March 25, 2006

"Open Water."

I avoided this film when it was in the theaters. I avoid most films, so my avoidance means little. But I suppose I lacked the confidence that the story of two divers, abandoned in the ocean, could have enough substance to interest me. Of course, in some ways, the movie must be slight. Just two heads bobbing up and down in the immense blue expanse. What can two people say in this situation? They must bicker, then blame, then alternate between despairing and saying "I love you."

But tonight, I wanted to watch a movie, and what was there? HBO was showing "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," an appealing choice. I remember when that movie first came out on video. It was back when I was married, and my husband and I picked it out to bring home to a big family group, who ravaged us for picking popular fare. Yet we were right, were we not? History has proven us right!

But "Open Water" was on HDTV and "Ferris Bueller" was not, so we went with "Open Water." How do you film a movie full of waving, rippling water and two bobbing, wet actor-heads? Quite a challenge! How do you pitch the relationship? Will the man and woman bicker shallowly or emote hammily? Get somewhere interesting that avoids all that! There's a moment when the woman discovers a few hard candies, and they can finally soothe their dried out mouths. The luxuriating in the ordinary is cut short. This is the place for the shark.

I didn't know how the movie ended. And I won't reveal it, even though I think everyone else has already seen this film. But the story worked its way through to a satisfying ending.

It's not "Aguirre the Wrath of God," my favorite floating-on-water-'til-the-bitter-end movie, but it was solid. Artistic. I approve.

IN THE COMMENTS: Spoilers!

"You know, I wouldn't put it past him... He's a pretty sneaky guy."

"Might Mr. Dylan alter his set lists just to mess with the pool?"

"The Quran is very clear and the words of our prophet are very clear. There can only be one outcome: death."

So said cleric Khoja Ahmad Sediqi, a member of the Supreme Court in Afghanistan, speaking about the case against Abdul Rahman, who converted from Islam to Christianity. What is the specific text that is supposedly so clear? And where is the vigorous debate from people who know the Quran and have other interpretations? We keep hearing about how the charge of apostasy offends Western religious freedom values and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which the Afghan constitution adopts), but why are we not also hearing questioning of the asserted interpretation of the Quran? Why is this controversy allowed to appear to be only a conflict between Western values and Islam? In American law, if a jurist insisted a constitutional clause was very clear, and we didn't like his answer, we'd look at the clause for ourselves and debate about it.

What do parents say to kids who announce that they want to become teachers?

Here's a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (via A&L Daily):
In focus-group interviews that I conducted, candidates enrolled at the most-selective education schools reported having been told, "You are too smart to become a teacher" and feeling as if "I would probably end up living in my parents' basement with my wife and children." On another occasion, even a foundation executive who worked in urban-school reform told of having to bite his tongue when his son, who attended a top college, announced with pride that he was going to become a teacher. The executive was about to say, "Is that all you are going to do after all the money we spent on your education?"
I remember a print ad from quite a while ago, which must have been placed by the NEA. It showed an empty classroom and the line: "The sale is over." The "sale" was the cheap price society paid to hire teachers, back in the days when when other lines of work were closed or hostile to women and when women expected to receive lower pay. We've never really adjusted to the end of the sale on teachers, have we?

But beyond economics, I think it used to be much more ingrained in women that we should be unselfish and unmaterialistic. It was common to the point of mind-numbing triteness for girls, asked about careers, to answer, "I want to help people" or "I want to work with children" and, of course, "I don't care about money." Girls that didn't feel that way would disguise that fact, for fear of being thought not a good person. That's the way I remember it.

Should we sneer at arranged marriages?

Masuda Sultan, despite being divorced from an arranged marriage, defends the tradition in her book, "My War at Home":
"It's upsetting that people see your culture as backward, who say to me 'You poor victim,' " she said. "I think Westerners have a simplistic idea about arranged marriage. Mine didn't work out, but that was not the case for everyone, and it's not necessarily backward to do that."...

Within the United States, Afghans have been subversively transformed. Boys and girls court furtively or in Internet chat rooms. When suitors hit it off, they may ask parents to arrange the wedding, pretending they barely know each other. Still, Ms. Sultan said she would marry only a Muslim and might even allow her parents to introduce her to a prospective mate, though only on the condition that she get to know him.

"I have to believe there are people out there who can appreciate traditional values around family and community, but who can also appreciate me in my assertive, outspoken manner," she said.
All of the usual ways of getting human beings into marriage are flawed. I could be convinced that some approaches to arranged marriage are decent enough. But somehow, this article did nothing for me. Here is an author who is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government and rather antagonistic toward the American policy in Afghanistan. Why is she writing in the memoir form?
In telling her story, she has joined the growing ranks of Muslim women who are offering an insider's view of Muslim life at a post-9/11 moment when anxious Americans are curious, as Ms. Sultan says, about "what drives Muslims, how do they operate behind closed doors."

In the memoir "Reading Lolita in Tehran," Azar Nafisi describes a women's book club that debates the painful conflicts of living under Islamic law. In the novel "Brick Lane," Monica Ali writes affectingly about a Bangladeshi in London in an arranged marriage whose sister elopes in a "love marriage." And a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Asra Nomani, published "Standing Alone in Mecca," about her pilgrimage to Islam's most holy site last year.

More are on their way: Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize-winning Iranian human rights champion, will have a memoir out in May. And Ms. Ali's editor, Wendy Walker, is publishing a memoir in the fall by Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang-raped by order of a tribal court to avenge her brother's supposed misconduct.

David Ebershoff, an editor at large at Random House who edited Ms. Ebadi's book, said that these books have struck a chord with American readers because "the personal is a prism into the larger geopolitical story." Americans, he said, also respond to the conflicts of women having to juggle their working lives with more traditional roles of wife and mother — however perilous their experiences might be. In her memoir, Ms. Ebadi writes of the night that she was summoned to jail. On the way out the door she tells her daughters to order a pizza for dinner.
It seems that she's chosen the memoir form, despite the mismatch between her personal story and the message she wants to convey, because there's a good market for books like this. So the better question is perhaps not why is she writing a memoir, but why do Americans -- American women? -- love memoirs so much?

ADDED, to answer that question why we love memoirs: we like those parasocial relationships.

Bob Newhart tells a 9/11 joke.

You can joke about 9/11, can't you? You just have to find the right way to do it:
Reading recently about the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, his "button-down mind" found an angle on the 9/11 pilots, and he has been toying with it as a possible stand-up bit.

"They didn't want to learn to take off and land," he said. "They just wanted to fly. Some have criticized the F.B.I. because that should have been a red flag. But I saw it as a case of —" he studied his coffee table it as if it were a weekly planner — " 'O.K., well, I don't have to come in Monday; I can come in late Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday, O.K., that's flying; and then I don't have to come in Friday.'"

"How predictable sociology is."

Jeremy complains.
[W]ithout looking at anything else, I flipped ahead to the last page of the comment because I knew what would be there, and, lo, it was....

"He thought the man had an 'attitude,' then noticed the driver had no arms."

The news from New Zealand:
Senior Constable Brent Gray approached the driver's window, saw a foot on the dashboard and noticed the seat was reclined.

Mr Gray told colleagues he thought the man had an "attitude," then noticed the driver had no arms.
The man, who was born without arms, drove by using one foot to steer. He was caught driving 75 in a 60 mile an hour zone.
The driver told police he had never held a driving licence.

Ms Lack said the motorist had been a danger to fellow drivers because he was breaking the limit.

"Obviously, driving at a speed like that, arms or not, you're just waiting for an accident," she said.
"Arms or not" -- I love that. In any case, every time I drive in a 60 mile an hour zone in the U.S., pretty much everybody is going 75 or so. Arms or not.

Don't plagiarize.

What shortcuts are you taking now, that you might live to regret?

"You see all these pockmarks in his cheeks and he looks like an entirely different person -- and you go, 'Wow, is that Brad Pitt?'"

HDTV looks so good, it makes mere mortals look bad. Actually, the HD camera makes the picture so sharp, it's not just clearer than old-fashioned TV, it's clearer than what you see looking at the real world with your human eyeballs. It's exciting, but also distracting. You fixate on details of the set or some minor feature of a face. Don't succumb to that crazy absorption! Don't sit so close! That's what mothers have long said to kids watching TV, and there really wasn't any problem that needed solving. Now, with HDTV, we should sit farther back, to keep in touch with reality and to stave off that autistic focus on the unimportant.

"Window cleaner Ira Clemons put down his squeegee in the lobby of a city mall and stroked his goatee...."

Guess the topic of the MSM news article that begins its third paragraph thusly? It's: Do people want President Bush impeached? The goatee-squeegee guy does.

I don't know, do you spend any time thinking about the bubbling, fledgling impeachment movement?
It would be a considerable overstatement to say the fledgling impeachment movement threatens to topple a presidency -- there are just 33 House co-sponsors of a motion by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to investigate and perhaps impeach Bush, and a large majority of elected Democrats think it is a bad idea. But talk bubbles up in many corners of the nation, and on the Internet, where several Web sites have led the charge, giving liberals an outlet for anger that has been years in the making....

Democrats remain far from unified. Prominent party leaders -- and a large majority of those in Congress -- distance themselves from the effort. They say the very word is a distraction, that talk of impeachment and censure reflect the polarization of politics. Activists spend too many hours dialing Democratic politicians and angrily demanding impeachment votes, they say....

"Impeachment is an outlet for anger and frustration, which I share, but politics ain't therapy," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts liberal who declined to sign the Conyers resolution. "Bush would much rather debate impeachment than the disastrous war in Iraq."
Frank is right, obviously.

March 24, 2006

"It is the dirtiest little secret in higher education..."

That's a quote from one of the letters responding to that article about discriminating agains women in college admissions that we were just discussing. One Vaughn A. Carney writes:
Having served as an educator, administrator and admissions officer, I am obliged to note that the practice of "gender norming" in college admissions is hardly new.

It is the dirtiest little secret in higher education, primarily because it operates in favor of young white male applicants in the form of quotas. Without this practice, nearly all of the elite, historically male colleges would be more than 80 percent female.

"Unless something radical and imaginative is done Squirrel Nutkin and his friends are going to be toast."

Said Lord Inglewood.

A 250-year-old tortoise...

... has died. The animal was older than the United States. It doesn't seem that there now exists any animal in the world who is anywhere near as old as was dear Addwaita, "the one and only." Goodbye!

"In an environment where people are disgusted with politics in general, who represents clean and change?"

"Women."

So says Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He's a male, but he's hoping to harness the power of women candidates for the sake of the "Mommy Party," to use the term chosen for the subheadline for the paper version of the linked article that appears on the front page of today's NYT. The headline, by contrast, is "Women Wage Key Campaigns for Democrats," which sounds rather warlike and unmommyish.
The seats for which Democratic women are running this year are among the 24 held by Republicans that are classified by the Cook Political Report, an independent analyst, as either "tossups" or "lean Republican" — a key measure of competitiveness....

...Democratic strategists hope to frame these midterm races as a classic change-versus-status-quo election — which, they say, makes women, running as outsiders against a "culture of corruption," the perfect messengers.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster working for three female House candidates this year, said, "If you want to communicate change, honesty, cleaning up Washington, not the same old good old boys in Washington, women are very good at communicating that."

Officials at the Democratic campaign committee said that along with Emily's List and other women's groups, they had made a point of encouraging and recruiting women as candidates this year.

"This didn't just happen," Mr. Emanuel said.
Do we women really have such a strong image of cleanliness and honesty? Image unavoidably plays an important role in political campaigns, but are we happy about blatant stereotyping like this? And is this another one of those places where you think it's acceptable as long as you express your stereotype about women in positive terms?

There is negative implicit in every one of your positives. You say "clean" and "honest" and "change," and I hear "naive" and "inexperienced" and "ineffectual." Spare me your patronizing blather.

What do we think of political pressure on independent courts and the applicability of international norms...

... in the context of a case like this?

March 23, 2006

Distinguishing gay marriage and polygamy -- part 2.

We were just talking at great length on this topic, but William Saletan has a new piece in Slate, so let's do it again. As you may remember, I said the solid basis for distinguishing gay marriage and polygamy is economic: those seeking gay marriage only want the same set of economic advantages that is available to heterosexual couples, but polygamous groups seek more than the traditional share. Saletan takes a different approach:
The number isn't two. It's one. You commit to one person, and that person commits wholly to you. Second, the number isn't arbitrary. It's based on human nature. Specifically, on jealousy.
An obvious problem with Saletan's idea is that it relies on nature, which has long been a favorite source of argument for opponents of gay marriage. What do you say to the people who claim not to share what is the predominate characteristic that appears in nature? Most people are heterosexual, and most people are jealous if their partner isn't monogamous. Gay marriage proponents need to be able to say that the minority condition deserves respect.

***

By the way, in the third episode of "Big Love," polygamy is compared to homosexuality more than once: We're like homosexuals. Why was I able to watch Episode 3? For some reason, it was on HBO on Demand -- by mistake, I assume.

Hey, Margene -- the youngest wife on the show -- has a blog!
Thumbs Down. Was "Pirates of the Caribbean" supposed to be funny or not? It wasn't. It was annoying.

Panda bears or Koala bears? Who's cuter? A debate for the ages...
And I know this is a device to get bloggers to link and give them publicity, but I'm constantly giving them publicity anyway, and I think it's nice that HBO is speaking to us bloggers in our own language.

"There's blogs."

Says Bush.

Beards.

They're back!
[Vice magazine's ad director John] Martin's idea of a style symbol, seriously, is Ulysses S. Grant, whose beard he came to admire after watching the 2003 Civil War-era drama "Cold Mountain." Two years ago, when he began experimenting with different beard styles, which he described as ranging from neat to burly to unkempt, his facial hair was an expression of individuality in a tide of metrosexual conformity. Now 10 of his 15 co-workers at Vice wear full, bushy beards. In that, they vie with the pro-facial-hair contingent of an editorial rival, Spin, where a rash of new beards has broken out.

"It's a sign of the times," Mr. Martin said. "People are into beards right now."
NOOOO!
No survey ever conducted about women's attitudes toward beards, even those not underwritten by the Gillette Company, has indicated that more than 2 or 3 percent of women would describe a full beard as sexy. ("I hang out with those girls who are in that 2 or 3 percent," Mr. Martin, of Vice, said.)
Can we have a little sanity? Martin's found the girls who are into this?

"Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit."

The dean of admissions at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, writes a NYT op-ed blatantly admitting to a policy of discriminating against women:
The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men....

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women that they must, nearly 25 years after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, be even more accomplished than men to gain admission to the nation's top colleges? These are questions that admissions officers like me grapple with.
Questions, indeed. But any answers? Britz has none. She does apologize, however, and seems to think that the fact that her daughter faces the same obstacles makes the apology more sincere.

March 22, 2006

"Reveal[ing] the strains behind the surface placidity and collegiality of the young Roberts court."

The first dissenting opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts provides an occasion for Linda Greenhouse to portray the mood of the Court.

UPDATE: Orin Kerr -- who promises much more blogging on the case, Georgia v. Randolph -- theorizes about four models of Fourth Amendment interpretation.

"South Park" -- "The Return of Chef!"

So?

That ended awfully abruptly! Were you satisfied? Isaac Hayes is, I think, honored, and the hatred is directed at the organization that took him away from us, the "Super Adventure Club." The grisly near-death scene was finely detailed, and the final "salty balls" punchline well-placed. The strip club interlude was genuinely poignant, as the kids beg poor Chef to remember his real self.

Taking the broader view, answer the question: Is religion a super adventure club?

UPDATE: Here's the AP description of the episode, quoting key lines:
''A lot of us don't agree with the choices the Chef has made in the last few days,'' one of the children eulogizes him at a funeral. ''Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can't let the events of the past few weeks take away the memories of how Chef made us smile.

''We shouldn't be mad at Chef for leaving us,'' the eulogy concludes. ''We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains.''
Scientology was not named. Standing in for it was "that fruity little club," the "Super Adventure Club," which is all about child molestation. Chef's membership in the club was revealed in scenes that use spliced-together dialogue from past episodes that were voiced by Isaac Hayes.

"American Idol" -- the results.

Well, I was surprised. I thought sure Lisa would go, but if not Lisa, then Bucky. Yet it was Kevin Corvais who came out on the bottom. I can only think that Simon's devious trick of embracing him proved to be the kiss of death.

When terrorists deter terrorism.

BBC reports:
The Basque separatist group Eta has declared a permanent ceasefire.

Eta is blamed for killing more than 800 people in its four-decade fight for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and south-west France....

Some analysts said its campaign became virtually untenable after the bomb attacks on Madrid in March 2004, blamed on Islamic extremists, that killed nearly 200 people.

Widespread revulsion at those attacks made deadly violence politically unthinkable for Eta, they said.
So great is the ugliness of Islamic extremist terrorism that it has destroyed the charm of terrorism to those who once believed in it.
In a statement released to Basque media, the group said its objective now was "to start a new democratic process in the Basque country".

Maybe you can amnesia-fake your way into a more glamorous lifestyle.

Doug Bruce, the subject of the documentary "Unknown White Male," claims to have complete amnesia, but how do we know he's not a fake?
Soon after [he showed up at a Coney Island police station professing to know nothing about himself], Bruce became hipster Manhattan's answer to the Elephant Man, an ingratiating medical marvel, except hunky and with an adorable British accent. A crowd of accomplished artists, models and producers orbited in awe. He met the singer Bjork, the director Spike Jonze, the actor Vincent D'Onofrio. He was invited to parties and dinners where he told his story pretty much nonstop....

In the movie and in phone interviews, friends and family say that the pre-amnesia Bruce was a slightly arrogant, hard-edged cynic, and had been his whole life.... [but afterwards, he became nice and childlike.]...

According to friends, Bruce's life pre-amnesia was hardly miserable, but he was trolling for dates on the Internet and communing with a crowd far less glamorous than the one he wound up in. Today, he's dating a knockout of a model -- she appears in the movie and calls him a man without flaws -- and he has a ready-made excuse to break with anyone in his previous life he doesn't consider up to scratch.

"There are good friends that I've had in the past who, I've met them and I just don't get them," Bruce says at one point in the film, sounding like Old School Bruce. "I don't feel it, and so I don't hang out with them, which for them is tough."
Oh, it wouldn't be the fakest way anybody ever gained admission to hipsterdom. In fact, isn't fakery the norm? He deserves his place there even more if he's pulled off this scam. The faker he is, the less fake he is. If he was an arrogant, hard-edged cynic, and had been his whole life, and he still is, he's a man of ravishing consistency.

European-style regulation and the dangerous pipe organ.

The NYT reports:
The new [European Union] directive, to come into force in July, limits the proportion of hazardous substances like lead, mercury or cadmium to 0.1 percent of a finished product that works on electricity.

"We are caught in an absurd anomaly," said Doug Levey, a spokesman for the Institute of British Organ Building, which says it represents most of the country's 400 organ builders in about 65 companies.

The directive, approved by European governments four years ago, was intended to address problems caused by the disposal of products like cellphones or computer circuit boards. Dumped in landfills, the argument goes, discarded items of consumer electronics pollute groundwater as hazardous substances are leached from them.

But no one, it seems, had thought of the organ builders, whose products make unlikely candidates for landfills. Disused organ pipes, some of them containing 50 percent lead or lead-tin alloy, are usually melted down for reuse, Mr. Levey said. New pipe organs, he said, can cost from $85,000 to $850,000 and upward.

A manually powered organ, Mr. Levey pointed out, would not be covered by the directive, no matter how much lead was used. However, he said, "if in the name of progress you use an electronic fan to provide the wind, the same organ with the same amount of lead falls within the restrictions."
But I'm thinking the pipe organ folks are making a big, windy noise, since there is a way to apply for an exemption. Instead of doing that, they're going to the press and complaining, stirring up the usual antipathy toward government regulation. Obviously, the concern about lead in landfills is valid. Just go get your exemption. And pipe down.

March 21, 2006

"American Idol" -- the final 11.

"She has no range," says Barry Manilow about Mandisa. He means that she can sing well throughout her large range. Apparently, he uses words to mean the opposite of what they mean. Tonight should be amusing, with Barry guiding the kids through the songs of the 1950s. And Mandisa was thrilling! "A very sexy performance... like a great stripper's song," says Simon. "I absolutely loved it."

Bucky Covington sings the great Buddy Holly hit "Oh Boy," and Simon calls it "a pointless karaoke performance," which makes John come out and say "That's true of every 'American Idol' performance," and I'm all, "Did you hear Mandisa? Do you want to hear Mandisa?" Answer: "No."

"You give me fever... fever all through the night." Paris Bennett, she's 17, people. Barry's uneasy with that. But she does it well.

Chris Daughtry -- my favorite -- sings "I Walk the Line." Wow! The judges don't wheel out their stock phrase "You made it your own," but in this case, he really did. He got all alternative, really Ed Kowalczyk, I think. Simon: "You are the first artist we've had on the show who's actually refused to compromise." Ha! Who is most insulted by that line? I'm going to say Bo Bice. [UPDATE: Reading Television Without Pity, I see that Live actually did a version of "I Walk the Line." At least last week, when Chris did the Chili Peppers version of "Higher Ground," the band was mentioned. I tend to think that Live was mentioned in the practice session, but edited out for the show, so I wouldn't accuse Chris of wrongly taking credit.][IN THE COMMENTS: The question is raised whether Chris did the Live version, which I have never listened to myself. Nevertheless, I think it's damned strange that Chris's version made me think of the lead singer of Live if he wasn't doing the Live version! Admittedly, both guys have bald heads and sing in the grunge mode.]

Katharine McPhee, they love her. I thought it was a little screetchy and unsubtle, but she's good, and she's very pretty.

Barry gives some insight into what's so exciting about Taylor Hicks: he sings way high, but it doesn't sound like it's high. Hicks is doing a Buddy Holly song too: "Not Fade Away." "My love is bigger than a Cadillac."

Lisa Tucker is in serious danger, I think. She's too young to make enough of an impression in this group. When she tries really hard -- and she does -- she ends up seeming like a little hypercharged robot. I like the song, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?," but I hear the original playing in my head, and by comparison, she seems weak.

Oh, but wait, there's still Kevin Covais. He needs to go soon. And yet, he does amuse us so much. Aw, but he sang "When I Fall in Love" so sweetly (after Barry told him to be vulnerable, and he got it). Even Simon accepts this. Poor Lisa!

Elliott Yamin. He sings "Teach Me Tonight." It's very complex and difficult, and he sings it quite well. How far can he go if he is the best singer, but the worst looking?

Barry Manilow doesn't know the song "Walking After Midnight"! Bizarre! It's Kellie Pickler's song tonight. Barry tries to get her to find the deep emotional meaning in the song, and she doesn't really find it. But they all love her.

Ace Young strains desperately through "In the Still of the Night." They're trying to help him. They've put him last, and they've found a 7-year-old girl to introduce him. He does a sweet long falsetto "niiiiiiightttt" at the end that might just save him.

Summary: Lisa's leaving.

ADDED: I just want to say how much I like Barry Manilow. Not his music, which isn't to my taste, but him as a person. Unlike Stevie Wonder and various other guests, he did not do the show to get the kids to sing his songs, and he took his role as a music teacher seriously. He really analyzed each performance and came up with concrete help and never seemed to be at all about self-promotion. I know you could say that this nice-guy thing is just his gimmick, but if it is, it works well, and maybe more people ought to try it.

"I was born in America and I love my country."

That's nice, but should you have your own reality show, when the only reason for any interest in you is that you are Osama bin Laden's niece?

Googling in the billions.

Which words, searched in Google, yield over a billion hits? "Blog" is one. What has more? "Internet." What word has the most? I don't know. It isn't "sex." "Love" has more than "sex," though still painfully less than "blog"! Is there a name that hits a billion? Not "Bush," and it has two Presidents, not to mention all the shrubbery.

"O’Reilly has become baroque, and 'The O’Reilly Factor' is complex affair, dense with self-references...."

So says Nicholas Lemann, quite strangely. I don't watch O'Reilly, though I used to, so I can't say for sure. I do watch "The Colbert Report," so I get some indirect information about what's going on in the world of O'Reilly. I prefer my O'Reilly taken through the filter of the sublime Stephen Colbert, don't you?

Lemann also talks about Colbert:
Stephen Colbert has obviously made a close study of O’Reilly’s mannerisms and opinions, just as Colbert’s producers have made a close study of the overblown red-white-and-blue swirled graphics that open “The O’Reilly Factor.” (Colbert adds eagles and flags.) But Colbert is too young and too thin to mimic the physical presence of the six-foot-four O’Reilly, and he appears to realize this. So he delivers O’Reilly’s brusque, jabbing hand gestures, and his primary-colored opinions, with a goofy half-smile, as if he were a kid playing dress-up in his dad’s clothes.
Why is Lemann disrespecting Colbert? I think it is to make room for his own critique, laid out extensively, in The New Yorker. Would you rather have your O'Reilly filtered through Colbert or Lemann? Or are you hardcore, taking your O'Reilly straight?

"A preference for talk shows and soaps 'is a marker of something suspicious.'"

According to Dr. Joshua Fogel of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York:
He said it's not possible to tell whether the programs somehow contribute to cognitive decline or whether women in the early stages of decline gravitate toward those shows. Preferences for daytime TV could also be a marker of a sedentary, homebound lifestyle, and research suggests that staying physically and socially active can help stave off mental decline....

According to Fogel, a potential explanation rests in the fact that talk shows and soap operas involve so-called "parasocial relationships," where viewers feel a connection to a show's characters or host. Such shows may, for instance, be better able to hold the attention of older women with some cognitive impairment.

"This doesn't mean 'Oprah' is bad for you," Fogel said. However, an older woman's fondness for the show could signal a possible problem, according to the researcher.
It's an interesting study, focusing on cognitive decline in older women. I would like to know which way the causality works. Fogel seems to lean toward thinking that people experiencing mental decline gravitate toward shows that provide "parasocial relationships," rather than to think that the shows cause the mental decline. Researchers have tried for years to prove the TV is bad for you, and they never seem to come up with anything substantial.

Anyway, I'm fascinated by this subject of parasocial relationships. They are quite rampant in our modern world, for all of us, not just old women, don't you think? What are your parasocial relationships? Have they changed over the years? At what point do you think a person has has a parasocial relationship problem? In the future, will there be specialists helping us with our parasocial relationship problems? Will the day come when we will turn on Oprah for a little parasocializing and find the guest is the Dr. Phil of pararelationships?

"Men in Speedos in poses customarily taken by women on MTV’s spring break programs and 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

It's performance art -- here in Madison -- inquiring into the meaning of Spring Break.
"I wanted to mix things up,” [artist Tara] Mathison said. “I was just trying to think about fashion and how it relates to art and how pop culture relates to art and how all of these things have the power to make people do things.”
Well, I didn't see it, so I can't comment, other than to say that I think the value of this sort of thing depends on the quality and detail of the performance. There's an early Eric Bogosian video where he -- dressed in jeans and a man's shirt -- dances in the style of a female erotic dancer, and it's quite brilliant and hilarious.

"Maybe we should just suspend the Confrontation Clause in spousal abuse cases."

Said Justice Scalia, sarcastically, at oral argument yesterday. The case, Davis v. Washington, is about about whether 911 recordings can be used at trial in place of the testimony of a witness who no longer wants to cooperate with the prosecution, as often happens in domestic violence cases. Linda Greenhouse reports:
Two years ago, however, the Supreme Court issued an unmistakable warning that these efforts were likely to collide with the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, which guarantees to a criminal defendant the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him."

In Crawford v. Washington, the court laid down a new rule: a "testimonial" statement made out of court cannot be used at trial unless the person who made the statement is available for cross-examination....

[Adrian M.] Davis's lawyers argued on appeal that the admission of the 911 tape violated his right to confrontation, but the Washington Supreme Court said the call was not testimonial. It was, the court said, a request for "help to be rescued from peril."...

Mr. Fisher, a Seattle lawyer who successfully argued the Crawford case, said the purpose of the Confrontation Clause was "to bring the accuser and accused face to face and require the accuser to deliver the accusation in court."

But the 911 call was "not just a call," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg objected. It was also "a cry for help." Was it not a "practical reality," she asked Mr. Fisher, "that many women in this situation are scared to death?" She added, "Your neat legal categories don't conform to real lives."

Mr. Fisher responded carefully. "I don't mean to be insensitive," he said. He offered a solution: under a rule known as the "forfeiture doctrine," he observed, a defendant who intimidated a witness lost the right to object to the use of that witness's out-of-court statements.

Justice Antonin Scalia interjected: "Maybe we should just suspend the Confrontation Clause in spousal abuse cases."

The other justices undoubtedly took his point, a reminder that he was the author of the Crawford decision, and that he had persuaded six of his colleagues in that case, including Justice Ginsburg, that the Confrontation Clause should be interpreted literally.
Interpreted literally! That textualist! And yet somehow he persuaded six of his colleagues. Are we to abandon the imaginative interpretative moves that usually work so well to make rights mean whatever we really need them to mean?

In fact, Crawford is no simple-minded literal take on the 6th Amendment. It is an elaborate discussion of text, history, and principle.

March 20, 2006

"The Apprentice."

Oh, how will we have fun anymore without Brent?

"The Return of Chef!"

That's the title of the new "South Park" episode, which will air on Wednesday. But Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, has quit the show. So what do you think they'll do?
The network statement announcing Chef's return for the "South Park" season premiere this Wednesday was a clear sign that Parker and Stone planned to use the Hayes imbroglio as further grist for their comedy.

"Knowing these guys as I do, I can't imagine that they're not going to do just that," Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox told Reuters. He added that the producers routinely "turn around" new episodes in just six days, leaving them ample time to incorporate last week's dust-up into their season debut.

Fox said he assumed someone besides Hayes would supply Chef's voice. Details of the new episode were vague.

But a network synopsis said the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, is "jolted out of a case of the doldrums when Chef suddenly reappears," leading to new antics by the group of foul-mouthed fourth graders who are the show's stars.

"While Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are thrilled to have their old friend back, they notice that something about Chef seems different. When Chef's strange behavior starts getting him in trouble, the boys pull out all the stops to save him."
We'll all be watching!

MORE: Here.

Questions after watching last night's "Sopranos" and "Big Love."

1. Is Tony Soprano going to die? I don't know, but people keep Googling their way to this blog looking for the answer, so please speculate in the comments.

2. Does James Gandolfini enjoy playing a reclining man in a hospital gown with a gaping wound on his mountainous belly? Or is wandering around in dream sequences without any other actors satisfying enough? Are they punishing Gandolfini with these scripts?

3. Are these scripts a gift to Edie Falco? Is the actress groveling for an Emmy with all of these harshly lit, no-makeup bedside scenes?

4. Did "The Sopranos" and "Big Love" coordinate their Episode 2s so that we could spend as much time as possible in hospitals?

5. Do you think the arsenic is coming from the mysterious liquid Harry Dean Stanton keeps delivering to Bruce Dern? I don't. It's too obvious!

6. Don't you love Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern?

7. Bill Henrickson is going to get arrested, right? The questions are: When? And who's going to bring the law down upon him? Tina Majorino?

8. Do you like the scenes that show Barb, Nicki, and Margene in their intra-household strife? Or are the scriptwriters a little desperate in looking for ways to illustrate this -- what with the loud noises and open doors during sex acts?

9. How does Chloe Sevigny convey so much while looking so impassive? Don't you love to hate Nicki?

Why are the war protests so tame?

Why aren't the protests huge and dramatic, like they were at the time of the Vietnam War? Here's one attempt to answer that obvious question:
A clue to this curiously low-key response may be found in the bustling shopping centres. Despite the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, the economic consequences have remained relatively contained. There have been no signs of a decline in consumer confidence and no uptick in inflation....

As of Friday military casualties had mounted to 2,313 killed and 17,000 wounded. This is enough to make many Americans question the conflict, but the toll still falls far short of the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam.

A poll for Newsweek magazine at the end of last week showed that just 29 per cent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the war, down from 69 per cent in the months after the conflict began in March 2003. Almost 60 per cent of Americans now feel less confident that the war will come to a successful conclusion, with fears mounting that the country will slide into civil war.
We should also take into account the nature of the opposition to the war. When people acknowledge that they disapprove of the President's handling of the war, what does that mean? You might answer that way to say you're unhappy that we haven't yet won decisively. If you think Bush ought to be handling things better, moving us along toward victory along a clearer, more well-defined path, do you feel motivated to go out on the street and protest? What would you chant? I know you're in the middle of a difficult task, but would you please try to figure out a more effective way to complete it?

Don't assume that Americans are a bunch of dullards, complacently out shopping. Maybe we intelligently and perceptively understand the situation when we answer the polls like that and still stay away from the public protests.

March 19, 2006

Audible Althouse #41.

Here it is. The theme: food and sex...

Sleep-eating, allegedly Ambien-induced...

The dark sexual themes of "Oklahoma!" and the man who was eating potato chips while we were trying to watch "Oklahoma!"...

The way people don't know how to cook anymore, even though they like to watch TV shows like "Top Chef"...

The fact that the voice of Chef on "South Park," Isaac Hayes, has quit the show, complaining about disrespect to Scientology...

The new HBO TV show "Big Love," which is about polygamy, and the way it's led some commentators to say that accepting gay marriage will require us to accept polygamy.

(Please subscribe, but if you don't know what that's all about, or you don't have an iPod, just live stream it here.)

"Attention! We are all dying here! We are all dying!"

Mel Gibson shouts through a bullhorn. He's directing "Apocalypto":
Hundreds of local extras—many of whom have never seen a movie, let alone acted in one—are pounding fake limestone to build a temple used for human sacrifices....

[I]f there are complaints about Apocalypto's portrayal of human sacrifice by the Maya, whose mostly impoverished descendants today are a cause célèbre for liberals, Gibson says he won't care. "After what I experienced with The Passion, I frankly don't give a flying f___ about much of what those critics think."...

"The parallels between the environmental imbalance and corruption of values that doomed the Maya and what's happening to our own civilization are eerie," says Safinia. Gibson, who insists ideology matters less to him than stories of "penitential hardship" like his Oscar-winning Braveheart, puts it more bluntly: "The fearmongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys."
He's a man with his own vision, and he doesn't give a flying f___ what you think. And the vision, apparently, isn't right-wing politics, it's penitential hardship. Always a great subject for art.

Family of 5 beheaded for witchcraft.

In the Sonitpur district of India:
The tea plantation worker and his four children had been blamed for causing a disease which killed two other workers and made many unwell in Assam state.

About 200 villagers tried and sentenced the family in an unofficial court, then publicly beheaded them with machetes.

They then marched to a police station with the heads, chanting slogans denouncing witchcraft and black magic.

Do you correct people who call CDs "records"?

Well, stop it, because you're wrong. Listen to Jacques Barzun:
"The fallacy behind perpetual recoinage ... is to suppose that words must describe instead of stand for and evoke. For a reasonably stable language, words must continue to cover new details, and they can: we ship goods by truck and plane. We have cash in the bank though it is only a balance and not even written down. The bath room has only a shower stall. The table and bed linen are of cotton thread with some plastic intertwined. A lecture is not necessarily read. I am typing on a computer that uses no type. The man you quote who said record store was 'outdated but still in use' didn't stop to think. What are CD's and DVD's if not records?"
I enjoy observations like this. They're like Seinfeld jokes -- except not funny. Just satisfying.

"I generally avoid politicians. I find them quite dull."

Pithy NYT interviewer Deborah Solomon goes after Kos. My favorite question and answer:
Is it odd to live so far from Washington and spend every nanosecond of your life writing about it?

No. I avoid Washington like the plague. And I generally avoid politicians. I find them quite dull.
Yes, I identify with this attitude quite a bit. I'm interested in politics, but most definitely not in a way that makes me want to be near politicians.

Solomon starts off with questions about his book and reveals her bad attitude about blogs:
As the founder of the left-leaning Daily Kos, the largest political blog in the country, did you find it hard to write "Crashing the Gate," an actual book, as opposed to your usual raw and episodic three-sentence musings?

It was brutal. My co-writer, Jerome Armstrong, and I had no idea of what we were getting into. There came a point where we literally sat around for a day trying to figure out how to tell our publisher there would be no book.

Which may prove that bloggers are better at demolishing arguments than building them.

When bloggers make an argument, we can add a link to support our premises. You cannot link with books.
I like the way Kos ignored Solomon's disrespect and told the truth about the main problem a blogger has writing a book: you can't do links.

***

Here's a problem for a blogger trying to write a book that I've noticed. Moving downward all the time feels wrong. You want to put the new things on top.

Do you like to photograph strangers on the street?

Do you worry that you might need to get their permission first and think what a big drag this is on your creative expression? Then you'll like the way this lawsuit turned out:
IN 1999 Philip-Lorca diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and, in the time-honored tradition of street photography, took a random series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights....

When Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew and retired diamond merchant from Union City, N.J., saw his picture last year in the exhibition catalog, he called his lawyer. And then he sued Mr. diCorcia and Pace for exhibiting and publishing the portrait without permission and profiting from it financially. The suit sought an injunction to halt sales and publication of the photograph, as well as $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

The suit was dismissed last month by a New York State Supreme Court judge who said that the photographer's right to artistic expression trumped the subject's privacy rights.
Are you glad the artist won? Does whatever sympathy you have for Nussenzweig increase if you know that his religion bars the use of graven images? Does your sympathy for the artist depend on whether his choice of images makes him seem humanistic or misanthropic?

The judge's decision depended on a finding that the photograph was art. She noted diCorcia's "general reputation as a photographic artist in the international artistic community." Do those of us with less of a reputation have less freedom to photograph strangers? Do you want a judge deciding who's an artist and who isn't?

Do you take photos of strangers without their permission? If you don't, is it because you worry about getting sued? Or would you refrain even if you were sure you couldn't be sued? Is it wrong to intrude on a person's privacy like this? People expose their faces in public. We're allowed to look, aren't we? But it's considered rude to stare. Is a photograph an endless stare, a proper cause of outrage?

The peace rally.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that "several hundred people" showed up for yesterday's peace rally here in Madison, Wisconsin:
It was one of several protests scheduled across the state, nation and world to mark the three-year anniversary of Bush's order to invade Iraq. In addition to marking the date, the state organizers were trying to build support for April 4 referenda planned in several Wisconsin communities asking voters whether troops should be withdrawn.

In Madison, chants such as "This is what democracy sounds like," or "Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Cheney have got to go" were popular.

Towering above the crowd was a 10- foot-tall "Earth Mother" body puppet worn by Terry Ross, 46, a member of the Madtown Liberty Players, a group that performs in parks and at the Dane County Farmers Market.

"We're here to talk about taking care of our country," said member Shawn Brommer, 37.
I understand that there must be puppets. And I understand that "hey hey, ho ho" is required. But should you really be chanting "This is what democracy sounds like" when you have a tiny turnout?

MORE: Meanwhile, in France 500,000 people go nuts rioting over the government's plan to limit job protections. Somehow, they think it makes sense not just to get violent, but to aim that violence at cars and restaurants. Let's take a moment to feel thankful for our American protesters, puppets and all.

IN THE COMMENTS: Is there something creepy about chants per se? Do you try to avoid chanting? As far as I remember, the only time I ever participated in a protest-type chant was circa 1970 at the University of Michigan. The chant was "Open it up or shut it down." We were students threatening to strike unless the University of Michigan adopted a policy of affirmative action.

YET MORE: Uncle Jimbo has some photos. He was there to observe, not agree, and he praises the speakers for their "upbeat" tone and "the lack of any heinous Bush-hating."

At the theater.

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Oklahoma!"played at the Overture Center last night, and we were in the audience. I'd always heard about this musical. I remember being taught to sing a few of those songs back when I was in junior high school, long ago. But I had no idea what the story was, other than that it took place in Oklahoma. Based on the songs, I assumed it was a clean-cut love story. I was surprised to learn it was all about sexuality. There was one young woman who withheld her sexuality and another who gave it away freely. Each of these women had one man who loved her in a worthy way and another who loved her in a dark and slimy way. The sexually withholding woman's story was played for drama, and the sexually free woman's story was played for comedy. The characters' stories interweave through the many long scenes, until the predictable ending eventually arrives. The high point is a surrealistic ballet, the drug-induced dream of the sexually withholding woman, whose fears of rape are elaborately dramatized.

What did any of this have to do with Oklahoma? What was Oklahoma, the place, supposed to symbolize? It's the woman's body, territory that men want to move into and settle and plow. So in the end, when they are shout-singing "Oklahoma!" the real word is something they didn't put in song lyrics in 1943.

So where did the nice young virgin buy her drugs? From the Persian peddler, Ali Hakim. What do you do with an old play with a big, politically incorrect ethnic character? They played it broadly for laughs, another surprise.

Who was the most annoying person in the audience? I don't know. It was a big audience. But I'm going to nominate the old man who smuggled in a bag of potato chips and crunched on them quite audibly. You know how loud your own crunching sounds to you and how you think it's only this loud because of the way the sound waves are conducted though the bones of your skull and jaw? You're delusional if you go from there to thinking that it's inaudible to others. And chewing slowly is not a way to turn down the volume. In case you thought it was.

If you're going to eat potato chips in the theater, you might as well chew them normally. The offense is exactly the same. And, perhaps, if you've got a big ethnic stereotype in your play, you might as well play it broadly, the way it would have been played 60 years ago. Trying to make it more subtle and psychologically complex only calls more attention to it. But that's where the analogy ends. While you can't cut a major character out of a play, you could have left that bag of potato chips at home.