January 7, 2006

I am a hypocrite...

But so are you.

Except that I'm not. Still, thanks for admitting that you are!

The subject: the on-and-off concern about national security, when looking at the domestic surveillance controversy and the Plame investigation, depending on where the partisan political advantage seems to lie.

The admission: from Ted of Crooked Timber, who cries gotcha on me.

The proof that I haven't taken two sides on the two controversies:

Re Plame, I've said:
I have avoided writing [about] the Plame story. There is too much detail to it for me to analyze it and come to a fair conclusion. A man faces criminal prosecution. The temptation is to say either this is a huge deal or this is practically nothing based on how much you'd like to see the Bush Administration wounded. How many bloggers have fallen prey to that temptation? How many bloggers have written about the indictment of I. Lewis Libby without imbuing it with their own political wishes? A man faces criminal prosecution. Let him go to trial, then.
Re domestic surveillance, I've consistently avoided pronouncements about the statutory law and how it relates to the constitutional law on the ground that it is too specialized and complicated. For example, in the long set of comments to this post, I chided a commenter who asserted that the surveillance program was "blatantly" illegal:
You might note that I haven't taken a position. I don't consider myself knowledgable enough to do so, and I really dislike it when other people think they are. Look how modest Kerr was about his analysis. He's an expert, and he still refrained from making any strong assertions. Take a lesson from that.
Later, in the same thread, responding to a commenter who wondered how I could miss some aspect of the FISA statute, I said:
How could I miss it? Simple: I've never even purported to analyze the statute. I can see it's complex, and I've never studied it. I've just chided people who are jumping ahead and saying what it means. I'm not myself doing the thing I'm chiding others for doing.
Shamelessly stripping this post of mine of its context, Ted says "Ann Althouse couldn't care less about Valerie Plame." That post is about the way people like Kos were exulting about "Fitz-mas." I was expressing disgust about "slavering hyenas" gloating about the indictments they hoped to get from the special prosecutor. I wasn't saying I didn't care about that leak. Not there or anywhere else! I await Ted's apology for his self-serving distortion of my writing.

Ted also tries to excuse the leaking of classified information in the domestic surveillance matter on the ground that it's whistleblowing. To that, I've already said (in the comments at the last link):
You can't reveal national security secrets and just say you're a whistleblower. The leak is really outrageous, and people who don't care about it strike me as flat-out partisans who care more about politics than national security. It's quite sickening.
I agree that the Plame leak may have been devoid of any virtuous motive, but that's beside the point. The question is: Are you concerned, in a politically neutral way, about national security? Ted tries to wriggle out of this question by just observing that he isn't seeing the damage to national security and telling me that I ought to prove the damage to national security. That's ridiculous. It's not for each person in possession of classified information to decide for himself how much it matters and to weigh how much good could be done by leaking it. And for those of us on the outside, who don't know the true scope of the program or the terrorist activities, we have no basis to spout off about how damaging the leak was. Blithe yammering about how it didn't really hurt just makes you look all the more partisan.

Does it violate the law to teach that Jesus existed 2,000 years ago?

An Italian court will decide! Luigi Cascioli, who seems to be Italy's answer to Michael Newdow, brought the suit, he says, because he "wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression." What Italian laws does he cite?

1. "Abuso di Credulita Popolare," that is, Abuse of Popular Belief.

2. "Sostituzione di Persona," that is, Impersonation.

Cascioli, who has singled out one particular priest whom he went to school with, has a book about atheism to sell. I think he should be charged with "Prodezza Diabolica di PubblicitĂ ," that is, Evil Publicity Stunt.

A more inspiring image.

Hey, I don't want that last picture sitting at the top of the blog all day, while I go out and live in the real world. So how about this:



It's all yours for $1.2-million.

Slow-cooked bog bodies.

Mummified by peat moss. We learn some interesting things about these well-preserved people from 2,000 years ago. One used "a type of Iron Age hair gel; a vegetable plant oil mixed with a resin," and another was "horrifically tortured before death."

Truthiness and heart-feeling.

The most useful word of the year is "podcast," says the panel of linguist, but they still pick, for word of the year: "truthiness."

Also in contention were "whale tail" and "muffin top," both of which have to do with the way young women mis-wear their pants.

The linked CNN article -- which shoehorns in every possible thing about Tom Cruise it can -- fails to credit Stephen Colbert for truthiness, so go here for more, including the original Colbert quote:
And on this show, on this show your voice will be heard... in the form of my voice. 'Cause you're looking at a straight-shooter, America. I tell it like it is. I calls 'em like I sees 'em. I will speak to you in plain simple English.

And that brings us to tonight's word: truthiness.

Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word." Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that's my right. I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart.
Watch the clip here, which goes on to talk about Bush and "feeling the truth about Harriet Miers," the Iraq war, and so forth. Colbert says that the real division in this country isn't between liberals and conservatives but between those who think with their head and those who feel with their heart. All the examples of heart-feelers he gives are from conservatives (which fits his character on the show, who promotes both heart-feeling and conservatism). In real life, there are folks playing the heart-feeling card in both parties.

(Some are Senators on the Judiciary Committee who, I predict, will do some serious heart-talking next week at the Alito hearings.)

Tierney on the Florida vouchers case.

John Tierney writes (from behind the TimesSelect wall) about the Florida voucher case (which we were talking about here yesterday):
Democrats once went to court to desegregate schools. But in Florida they've been fighting to kick black students out of integrated schools, and they've succeeded, thanks to the Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court.

The court's decision on Thursday was a legally incoherent but politically creative solution to a delicate problem. Ever since Florida's pioneering statewide voucher program began, Democrats have been struggling to deal with the program's success.
Tierney draws attention to the way the Florida Supreme Court avoided deciding the case on the ground the lower court used, a provision of the state constitution saying "No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

He notes that to have decided the case on that ground would have endangered popular expenditures of public money to "hospitals, colleges and preschool programs run by religious institutions." The court relied on this clause: "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools." In Tierney's view, the court chose the clause it did because it is a partisan court, and it wanted to give Democratic constituents -- including "Democratic teachers' unions" -- all the things they want.

What you're missing by not reading the whole column: stories about individual black children who were helped by the voucher program.

Metallica to drag the miner back to life.

Music played for Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor of the mine disaster.
Occasionally smiling and laughing, [his wife, Anna said] that she found strength in faith and had no doubt that he would recover.

"It's amazing, it's a miracle," she said of his survival. "Faith plays a big role. Without it, we wouldn't be coping. It's given us hope."
Faith... and heavy metal music.

"We are Iraqis, and Al Qaeda came from outside our borders. They defame the name of the noble resistance inside Iraq."

Said Abu Omar, an Iraqi insurgent. The NYT reports that we are in talks with the insurgents:
...to take advantage of rifts in the insurgency, particularly between local groups, whose main goal is to expel American forces, and the more radical groups, like Al Qaeda, which have alienated many Iraqis by the mass killing of Iraqi civilians....

American and Iraqi officials regard the strife among the guerrillas as presenting an especially promising opportunity, in large part because of the large turnout of Sunni voters in the election. In many cities, insurgents cooperated with the election by largely holding their fire, while Al Qaeda warned of reprisals. In at least one city, Ramadi, insurgents provided security at some polling centers.
The most recent election seems to make a difference to some groups but not others. The article contains this mystifying statement from an unnamed diplomat:
"According to Islamic doctrine, as well as democratic principles, there cannot be a legitimate resistance against a legitimate government... If we could reach an understanding with each other, meaning the resistance, as they call it, and the coalition, then they will in turn take care of Zarqawi and the terrorists."
I don't see how it can be assumed that if something is Islamic doctrine, the insurgents will follow it. And if that were the case, why wouldn't both groups be bound by the doctrine? And aren't they already violating doctrine (targeting children, for example)? Aren't the insurgents motivated by the loss of political power that they had in Iraq under Saddam? I thought al Qaeda was more oriented toward religious arguments than the Iraqi insurgents. In any event, I hope these talks are effective, for whatever reason.

The scientist who discovered LSD.

Turns 100.
"It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature," [Albert Hofmann] said, listing to the right in a green armchair that looked out over frost-dusted fields and snow-laced trees. A glass pitcher held a bouquet of roses on the coffee table before him. "In the big cities, there are people who have never seen living nature, all things are products of humans," he said. "The bigger the town, the less they see and understand nature." And, yes, he said, LSD, which he calls his "problem child," could help reconnect people to the universe.
But no, he doesn't want you and me to have access to the substance for our private experiences with the universe:
But Mr. Hofmann ... is frustrated by the worldwide prohibition that has pushed it underground. "It was used very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis," he said, adding that the drug was hijacked by the youth movement of the 1960's and then demonized by the establishment that the movement opposed. He said LSD could be dangerous and called its distribution by Timothy Leary and others "a crime.

"It should be a controlled substance with the same status as morphine," he said.
How would that work? Would a psychotherapist have to sit by your side, trying to use your melted mental state to manipulate your mind away from your problems? Or could a soul with a disconnect from nature get a prescription to take home, with instructions to construct a suitable environment of roses, Mozart, and incense (to use the elements of Hofmann's own LSD experiment, described in the article)?

January 6, 2006

"If you want me to do anything more exciting, just let me know."

I say to the guy who's here right now taking a picture of me blogging for the local newspaper. He set up some lights, he said, to make the photograph interesting with the lighting because, "just a gal sitting at a computer isn't very interesting."

"I'm blogging about the fact that you're taking my picture."

"Oh, my goodness."

...

He requests "a little happiness."

"Just keep doing your thing. I'm not even here."

...

Well, he took about a thousand pictures, but I will only get to see the one that's chosen for publication.

Setting the mood for the Oscars.

From the L.A. Times:
Oscar's desperate search for relevancy continues. With the choice of Comedy Central's Jon Stewart as the next Oscar host, the film academy has apparently opted for the host most like the films that presumably will be nominated for the award itself — small, literate, political-ish, gems like "Brokeback Mountain," "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Capote."...

As news of Stewart's coronation spread through Hollywood, people were cheered for just the potential break in the increasingly staid, self-important, Oscar glopfest.

"I'm excited about it," says "Chronicles of Narnia" producer Mark Johnson, an academy member and former member of the organization's board of governors. "There's such a need for relevancy in the world at large, and not just the movie business. You want to make the Oscars as relevant and sexy as you can be, within the guidelines. I have [nothing against] bad taste and vulgarism in a lot of what I listen to and see, but in the Oscars there's no place for it."

Others hope that the irreverent Stewart will cut loose a little. "The Oscars have grown into this appalling circus," says film historian and critic David Thomson. "We're trapped with it, and very often the films are not worthy. I don't think the host is terribly important, but to the degree that we're fed up with the show, a new host is fresh meat.

"A new host can say, 'I'll only do it if I can do it my own way.' That's the real bargain — whether the real host is given liberty or the academy sits on him. If they give Jon Stewart his freedom, it would be a merciful touch. He's always against pomp. Maybe he can be fun."
But those movies -- those "small, literate, political-ish, gems like 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Good Night, and Good Luck' and 'Capote'" -- do so want to be taken seriously, and the Oscars are supposed to be the occasion to make us take the serious movies seriously. It's a difficult trick to be a good, funny host without stepping over the edge and signaling that the Oscar movies are not the pompous things they pretend to be. Maybe Stewart can do what they need.

"Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."

That is a clause of the Florida state constitution, relied on by the Florida Supreme Court in striking down the state's school voucher program.

How do you interpret that clause to keep the state from giving vouchers for private school to children who are stuck in failing public schools?
"[The Opportunity Scholarships Program] diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children," the ruling said. "This diversion not only reduces money available to the free schools, but also funds private schools that are not 'uniform' when compared with each other or the public system."...

Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente, who wrote the court's majority ruling, said that private schools are not "uniform," partly because they are exempt from many requirements imposed on public schools, including standardized tests and teacher credentialing rules.
That is the state supreme court's view of it, and the only way around it is to amend the state constitution (or get the state supreme court to overrule it).

Does the case mean anything outside of Florida?
Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor at Hunter College who has written widely on voucher programs, called the Florida ruling important because many state constitutions have provisions similar to Florida's, requiring that public education be "uniform."

"It signals a direction that litigation may go in the future, offering a strategy for people who may want to strike voucher programs down," he said.
In the past, we saw a United States Supreme Court case about school vouchers (Zelman), where the challenge was based on the U.S. Constitution and the focus was on the fact that many of the private school were religious. The Supreme Court rejected that Establishment Clause challenge. So the new direction for litigation is into the state courts, using state constitutional provisions that address the obligation of the state to provide a system of free public education.

I think it makes a lot of sense for the question of the voucher programs to take place at this level. It really is a dispute about how education should be structured and public money spent. You may think the state court went too far, reading too much meaning into that state constitutional clause in pursuit of its own policy preferences, but it's not all that hard to change a state constitution -- unlike the federal Constitution. If the people of the state really want the program, they can get it. And if they don't like they approach to state constitutional law their state judges take, there are democratic solutions to that too.

I'll send you X if you promise to blog a review of it.

Would you say yes? Would it depend on how much you wanted the thing? I just said no to such a deal, but the thing was a beanbag chair.

I need a new reality show.

Now that the two "Apprentices" are over, I need a new reality show to while away the occasional evening hour. If I were in the Czech Republic, I could watch this reality show about gorillas:
Their every move is covered from a mobile studio, housed in a container outside the enclosure, where producers track and edit the action around the clock.

Highlights are shown twice every morning on the breakfast TV show, with further action available on cable. There is also live screening available online.

Viewers text in votes for their favourite animal - but the winner does not get to return to the jungle.

Instead, once the series is over, the gorilla with the most votes will receive 12 melons - a favourite fruit. It is also a play on words for the KCs11m (£256,055; 379,268 euros) prize for the rival human Big Brother show.
That's not much of a show! And those puns from other languages? Well, you'll just have to try to imagine people finding that entertaining.

Anyway, I've decided to become a fan of "Project Runway." I've watched three episodes of the new season, up through the lingerie episode, which made me cry! I'd become ridiculously attached to Daniel Franco. The show is extremely well done, with genuinely interesting and challenging tasks about designing, shopping for fabric, sewing, attaching these sewn things to the models, and verbally defending your work. The contestants come across as nicely individualized characters. As a character, Santino is better than Evil Jim of "Martha's Apprentice." It's fun reading the Television Without Pity recaps too. The recapper, Jeff, has a touching affection for the dorky Diana and a rage to reveal the meanest quotes that come out of Santino:
Emmett asks Santino what he wants on the bustier that he is making, and Santino says, "Just finish it." Elsewhere, in an interview, Santino says that he got "a sack of potatoes" when he chose Emmett to be on his team. He calls Emmett "dead weight." Just like this show isn't The Apprentice or Survivor and it's unnecessary to be all "strategy" and "alliances" and shit, I also wouldn't feel the need to clean the slate after every challenge. I'd be like, "You were rude to me on the runway. Do NOT fucking talk to me at the fabric store." I'd hold a grudge. But that's just me. Santino continues in his interview that, when he saw the look that Emmett was working on, it was incomplete and looked like a "Christmas elf's" outfit. We see Santino cover his eyes and just generally start to wig as Emmett tries to comfort him. Tim enters and tells everyone that it is time for everyone to leave for the day. Santino falls to the floor. Emmett, of course not realizing that Santino is talking all kinds of shit about him, says to Santino, "You are a very good designer. You have Nick and I [sic] dealing with it. We believed it from the first minute that we sat down together to talk about it. This is not the time to be second-guessing your vision." Nice little pep talk, huh? Santino still has his eyes covered. I wonder if he's trying to keep himself from telling Emmett that this is all his fault.
Ha ha. The comedy and drama are sublime!

UPDATE: So is the first season of the show available on DVD? Ah, yes! It is! I buy it immediately.

Etymologic.

The etymology game. (Via Metafilter.) Ten multiple choice questions per game. Try to get a good score, but also learn some interesting info. Like, did you know the cheer "ole" comes from "Allah" and that "admiral" is based on "emir"?

Play more than once, because you'll probably improve your skills at figuring out the right answer. I think I got about 7 of the first 10, but then I got all 10 right the second time, not because I happened to know the answers, but because I got better at thinking about why one answer made more sense than another. (That's the classic multiple choice skill -- and you know how useful that is in life.)

"A year for unheroic, unambitious pop with little more to say than 'Play me on the radio.'"

Writes Jon Pareles.

I haven't read his article yet, but I'm feeling chastened, because lately, I've had a crush on XMU, channel 43 on the XM Satelliite Radio dial. I know it's utterly cheesy and lightweight, but it's so damned pleasant.

So let's see what Pareles is dogging us about:
Compare 2005 with 2004, which yielded albums like U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" - full of compassionate songs that grappled with faith and science, fame and family - and Green Day's "American Idiot," which was nothing less than a rock opera about 21st-century alienation. Those albums continued to sell through 2005 because there was little to supplant them.

A war is still on, but mass-market pop is steadfastly ignoring it. ...

There are ample reasons for pop's narrowed ambitions in 2005. For one thing, 2004 was an election year in the United States, which clearly prompted some thoughts about the wider political and social situation, while 2005 was its aftermath, full of unhealed divisions. Singing about private lives - love affairs, individual longings or the local beefs and exploits of hip-hop - was the safest route to a mass audience.
Oh, so it's the lyrics? Singing about private lives... yeah, no path to greatness there. Just the same old drivel that was spooned out 80 years ago.

But Pareles sees other problems. Record companies are losing money, so they're afraid to take chances. And:
Popular music now competes in a digital din of cable television, DVD's, video games and Web surfing. Separate songs, not sweeping album statements, are the currency of radio, MTV, iTunes, self-promotional sites like Myspace and the shuffled playlists of countless portable MP3 gizmos. Why devote attention to a big statement when there's another great groove just a click away?
But if these tech-y things are the problem, they are also the solution:
Independent companies, small and large, are claiming an ever larger part of the music market, bypassing radio to apply the old do-it-yourself strategies of touring and noncommercial media, and the newer ones of file-sharing and word-of-blog.

Paradoxically, though, far-reaching ambitions are re-emerging on the do-it-yourself scale. Where indie-rock was once a realm of self-conscious modesty - a refuge from the arrogant blare of Top 10 rock - acts like Bright Eyes, Animal Collective and Sufjan Stevens used their 2005 albums to make the kind of grand statements that bigger stars shied away from. They orchestrated elaborate sound worlds and grappled with big ideas rather than petty concerns, and they found audiences that made up in devotion what they lack in numbers.
Back to the plea for more opinions from musicians about the war and how "George Bush doesn't care about black people." It's okay with me if the vocal sounds they make to go along with the instrumental notes are words about petty concerns. Go ahead and tell us something about your love affairs, individual longings and local beefs and exploits. You don't have to freight your songs with political opinions.

No Lisa Kudrow? Then I just don't care about any of your opinions.

The Screen Actors Guild Award nominees were just announced.

A quick scan reveals what you'd expect to see. For movies, they round up the folk from "Capote," "Brokeback Mountain," "Walk the Line." There's TV too. Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. Oh, it's the usual Patricia Heaton, Megan Mullally stuff. No Lisa Kudrow, for the brilliant "Comeback"? Then I really don't care about your judgment about anything. Or do you think if she was good the show wouldn't have been cancelled? Or, why waste an award on a show that can't be helped?

Well, this reminds me. Whenever you read one of these lists of nominees, what you really want to know is who got snubbed. I mean, there are some things actors do that are just such over-the-top pleas for a nomination that it's really embarrassing when they don't get it. Like, for actress-in-a-movie this year, they had to feel required to give a nomination to Felicity Huffman for "Transamerica." She did the big gender identity thing this year. That's usually good for a nomination. Oh, and Charlize Theron got ugly again, so we need to say yes, Charlize, very nice. Again.

So, who got snubbed?

Bonus link: the Directors Guild Award nominees.

UPDATE: Chris emails:

OscarWatch.com has a list on the left side bar of all the potential contenders, and it has color-coded asterisks marking which ones got the nominations from each group, so you should be able to figure it out there.

But I'll tell you, here (these are just all the people they list on oscarwatch.com who didn't get nominated):

Actor: Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale), Ralph Fiennes, Eric Bana (Munich) snubbed.

Actress: Keira Knightley, Joan Allen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts, Vera Farmiga (who I've never heard of).

Sup Actor: Bob Hoskins is the main snub. Terrence Howard in Crash apparently, when he's also a contender in Hustle & Flow in the lead category. Will Farrell, Frank Langella, and Kevin Costner

Sup Actress: This is more interesting--Maria Bello and Scarlett Johannson snubbed. Laura Linney, Diane Keaton, and some other people I don't think anyone cares about.

DGA "snubs": The Constant Gardener, Walk the Line, Cinderella Man (Ron Howard), King Kong, Syriana, Match Point (Woody), A History of Violence.

January 5, 2006

Audible Althouse #30.

Here! About 47 minutes of podcasting, mainly about movies and the Supreme Court. (And yes, yes, I know you can hear some computer fan at the very end. No need to talk about it.)

On taking Justice O'Connor's seat.

John -- my son, John Althouse Cohen -- emails this passage from the WaPo:
Alito would replace retiring centrist Sandra Day O'Connor, the decisive justice on numerous 5 to 4 rulings, further raising the stakes for the Judiciary Committee hearings, which will begin Monday. By contrast, Roberts had a shorter paper trail -- three years as an appellate judge, compared with Alito's 15 -- and he succeeded a fellow conservative, the late William H. Rehnquist, thereby having modest impact on the court's balance.
John:
This is just illogical. If it had been the opposite—that is, if Roberts had replaced O'Connor and if Alito were the nominee to replace Rehnquist—the balance of the court would have been the same (aside from the Chief Justice's power to sometimes choose who writes opinions, and aside from the transitional months when only one of the Justices has been replaced). As long as two Justices are leaving the court at about the same time, it's superstitious to focus on who is replacing whom.
True, though I can certainly see why Democrats who are gearing up to do the questioning next week will emphasize that it is O'Connor that Alito is replacing. The WaPo seems to be channeling a little bit too much of their spin. On the other hand, I do think there is some effect on the new Justice's mind. Would David Souter have turned out exactly the same if he had been replacing, say, Lewis Powell, instead of William Brennan? It may very well affect the new Justice to know he is taking O'Connor's seat, and not just because he's susceptible to a superstition.

What he thinks about it is a different matter. He may think, Justice O'Connor played a role in keeping the Court on an even keel, so I need to think carefully about whether I have a special responsibility for preserving the balance. He may think, by balancing things in the middle, she created an opportunity for me to come on the Court and make a strong contribution to the development of the law, and I have an obligation to work with the other Justices to crystallize doctrine that has been unclear for too long.

Don't you want to know? But you can't. If asked, Alito will say that he deeply respects Sandra Day O'Connor and that he can only hope to live up to her great example of profound devotion to the rule of law, which requires him to study the texts and the arguments and to call them as he sees them.

Just guessing!

A government agent interrogates me about politics.

At the post office:
Post office guy: Do you want flags or love birds?

Me: I feel like this is a political test.... I'll take two sheets of each.

New stamps.

I use my credit card and, to sign the receipt, I grab the pen-on-a-chain that isn't underneath my bag. It's at the left side of the counter and has a sign that reads "For southpaws only." I use my right hand.
Post office guy: That's for southpaws only.

Me: Yeah, I saw that. Now, I'll have to become left-handed. Government orders.
Yeah, well, obviously, I need some coffee. I set up my stack of bluebooks at Starbucks.

Starbucks

I do the NYT crossword and read half of a law review article. The music is piercing, squealy singing about passionate love. I'm sitting by the window. This is the view:

Street

"Revealing the operational content of nominees’ constitutional commitments."

Yale Law Journal's Pocket Part has some legal scholars discussing what sorts of questions the Judiciary Committee should ask Samuel Alito next week. The lead article by Robert Post and Reva Siegel says:
Senators can with confidence and authority ask nominees to explain the grounds on which they would have voted in past decisions of the Supreme Court. Such questions serve the democratic design of the confirmation process by revealing the operational content of nominees’ constitutional commitments.
"Revealing the operational content of nominees’ constitutional commitments"?
Asking nominees to disclose how they would have decided well-known Supreme Court cases prevents nominees from explaining their constitutional commitments in terms of abstract principles like 'liberty' or 'equality,' whose practical significance in particular cases and contested areas of constitutional law is unknown. The goal would be to sustain a colloquy capable of adequately informing a Senatorial vote on whether to invest a nominee with the independent authority to interpret the Constitution.
Well, I would love for the nominee to explain the details of constitutional law like this, to reveal his mind at work. But I find it hard to picture the Senators allowing him the time to lay things out. I can just see them interrupting him and trying to restate things in short, hot-button style so they can get back to their usual preening bloviation. "Sustain a colloquy"? Would they? I mean, assuming the nominee would engage like this, would the Senators keep up their end? I think they'd be frightened out of their depth and would skitter back into the warm shallows of their own self-interest.

Larry Tribe, Erwin Chemerinsky, Randy Barnett, and Steven Lubet have responses.

Nice caricature of Alito at the link, too.

"You don't have to sort of plan, like 'What do I do in two years?... Where do I want my career to be in 15 years?'"

Carthusian monks:
The monks have avowed almost total silence, interrupted only by what one of them called "the terror of the bell".

"Once you accept the fact that when the bell rings - you just don't think about it - you just get up and go and do whatever that bell requires you to do, then, every moment that you have is a pretty permanently present moment," he says.

"You don't have to sort of plan, like 'What do I do in two years?... Where do I want my career to be in 15 years?' And the absence of language makes something - the moment itself becomes very, very strong."
A film about the monks, which is 3 hours long and nearly completely silent, is a big hit in Germany. Fascinating. The film allows you to feel what it is like to live like that.

MoveOn lumbers into "fast and hard" anti-Alito action.

The NYT reports:
A commercial by one of the liberal groups, MoveOn.org Political Action, depicts Judge Alito as an actor receiving makeup and coaching.

"Yes, you wrote on a job application that a woman has no constitutional right to an abortion," a handler tells him. "But your excuse is brilliant: you only did it to get the job."

"You broke your promise not to rule on cases involving that company you invested with. Stick to your answer: computer glitch," the handler continues. "Oh, and the group you belonged to that wanted to restrict African-American admissions to your college. You've been saying, 'I don't recall.' Love it."
Read the article for the background on the three things the commercial refers to if you don't know it already. The last of the three things is especially despicably distorted.

MoveOn doesn't seem to be putting its heart into this anti-Alito business, though. I tried to find the commercial on their website and couldn't. (I wanted to see if the application of makeup to the actor's face had a homophobic tinge.)

I did find this plea for funds:
If Bush announces an extremist nominee we’ll to need respond fast and hard with ads on the airwaves and in major newspapers that get our message out – and none of it comes cheap. So today we’re launching our Emergency Fund to Protect our Rights with an initial goal of $500,000. If you can help us get there now, we can leap straight into action the moment we hear the news.
"If"! And the NYT article says they're only spending $150,000 to run the anti-Alito ads. "Leap straight into action" -- yeah. You do that. Make sure you accumulate plenty of money first, though. Then, take down that nominee, the moment you hear about him. Fast and hard!

IN THE COMMENTS: Link to the ad found.

"Jack Abramoff's Lady-and-the-Tramp-style kiss of death."

Ana Marie Cox has an op-ed in today's NYT:
[Jack] Abramoff's connections seem infinite; attempts to follow the money give you something looking less like a flow chart than like spaghetti. Delicious, felonious spaghetti.

But who is actually going to receive Jack Abramoff's Lady-and-the-Tramp-style kiss of death?
That's a nicely complicated image, even if the notion of a kiss of death is absent from "Lady and the Tramp." And even if the use of spaghetti is supposed to evoke the reference to "The Godfather" in an earlier paragraph. One senses Wonkette has become Dowdette.

WAIT THERE'S MORE: The NYT has a second article about Cox today. (Are they regretful about that Janet Maslin review of her novel?) There's also this, on the front-page of the Arts section:
"I have always found [Washington] really intriguing," she said, working her way to the bottom of the giant martini, but following up with coffee so as to be fresh for a commute up to New York for a reading Thursday night. "D.C. wishes it was as boring as it says it is. To be famous in D.C. is the opposite of being famous somewhere else. You can only get and remain famous if you remain boring."

Ms. Cox is not boring, but then, "I'm not really very famous, either," she said; still, in a town full of pasty, overworked faces always framed by a credential around the neck, she sticks out. With a flash of red hair, dark pants demarcated by chalk stripes and a black T-shirt that shows enough arm to reveal a tattoo she got in Reno instead of getting married one wild weekend, she plays a Katharine Hepburn with a severe case of potty mouth.

January 4, 2006

A quick setback for Padilla.

The Supreme Court agreed today to let the government transfer Jose Padilla to from a military to civilian custody.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., refused last month to allow Mr. Padilla to be transferred to civilian custody, declaring that the Bush administration gave the appearance of pushing for the transfer to prevent the Supreme Court from hearing the case and ruling on the government's ability to hold an American citizen like Mr. Padilla outside the civilian criminal justice system. The Justice Department assailed the ruling as an "unwarranted attack" on presidential discretion.

The clash between the Fourth Circuit and the administration was remarkable, since the circuit is regarded as perhaps the most conservative of the federal appellate courts and therefore generally an ally of the Bush White House. Indeed, in September, the Fourth Circuit affirmed President Bush's power to hold Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant.

The Fourth Circuit's stance was surprisingly harsh, calling the administration on what it perceived as manipulation of the judicial system. Apparently, the Supreme Court did not buy that characterization.

UPDATE: Linda Greenhouse provides a more detailed report:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit... issued an opinion on Dec. 21 that suggested in stinging terms that the administration was now manipulating the federal court system, with "intentional mooting," in order to avoid Supreme Court review of the case.

In his opinion for the appeals court, Judge J. Michael Luttig said that while there might be valid reasons for the administration's request for an "eleventh-hour transfer" of Mr. Padilla, "any legitimate reasons are not evident, and the government has not offered explanation." He continued: "On an issue of such surpassing importance, we believe that the rule of law is best served by maintaining on appeal the status quo in all respects and allowing Supreme Court consideration of the case in the ordinary course."

Judge Luttig, the author of the Fourth Circuit decision that Mr. Padilla has appealed to the Supreme Court, has generally been supportive of the administration's claims of broad executive authority and was on the short list for the court's recent vacancies. His opinion this time set off a flurry of new Supreme Court filings, led by the administration, which a week ago asked the justices to "recognize the release and transfer of Jose Padilla" from the Charleston brig to the federal prison in Miami.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement told the court that the Fourth Circuit's order refusing the transfer "is based on a mischaracterization of events and an unwarranted attack on the exercise of executive discretion, and, if given effect, would raise profound separation-of-powers concerns."

In response, Mr. Padilla's lawyers told the court on Friday that while their client was "certainly eager to be released from the military brig where he has been held virtually incommunicado and in solitary confinement for the past three and a half years," the justices should wait the two weeks that it would take to consider his underlying appeal "in an orderly fashion."

The lawyers said "it would be highly imprudent for this court to hold that the government has an unlimited ability to transfer prisoners in military custody while their habeas petitions are pending." Mr. Padilla's Supreme Court appeal, Padilla v. Hanft, No. 05-533, began as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a challenge to the constitutionality of his confinement.

On Tuesday, the administration filed another brief with the court, reiterating the request for a transfer while conceding that Mr. Padilla's case would still be eligible for Supreme Court review even if he were no longer in military custody. "Granting the application will not prejudice this court's consideration of Padilla's petition," the brief said, adding, "It would, however, eliminate the anomaly of a citizen being held by the military against the wishes of both the executive and the detainee (at least in all but the short run)."

With the Supreme Court still technically on its Christmas recess, its action late Wednesday afternoon came as something of a surprise. "The government's application presented to the chief justice and by him referred to the court is granted," the order said.
I note that there is room to say that the Supreme Court didn't really so much disagree with the 4th Circuit as respond to Clement's assurance that the case would not be moot, even if Padilla were transferred. But the 4th Circuit knew that too. The government can't on its own volition manipulate the facts into mootness. The "voluntary cessation doctrine" prevents mootness, whether the government points that out or not. Luttig stressed the government's failure to give reasons for changing its approach to dealing with Padilla, and, facing the Supreme Court, the government relied on the executive's discretion in such matters and the Supreme Court seems to have accepted that.

"Well qualified."

The ABA committee on the federal judiciary voted unanimously to give Samuel Alito its highest rating. Quite appropriately. I hope the hearings next week will be civil and that this clear signal from the ABA will create something of a sense of resignation about the outcome and allow the Senators to use the occasion fruitfully to debate about the legal issues that will face the Supreme Court in the coming years. Alito's opponents shouldn't think so much about defeating him. They should speak to us in a way that gives life to the alternate interpretations of constitutional law that they would like to see embodied in some future Supreme Court nominee.

NYT links to related blog posts now.

I just noticed this, because a post of mine is linked here, along with an op-ed I commented on. The Washington Post has been doing this sort of thing for a while. Of course, I approve!

"It's confirmed everybody's worst fears about lobbyists -- that they double-deal, that they're not aboveboard."

So says John Jonas, a lobbyist, about the Jack Abramoff guilty plea. "That hurts the legitimate practice of the profession." I'd say we ought to be very suspicious of this "profession." If you want to practice it, you should feel a lot of pressure to insure its legitimacy. If our passive trust was a benefit you wanted to enjoy, that's all the more reason we should be suspicious of you.

"Personally, I am always struck by how weak the American president is compared to, say, a British prime minister..."

BBC Washington correspondent Matt Frei gives us some perspective on our current political struggles:
Once again all the papers are groaning under the weight of dense articles and worthy columns about the right balance between executive powers in a time of war and the need to check any president's monarchical instincts.

The Bush buddies argue that Dubya is doing what it takes to fight the war on terror. The Bush baiters charge he's behaving like a nascent dictator. This debate is as old as George Washington - who advocated a quasi-monarchical role for the president - and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to take the "chief" out of chief executive.

It is bitter and it goes to the very heart of the American system of governance.

Personally, I am always struck by how weak the American president is compared to, say, a British prime minister, who can do more or less as he and his party please if they have the right majority in parliament.

Potus - President of the United States, as the secret service refer to the most powerful man on Earth in their briefs - is more like a Venetian doge: surrounded by the trappings of monarchy but forever checked in the exercise of his power.
Well, checked power... that really is one of our big ideas. We did try to distinguish ourselves from the British when we came up with that one, you know.

"Anyone who could make the federal judiciary sexy is a blogger we'd want to work with."

From the WaPo article on the Cox to Lat switch at Wonkette:
[David] Lat ... will take over later this month with Alex Pareene, who has been a guest editor on Gawker.com. The Web site will be redesigned but the name will remain unchanged....

"I would expect [Wonkette] to evolve significantly," said Lockhart Steele, managing editor of Gawker Media, the site's publisher. "New bloggers bring new perspective and new energy."

Steele was impressed by Lat's "Wonkettey qualities": "He was very obsessive about people's good looks. Anyone who could make the federal judiciary sexy is a blogger we'd want to work with."
Lockhart Steele. Is that really his name?

Anyway, the article notes that Cox's book, "Dog Days," is getting bad reviews but that she has a "mid-six-figures" contract for her next book. Hey! This book thing.... I wonder what Gawker Media is paying Lat to be half-of-Wonkette. Or is blogging supposed to be something you do to leverage your way to a book contract? That could be a problem if you've evolved yourself a blogger mind...

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds is reading "Dog Days" and being charitable: "so far I like it pretty well." He likes the detail about electronic equipment, of which there is a lot. Naming all the products the character uses? Isn't that so 80s?

ANOTHER UPDATE: The humor novelist Christopher Buckley gives "Dog Days" a good review in the NYT Book Review:
I don't spend much time in the old blogosphere myself, and to be honest hadn't clicked onto Wonkette until now. But if this sparkly, witty - occasionally vicious - little novel is any indication of Wonkette's talent, then Cox ought to log out of cyberspace and start calling herself Novelette.

"I don't sing black, I don't sing white, I sing Bronx."

Have you ever thought about how great Dion is? He is a brilliant singer, and a completely warm performer, whose patter between songs is as entertaining as a good stand-up comedian's. I saw him in a small club here in Madison in 1990, and I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable concert I've seen in my whole life. I just loved him. He sang his old songs -- even, just to make us happy, "Teenager in Love" -- though he had a new album out, "Yo, Frankie." (A terrific album.) I remember him talking about how "The Wanderer" wasn't really what he was like. It was just an attempt to do a follow up to "Runaround Sue," a male version of the female character who meant a lot to him. He married Sue, he said, and was still married.

Now, he's made a CD of blues songs:
Dion said that despite being urged at various times by Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison and Steven Van Zandt to make an album of blues, he never seriously considered it until a record producer, Richard Gottehrer, heard him talking about his early influences and performing examples on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air," and suggested a session on his Dimensional Music Recordings label. And it wasn't until Dion actually began working on the record that he realized how these songs had been "the undercurrent of everything."

"You can't hear me thinking on this record," he said with a laugh. "I guess when you're an adult, things don't affect you like they do when you're 13 and vulnerable, and I didn't realize how much Hank Williams and Jimmy Reed were a part of me. It's all the music that kept me honest through the years. You can learn how to sing rock 'n' roll, but I don't know if you can learn how to sing blues because you have to sing without an agenda to capture it. It's so beautiful; you can express anything. I think it fell out of the sky."
Well, beautiful. A beautiful guy with a beautiful voice.

The new CD is "Bronx in Blue":

Juanita Dale Slusher, AKA Candy Barr.

From the obituary for a stag film star:
As a young child ... she was molested by a male babysitter. When she was 9, her mother died. Her father remarried, and she said the harsh discipline of her stepmother impelled her to run away when she was in the ninth grade. A marriage at 14 to a safecracker ended in divorce.

She said a man she met at a club forced her to do the blue movie, sometimes saying he drugged her.

"I was taken, done and that was it" ...

She dyed her hair blond and progressed from cigarette girl to an exotic dancer well known enough to require a flashy name. She loved chocolate, hence Candy Barr.

She shot her second of four husbands in the stomach in January 1956 after he came home drunk and threatened her. He said that he deserved it, and a grand jury dismissed charges. She soon got a booking to strip in Las Vegas, and, in 1957, played a comedy role in a legitimate theater in Dallas.

Later that year she was arrested for possession of marijuana in a case that drew wide attention because of Texas's tough new drug laws and questions about the legality of wiretapping by the Dallas police. During her appeal, she made $2,000 a week stripping in Las Vegas and Los Angeles to music specially composed for her. Around this time, she dated Mickey Cohen, an infamous mobster in the West.

After the Texas Supreme Court upheld her conviction, she served three years of a 15-year sentence. She wrote a poetry book in prison and emerged in a somber black outfit, quoting Bible verses.
In a real life, it's better that your story have no plot.

David Foster Wallace.

I can't say I've read much of his fiction, but I love David Foster Wallace for his nonfiction essays. One of my favorite books is "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," a collection of essays, including one about going on a luxury cruise, the supposedly fun thing he'll never do again that he saved me from ever having to do.

So I was happy to see he's got a new collection of essays, "Consider the Lobster." I should have bought it yesterday at Border's, where I had it with me on the counter, next to a latte and a stack of bluebooks, in a pile with a few other books, not including Ana Marie Cox's "Dog Days," which I looked for but found wasn't in stock.

"Consider the Lobster" gets a nice front-page-of-the-arts-section review in today's NYT. Michiko Kakutani writes:
The strongest entries in this volume are written in language that shows that it's possible to be serious without being sanctimonious, funny without being sophomoric, erudite without being pretentious, and these chapters unfold, beguilingly, from the particular to the philosophical, from small case studies to larger, zeitgeisty ruminations.
(That makes me think of blogging: I want to blog like that!)
...Mr. Wallace is capable of writing about things like metaphysics and the politics of the English language with the same verve and irreverence he brings to matters like the pornography industry and the cooking of lobsters. He describes language snobs as Snoots ("Syntax Nudniks of Our Time") and "usage Trekkies," and he argues that few people make "very deep syntactic errors" in conversation because "there is probably an actual part of the human brain that's imprinted with this Universal Grammar the same way birds' brains are imprinted with Fly South and dogs' with Sniff Genitals."...

He's similarly able to show why he disagrees with language Descriptivists (who claim that "so-called correct English usages like brought rather than brung and felt rather than feeled are arbitrary and restrictive and unfair") by drawing the following analogy: While it can be argued that the dictum identifying "pants instead of skirts" as the "correct subthoracic clothing for U.S. males" is similarly arbitrary, restrictive and unfair, the fact "remains that in the broad cultural mainstream of millennial America, men do not wear skirts."
(Subthoracic! I need to use more words like "subthoracic.")
Unlike the author's last two claustrophobic [fiction] books, this collection trains Mr. Wallace's acute eye not inward at the solipsistic terrain of people's minds, but outward at the world - at politicians, at writers, at ordinary and oddball individuals of every emotional stripe.
Mmm... yes. I love this kind of nonfiction. Spare me your made-up characters and stories and tell me whatever you have to say about the world you observe. I know it's too much to ask that Mr. Wallace blog, but this reminds me of so many things that I want blogging to be. And that I love to get a nice, fat, juicy book of essays from my favorite living essayist.

I went to a David Foster Wallace reading some years ago. I believe he was promoting "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," and that was the book I had in hand for an autograph. The man seemed terribly shy, as if it was quite painful for him to appear in public. In the question session, I wanted to ask him about it -- are you the person you seem to be in the essays? -- but I just couldn't bring myself to risk making him uncomfortable, even though, at the same time, I felt the flat questions he was getting weren't making him feel too good.

Suddenly, it was time for the signing, and with my usual way of being the first person to get to the front when a crowd moves, I was right there where the signing was to begin. Then, somehow, behind the second person that got to the counter, a long line formed. If I were to get in line then, I'd be behind 30 people. The hell! I was appalled at my fate. I was first, kind of. And now I was supposed to get behind all those who shuffled obediently into the line? Mr. Wallace noticed my distress and took my book to sign:

Autograph

He hated lines too, he told me. See what he wrote?

I recommend:

"'All of a sudden we heard the families in a euphoric state..."

AP reports:
Families gathered at the Sago Baptist Church began running out of the church and crying just before midnight, yelling "They're alive!" After two days of keeping vigil, they celebrated joyfully as church bells rang in jubilation.

As an ambulance drove away from the mine carrying what families believed was the first survivor, they applauded, not yet knowing there were no others.

The governor later indicated he was uncertain about the news at first. When word of survivors began circulating through the church, he hadn't heard it, he said.

"All of a sudden we heard the families in a euphoric state, and all the shouting and screaming and joyfulness, and I asked my detachments, I said, 'Do you know what's happening?' Because we were wired in and we didn't know," Manchin said.
Very sad. The hunger for good news must have been so strong. If one man could survive, would you not leap to believe they all did?

UPDATE: Sissy Willis describes what the euphoria and crash from euphoria looked like on TV in the middle of the night.

January 3, 2006

Disgusting film project.

I'm sorry to read that the young actress Lindsay Lohan was hospitalized for a severe asthma attack but disgusted about the movie I see she's working on:
Lohan is scheduled to begin shooting her latest film, "Chapter 27," about the man who murdered former Beatle John Lennon, later this month in New York City. Lohan will play a fictional character who befriends Lennon's killer (portrayed by Jared Leto) days before the rock star was gunned down in 1980.
That man should never be mentioned, never given any attention, and no film should ever be made about him. I don't care how much the filmmakers think they are expressing disapproval, when a movie is made about a person, he becomes, in some sense, a hero. No one should ever see that man realize any part of his dream of linking his name to Lennon's. The news was reported when it happened. You can look it up if you want to know who did it. Now, the media should black out his name, forever.

And they shouldn't have made a movie about the woman who shot Andy Warhol, either. Don't hold out the rewards of fame to the sick minds of this world.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some -- not all! -- commenters disagree with me. They accuse me of censorship and object to the idea that film can't help glorifying its subject. They act as if my objection applies more generally to all films that depict violence. I argue back, saying (in part):
Only a very rare, unusual person takes things the wrong way and does something bad. But I'm not recommending censoring or boycotting every film about a violent person. Frankly, if I was going to choose one thing to censor with the hope of stopping acts of violence, it would be "A Catcher in the Rye."

But I'm not saying that. I'm not talking about acts of violence generally. I'm talking about the idea that lodges in the brain of some mentally ill persons that killing a famous person would be the road to glory. This is not an important idea for debate by the general public. It's a stupid, ugly fantasy. We should take care that we not participate in making it true.

If there were any chance that this "Chapter 27" thing is a great screenplay along the lines of "Taxi Driver," I might make an exception. But you know damned well it's not. The moviemakers are just trading on Lennon's fame and trying to grab what they think is a built-in market of people who are interested in him. We should shun them.

And in the world of free speech, the listeners' shunning is part of the marketplace of ideas that is part of the expression. It's more speech, the opposite of censorship.

Anti-anti gay marriage litigation.

A lawsuit to stop the anti-gay marriage amendment in Massachusetts:
The lawsuit, filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, challenges a September ruling by state Attorney General Tom Reilly that found the amendment drive was legal.

That ruling allowed backers of the amendment to begin collecting signatures. They gathered more than 120,000 -- well above the 65,000 needed to get the measure on the 2008 ballot.

Gary Buseck, GLAD legal director, said the Massachusetts Constitution bars any citizen-initiated amendment that ''relates to the reversal of a judicial decision.'' Reilly should have blocked the question from going forward on those grounds, Buseck said.

The proposed amendment is designed ''squarely and solely'' to reverse the landmark 2003 decision by Massachusetts' high court that legalized gay marriage, Buseck said.

Hostility for the blogger's novel.

Janet Maslin, in the NYT, gives a pretty bad review to Ana Marie Cox's novel, "Dog Days."

Writers who are not bloggers can have a hostile, exclusionary attitude toward bloggers, these people who just proclaim themselves writers and start writing, without any professional filtering. Then, when a popular blogger gets a writing contract, they might want to cry foul.

You got popular as a writer from blogging, and then you got a book contract because you were popular. No fair!


Cox never had to prove she was a novelist, so that makes her book-shaped-object seem like just a commercial scheme. She had to know this perception would make it hard to get good reviews from the traditional press. It's hard, for different reasons, to write a novel when you're a complete unknown. But at least there's a kind of romantic edge to the struggling-artist life, and in that struggle, you might find art. But to write with the contract and the expectation and the prospect of hostility, that can't feel so good. Cox had to translate the short bursts of humor that worked on Wonkette into something in long form, some story, with a plot. What a drag!

Should I read the book and give you a nontraditional, blogger-friendly review? Sorry. I can't. It's basically a chick-lit book, and I've never been able to get interested in those things -- even the ones that are reputed to be good. I just don't care about stories like that.

MORE: From USAToday:
The novel has a stripped-down story line and limited character development. The plot is predictable and matter-of-fact. But it does have a blunt, albeit tawdry, honesty.

Cute!

Natalie Angier on cuteness, which was big this past year. It's not just pandas and penguins. It's also that ooh-look-at-my-belly fashion. What make us perceive cute? It's some primal response to baby:
The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.

The greater the number of cute cues that an animal or object happens to possess, or the more exaggerated the signals may be, the louder and more italicized are the squeals provoked.

Cuteness is distinct from beauty, researchers say, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.
When do we want cuteness more than beauty? Beauty's more serious and challenging. Cuteness is fun. Relaxing! Yes, let's baby ourselves and love cuteness.

(Here's a cute little blog devoted to cuteness.)

Cuteness may be easygoing and nice, but there are some serious challenges involved in understanding its uses and effects. From Angier:
Experts point out that the cuteness craze is particularly acute in Japan, where it goes by the name "kawaii" and has infiltrated the most masculine of redoubts. Truck drivers display Hello Kitty-style figurines on their dashboards. The police enliven safety billboards and wanted posters with two perky mouselike mascots, Pipo kun and Pipo chan.

Behind the kawaii phenomenon, according to Brian J. McVeigh, a scholar of East Asian studies at the University of Arizona, is the strongly hierarchical nature of Japanese culture. "Cuteness is used to soften up the vertical society," he said, "to soften power relations and present authority without being threatening."
So: watch out for cuteness!

"We're still hoping for that miracle."

Say a prayer for the miners.

Explaining the Solicitor General's office, defending Alito.

Lawprof Charles Fried has an op-ed on Samuel Alito in today's NYT, looking at the way Alito's opponents have used memoranda he wrote as a junior lawyer in the office of the Solicitor General. Fried, who was Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989, writes:
These were not the writings of a political operative seeking to make trouble or advance an agenda. The solicitor general takes a case to the Supreme Court only when some other part of the government - perhaps a division of the Department of Justice or another agency - recommends it.
As a junior staff member, Alito received assignments, including one dealing with abortion and another with wiretapping:
What is remarkable in both cases is that Judge Alito recommended against taking the position that more senior, politically appointed officials were urging the solicitor general to take before the court.
I'm not going to excerpt from the rest of the piece, because it's so pithy that you ought to read every word. Fried makes his point with the great clarity you'd expect from a Solicitor General: if you understand the context of the cases and the way the Solicitor General's office works, you can see that Alito is "a careful lawyer with the professionalism to give legally sound but unwelcome advice" and "a person who can tell the difference between the law and his own political predilections."

Blog style tips for the new year.

Evan Shaeffer comes up with ten New Year's Resolutions for bloggers, especially law bloggers. He mentions me a couple times, in the context of recommending blogging on a variety of topics. I'd just say there are two kinds of blogs, the kind that pick one topic and stay on it and the kind that range over whatever topics the blogger feels moved to write about. One person might write both types of blogs. For example, lawprof Stephen Bainbridge has his wide-ranging blog and then a single-topic blog. And his single-topic blog, nicely, isn't about law. It's about wine. Do I have a specialized interest of the sort that I'd want to break out into a separate blog? I certainly wouldn't segregate the law material.

I actually had a separate blog for a while, and I used it for very lightweight, chatty material. I stopped because the software trial license I was experimenting with expired, and I was happy enough mixing up this blog with serious and very easygoing material -- you know, the kind of stuff that makes certain bloggers rail against me. Ann Althouse, who's supposed to be a constitutional law professor, wrote this, about nostrils, nostrils! Hey, I pick my topics, and, if I want, I can pick nostrils.

Article III Groupie to become Wonkette?

The WSJ Law Blog reports a rumor:
Queen of the blogosphere Ana Marie Cox is said to be handing over the reins at her spicy political blog Wonkette. David Lat, the federal prosecutor who revealed himself to the New Yorker magazine in November as the author of the popular “Underneath Their Robes” judicial blog, is expected to start blogging for the site. Lockhart Steele, managing editor of Gawker Media, which owns Wonkette, declined to comment. We hear that Lat will have a co-editor....

In past posts, Wonkette praised [Article III Groupie's blog] “Underneath Their Robes,” calling it adorably irreverent, deliciously superficial, and winkingly naughty.
Interesting. But being Wonkette can't be the only job for Lat, can it? You can't just be a blogger, can you? What job works for a law person who wants to be able to write an extravagant blog, like Underneath Their Robes or Wonkette? Lawprof? Really? What would the students think? How about the stuffier colleagues?

A separate problem is that Wonkette can't become too law focused. But if Wonkette is really two bloggers and if Lat wants to blog about politics more general (as we law folk tend to do) then there's no real problem there.

January 2, 2006

Pandora.

The Music Genome Project. I love it!

Tech question.

A listener to the most recent podcast writes:
Does anyone know why #29 is playing at fast-speed on my computer? I know that's a silly question, since there are a million things it could be. But it's the first Audible Althouse that's done this. How do I slow this puppy down? The on-screen controls seem to have a forward and reverse, but that just switches me to the next (or previous) Audible Althouse in sequence. Other than that, I only seem to have a "pause" and a "play". But when I hit play, Ann's voice goes so fast it's not understandable. Help!
I'm afraid the problem could have been caused by the adjustments I made to deal with the file-size problem (discussed yesterday here). Any advice?

Best film of the year.

I haven't been reading many of the ten bests lists this year. Here's one, rounding up the usual suspects, the Oscar-y crap with landscapes/history/biography and those heavy-handed sexuality and violence themes.

What a big drag! I especially loathe the biopic. This year, we're supposed to care about Truman Capote and Johnny Cash -- I mean a pretentious actor impersonating Truman Capote or Johnny Cash. Last year, we were supposed to be excited about Liam Neeson pretending to be Alfred Kinsey and Jamie Foxx pretending to be Ray Charles. Both of those '04 movies played on cable TV yesterday evening and I was switching back and forth trying to get a bit of a sense of what was thought to be so good there. Neeson seemed to be giving a competent performance as a dull man, but Foxx was being a giant ham. I was cringing.

Why can't we just see actual footage of Ray Charles? It's disconcerting to imitate his mannerisms. Since there's plenty of film of the man, why not make a documentary? Is this acting stunt worth doing? I seriously do not understand why they make so many biopics, especially of people there's plenty of film of, especially when they are singers and we've got innumerable filmed recordings of their concert performances.

Is it because the actor can show us the actual consumption of drugs and alcohol, and we can drag in an actress for him to have big, loud fights with? Those awful domestic disputes! I'm never interested in seeing a man and a woman just yelling at each other about their relationship! I think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are interesting in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," but, after that, I really don't need any more. Husband and wife squabbles! Why not just live in an apartment building with thin walls?

I avoided nearly every movie in 2005, pursuant to my aversion to movies. But I did see a few and I can give my full stamp of approval to one. It's a documentary: "Grizzly Man."



And here's Grizzly Liz:

''Obviously, Kerry has all but said he wants another crack at the thing."

Ugh! Come on, you had your chance. Winning after running as the party's candidate hasn't worked since Nixon (and things were very unusual when that happened). If anyone should have a second shot, it should be Gore, not Kerry.

ADDED: Here's a New Republic article from a couple months ago that's very positive about Al Gore running in '08:
...Gore is the only anti-Hillary candidate who can credibly attack her on both fronts. His early, vocal, and unwavering opposition to the war in Iraq has made him a hero to many Democrats. The Hollywood liberals over at Huffington Post as well as the university-town activists at Daily Kos and Moveon.org love Gore. If he ran, he would instantly become the favored candidate of the "netroots," the antiwar, anti-Bush crowd that championed Howard Dean and that will be a significant source of money and buzz in the run-up to 2008. The activists in the liberal blogosphere, more than any other opinion-making constituency in Democratic politics, revere Gore. They still wave the bloody flag of the 2000 recount. They still pump out bitter posts about how the mainstream media trashed Gore in 2000 yet gave Bush a free pass. They remember that Gore endorsed Dean in 2004 and they burst with pride at the fact that he chose Moveon.org as the forum for his most important speeches.

Of course, any antiwar candidate could criticize Hillary's vote for the war in Iraq. But the logic of the Gore candidacy is that, unlike other Democrats, he could attack Hillary as both out of step on the war and unelectable come November. If he runs for president he would be the only candidate in either party who instantly passes the post-9/11 threshold on national security issues. Hillary's credible case that as first lady she engaged in diplomacy and was treated abroad like a world leader would be dwarfed by Gore's eight-year record as vice president sitting on the National Security Council.

And Gore might be the only Democrat who can solve a vexing issue facing the party: How does a candidate establish a reputation for toughness on national security while simultaneously criticizing the war? Gore supported the Gulf War and, in most Clinton administration battles over the use of force, he took the more hawkish position. He is the party's only credible antiwar hawk.

''I can say that if somebody from al-Qaida is calling you, we'd like to know why."

Said President Bush this morning, aptly. Also: ''The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States."

The article counters that last statement with this:
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., appearing on ''Fox News Sunday,'' said the Justice Department investigation should explore the motivation of the person who leaked the information.

''Was this somebody who had an ill purpose, trying to hurt the United States?'' Schumer asked. ''Or might it have been someone in the department who felt that this was wrong, legally wrong, that the law was being violated?''
So if they meant well, it would be fine? I assume whoever leaked meant well.

"If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they'll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right."

A NYT op-ed from Joseph Loconte (a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation), writing about a current Democratic tactics designed to reclaim religious voters:
For starters, we'll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book "God's Politics," Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.

"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.

When Christians - liberal or conservative - invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous "policy papers" from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: they're awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council....

A completely secular public square is neither possible nor desirable; democracy needs the moral ballast of religion. But a partisan campaign to enlist the sacred is equally wrongheaded. When people of faith join political debates, they must welcome those democratic virtues that promote the common good: prudence, reason, compromise - and a realization that politics can't usher in the kingdom of heaven.
Do religious ideas undermine democratic discourse? Some would say that all religion should be purged from political debate, but that excludes or burdens a lot of people whose natural way of thinking and speaking combines religion with ideas about the good.

The problems really arise when speakers in the political debate start citing texts that some people hold sacred and others don't. The polical discourse goes awry if they use these texts as dictates that must be followed, not because they make intrinsic sense, but because they come from God. How is someone who disagrees supposed to argue? The text is not sacred? Well, they could argue for a different interpretation of the text. But do people who believe in a religious text want to hear a nonbeliever reshape its meaning? And does the nonbeliever want to have to deal with that text? It's not the most fruitful way to have a discussion about politics, but I don't think it should be delegitimated as undemocratic. I think it's more undemocratic to try to constrain the speech of the many people who think in terms of religion.

As for the politicians who covet their votes and frame their pitches in religious terms for their own advantage, they won't escape our judgment. I think it's good for democracy to give us a big juicy chance to hone our critical skills. I tend to agree with Loconte that the use of religion will go badly, but it's understandable that liberals should want to provide a religious version of their arguments, as long as some conservatives are using and doing well with religious arguments.

On Alito: defining expectations downwards?

Here's a piece by David Kirkpatrick, reporting that insiders are predicting a more ragged performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Alito than what we recently saw from Roberts. Participants in the practice sessions -- murder boards -- are saying that, and Democrats are promising some harsher questions.
But two of Judge Alito's supporters who participated in the murder boards, speaking about the confidential sessions on condition of anonymity for fear of White House reprisals, said they emerged convinced that his demeanor was a political asset because it gave him an Everyman appeal.

"He will have a couple hairs out of place," one participant said. "I am not sure his glasses fit his facial features. He might not wear the right color tie. He won't be tanned. He will look like he is from New Jersey, because he is. That is a very useful look, because it is a natural look. He's able to go toe-to-toe with senators, and at the same time he could be your son's Little League coach."
After all these elaborate practice sessions, no one helps the man with his grooming? Or did some stylist tousle his hair and select ungainly glasses and a brown tie? "That is a very useful look" -- it announces that he's the not-Roberts. Would it be mean of us, then, to look critically at the substance of his answers? The same informant -- who has a way with words, right? -- said:
Judge Alito displayed a "street smart" New Jerseyan's willingness to talk back to his questioners. Unlike Chief Justice Roberts, Judge Alito often turned inquiries back on the lawyers who were quizzing him, politely asking them to spell out exactly what they meant, two participants said.

Judge Alito "had no bones about coming back for clarification," the same person said, adding that the judge sometimes stumped the legal experts acting in the roles of senators and suggesting that he could pose an even greater challenge to actual senators reading from staff talking points.
Crafty! This is an excellent technique. Lawprofs use it to avoid elaborate answers. It's a good way to avoid confusing and boring listeners. It helps students mobilize their reasoning powers and practice speaking in the professional mode. With Senators, the goal is less beneficent. I'm sure they/their staff are reading this article and feeling intimidated, vulnerable. What they should do now is hone their questions. But is there any hope the Senators will give up their ridiculously verbose questions? They must preen. And how will the usual preening look when the man in the chair is from New Jersey, with ill-fitting glasses and a rumpled suit, and decades and decades of honing his skills as a prosecutor and a judge.

There's always the hope Alito will blow his cool:
Some Democrats, however, say Judge Alito's less-polished style may also be a vulnerability. Two Democratic aides briefed on his meeting with Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said that when the senator pressed him about an opinion he had written involving the regulation of machine guns, Judge Alito grew defensive - something else Chief Justice Roberts never did. The aides, speaking anonymously because the meeting was private, said the episode led them to hope he might lose his cool in front of the committee, as well.
In other words: "a 'street smart' New Jerseyan's willingness to talk." Why must everything always be cool? We have some real issues and disagreements. Let's cut through the blather and really engage for a change. What would this defensiveness be? I'd guess, for example, about the machine gun case, that Schumer led with the usual policy talk about gun control and the usual self-serving insistence on endless congressional power, and Alito insisted on nailing down the actual doctrine as expressed in the Lopez case and as duly interpreted by a lower court judge one year later. If he did that with questions to Schumer, designed to make Schumer reframe his question as one appropriately put to a judge, I'm sure there was some loss of cool in the room.

Bring it on! I'm so ready to blog that.

IN THE COMMENTS: OhioAnne writes astutely:
Interesting choice of words made in the article.

People participating in the administration meetings spoke anonymously "out of fear of White House reprisals," but Schumer"s aides spoke anonymously because "the meeting was private."

No chance that the White House aides spoke anonymously because the meeting was private and Schumer's did because of fear of reprisals from him?

Any chance at all that both sets of aides spoke anonymously simply because they knew they were being unprofessional by failing to adhere to confidentiality restrictions?

UPDATE: Scott Shields at MyDD calls the linked NYT article "one of the most brazen examples I've ever seen of the media rewriting Republican talking points." What's gotten under his skin?
Alito's Republican handlers are pushing this silly "Everyman" narrative in an attempt to manage public expectations. Oh, he's not being combative -- he's just a Jersey Everyman. But is that really what people want in a Supreme Court nominee?...

I have no idea what Alito's confirmation hearings will look like. But the Republicans who do seem to think it's not going to be pretty. After such a clean confirmation with Roberts, messy hearings for Alito do not bode well. "Everyman" or not, it sounds like Alito's in for a bumpy ride.
It sounds to me as though Shields is just trying to keep the anti-Alito folks fired up and resents any positive press (especially from the newspaper he thinks he ought to be able to count on to keep up the heat). And this press isn't even that positive.

"Honestly, a lot of my friends like Iraq. It's not as bad as people say."

Here's a nice story from the NYT about a young woman who joined the Army. It begins:
When she signed up for the Army in 2004, Katherine Jordan had little to say about war. Asked about Iraq at the time, she said she was far more concerned about the rigors of basic training and more focused on the fear that she might wind up here, in her hometown of 1,000, never amounting to much.

The local recruiter made her parents, Byron and Mary, feel comfortable, too, they said. They hoped the conflict in Iraq would fade away by the time their only child finished training, Mr. Jordan said back then, on the same afternoon that his freckle-faced daughter marched across the Lyndon High gymnasium in flip-flops to collect her diploma. "We don't think she is going to be in a battle zone," he said that day.
Reading those first two paragraphs, I felt this was going to be one of these pieces about how the military hoodwinks young innocents, but it isn't at all. Jordan and her parents come across as solid, intelligent individuals who know what they are doing and have good values.

UPDATE: Ranting Profs takes a similar view of the article and attracts a first comment that had me shaking my head and thinking of how to rephrase the famous Kennedy quote. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask who other than you can do something for your country.

January 1, 2006

It's back!

Underneath Their Robes!

ADDED: Now, could Eggagog please come back too?

Audible Althouse #29.

The New Year's Eve podcast, recorded late yesterday afternoon. (You can stream it right on the computer here, and you can subscribe to the series here -- or look for it on iTunes.) In this, the 29th podcast, which is about an hour long, I look at the quotes I collected from 2005 and go into a lot of detail about the Camille Paglia one that I heard in person, with some new detail. I talk about my prediction for the Supreme Court in 2006, and that connection between happiness and virtue.

Sorry I didn't put this one up at about 6 p.m. yesterday when I finished it, but I maxed out on technical things, and there was an eve to attend to. Finally, I managed to solve my problem. Adjusting the bit rate or some such thing that I still don't understand...

Podcast troubles.

Sorry, I had to take the new podcast down. I've got a technical problem with it that I can't seem to overcome. Not the way I really want to spend New Year's Day!

MORE: The problem is that the file size is coming out much too large, around 50 MB instead of 10. I'm using MP3, and I've set it to the lowest quality and to mono. I can't think of anything else to do!

UPDATE: Problem solved... I think.

NYT Public Editor calls NYT explanation of its decision to report on the NSA link "woefully inadequate."

Byron Calame writes:
For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making....
At the outset, it's essential to acknowledge the far-reaching importance of the eavesdropping article's content to Times readers and to the rest of the nation. Whatever its path to publication, Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller deserve credit for its eventual appearance in the face of strong White House pressure to kill it. And the basic accuracy of the account of the eavesdropping stands unchallenged - a testament to the talent in the trenches.
So Calame begins with an uncritical assumption: The Times did the nation a great service. His problem is with the explanation for the one-year delay in reporting the link:
Protection of sources is the most plausible reason I've been able to identify for The Times's woeful explanation in the article and for the silence of Mr. Sulzberger and Mr. Keller. I base this on Mr. Keller's response to me: "There is really no way to have a full discussion of the back story without talking about when and how we knew what we knew, and we can't do that."

Taken at face value, Mr. Keller seems to be contending that the sourcing for the eavesdropping article is so intertwined with the decisions about when and what to publish that a full explanation could risk revealing the sources. I have no trouble accepting the importance of confidential sourcing concerns here. The reporters' nearly one dozen confidential sources enabled them to produce a powerful article that I think served the public interest.

With confidential sourcing under attack and the reporters digging in the backyards of both intelligence and politics, The Times needs to guard the sources for the eavesdropping article with extra special care. Telling readers the time that the reporters got one specific fact, for instance, could turn out to be a dangling thread of information that the White House or the Justice Department could tug at until it leads them to the source. Indeed, word came Friday that the Justice Department has opened an investigation into the disclosure of classified information about the eavesdropping.
But none of that explains why the report was ultimately published, Calame observes. He's interested in knowing two things: whether the news could have been revealed back when it could have affected the presidential election and the connection to the publication date of James Risen's book "State of War."