January 28, 2006

"There's no reason for it to exist in English..."

... this "sort of book," by a Frenchman, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who did some traveling in America and then "worked up his notes," to be witheringly reviewed by Garrison Keillor in the NYT:
In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
The book is called "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville." (You can read the first chapter here.)

Keillor:
Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions....

America is changing, he concludes, but America will endure. "I still don't think there's reason to despair of this country. No matter how many derangements, dysfunctions, driftings there may be . . .
No matter how many words beginning with D in a sentence there may be...
"no matter how fragmented the political and social space may be; despite this nihilist hypertrophy of petty antiquarian memory; despite this hyperobesity - increasingly less metaphorical - of the great social bodies that form the invisible edifice of the country; despite the utter misery of the ghettos . . . I can't manage to convince myself of the collapse, heralded in Europe, of the American model."

Thanks, pal. I don't imagine France collapsing anytime soon either. Thanks for coming.
Ha. This reminds me of a book in my half-read books collection: "America," by Jean Baudrillard. I got some ways into it -- I was seriously trying to read it, you know, doing that thing readers do where we submit to merging our mind with the mind of another human being -- and I just had to shake myself out of it and say nothing here rings true.

Hmmm.... "America" has a blurb from a NYT book review on the back. "Since de Tocqueville...."

IN THE COMMENTS: An interesting process of melllowing on Lévy!

"Judge Alito's nomination is the tipping point against constitutionally-based freedoms and protections we cherish as individuals and as a nation."

So "[h]istory will show," predicts Senator Hillary Clinton, who's announced her support of the filibuster.
Her move seems to put her at odds with New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, who spent last week privately arguing that a filibuster would damage Democrats' chances of taking back the Senate this year, according to party sources.
Is Schumer a savvier political analyst than Clinton? Or is Clinton just in a different political position?
Analysts said Clinton had little choice but to back the filibuster, given Kerry's Thursday announcement that he was reviving the stop-Alito movement. For all the talk of Clinton's shift to the center on abortion, she can ill-afford to let a possible adversary outflank her on the left among liberals who favor abortion rights, according to Jennifer Duffy, who monitors the Senate for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

"It's an empty gesture," Duffy said of Clinton's announcement. "What Democratic primary voter is going to vote for her if she didn't do everything to oppose Alito? ... She had to join John Kerry."
She's taking precautions against Kerry getting the jump on her in the '08 campaign? How incredibly lame that would be -- especially if this silly fear of him as a candidate is expressed by following him.

Are bloggers making things difficult for Democrats?

The WaPo observes the way bloggers who are trying to help the Democrats are posing a problem for them:
Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.
But it's the same old story, as the article acknowledges. The most activist members of a party want something stronger than what ordinary people like. How have bloggers made this any worse? One of the examples in the story is the demand for a filibuster of the Alito nomination, which was made on DailyKos -- but it was made by John Kerry, who, for whatever reason, decided it was a good idea to be writing there. Whether that counts as bloggers putting on the pressure, I don't know. Kerry could have found a forum in any number of places. And the fact is, the NYT was calling for a filibuster too.

Colbert and the dissonance between religion and comedy.

Steve Colbert describes the set of "The Colbert Report":
Everything on the show has my name on it, every bit of the set. One of the things I said to the set designer—who has done everything, I mean even Meet The Press, he does that level of news design—was "One of your inspirations should be [DaVinci's painting] The Last Supper." All the architecture of that room points at Jesus' head, the entire room is a halo, and he doesn't have a halo." And I said, "On the set, I'd like the lines of the set to converge on my head." And so if you look at the design, it all does, it all points at my head. And even radial lines on the floor, and on my podium, and watermarks in the images behind me, and all the vertices, are right behind my head. So there's a sort of sun-god burst quality about the set around me. And I love that. That's status.
Speaking of Colbert and religion: Did you see his show on Thursday, with Paul Begala as the guest? Begala is going on about how he needed to teach Bill Clinton how to get his ideas across in short, simple form for the news. Begala describes how he made his point to Bill Clinton, who was bellyaching about how his wonky policies couldn't be condensed into sound bites. Begala reached in his back pocket and pulled out a copy of the New Testament that he's been carrying since 1979. At this point on the show, Begala actually pulls out the tattered, taped-together book and says he highlighted John 3:16 and handed it to Clinton. Begala hands the opened book to Colbert, points to the verse, tells Colbert to read it, and says he's going to time him to prove -- as he proved to Clinton -- how much can be said in 5 seconds. Colbert takes a slight glance at the book, flips it shut, looks straight at Begala and says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that those who believe in him shall not die but have eternal life." Begala says, triumphantly, "Four and a half seconds!" And Colbert says "That's the Christian sound bite."

I was struck by this moment on the show. The interview was going very well -- Begala speaking crisply (about speaking crisply) and Colbert slipping in perfect zingers. And then Begala wants to use the New Testament to prove a point about how he got through to Clinton. I felt that, reciting the verse, Colbert was not being the Colbert Report character but that his own religion was dictating that he had to say the verse as a demonstration of his own faith, and it wasn't right to fool around with that. I can't say why I feel so sure. The Colbert character would, I think, have been more pleased with himself to know the verse. You'd have felt the preen. I experienced this moment as a startling statement of faith, the kind of thing you don't normally see on TV.

The subject of Colbert and religion is an interesting one. He used to do "This Week in God" on "The Daily Show." When he was on "Fresh Air" a year ago, he talked about religion with Terry Gross:
Mr. COLBERT: This Week in God is--you know, This Week in God is, for me, a tightrope, because I--while I'm, you know, not a particularly religious person, I do go to church, which makes me kind of odd for my profession. You know, most people can't understand why I do, other comedians. And I have to walk that thin line because I don't want to criticize anyone's religions for the fact that it is a religion, and what's funny to me is what people do in the name of religion. ...

GROSS: Now you grew up in a family with--What?--11 children?

Mr. COLBERT: Yeah, I'm one of 11 kids. I'm the youngest.

GROSS: And was it a religious family? You say you go to church and...

Mr. COLBERT: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. COLBERT: We're, you know, very devout and, you know, I still go to church and, you know, my children are being raised in the Catholic Church. And I was actually my daughters' catechist last year for First Communion, which was a great opportunity to speak very simply and plainly about your faith without anybody saying, `Yeah, but do you believe that stuff?' which happens a lot in what I do.

GROSS: Can I ask you a kind of serious question about faith?

Mr. COLBERT: I've been turning all of your funny questions into serious things for an hour or so. I don't see why you can't do the same to me.

GROSS: In the sketch we heard earlier from "This Week In God," you talked about the Christian pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control.

Mr. COLBERT: Right.

GROSS: Now the Catholic Church opposes birth control, which...

Mr. COLBERT: They do.

GROSS: ...I presume you do not and...

Mr. COLBERT: Presume away.

GROSS: ...so how do you deal with contradictions between, like, the church and the way you live your life, which is something that a lot of people in the Catholic Church have to deal with?

Mr. COLBERT: Well, sure. You know, that's the hallmark of an American Catholic, is the individuation of America and the homogenation of the church; homogenation in terms of dogma. I love my church and I don't think that it actually makes zombies or unquestioning people. I think it's actually a church that values intellectualism, but certainly, it can become very dogmatically rigid.

Somebody once asked me, `How do you be a father'--'cause I'm a father of three children--`and be anti-authoritarian?' And I said, `Well, that's not nearly as hard as being anti-authoritarian and being a Roman Catholic,' you know? That's really patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. I don't know. You know, I don't believe that I can't disagree with my church and I'll leave it at that.
I don't have a conclusion I'm driving at here. I love Steve Colbert and "The Colbert Report," and I'm fascinated by religion and comedy and the way the dissonance between the two affects a performer who is actually a believer.

UPDATE: Ambivablog questions my use of the word "dissonance." So let me say that I mean it in a good way. It's more difficult to be comical around a subject you respect, and working through a difficulty makes what you do more interesting. By contrast, when George Carlin jokes about religion, his comedy on the subject feels cheap and thin, because it's just flat-out obvious that he hates religion. I'd much rather listen to Colbert on the subject, and not just because I'm not entertained by hate. Colbert has to struggle with a problem, and he chooses to make comedy out of a subject that is complicated for him. I love that.

ADDED: You can listen to the great interview with Terry Gross here.

January 27, 2006

After that embarrassing phone-in approach, Kerry leaves Switzerland...

... to come back to the Senate to continue his futile filibuster-fomenting.

"Not everyone -- male or female -- belongs in a skirt. "

Says Robin Givhan on the occasion of a high school boy's fight for the right to wear a skirt to school as long as the girls are allowed to wear skirts. The ACLU helped Coviello get the school to agree to let him wear a skirt. No court announced a right here. But even if there were such a right, you don't want to be doing everything you've got a right to do. It's in the exercise of discretion that you prove your character -- and your fashion sense. So the boy, Michael Coviello, really ought to refrain from wearing a skirt, and so -- Givhan blurts out -- should Hillary Clinton:
After eight years as first lady wearing innumerable skirt suits that did little to flatter her physique, she now wears pants almost exclusively. As a matter of personal style, this is a good thing. The senator looks more streamlined and elegant.
Back to Coviello, whose real complaint was that they wouldn't let him wear shorts after October 1st and before April 15th:
It is tempting to chuckle at the image of Coviello in his skirt. And truth be told, there was a bit of tittering on our part. It is also tough to get riled up and indignant about students being denied the right to wear shorts to school once the temperature drops. Wouldn't they get cold anyway?
Givhan should come to Wisconsin. It's January yet it is 50°. I guarantee you the campus area is full of young guys in shorts. The desire to wear shorts is really out of control. I would ban the damnably inadequate pants year round, myself. These are manly boys, though, and cold isn't going to stop them.

But should we laugh at a boy in a skirt? It's a kilt:


Do you seriously think he'd look better in something else? Leave him alone!

Note about me: I used to get in trouble, back when I was in junior high school, for wearing mini skirts. I can remember the teachers expressing concerns about my getting cold and predicting the fad of the moment would have to be abandoned when the cold weather set in. That only hardened my fashion choice into a matter of principle. And I am still pissed off at the teachers who sent me to the vice principal's office and at my Chemistry teacher who tried to block me from getting onto the Honor Society for having a character flaw.

IN THE COMMENTS: I reveal an additional reason I got sent to the vice principal's office when I was in junior high school. And there's some talk about tartans, prompting me to reveal my clan. Clue: it's rather Shakespearean. Laughing Wolf responds here with rival clannage.

The return of Eggagog.

I'm feeling uninspired this morning. Maybe I shouldn't have used up my Winfrey/lose Frey and Kerry phoning in material yesterday. How would I know today would be the day when nothing jumped off the page/screen and said Bloggable!? Ah, yeah, well this sort of interested me. (Via Adorablog.) I mean, can you do that? Some days, you just have to wonder, will Eggagog ever come back? He hadn't posted since September 28, that "WHAT ABOUT THE SPIDER-PLANTS?" post that has accumulated over 500 comments in its thread, which went through a sad story arc, from the usual dialogue with Eggagog, to where is Eggagog, to that sad long death train of spam comments that awaits all of us bloggers-with-comments some day, when we have posted our last post. But, lo, Eggagog has returned. Surely, there is hope for mankind.

January 26, 2006

"Judge Alito's confirmation would be an ideological coup on the Supreme Court."

So says Senator John Kerry, and I get the feeling -- because of the use of the word "on" -- that he means "coup" in the sense of "coup d'état" rather than simply a brilliantly executed strategem. Kerry, as reported at that first link, is lobbying Democrats to filibuster.
Sources close to Kerry, who lost to Bush in the 2004 race, told CNN that the senator was calling colleagues from Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.....

The White House believes Alito's supporters have the 60 votes they need to block any filibuster, spokesman Steve Schmidt said, and suggested that Kerry's move was designed to buttress a possible 2008 presidential run.
It seems unlikely that there will be a filibuster, of course, as 3 Democrats have already said they'd vote for Alito and one has said she will oppose a filibuster. Only one more Democratic vote is needed to add to the 55 Republican votes to reach the 60 votes needed to close debate.

But isn't it nice to get a chance to think about Kerry again? I love the image of him phoning from Switzerland.

UPDATE: The NYT is saying Kerry is getting a "cool response." It must be quite cold, I'm thinking, given that the Times was hotly promoting the filibuster only yesterday. The hapless Kerry stepped up to that challenge and today must read:
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts could not attend the Senate debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday. He was in Davos, Switzerland, mingling with international business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum.

But late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kerry began calling fellow Democratic senators in a quixotic, last-minute effort for a filibuster to stop the nomination.

Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of his gesture, which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed.
Ouch. Oh, but that's our Kerry: awkward. What? You don't find it endearing anymore?

IN THE COMMENTS: Dave points out that "coup" is a French word, and the French use "sur" with "coup," making "on" a natural choice for a French-speaking person like Kerry. I respond:
I thought "on" was a weird choice of preposition, but if the French use "sur," maybe that's why he said it. To me, as an English-speaker, it sounded awkward. And with the use of the passive voice, I'm left thinking WHO is delivering a blow to the Supreme Court? What I think he meant is that once Alito is there, an "ideological coup" will take place. That is, the institution of the Court will be illicitly taken over by a group of ideologues.

Oh! The pain! I'm having a flashback to the last election campaign, when I spent a bizarre amount of time parsing Kerry statements. The meaning would seem almost to be there, but as I reached out to try to grasp it, it would slip away in one direction or another, and we'd be down here in the comments debating what they hell he actually meant.

Ethiopians "are too timid, we are afraid of our talent."

Solution: "Ethiopian Idols"!

The Winfrey-Frey fray.

Reader IAm simulblogs today's Oprah show:
Man, the [WaPo] article did not do this show justice (not its fault--it's a visual and auditory thing)! Oprah's as pissed as I've ever seen her--even during the whole beef trial thing, if I'm recalling correctly. She's clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, and she's actually having a hard time, from what I can see, looking at Frey.

From the linked WaPo article:
"I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that," Winfrey told viewers of her syndicated show. "That is not what I believe." She added: "To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right."

Now, she's for truth, now that she got slammed for saying: "the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book." Truth seems more like a strategy for getting out of a jam.

Jonah Goldberg to speak in Madison.

February 1st, 7 pm, Grainger Hall. (And there's WiFi!)

If you don't know who Jonah Goldberg is, read some of his columns.

Me and Google.

It's nice to be number one for a Google search. But sometimes.... And then....

"He is a Bird of bad moral Character."

Benjamin Franklin disrespected the eagle, 222 years ago today:
"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

"When you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls . . . "

"... and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know."

--President Bush, searching for positive things to say about the Palestinian election.
"What was also positive is that it's a wakeup call to the leadership," he said. Palestinians are demanding honest government, services, decent education and health care, he said. "And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories." He said there was "something healthy" about the "competition of ideas" that the elections embodied.

"On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," Bush said. "And I know you can't be a partner in peace . . . if your party has got an armed wing."

"A judicious rearrangement of the deckchairs on the Titanic..."

"...with the cloth part torn into strips and used to lash many deckchairs together, might have made some very serviceable rafts, and saved many lives."

John Derbyshire, taking a new look at an old cliché.

Question.

Is my blog looking different today? It shouldn't be, but one reader is seeing a weird template change (though I've done nothing to change it). Please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Blogger was down for 15 minutes about an hour ago. And yesterday there was some scheduled downtime. I don't know if these things are connected.

51% "definitely will not vote for" Hillary Clinton.

According to a Gallup Poll. (via Powerline.) The linked poll also has 46% saying they would "definitely not vote for" Condoleezza Rice. Let's look at the graph:



Why is Rice 9 points less popular than Clinton among independents? Each woman is equally unpopular within her own party. But Clinton is much more unpopular with Republicans than Rice is with Democrats.

I question whether people who say they will "definitely not vote for" someone really are completely hardened into that position. The question doesn't say "if the election were held today," but I suspect people think that way, because they like to give a firm answer, especially if they have solid affiliation with their party. What I'd like to know is whether Republicans disfavor Clinton more than they disfavor other Democrats and whether Democrats disfavor Rice more than they disfavor other Republicans. What if Republicans are more likely to express instantly aversive reactions to Democrats than Democrats are for Republicans? That might just say something about the personality types that are attracted to one party or another. And, of course, these polls don't take account of the Electoral College. I'm thinking that Hillary-loathing is concentrated in states the Democrats never win anyway.

And, by the way, what's with pairing up the two women like this? They are just two possible candidates. Why compare these two as if there is a separate women's category? Because we just can't help it. Well, maybe media would try to control this urge if we complained enough. Should we?

The NYT wants a filibuster.

Here's today's editorial:
The judge's record strongly suggests that he is an eager lieutenant in the ranks of the conservative theorists who ignore our system of checks and balances, elevating the presidency over everything else....

Judge Alito's refusal to even pretend to sound like a moderate was telling because it would have cost him so little....

Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster — particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito's supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.

A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
There's something missing from this argument, even if you accept the premise -- which I don't -- that Alito's an eager ideologue. What good would the filibuster do? How is it a remedy for the problem? So it's a "radical tool." Quite aside from the "radical" part, a tool is supposed to function for a particular use. Is the NYT just recommending a foot-stomping routine? How would more senatorial talking advance the cause of the Democrats? They've already talked so much, and they haven't budged public opinion about Alito. They need to make us like them for the next election, and I can't see how filibustering Alito gets them any closer to that goal, which, unlike stopping Alito, is not a lost cause. Is it?

"Generation Alito."

Don't miss "Generation Alito" on Open Source Radio tonight:
[Yesterday] morning the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Samuel Alito by a 10-8 vote. Now the nomination will move to the full Senate, with a vote expected as early as tomorrow. So as early as tomorrow we may have a new SCOTUS Justice. And with him, a very different looking court. As we say around here, how are you counting to five?

We’re following up our November SCOTUS show. But rather than talking to the usual grey-hairs, we’d like to have on a sample bunch of law students about to begin their careers. What does the conversation sound like amongst the next generation of lawyers, judges, and legal scholars, whose careers are about to be reshaped by the decisions the new court will ultimately hand down? They’re going to be the ones to uphold and/or test the law, maybe even before this very court. What are they talking about? And how are they counting to five?
I'm not sure who the students are going to be yet -- possibly some from Wisconsin! I'll be on the show too, to provide whatever suppport from a lawprof that ends up being needed, but it shouldn't be much about me -- the "grey hair"!

I was on the linked November show, by the way, and thought Christopher Lydon did a great job with it, so I'm especially looking forward with tonight's show. You can still stream the audio of the old show, and the new one should be available too, for listening at your leisure.

UPDATE: This show has been moved to Monday evening. They will cover the Palestinian election tonight.

January 25, 2006

"Project Runway"--one week you're in....

Spoiler alert.

Zulema's out! Shocking! She just won last week. Piercing voice of Heidi: One week you're in....

Well, stealing Nick's model... and that "walk off"... and then taking a dress as inspiration for a dress... and then the model you stole hates your dress and is jealous of the model that got to go with Nick....

I thought Kara would get kicked out. She hasn't won yet, and she's seemed like the weakest for a long time. But then I thought Andrae (whom I love) would win, with his water-in-the-gutter, expensive-looking gown.

I love the way sensing the danger of losing has transformed Santino in the last couple weeks. And I loved his imitation of Tim Gunn and his realization of how Tim talks about him when he thinks he's not around.

Great, great show. Don't forget to read Tim Gunn's blog and listen to his podcast.

UPDATE: I've fixed the link to Tim's Blog & Podcast to get you to Episode 8, which I've now listened to. He's quite critical of Zulema, both for the poorly made dress and for taking Nick's model -- Nick's muse. It's hard to adjust to a new model, he says. You get used to your model's measurements, and it's a challenge to start over with someone new. Odd, since last season, they were constantly switching models! As long as I'm here, let me show you Daniel's winning orchid-inspired blossom-blouson:



ANOTHER UPDATE: I was just re-watching the early episode "Clothes Off Your Back," where they first move into the apartment. It's our first look at Zulema. She's taking extra closet space and, when asked to share says "That's not going to happen" and "I don't believe in fairness." She was the Wendy!

"American Idol" -- San Francisco.

Heidi Fairbanks: She looks like Jessica Simpson, and she sings opera! But she's awful on the pop, and they reject her.

"I've been singing since I was 2 years old," says Shawn Vasquez. Why do people think that means anything? Doesn't every little kid sing? Anyway, he's ear-splitting. And he has this season's male affliction: singing like a woman. "Dude, that was the loudest, weidest..." says Randy. "It is almost non-human," says Simon.

Jose "Sway" Penala: He's good. Simon: "Very soulful!" Lots of yesses follow.

Matthew Paulson: he sees himself as "Clay-like." He calls himself Wolfie because he loves wolves. He sings a horrible Clay Aiken song tunelessly. He's stunned to hear he's terrible. Simon adds the exclamation "Hideous!" Gratuitous!

John Williams -- fresh out of the military -- sings weirdly ("Why does he do me that way?") then rips off his shirt and dances weirdly. He gets through anyway.

Katharine McPhee has a voice teacher mom but she sings "God Bless the Child" really prettily. And she's very pretty too. Simon: "Absolutely fantastic." Randy: "Absolutely brilliant." Paula: "Absolutely beautiful." Simon: "Very, very, very what is happening today." Most positive response to an audition I've seen on this show.

Shalicia Carlisle sings badly then launches into a spoken word performance about a baby crying in the ghetto. She's asked to sing something more cheerful, which she does, picking at her hair and flipping it about. She hits on the unfortunate lyric "What did I do wrong?" which cues Simon to stop her. She says she quit her job for the show, and Simon telephones her boss and gets her the job back. Very cute.

16-year-old Shawna White is adorable, with braids. Simon doesn't like her, but she gets through anyway.

Marcus Phillips, an "all-terrain entertainer." But he's all falsetto, even when rapping.

Jayne Santayana seems to set off a fight. Randy to Simon: "Is there a different radio playing in your head?" This leads to an edited together fake-story of fighting among the judges, which culminates when a woman with very large hair auditions. Her name's Deborah Dawn Tilley, and she says she's 27 but she looks 50. The fight ends up being about something Simon said back in Season 2, which Paula reminds him about. He walks out. It looks fake, but Ryan tells us it's not. Randy and Paula carry on without him. I assume he had some other commitment and this was a way to try to make something cool out of losing him on the panel.

Manuel Viramontes drinks hot sauce to warm up and carries a picture of a Saint Manuel which he kisses to get ready. He sings "Riven [sic] in the Sky" in a bizarre voice.

In sum: Katharine McPhee!

If the Democrats vote on strict party lines againt Alito...

... will that give them more or less clout when it comes to the next nominee? I think the answer is less. The split vote on Roberts gained the Democrats something of the appearance that they were really weighing the merits of the nomination. Why would they want to mess up that appearance by voting as one? Perhaps they think, what was the point of supporting Roberts if we just ended up with Alito? But what happens with the next nominee? Perhaps the thought is that Bush has already proved so much about his freedom to pick whomever he wants -- just avoid the Miers mistake -- that there is no point in trying to preserve any influence over his choice. They can only hope that another slot will not open before they have the chance to regain control over either the Senate or the Presidency. Presumably, the analysis of how to vote on Alito reflects a strategy for winning future elections. The Democratic Party stands for something. But what? Based on what the Democratic Senators have emphasized, I'd say it's abortion rights and limiting presidential power.

Smallest fish!



It's very small! The better to live through droughts, swimming in the last tiny puddle.

"There need to be checks and balances."

"There are! When you checked the box to vote for Bush, you gave him the balance of power."

-- Steve Colbert, debating with himself on "The Colbert Report" last night.

Brilliantly written show!

Oh, so we're doing car tests today?

I'm a Porsche 911!



You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.


Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.



Ha ha ha. I got a better car than Instapundit. But dammit, Bainbridge, get out of my car! Was it the "Are you competitive?" question? Dammit, get out of my car!

On voting against Alito after voting for Roberts -- and that phrase "inexorable command."

Todd Zywicki asks how any Senator who voted for Roberts can vote against Alito and still claim to be principled. That question ought to send us to the transcript of Russ Feingold's remarks yesterday:
The Supreme Court, alone among our courts, has the power to revisit and reverse its precedents, and so I believe that anyone who sits on that Court must not have a pre-set agenda to reverse precedents with which he or she disagrees and must recognize and appreciate the awesome power and responsibility of the Court to do justice when other branches of government infringe on or ignore the freedoms and rights of all citizens.

This is not a new standard Mr. Chairman. It is the same standard I applied to the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts. In that case, after careful consideration, I decided to vote in favor of the nomination. In the case of Judge Samuel Alito, after the same careful consideration, I must vote no....

Although he has not decided cases dealing with the Bill of Rights in wartime, he has a very long record on the bench of ruling in favor of the government and against individuals in a variety of contexts. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, this is an important distinction between Judge Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. Our new Chief Justice had a very limited judicial record before his nomination. Judge Alito has an extensive record. There is no better evidence of what kind of Justice he will be on the Supreme Court than his record as a Court of Appeals judge. He told us that himself....

One important question that I had about Judge Alito was his view on the role of precedent and stare decisis in our legal system. At his hearing, while restating the doctrine of stare decisis, Judge Alito repeatedly qualified his answers with the comment that stare decisis is not an “inexorable command.” While this is most certainly true, his insistence on qualifying his answers with this formulation was troubling. Combined with a judicial record in which fellow judges have criticized his application of precedent in several cases, Judge Alito’s record and testimony do not give me the same comfort I had with Chief Justice Roberts that he has the respect for and deference to precedent that I would like to see in a Supreme Court Justice.
To take Feingold at his words but to put it bluntly, he detected a right wing agenda in Alito that he could not detect in Roberts.

I note that John Roberts also used the phrase "inexorable command":
SEN. GRASSLEY: Could you tell us what you believe is the appropriate judicial role describing for us the value of precedent in our legal system?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Certainly. And here again, we're guided by the court. It has precedent on precedents. It has cases talking about when you should revisit prior precedents and when you shouldn't. And of course some of the cases say you should in a particular instance, and others that you shouldn't.

You begin with a basis recognition of the value of precedent. No judge gets up every morning with a clean slate and says, "Well, what should the Constitution look like today?" The approach is a more modest one, to begin with the precedents. Adherence to precedent promotes evenhandedness, promotes fairness, promotes stability and predictability. And those are very important values in a legal system.

Those precedents become part of the rule of law that the judge must apply.

At the same time, as the court pointed out in the Casey case, stare decisis is not an inexorable command. If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable -- they don't lead to predictable results; they're difficult to apply -- that's one factor supporting reconsideration.

If the bases of the precedent have been eroded -- in other words, if the court decides a cases saying, "Because of these three precedents, we reach this result," and in the intervening years, two of those are overruled -- that's another basis for reconsidering the precedent.
Oh, but Alito said it repeatedly. On January 10th, responding to Senator Specter:
SPECTER: How would you weigh that consideration on the woman's right to choose?

ALITO: Well, I think the doctrine of stare decisis is a very important doctrine. It's a fundamental part of our legal system.

And it's the principle that courts in general should follow their past precedents. And it's important for a variety of reasons. It's important because it limits the power of the judiciary. It's important because it protects reliance interests. And it's important because it reflects the view that courts should respect the judgments and the wisdom that are embodied in prior judicial decisions.

It's not an inexorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents....

ALITO: I agree with the underlying thought that when a precedent is reaffirmed, that strengthens the precedent. And when the Supreme Court says that we are not going...

SPECTER: How about being reaffirmed 38 times?

ALITO: Well, I think that when a precedent is reaffirmed, each time it's reaffirmed that is a factor that should be taken into account in making the judgment about stare decisis.

And when a precedent is reaffirmed on the ground that stare decisis precludes or counsels against reexamination of the merits of the precedent, then I agree that that is a precedent on precedent.

Now, I don't want to leave the impression that stare decisis is an inexorable command because the Supreme Court has said that it is not. But it is a judgment that has to be based -- taking into account all the factors that are relevant and that are set out in the Supreme Court's cases.
Also on that day, responding to Senator Feinstein:
SEN. FEINSTEIN: But I'm asking you for the -- what it would, the special justification that you mentioned this morning, that would be needed to overcome precedence and reliance.

JUDGE ALITO: Well, I think what needs to be done is a consideration of all of the factors that are relevant. This is not a mathematical formula. It would be a lot easier for everybody if it were, but it's not. The Supreme Court has said that this is a question that calls for the exercise of judgment, and they've said there has to be a special justification for overruling a precedent. There is a presumption that precedents will be followed. But it is not -- the rule of stare decisis is not an inexorable command, and I don't think anybody would want a rule in the area of constitutional law that pointed in -- that said that a constitutional decision, once handed down, can never be overruled. So it's a matter of weighing all of the -- taking into account all of the factors and seeing whether there is a strong case based on all the relevant --
On January 11th, again responding to Senator Feinstein, pushing him to use the expression (but mangling it) and interrupting him, thus causing him to repeat it:
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I want to try one more time. ... [W]hat concerns me -- and obviously this is on Roe -- is that despite 38 tests, despite 33 years, despite the support of a majority of America, you also said yesterday that precedent is not "an exorable command." And those are the words that justice Rehnquist used arguing for the overturning of Roe.

So my question is, did you mean it that way?

JUDGE ALITO: The statement that precedent is not an inexorable (sic) command is a statement that has been in the Supreme Court case law for a long period of time. And I -- sitting here, I can't remember what the origin of it is, but I would bet that it's been -- it certainly has been used in cases in which the court has invoked the doctrine of stare decisis and refused to go ahead and overrule --

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I always believe everything I read in The Washington Post. (Laughter.)

JUDGE ALITO: Well, that is an important principle, and I --

SEN. FEINSTEIN: (Laughs.) I don't know about that one, but --

JUDGE ALITO: -- not the principle of believing everything in The Washington Post -- (laughter) -- but the principle that stare decisis is not an inexorable command, because then we would be stuck with decisions like Plessy, and they couldn't be overruled, except through a constitutional amendment.

But when an issue is one that could realistically come up, the people who would be making the arguments on both sides of the issue have a right to have a judiciary of people with open minds. And that means people who haven't announced in advance what they think about the issue and, more importantly, people who are not going to reach a conclusion in the -- not going to reach a conclusion until they have gone through the judicial process. And it's not a facade. It's a -- it's not a meaningless exercise.
On January 12th, responding to Senator Biden:
JUDGE ALITO: Different justices and different judges have different views about stare decisis. But my view is that you need a special justification for overruling a prior precedent, and that reliance and reaffirmation are among the factors that are important. But I've also said it's not an inexorable command. In the area of constitutional law, there has to be the ability to revisit a case like Plessy versus Ferguson. I don't think anybody would want a system of stare decisis that made that impossible.

You begin with the basic recognition of the value of precedent. No judge gets up every morning with a clean slate and says, well, what should the Constitution look like today? The approach is a more modest one. You begin with the precedent. Adherence to precedent promotes evenhandedness, promotes fairness, promotes stability and predictability. And those are very important values in the legal system.

Those precedents become part of the rule of law that the judge must apply. At the same time, as the court pointed out in the Casey case, the stare decisis is not an inexorable command. If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable, they don't lead to predictable results; they're difficult to apply; that's one factor supporting reconsideration.

If the bases of the precedents have been eroded, in other words, if the court decides a case, say, because of these three precedents we've reached this result, and in the intervening years, two of those are overruled, that's another basis for reconsidering the precedent.

At the same time you always have to take into account the settled expectations that have grown up around the prior precedent. It is a jolt to the legal system to overrule a precedent, and that has to be taken into account, as well as the different expectations that have grown up around it.

There are different other aspects of the rules. For example, property decisions are far less likely to be reconsidered because of the expectations that grow up around them. Statutory decisions are less likely to be reconsidered because Congress can fix it if it's a mistake.

It's, again, the court's decisions in cases like Casey and Dickerson, Paine versus Tennessee and Agostini, State Oil Company versus Khan. It's an issue that comes up on a regular basis, and the court has developed a body of law that would guide judges and justices when they decide whether to revisit a case.

The fundamental proposition is that it is not sufficient to view the prior case as wrongly decided. That's the opening of the process, not the end of the process. You have to decide whether it should be revisited in light of all these considerations.
That's seven times, compared to Roberts' one, but Alito was pushed on the question of stare decisis repeatedly and the phrase was part of his stock response. What was there in that response or the way he had occasion to repeat it that was "troubling" to Senator Feingold? Roberts presented the same formulation for stare decisis, relying on Supreme Court case law and taking the phrase straight out of Lawrence v. Texas, where the Court in fact overruled a precedent (to find a more expansive privacy right).

January 24, 2006

"American Idol" -- North Carolina.

Excellent, funny show tonight. This week's equivalent of the cowboy who sang only for turkeys was the girl who lived with her grandpa because her mother left her and her dad's in jail. Yes, tears were shed, chez Althouse. I also liked the girl with the braid and the girl whose grandma won Grammys. There will be time enough to learn some names later. For now, it's mostly a parade of horrors.

Feingold and Alito.

I've been intermittently watching the vote on C-Span. I'm listing to Senator Feinstein right now. She's voting no, of course. At this point, what I'm interested in is Russ Feingold's vote. He voted yes on Roberts, and he has not -- based on my checking just now -- said how he will vote. I hope Feingold says something that distinguishes him from the other Democratic Senators.

UPDATE: Feingold is speaking now. He's voting no.

MORE:
"I found Judge Alito's answers on the death penalty chilling.... He analyzes death penalty cases as a series of procedural hurdles... He left me with no assurance that he would not analyze these cases with his finger on the scales of justice. Judge Alito left me with no assurance that he would be able to review these cases without a weight on the scale in favor of the government."
YET MORE: Here's the transcript of Feingold's statement. Here's the full quote (which I transcribed somewhat inaccurately at the end, causing some commenters to misinterpret him as wanting the judge to be biased!):
I found Judge Alito’s answers to questions about the death penalty to be chilling. He focused almost entirely on procedures and deference to state courts, and didn’t appear to recognize the extremely weighty constitutional and legal rights involved in any case where a person’s life is at stake.

I was particularly troubled by his refusal to say that an individual who went through a procedurally perfect trial, but was later proven innocent, had a constitutional right not to be executed. The Constitution states that no one in this country will be deprived of life without due process of law. It is hard to even imagine how any process that would allow the execution of someone who is known to be innocent could satisfy that requirement of our Bill of Rights. I pressed Judge Alito on this topic but rather than answering the question directly or acknowledging how horrific the idea of executing an innocent person is, or even pointing to the House v. Bell case currently pending in the Supreme Court on a related issue, Judge Alito mechanically laid out the procedures a person would have to follow in state and federal court to raise an innocence claim, and the procedural barriers the person would have to surmount.

Judge Alito’s record and response suggest that he analyzes death penalty appeals as a series of procedural hurdles that inmates must overcome, rather than as a critical backstop to prevent grave miscarriages of justice. The Supreme Court plays a very unique role in death penalty cases, and Judge Alito left me with no assurance that he would be able to review these cases without a weight on the scale in favor of the government.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, I set out the key interchange (with Sen. Leahy) from the hearings that is the basis for Feingold's comment. I regard the comment as quite unfair. When did Alito refuse to address a situation where a person was proven innocent? When did Alito say that it's constitutionally acceptable to execute a man we KNOW is innocent? Where did he endorse the "horrific the idea of executing an innocent person"? It didn't happen! True, Alito emphasized the procedures that are required before a man can be executed, but he was never asked what would happen if we actually knew a man was innocent and yet the governor refused to pardon him. At that point would there be a right of action in federal court? Alito was not asked. To assert that he refused to address that situation is plainly unfair. It is demogogery of the sort I believed Feingold was above.

Polls on Alito.

CNN reports:
Support for Alito's confirmation grew after widely televised confirmation hearings, the poll found. Before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, held January 11-13, 49 percent of respondents backed his nomination. In the poll released Monday, 54 percent expressed support.

The percentage of people who opposed his confirmation remained unchanged [at 30 percent] after the hearings, Monday's poll found.
That says a lot about the quality of the Democratic Senators' presentation at the hearings. They were not able to gain one percentage point of opposition. You'd think that many people would, without giving it much thought, support a President's nominee initially. The 49 percent figure going into the hearing may show that. But the hearings should have eroded that high level of support at least a bit, and surely, some of the 21 percent undecided should have taken the negative position. Yet the hearings won Alito 5 additional points.

Clearly, the Democrats' strategy was poor. But exactly why was it so poor? I've said before that I think it's a mistake to portray judicial decisionmaking as a political enterprise, which is what they did, leaving Alito to prevail by doggedly explaining legal doctrine in response to every attempt at an attack. I think people want the Court to decide cases based on the law and want to believe a judge can do that. If so, the Democrats' attack on Alito would look ugly and offensive.

But it may be that a lot of people really do think the Court is political. If so, the Democrats have an entirely other reason to worry. It would mean that people want the Court to take the political positions the Democratic Senators assumed we would be outraged by. It's hard to say which issues would be most influential, but I note that the Senators tried very hard to frighten Americans about strong presidential power.
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said last week he believed Alito would fail to check what he views as the president's inappropriate expansion of executive power.

"I'm not going to lend my support to an effort by this president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to the right and to remove the final check within our democracy," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said Thursday.
Perhaps most Americans disagree.

Bush takes questions from students.

I'm reading the transcript of the President's talk at Kansas State University. I was amused by this interchange:
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. President. I'm an American-Iraqi Kurd. I would like to salute you and salute all the troops of freeing 27 million people that are free.

BUSH: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Mr. President, I would like to share this thought with all our nation and everybody who is questioning what happened to the chemical weapons. Saddam burned 4,500 villages. I lost more than 10 members of my family underground. We found their bones when we freed Iraq. Saddam himself and his people, his followers, they have chemical weapons.

QUESTION: Please stop questioning the administration and their decision. It was the best decision anybody could take: freeing 27 million people.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: OK. This is a question-and-answer period.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: I hate to cut you off. You're on a roll, but -- what's the question.

QUESTION: Mr. President, all I could tell you, I have two members of my family, they are in the Iraqi parliament, and both of them are women. My sister-in-law and my aunt, they are in the Iraqi parliaments. And I would like you to share this happiness with me and with all the Iraqi people.

Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And here's my message, here's my message to your relatives in the Iraqi parliament: Work to form a unity government, a government that includes the minorities in the country, a Shia, Kurd and Sunni -- no, no, no, no...

(LAUGHTER)

No. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: My husband is Sunni, my mother-in-law was a Christian Catholic, I am Kurdish.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Thank you.

Got a question?

Only in America.

(LAUGHTER)

Hold on.
I wish I could read the transcript of what ran through his head. Thanks. Nice. Are you going to enumerate every family member? Shut uuuuuup! How can I say shut up nicely? What would Laura do?

I also liked seeing Wisconsin in the transcript. Bush is calling on a questioner who's wearing a hat with a W:
BUSH: Is that a Washington Nationals hat?

QUESTION: Wisconsin, actually.

BUSH: OK, yes.

QUESTION: "W" is for Wisconsin.

You're a rancher. A lot of here in Kansas are ranchers. I was just wanting to get your opinion on "Brokeback Mountain" if you've seen it yet.

(LAUGHTER)

You would love it. You should check it out.

BUSH: I hadn't seen it. I'd be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven't seen the movie.

(LAUGHTER)

I've heard about it.

(LAUGHTER)

I hope you go, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

I hope you go back to the ranch and the farms is what I was about to say.

(LAUGHTER)

I hadn't seen it.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)
Well, I haven't heard this one live, but as I'm "hearing" the line "I hope you go, you know..." as telling the student to go get %$#!ed. In the nicest possible way.

"It is in the DNA of this Harper government to improve the relationship with Washington."

Said Janice Stein, director of the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, according to the NYT:
Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party defeated the long entrenched Liberal Party in Canadian elections on Monday. A Conservative victory is a striking turn in the country's politics and is likely to improve Canada's strained relations with the Bush administration....

Mr. Harper, 46, is a free-market economist who expressed strong support for Washington at the time of the American-led invasion of Iraq and shares the Bush administration's skepticism of the Kyoto climate control protocol, which Canada has signed and ratified. His party was formed three years ago as a coalition of two conservative parties.

Such positions are in sharp contrast with those of Prime Minister Martin, who rejected cooperation with President Bush's missile defense program, ratcheted up criticism of American trade policies and caustically criticized Washington during the campaign for not supporting the Kyoto protocol.

Mr. Harper did not emphasize his closeness to the Bush administration during the campaign, and there was no indication that Canadians had suddenly embraced American foreign policy. Mr. Harper pointedly promised not to send Canadian troops to Iraq, and said he would be a tough bargainer in trade talks with the United States.

But he did promise $5 billion in new military spending, which would go to forming a new airborne battalion and buying large transport aircraft to airlift troops and supplies during world crises.
I suppose I'm one of those Americans who don't spend much time thinking about Canada. I know it's up there, disapproving of us, like a sanctimonious older sibling. But I like the idea of this change, with new leadership that is closer to ours, friendlier to our goals. It will be interesting, perhaps, to see how things unfold.

January 23, 2006

About those issue ads.

Another important case issued today is the Wisconsin Right to Life case, which deals with the application of federal campaign finance laws:
It ordered a lower court to reconsider an "as-applied" challenge by an anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Right to Life Inc. The unsigned opinion, only two and a half pages in length, was announced by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. It ordered a three-judge District Court to consider the merits of the organization's complaint.

The decision came in a case argued just last Tuesday -- Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission (04-1581). The anti-abortion organization contends that the new federal campaign finance law's restrictions on political ads close to election-time is unconstitutional when it is applied to grass-roots lobbying efforts.
The Court's treatment of the case indicates it was ultra-easy. Or, as Rick Hasen opines:
In the short term, the greatest significance is that it allows the Supreme Court to put these issues over to another day. ...

Longer term, the opinion could be significant. First, it gets the courts and the FEC into the business of separating genuine issue ads from sham issue ads. The irony of course is that the bright line electioneering communications provision was sold as having the benefit of keeping the courts out of this mess. It is sometimes going to be impossible to determine whether an advertiser had an electioneering motive, as the facts of this case well demonstrate. It could be that the courts craft a tough test for plaintiffs to fit into this as applied exception. Or, if as I've suggested, the Supreme Court could well be moving toward more deregulation of campaign finance, this could be an important first step toward undermining McConnell without overruling it.
I'll update this post later when I've had the chance to read the case. Right now, I need to concentrate on developments circa 1819 -- McCulloch v. Maryland -- as it's nearly time to teach Conlaw.

Meanwhile, here's the short text of the case.

UPDATE: The AP's Gina Holland has this report:
Wisconsin Right to Life had challenged the part of the 2002 campaign finance law that bans the use of corporate or union money for ads that identify federal candidates two months before a general election. The group's ads named Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who was up for re-election, and the state's other senator.

The commercials urged people to call the senators and ask them to oppose Senate filibustering of President Bush's judicial selections. Feingold co-authored the campaign finance law with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The appeal had given the Supreme Court its first opportunity to review the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in practical use. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement could leave the court split 4-4 on the law, because she was the deciding vote in the 2003 ruling.

O'Connor was on the bench Monday possibly for the last time. The court is taking a monthlong break.
Here's David Stout in the NYT:
The Supreme Court signaled a willingness today to revisit its landmark 2003 decision on the use of money in political campaigns, directing a lower court to reconsider a ruling against a Wisconsin anti-abortion group and perhaps opening the door to new challenges to campaign-finance restrictions....

On Dec. 11, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that the core of the McCain-Feingold law was constitutional. Part of the law established a new category of "electioneering communications," or television ads that refer to specific candidates for federal office and that are broadcast in the relevant market within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.

The law specifies that corporations and labor unions may not pay for such advertisements from their general treasuries, but must instead use money from their political action committees, which are subject to limits on campaign contributions.

Wisconsin Right to Life ran ads in 2004 urging viewers to contact the state's two senators, Mr. Feingold and Herb Kohl, also a Democrat, and urge them to oppose efforts to block President Bush's nominees for federal judgeships. Not coincidentally, Mr. Feingold was running for re-election (successfully, as it turned out).

A lower federal court ruled that the ads were "electioneering," and thus subject to disclosure requirements and spending limits spelled out in the McCain-Feingold law. But Wisconsin Right to Life argued that its ads were not really "electioneering" but instead amounted to "grass-roots lobbying," and under that definition should not be subject to the same curbs as "electioneering."

When the case was argued before the Supreme Court last week, there was considerable agreement that it can be very difficult to distinguish between ads meant to lobby and ads meant to influence an election - especially since many ads try to do both.
Here's the text of one of the ads in question:
PASTOR: And who gives this woman to be married to this man?

BRIDE'S FATHER (rambling): Well, as father of the bride. I certainly could. But instead, I'd like to share a few tips on how to properly install drywall. Now you put the drywall up . . .

VO: Sometimes it's just not fair to delay an important decision. But in Washington it's happening. A group of Senators is using the filibuster delay tactic to block federal judicial nominees from a simple"yes" or "no" vote. So qualified candidates don't get a chance to serve. Yes, it's politics at work, causing gridlock and backing up some of our courts to a state of emergency.

BRIDE'S FATHER (rambling): Then you get your joint compound and your joint tape and put the tape up over . . .

Contact Senators Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster.
It makes complete sense to send the case back to the district court to do the as-applied analysis that it thought was unnecessary. The surprising thing is that the Court took so little time and devoted so few words to dispelling the district court's misimpression of McConnell. This is, after all, a case in which the Solicitor General filed a brief extolling the act's bright-line rules and the damage that would be done by as-applied challenges:
Recognition of an as-applied constitutional challenge along the lines suggested by appellant would substantially undermine Congress's effort to develop an objective bright-line rule for identifying the election-related advertisements that may not be financed with corporate and union treasury funds....

Appellant's approach would reintroduce the indeterminacy that Congress and this Court have sought to dispel.

O'Connor's vote decides the sovereign immunity case.

SCOTUSblog reports:
No. 04-885, Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, affirmed 5-4, in an opinion written by Justice Stevens, declining to apply the Seminole Tribe sovereign immunity doctrine to claims brought under the Bankruptcy Clause. Justice Thomas dissented, joined by the Chief Justice and by Justices Scalia and Kennedy. Interestingly, if this decision had not been ready to be issued today, the case might well have been held over for reargument. It's the first decision of the Term in which Justice O'Connor cast the deciding vote and in which Justice Alito would likely have come out the other way.
Very interesting. I'll read the case and have more later.

UPDATE: Here's a lucid explanation of the issues in the case. I will not burden you with detail on the difficult sovereign immunity case law. But I will express my exasperation with this case. The majority is made up of Justice O'Connor and four Justices who have shown very little regard for sovereign immunity. All four have been adamantly opposed to Seminole Tribe, the case that held Congress lacked the power to abrogate state sovereign immunity using the commerce power. And Justice Stevens, who writes the new majority opinion, was among the four Justices who back in the 1980s voted repeatedly to overrule Hans v. Lousiana, a change that would have eradicated sovereign immunity in any case based on federal law, regardless of whether Congress had acted to abrogate that immunity. So O'Connor was the only Justice in today's majority who has taken sovereign immunity seriously in the past, as have all the members of today's dissent (Justice Thomas, who wrote the opinion, and the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Kennedy). Why did O'Connor join the Justices she's disagreed with in the past? Her vote is mute, as she wrote no concurring opinion. It reminds me of Justice White's failure to explain his position back in Union Gas. Though he had in other cases voted along with the four Justices who supported Hans throughout the 1980s, he joined the Hans opponents to hold that Congress had the power to abrogate sovereign immunity using the commerce power. He wrote a concurring opinion, but only said that he didn't agree with much of the majority's reasoning. Union Gas was thus left in a weak state, and it was Union Gas that the Court overruled in Seminole Tribe.

Boys are losers.

It's becoming quite the meme, isn't it? Pardon me if I laugh at all this new reporting about how boys are innately inferior. Of course the studies show that, it's a natural consequence of following the rule all these years that whatever is shown to be true of girls at a biological level must be portrayed as superior. And then there's the other part of the gender game: If girls are falling behind, it's because what is good about them is being crushed by bad people who must be exposed and thwarted. If boys are falling behind, it's because what is bad about them holds them back and we haven't hit upon a good enough remedy yet.

A kinder, gentler Condi?

The AP reports:
[Condoleezza Rice] has begun displaying a sure-footed ease as Bush's top diplomat. Last week she displayed self-assurance as she praised the administration of Democratic President Truman for decisions that helped win the Cold War.

That perspective would smack of blasphemy to many rock-ribbed Republicans more inclined to credit former President Reagan with bringing down the Soviet Union.

Rice also supported increased foreign aid and called for a humanitarian approach overseas. That could reflect a practical view that a nation engaged in an Iraq war widely unpopular overseas, and with interests flung widely across the globe, needs help from other countries rather than confrontation with them.

"America is a compassionate society," Rice said last week in announcing a reshuffling in the management of U.S. foreign aid. "We are always going to carry out our humanitarian objectives."
I'm just continuing my project of taking note of Condoleezza Rice's emerging presidential campaign.

Rallying against Justice Souter.

The Boston Globe reports:
Activists who want U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter to pay a personal price for ruling New London, Conn., could seize private property for a development project rallied Sunday in Souter's small hometown, arguing the town should take Souter's home to build a hotel....

[Organizer Logan Clements of Los Angeles] was greeted by rousing applause from about 60 people who attended Sunday's rally, some coming from as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania.

He said the five Supreme Court justices who sided with the Connecticut city on the eminent domain controversy "shot a hole in the Constitution." He said opponents should organize nationwide and vote officials out of office if they push similar projects.

Doug Schwartz, of New London, Conn., urged the crowd on. He said eminent domain problems have plagued the city for decades.

Clements said he and volunteers gathered 188 signatures Saturday in support of having the town take Souter's home so the property could be turned into a hotel -- the "Hotel Lost Liberty".

Souter has declined to comment.
I've got to imagine that the kind of people who live in Weare, New Hampshire don't like wild-eyed activists from Los Angeles and elsewhere coming to town and staging rallies. And physically impinging on a Supreme Court Justice is no way to demonstrate a concern for rights. You may think it's cute and you can get your publicity, but I'm writing this one down on my list of self-defeating protests (right after this one).

Condi, not John.

John Hawkins polled right-of-center bloggers about who they wanted for the next Republican presidential nominee. Condoleezza Rice came out on top -- by a lot. On the corresponding poll for least desirable, John McCain came out first -- by even more.

Where are the real political opportunities and risks in the Alito vote?

The NYT has an editorial today headed "Judge Alito's Radical Views." The Times outlines the position -- relied on by the Democrats at the hearings -- that Alito takes an extreme view on various constitutional questions. It repeats their mantra: Alito "has a history of tilting the scales of justice against the little guy."
The White House has tried to create an air of inevitability around this nomination. But there is no reason to believe that Judge Alito is any more popular than the president who nominated him. Outside a small but vocal group of hard-core conservatives, America has greeted the nomination with a shrug - and counted on its senators to make the right decision.
The point of this paragraph is to refute the strongest argument for voting for Alito: The Constitution gives the President the appointment power. That means something. Elections mean something. If you believe constitutional law at the Supreme Court level is somewhat, mostly, or completely political, it means even more, because someone must choose from among all those qualified jurists. Why would it not be the President?

Here, the NYT's assertion is that the President isn't that popular. Though he was re-elected a little over a year ago, support for him is rather low. (Too bad it's not lower, or this would be a better argument!) Under this view, a President's leeway to pick the Justice he wants waxes and wanes with the polls. He ought to moderate his selection according to the level of political support he currently enjoys, or perhaps according to the level of political support on the issues likely to come before the Supreme Court in the coming years. His failure to accurately channel political preference ought to activate Senators to push back more forcefully than they would have if the President had not himself made a strong move. That's the theory, it seems.

That's not a bad theory. But "America has greeted the nomination with a shrug." The hearings were designed to reveal the supposedly extreme views of the nominee. It was at this point that the people should have begun expressing outrage and demanding that the Senators stop the nominee. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did their best to stir up outrage. But where is it? They tried as hard as they could to alarm people about the issues that tend to create the most political heat. Abortion! Silence. The NYT is left saying only that the President isn't popular enough and that the people must be counting on Senators to figure things out for them and to do what they would have wanted if they'd bothered to attend to their own interests.

The Times concludes by reminding the Senators of their interests:
The real risk for senators lies not in opposing Judge Alito, but in voting for him. If the far right takes over the Supreme Court, American law and life could change dramatically. If that happens, many senators who voted for Judge Alito will no doubt come to regret that they did not insist that Justice O'Connor's seat be filled with someone who shared her cautious, centrist approach to the law.
Why? What exactly is the political dynamic for Democrats? If the shrugging Americans are suddenly awoken by a Court making extreme and unpopular decisions, will they blame the Democrats for not stopping him? If people don't like it, they should blame the President, who chose him. Then, the Supreme Court will become an important issue in the next presidential election, as it was not in 2004. The Democrats will be in a good position to argue that a Democratic President is needed to moderate the Court.

And what if the new Court does not make the extreme and unpopular decisions that the NYT predicts? What if the transition away from Justice O'Connor's style of decisionmaking goes well, and, under the leadership of Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court wins new admirers and inspires greater confidence? What if Samuel Alito performs well? How will a Democratic Senator who railed against him look in a presidential debate saying you need to trust me to pick the next round of nominees?

Where are the real political opportunities and risks in the Alito vote?

January 22, 2006

Fat is good.

For the economy.

But if you still want to lose weight, this picture might inspire you.

"It was shameful and embarrassing... Her character is no better than that of an animal."

Women in Afghanistan. The outrageous things they do. Like drive.
I watched as Roya walked towards the test car. A long line of men had gathered by the side of the road. As she walked slowly along the line, her head bowed down, she heard the whispers of invective and abuse.

She refused to tell me exactly what they had said, but I later found out she had been called a "prostitute", a "bitch" and an "un-Islamic whore." She failed the test. "We have freedom now," she said. "But we are not free to enjoy it."

Audible Althouse #33.

Audible Althouse #33 is ready at last. (You can stream it here right on your computer if you want.) Recorded in the dining room. I talk about photographs and yellow. I'm influenced by these flowers:

Yellow flowers

Yellow flowers

Yellow flowers

I consider the lyrics of "Triad," in which David Crosby made having a threesome sound like a spiritual awakening. I insult Crosby, Stills & Nash -- and The Eagles. Speaking of birds, I have a lot to say about Ziggy the Parrot and how we are suckers for cute animal stories.

A mere 29 minutes.

MORE: Here's the Flickr group I was trying to think of. It's "Orange is a Colour that is Safe and Alive." And here's the old post I talked about, "Songs transformed with the sex of the singer."

Looking for something exotic, something exciting in a religion?

On the occasion of Britney Spears having her son anointed at a Hindu temple, The Times of India asks why Americans are so taken with Indian religion:
Hazra of the Art of Living. "Distances between people are decreasing, but without the sensitisation to other cultures, a different level of estrangement arises. America has the largest number of lonely people.They feel the need to reach out, and it has a certain amount of awkwardness to it. When the Beatles came to Maharishi, it was a fad, a form of escapism. Today, it is more need-driven and more serious."

And it's this kind of easy-to-digest spirituality that the West prefers. Says sociologist Nandini Sardesai, "By and large, people in the West prefer sermonisers, like Maharishi Yogi, Deepak Chopra and others who put forth spirituality in an attractive package. They sometimes prefer to hear it rather than read for themselves. All the spiritual leaders, Buddha, Christ or the Prophet Mohammed, have been from the East. That tells us something."

People like Britney who are liberal women are looking for a religion that's all-inclusive. There are people who want something new, something vibrant. Indians have been inculcated with it but for foreigners, it's exciting."

Theatre person Gary Richardson adds, "Religion in America has been taken over by a lot of ultra conservative people. A lot of Western people are not finding the answers that they are looking for.
Is looking for religion outside your own culture more suspect, more discreditable then sticking with the religion of the culture you happen to have been born into? If you think it is, then what do you think religion is? Is there some notion that it is easier to adopt a foreign religion? But why? There are easier and harder forms of every religion. You may criticize people for taking the easy path -- and we instinctively assume that's what any pop star is doing -- but there is some difficulty to leaving home in search of religion. Are we critical because we think these foreign religion seekers are only looking for an exotic thrill? But to seek God inherently involves moving beyond your mundane surroundings.

Osama's Book Club.

Osama Bin Laden recommends a book and it shoots up the bestseller list:
"Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" had reached number 21 on the Amazon list by Sunday, leaping from below the 200,000 mark....

[Author William] Blum, speaking from his Washington apartment, said he was "surprised and even shocked and amused" by the al-Qaeda leader's apparent words.

"I was not turned off by the endorsement," he told a New York radio station.

"I'm not repulsed and I am not going to pretend I am."
Shameful.

(Hmmm.... do you think the government will check into those of us who go to the Amazon page for the book?)

"Come on, prompt... Do your business. Humor us."

This is the sort of cultural package about which I have no choice. I am forced to buy it.
The first of these [episodes of "The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave,"], a roundtable discussion whose participants include an 18-year-old Paul Weller and a baby-faced Joan Jett, does not bode well - Mr.Snyder is noticeably dismissive of the emerging new-wave scene and condescending to his young guests. Yet for reasons known only to Old Tom himself, he continues to invite the punks back to "Tomorrow," to provide them with a venue to perform music he clearly doesn't grasp, and to interview such emerging artists as Elvis Costello and Patti Smith no differently than if they were James A. Michener or Frank Capra. In his questioning, Mr. Snyder can come across as out-of-touch ("Is that a part of this punk thing, people hitting each other?"), overly intellectual ("How do you make certain that you don't become a member of what you now call the establishment?"), or superficial (to Iggy Pop: "Why are you bleeding?"), but he is never fawning or self-conscious, and his curiosity is sincere....

On his June 25, 1980, broadcast, Mr. Snyder spends half his program attempting to converse with the former Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten, who was then fronting the band Public Image Limited under his given name, John Lydon. Four years earlier, Mr. Lydon had helped to bring down the British television presenter Bill Grundy with an especially raucous interview, and he seems to be spoiling for a rematch with Snyder: "Come on, prompt," the characteristically crabby singer goads his American host. "Do your business. Humor us."

But Mr. Snyder is either too professional to be flustered, or too naïve to know he's being insulted, because he keeps jabbing back at Mr. Lydon with simple, honest questions-"Is it a band? Is it a public relations firm?" "Let me try this: What do you like?" - before landing this unexpected uppercut on the ex-Pistol's chin: "It's unfortunate that we are all out of step except for you."
There's a clip of the Snyder/Lydon interview at the link. Quite hilarious. There is something about Snyder's face. I love the reaction shot of him at the end of the clip.

99 superheroes to personify the 99 qualities of God.

Superhero comics for Arab Muslims:
[Naif al-Mutawa's] Teshkeel Media, based in Kuwait, says that in September it will begin publishing "The 99," a series of comic books based on superhero characters who battle injustice and fight evil, with each character personifying one of the 99 qualities that Muslims believe God embodies....

His superhero characters will be based on an Islamic archetype: by combining individual Muslim virtues - everything from wisdom to generosity - they build collective power that is ultimately an expression of the divine.

"Muslims believe that power is ultimately God, and God has 99 key attributes," Mr. Mutawa said. "Those attributes, if they all come together in one place, essentially become the unity of God." He stresses that only God has them all, however, and 30 of the traits deemed uniquely divine will not be embodied by his characters.
This isn't meant to appeal to Islamists, who, the article suggests, would find these depictions wrong. But Mutawa has Western leanings (a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an M.B.A. from Columbia University) and is trying to appeal to kids who feel an attraction to Western culture. Interestingly, Teshkeel has acquired Cracked magazine and plans to bring it back. Not for Arab Muslims, however, for Americans.
He hopes those publications will encourage other media companies to take him more seriously and back his Muslim superheroes concept.
Funny! I love the idea of Cracked giving credibility. Mutawa's in an unusual position. Either he's not taken seriously or he is:
[Mutawa's book] "Get Your Ties Out of Your Eyes," a children's book featuring Bouncy, a ball who wears a tie - but differently than others - was banned in Kuwait because it seemed to be commenting on the Koran.