazy to drink more. Is it unfair to grade exams on that much coffee? But grade exams I must, just as soon as I finish this post.

Distinct pleasure of the day: I installed a new keyboard in my iBook this morning. The space bar had broken, even though the iBook is only a little over a year old. How long can a space bar -- which operates off a single, central point -- hold up to a keyboarder who always hits it off-center, with the right thumb? Oh, several million hits, I'm sure. Waiting for the keyboard to come in the mail, I kept using the old one, needing to hit the malfunctioning space bar extra-hard to get it to take. Now having it work easily feels lovely. And the spot where the thumb hits has a nice grainy texture. Before, it was worn shiny. And the little depression in the thumb spot was palpable.

Extremely mild irritation of the morning (heightened by my caffeination): a man orders a coffee drink made with soy milk. Unless you're allergic to milk or moralistically vegan, don't order soy milk! What are you doing? Soy is a bean -- or, really, a legume. Do you drink peanut milk? Lentil milk? There is no milk, not even juice in a soy bean. So what is this soy "milk"? It's some kind of water containing tiny bean particles. That's not aesthetically correct.

Settle down now. See those exams...

UPDATE: An emailer writes: "Hel-lo! Coffee! Cocoa! ... Water with bean particles makes my whole life better, dammit." Wait! Cocoa goes in milk. But still, I get the point. And what is milk anyway? Water with -- what? Why do I favor it solely because the water has been transformed inside an animal rather than suitably boiled and then mixed with a pure powder of human manufacture? Why do I want my liquids to be something that appear in their final form in the natural state? Every other liquid that emerges from the body of an animal is something we -- most of us -- hate to drink a glassful of. The wonder, then, is that we find cow's milk aesthetically pleasing.

"How did you prepare for the role?"

Merv Griffin reveals that when a talk show host asks that question, he's "in terrible trouble." Griffin's proud of never asking that. But he did, he reveals, deliberately ply guests with drink to get better interviews.

He also reminisces about "his chat with Salvador Dalí, who brought along paintings to Mr. Griffin's show":
"I said, 'Mr. Dalí, I don't understand your work,' " he recalled, "and he said: 'Yes, that is it! Dalí is confusion!' "
Hmmm... that reminds me of my stock response to law students who say they've found a case confusing. That confusion ... that is understanding! Because the case is confused!

And did you know Merv Griffin wrote that thinking music that's played during the final question on "Jeopardy!"? He's made "probably close to $70-80 million" from that little snippet. Fair enough! Much of the charm of "Jeopardy!" comes from the feeling you get from that music -- happy and nervous! -- at the end of the show.

I see that DVDs of his old shows are coming out. I'm eager to see these. I watched the show back in the 60s and especially remember how funny and appealing regular guest Richard Pryor was back then.

"Everything Bad Is Good For You."

There's this theory going around that pop culture things like TV and video games improve the mind because they've become quite complex:
X (fill in the name of a video game, reality television show or intricately plotted series like "24") may appear to be (pick one: mindless, stupid or violent). But X actually inculcates important survival skills. X shows how to test ideas, figure out which ones work and grasp the full sequence of steps that must be taken to achieve a certain goal. X makes you mentally alert, even if you appear to be slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. X makes you smarter.
Janet Maslin injects some skepticism. Reading her her review of Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad Is Good For You," I got the feeling that Johnson is someone who's thrown tons of time into playing video games, much of that time plagued by criticism echoing in his head -- you're wasting your life -- and plenty more of that time coming up with good-boy answers to that voice. I guess there was only so far he could go with claiming to be improving "eye-hand coordination," and he came up with his ideas about how much his mind was developing through his encounters with the challenges of the game. And that wasn't even counting the mental workout he was getting thinking up the big explanation, talking to that mother in his head.

Or writing it all up into a book. We're proud of you. Thought you'd amount to nothing. But now we're proud!

But the rest of you game-players. Don't let Johnson soothe you too much. You really might be wasting time.

Listening to books.

Should people who read books look down on people who listen to audiobooks? Many do: "I like to read my books," they say. And the writers can be snobby about it too, like Frank McCourt, who says listening is better than nothing. But he's also snobby about the actors who record audiobooks -- they do "this phony breathing." You should read his books, he's saying, and if you can't do that, you should listen to him reading his books to you.

Well, maybe that's how writers are: Come listen to me, in my world, and see everything as I see it.

Though I don't like the book-reader's flat-out snobbery, some of the preference for reading books over listening to them is justified. If you're reading a book you're probably only reading. You're making a total experience out of the book, and your brain is more deeply engaged, generating mental pictures.

But this is not always so. Some people read a book as a way to fall asleep. They can see sleep coming on as the words blur. The toilet is a favorite place for reading. And then there are the few people -- myself included -- who will read while walking. We're being careless and looking ridiculous at the same time -- especially ridiculous if you need reading glasses.

Book-listeners can try to act superior or at least equal, I note, by emphasizing that they walk while reading. Just call those book-readers "sedentary." Couch potatoes! Why doesn't sitting around with a book come in for the same insults aimed at TV-watching? And don't tell me it's the quality. People listen to a lot of trashy books. And I might be watching "Nights of Cabiria" on my TV.

It's just a different experiece to hear someone intone the words than to look at the words. You gain something by hearing another person's inflections but you lose the ability to search for your own interpretations. A lot depends on the book. Some books yield more meaning when read by a good reader. Humor comes through really well on the audio mental channel. Other books are incomprehensible on audio. You need to control the speed and be free to think about things as you go along.

Back in the day when you had to rent a big set of cassette tapes to hear an unabridged book, I rented "Mrs. Dalloway" for a long car trip only to find that I simply couldn't understand it on tape. I kept going back and starting over, but I never could begin to grasp it. And some wonderful old English actress was doing the reading. I kept feeling as though I could see her there with the book and feeling that I wanted to grab it out of her hands. Let me see that. Even with the financial incentive of having paid too much to rent the tapes, I never got past the first five minutes. I constantly found myself thinking about something and missing the next line. It was an exasperating experience of continually losing my place.

So read books or listen to books or watch TV or listen to music or walk around in silence or have a conversation with some real live people. Whatever you want. All have potential to be sublime or worthless or somewhere in between.

May 25, 2005

The new "Idol."

And so, Carrie wins "American Idol." You probably think I'm upset about the outcome, if you've been reading my comments all season, but I'm not. Here are the reasons:

1. I've been so distracted with my Blogger problems today and so glad to finally have them fixed that I'm quite numb.

2. It's better for Constantine that Bo didn't win. I saw him celebrating in the end. He had to know there was more room for him in the pantheon with Bo merging back into the group of finalists.

3. Carrie is more the sort of person who fits the role that is now imposed on her. I think they'd have had more trouble presenting Bo creditably. Carrie will sing her songs and do well and be perfectly fine.

4. As they said at one point on the show tonight, Carrie is a great role model for the young fans. "Idol" music is rather sweet and oriented to the young, and having a pure, sweet girl to sing it is good for the kids. She can be herself and be the kind of person it's healthy for young people to bond with. Bo is older, rock is dirtier, and he's got a drug past. We'd all forgive him for that, but it's just better for the young fans to have the squeaky clean young girl to idolize.

Things I liked about tonight's show:

1. The parody of the Corey Clark exposé was quite well done.

2. The humiliation of Hasselhoff!

3. Skynyrd! Bo had his fun singing "Sweet Home Alabama" with them.

4. Nadia's dangerous white top. And everything else Nadia wore. Nice to see her again.

So the end has come for another season. Time to pack the show away for a good long time so we forget how sick we were just about to get of it. The day will come when we'll see the new season coming and, fools that we are, we'll be all ready for it again!

The blog is back!

Yay!

I hope you found Althouse2, my (thus far) faithful backup blog. I'll add it to my blogroll, so in case this ever fails again, check it out.

And thanks to Glenn for linking. Back on Althouse2, I ask if it was a coincidence that Blogger Support suddenly engaged with my problem 11 minutes after he posted to say "Blogger sucks." If an Instapundit link is what you need to get Blogger Support... well, I'm glad they solved my problem, but that's an awfully hard way to get help! And so then they pretty much do kind of suck!

UPDATE: And thanks to Gordon for helping too.

Blogger woes.

Things are looking nearly hopeless with Blogger and me...

UPDATE: I haven't been able to get my posts to show since yesterday evening, and I've been trying to get in touch with an actual person at Blogger to help me, but it seems I only get automatic replies. I'm hoping for some kind of breakthrough. Just now something seemed to get a little better.

ANOTHER UPDATE: But it turned out to be a false hope.

YET MORE: I'm removing some posts and reconstructing them in a last ditch effort to push through some kind of repair.

FINALLY: It took something from Blogger support to fix it. I never found some maneuver on my own.

Fidget.

Or be fat.

May 24, 2005

"My dreams came true/When I found you."

It's finale night on "American Idol," and, of course, that means they're going to inflict original songs lyrics like that on us.

The songs are only as bad as something entirely bland can be.
"You would know it would be clear
That angels brought me here"

Aaaaggggghhhhh!

The judges comments are correspondingly insipid:
"What you've been able to accomplish in these few months is a lifetime of achievement."

The banality, the complete absence of entertainment value...

I must say, I did not experience one moment of pleasure. There were
varying levels of pain and ugliness.
I want to be inside your heaven
Take me to the place you cry from

No, please, don't! I can cry right here in my own place.

Wasn't that the most lackluster "Idol" finale ever?

About that filibuster compromise...

Yes, I know I haven't written anything about it yet. I feel that I can't even really see what the true agreement is: what's going to count as "extraordinary" in the future? Is that anything like "out of the mainstream"? In other words, they'll filibuster whenever they have the political will to filibuster.

I've read a few commentators and listened to some talk radio, and my very basic, instinctive reaction is that all the claims about victory, tauntings about defeat, and expressions of satisfaction about agreement are part of playing a continuing political game. I didn't feel like writing even that, but then for some reason, Kausfiles focused my thinking:
So what did the 14 moderates actually accomplish with their deal? "They kicked the can down the road" .... [But i]nstead of fighting the "nuclear" fight all over again from square one, Dems and GOPs will first wage a new rhetorical war over what is "extraordinary" and what is "bad faith." The need to justify this loaded rhetoric presumably makes a filibuster battle at least somewhat less likely.
So, yes, when the subject comes back up, it will get discussed in a new way, with reference back to the terms of the agreement. But will the discussion really be that different from what we endured over the past week or so? The agreement says "each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether [extraordinary] circumstances exist." How will this new argument go? No, you weren't really using your "discretion and judgment" just then, you were doing something else.

Maybe having had a trial run, they'll do a better job of predicting how bad they'll sound and will back off. But if there's a Supreme Court opening, too much is at stake.

Kaus (and others) assume the recent experience will cause Bush to nominate a more moderate jurist for the Supreme Court:
[T]he mere postponement--until, presumably, a Supreme Court seat opens up--favors the Democrats.... Bush will need to nominate someone who will either avoid or win such a somewhat-less-likely filibuster battle when the stakes are high enough for the bulk of the voters to be paying attention. This effectively narrows Bush's choices...
Is that really true? After waiting all this time to get a Supreme Court appointment, Bush is going to pick a different person -- because of this compromise? That doesn't seem Bush-like. And if more people are paying attention and more is at stake, who will decide it's a good time to back down? I predict Bush picks a staunch conservative, the Democrats fight with everything they've got, and that won't be enough to defeat the appointment.

Madison almost accidentally banned the Wienermobile!

Trying to ban one thing -- the billboard on a flatbed truck -- the Madison City Council drafted a law that would have also banned a local institution.

"Common fear" and "severe misunderstandings."

The city of Eugene, Oregon is about to consider banning discrimination based on "gender identity." Among other things, it would become illegal to deny transgendered persons their choice of whether to use the men's or the women's public bathroom:
[City Councilor David] Kelly said one of the biggest things looming over the heads of those involved in writing the actual ordinance is the common fear that allowing transgender people and people with differing gender identities equal access to bathrooms will be seen by sexual predators as an invitation to start hanging out in bathrooms looking for victims....

Kelly said such fears are typically the result of severe misunderstandings about what the ordinance intends to do. He said allowing transgender people access to the bathroom of their choice does nothing to make bathrooms more accessible to sexual predators.

"There's no physical bar at the entrance of bathrooms," Kelly said, referring to the current lack of laws or ordinances that prohibit members of the opposite sex from entering any bathroom they choose.
Get the message, ladies? You're already completely vulnerable. So stop standing in the way of progress.

UPDATE: Here are my older posts on this topic:
"De-gendering" restrooms."
The single-sex bathroom issue again.
Is this sex discrimination?
"They encircled me in a very menacing and hostile stance."
In search of the right bathroom.

The usual strategy for talking about sex differences.

A modern convention: To write or talk about how women and men are different, make sure you portray whatever attribute you ascribe to women as better. A typical example.

"It's the Chinese leadership itself that is digging the Communist Party's grave, by giving the Chinese people broadband.'

Nicholas Kristof on blogging, chat rooms, and ineffective censorship in China.
I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on Sohu.com, I called for multiparty elections and said, "If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can't we choose our leaders?" That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.

Then I toned it down: "Under the Communist Party's great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly." That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.

Time's "Top 100" Movies.

Time's list of 100 Movies is bugging me. Why? Clearly, they are trying to represent different genres and different countries, but even taking that into account: Why is "The Fly" (1986) on?! (And I loved seeing "The Fly.")

I need to settle down. It's an interestingly idiosyncratic list. There are some great choices, and it's a real challenge to young viewers to watch some of the great old foreign films.

What's on the list that's also on my profile's list of favorite films? "It's a Gift," "Dr. Strangelove," and "Aguirre: The Wrath of God." Two of those are not "usual suspects" for a list like this, so I'm going to stop complaining.

I don't want to agitate you, adulate you, or masticate you.

Donovan gives his side of his run-in with Bob Dylan, depicted in the documentary "Don't Look Back" :
Viewers divide into those who see Dylan as a genius dismissing a young pretender, or a sniggering bully surrounded by sycophants. ...

Does he ever think Dylan was a bit of a bastard? His brow wrinkles. "For years, people thought that Dylan was putting me down. He may have been a bit edgy, but those New Yorkers were into amphetamine. Their jawlines were about 12 inches wide. I put it down to a lot of agitation, a lot of adulation and a lot of stress that Bob was under. The misunderstanding was hard for me because I was only 18. I wasn't copying him, but we were stuck together because I was going to do what he did. I was going to be the poet folk singer who invaded the charts."

May 23, 2005

Blogebrity.

Metafilter's talking about whether Blogebrity is a hoax. I know linking to them helps them in the Contagious Media contest, but I already linked to another contestant (not knowing at the time I was helping them), so it only evens things out. Anyway, they counted me as an "A-List" "blogebrity." I won't say how that makes me feel. I'll just quote Just Me:
i don’t know what’s sadder. that this site/list exists or that secretly (well not so secret anymore, or at least secret to my 4 readers), deep down in places i don’t want to admit exist, i wish i was on this list.

"I am Blog."

The other day the TiVo dragged in a very old episode of Saturday Night Live -- so old Chevy Chase was on it. One segment floored me. Steve Martin plays a diet doctor, interviewing a patient -- played by Jane Curtin -- who'd tried all the diets and was desperate. Martin recommended the "Blog Diet," and we see Curtin ice fishing for her only food, which is grabbed away from her by John Belushi, barely visible inside a furry, hooded parka. As he steals her food he yells "I am Blog!"

Ever seen that one? I hadn't.

Draft Condi.

USNews reports (via Wonkette):
Political associates of Secretary of State Condi Rice are stirring the 2008 presidential pot on her behalf. While she takes the high road, they're pushing her name out there. "She definitely wants to be president," said one. But, the friend added, Rice isn't planning on quitting to run. "She wants to be drafted," he said.
Great idea!

New cases.

SCOTUSblog has details on four Supreme Court cases announced today.

The new abortion case.

The Supreme Court has just taken up a new abortion case:
Justices will review a lower court ruling that struck down such a law in New Hampshire. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 2003 law was unconstitutional because it didn't provide an exception to protect the minor's health in the event of a medical emergency....

In their appeal, New Hampshire officials argued that the abortion law need not have an "explicit health exception" because other state provisions call for exceptions when the mother's health is at risk. They also asked justices to clarify the legal standard that is applied when reviewing the constitutionality of abortion laws....

In its last major abortion decision in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that state abortion laws must provide an exception to protect the mother's health. Justices at the time reasoned that a Nebraska law, which banned so-called "partial-birth" abortions, placed an "undue burden" on women's abortion rights.

Since then, several lower courts have applied that health exception to abortion laws requiring parental notification. Since then, several lower courts have applied that health exception to abortion laws requiring parental notification. The New Hampshire case challenged whether the Supreme Court's 2000 ruling actually required that.

Abortion laws are "entirely different than parental involvement laws, which obviously do not purport to ban abortions, but simply seek to promote the interests of minors in having the benefit of parental involvement," New Hampshire legislators wrote in a friend-of-the-court filing.
Well, this ought to fire everyone up a little more about Supreme Court appointments, even though the question is a narrow one. It seems as though there are two ways to resolve the case: find that the state law actually has a health exception or find that parental notification laws don't require a health exception. The first ground seems to be entirely a matter of state law, however, and if that's the theory, maybe the Supreme Court should say that the federal court should have given the state court the chance to answer that question. (I'll explain that a bit more in an update very soon.)

UPDATE: Here's the 1st Circuit case the Supreme Court will be reviewing. A key problem is that there is a 48-hour waiting period following the notification and an exception only if it's necessary to save the young woman's life. That means a doctor could conceivably need to stand by for two days while a patient's health declines horribly, as long as she isn't dying. There is argument in the case that a health exception can be found in other provisions of state law, and this is the court's response:
Even if these statutes could be cobbled together to preclude all civil and criminal liability for medical personnel who violate the Act's notice requirements in order to preserve a minor's health, we would not view them as equivalent to the constitutionally required health exception. The basic canons of statutory construction in New Hampshire require us to look first to a statute's plain meaning, and when it is clear and unambiguous, to apply the statute as written. See, e.g., Appeal of Astro Spectacular, Inc., 639 A.2d 249, 250 (N.H. 1996). The Act clearly states that "[n]o abortion shall be performed upon an unemancipated minor . . . until at least 48 hours after written notice" to a parent. RSA 132:25. Three explicit exceptions to this rule are provided: (1) when abortion is necessary to prevent the minor's death; (2) when a parent certifies in writing that he or she has been notified; and (3) when a court grants a judicial bypass. RSA 132:26, I, II. The New Hampshire legislature's intent that abortions not in compliance with the Act's notification provisions be prohibited in all but these three circumstances is clear. See St. Joseph Hosp. of Nashua v. Rizzo, 676 A.2d 98, 100 (N.H. 1996) (espousing expressio unius standard of statutory construction). The earlier-enacted statutory provisions cited by the Attorney General cannot be read to supercede [sic] this intent. See Petition of Dunlap, 604 A.2d 945, 955 (N.H. 1992) ("'When a conflict exists between two statutes, the later statute will control, especially when the later statute deals with a subject in a specific way and the earlier enactment treats the subject in a general fashion.'" (quoting Bd. of Selectmen v. Planning Bd., 383 A.2d 1122, 1124 (N.H. 1978)).
Basically, then, the statute is so clear that there is no need to seek out the state court's interpretation of state law before going on to find it unconstitutional.

The state also argued the judicial bypass to notification could be performed exceedingly quickly. Again, the federal court had to interpret state law:
The Act provides that such proceedings "shall be given such precedence over other pending matters so that the court may reach a decision promptly and without delay," provides minors 24-hour, 7-day access to the courts, and provides for expedited appeal. RSA 132:26, II(b)-(c). However, the Act allows courts seven calendar days in which to rule on minors' petitions, and another seven calendar days on appeal. Delays of up to two weeks can therefore occur, during which time a minor's health may be adversely affected. Even when the courts act as expeditiously as possible, those minors who need an immediate abortion to protect their health are at risk. Due to this delay, the Act's bypass provision does not stand in for the constitutionally required health exception. See Thornburgh, 476 U.S. at 768-71 (finding statute facially invalid for failing to provide health exception to delay caused by awaiting presence of second physician).
Here, it's not so much a matter of interpreting state law as needing to rely on a prediction of how state judges will respond to an emergency.

So I don't think it is likely that the Supreme Court would say the federal court ought to have sought out a state court opinion on state law. This really does seem to provide an occasion for a new fight over the necessity for the health exception in abortion regulations.

"Abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are."

Kos is tired of the way single-issue groups -- well, basically NARAL -- run the Democratic Party. The Republicans -- he worries -- have a political advantage because they -- it seems -- work off fundamental principles, while Democrats work off a checklist.
[S]ingle issue groups have hijacked [the Democratic Party] for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend [sic] owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off....

Problem is, abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are. And from a Right to Privacy certain things flow -- abortion rights, access to contraceptives, opposition to the Patriot Act, and freedom to worship the gods of our own choosing, or none at all.

Another example of a core Democratic principle -- equality under the law. And from that principle stem civil rights, gender equity, and gay rights. It's not that those individual issues aren't important, of course they are. It's just that they are just that -- individual issues. A party has to stand for something bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.
It seems to me that both parties make too much of the abortion issue. Both parties hold lots of attraction for voters who disagree with their position on abortion.

Personally, I like the idea of seeing privacy and equality as fundamental. Actually, I think both parties should accept these things as so fundamental that there is nothing to fight over. They ought to need to look elsewhere for issues.

ADDED: What strikes me about Kos's statement and made me want to quote it at length is that it would put libertarian values at the center of the Democratic Party. There are plenty of people with libertarian values who don't feel at home in either party. But if the Democratic Party really were committed to this more abstract ideology, it would have an entirely different feel. The reason I broke out the quote I chose for the title was because I don't believe it. I think the party begins with its politically useful defense of the right to abortion and that Kos's effort to derive a "core principle" is motivated more by the desire to make the abortion right more appealing than by an interest in understanding what motivates the party to try to distinguish itself with abortion-centered political activity.

UPDATE: I note that part of what Kos is saying here is nearly the same thing Howard Dean said on "Meet the Press" yesterday:
Here's the problem--and we were outmanipulated by the Republicans; there's no question about it. We have been forced into the idea of "We're going to defend abortion." I don't know anybody who thinks abortion is a good thing. I don't know anybody in either party who is pro-abortion. The issue is not whether we think abortion is a good thing. The issue is whether a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care, or a family has a right to make up their own mind about how their loved ones leave this world. I think the Republicans are intrusive and they invade people's personal privacy, and they don't have a right to do that....

But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is "Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets," then that pro-life woman says "Well, now, you know, I've had people try to make up my mind for me and I don't think that's right." This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn't win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion.

Do bloggers create the buzz?

Tom Zeller (in the NYT) thinks bloggers only have much influence to decide what's news when they get their hands on a smoking gun. Thus, Rathergate made bloggers look powerful, but it was really only because of that uniquely bloggable fake document.

So bloggers buzz, but only in that drudgy droning way. We're good for poring over documents -- detail work. The big shaping ideas and sharp insights must come from somewhere else. NYT columnists, probably.

Zeller is reacting to "Buzz, Blogs and Beyond" ("published last week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the market research firm BuzzMetrics"), which figured out a way to measure the influence of bloggers on the news agenda.

Is anyone counting the number of articles in the NYT that assert that bloggers aren't as influential as you might think? They can't stop looking at us and talking about us, but they always conclude that we aren't really worth much.

May 22, 2005

Keep an eye on him while I go grab a disposable camera.

Baby's day at WalMart.

China bans naked sushi.

Really!
The practice of eating sushi off naked or nearly-naked women has long been popular with a certain clientele in Japan.

But the authorities in the Chinese city of Kunming criticised it ... as both unhygienic and an infringement of women's rights.

The Beijing Times newspaper said the new ban was introduced because serving food on women "insults people's moral quality".
It's interesting to think of all the things that haven't been outlawed because no one even wants to do them. I would have thought this would be one of those things, but apparently not.

"Sky of blue and sea of green."

Donovan -- interviewed on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his first recording and the reissue of four key albums -- reveals that he contributed that line to "Yellow Submarine":
"Paul came round one day and found me writing some songs and he sat down to play me some of his. I enjoy the distinction of being the only singer that added a lyric to a Beatles song," says Donovan. "Paul said he had a little ditty called 'Yellow Submarine' but he was missing two lines.

"I immediately knew what this song was about. It wasn't a submarine at all, it was about this life that we were living, locked away from the public in our own world. The rest of the world was outside and our friends were all aboard. The only people that really understood were those that were on the same boat. I learned the song quickly and came back with the "sky of blue and sea of green" line.
He also claims his place as a precursor to Led Zeppelin:
[Donovan's album] 'The Hurdy Gurdy Man' is an obvious precursor for Led Zeppelin. ... "Jimmy Page is on 'Hurdy Gurdy' and 'Sunshine Superman'. He comes from the same musical roots as me, even though Zeppelin was powered up. 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' was the first Celtic rock record," says the singer.

While reports vary, Donovan is adamant that three quarters of Led Zeppelin played on 'Hurdy Gurdy' and their manger, Peter Grant, listened in from an office next door to the studio.
And Liam Gallagher, when he was unknown, went up to Donovan and said "I'm going to be just like you and I'm going to do what you do."

Sounds a bit arrogant, but what the hell. Donovan deserves a lot of credit. He really was great. I've been a Donovan fan from the moment I heard his first single ("Catch the Wind"), and I'm sure I've listened to "Hurdy Gurdy Man" many more times than you have. Get Thy Bearings!

(Here's a link, but don't buy this. Wait for the reissue.)

"In God We Trust" can't violate the Establishment Clause, can it?

It's on the coins and the Supreme Court has referred to it numerous times as exemplifying the minimal, generic references to God that must be acceptable in public life. But what if public officials keep enlarging the motto and putting it everywhere?

Joan Didion on Terri Schiavo.

Didion finds many interesting angles to the story. Her focus is not legal, but personal and psychological. She examines not just the motivations of Michael Schiavo and the parents, but also the motivations of all of us:
We do not know how many minutes Theresa Schiavo spent in cardiac arrest. It was later generally reported that this arrest was a "heart attack" caused by a potassium deficiency. The potassium deficiency, it was widely suggested, had been caused by what was sometimes described as "bulimia" and sometimes, more generally, as an "eating disorder."

This suggestion persisted, carrying with it a hint of the disapproval often expressed toward people in unfortunate circumstances who can be suspected to have had bad habits. The "bad habits" serve in such cases to isolate these unfortunate circumstances from our own. Patricia J. Williams, in The Nation, striking this not uncommon note, spoke of
the bizarre events played out in the name of force-feeding Terri Schiavo, a woman whose bulimic aversion to food was extreme enough to induce a massive systemic crisis that left her in what doctors describe as a "persistent vegetative state."

Theresa Schiavo, in this construct, had for whatever reason played a role in her own demise, meaning that what happened to her need not happen to us.

However comforting it may have been to believe this, the suggestion (no diagnosis exists) of an "eating disorder" appears to have been entirely assumptive, based on no evidence beyond the unexceptional facts that she had some years before gained weight, gone on a diet, and lost the weight.

There's much more in the article.

Just another quiet Sunday.

Stopping for an Orange-A-Peel at Jamba juice and doing a little people watching:

State Street

Who represents the majority?

I've been seeing this argument a lot lately:
Although conservatives now attack the filibuster as anti-democratic, liberals say it may be the last mechanism requiring the Senate to represent the wishes of the entire country, rather than the base of the majority party.

"A simple majority in the current Senate doesn't represent a majority of the United States, but Democrats are coming from states which represent a majority of the American population," [liberal legal scholar, Michael] Gerhardt said. "The filibuster helps to counterbalance the fact that a majority of the Senate right now may not speak for most of the country."
Now, how does this concept of the true majority really work? We know that the states each get only two Senators, and some very large states -- notably New York and California -- have two Democratic Senators. But there are still huge numbers of Republicans in those states who aren't going to feel that the Democratic Senators are representing the interests they care about in judicial appointments. If the state lines were redrawn to make 100 units of equal population and each of these new units elected one Senator, what would the party split be?

The filibuster is a crude mechanism for getting closer to the rule of the majority. Senators from really small states get to use it too, even states that are nearly evenly balanced between the two parties. So a very tiny fraction of American preference could prevail using the filibuster.

So what is the best way to come as close as possible to representing what the majority of Americans wants in picking the individuals to fill the judicial slots?

The best answer is to allow the President to have his choice. The effort of electing the President engages the entire country. He's the one person who represents us all, and the Electoral College process gives recognition to the individual states in a way that gives far more regard to the people of the large states than the Senate does. This is not to say the Senate ought to do nothing with it's advise-and-consent role. It ought to at least ensure that the President doesn't stock the courts with unqualified cronies. But if the President selects worthy jurists, there is a limit to how much a minority of Senators should be able to accomplish.

The NY subway photo ban is dead.

Good.

"To tell a joke at the office or a party these days is to pronounce oneself a cornball, an attention hog..."

Ah, yes.
While many in the world of humor and comedy agree that the joke is dead, there is little consensus on who or what killed it or exactly when it croaked. Theories abound: the atomic bomb, A.D.D., the Internet, even the feminization of American culture, have all been cited as possible causes. In the academic world scholars have been engaged in a lengthy postmortem of the joke for some time, but still no grand unifying theory has emerged.

The feminization of America? We're blaming women? Supposedly, women were bad at telling jokes, but only because men are/were interested in using jokes to communicate without revealing anything about themeselves. (I note: That's kind of like talking about sports -- or blogging.)

Anyway, people love humor, and humor lives on. It's just the full-scale joke that's dead, and, I think that's good:
[S]cholars say, in a social situation wit plays better than old-style joke telling. Witty remarks push the conversation along and enliven it, encouraging others to contribute.

Jokes, on the other hand, cause conversation to screech to a halt and require everyone to focus on the joke teller, which can be awkward.
So, then, is recounting anecdotes dead too? It seems to me this is a modern preference for a conversation that rotates fairly quickly. No one wants any one person to talk too long. I don't think this is just a cultural "A.D.D.," but a positive understanding that people in a conversation are developing a social relationship that needs to work well. So no one should dominate.

I can see how the social mixing of the sexes and the equality of women would tend to increase the recognition that the conversation must rotate. In mixed company, it's more noticeable that one person is being too dominant -- whether that person is a man or a women. So if a man does one of those old-style, full-scale jokes, the women may be thinking, when is this character going to shut up? But even if women don't tell jokes, they may relay simple facts in long-form stories, an elaborate play-by-play of who went where and who said what, and leave the rest of the group -- maybe especially men -- exasperated.

Oh, I suppose people have always been bored when one person holds the floor too long. Isn't that why we hate meetings and lectures? Maybe the difference is that now that we're used to the way TV and movies try to cut out all the boring parts and, perhaps more, now that we're used to clicking from place to place on the internet the instant we want, we're really in touch with our feelings about not wanting to put up with anything tedious.