March 7, 2006

"American Idol" -- the last 8 women.

We see the last 8 women and hear that 2 will have to go this week. Looking at the group, I predict Melissa and Kinnik will be cut. But then Melissa sings a Heart song, and I heart Melissa. Kinnik, though: phew! That was bad! Off key.

Ayla Brown is just atrocious but the judges are very kind to her, perhaps because she looks fabulous -- really tall! -- and was adorable in the film clip talking about how when she was a kid she believed her dad was Elvis Presley. They don't want her to go.

Paris Bennett was okay, but she seemed to have trouble keeping up with that dumb song "Rhythm of the Night." [CORRECTION: Sorry, the song was actually "Conga," but it's still dumb.] She should be better. I'm still waiting for her to be what she was when we first saw her at the auditions. Lisa Tucker was pretty good. Katharine McPhee: excellent! She sings "Think," you know, the one with "freedom, freedom, freedom!" I love that. She acts all bubbly, and it comes off well.

Mandisa, inviting a fat joke, sings "I'm Every Woman." She kind of blows everyone else away. Wow! It pushes Randy to adopt a new word of strong praise: "Ridiculous!" He's going, "Ridiculous! Ridiculous!" Paula says, "You sang your butt off," and we're seeing shots of Mandisa in tight jeans from the back and thinking "And that's quite a task!" Simon calls her brilliant. And let me just add, I think she looks great! She has a beautiful face, and her abundant body is magnificent. Awesome. Ridiculous.

Kellie Pickler ends the night with a song that's been sung too much on "American Idol" and that I'm inclined to despise, "I'm the Only One." But I'm convinced by this somehow. Simon says, "Kellie, you're what's known as a naughty little minx," which strikes me as one of the funniest comments he's ever come out with. She goes, "What's a minx?" I've been thinking her biggest problem is that she seems too much like Carrie Underwood, who won last year, so I understand where Simon is coming from when he adds, "I kind of prefer you to last year's winner." The reason for the preference is clear, both women seem down home and well-scrubbed, but Kellie seems a little dirty at the same time. You can see that Simon is into that. Ryan refers to the minx comment and Kellie yells out "I'm a mink!" And millions of people laugh at her, and also love her, in the same way we once loved Jessica Simpson, back when she was confused by Chicken of the Sea.

So who will go? Kinnik, for sure. For the other? I think Ayla deserves to go, but they want Melissa to go. But even Paris is at risk.

World's oldest pony.

Jessie.

Sometimes the Althouse blog is challenging, and sometimes it's not.

Is attention deficit a disorder?

From today's Science Times, psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes:
We live in an information age, in a knowledge-based economy.

For those of us who have "attention-surplus disorder" — a term coined by Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist in Boston who has A.D.H.D. — this knowledge-based economy has been a godsend. We thrive.

But attention disorder cases, up to 5 to 15 percent of the population, are at a distinct disadvantage. What once conferred certain advantages in a hunter-gatherer era, in an agrarian age or even in an industrial age is now a potentially horrific character flaw, making people feel stupid or lazy and irresponsible, when in fact neither description is apt.

The term attention-deficit disorder turns out to be a misnomer. Most people who have it actually have remarkably good attention spans as long as they are doing activities that they enjoy or find stimulating. As Martha B. Denckla of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has noted, we should probably be calling the condition something like "intention-inhibition disorder," because it is a condition in which one's best intentions — say, reading 50 pages in a dense textbook or writing a 10-page paper in a timely fashion — go awry.

Essentially, A.D.H.D. is a problem dealing with the menial work of daily life, the tedium involved in many school situations and 9-to-5 jobs.

Another hallmark, impulsivity, or its more positive variant, spontaneity, appears to be a vestige from lower animals forced to survive in the wild. Wild animals cannot survive without an extraordinary ability to react. If predators lurk, they need to act quickly.

This vestige underscores the fact that human genetic variability, the fact that we are not all simply clones of one another, has allowed us to survive as a species for 150,000 years in a variety of contexts and environments.

In essence, attention-deficit disorder is context driven. In many situations of hands-on activities or activities that reward spontaneity, A.D.H.D. is not a disorder....

If it is indeed a context-driven disorder, let's change the contexts in schools to accommodate the needs of children who have it, not just support and accommodate the needs of children with attention-surplus disorder.

For those with attention disorder who wish to be full participants in a knowledge-based world, medications equalize their opportunities. The drugs should and can be used only as needed in the context of dealing with the tedium of school or the drab paperwork of some jobs.
It's frightening to think that the modern world has been organized around what are aberrant capacities (like "attention surplus"), putting those with normal capacities (that were useful when evolved) at such a disadvantage that drugs -- dangerous drugs -- must be used to compensate.

"This is our time," say Roe opponents. But is it?

Now that South Dakota has passed its harsh anti-abortion law, what will happen next?
[O]pponents of abortion have split over South Dakota's approach, a fact that [Governor Michael] Rounds acknowledged in recent weeks as he weighed whether to sign the legislation.

Some, including those who led efforts to pass the ban in South Dakota, said they considered this the ideal time to return the central question of Roe to the Supreme Court. State Representative Roger Hunt, who sponsored the bill in South Dakota, pointed to the appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both conservatives, and what he described as the "strong possibility" of the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in the near future and the naming of a conservative as his successor.

"This is our time," Mr. Hunt said on Monday.

Other national anti-abortion groups, though, have quietly disagreed with the timing, pressing instead to cut down on abortions by creating restrictions that may be more palatable to a wider audience, restrictions like parental and spousal notification laws and clinic regulations. If the Supreme Court upholds Roe, they have argued, the damage for those opposed to abortion rights will be grave.

"As much as this isn't the best strategic thing to do, it's there and it's the law of South Dakota now," said Daniel S. McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, another group. "We'll defend our position now — which is to oppose abortion."

Cristina Minniti, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said no one from her organization was available to be interviewed on the South Dakota law. Instead, she issued a one paragraph statement which stated, in part: "Currently there are at least five votes, a majority, on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade."

Mr. Rounds, who became governor in 2003 after serving in the South Dakota Senate for a decade, declined to speak with reporters after the signing. In an earlier interview, he said that he personally felt uncertain about the timing of a challenge to Roe, but that he was leaning toward signing the bill, in part because he did not wish to divide the people who, like him, oppose abortion.
I think Rounds and others sense that they are making a terrible misstep. The very harshness of this law will remind ordinary people why they have quietly, over the years, accepted the individual's right to make a private decision about whether to continue a pregnancy. More modest efforts at constraining the right may have been tolerated. But this remorseless intrusion on the individual should backfire on abortion opponents. Even if they manage to get the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade -- and I don't think they will -- the political support for abortion rights should make that victory Pyrrhic.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm happy to say there is civil conversation among readers with very different views.

In art, either you're in or you're out.

The arbiter of art, Janson's History of Art. With a new edition, reputations rise and fall. (I like the Heidi Klum-style headline on the article!)
The new edition drops not only Whistler's portrait of his mother but also evicts several other longtime residents, like Domenichino, the Baroque master, and Louis Le Nain, whose work is in the Louvre.

The sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, for example, has been erased with a vengeance; even a portrait by another artist of Roubiliac posing with his work has been dropped. And some full-page reproductions that had become permanent fixtures — like the Metropolitan Museum of Art's van Eyck diptych, "The Crucifixion, the Last Judgment" — have been replaced with others seen to be more representative of an artist's work....

Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University who described himself as a longtime critic of Janson, welcomed many of the changes. "It's clearly a liberal version of a cold-war classic that will pass muster in most of the U.S.," he said.

But he added that it would probably never regain the dominance it once had, simply because the whole idea of a book like it, or other supposedly all-inclusive surveys like "Gardner's Art Through the Ages," first published in 1926, had become outdated.

"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.

[Frima Fox Hofrichter, chairwoman of the history of art and design department at Pratt Institute], who has taught from Janson for many years, counters that teachers and students need a book to use as a starting point and basic guide to what should be considered important. But she said she had also often "taught against" Janson during her career, which leaves her in a strange predicament.

"Now," she said, "I'll have only myself to teach against."
You may think that last quote sounds silly, but I know exactly what Hofrichter means. There is good reason to want a very traditional presentation in the text so you have something to critique in class, some value to add. If the text itself is the critique of the tradition, it makes you passive, stuck with the editor's critique and forced to help students try to understand what the tradition was that this editor was reacting to, which can be confusing and annoying and nowhere near as fascinating as the editor imagines. In this case, however, Hofrichter is one of the new editors! But the old text was falling out of favor, and the publisher needed to revive it.

Dana Reeve.

RIP.
Ms. Reeve took on an increasingly prominent role after her husband's paralysis in a horse riding accident in 1996. Together, they created the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which drew on his fame as the actor in the "Superman" movies and the inspiration many drew from his struggle to raise and distribute over $55 million in research grants, much of it aimed at speeding the development of stem-cell treatments....

When Ms. Reeve announced her cancer, she said that "now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge. I look to him as the ultimate example of defying the odds with strength, courage and hope in the face of life's adversities."

Rudy Giuliani is the most popular politician in the country.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll.
The Quinnipiac poll asked voters to rate politicians on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher numbers representing more favorable opinions. Giuliani's mean score was 63.5, according to the poll.

Obama got a mean score of 59.9, McCain 59.7 and Rice 57.1.

"Not only do Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain get the best ratings, but their numbers are uniform across the country," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

President George W. Bush's rating was 44.1. Vice President Dick Cheney got a 41. Former President Bill Clinton was at 56.1

Four Democrats who are considered potential presidential candidates in 2008 were also mentioned in the poll's top 10: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards received a 50.8, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner scored 50.7, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton 50.4 and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin 49.
You know you want to talk about the '08 election. Go ahead!

March 6, 2006

"The Apprentice."

The task is to get people in the street to send text messages, as many as possible, but it's also supposed to be a promotion of that new Gillette shaver with 5 blades. But if the game is judged by the number of messages, why should anyone pay any attention to the shaver? I mean, other than to get unusually distracted by the fact that Brent needs a shave? Lenny ("the Russian") figures all of this out, but no one else seems to. It's pointless to think up a "creative" word to text -- like "closer." Just have them text the easiest thing. One letter! Lenny's right. And so hardcore about saying he's right.

The Synergy team gets utterly distracted by the loathsomeness of Brent. What's so loathsome about him? I mean, in addition to the fact that he needs a shave -- and he's otherwise disheveled, which is especially bad since he's also overweight... and everyone else is above-average in looks? Well, he's really pushy, and his way of expressing himself is so annoying that Stacy just has to cut him off, and then he gets all in her face about that. Now, Stacy goes overboard, accusing Brent of being "physically threatening" and saying she can't work with him and they need to oust him right now. Interesting concept, the team firing somebody. How exactly does that work? Well, both Stacy and Brent are lawyers, so presumably there was some legalistic discussion of the concept, but it must have been boring, because we don't get to see it. Bottom line: Synergy wasted time.

Meanwhile, Michael comes up with the Synergy concept: they will all wear bathrobes, and then people in the street will all -- he predicts -- want to know why and will be ready to text message to find out the answer. Hilarious! Somehow they don't realize that everyone on the street will avoid a person in a bathrobe. Well, at least a guy in a bathrobe. Ivana Trump is the new Carolyn and she's all "Oh, bathrobes?" Some of these folks look especially atrocious in bathrobes. Brent's got the belt up under his man-boobs with his undershirted belly hanging out below and, further down, hairy, scabby legs. They go to Times Square. Who would interact with such a man in Times Square? And then he busts out dancing. In flip-flops. And doing Devo-style "robotics."

Meanwhile, Gold Rush's leader Lee ends up ceding authority to Lenny, who's totally right about getting out early and having no gimmicks. We see little of these folks, and in the world of reality show editing, we know the other team lost. And yes, of course, that's what happens.

The "reward" for Gold Rush is to help three down-and-out guys each get a nice suit of clothes together to help them get back to work. Trump preens over the astounding charitableness of this activity. We cringe.

The Synergy gang gangs up on Brent. Michael, who's surely got to know he's on the line for the boneheaded bathrobe concept, emotes about "the aggressiveness that he took out on our female." Stacy now wobbles and says that Brent didn't "threaten" her. She must realize that to claim to have been threatened by a little verbal confrontation and close physical proximity is to reveal weakness. She's wracking her brains trying to pitch this right so that Brent goes down, and she can't quite figure it out.

In the Boardroom, there's plenty of pressure on Brent, but Trump sniffs out the problems with Pepi (the leader, why didn't he lead?), Stacy (you were threatened?), and Michael (bathrobes?). Trump announces he's going to fire two. Keeping up the suspense. We think, so, Brent and who else? And then he fires Stacy and Pepi! As they are leaving, we see Brent in the elevator. He's smirking devilishly. Ha!

"I was yelling about the sandwiches...."

"... for more than nineteen weeks."

The Solomon Amendment is upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court.

SCOTUSblog reports:
A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday upheld the "Solomon Amendment" that assures military recruiters they may seek to sign up students at the nation's law schools. The Court ruled that the military must be given access even though it violates the law schools' policy against facilitating discrimination against homosexuals. Moreover, the Court declared, law schools could not exclude the military even if they also excluded all other potential employers that declined to hire gays and lesbians.
Chief Justice Roberts writes the opinion. There are no additional opinions. (Alito, of course, does not participate.)

As the unanimity indicates, this outcome was not at all surprising. Here's my post on the reports after the oral argument, at which point it was rather obvious that the government was going to win.

(I dread seeing all the opinion pieces that connect this case to "Brokeback Mountain" not winning the Best Picture Oscar.)

MORE: From the case:
The law schools object to having to treat military recruiters like other recruiters, but that regulation of conduct does not violate the First Amendment. To the extent that the Solomon Amendment incidentally affects expression, the law schools' effort to cast themselves as just like the schoolchildren in Barnette, the parade organizers in Hurley, and the Boy Scouts in Dale plainly overstates the expressive nature of their activity and the impact of the Solomon Amendment on it, while exaggerating the reach of our First Amendment precedents.

YET MORE: I want to express my deepest thanks to Chief Justice Roberts for gathering the Justices onto one clearly written opinion. There is no blather or hedging in the prose. He has obviously taken great pains to put every sentence in plain English. He deals with all the precedents, handling most of the cases in one or two crisp sentences. You may not appreciate how beautiful this thinking and writing is, but I do, and I think generations of law students will.

"Oscar night is no longer about movie stars feting each other in front of an awed audience. It's about viewers deconstructing celebrity...."

Alessandra Stanley on the Oscars show:
Oscar night is no longer about movie stars feting each other in front of an awed audience. It's about viewers deconstructing celebrity — abetted by a cottage industry of stylists, dermatologists, surgeons and trainers who reveal the fakery behind even the most seemingly natural beauties: celebrity with a dehumanized face. And TV commentators fawn and probe on pre-Oscar shows and red-carpet interviews with little to no curiosity about filmmaking or news events but insatiable appetite for details about clothes and personal grooming. (There is something delicious and embarrassingly decadent about the national obsession with the Oscars — an entire country caught eating raw cookie dough while reading "in Touch.")
No, no, what would really be embarrassing would be if we were the "awed audience" they'd like us to be. We're doing exactly what we should be doing, eating the cookie dough of truth.

"Splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat."

Adam Nagourney writes about the difficulty Democrats running for Congress are having finding a coherent theme:
These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.

But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.

And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994.

Interviews with Democratic challengers in contested districts suggest that the party is far from settling on an overarching theme that will work as well in central Connecticut as it does in central Colorado.

And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.

"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.

"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."...

Democrats pointed out that Republicans did not offer their Contract With America until the final weeks of the 1994 campaign and said that they were planning to offer their own version by summer.
I didn't think much of the Contract With America, and it's fine with me if the parties don't have coherent themes. I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004. But that's just me. Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently. I think it's much harder to convince people that the party needs to take over than that an individual candidate is worthy. And that's very good, it seems to me. In any case, if they've got to coalesce into a theme, I think they are right to wait until they get much closer to the election. We've got 8 months yet.

Where's my NYT?

We've been getting some serious snow these last two days, and the worst part about it is that I can't find my New York Times. The snow shoveling guys might have covered it up, or maybe it just didn't come. Trying to get the day started without the foundation of the paper Times is hard for me. Am I just supposed to read the website? Why does that feel so awkward to me, when I do so much other reading on line? It's a mental quirk of mine. I've had the Times delivered for the entire time I've lived in Wisconsin, over 20 years. Why the NYT? It's not just that I was living in New York before I came here, it's that the NYT delivered out here, and the local papers are completely insubstantial. I've become quite attached to it, in its traditional form.

Oscar afterthoughts.

That was a long night of blogging yesterday! But watching the Oscars without blogging is much more of a slog. And I relied heavily on TiVo, so, really, it was a snap compared to just sitting around watching in real time. I skipped nearly all of the speeches, all of the commercials, all of the walking to the the stage, and (the best part) all of the singing. I also skipped all the pre-shows, so I didn't really get the chance to see as much of the fashions as I would have liked. I also got so preoccupied writing that I didn't check around to see what other folks were writing.

This morning I see that this character, apparently a somewhat popular blogger, spent the entire evening simulblogging my simulblogging. His motivation seems to have been that he had me pegged as a conservative, the sort of person he despises, so he was going to wait around and jump on me for jumping on Hollywood for being liberal. In classic lefty form, he makes plainly sexist remarks without seeming to think it counts against him! And his commenters fail to call him on it. His long post mostly consists of my statements, copied. To this he adds his repeated assertions that I'm boring and boys won't like me because I'm mean and his generic comments that mostly just express antagonism toward a crude right-wing stereotype that has little to do with me (including imputations of racism based on utterly nothing that appears in my post). What a shameful display! He does append a meager apology at the end, when it seems to finally dawn on him that he'd been off in some fantasy world of his own all night, ideating about me. What the very idea of a woman with opinions does to a man's... mind! Oh, and one of our regular commenters, who stooped to a sexist insult against me here yesterday, shows up over there and preens about that insult, without admitting that it was a sexist insult and that he apologized for it here. Apology not accepted!

Anyway, I didn't get much chance to talk about politics, because, even with Jon Stewart hosting, I heard very little politics. I think somebody thought a lot about how to avoid offending ordinary Americans, whom they need to keep going to the movies, when they had a political host and so many heavily political or politicized movies among the nominees. The memo seems to have gone out. Quite rationally, the decision was to focus on the positive, how Hollywood has supported good values, like ending bigotry. The war and President Bush were not mentioned (or if they were, it was rare and I missed it). I think the stars were advised to act serious and elegant. Perhaps they were told to play Old Hollywood. Something caused nearly all the women to wear either black or beige dresses and to pull their hair back into a soft bun. Something caused the presenters to drain the life and playfulness out of their voices. They really do want us to love them, but when we see how they act when they are trying to win our love, we get a sense of what they really think we are like. We're the people in the dark, featureless, mindless. They were trying to fit in with us. A dreary display!

I haven't read the newspaper commentary yet, but I assume there will be a lot of analysis of why "Crash" beat out "Brokeback Mountain." Were the Hollywooders trying to make the America it imagines like them? It's hard to see how group behavior can mean that much. It can't be just a matter of getting tired of the frontrunner, because there were so many other predictable winners last night. What about the possibility that "Crash" is actually a better movie? But maybe the voters really did think it was a good idea to express their social consciousness in the anti-racism mode rather than the anti-homophobia mode, because America's caught up on the proposition that racism is wrong.

March 5, 2006

Simulblogging the Oscars.

7 (Central Time). A slow-moving intro for Jon Stewart, showing Oscar hosts of the past declining to re-host. We see Billy Crystal and Chris Rock shacking up together in a tent, for the first gay joke of the night. The second one comes a minute later when we see Jon Stewart waking up in bed with George Clooney. It's funny, see? Because men having sex with each other is funny... or not... Stewart begins with a reference to "Death to Smoochy," which is what he always does on "The Daily Show" when he interviews a high-quality actor. "The Oscars is the one night of the year when you can see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party" -- that gets a very mild laugh and I think I see suppressed panic on Stewart's face.

7:10. Gay cowboy montage. Pretty funny. A lot like all those parodies of the "Brokeback Mountain" trailer, but they came up with some nice clips.

7:16. Best Supporting Actor... I've seen two of the performances: by William Hurt and Matt Dillon. They give it to George Clooney. "We are a little bit out of touch here in Hollywood. And it's probably a good thing." Blah, blah, we're great, ahead of the rest of this benighted country.

7:25. They waste our time with a clip of Tom Hanks demonstrating how award winners shouldn't waste our time. Ben Stiller comes out in a green suit -- and powerfully sucking in his abs -- to talk about special effects. "King Kong" wins. Jon Stewart thanks Stiller for wearing a unitard. Reese Witherspoon is next, and she's very well trussed into a sparkly beige dress. Hey, I'm just noticing how cool the stage set is. The award she's announcing is animation, and I love seeing the clips, especially for "Howl's Moving Castle." "Wallace and Grommit" wins. The guys that win are wearing giant bow ties. Next out is Naomi Watts, and she too is wearing beige. Her dress has a tattery "destroyed" look. She introduces Dolly Parton who is shockingly, scarily anorexic! She's wearing a white pantsuit, and her breasts are still huge, but beneath them, there is nearly the complete absence of a body.

7:42. Jon Stewart is mocking Scientology. Surely, there is at least one religion we feel utterly free to mock. Now, it's the Wilson brothers. They announce two awards no one cares about. Really, who even gets a chance to see the shorts? At least with the animated ones we get to get a look at some animation. They bring out some "Chicken Little" characters to take over. "Seriously, Mr. Eisner, what's up with ducks and no pants?" Good question!

7:48. Jennifer Aniston comes out in a beautiful black dress and mega-diamonds. She's doing best costumes. She belabors her lines, as if she's a schoolteacher pissed at us for not doing our homework. "Memoirs of a Geisha" wins. Russell Crowe robotically introduces a montage about biopics. "Pierre, we've discovered a new element." "If we win, well, then we'll have what none of us have ever had before: a country of our own." Yeah, there have been some pretty cool biopics over the year. But, generally, the genre is a big drag.

7:57. Will Ferrell and Steve Carell come out in terrible makeup to announce the makeup award. Carell is wearing false eyelashes. "Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy." Ridiculous! "Star Wars" doesn't win. "Narnia" wins, and it looked pretty cool in the clip. Stewart makes his best joke of the night, expressing surprise that "Cinderella Man" didn't win: "Imagine the difficulty in making Russell Crowe look like he got into a fight." He points to a giant Oscar prop and says "Do you think if we all got together and pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?" A political joke. The quickie technical awards recap follows. TiVo time! Ah, don't go too fast, here's Best Supporting Actress, announced by Morgan Freeman, who's wearing an ascot instead of a tie. Rachel Weisz wins. She's wearing a black dress, which nicely supports big, swelling breasts, and she's got tastefully dangly diamond earrings. She says nothing notable.

8:11. Lauren Bacall walks out stiffly. She's wearing a black pantsuit, and she seems short of breath. She's blabbing about film noir. Montage. "I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner."

8:15. A nice "Daily Show" style piece with fake ads for actresses is followed by a flatfooted intro for the documentary awards. An unfortunate juxtaposition. Another Woman in Black: Charlize Theron. (All the women are in beige or black. Did some neutrality order go out?) What will win for feature documentary? Surely, it must be the penguins. Yes, it is. The accepters bring stuffed penguins up and one guy whistles "thank you in Penguin." Another guy makes some comment about tuxedos, "penguin suits." At least, they thought of ideas. Jennifer Lopez is pushing the beige envelope toward a kind of greeny brown. She's even more robotic that Russell Crowe, but she says something about making "human contact." It's an intro to another song. TiVo, save me!

8:32. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Again with the black dress. And the ponderous delivery. Did some memo go out? Be elegant. And this is how it came out. "Geisha" gets set decoration. Samuel Jackson tells us Hollywood is unafraid! Issue films change the world, don't you know? Montage time. "Call me Mr. Tibbs!" "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" A roomful of Hollywood prissily applauds itself. Stewart: "And none of those issues were ever a problem again."

8:44. Salma Hayek busts out the non-neutrality by wearing a brilliant blue dress. She introduces the conductor, and the coolest part of this is not that we get to see where they tucked away the orchestra, but that the conductor has two packets of M&Ms. I'm using red wine to get me through this ordeal, but the maestro is going with the M&Ms, which, presumably, work too. So what wins for o-REE-gi-nal score? "Brokeback Mountain." Yeah, I know this score... from all those trailer parodies. It's supposed to feel serious, but, too me, it feels comic.

8:56. Jake Gyllenhall woodenly reads lines about how important it is to see movies on the big screen. Translation: please help us with our box office problem. We see a montage about spectacle. Which, ironically, we're seeing on our small screens. They end with the shot from "Gone With the Wind" that comes right before the intermission, which reminds me of one of the main reasons to prefer the home screen. You can break up the physical ordeal of sitting through it however you choose. Stewart: "Wow, I can't wait 'til later when we see Oscar's salute to montages." Good one! "Holy crap! We're out of clips. We're literally out of film clips. If you have film clips, send them, please. We have another three hours." Next comes Jessica Alba to botch her lines along with some guy. The lines are about... damn, I don't know. I fast-forwarded. But "King Kong" got it. Oh, it's sound mixing. Dull!

Bring out Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep to give the special award to Robert Altman. Tomlin's face is much larger than Streep's. But Streep's earrings are way longer and her neckline is way plungier. They do a comic routine that's supposed to demonstrate the Altman style by having a lot of talking over each other. Then, the montage. Well, damn, they just wore us out with montages up to the point where Stewart made a too-many-montages joke. Way to treat an honoree. TiVo.

Intro to another song. TiVo. Queen Latifah announces the song award, and the pimp song wins. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The room is jubilant; America, perhaps not so. Stewart tries to come up with a joke. Sound editing is the next award. A big bore, but they do another "Daily Show" fake ads thing. Jennifer Garner! Beige... but she almost trips! "King Kong" wins.

Now, we need to endure Clooney again. "Academy Award winner, George Clooney." But it's the best part: "In Memoriam" -- the dead ones! Biggest applause: Shelley Winters, Anne Bancroft. Getting surprisingly little: Robert Wise, Richard Pryor.

9:37. Will Smith hands out Best Foreign Language Film. He does some impressive fast-talking in some foreign languages. The winner is "Tsotsi," the South African film. Next, Film Editing. The winner is "Crash," which is a good choice. A lot was done with editing in that movie. Next, Best Actor! Hillary Swank presents (in black). As expected, the winner is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's overwhelmed. He's got lots of folks to thank. He loves them. He loves his mom. "She took me to my first play.... Her passions became my passions."

9:54. It's John Travolta, introducing the Cinematography nominees. I only saw one of these: "Batman Begins," which I seriously doubt can win. Again, "Geisha" wins. It's doing well with the lesser awards. Jamie Foxx gets to do Best Actress. Here's our best hope for an emotive acceptance speech. Wow, Charlize Theron has a black dress with a pouf the size of her head on her shoulder. As expected, the winner is Reese Witherspoon. I love her in "Election." She's really cool, a distinctive actress today. That means something. She seems like a good person. "I'm just trying to matter and live a good life."

10:07. Dustin Hoffman is doing the adapted screenplay award. Weird that this one is coming so late. Did writers get upgraded? Unsurprisingly, "Brokeback Mountain" wins. Uma Thurman -- in beige! -- announces original screenplay. "Crash" wins. Tom Hanks announces Director. Unsurprisingly, Ang Lee wins for "Brokeback Mountain" (and I wrote that before the award is announced). Jack and Ennis taught us about "not just the gay mans" but "the greatness of love itself." And, finally, it's good old Jack Nicholson to tells about the best "moption" picture of the year. And the shock of the night...

"Crash"!


Nicholson points his fingers up and mouths "Wow!"

Wow, indeed! After all that predictability! I actually saw that one. It was pretty good. What the hell did I say about it. Let's see:
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.
UPDATE: For my morning after observations, go here.

Audible Althouse #39.

A new podcast for you: getting ready for Oscar night, looking at a snow-covered tree, why I like to simulblog TV shows I don't like, why I'm not one of your "wonderful people in the dark," three posts about pee, leaving religion out of "Walk the Line," Tony Blair's mention of God, and the gender mysteries of Don Knotts.

You don't need an iPod to listen. You can stream it right on your computer here.

UPDATE: The clip is fixed now.

At last, the blook!

Richard Lawrence Cohen, who's been my ex-husband for lo these many years, has had a book manufactured from what he's decided are the best posts on his blog. I've linked to his blog a lot, so you probably know if you like the style or not, and I know some of my commenters have become regular commenters over there, so clearly some of you do.

So how do blog posts look in book form? He observes:
It looks good, and I'm pleased that the posts, placed one after another in a nice typeface on good paper, form a unity that makes them still more meaningful: a literary self-portrait in several forms, covering the course of a year.

In a second post today I'll tell give you some further glimpses, but in this one I just want to offer you the table of contents (which is very long because the book contains 89 posts). Those of you who are familiar with my work can go back to any of the listed posts if you wish, and remind yourselves of what you liked in them. Those of you who haven't read certain posts before -- ones from months ago, perhaps -- can dip into them as previews of the book.

The posts are arranged in chronological order, except for the last one listed. An author's preface introduces the book.

To find a post on this blog, type or cut-and-paste the title into the white search bar at the top of this page. Then click "Search This Blog". Click on the link provided by the search results.
That is, you totally don't have to buy the book to read every single thing in it (other than the preface). Info on buying his book is in the sidebar. It's great that you can sell your blook through the major bookstore sites!

"A unity that makes them still more meaningful"? So he's asserting that his own blog posts are meaningful? Well, the very act of publishing your writing is an assertion that what you've got to say is meaningful. Or do we bloggers seem to be saying only here it is, for whatever it's worth. I'm not saying it means a damn thing. It's just the latest thing that dribbled out of my head.

Nevertheless, when you blook your blog you're definitely asserting that these posts were meaningful and I'm now making them even more meaningful. So what the hell? Why not say it?

"I just feel that filmmakers are much more proactive since the second Bush administration."

Says Steven Spielberg. "I think that everybody is trying to declare their independence and state their case for things that we believe in. No one is really representing us, so we're representing our own feelings, and we're trying to strike back."
Emanuel Levy, professor of critical studies in the UCLA Film School and author of the book "All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards," said he thinks the tremors of a post-9/11 world have just caught up with Hollywood in this year's Academy Award races. Levy said that when society faces a divisive issue, such as the war in Iraq or the response to terrorism, critical movies emerge, but not immediately.

There is an expression in Hollywood that the studios make movies about what people were talking about last year. There is always a lag between idea and premiere. "Munich" took six years to reach the multiplex. "Brokeback Mountain" took eight. "Syriana" is based on a book written during the Clinton administration.
In other words, Spielberg is totally bullshitting. It's not about Bush, it's about Clinton.

Are we really going to watch the Oscars when we haven't seen the films?

Manohla Dargis writes:
TONIGHT, an expected 41 million Americans will tune into the 78th annual Academy Awards to watch a spectacle largely honoring films they have not seen and may never get around to watching....

There are all sorts of reasons why "Munich," along with "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" were nominated for best picture (they're pretty good, for one) and a couple of reasons why we should care. Among the most obvious and discomfiting, however, is that Big Hollywood increasingly finds it difficult to make the kinds of high-profile movies that the industry likes to honor with its most important awards.
Well, I'm going to watch -- with TiVo to leap the longueurs -- because I like simulblogging this sort of thing. See! I simulblogged the Oscars last year. Wasn't that amusing?

The Dargis conclusion:
The crisis now facing Hollywood isn't unique to the movies; the atomization of the culture makes it hard to know what people want, particularly when they belong to a multi-everything society like ours. Still, something will be lost if Hollywood continues to downsize its ambitions and fails to make movies that connect with the mass audience, to make movies that speak to us as a unified whole rather than as a mass of self-interested egos, that give us a sense of collective identity and social cohesion. A nation of iPod-people, each staring at his or her individually downloaded film on the delivery system of his or her choice, seems a poor substitute for the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark.
Yeah, well, that crowd is slurping gallons of soda and popping up to pee every 5 minutes, so spare me the old blather about communion in the dark -- which sounds like something Norma Desmond would say:
And I promise you I'll never desert you again because after 'Salome' we'll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!
Maybe we've about had it with being your wonderful people in the dark, communicants at your bogus church. Maybe this atomization of the culture is a good thing. We can find our affiliative connections over small things through blogging and other internet methods. And these will be much richer, better connections. Since the new movies can be made and distributed cheaply, digitally, real artists can reach out to us with film, and we will be here -- yes, with our iPods -- to listen to them.

Oh, but something will be lost? You're looking for "a unified whole rather than ... a mass of self-interested egos"? Excuse me if I -- ooh, I'm so egotistical! -- opt out of your dream, which reminds me, somehow, of all of my least favorite political schemes.

"Grey Gardens," the musical.

I've already blogged about my great love for the film "Grey Gardens." Here, I respond to the charge that I've phonied up the list of favorite films in my Blogger profile as a way to make myself appear more sexually attractive. And here I describe an at-home triple feature where I inflict it on friends, including the one who made the aforementioned charge.

Now, there's an Off-Broadway musical based on the film. Here's the NYT piece on it, which includes a photograph that should hearten the film's devotees:



That really captures the mood well, doesn't it? From the article:
"Grey Gardens" also developed a following among people, gay men especially, who responded both to the implicit campiness of the film — two faded old biddies, preening and bickering and singing Cole Porter tunes in lah-dee-dah accents — and to the women's eccentricity, originality and uncompromising independence. The two Edies, a cross between the Collyer brothers and Miss Havisham and Estella, are a bizarre version of the American family but ultimately an affectionate and mutually sustaining one. Their admirers include numbers of men who love to watch the film while dressed in drag and reciting the dialogue from memory.
Dressed in drag? Well, presumaby you are wearing the skirt on you head, right? It's the perfect costume for the day.
Even before seeing the musical, some of the diehards are charging sacrilege. Scott Frankel, who was the prime mover behind this production of "Grey Gardens" and wrote the music for it, has been accosted on the street by outraged fans of the film saying "How could you!" Doug Wright, who wrote the book for the musical, said recently: "It's like adapting the Bible. You do feel a certain responsibility."...

... Mr. Frankel called in Mr. Wright, a Yale classmate and the author of both the movie "Quills" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "I Am My Own Wife." Mr. Wright told him he was nuts. "I said I adored the movie, but what you have in mind can't be done," he recalled. "How can you have a two-act musical where nothing happens? It wasn't until they came to me with the tablecloth that I realized there could be a narrative shape."

The tablecloth — a paper one, from Ernie's restaurant on the Upper West Side — was the handiwork of Mr. Frankel and Mr. Korie, who wrote the libretto for "Harvey Milk," among other operas, and who was starting to think about lyrics for the show. It had two boxes drawn on it, one labeled 1941 and the other 1973, depicting the solution the two men had arrived over dinner in the fall of 2003: to create an entire first act set in the past, when Big Edie was in her prime and Little Edie was known in debutante circles as Body Beautiful Beale, and a second set in the actual period of the film.

"We had been playing with the idea of flashbacks, but that just seemed like 'Follies,' " Mr. Frankel recalled. "But then we began thinking about what really happened. What if we saw what life was like at Grey Gardens before it became this hothouse terrarium?"
It will be interesting to see how that works. One of the great charms of the film is the way you discover the past, at surprising little moments, like when the camera shows a beautiful oil portrait of Big Edie, who is laughing about how the cat is "enjoying" itself by pissing behind it.

Do we understand from the musical any more than from the film what brought these women to this condition?
"I kept trying to get a clinical fix on them," Mr. Frankel said, "and my allegiances kept shifting. At first I thought Big Edie was a narcissist who created a sort of bohemian salon for herself at Grey Gardens, and didn't equip her daughter to live an independent, creative life. But then I began to wonder whether Little Edie was ever equipped to deal with the world. Was she mentally compromised? She knows what she should do, and yet she doesn't seem able to make it happen. So maybe Big Edie was in fact providing a safe haven for a daughter who couldn't manage in the world. We kept looking at it as an 'or' proposition, but through talking to Albert we came to see it as an 'and' proposition."
Have you figured it out?

Here's the piece NPR ran this morning, which gives you a chance to hear some of the music. The photo at the NPR page, unlike the photo above, is worrisome for a "Grey Gardens" devotee.

Oh, and apparently, we're about to get a "Grey Gardens" movie too. With Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange!

"Since the man who told me off for my less than perfect hijab was carrying a gun I didn't argue back."

The travails of a female BBC reporter in Iran.

One woman, one man -- and Manitowoc.

Here in Wisconsin, we're contemplating a state constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to one man and one woman. How is this affecting people aroung the state? Consider the congregation at the First Reformed United Church of Christ on Waldo Boulevard, Manitowoc:
The local congregation, with 275 members, is scheduled to vote on March 19 whether it should bless same-sex marriages.

At its annual meeting last Sunday, members approved a motion for a congregational vote on the issue....

[The UCC's General Synod adoped a resolution] titled "In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All," passed by national delegates in Atlanta last July.

It urges UCC congregations to support local, state and national legislation to grant equal marriage rights to couples regardless of gender....

First Reformed's pastor, the Rev. Richard Runge, recognizes the issue's divisiveness.

"I would prefer no vote at all ... my preference would be more dialogue and discussion and more thinking and praying about it," he said.

The UCC General Synod speaks to — not for — congregations which are free to accept or reject any or all resolutions offered at the national meeting held every two years.

After last July's gathering, Runge said he made it clear he supported the equal marriage rights stance of the general synod. For him it is a matter of justice, not morality.

"Marriage has to do with love, faith and commitment and knowing you care about someone and that special someone cares about you ... whether a man and woman or two men or two women," Runge said.

Church member Dick Weber believes Runge holds a minority viewpoint, both within First Reformed and the society at large.

Weber opposes same sex marriage.

"It is a moral issue to me," he said. "I am not criticizing homosexuals coming to church. We have always had a church open to all," Weber said.

But Weber believes his church must distance itself from the General Synod's position or risk people assuming the Manitowoc church also endorses gay marriage.

Fellow members saying it is OK for a gay couple to be at worship services, while a blessing ceremony for their relationship would be forbidden, mystifies Lisa Bergner.

She wonders how they could possibly feel welcomed. No matter how the March 19 vote goes, she vows to remain a First Reformed member.

"I will welcome everyone who walks in our door no matter the color of their skin or sexual orientation, and I believe the majority of our members will," Bergner said.

Kevin Schmidt on Sunday proposed the vote. "First Reformed Church needs to take an opinion so people know what they are believing in," he said following approval of his motion.
It's interesting -- isn't it? -- this idea that we need to believe in something as a group. First Reformed Church needs to take an opinion so people know what they are believing in. When I first read that, I thought the man meant that he needed his church to take a position so that he could know his own beliefs. But I think he means that the group as a body needs to take a position so that members know what sort of an organization they are part of and outsiders can decide what they think of the place. But it's an odd locution to say that people need to know what they are believing in.

The issue to be voted on in Wisconsin is whether a ban on gay marriage belongs in the state constitution, not whether homosexuality is a sin or whether gay marriage is a good idea. There are ever so many sins that are not burdened by provisions in the state constitution and ever so many bad personal choices that the law doesn't go out of its way to prevent individuals from making. But this congregation is reacting to the resolution adopted by the General Synod as much as the proposed vote on the amendment. Gay marriage has been forefronted as a political issue, and now this little church has decided it needs to take an official position on a subject that it seems as though it would have preferred not to address or at least, as the pastor says, to address in the mellow fashion of more dialogue and discussion and more thinking and praying.

March 4, 2006

"I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."

Says Sheik Reda Shata, the imam of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge:
Day after day, he must find ways to reconcile Muslim tradition with American life. Little in his rural Egyptian upbringing or years of Islamic scholarship prepared him for the challenge of leading a mosque in America....

"America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility," said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. "I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."...

Mr. Shata settles dowries, confronts wife abusers, brokers business deals and tries to arrange marriages. He approaches each problem with an almost scientific certainty that it can be solved. "I try to be more of a doctor than a judge," said Mr. Shata. "A judge sentences. A doctor tries to remedy."...

It is a woman's right, Mr. Shata believes, to remove her hijab if she feels threatened. Muslims can take jobs serving alcohol and pork, he says, but only if other work cannot be found. Oral sex is acceptable, but only between married couples. Mortgages, he says, are necessary to move forward in America.

"Islam is supposed to make a person's life easier, not harder," Mr. Shata explained.
Much more at the link.

"All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders."

Henry M. Morris, dead at 87:
Dr. Morris was a hydraulic engineer and taught at several universities before developing his critique of evolution and a history of Earth that spans 4.5 billion years in the 1961 work "The Genesis Flood." The book, written with the theologian John C. Whitcomb, was the first to take a scholarly approach to proving the Old Testament creation story, and it argued that Noah's flood, rather than eons of erosion, sculptured the earth.

Considered the handbook of creationism, "The Genesis Flood" is in its 44th printing, having sold 250,000 copies in English.

"It was a groundbreaking work in that he basically, in this culture, in this day and age, showed that there were scientific answers to be able to defend the Christian faith and uphold the Bible's account," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a group based in Kentucky. Mr. Ham said that picking up a copy of the book in Brisbane, Australia, while a graduate student in 1974 was a transformational moment in his own life.

"The grass-roots movement you see across America right now, with the school board battles, with the students questioning evolution in colleges, all of that is really in a big part due to the work of Dr. Henry Morris," Mr. Ham said. "All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders."

Sounds like one hell of a book... and one hell of a flood.

Tony Blair mentions God.

Shocking!
Tony Blair says God and history will judge whether he was right to go to war in Iraq, according to the transcript of a television interview to be broadcast Saturday.

In a rare reference to his Christian religious faith, Blair told broadcaster Michael Parkinson he had struggled with his conscience over the decision.

When asked about sending troops to Iraq, he said: "That decision has to be taken and has to be lived with, and in the end there is a judgment that -- well, I think if you have faith about these things then you realize that judgment is made by other people," he said.

Asked to explain what he meant, Blair replied: "If you believe in God, it's made by God as well."

Parkinson asked Blair if he prayed to God when he decided to go to war in Iraq.

Blair replied: "Well, I don't want to get into something like that."

Pressed on the subject he answered: "Of course you struggle with your own conscience about it because people's lives are affected and it's one of these situations that I suppose very few people ever find themselves in.

"In the end you do what you think is the right thing."
That is a very minor reference to God, dragged out of him by the reporter.

The BBC analyzes the press response:
His submission to the judgement of God goes against years of warnings from advisers, says the Independent - not to mix politics and religion.

The Daily Mirror sees his TV interview with Michael Parkinson as "remarkable".

"The Judgement Day is some way off," it says, "but the judgement of the British people is critical of a bloody invasion as the death toll mounts."
The real issue here is whether we were right to go to war and, more importantly, how best to deal with the current state of things. Worrying about Blair's slight reference to religious belief shows either an aversion to religion or the usual pointless grasping for political arguments.

Should Christian "gay prevention" groups be penalized for practicing therapy without a license?

The AP reports:
In a report released Thursday in Miami Beach, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute ... said some Christian-based gay prevention and treatment groups have used the First Amendment protection of religion to avoid sanctions by state health officials seeking to enforce regulations on counselors who offer therapy without a license.

Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said officials need to ensure that those offering such therapies are licensed -- as opposed to simply being clergy -- and that clients and their parents should be informed about the programs' long-term success rates.

''Many of these programs are crossing the line as to what is approved under freedom of expression,'' Foreman said in an interview with reporters. ''This deserves attention. It deserves to be regulated.''
Much as I dislike these conversion efforts, I don't think having the government force them to fit a psychotherapy model is a good idea. Religious counseling operates in its own way and has for an awfully long time. Portraying psychotherapy as the only correct model is oppressive and not even very scientific. Have these professional psychotherapists proven the effectiveness of their approach?

The real controversy is over whether anyone should attempt to prevent homosexuality. Obviously, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute has a strong position on that. It is also a very persuasive position, and they have plenty of power to convince others that they are right about it. In this light, it is especially sad to see this turn toward government regulation to suppress the speech the oppose.

Because Hollywood is anti-religion, because character conflicts make better film stories, or because the outlaw persona is so cool?

Why did they leave religion out of "Walk the Line"?
"That dimension of Cash's life, which was present all the way through, was absent," said theRev. C. Clifton Black, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who criticized the film for that reason in a review for the magazine The Christian Century. "I was stunned."...

"He was a really committed Christian all his life," said Patrick Carr, who co-wrote Mr. Cash's 1997 autobiography. (The film was partly adapted from that book, but Mr. Carr was not part of the deal.) Mr. Cash even saw his drug addiction as his metaphorical years in the wilderness. "As he was going further into addiction, he knew he was traveling away from God; that's how he thought about it," Mr. Carr said. "He was feeling that he was completely separated from God, and that was the worst thing."

At the nadir of his addiction, Mr. Cash went to Nickajack Cave in Tennessee, crawled in as far as he could and essentially lay down to die. When he did, he had the sensation that "I was going to die at God's time, not mine," he wrote in his autobiography. When he walked out, he told his mother that God had prevented him from killing himself.
The cave scene isn't in the film.
Mr. Black and others have suggested that the role of religion in Mr. Cash's life was minimized because Hollywood generally shies away from such subject matter. But the issue could have just as much to do with the practical limits on making a satisfying film. "I wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter and the birth of rock 'n' roll," said James Mangold, who directed "Walk the Line" and wrote it with Gill Dennis. So, he explained, he tried to use Mr. Cash's love for Ms. Carter as a symbol for various forms of redemption.

"June was a figure of redemption," Mr. Mangold said, "beautiful in the way that God's light is beautiful."

Certainly, the movie presents an image of Johnny Cash that would appeal to a secular, urban audience: that of an outlaw who struggled to control his worst impulses.
Biopics choose the story to tell, and it's never the whole person. It's kind of like the way TV reality shows take the available footage on a contestant, decide which story would be most interesting to tell, and edit accordingly. A struggle that takes place inside a person's head is not very cinematic. You have to show him interacting with another person (unless you're going to depict dreams and hallucinations or just have him talking to himself or behaving expressively). And yet, I know that I avoided this biopic and others because I imagine scenes with the two actors just yelling at each other in a way that isn't going to contain any interesting ideas. You drink to much. I know, but I can't help it.

It's hard to make a movie. You can always say that another movie could have been made -- and critics often do. But with a biopic, people get the feeling that the choice of which story to tell matters in a special way, because this will be the movie about that person. So you can see why religionists feel aggrieved about the omissions in "Walk the Line."

---

I didn't see many movies this year, but I did see one that made me think it conspicuously omitted religion. Here's the old post.

March 3, 2006

"People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It."

Oddest book title of the year. Odder than "Rhino Horn Stockpile Management: Minimum Standards and Best Practices from East and Southern Africa."

That rhino horn title describes something real people are actually doing. "People Who Don't Know They're Dead," however, appears to be an insanely hostile self-help book -- that is to say, a book intended to help that will only make matters worse. Oh, no, wait. Here it is on Amazon:
In People Who Don't Know They're Dead, Gary Leon Hill tells a family story of how his Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth, Wally's sister, came to counsel dead spirits who took up residence in bodies that didn't belong to them. And in the telling, Hill elucidates much of what we know, or think we know, about life, death, consciousness, and the meaning of the universe.

When people die by accident, in violence, or maybe they're drunk, stoned, or angry, they get freeze-framed. Even if they die naturally but have no clue what to expect, they might not notice they're dead. It's frustrating to see and not be seen. It's frustrating to not know what you're supposed to do next. It's especially frustrating to be in someone else's body and think it's your own. That's if you're dead. If you're alive and that spirit has attached itself to you, well that's a whole other set of frustrations.

Hill has woven this fascinating story with the history and theory of what happens at death, with particular emphasis on the last 40 years and the work of various groundbreaking thinkers whose work helps inform our idea of what it is to live and to die.
Well, that's just nutty, but not in the way I imagined. I was thinking of a writer who viewed his fellow human beings as the equivalent of zombies, with no real mental life worth respecting.

Oscars.

I'm so not interested in the Oscars this year, but I guess I'll watch -- with TiVo to speed things up -- to see what Jon Stewart has to say.
"He's an outsider looking in at the system, which is always problematic with a show like that because it's the ultimate insiders show," Oscar show writer Bruce Vilanch told CNN....

"You never want to do badly, but you also don't want to paralyze yourself thinking about doing badly," Stewart told CNN. "Show business, you don't get into for the health plan. You get into it for the opportunities and the fun to try different stuff."
Are you going to watch out of excitement over who will win? Check out the predictions. It seems awfully predictable. Frankly, I don't even care who wins. I'm going to watch as a very distanced observer, and I'm going to blog.

National news: student pees in wastebasket!

Is this news? Well, if it is, can we give this poor teacher a little support? She made a judgment call that the student was trying to goof off, he behaved like a jerk, and now she must lose 10 days' pay? Disgusting!

IN THE COMMENTS: My readers and I seem to be on different sides on this one.

"Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression..."

Writes Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books:
... its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.

So in a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended. That principle is of particular importance in a nation that strives for racial and ethnic fairness. If weak or unpopular minorities wish to be protected from economic or legal discrimination by law — if they wish laws enacted that prohibit discrimination against them in employment, for instance — then they must be willing to tolerate whatever insults or ridicule people who oppose such legislation wish to offer to their fellow voters, because only a community that permits such insult as part of public debate may legitimately adopt such laws. If we expect bigots to accept the verdict of the majority once the majority has spoken, then we must permit them to express their bigotry in the process whose verdict we ask them to accept.
Yes, of course: free speech is part of the mechanism of democracy, and ridicule is an especially important form of political speech.

At the genocide museum in Suleimaniya, Kurdistan.

Michael Totten reports:
When you enter the museum you will walk through a long and winding hallway. The walls are covered with mirror shards. Each represents one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds murdered in the genocidal Anfal campaign. A river of twinkling lights lines the ceiling. Each represents one of the five thousand villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein....

The hardest thing to see was the cell used to hold children before they were murdered. My translator Alan read some of the messages carved into the wall.

“I was ten years old. But they changed my age to 18 for execution.”

“Dear Mom and Dad. I am going to be executed by the Baath. I will not see you again.”

BuzzMetrics.

Here's a WaPo article on the sophisticated software companies are using to track public opinion as it is expressed on the internet:
To capture the chatter, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a giant in the industry, uses software that collects hundreds of thousands of comments a day. The technology can scan for specific companies, products, brands, people -- anything searchable. It can slice data into a range of categories to quantify the number of times a subject was discussed online, the individuals who mentioned it and the communities where it appeared.
Examples of knowledge acquired by this amazing new technology? People are going to be wanting more snacks in the future, and they prefer "American Idol" to the Olympics.

Or do you find this technology ominous?

Talk Left speculates that the government is using these techniques too. Is that bad? Is ascertaining the drift of the on-line conversation be any more threatening than than taking political polls? This process of aggregating large numbers of statements to read the general opinion is quite different from monitoring an individual. But in any case, the individuals generating the statements are writing in a completely open public space. We can't say the government is invading our privacy when we are inviting the entire world to read us. Yet maybe something terrible is happening, and we blithe bloggers will live to regret it.

March 2, 2006

"American Idol" -- results.

42 million votes. It's like a presidential election! Oh, but if you could multiple vote in a presidential election, there'd be a billion votes, right?

They launch into a group sing of that horrible song "Love the One You're With." There's something abusive about pressuring young people to put their all into these lyrics, but they do. I pause to write this and see they are all doing that legs-apart crouch. Ugh! They are also all scrunching their eyes closed in faux bliss and curling their upper lips noseward in manufactured sass. Except there's Bucky, wiggling himself into an S shape. I think he's just trying to keep up.

Oh, the pain! This song was insufferably cheesy when Steven Stills tried to foist it on us in 1970. How can it even exist today?

Wow! Mandisa's dressed in a bare black top, showing off her rippling arm flesh and letting us see exactly how amazingly wide her hips are at the point where they merge with tree-trunk thighs. I'm impressed! She gives real meaning to the term pear-shaped. Yet this is the right fashion choice. You can't wear a muu-muu and read as young. Go with the jeans and the cute top and whatever it is you have under it.

They bring out last season's winner, Carrie Underwood. She sings a song called "Jesus Take the Wheel." I take it this song is already a hit, but, of course, I have never encountered it. I think there's something ineffably weird about "American Idol" promoting religious faith. They're trying to ape something that once was sincere in the American country tradition. It seems wrong to drag Jesus into that strained effort.

Brenna is the first to go. America, it turns out, is good at getting it right. Here's where TiVo comes in handy. I fast forward through her reprise of "Last Dance." The other "girl" to go is Heather Cox (not Kinnik Sky). Fast forward.

Now, the "guys." The bottom three are Sway, David Radford, and Kevin Corvais. And David -- the faux Sinatra -- goes first. America's smart, no? And the other guy to go is... Sway. Aw, that's sad!

UPDATE: If you're looking for the results for the newest show, click on the banner at the top of the page and scroll down to the most recent "American Idol -- results."

Thanks, TV Land!

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a nice obituary for Don Knotts, which included this:
His favorite episodes [of "The Andy Griffith Show"], he said, were "The Pickle Story," where Aunt Bee makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.
I was moved to program the TiVo to record some old episodes to see good old Don Knotts again. Based on the schedule, the episodes of the show that TiVo picked up were "The Rehabilitation of Otis" and "The Lucky Letter" -- both on the TV Land network. But the episodes they actually ran were "The Pickle Story" and "Barney and the Choir." That's awfully nice of them!

Laura Bush "chatted with a giant, colorful lion named Bhoombah who believes he is a descendant of one of India's many former kings."

She was visiting the set of "Galli Galli Sim Sim," the Indian "Sesame Street":
At the show's set -- designed to look like a middle-class Indian neighborhood -- Mrs. Bush and Indian social activist Nafisa Ali met [a 5-year-old inquisitive girl named] Chamki at a phone booth that doubles as cybercafe. Then they stopped outside a house to greet Bhoombah, who asked in his gruff voice how the first lady was doing.

"I'm doing great," replied Mrs. Bush....
Sorry I don't have a film clip! I don't know if there are cybercafes on the American "Sesame Street," but it's certainly not set in a middle-class neighborhood.

"A Reconsideration of Presumptions: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?"

That's the title of a talk to be given by UW lawprof Asifa Quraishi, on Monday, March 6th, at 12:00 noon, in Lubar Commons (at the UW Law School). Sponsored by the Middle Eastern Law Students Association.
This presentation will explore some of the issues involved in "reconciling" Islam with democracy, while highlighting some of the similarities (and the differences) between Islamic and Western legal systems.
Highly recommended!

"You either give up your cheap trips to Majorca, or you give up astronomy."

Astronomer freaks out about contrails.

"And I'll do a little live blogging with Arianna Huffington, if you know what I mean..."

"... What do I mean?" -- Steve Colbert, on last night's "Colbert Report."

"Why do I need to see her in Spandex? It has nothing to do with the quality of her mind."

Oh, spare me. We see the male politicians jogging about in their shorts all the time!

The NYT does "Project Runway."

The NYT has a big article on "Project Runway":
During Fashion Week in New York a catwalk show by four "Project Runway" designers was such a hot ticket that more than one industry pro seemed miffed at having to miss the presentation because it clashed with the Ralph Lauren show. "What was Ralph thinking?" asked an editor from Interview magazine.

Such is the power of the show that even the lifeless host, Heidi Klum, who was once described by a former modeling agent as having "the personality of a German sausage," has become a celebrity, right down to her signature kiss-off, "auf wiedersehen" (because, as we know, German is the language of high fashion)....

Just as "American Idol" aspirants are forced to cover tunes in wildly varying genres — a hillbilly trying his hand at Donna Summer — "Project Runway" contestants also have to be able to juggle everything from designing high-concept lingerie (Mr. Rice's take was based on lederhosen) to an outfit for an Olympic figure skater (Mr. Rice ruffled feathers with a frothy confection likened to a Thanksgiving turkey).

These kids have to be able to cut it. And pattern-make it. Then stitch it.

And especially dish it. At the heart of the show's appeal is the campy dramedy that ensues when already brittle personalities, possessed of the ego and drive that drew them to the fashion world in the first place, are thrown together on a deadline. Viewers are transfixed not only by watching the contestants cut up their favorite outfits to make a dress, but also by watching them fashion their personas.
Nice article, though it mostly describes the show for people who don't watch it or who still don't get why America loves reality TV. I'd like to have more of the story I can't get to on my own: the details of what individual fashion industry people think of the show. Let's hear their jealous critiques!

"I can always make a pretty butt even prettier."

Says the buttock-augmenting plastic surgeon.
Last year 2,361 Americans had buttock augmentation surgery, almost four times as many as in 2002, the first year that the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery kept statistics on the procedure. The operation typically costs about $20,000....

Some women over 50 get the surgery to bulk up deflating derrières, while younger patients say they want larger buttocks to complement prominent busts. "I always got compliments for my front but never for my back," said Natalie Del Rio, 18, a high school student in Miami who had the procedure last month with Dr. Mendieta. "Now my mom says I look like a Coca-Cola bottle."
Presumably, the mother put up the money for all of this. What kind of a culture does this girl live in that she fretted that no one was talking about her ass?

Go to the link to read about the elaborate procedure that involves relocating two pounds of your own fat and that requires you to wear a "surgical girdle" and to avoid sitting down for weeks. All of this is supposed to make you more sexually attractive, but you have to be extremely pleasure-denying to go through with it. Well, what's the point of sex without irony?

And then there's the whole question of what the ideal ass is:
Two Mexican plastic surgeons, Dr. Ramón Cuenca-Guerra and Dr. Jorge Quezada, examined 132 patients and more than 1,000 photos and concluded that a beautiful bottom has four features: slight hollows on each side, a curved fold where the buttocks meet the thighs, a V-shape crease that looks like cleavage at the top and two dimples in the lower back. Dr. [Constantino] Mendieta also examined hundreds of photos but came to a different conclusion: that the overall shape of the buttocks is most important. He proposed that female buttocks come in four basic configurations: square, round, V-shape and A-shape.
Yes, it sounds ridiculous, the doctor who collects $20,000 for injecting a small bucket of fat into your ass had damned well better have done a lot of hard thinking about what shape he's after. And you'd better think it through carefully before going through the ordeal.

Blurb.

The NYT has a little piece about Blurb, which formats blogs into books. But it's way too expensive for a blogger to use commercially to produce a book to sell to readers. It's really offered as a way to make an archive of your blog as a keepsake or a gift. A 300-page book costs $80, with only a small discount if you order multiples, and the shipping costs are also high.

Do readers really want to go back and read the old material on a blog? If they do, the archives are right there. I suppose it would be an interesting exercise to go back and find the posts that seem more enduring. To gather those posts together, out of the their original context, would make a completely different impression. Who knows if it would be good or not? Much of the fun of blogging lies in its transience. Like life itself.

"Project Runway"/my house project -- it's almost over.

Did you watch "Project Runway" last night? I did, but very late -- via TiVo -- and I was way too tired to absorb all the subtleties. Yesterday was another Trash Eve, and, though I'm down to the end of the amazing 20-years of junk, I still had to work to the limit of my (pathetic) physical capacity to get bags, recyclables, and large items out to the curb. This house project is the most difficult physical task I've ever undertaken. It's just absurd. But once started, it has to be done. And there is so much to do. I've had to put time into it every day, with Trash Eve day being the peak time of each week, the chance to move things out of the house.

And then there was another "American Idol" to get through -- 90 minutes of the damned thing, plus the necessary blogging. That was a slog of a different kind. So, I could barely watch "Project Runway," and I certainly couldn't blog about it. Anything you'd like to say about it? I'm going to have to watch it again to actually absorb it, but I'll just say:

• Santino became some sort of a tragic figure, but I can't remember exactly why, other than that he was a terribly ugly little boy. That one photograph! Yeeeshhh! I'm influenced here by how Jay McCarroll (on "Project Jay") psychoanalyzed Santino, and maybe the "Project Runway" editors themselves adopted Jay's characterization of Santino. We see Santino with his friend's family. The cute little daughter seems to love him a lot, so he can't be a monster, right? He tells us that whole monster thing he was doing is a big overcompensation for the poor little Santino inside.

• Oh, and Santino said he's read all the blogs about him! Did you read my blog, Santino?

• Chloe has seven sisters, and we see her at her family home, the walls of which are festooned with drawings and photos of the eight daughters. We learn that the family began in Laos, where they all endured a year -- or was it more? -- in family prison. In classic immigrant fashion, she doesn't dwell on the sufferings. She states the facts and moves on. Those facts speak for themselves. (Contrast the way Santino told his story -- American style, including the internal psychology, with pleas to feel for him.)

• Daniel is the one with the perfectly comfortable middle class American life with perfect parents. Notably, they are perfectly fine with the fact that he's gay. I guess we're not supposed to root for him!

• We see some of the designs they have done for Fashion Week, and this is edited to make us think Santino has the jump on the others. He's got a muddily colored billowy dress with a lot of ruffles over the abdominal area, which for some reason Tim gushes over. Chloe is made to feel all nervous because she does not work by sketching. So what? She has her methods that got her this far. Why view them as defective now? Daniel has some tightly constructed black-and-white jacket and another piece with elaborate folds in the back, but for some reason, we're supposed to think he hasn't gotten very far.

• Obviously, the editors are trying to manufacture suspense and direct our expectations. I should be better at predicting what this means about who will win. Am I supposed to think Santino is getting the "winner's edit"? I forget how that works. Don't they misdirect too?

• They spring a new task on them. They must make one more piece, which none of them is hot to do. It throws them back into the style of working that they had to put up with before they made it to the final three. It's so demeaning, but we need to wrest some good TV out of them. The best part is that it provides an opportunity to bring back all the old contestants. They file in. Did you have one that you loved the most and felt especially happy to see? For me, it's Daniel Franco. He's adorable!

• Santino, Chloe, and Daniel V. must each pick one of the eliminated contestants to work with on the final task. Daniel goes first, and I predict that he will pick Nick, and he does. Too obvious! Wouldn't you pick Nick if you went first? He's got skills, and he's a nice person. Santino is next and, as I predict, he picks Andrae. He uses his Tim Gunn voice to express his desire for Andrae. Now, Chloe must pick, and she really should pick Kara, because it's just bad that Kara has been overlooked up to this point, but Chloe goes with Diana, the sweet geek -- who left the show early on. It's nice to have her back. Santino was very mean to her, saying, behind her back, that he hated her voice. She's seen the show now and knows he said it. And we know from the reunion show that she was hurt.

• So now Diana's back, with her newly empowered voice, which I hope irritates the hell out of Santino and throws him off during the final task. Or will he actually become a good person somehow and redeem himself?

Well, I remembered more of the show than I thought I did. It's funny how writing draws things out of the recesses of the mind. What did I miss? What did I get wrong?

It's pouring snow now, here in Madison, Wisconsin. Not enough to cancel class again. It will take another 20 years before it snows that way again. My trash is looking better out there layered in white.

March 1, 2006

"American Idol" -- the guys.

Gray-haired Taylor Hicks seems forced and played out. He shrugs and smirks in his mannered way.

Elliot Yamin sings a meandering and complex jazzy song that everyone seems to like. He's so unattractive, but we feel a certain bond nonetheless.

Ace Young. Is he sensitive or phony? I'm not sure what to make of him. He seems to be losing it.

Gedeon McKinney sings one of the the greatest of all songs: "A Change Is Gonna Come." It bursts with feeling, and even though he seems fundamentally cheesy whenever he's not singing, the singing was great.

Kevin Covais bops along to "I Heard I Through the Grapevine," but the tone of his voice is so measly compared to Marvin's. I just heard the Marvin Gaye version on the radio yesterday. I hope you haven't forgotten how deeply dimensional it is. How strangely raspy Marvin sang and still made it all come out sublimely melodic. It was beautiful. But we love the sweet young lad Kevin and wish him no harm.

Jose "Sway" Penala croons something nice.

Will Makar gushes about the profound experience of meeting Justin Guarini, and then he sings Kenny Rogers's "Lady." This is just too bizarre!

Bucky Covington. He gets all Bo tonight. The judges seem to find him authentic, and I guess he is. A lot of time is spent on his food preferences. He's a southern boy who just wants some nice biscuits, and L.A. is proving too much for the man. All that calamari and the tuna roll.

David Radford does an eerie Sinatra imitation. "The Way You Look Tonight." This can't work! He blinks his eyes ultra-slow. Creepy! (He means it to be seductive.)

Chris Daughtry. They love him. Simon: "This was the only performance that stands up in the real world."

UPDATE: Begging to Differ has a lot of "AI" analysis, nicely done. And don't miss Kim Cosmopolitan.

Books about one abstraction, in this case "cunning," and the infinite complexities of Tammy Faye.

An essay about a book on the subject of "cunning." (Via A&L Daily.) The book is by a lawprof, Don Herzog.
As Herzog says, the cunning learn how to mimic the virtuous. And the clever mimic the dull ("Do you suppose you fellows could teach me a bit about this game of poker you're playing?") That creates layers of ambiguous identities, like the mirrored personalities of double agents. Groucho Marx, as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup, offers reassurance: "Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot." To what extent, Herzog asks, does Tammy Faye Bakker's elaborately contrived make-up define her? Would she still be Tammy if her face were unadorned?
I haven't read the book. But I have seen "Duck Soup"! And I've seen "The Eyes of Tammy Faye." I wonder how deeply Herzog delved into the infinite complexities of Tammy Faye. Don't take that woman lightly. She means something!

The argument in the Anna Nicole Smith case.

Dahlia Lithwick tells us about the oral argument in the Anna Nicole Smith case. The legal issue in the case is awfully boring, and Smith, for her part, never does anything interesting in the courtroom, but Litwick does what she can to liven it up, making it seem as though the Justices, in pursuing the lawyers with questions, are rushing to the aid of the beautiful lady. It's still boring. The most amusing thing is something Scalia said that probably could be said somewhere in just about any oral argument: "Do you want to stand on that position or do you have a lesser position? One that might cause you to win?"

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Gay marriage will be on the ballot this fall in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:
The state Assembly voted 62-31 Tuesday to let voters decide whether to write a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions into the state constitution. But before the last lawmaker's vote was taken, supporters and opponents of the proposal were already looking past that action toward a costly campaign to win voters' support in November's popular referendum.

Opponents of the Republican-sponsored ban said they want Wisconsin to be the first state in the country to reject a proposed amendment, while supporters see the state as another chance to prove that upholding traditional marriage isn't just a Bible Belt issue.

With two years of preparation behind them, both sides promised a campaign that could run as high as several million dollars, include hundreds or even thousands of volunteers, and employ everything from the pulpit to Web sites and television ads.

"Wisconsin is significant because it's not a southern conservative state. It's not a state, I don't think, where the so-called religious right is considered to normally be a strong factor," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the pro-amendment Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "It's important because it's illustrative of the fact that defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman has very broad appeal throughout the American population."

Tim O'Brien of the Human Rights Campaign, also in Washington, D.C., also saw Wisconsin as important to his gay rights group's efforts to oppose the constitutional bans that have swept many states.

"When you look at the national landscape right now, Wisconsin is a place in which we believe that we have a great chance of succeeding," said O'Brien, a former state resident who's working with state groups to defeat the ban. "I think that Wisconsin is just leaps and bounds ahead of any other state that has had this occur."
Things will be exciting here over the next few months, it seems. Gay rights groups should place special importance on defeating the anti-gay marriage amendment here in Wisconsin, because they think they can win here and maybe turn the tide on this issue nationally. The anti-gay marriage forces will need to respond strongly, and that may not play well among the general populace of this state. The amendment is broadly worded:
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.
The second sentence goes beyond what is needed to satisfy traditionalists and takes a gratuitous swipe at benefits currently enjoyed by real families here in the state. I find it hard to believe that the decent, often religious citizens who think gay marriage is wrong will feel very good about the threat of depriving real individuals of insurance benefits. [ADDED: I'm referring to health insurance!] We will see these individuals in the TV ads, and the other side will be reduced to arguing that the language of the amendment doesn't really mean that. Trust us, they will say. Trust the courts to interpret the language of the amendment so that it won't mean the bad thing the gay rights groups are saying it will mean. You hypocrites! The argument for the amendment was that we can't trust the courts not to find rights for gay people in the unamended state constitution.