February 7, 2006

A low fat diet -- for women, at least -- shows no health benefit.

Just as I suspected.

UPDATE: The NYT front-pages its story on the study:
"These studies are revolutionary," said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health. "They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy."

The study, published in today's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, was not just an ordinary study, said Dr. Michael Thun, who directs epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society. It was so large and so expensive, Dr. Thun said, that it was "the Rolls-Royce of studies." As such, he added, it is likely to be the final word.

Of course, you can also get experts to reflexively insist that we still need to cut fat from our diet! And look at the comments to this post: they do the same. Don't dare take this comprehensive study to mean you can ignore the nanny scientists who would like to hover over your every meal.

"American Idol" -- Boston.

I feel like I owe you an "American Idol" post. I know you're dying to talk about the Boston episode. Personally, I'm a little fried. I got home from work today determined to put in my minimum 2 hours on the house, getting the massive thing in shape to put it on the market.

Today's target: outer space! This is a windowless storage room between the studio and the garage that has been accumulating things for more than 20 years, most prominently, a horizontal stack of drawings dating back to 1970. I dreaded looking at this stuff, because it contains the evidence of the folly of a decision to go to art school, made over 35 years ago. You have NO idea how many nudes I stared at and delineated.

Many things I looked at and thought: Why did no one tell me I didn't have enough talent to devote my life to this? There was no Simon Cowell of drawing to tell me to find another line of work. But a few things were fun to see, like the drawings of Woodstock '94, which we watched on pay-per-view. Maybe I'll scan these for you, in the manner of the old "Amsterdam Notebooks."

But, anyway, I've cleared out outer space, and I've hired two teenagers to help me tomorrow, dragging all sorts of junk out to the curb for trash day. There's a lot of progress here in the war against accumulated clutter. I got into the fight today. I didn't just put in the 2 hours I set as my goal. I went 3 hours, and I accomplished a lot. Hungry and dusty, I put the left-over stew on the stove to heat up, and I went upstairs to take a shower, stopping just long enough to answer a phone call. Okay, I didn't time it perfectly. I scorched the stew a little, but it was nice to sit down with a plate of beef stew and a big glass of Cabernet and click on the TiVo'd "American Idol." The stew and the wine and the show all made a lovely evening for me after my hard day's work (which wasn't just about conquering outer space, there was plenty that had to do with making the presumption in favor of concurrent state court jurisdiction into a challenging subject for Socratic inquiry).

But let's focus on tonight's "American Idol."

There was the patriotic rapper that they gave some respect to just because he supported the troops. Lame!

There was the beautiful basketballer Ayla Brown, who belted robotically but made it on athletic attitude. Simon said the brilliant words that could stand as a critique of the whole show: "There's something empty about it all."

I loved the beautiful twins, especially the one with the wrecked vocal chords who crouched on the sidelines and mimed the choreography while her sister sang.

I liked the gorgeous Tatiana Ward, who wanted to show up her grandmother, who disowned her mother for marrying a black man. Tatiana sings "My Cherie Amour," following each intonation of the Stevie Wonder original. They tell her it's old fashioned, even though they've held up Stevie Wonder as the pop music ideal throughout the history of the show. She gets through.

Making me cry this week is Holly Corrente, who works as a music therapist. We see her interacting with a disabled man. They say no.

I'm impressed by Kenneth Maccarone who sings "Believe" in a Cher voice and gets the usual crap from Simon ("Be a female impersonator"), but stands up to him: "I won't dress up like a female. I'm a man."

There were a couple guys that played the Clay Aiken card. One was a joker (Michael Sandecki) and one was dead sincere (Kevin Covais -- "I don't know. I bring youth and excitement"). The sincere boy makes it. God bless him. He looks like one of the Munchkins. "I think anyone over the age of 80 would like you" is Simon's putdown.

And we end with a long, cool montage of the auditions, setting us up for tomorrow night's show: Hollywood Hell Week! Now, we'll get to see most of these supposedly good singers fall flat on their face. They were super-prepared for their auditions, but when they're given something to learn and perform quickly, most will shrivel up into nothings, and we'll wrack our brains trying to remember what was ever good about them.

See you tomorrow!

No "Brokeback" joke lack.

The movie has inspired lavish praise and humor. Is some of it offensive? Probably, but now is an uncool time to be thin-skinned about humor!

“The line between good and evil is drawn not between nations or parties, but through every human heart.”

Is that Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky? RLC feverishly Googles for the answer:
I wanted to rush out into the street and grab some poor unaware pedestrian and recite him my quotation and, shaking him by the collar in my fervor, demand, “Who do you think would have said that, Solzhenitsyn, or Dostoevsky? Dostoevsky, of course, can there be any doubt, my esteemed friend? Solzhenitsyn couldn’t have thought of it -- he was the enemy of a specific party, an entire national government, which he associated with evil -- but he knew Dostoevsky was right, and couldn’t resist, in the same no one can resist swiping a nice ripe cherry from the top of the fruit bin in the market, God preserve us. He was Dostoevsky’s younger brother, and he must have said to himself, ‘Fyodor won’t mind…’”

Yes, dear friends, that’s what passed through my whirling noggin in those hectic moments, as if a different personality were taking me over, a demonic twin, a mirror likeness glimpsed at a street corner; and it occurred to me – I can’t deny it – to think, “Heavens above, I'm turning into Dusty himself! This must be what it felt like to be Dostoevsky – at least as translated by Constance Garnett!"
Much more at the link.

"Crash."

I mentioned the other day that the Oscar nominations made me want to see the movie "Crash." It came in the mail yesterday, and I watched it last night. I thought it was quite good, constructed like "Magnolia," with a lot of characters and a script that connects their stories up with coincidences and a common theme. The theme in this case is race. You can tell from the first scene that you are seeing a heightened reality. I haven't read much of the criticism of this film, but if people are complaining that there actually isn't this much racism in real life, they are missing the point. This is a surreal depiction in which racism is concentrated everywhere. Everyone manifests racism, but then also a vulnerable human side. The characters' stories were nicely, complexly interwoven. I liked it -- even when it skewed melodramatic. I liked that you were kept on your toes about which characters to love or hate, to respect or revile.

Che abuse.

If it weren't for that one photo, there wouldn't have been all those T-shirts, posters, and so much more:
Cherry Guevara [a popsiscle] and other examples of what could be called Che abuse are now on display at the International Center of Photography in midtown Manhattan for an exhibition titled "¡Che! Revolution and Commerce."...

The exhibit works, too, as an object lesson in the power -- and on some level, the formidable beauty -- of market economies, which can absorb and commodify anything, even their bitterest enemies. Today, there are dozens of Web sites selling stuff with Korda's Che shot emblazoned on it....

In the United States, Che's life story and ambitions seem beside the point, or maybe they've just been reduced to caricature. The guy's face is shorthand for "I'm against the status quo." He's politics' answer to James Dean, a rebel with a very specific cause. And since very few people know anything about the cause, or the rebel -- besides the basics -- the Che shirt has about it the whiff of inside info. It makes you part of the thrift-store intelligentsia, even if your real focus is beer pong.

This, in brief, is why capitalism won. It's the only system that understands that we'd all like to change the world, but we are way too lazy for that sort of thing. Especially if there's ice cream around. When you get done with a Cherry Guevara, you're left with a wooden stick with the words "We will bite to the end!" stamped on it. If there are nails in Che's coffin, this, no doubt, is what they look like.
I know a lot of people get really mad about all the Che imagery. This article takes the attitude that the runaway popularization actually defeats Che's politics. Revolution is processed into rebelliousness. Are we supposed to feel good about the way our culture drains serious meaning out of things?

I'm trying to think of a way to connect this story to the current insanity around the depiction of Mohammad in cartoons. If one has an important character at the center of a political or religious movement, will the propagation or the suppression of his image serve your cause better? Should you want to propagate but control the image, so that it's presented on your terms, with the prescribed elements of reverence (nails pounded into flesh, yes, submersed in urine, no)? And if you oppose a political or religious movement, what is the more powerful move, suppressing the image -- stop showing that Che picture! -- or diluting it with ridiculous over-reproduction?

Oyster Awards.

For hardest to open packages. The one that took the longest -- more than 15 minutes -- is American Idol Barbie.

"When I woke up, I tried to light a cigarette and didn't understand why it wouldn't stay between my lips."

Isabelle Dinoire, the woman with the face transplant, describes how she discovered half of her face had been chewed off by her dog:
"That's when I saw the pool of blood and the dog beside it."

Ms. Dinoire said she went to look at herself in a mirror and "couldn't believe what I was seeing — it was too horrible."

Her lips were gone, along with her chin and much of her nose, leaving her teeth and part of her lower jawbone exposed, her doctors said....

Ms. Dinoire's doctors said it would be months before they would know how much motor control she would develop in the transplanted part of her face. But Ms. Dinoire said that "being able to show emotions through my face" was already the best thing about her transplant and that she hoped to eventually be able to smile and grimace.
Ah, to grimace again! I hope you appreciate your ability to grimace. Go on, celebrate life. Do some good grimacing today!
She said the transplant had been a long ordeal, but that "in the end, I never really suffered."

She defended her decision to resume smoking within weeks of the transplant, something remarked upon by the news media.

"Anyway, I never stopped smoking," she said, adding that she regrets only the trouble the news of her smoking caused.
Oh, give the woman a break. She's entitled to her pleasures as she defines them. This is a person who, on awakening from a deep unconscious state with her face chewed off, did not notice that something had gone horribly wrong but that she needed a smoke. That is some serious devotion to smoking.

February 6, 2006

The strong man.

Another drawing by Christopher Althouse Cohen. Drawn quite some time ago. (To see the details, click here to enlarge.)

The Strong Man

Betty Boop was "a doglike character with floppy ears"...

Myron Waldman was an animator who played a part turning her into a sexy lady. How much of a part?
Credits for early animated films are notoriously difficult to establish, and while the Fleischer Studios usually gave the producing credit to Max and the directing credit to Dave, it was often the animators who were effectively the authors of individual shorts. Subsequent generations of animation scholars have identified Mr. Waldman with the gentle strain of whimsy (so different from the often abrasive, sexually charged surrealism of his colleagues) that began to appear in the Fleischers' "Color Classics" series, initiated in 1934 in direct imitation of Disney's "Silly Symphonies."...

Paramount foreclosed on the Fleischers after the catastrophic failure of their second feature, the 1941 "Mister Bug Goes to Town," and the studio was reorganized in New York as Famous Studios.

Mr. Waldman stayed with the new company, but under Paramount's control, the studio lost its grand ambitions and adult sensibilities, falling into a series of routine shorts intended for children and featuring lesser characters like Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, Little Lulu and Casper. Though officially the studio's head animator, Mr. Waldman found his true affinity in the Casper series, curiously morbid fantasies centered on an infant ghost. Animation buffs often cite Mr. Waldman's "There's Good Boos Tonight" (1948), which ends with the death (and resurrection as a ghost) of a lovable fox character, as a particularly traumatic childhood experience.
Waldman has now died, at age 97, and if his ghost is to haunt us, we can trust it will be friendly.

Roadside memorials.

Are there too many of them? Do they distract drivers and cause more accidents, or do they prevent accidents by reminding you that your car is a death machine? If the latter, does that make them a morbid eyesore? Did you know you could order a memorial cross ready-made (with just the right handmade look)? Is there an Establishment Clause problem?
"For us, the memorials raise serious church-state constitutional concerns because they usually feature religious symbols and are placed on state property," said Robert R. Tiernan, a lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., who successfully defended a Denver man arrested in 2001 after he removed a religious roadside memorial.

"I'm sympathetic to people who have faced this kind of grief," added Mr. Tiernan, whose 13-year-old son died after a car accident in 1981. "But the public space belongs to everyone, and I think it's important to honor that."
Are these memorials an aesthetic blight? Some are tasteful and new or well-tended, but others are agonizingly awful -- mylar balloons! -- and covered in grime. But in some places tradition elevates them to a level that completely transforms my response:
[R]oadside memorials are most common in the American Southwest. Most researchers believe they descend from a Spanish tradition in which pallbearers left stones or crosses to mark where they rested as they carried a coffin by foot from the church to the cemetery. Because of this heritage, the memorials are protected in New Mexico as "traditional cultural properties" by the state's Historic Preservation Division.
Based on this, my preference is for some rules, not about religious imagery, but about size, placement, and materials that can be used. Allow only natural materials like stone and wood that have some historical tradition and that age and weather well even when abandoned.

"Justice Souter did his job and we should be proud of it, whether we agree with it or not.”

The attempt to take Justice Souter's house by eminent domain has failed, voted down by the townsfolk. Professor Bainbridge is sorry to hear this!

What Gonzales will say about the surveillance program.

Today, Attorney General Gonzales will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Bush administration's surveillance program. He's got a column in the WSJ this morning, which presumably reflects what he will say:
The president, as commander in chief, has asserted his authority to use sophisticated military drones to search for Osama bin Laden, to deploy our armed forces in combat zones, and to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives around the world. No one would dispute that the [The Authorization for Use of Military Force] supports the president in each of these actions.

It is, therefore, inconceivable that the AUMF does not also support the president's efforts to intercept the communications of our enemies. Any future al Qaeda attacks on the homeland are likely to be carried out, like Sept. 11, by operatives hiding among us. The NSA terrorist surveillance program is a military operation designed to detect them quickly. Efforts to identify the terrorists and their plans expeditiously while ensuring faithful adherence to the Constitution and our existing laws is precisely what America expects from the president....

The AUMF is broad in scope, and understandably so; Congress could not have catalogued every possible aspect of military force it was endorsing. That's why the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the detention of enemy combatants--a fundamental incident of war-- was lawful, even though detention is not mentioned in the AUMF. The same argument holds true for the terrorist surveillance program. Nor was the president's authorization of the terrorist surveillance program in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA bars persons from intentionally "engag[ing] . . . in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." The AUMF provides this statutory authorization for the terrorist surveillance program as an exception to FISA.

Lastly, the terrorist surveillance program fully complies with the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Like sobriety checkpoints or border searches, this program involves "special needs" beyond routine law enforcement, an exception to the warrant requirement upheld by the Supreme Court as consistent with the Fourth Amendment.
We already know this is the argument. We also know the argument of those who oppose the program. What will be interesting today will be to see how well Gonzales will be able to defend the program under hard questioning and how far the Senators will be willing to go when they know that part of the answer, explicit or insinuated, will inevitably be that if they oppose the program they do not care enough about national security.

February 5, 2006

Audible Althouse #35.

Here it is.

Cleaning 20 years of clutter out of the house in preparation for selling... why I've got a room called "outer space"... going to art school ("a pretty damned self-indulgent way to go to college")... becoming a law professor ("floating along on that little scam")... my art studio ("I know my crayons, cuz I went to college")... talking baby talk... throwing out the angel collection... my love of crispness... Samuel Alito... the State of the Union Address... how sad that we never saw Thomas Jefferson on TV... becoming habituated to the beast people... oh, look, it's Senator Feingold!... ugly faces... why I didn't read "The Feminist Mystique"... a crisp feminist quote about choosing between sex and freedom... and the greatest dogs of pop culture history...

Remember: you don't need an iPod to listen. You can stream it on your computer by clicking here. But if you've got an iPod, I hope you'll go to iTunes and subscribe!

The condo.

The lobby is like the hotel it once was:

The condo.

Inside:

The condo.

The view:

The condo.

The pregnancy weight gain.

It's not just for mothers.

Another drawing.

By Christopher Althouse Cohen. (This may be a series!)

Faces

The ridiculous fear of ridicule.

CNN reports:
Islamic anger over newspaper depictions of the Prophet Mohammed is boiling over into violence around the world, with protesters targeting the embassies of countries where the cartoons were published.

Smoke billowed Sunday from the Danish consulate in central Beirut, where hundreds of demonstrators thronged streets around the building to protest a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting Islam's revered prophet....

"We do not accept any act that effects the security of others," said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "These groups include people who intended to [destroy] properties on purpose, giving a bad example of Islam.

"Islam has nothing to do with any of this, no matter how others disrespected the prophets, about whom God says, we have protected you from those who ridicule."
Does it show the strength of your religious faith to react with violence to those who ridicule it? To act righteous in commiting acts of violence is to claim the response is proportional to the offense, so you are assigning great weight to the ridicule. If your faith is so strong, why do you perceive such power in the ridicule? Some crude little drawings and jokes threaten you? Your fear of ridicule ridicules your faith more than the ridicule you fear.

IN THE COMMENTS: Alaska Jack poses a hypothetical:
Suppose at a large dinner party one of the guests relates how his sick child's health is failing and that his wife has just been diagnosed with cancer. Upon hearing this, another guest, a cartoonist, whips out his pen and draws a series of cartoons ridiculing and making fun of the condition of the child and wife and passes them around the table. Do all the zealots agree this is a great example of freedom of expression and should be celebrated? And if the first guest gets angry, is the correct response for all the other guests to draw their own insulting cartoons so as not to chill freedom of expresson? Or is our cartoonist guest just a jerk?

Much discussion follows, not answering the hypothetical -- the answer to this hypothetical is obvious -- but posing alternate hypotheticals and claiming them to be better analogies.

February 4, 2006

Two great faces, gone.

Goodbye to Betty Friedan and Al Lewis:



They kind of look alike, don't they? I remember the first time we saw Officer Leo Schnauzer on "Car 54, Where Are You?" Al Lewis looked and sounded hilarious from that first second. He didn't have a big role on the show, and we always whooped with glee when he showed up in a scene. Later, he played Grandpa on "The Munsters." But that was so long ago. He was an old man back in the 60s, it seemed, but he was only 83 when he died, so he was only in his 40s then. Thanks for all the laughs, Al.

Betty Friedan, I must say, I didn't follow. I never read "The Feminine Mystique." It was a little before my time. I could have read it as a classic, of course, but it always seemed to me to be addressed to the women of the 1950s, and I was a child in the 1950s. The women my age all read Kate Millet's "Sexual Politics" and Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch." (Those were the first two books I bought in hardback.) For a feminist classic, it was "The Second Sex," by Simone de Beauvoir. And then women avoided Friedan's book, for reasons described in the obit that I won't belabor. I'll just call attention to this paragraph:
"That great head, the hooded eyes, the broad features of a woman the French might describe as une jolie-laide , which refers to a magnificent kind of ugliness that can be attractive, even beautiful," wrote Washington Post reporter Megan Rosenfeld in 1995. "The head, looking sometimes like a snapping turtle and at others like a lion with a white mane, sits atop a surprisingly short body, out of which comes the voice of a foghorn in heat. She is always carefully dressed in a New Yorky, nouveau-Bohemian style, with lots of interesting jewelry and spunky little shoes."
Yes, a truly "magnificent kind of ugliness." The world needs more grand faces like that.

Hey, Blogger's back!

I was hovering over it, hoping it would come back, and it just did! Yay! Glad to have all the other blogger blogs back too!

Drawing.

By Christopher Althouse Cohen. (I ran across it today while cleaning the studio.)

chris baby eye

The studio.

Over the next month, preparing to put my house on the market, I've got to put my house in order. After a lot of work this week, the main tasks involve the lower floor, the attic, and the closets. The lower floor, which I'm going to deal with first, consists of a basement, a garage, the studio, and "outer space" (AKA "outer face"). Outer space is just a kid-named part of the house. Do you get the allusion? "Outer face" is the baby-talk way of saying it, and I kept saying it that way long after the kids learned how to say "space." The basement section of the lower floor is truly daunting. It has two sections: the band practice area and the 20-years-of-storage area. The garage is full of bikes, yard care devices, and unusable furniture.

Today, however, I'm devoting to the studio, a place I've used over the years for painting and miscellaneous storage. I've started to throw things into large black leaf-and-garden bags. It's hard not to get distracted by things -- old notes and letters, photographs. After an hour, I've built up some focus and nerve. Do you throw out 50-year-old ceramic figurines? They are cheap and in bad taste: angels and little animals -- all stamped "Japan" on the bottom -- that were given to me when I was a child. Someone determined that I should have an angel collection. I don't think it was me. But I did tend the collection and appreciate additions to it. Do you throw out pencils, pastels, craypas, chalk, charcoal, erasers? There are thousands of them! And what about all these board games? The answer, I think, is: you must throw them all out and quickly or you will never get done in a month.

Crazy traffic.

Suddenly, I've got hundreds of visitors going to my Christmas Eve post, because it comes up first on a lot of search engines when Googling for something that I mentioned from a NYT crossword that day. I've got to assume that today's the day that puzzle reappeared in other newspapers. I hope everyone's enjoying the picture of little me sitting on Santa's lap! As opposed to cursing at me... Well, maybe they will bookmark the page and become regular Althouse readers. I mean it was a Saturday puzzle, the hardest of the week, and an unusually hard Saturday puzzle. So these are pretty sharp folks -- as are the regular readers. Don't you think?

ADDED: I just stuck the answer I know they are looking for at the top of the post.

Wikipedia and politics.

Wikipedia entries for politicians attract a lot of editing that violates the collective spirit of the project. There are millions of edits a month, of which thousands -- only thousands! -- are inappropriate. Here's the WaPo report, which isn't very interesting actually. I'll bet this news coverage only encourages people to go in there and screw around with more entries. Basically, I'd just assume the political entries aren't worth reading. Or do you like "impressionistic history"?

"Welcome to the new age of impressionistic history."

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time and chief executive of CNN, reviews James Risen's "State of War" for the NYT:
[Risen's] Page 1 articles in The New York Times exposed, for better or worse, the government's national security wiretapping program. And now he has produced an ''All the President's Men'' inside narrative based on anonymous sources....

So what are we to believe in a book that relies heavily on leaks from disgruntled sources? We are in an age where the consumer of information has to make an educated guess about what percentage of assertions in books like this are true. My own guess is that Risen has earnest sources for everything he reports but that they don't all know the full story, thus resulting in a book that smells like it's 80 percent true. If that sounds deeply flawed, let me add that if he had relied on no anonymous sources and reported instead only the on-the-record line from official spinners, the result would very likely have been only half as true.

In fact, the new way we consume information provides a good argument for the role of an independent press that relies on leakers. Other journalists will and should build on, or debunk, the allegations reported by Risen. This will prompt many of the players to publish their own version of the facts. L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq after the invasion, has just come out with his book pointing fingers at the C.I.A. for giving him flawed intelligence and at Donald Rumsfeld for not giving him the troops he actually wanted. And Tenet, one hopes, will someday cash in on a hefty book contract by clamping cigar in mouth and pen in hand to give evidence that he was not the buffoonish toady Rumsfeld's aides portray him to be. Besides being fun to watch, this process is a boon for future historians.

So welcome to the new age of impressionistic history. Like an Impressionist painting, it relies on dots of varying hues and intensity. Some come from leakers like those who spoke to Risen. Other dots come from the memoirs and comments of the players. Eventually, a picture emerges, slowly getting clearer. It's up to us to connect the dots and find our own meanings in this landscape.
I've elided the part of the review about revealing government secrets, not because I think that's unimportant, but in order to focus on the "impressionistic history" theory -- a theory that bloggers, in particular, might to feel attracted to. Is that a laughably lame excuse for writing a book based on disgruntled anonymities? Or has he got something there?

All about Malcolm Gladwell.

Rachel Donadio writes:
Gladwell has become an all-out international phenomenon — and has helped create a highly contagious hybrid genre of nonfiction, one that takes a nonthreatening and counterintuitive look at pop culture and the mysteries of the everyday. In the past year, several other books in the Gladwell vein have appeared. They include the best-selling "Freakonomics," a breezy collection of case studies by Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, and the journalist Stephen Dubner (the pair write an occasional "Freakonomics" column for The Times Magazine); "The Wisdom of Crowds," a business book for thinking people in which the New Yorker writer James Surowiecki argues that groups are collectively smarter and more innovative than individuals; and "Everything Bad Is Good for You," Steven Johnson's case that pop culture is becoming increasingly sophisticated....

For all their resonance and success, Gladwell's books have also been criticized, most often for demonstrating, or encouraging, lazy thinking. In a scathing review in The New Republic, the judge and author Richard Posner found "Blink" full of banalities and contradictions, "written like a book intended for people who do not read books."
Well, what's wrong with clearly explaining ideas to people who don't want to make the effort to read more scholarly things? But it's more than just vividly written explanation. He transforms social science material into a positive message:
"I'm by nature an optimist. I can't remember the last time I wrote a story which could be described as despairing," he said. "I don't believe in character. I believe in the effect of the immediate impact of environment and situation on people's behavior."...

Although pitched as descriptive, Gladwell's books are essentially prescriptive. Trust your instincts! You too may be (or can become) a connector, maven or salesman! Gladwell's dazzling arguments ultimately offer reassurance. Indeed, he seems a contemporary incarnation of a recurring figure in the American experience, one who comes with encouraging news: You can make a difference, you have the capacity to change. Gladwell may be the Dale Carnegie, or perhaps the Norman Vincent Peale, of the iPod generation. But where Carnegie in his 1936 book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," instructed readers how to understand their customers and flatter people into liking them, and Peale in his 1952 "Power of Positive Thinking" offered watered-down Christian palliatives, Gladwell offers optimism through demystification: to understand how things work is to have control over them.
So, to paraphrase Posner: It's written like a book intended for people who read self-help books. Do we need to start being embarrassed that we like Gladwell so much?

February 3, 2006

"No one can refuse to carry a coconut."

It would be too dangerous.

The 100 Greatest Dogs of Pop Culture History.

A perfect list. (Via Throwing Things.) I like the rows of pictures to scroll down toward #1. When I saw that Pluto was #25, I got really excited. Which dogs outranked Pluto? They must be really great dogs. I had guessed Lassie would be first. (Wrong.) I was hoping to see Ren do well. (He did.) I was happy to see the recognition given to Tige. I like the nice balance between film dog and cartoon dog, with some nice variations in there, like Slinky Dog, Spot, and Cerberus. Hey, what about Flub-a-dub? Flub-a-dub was a dog, wasn't he? (Oh, I guess not.) Well, what about Cleo?

"We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible."

Said one preacher in Gaza about those cartoons depicting Muhammad. Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department spokesman read an official statement:
"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images," which are routinely published in the Arab press, "as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief."

Still, the United States defended the right of the Danish and French newspapers to publish the cartoons. "We vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view," Mr. McCormack added.
That's exactly right, isn't it? We ought to care about what religious persons regard as offensive, but we need also to support the right of individuals to speak even when it is offensive. And, of course, those who want us to care about the offense to their religious sensibilities ought to demonstrate their commitment to decent values. It's bad enough when they don't support free speech. (They should argue against the speech, not try to suppress it.) But when they descend into violence and threats of violence, they utterly surrender the high ground. The demands for respect that would have won many sympathetic supporters lose all effect in that ugly form. The most you can hope for is fear and retreat, which you don't deserve and you aren't going to get.

"I'm sure she's probably happier with a low-key send-off. She was never in it for the glory."

Said Sandra Day O'Connor's brother Alan Day.
There was no ballyhoo this week when Sandra Day O'Connor ended her nearly 25-year court career.

She attended a private oath ceremony at the court for her successor, Samuel Alito. Several of the justices were out of town and unable to watch as Alito pledged to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."

O'Connor made a point to be there, however, with her husband, then departed to Arizona with little notice. She declined to make a statement to reporters.
Yes, it was awfully low key, wasn't it? Where were all the tributes? Can we even remember the last time a Justice stepped down and how much fuss was made? When Rehnquist died, it wasn't the same. Those were obituaries. I think the reason we didn't hear much about Sandra Day O'Connor this week is that we already said all the appropriate things last summer when she announced her intention to retire. Still, I think more should have been made of saying goodbye to her, and now I feel a little bad that we just let her slip away like that.

Hey, it's kind of a slow day here on the Althouse blog.

What's going on chez Althouse? -- you might ask.

Well, I'm getting serious about the idea of selling my house. I had the realtors over today and that meant that the last two days I was madly trying to put the place in order. Because Thursday is trash collection day, I devoted Wednesday to getting bulky items and large trash bags out to the curb. I also put a lot of bags of books into the trunk of my car and a large box of used clothing on the front seat. Yesterday, I tried to take the clothes to Goodwill -- closed, must go back Friday morning -- and I took the books over to Half Price Books and waited while they assessed their value. It turned out to be $70, and if you know Half Price Books, you know that had to be a hell of a lot of books. "Half price" is what they give to people who buy their books. The seller gets far less. I took the money and ran back home to spend the evening cleaning and stashing away clutter. I really thought I could blitz through this in two hours, but that was really quite wrong. I spent a good four hours working just as hard as I could. Cleaning four bathrooms was the least of it.

Four bathrooms? Yeah, I know. I deserve to suffer just for having four bathrooms. Or is it that if I have four bathrooms, why don't I have a way of paying people to clean for me? Oh, it's all about my intense love of privacy. Intense love of privacy? Then what the hell is this blog?

So, really, want to buy a big, cool, giant house in historic University Heights in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin?

"Thank you, beer."

A commercial just for women.

The "unschooling" movement.

CNN reports:
Welcome to the world of "unschooling" -- an educational movement where kids, not parents, not teachers, decide what they will learn that day.

"I don't want to sound pompous, but I think I am learning a little bit more, because I can just do everything at my own pace," said Nailah Ellis, a 10-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, who has been unschooled for most of her life.

Nailah's day starts about 11 a.m., her typical wake-up time. She studies Chinese, reading, writing, piano and martial arts. But there's no set schedule. She works on what she wants, when she wants. She'll even watch some TV -- science documentaries are a favorite -- until her day comes to an end about 2 a.m.

An extension of home-schooling, "unschooling" is when parents give their children total freedom to learn and explore whatever they choose.
This is great... if you've got a Nailah. But, of course, your child is a Nailah? Right?

What to do when you have the flu?

Read "Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian." or watch a lot of episodes of "Project Runway"? Oscar's experience:
I would read a page or two of Churchill, drift into a doze for an hour or two, read another page, doze, etc. Okay, so I basically spent most of the day sleeping.

But by evening, I felt pretty much awake. Not clearheaded "Visionary. Statesman. Historian" awake, but sufficiently awake to watch four solid hours of back-to-back episodes of Project Runway. Even though I haven't liked any of his designs, I find myself inexorably drawn to Santino Rice...
Uh oh, he sounds really sick! Go over there and read the whole thing. It includes an explanation of why he doesn't get flu shots, which I agree with.

UPDATE: I wonder if there are any book titles with more punctuation than that Churchill book. Three periods and a colon? Also, how can a lawprof hold onto his pseudonymous personality and blog about having the flu during the semester?

The Goldberg lecture.

I didn't make it to the Jonah Goldberg lecture on Wednesday night (though that didn't prevent a local blogger from seeing me there!). Here's the Badger Herald's report (which includes a lot of student response). Here's the Cap Times (which quotes him slamming the New Orleans police after Katrina: "Huge numbers of them didn't show up at work because it was going to be more fun to loot Wal-Mart"). Uncle Jimbo got some photos. Letters in Bottles has a collection of links to the live-blogging of the lecture. The Martins weren't "sure what to expect from the rest of the audience, Jonah being conservative and Madison being, well, not." But apparently, no special Madison-style reaction occurred. Well, really, people may be lefties here, but they're polite and quite sedate, actually.

UPDATE: More here and here -- from Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, the group that brought Goldberg in.

"Brokeback to the Future."

Perfect! Hilarious! (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

February 2, 2006

Gaps look less gappy today.

Remember the 18-and-a-half-minute gap? In our high-tech times, there are still gaps, but they don't look so absurdly, ridiculously gappy.

Don't you feel better now?

"What's at issue is a developing control over sensory processing."

Why kids insist on wriggling out of the coats you keep trying to bundle them up in.
Kids would rather be the way they came into the world: naked. And as they adapt to the world of clothing, extra layers -- particularly coats -- add to their heightened perception of constriction.

"It feels like they're being really tightly bound, and it feels bad," says pediatrician Lynn Wegner.

And, let me add, it's not just coats....

Bemoaning the end of "best of" recordings.

Should we care if iTunes is killing the marking for "best of" music collections? People used to buy these things out of a desire to get to one or two really big songs, but now they can download just the thing they want. So, you can get "Bohemian Rhapsody" without loading up on Queen tracks. But when did "best of" collections become respectable? I remember when it was considered embarrassing to purchase your music in that form. If you haven't been following an artist, you were supposed to pick an album. You were supposed to try to figure out which is the best one, and start there, with a set of tracks in the form the artist wanted. Who cares if "best of" marketing dies?

"I think you need to take her at her word that she's not running."

Says President Bush, about Condoleezza Rice, in an offhand statement that gets a headline in the WaPo. Could the line be any less meaningful? It offers no inside information other than a slight vouching for "her word." But everyone knows "she's not running." Whether she will run or whether others will pursue her and she will accept their request that she stand for office are other matters, not covered by the President's statement.

Alito and the culture of life.

And so what do you make of it? The first thing Samuel Alito does as a Supreme Court Justice is vote to prevent the state from executing a man.
Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri's last-minute request to allow a midnight execution....

An appeals court will now review Taylor's claim that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, a claim also used by two Florida death-row inmates that won stays from the Supreme Court over the past week. The court has agreed to use one of the cases to clarify how inmates may bring last-minute challenges to the way they will be put to death....

Taylor was convicted of killing 15-year-old Ann Harrison, who was waiting for a school bus when he and an accomplice kidnapped her in 1989. Taylor pleaded guilty and said he was high on crack cocaine at the time.

Taylor's legal team had pursued two challenges -- claiming that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment and that his constitutional rights were violated by a system tilted against black defendants.

The court, acting without Alito, rejected Taylor's appeal that argued that Missouri's death penalty system is racist. Taylor is black and his victim was white.
President Bush expresses great concern about the "culture of life" and regards Alito as a man of ''steady demeanor, careful judgment and complete integrity.'' It will be interesting to see where that sound judgment takes him.

"Feingold cuts an attractive figure, natty and trim ('I'm a swimmer') with vulpine good looks."

Vogue magazine likes Senator Russ Feingold. He's the "man of the moment."
The article flits between policy (Feingold's votes against the Patriot Act and support of campaign finance reform) to his reputation as a "goo goo," Beltway slang for goody-goody. Bradley Whitford (the Madison native who plays Josh on "West Wing") is quoted: "I've never felt that Russ is acting, which as an actor is something I appreciate." Whitford's wife, actress Jane Kaczmarek, calls Feingold "very sexy." Apparently the author agrees, writing: "In person, Feingold cuts an attractive figure, natty and trim ("I'm a swimmer") with vulpine good looks."
"Vulpine"? How is that a compliment? I guess they think it's a synonym for "foxy."

Here's the word as used in a literary classic:
I say I became habituated to the Beast People, that a thousand things which had seemed unnatural and repulsive speedily became natural and ordinary to me. I suppose everything in existence takes its colour from the average hue of our surroundings. Montgomery and Moreau were too peculiar and individual to keep my general impressions of humanity well defined. I would see one of the clumsy bovine-creatures who worked the launch treading heavily through the undergrowth, and find myself asking, trying hard to recall, how he differed from some really human yokel trudging home from his mechanical labours; or I would meet the Fox-bear woman’s vulpine, shifty face, strangely human in its speculative cunning, and even imagine I had met it before in some city byway.
That does make me think of Congress: I became habituated to the Beast People, that a thousand things which had seemed unnatural and repulsive speedily became natural and ordinary to me.

And now we meet the Senator, with his vulpine, shifty face, strangely human in its speculative cunning.

February 1, 2006

Project Runway.

We see Daniel given the choice to keep his model or switch to Tarah, whom Zulema stole from Nick last week, setting in motion the bad karma that took her down and put Tarah up for grabs. But Daniel sticks with his original model, and the charming Tarah must go.

The new task is to make something out of things bought from flower stores. It seems inspired by the wonderful first episode of Season 1, when Austin made a dress of corn husks, and no one else got seriously into the vegetable matter on hand in the grocery store where they had to do their shopping.

Tim Gunn tells them that the winner on this project will have immunity. We see Santino saying he really wants to win this one so he can do something "really offensive" on the next one and get away with it. Nice attitude. That's what immunity's for, isn't it?

Kara cares about helping Chloe, who's way behind. She's got this the theory that one woman must make it to the final three. Kara says she's amazed that she's made it this far, and she's generous about acknowledging that Chloe was the best of the women. Chloe doesn't have much of a design though. It's just an ordinary dress with a lot of leaves plastered all over it. Much is made of the fact that she doesn't have enough time to stick on all the leaves properly, but not the fact that there isn't much of an underlying idea.

And then it turns out that Kara made a terrific, detailed dress when we weren't looking.

Nearly everyone has focused on leaves and shied away from flowers, flowers being dangerously fragile. Daniel was the only one to use many flowers, and the judges really wanted to see that. So he wins. He now seems to be so much the frontrunner to win the whole season.

And Andrae must leave. Oh! I'd grown to love him. But his Spanish moss thing really was doormat-y. It didn't fit at all. And it was quite a cop out to just shape the whole thing out of moss. (Hey, remember the moss wall on "Trading Spaces"? Moss is doom!)

Andrae interviews that he thought he was an angel floating above all the problems, and it's tough to discover that he's a human being like everyone else. Ah! The men thought they were all safe and surely one of the women would go home tonight. So I guess I'm glad to see that they were the ones who sustained the loss. But I did really like dear, sweet Andrae.

"American Idol" -- Austin.

1. A Trini Lopez wannabe: "Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to wheat" [sic].

2. A "fashion genius" with teeth so huge a massive set of braces cannot begin to tame them, who does ghastly drawings of Paula Abdul and turns out to be named Paula: Paula Goodspeed. She sings terribly, but it's not enough just to tell her that. Simon has to say: "I don't think any artist on earth could sing with that much metal in your mouth anyway. You have so much metal in your mouth."

3. Lots of horrible singers.

4. Jason Horn, a funeral director, who hopes to use "American Idol" to teach the world that funeral directors are ordinary people. He's good!

5. Cierra Johnson. She's pretty, really pretty ... and her black hair looks kind of purple. She sings "O Holy Night." Simon: "Awful... I'm really surprised. For whatever reason, I thought you were going to be really good. It was terrible." Well, we all know the reason. She's really pretty. It's hope. The enduring hope that outward beauty has something to do with other aspects of a person.

6. Ricky Hayes. "There's nothing else for me. This is what I'm meant to do." That's the attitude of so many delusionals. He says he's a music student. He starts to sing, and it makes me cry. I think I'm just relieved that the nice young man is actually good.

7. Ashley Jackson. She's pretty. She's a fit model (a model they fit clothes on). She's not that good but she can sing the national anthem with her mouth closed. And she is really pretty. The votes of the two male judges put her through.

8. Ronnie Norman. RJ. He's presented as a ridiculously smarmy ladies' man. He sings a truly beautiful song, "Ain't No Sunshine." He does well enough to get through.

9. A very fresh-faced 16-year-old guy sings in an affected way, but they have a heart and put him through.

10. A very delusional 17-year-old woman is treated rather badly by the camera which keeps panning from knee level up across her tight red pants. Simon does an extended routine about stuffing potatoes into a sack. Yes, we get it. She's chubby. It's because she acts like a jerk about being told the truth that they feel free to treat her like that.

"Yes, we have the right to caricature God."

That's the headline in France Soir, which has reprinted the Danish cartoons that depict the Prophet Mohammad, along with a new cartoon showing the Gods of various religions saying, "Don't complain, Muhammad, we've all been caricatured here."
[The French newspaper] France Soir said it had published the cartoons to show that "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society.

Their publication in Denmark has led to protests in several Arab nations.

Responding to France Soir's move, the French government said it supported press freedom - but added that beliefs and religions must be respected.
Must? In what sense? Free speech obviously includes the right to express the most severe disrespect for anything at all.
Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated this week in the Gaza Strip, burning Danish flags and portraits of the Danish prime minister.
Fine. More speech. But those threats of violence aren't too smart. You're just giving the cartoonists more fodder.

UPDATE: "The Muslim owner of the France Soir newspaper has fired the Paris newspaper's editor for publishing controversial cartoons making fun of Islam."

Two abortion decisions in one day.

Yesterday, both the 9th Circuit and the 2d Circuit Courts of Appeals issued decisions holding the federal partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional. The statute lacks a health exception.
''We are reluctant to invalidate an entire statute,'' 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote. ''However, after considering all of the obstacles to our devising a narrower remedy, we conclude that such is our obligation.''...

Chief Judge John M. Walker, a relative of former President George Herbert Walker Bush who serves in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the application of the statue ''might deny some unproven number of women a marginal health benefit.''...

The 2nd Circuit ruling Tuesday was marked by an unusually sharp dissent by Judge Chester J. Straub, who said he believed Congress' determination that the procedure was never medically necessary to protect a women's health was well founded and supported by a lower court ruling.

''Allowing a physician to destroy a child as long as one toe remains within the mother would place society on the path towards condoning infanticide,'' he said....

''Even though the supporters of this law purported to be banning one particular abortion procedure, the law as the court found would in fact chill doctors from performing virtually any second trimester abortion,'' said Eve Gartner, senior staff attorney for Planned Parenthood and lead counsel in the 9th Circuit case.

The death of a yippie: "Still me. Still me."

Stew Albert, one of the original Yippies, has gone:
Stew Albert, who with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and a handful of similarly scruffy, leftist anti-establishmentarians formed the Yippie party to protest the Vietnam War, mock institutional authority and nominate a pig, Pigasus, for president, died on Monday at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 66....

[He] caused considerable laughter after Yippies were arrested after nominating Pigasus outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 [when he quoted] a policeman's comment while he was in jail: "I have bad news for you, boys. The pig squealed on you."...

For the last 21 years, Mr. Albert lived in Portland, where he wrote articles and books, ran a Web site and participated in organizations fostering racial harmony.

Last Friday, in his next-to-last blog entry, he wrote, "My politics have not changed."

A blog? How about a link?

Here's Stew Albert's Yippie Reading Room. Ah! Here's the blog. Nice to see Yippies use Blogger. You have to scroll down a ways to get to his last post:
"Day in the Life: Super crazy thing. The hospice nurse had to do more. Still me. Still me."
"Still me" is a great last line, with a profound double meaning. If you can write that you are still you, you retain your identity. But dying, you are being stilled, and dead, you will be still, silent, forever. The "still me" goes on forever.

The second to the last post, one day earlier reads:
Draining fast food
Gotcha going nowhere
It's still the sea around us
So award tells me
Moving fast
Don't move it tonight
I prefer it clean

Day in the Life: My politics have not changed. Stew
His politics are the same, the last political statement, very general and abstract. The day before, the last specific political comment:
Fall

Fell over flat first thing in the morning
so now there is a bit of hospice in the mix
your Arabs fell further
they voted for Hamas
even two life times might not be enough
Goodbye to Stew Albert.

No concealed carry in Wisconsin.

The Assembly fails to override Governor Doyle's veto. "Two Democrats who had voted for the bill when it originally passed changed their votes."

Characterizing Alito's demeanor at the speech last night.

Dana Milbank's description of Samuel Alito's demeanor at the State of the Union speech seems a tad subjective:
How would he react when Bush introduced him to Congress? (He would make a self-conscious grin.)
My response to that moment: "Roberts has a clenched jaw and a downturned mouth that somehow reads as a proud smile. Alito has a similar serious face to start but then he breaks into a nice grin." It looked natural to me. What was self-conscious about the grin? I think if anything, the serious face was self-conscious, but he was comfortable enough to let his genuine pleasure break through.
If Alito and his peers were being extra cautious, that was understandable. Yesterday's rare overlap of a State of the Union address and a Supreme Court confirmation could have been a celebration of democracy. Instead, the anger from the confirmation process spread through the body politic, leaving a brittle, divided House.
Were they being "extra cautious"? It's always a problem for the Justices to be on view at the SOTU, because they can't act involved in politics, and they've got to just sit there on view in the front row. That's offered as an explanation for why so few of them show up for the big event. But the two new ones had reason to be there, and it was nice for two others to attend. Those two were the junior appointees of the previous two Presidents (Breyer and Thomas).

I was only watching on TV, but it didn't seem to me that the Justices were affected by the political struggle that just took place in the Senate. It's equally easy to imagine that Roberts and Alito accepted that that struggle is a necessary part of the confirmation process, which they had to make their way through; they prepared, handled themselves well, and now the ordeal is over for good. I tend to think that even as they were sitting there is the committee room answering overbearing, often rude questions, they felt a sense of distance from the fray. They sat through it, acting deferential, but knowing the time would pass and they would, soon enough, be untouchable forever by these politicos. I imagine such thoughts ran through their head with regularity and kept them supremely cool while Senators emoted furiously.
Alito began tentatively. As the justices were announced, he listed to the Republican side of the aisle as he made his entrance and barely glanced toward the Democrats. He stood awkwardly next to Breyer, a Clinton appointee, making occasional small talk as he waited for the speech to start. When Bush entered and shook the new justice's hand, howls of approval poured from the GOP side.
Well, I just took another look at the TiVo'd material here and couldn't detect anything tentative or awkward. Alito looked happy and seemed to be interacting with Breyer in the style of an ordinary colleague. When Bush greeted him, Alito had a nice little smile. I didn't notice anything special about the applause at that point, certainly not any howling. He craned his head around at one point, which made me think at first that he was checking out the architecture of the room, before I realized he must have wanted to look at his wife.
At times, Alito followed the lead of the other three justices who sat with him in the front row. When Bush said "We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it," Thomas looked at Roberts, who looked at Breyer, who gave an approving shrug; all four gentlemen stood and gave unanimous applause.

At other times, Alito showed independence from his senior colleagues. When Bush delivered the stock line "The state of our union is strong," Alito dissented while the other three robed justices in the front row applauded. When Bush declared that "liberty is the right and hope of all humanity," Alito was the only member of the judicial quartet to provide his concurring applause.

It seemed from their frequent conferences that the justices had agreed on some ground rules: Any mention of Iraq or hot domestic disputes were off limits; broad appeals to patriotism were deemed applause-worthy. But there were disputes. When Bush said "We will never surrender to evil," the justices conferred briefly. Breyer shook his head, but Roberts overruled him, and Breyer reluctantly stood with his three colleagues.
I'm glad someone was keeping an eye on this, and it's nice to get the details. It seems as though they just have a difficult role to play as judges. It's not a question of whether a particular line is "applause-worthy," but whether it's a place where a judge can appropriately react. They don't want to look like four statues, but they don't want to look as though they have a shred of partisanship.

I agree with Breyer that "We will never surrender to evil" is not a line judges should respond to. "Evil" is a code word in the political discourse, and "never surrender" is a classic political phrase demanding a fight to victory. These things mean too much. But I can accept Roberts "overruling." Come on, evil, who's against that? Never's a strong word, but is it supposed to be okay to surrender to evil once in a while? I think it's cool that the justices were signaling each other and acting as a quartet.