May 20, 2006

The faces behind the cartoons.

Here's a nice CNN clip about the guys who do those JibJab cartoons. They assert -- believably, I think -- that they're bipartisan.


Richard is struggling with his soul in Crete and Santorini, Tonya is agonizing about sex and the single older woman, Chris is coping with "naked time," and Oscar's having another "Existential Friday."

Me, I'm going shopping.

"I Shouldn't Be Alive."

Do you watch that TV show? It's always about a couple guys who go out on some free-spirited day trip and get in way over their heads. It's harrowing, but, given the title of the show, you know they're not going to die.

I think about that show when reading some of Nina's dispatches from Europe:
And so it is no surprise that in the afternoon, I want time out.

I want to climb the mountain that shelters Dubrovnik. Sure, I remember the warnings about landmines. But I also read the poignant accounts of mothers scaling the summit daily to pray for their sons whose lives were lost on these hills. And I hear there is a path. And if you stick to the path, you are safe.

I twist daughters’ arms and we set off.

It takes no time at all for me to get lost. One path becomes a dead end. Another leads to a seemingly deserted house with chained dogs growling the minute I come within 100 meters of them.
We know she lives to blog about it.

Scalia rebukes his hamhanded fans in Congress.

"No one is more opposed to using foreign law than I am, but I'm darned if I think it's up to Congress to direct the Supreme Court how to make its decisions."

Let's have a response from the congressional Scalia fans:
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who has co-sponsored a nonbinding resolution against the use of foreign law, said that Scalia's comments were "like being told your favorite baseball player disagrees with your approach to hitting."

Scalia's "brilliance," Feeney said, "has not convinced a majority of the court. He needs our help, even if he doesn't want it."

Feeney said that Scalia's remarks may have damaged chances for his resolution's passage, since they will probably be quoted by its opponents.
What a desperate baseball metaphor!

So Feeney thinks Scalia may have undercut his resolution a tad? Perhaps -- just perhaps -- his opponents will now quote his hero against him? How hilariously embarrassing for Feeney. I was only trying to help.

May 19, 2006

"Several dozen students and faculty turned their backs and lifted signs saying 'Our commencement is not your platform.'"

John McCain gives a commencement address at the New School.
Some 1,200 students and faculty had signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak, saying McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and abortion were not in keeping with the prevailing views on campus.

Kerrey urged students to exercise the open-mindedness he said was at the heart of the university's progressive history.

"Sen. McCain, you have much to teach us," Kerrey said toward the beginning of the ceremony, drawing a smattering of boos and hisses.
More details from Ari Berman's blog at The Nation:
The Senator spoke in a dull monotone, without his usual charisma or charm. He was noticeably deflated by the crowd's harsh reception towards him. Remarks such as "I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq," were met with loud boos.

"I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."

"Wrongly!" one student boomed from the back. Sitting directly behind us, Maureen Dowd and Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, chuckled.

As McCain droned on, students became increasingly restless. One cried, "This speech sucks!" Several students walked out early.
I just read that last block quote to my son John. So, what do you think of that -- yelling out "Wrongly!"? John: "He's just asking for it when he phrases it like that."

Yeah, McCain. Get some better speech writers. Don't lob softballs at the hecklers.

And isn't he, really, just asking for it by going about giving speeches at politically liberal colleges? He's taking advantage of an opportunity, a shot at a captive audience that's under tremendous social pressure to sit still and listen. How hard can you be on the audience that also sees fit to take advantage?

Yeah, yeah, everyone should be respectful and civil. It would be better to find what you can appreciate about a man of his stature when he deigns to appear at your institution -- his service and suffering in wartime, his long years of statesmanship. But I'm not going to get too exercised about this -- and I doubt if he is.

UPDATE: More details here:
Mr. McCain seemed uneasy, but stuck to his script and did not acknowledge the barbs. As [a student] had predicted [in one of the earlier speeches], he spoke about the importance of civil discourse, and he reiterated his defense of the war.

"I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks," he said. The protests grew louder and more frequent as he spoke. Some graduates walked out. Others laughed. When Mr. McCain returned to policy after briefly quoting Yeats, someone shouted, "More poetry!"

At another point, someone yelled, "We're graduating, not voting!"
Were the students inappropriate if he was inappropriate? He ought to have shown up prepared for the occasion. At the very least, he should have prepared a graduation speech and not a political speech. A genuinely with-it politician would also have come prepared to talk directly and spontaneously to the situation unfolding in front of him. You can go on about the students' rudeness if you want, but what is more important is whether he's a politician who has what it takes to run for President. The fact is he sleepwalked through what could have been his moment. But Mr. McCain seemed uneasy... stuck to his script and did not acknowledge the barbs.

"He could so easily live in an elitist world. Instead, he tromps around in shabby clothes, a ridiculous coat that he has some Yiddish word for..."

"... and a cabdriver hat. He answers his own phone a lot. He's always accessible. He's one step below the Supreme Court, but he's such an everyday man."

Goodbye to Judge Edward R. Becker, who died today.

Cartoons and philosophy.

Why philosophy fits so well in cartoon form (like "The Simpsons"):
Philosophy needs to be real in the sense that it has to make sense of the world as it is, not as we imagine or want it to be. But philosophy deals with issues on a general level. It is concerned with a whole series of grand abstract nouns: truth, justice, the good, identity, consciousness, mind, meaning and so on.

Cartoons abstract from real life in much the same way philosophers do. Homer is not realistic in the way a film or novel character is, but he is recognisable as a kind of American Everyman. His reality is the reality of an abstraction from real life that captures its essence, not as a real particular human who we see ourselves reflected in.

The satirical cartoon world is essentially a philosophical one because to work it needs to reflect reality accurately by abstracting it, distilling it and then presenting it back to us, illuminating it more brightly than realist fiction can.

Killing the brilliant architects.

In the name of research. Quite justifiably, I think! The results are impressive.

"The thing about the left is that they want everybody to feel good."

Said the Rev. Tony Campolo, the liberal Baptist minister (who was once an advisor to President Clinton). Commenting on the Spiritual Activism Conference, he was trying to explain why the religionists on his side aren't as effective as the religionists of the right. "We didn't get on the same page with everyone, and it is about getting on the same page."

You see, the left values pluralism, and this virtue of theirs is what holds them back:
Turnout at the Spiritual Activism Conference is high, but if the gathering is any indication, the biggest barrier for liberals may be their regard for pluralism: for letting people say what they want, how they want to, and for trying to include everyone's priorities, rather than choosing two or three issues that could inspire a movement.
Well, the liberal attitude about religion probably ought to lead you to want to keep religion out of politics, but, as the participants at the conference realize, if you do that, you sacrifice some clout at election time. The other side is using religion, so we're fools if we don't do it too. But liberals tend to notice and be offended by the use of religion for political purposes, so there really is a double bind here.
[Rabbi Michael Lerner of the magazine Tikkun] called on the activists at All Souls Church to define progressive faith, rather than have politicians do it. He said research begun years ago showed that Americans were experiencing a deep spiritual crisis but that only conservative Christians had responded to it, with an agenda that he said "backs the ethos of selfishness and materialism in our society."

"They get away with this because the left isn't even in the relevant ballpark," Rabbi Lerner said. When people on the left "hear talk of a spiritual crisis, they think it's some kind of New Age flakery or a code word for homophobia, sexism and racism," he said.

He urged participants to offer a real alternative to the ideas that many conservative Christian groups promulgate. But identifying those alternatives proved to be the hard part for many at the conference.

Mr. Campolo, the Baptist minister, explained to the participants in a seminar that many people on Capitol Hill were religious, and that to reach them and to establish authority, liberals should rely on the Bible.

"You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven't read Scripture," he told the group. "People in Congress respect the Book, even if they don't know what it says. If we don't recognize this, we don't know squat."

A young man with long hair and a tunic challenged Mr. Campolo.

"I thought this was a spiritual progressives' conference," he said. "I don't want to play the game of 'the Bible says this or that,' or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts."
This really is a difficult problem for liberals, but it is also a problem for conservatives. I think the key is to respect religion, but not to use it directly in politics. Religion can help individuals and religious groups identify values that motivate them to work in the political sphere, but their political goals should then be framed in a way that will not require them to rely on religious belief to persuade the rest of us to vote with them. I wish both liberals and conservatives would try to do that. I'm severely put off by the grasping after political power that comes in the form of religion.

What kinds of stores stay open 24 hours a day?

For one, the new huge and glamorous Apple Store in New York City.

Don't you love Apple? And if you don't, doesn't it drive you crazy that Apple is lovable?

"It's absolute Democratic cannibalism."

Fighting Joe Lieberman from the left. (The quote is from John F. Droney, a former Democratic state chairman in Connecticut.)
A growing cast of prominent activists is backing [Democratic challenger Ned] Lamont. Markos Moulitsas, who advised the presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004 and founded the blog Daily Kos, is appearing in a campaign commercial for Mr. Lamont....

"A very simple thing happened that changed Democratic politics dramatically, and that was that the war turned bad," [said Al From, the founder and chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council], adding of the senator's critics: "There's a group in our party that makes a lot of noise and I don't think they've ever won an election. They're trying to take out one of the great statesmen our party has and that's wrong."
Ah, it's sad, this message that there no such thing as a liberal hawk. I wonder what Hillary's thinking about all this.

"There were two types of senators... the briefed, and the briefed-nots."

That's Sheryl Gay Stolberg's sharp take on the Hayden confirmation hearings:
The former were mostly polite. The latter, especially Democrats, threw the Congressional equivalent of a temper tantrum.

General Hayden, President Bush's nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, invoked what he termed "a very crude airman's metaphor" in suggesting he believed lawmakers should have been informed earlier by the White House of its secretive domestic eavesdropping program, which he oversaw when he ran the National Security Agency.

"If you want people with the craft," the general said, "you've got to put them on the manifest."
So Hayden sets himself apart from the administration on the one issue that is reliably riling the Senators, and the Senators' behavior bolster the assumption that if we only knew the details of the program, we would approve.


Hayden seems to have a way with words, as he found different ways of saying the same thing, instead of just annoyingly repeating a stock phrase in response to the many questions asking for information he could only provide in the closed session. Example: "I will give you just a touch more granularity in the closed session."

May 18, 2006

"I think it's an intense recreation of what happened that day and that might be disturbing for people."

Trailers for Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" begin in theaters this weekend and the report is that the movie's producers have warned theater owners that some people might find the images upsetting.
Co-producer Stacey Sher told CBS News, "They wanted the theatre owners to know that people might inquire at the box office whether or not the trailer would be shown and then it would be their decision whether they wanted to see it or not." Michael Shamberg, another producer of the film, said, "I think it's an intense recreation of what happened that day and that might be disturbing for people."
Presumably, they're trying to drum up interest in their movie. You can watch the trailer here. Do you see disturbingly "intense," gritty realism or disturbingly saccharine melodrama? From the slow-moving, over-clean cops getting up the gumption to volunteer to rescue people to the woman smelling the extra-white sheets of her missing loved one to the trapped man scrawling "I [heart] U" on a scrap of paper it is old-fashioned, maudlin dreck. Appalling.

IN THE COMMENTS: Troy expresses puzzlement: "maudlin and sentimental don't seem [Stone's] style...." I offer this explanation:
I believe that in this case "maudlin and sentimental" is an expression of Stone's low opinion of the intelligence and sensibility of Americans. He's talking down to us and thinks 9/11 has turned us into simple-minded sentimentalists. He may also have that attitude that Americans were admirable right after 9/11, in the immediate pain of the events, when we concentrated on grief and helping victims, but that we subsequently lost our way (by fighting back). The sentimentalism thus essentially expresses opposition to the war on terrorism.

UPDATE: Chris simulblogs the trailer. A taste:
"Okay, listen up. We've got to evacuate the tower." The police stand still; there is a moment of them silently looking at him and pouting. Finally, one officer breaks the silence, saying, "I got it, Sarge." He then steps forward--much like the scene in Jerry Maguire, where the office sits in silence after Tom Cruise's speech, and Renee Zellweger eventually gets up, and says, "I will go with you!"

"If you want to leave, good riddance."

Said Arlen Specter to Russ Feingold, who then walked out of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. The subject was the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which the committee approved.
"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished.

"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman," replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. "See ya."
If I say I think Feingold won that exchange, are you going to think it's just because I'm opposed to the amendment?

IN THE COMMENTS: Doug notes the phrase "You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I" and asks "Could it be that Senator Specter is admitting that the Senate has done a pretty crappy job of protecting the Constitution over the years?" Very astute! In fact, the expression "You're no more of an X than I am" is normally used as a way of saying "You're not an X at all." The speaker is assuming that he's not an X and everyone knows it.

What are some good techniques for planning a scenic drive across what looks like a boring expanse of map?

My standard technique would be to look at one of those maps that has a green dotted line on the scenic routes. Surely, there must be some better ideas.

Think about my predicament. I love to drive in the landscapes that begin about 700 miles west of where I live. I don't want to fly somewhere and then rent a car. I want my car. I'm tired of devoting Day 1 to getting past the boring by using the quickest route and occupying my mind with audiobooks. I want to make the driving itself interesting.

Take into account the need to find a place to stop for the night. In these vast expanses of America, it's hard to find a decent motel, let alone a place that I'd actually feel good about. Camping is not an option -- as you probably know by now.

"The dispute initially centred around an unruly clematis plant..."

A woman with the prophetic last name of Wilding, goes wild -- hits bottom -- in a town called Bottomley.

The 57-year-old woman is accused of "dumping dead animals, rubbish, dog faeces, glass and nails around the village, damaging neighbours' cars, and plying local children with alcohol... booby-trapping paint pots, dazzling neighbours' homes with floodlights, throwing compost at her neighbours and assaulting them with her wheelbarrow."

"And I feel just like Jesus' son."

No, this post isn't about "The Da Vinci Code." It's a nice found video of Lou Reed singing "Heroin," back in 1972, with John Cale playing the electric viola. (Via Boing Boing.) And then Nico sings "Femme Fatale." She's got brown hair here, and she's somewhere along the way in her stupendous decline.

The "Top Chef" finale -- Part I.

Tiffani, Harold, and Dave, the final 3, find out there's a first round that will cut the competition down to the 2. It's an extremely high pressure threefold task, which seems designed to eliminate Dave, whose frazzling under pressure has been highlighted for our amusement all season. And that's exactly what happens.

The chefs must cook for room service at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and have only 30 minutes to do each of the three tasks.

Task #1. They have to make a hot and a cold dish for "high rollers," who -- unbeknownst to them -- turn out to be their most recently eliminated competitors -- Leann, Stephen, and Miguel. Since we know them so well, they're much more fun to watch than the usual judges. They like Harold's food best. (They don't know it's Harold's.) They complain about the lack of caviar. The chefs had access to an endless supply of luxury ingredients, yet no one picked up the caviar.

Task #2. They need to make 4 snacks for the high stakes poker players. Tiffani lets her snootiness get the better of her (again) and sees this as a opportunity to push poker players to new levels of sophistication. But when one of the players says "I need a fork," she's doomed. Dave wins this one -- mainly through spring rolls.

Task #3. The Cirque du Soleil acrobats have to fortify themselves with protein and carbs and not fat, the contestants are told: make 3 dishes for them. That big slab of Kobe beef is high fat, but the acrobats love it. That's Dave's contribution, and he could have won Task #3 with it, but he makes the monumental blunder of only providing 2 dishes, so Harold wins again (with something I can't even remember now). Dave lamely explains that he got confused from all the pressure: "I heard 'two.'"

Obviously, Harold is the best of the finalists, so the question is whether Tiffani or Dave has to go. Tiffani didn't win any of the tasks, but Dave's blunder cannot be ignored. It was an elaborate and well-designed competition that we just watched, but in the end, what mattered was that one mistake. Dave should have just dumped a can of caviar in a bowl to have a third dish.

So now, the drama that is Dave is over, and Part 2 of the finale, next week, will be all about the super-competent, steely cool Tiffani and Harold. We've been edited into love for Harold. But let Tiffani come out next week, with her red hair flaming, and fight like mad for the title.

Nevaeh -- "heaven" spelled backwards -- is suddenly the 70th-most-popular girl's name.

It's been over a century since a name has gotten so popular so quickly. And we know exactly why it happened. It's these characters:

She's the original Nevaeh, and he's Sonny Sandoval, the Christian rock star who named her and said so on MTV back in the year 2000.

You know, you could engage in more subtle Sandoval-copying: try spelling some other words you like backwards and see if you getting anything pronounceable and pretty. For example, I love the word "freedom." So: Modeerf! Aw, c'mon, honey, we can call him Mo. "Liberty"? Ytrebil! He's a rebel. Or should I say it rebel. How about Ymonotua.

Just don't do it with "love."

May 17, 2006

"American Idol" -- the results.

The final 2 will be revealed tonight.

Over 50 million votes....

Oh, my! It's a one hour results show. How will they pad it out?

Okay, the Ford commercial was the coolest thing that ever happened on the show. If my TiVo catches up to the present, I'm just going to go back and rewatch that. The three Idols were in full old-age makeup, singing "Young at Heart." Elliott was insanely old-mannish. And Kat, well, she was making fun of her propensity to display her posterior. It was very padded and she -- as an 80 year old woman -- bobbed it up and down, repeatedly, right in front of the camera. Taylor seemed to be much the same person he actually is. In fact, I'm thinking his gray hair is what gave them the idea for this awesome commercial.

The kids go back to their home towns. Taylor goes back to Birmingham, Alabama, where he briefly performs with his band, then brushes them off to go be in his own parade. The mayor, a black man, gives him the key to the city. Then we see him cheered by crowd after crowd, and everybody's white. We see him inside the governor's mansion (which is fabulous).

Back in the theater, Taylor sings the Doobie Brothers' "Taking It to the Streets." In the lines, "Take this message to my brother/You will find him everywhere/Wherever people live together/tied in poverty's despair" he shouts out "in America" after "Wherever people live together." Does that have some discernable political slant? Or is there a Doobie performance where they shout out "in America"? Anyway, it strikes me as quite political for "American Idol."

Katharine McPhee is from Hollywood. What? An Idol not from the south? It's hard to do the home town show from Hollywood... Ryan asks her about her parents, and she says, "To be honest, I don't talk to them that much." Ow. That's going to hurt with the voters! Now she sings "Think" and she's good on the "Freedom!" lines.

Finally, Elliott Yamin. He goes back to Richmond, Virginia. "Can y'all smell the sweet Virginia air?" he says from the limo. He has the nicest home town people. At one point, there's a closeup on his mom, his overwhelmed mom. Back in the theater, we see mom -- she's beaming -- Elliott -- he's crying -- and Paula -- tears are streaming out of her eyes and mucus out of her nose. He sings "Moody's Mood for Love." It's sweet. Restrained. We ache for Elliott. Must he go??

I speed over some crap with Clive Davis and get to the "reveal." Ryan displays the percentages: 33.06%, 33.26%, and 33.68%. Whose name is behind the o6? Ryan asks. "Let's see it now." Elliott Yamin. "The journey ends. But you have a lot to be proud of."

Elliott's last words: "I'm just a counter clerk in a pharmacy. I've been waiting my whole life for a shot like this."

Bye, Elliott. Dear, sweet Elliott.

The Utah Supreme Court applies the state bigamy statute to "spiritual marriages."

The Utah Supreme Court upheld a bigamy conviction under the state statute that defines bigamy as occuring when a person "knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife,... purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person." (Via Jurist.)

The defendant, Rodney Hans Holm did not enter into a state-sanctioned marriage with the second wife, only a religious "spiritual marriage." He therefore argued that the state needs to treat him the same as a married man who takes up living with another woman, and, if it does not, it is discriminating against him based on religion.
Justice Matthew B. Durrant, writing for the majority, responded that Utah lawmakers did not intend to narrowly define marriage as a state-sanctioned union. There can be no doubt that Holm purported to marry Stubbs, Durrant wrote, citing her white dress, her vows and their life together.

"The crux of marriage in our society, perhaps especially a religious marriage, is not so much the license as the solemnization . . . by which two individuals commit themselves to undertake a marital relationship," Durrant wrote.
It makes sense to read the statute as covering the solemnized union that the participants intend to constitute a marriage. The more difficult problem is whether the state can legitimately distinguish two sexual relationships where the difference could be characterized as having only to do with the beliefs that the individuals have about it. Chief Justice Christine M. Durham dissented, relying on a narrow construction of the statute, which she would apply only to acquiring a second marriage license from the state.
Durham pointed to the increasing number of couples who live together outside the bonds of a traditional marriage, and noted they are not prosecuted.

"While some in society may feel that the institution of marriage is diminished when individuals consciously choose to avoid it," she wrote, "it is generally understood that the state is not entitled to criminally punish its citizens for making such a choice, even if they do so with multiple partners or partners of the same sex."
Here's the PDF of the (very long) opinion.

IN THE COMMENTS: We discuss the significance of the statutory language "cohabits with another person."

So that's why I hate pecan pie!

Now, I'll never eat it.

"They were elevated moral landscapes..."

Cemeteries were... once. Shouldn't they be, again? Meet the cemetery architect.
"People always say it's ghoulish," [Michael Howe] says, "but we also design things like lavatories and bathrooms, and that's much more icky. Designing cemeteries is a lot more interesting than designing a middle-class person's kitchen extension."...

The decline of cemeteries can partly be explained by the increase in cremation. ... [T]hose in the "industry" were so convinced by cremation that many thought there would be no need for cemeteries at all. But he points out that 30% of people still prefer to be buried - a figure that has been stable for some time....

"One of the issues that has led to the desecration of burial grounds is fear. Socialising these spaces is absolutely essential, so young people see them as part of the cycle of life and death," he says.

He hopes that people will visit the cemetery as a park and even take a picnic there. "If there are green open spaces and woods, why wouldn't people romp around or have a picnic?"

He adds: "It was only in the 20th century that we stopped using cemeteries in this way. The Victorians thought of them as highly cultured places of genteel resort and instruction. A cemetery was considered a neat and proper place to meet and spend time."

He argues that it is not only the Victorians who can find cemeteries uplifting places. "Everyone thinks of the commemoration of deaths as a Victorian thing, which is amazing since we are not going to get out of the habit of dying."



Spread out your morally elevated picnic.

ADDED: Here's a nice photoset that my son John took in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Blaming the media.

Paul McCartney blames the media for his breakup with his wife, Heather Mills.

Sunstein on Dworkin.

Cass Sunstein reviews Ronald Dworkin's "Justice in Robes." Excerpt:
Dworkin agrees that judges generally must be faithful to existing legal materials, but he insists that they are not merely "following" something. The law is often unclear. Dworkin contends that when resolving real disputes, judges must select the principle that puts previous decisions in their most attractive light. For this reason, the task of interpretation requires judges to think seriously about what morality requires, and they might well end up moving the law in dramatic and novel directions. ...

... Dworkin's central arguments are right. Legal reasoning typically works by attempting both to "fit" past decisions and to "justify" them, by making them into sense rather than nonsense. Too much of the time, politicians and judges ignore the fact that judicial judgments, about principle and policy, play an inevitable role in determining what the law is. ...

Dworkin's second claim is that the Supreme Court should adopt an approach that calls on the justices to make large-scale judgments about the meaning of our highest ideals. I think that the Court should, most of the time, refuse to assume such a role. It should refuse to do so because fallible judges ought to avoid engaging, in particular cases, with the most fundamental problems in morality and politics. No theory of interpretation can avoid moral and political controversy, but it is possible to adopt, on moral and political grounds, a theory of interpretation that asks judges to decline to deploy their own moral and political judgments as weapons against the democratic process.

"Just how cheap is the State of Wisconsin?"

Howard Bashman asks.

What's the shocking truth about "The Da Vinci Code"?

The movie's boring!
The Vatican has led the offensive against The Da Vinci Code, calling for a boycott and even unspecified legal action against both the book and film.

While the protests have provided studio Sony Pictures with the kind of publicity money can't buy, the reaction at the first press screening in Cannes was largely negative, and loud laughter broke out at one of the pivotal scenes.

"Nothing really works. It's not suspenseful. It's not romantic. It's certainly not fun," said Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald.

"It seems like you're in there forever. And you're conscious of how hard everybody's working to try to make sense of something that basically perhaps is unfilmable."
Whoops! Too bad the Vatican jumped the gun and gave them all that free publicity.

Here's that New Yorker article about how Sony Pictures envisioned religious controversy as a marketing project:
The Sony strategy... was to try to turn the controversy over “The Da Vinci Code” to the film’s advantage. There was no way to stop a Christian critique of [author Dan] Brown’s ideas, but, if leading Christian voices could somehow be coaxed into an association with the “Da Vinci” movie, the criticism might seem less like an attack and more like engagement.

UPDATE: The links to the reviews are currently collecting over at Rotten Tomatoes, which is currently registering 0% positive reviews (out of 7).

"The personal is political" has become the notion "that just about anyone is allowed to transform her personal experience into a political program."

Anne Applebaum objects:
Judith Warner, the author of a book on "why we are all overscheduled," couldn't resist turning her portrait of real-life women wringing their hands over Mackenzie's class party and Joey's soccer team into a plea for "progressive tax policies that would transfer our nation's wealth back to the middle class."....

Writing about oneself has a long history: The memoir, the autobiography, the roman à clef, the essay that draws on personal experience to make witty social observations -- all are legitimate literary forms. But writing about oneself and then turning these observations about one's narrow social circle into a party platform or a tax policy -- that is a more modern invention, and one of more questionable legitimacy and usefulness.
Is this a special problem with women writing about women's issues, and does it suggest that there's something wrong with the feminist slogan "the personal is political"? Personal stories are used to make writing and speeches accessible. It's often tedious and predictable. It pads out speeches and makes books excessively easy to read. This is a widespread strategy that transcends writing by or about women.

And the slogan "the personal is political" does not mean that one's personal story ought to provide the basis for your political program. It represents the argument that what goes on in women's personal relationships with men belongs in the public, political debate and is not just a private matter to be dealt with individually. It is an invitation to turn outward from the personal sphere and, instead of working on your relationship, to think in terms of what you have in common with other women.

Pravda on Condi and Hillary in '08.

What does Pravda have to say about the female contenders for the U.S. presidency?

IN THE COMMENTS: Everyone's confessing to misreading the title here as "Prada on Condi and Hillary in '08." And amusingly, people seem to want to read about what Prada thinks of Condi and Hillary in '08. It's a good thing -- isn't it? -- that we're more interested in Prada than Pravda.

May 16, 2006

"American Idol" -- the final 3.

Three contestants, singing three songs each. Do you really want to hear these three characters sing three songs? It sounds rather painful to me. As an idea, I mean. As an actual reality... let's just see.

"Just to be in your presence is an honor." Ugh! The kids have to suck up to Clive Davis this week.

Elliott Yamin goes first and sings "Open Arms," a Journey song. The judges goad him to loosen up and to believe he can make it. Frankly, I think they've got to want him not to make it. Taylor is going to make it, and they simply must want the beautiful Katharine to be with him next week.

Next is Katharine McPhee. The song Clive Davis picks for her is "I Believe I Can Fly." I detest this song: "There are miracles in life I must achieve." Ridiculous! She's wearing a shiny blue cocktail dress. Both Randy and Paula begin by telling her how good she looks. You know what that means. The two of them sputter for something constructive to say. Randy blurts out "Song choice." And she's bold enough to say "I didn't pick it!" It's that fiend Clive. "Sometimes you should just sing the melody," Randy advises. Simon goes mushy: "You kind of created a moment there for yourself."

Ah! "Dancing in the Dark" is the song for Taylor Hicks. First Springsteen song ever on "American Idol." He karaokes Bruce. He even does the Bruce move of pulling Paula up onto the stage to dance with him. Paula was unprepared, wearing a strapless dress that could not take the movement. What's the pattern on that dress? (It looks like dirty toilet paper!)

The judges choose the second song, and Paula chooses for "What You Won't Do for Love" for Elliott. It's pleasantly soulful.

Simon chooses -- chills! -- "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for Katharine. Does she take Randy's advice from a few minutes ago and "just sing the melody"? No! The judges lie: Randy says it was the best performance of the season. Paula says "You don't go overboard." (!) Simon also says it was the best performance of the season.

Randy picks the perfect song for Taylor: "You Are So Beautiful." That was one of the very few performances that I enjoyed.

Now, they're picking their own songs, and Elliott is doing Ray Charles's "I Believe to My Soul" ("the Donny Hathaway version"). He's good, but Simon predicts he won't make it -- possibly lighting a fire under the voters.

Katharine's doing "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues." She does a great job -- and really reveals that current music is not where her heart is. The judges aren't too pleased! But this expression of unpleasure will stimulate the voters.

Taylor's doing Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." Wow! I loved it. He sang it with feeling then got all crazy -- with feeling! -- in the end.

So, my friends, I am giving my endorsement to Taylor. Who is going to win the season, you know.

"A popular online magazine written in Weblog format..."

What's the difference between an "online magazine written in Weblog format" and a blog? I couldn't tell you. (My guess is nothing.) But being the kind of person who pays attention to things like that, I appreciated getting a review copy of "Far From the Madding Gerund," which came with a press release that describes the book as "297 of the best posts from Language Log..., a popular online magazine written in Weblog format by professional linguists... Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Liberman." Language Log is one of my favorite ... blogs, and since I already read it, I'm getting another chance to compare books and blogs.

The first chance was in this earlier post, comparing my ex-husband's book-made-from-the-blog ["blook"] to his blog. Richard had said: "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." I said:
"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?
Well, not having ever been married to Pullum or Liberman, I have hope of approaching the blook concept less snarkily this time.

I like blooks! Things are reorganized into categories -- chapters! -- and you get nice big picture of the authors' ideas, but there's still the nicely casual and crisp blog style.

How do they handle the links? They could just make all the links into footnotes, but instead they float the references next to the text and lighten the text phrase that was highlighted in the original blog post.

Anyway, read the blog, and if you like it, get the book. It's fun to have the book version of a blog.

Of course, this makes me wonder if I should do a book version of my blog. It would be an interesting, though perhaps disheartening, exercise to go through the 2+ years of posts and pick out 300 that could be a book. The disheartening aspect of blookmaking is that you would see how many things have passed their sell-by date and how many things are no fun at all without the ability to click over to the link. So the blook can't really represent the blog. But selecting the things that have blook potential could be a rewarding experience.

I already enjoy the process of going over "the odd last few days" on the blog to find the posts to base the podcast on. It actually doesn't hurt at all to endure the one second it takes to reject a post as not sufficiently podcastable. The fun of the podcast is pulling out the stuff that feels like it wants to leap into the other format. (Is it okay to use "like" like that? Pullum says yes on page 326 of "Madding Gerund.")

So, I might do a blook. I blog because I'm interested to see what I blog about. I'd make the blook because I'd be interested to see what's blookable and what order these things tell me they want to be in and what those chapter titles are. What are my categories, really? Isn't it all just "Things that caught Althouse's attention today"? It seems that way, blogging. Blooking, it would have to seem like something else

But enough about me, said the blogger.

Go check out Language Log.

(Of course, you'll have to watch "American Idol" first. Simulblogging to begin presently.)

"One must think, do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way. Of course, no one would accept this."

This, meaning pictures of (fully clothed) women in the newspaper. Spoken by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. "The youth are driven by emotion ... and sometimes they can be lead astray. So, please, try to cut down on this."

(Surely, he was speaking in Arabic, so don't blame him for the misspelling of "lead," only for his leaden remarks.)

"Their foolish attempt to create a titillating logo..."

"...actually presents the clearest possible image of the castrating female."

Out of the noise/into the noise.

Just a noisy walk on State Street today, beginning under the scaffolding and ending in a café.

"I propose a regime of free love."

A political campaign in Cyprus:
A strapping man with piercing blue eyes, [Costas Kyriakou] draws on ideas from Plato and Christian apocalyptic scriptures for his ideal city-state where people live in communes and share everything....

"The men will see it as a system of free love, the women as a matriarchy ... they will be able to carry the sperm of the most handsome men, and give the child her name."
For this idea of Utopia, he's nicknamed Utopos. Presumably, he himself is one of the "handsome men" he's talking about.

"The group-blogging experiment was nice while it lasted..."

Lorie Byrd drops out of Polipundit after receiving an email saying: "From now on, every blogger at will either agree with me completely on the immigration issue, or not blog at" She writes:
What is really ironic about this is that the split is over the immigration debate and that is not even one of "my issues." I always deferred to Polipundit on the issue due to his background and passion on the subject. Lately most of my posts have not even dealt with immigration, but the ones that have were more about how I thought the tone and tenor of the debate had gotten out of hand, rather than the actual policy positions.
I haven't been reading PoliPundit or, really, any of the debate about immigration in the blogosphere. If I had been, I probably would only write about "tone and tenor of the debate." I consider immigration a complex policy problem, and I steer clear of ideologues spouting on the topic. I hear the President gave a speech on the subject last night and that he sounded moderate. Good. He's fending off the ideologues -- I hope.

But I'm interested in this dispute between Byrd and Polipundit and the problem of group blogs. Group blogs, like marriages, can break down, and when they do, they can dissolve quietly and present an unreadable face to the world, or they can let the ugliness show. When that happens on a very prominent blog, we're all going to look. So let's look.

Polipundit has this response:

So far, I’ve allowed the guest bloggers here to write pretty much what they pleased about all issues, including illegal immigration.

But on the illegal immigration issue, I now find myself having to contend with at least three out of four guest bloggers who will reflexively try to poke holes in any argument I make.

Suppose three out of four columnists at the Old York Times were pro-Republican. You can bet publisher “Pinch” Sulzberger would do something about that right quick.

Suppose a Bush administration official came out openly against amnesty. The Bushies would show him the door.

Similarly, the writers at need to respect the editorial position of on the most important issue to this blog, as the “publisher” sees it - illegal immigration.
Wow! What a lame defense! I'm the publisher, so let me speculate on what a publisher I hate would do, and justify myself by saying I'm only doing that. How unappealing! The commenters over there are letting him have it.

Why is immigration suddenly making everyone crazy? The problem has been with us forever.

"It was force and diplomacy, not force or diplomacy that turned Gadhafi around . . . a combination of steel and a willingness to deal."

Said Bruce W. Jentleson ("a foreign-policy adviser to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign and professor at Duke University, who has written the most detailed study of why Col. Gadhafi abandoned WMD"). He's interviewed by Judith Miller in the first part of a two-part article about what changed Moammar al-Gadhafi.
[A] review of confidential government records and interviews with current and former officials in London, Tripoli, Vienna and Washington suggest that ... a heretofore undisclosed intelligence coup--the administration's decision in late 2003 to give Libyan officials a compact disc containing intercepts of a conversation about Libya's nuclear weapons program between Libya's nuclear chief and A.Q. Khan--that reinforced Col. Gadhafi's decision to reverse course on WMD.

While analysts continue to debate his motivation, evidence suggests that a mix of intelligence, diplomacy and the use of force in Iraq helped persuade him that the weapons he had pursued since he came to power, and on which he had secretly spent $300 million ($100 million on nuclear equipment and material alone), made him more, not less, vulnerable. "The administration overstates Iraq, but its critics go too far in saying that force played no role," says Bruce W. Jentleson, a foreign-policy adviser to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign and professor at Duke University, who has written the most detailed study of why Col. Gadhafi abandoned WMD: "It was force and diplomacy, not force or diplomacy that turned Gadhafi around . . . a combination of steel and a willingness to deal."
Much more at the link.

"Everyone around the world come on!"

Editor & Publisher found out Condoleezza Rice's musical top ten:
1. Mozart --Piano Concerto in D minor ...

2. Cream -- 'Sunshine of Your Love' ...

3. Aretha Franklin -- 'Respect'

4. Kool and the Gang -- 'Celebration' ...

5. Brahms -- Piano Concerto No 2

6 Brahms -- Piano Quintet in F minor

7. U2 -- Anything ...

8. Elton John -- 'Rocket Man' ...

9. Beethoven -- Symphony No 7 ...

10. Mussorgsky -- Boris Godunov
If you're a big Condi Rice fan and are thinking of putting that in your iPod and listening in that order... well, I think you're going to find it a little annoying.

I'm annoyed by the failure to identify an individual U2 song. If you can pick "Sunshine of Your Love" out of all the acid rock you "loved ... in college," you can pick one U2 song.

I note that "Rocket Man" is about being separated from your loved one for a "long, long time," while stranded in outer space, and "Sunshine of Your Love" is also about being separated from your loved one and "waiting so long" -- also set in an astronomical context ("I'll be with you when the stars start falling").

Finally, "Celebration" is an excellent Secretary of State song: "It's time to come together, it's up to you/What's your pleasure/Everyone around the world come on!" So's "Respect" for that matter: "I'm about to give you all of my money/And all I'm askin' in return, honey..."

May 15, 2006

Noticing "the saggy" and the eye-rolling.

That was a rather good episode of "The Apprentice" tonight. I really appreciated the judgment of the guys from WalMart and Microsoft. Sean and Lee had an unfinished exhibit. It was missing its "roof" and that made the walls sag embarrassingly. But they had a more commercial idea for the presentation. The women's team created a more finished-looking display, but it was really a tacky living room sort of place, where kids would park themselves in the comfy chairs and keep fast-moving money-spenders from entering at all. It's easy to imagine how Sean and Lee could have been excoriated for their messy hut, but the women's team lost. The big issue for the women was the eye-rolling. It's not eye-rolling, it's eye-raising. Allie and Roxanne went into high-school mode, disrespecting Tammy at every turn of the shopping cart. And since Roxanne also made the the lame signage, it looked for sure as if Roxanne would go down. Maybe even both Roxanne and Allie. But, no, it was Tammy who got fired. She just didn't lead. Now get out of here. Go.

It's hard being a plaintiff...

It's hard being a plaintiff who:

1. files a case in state court,

2. has the defendant remove the case to federal court,

3. moves to remand the case on the ground that you don't seem to meet the requirements for standing in federal court,

4. loses that motion,

5. litigates the case in federal court and ultimately wins in the Court of Appeals,

6. has the Supreme Court grant certiorari and now must argue that you do have standing in order to preserve the victory, and

7. loses when the Supreme Court decides that you don't have standing.

That happened to the plaintiffs in DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, decided today. The Court held unanimously that state tax breaks to business don't injure state taxpayers in a sufficiently "concrete and particularized" way to create a "case or controversy," as required by Article III of the Constitution. Standing in state court, where the plaintiffs originally filed, is governed by state law. It remains unanswered whether the states violate the Commerce Clause when they offer tax breaks to lure businesses into the state.

15 arts critics...

... are blogging about what blogging is doing to arts criticism.

A wet spring.

It's really soggy around here.

maple seeds

I thought it seemed to be lightening up, but turning my head to look out the window seemed to operate a dimmer switch.

"Copies of isolated books, bound between inert covers, soon won't mean much."

Read this article, by Kevin Kelly of Wired. It's long, but well worth the read. Key passage:
What is the technology telling us? That copies don't count any more. Copies of isolated books, bound between inert covers, soon won't mean much. Copies of their texts, however, will gain in meaning as they multiply by the millions and are flung around the world, indexed and copied again. What counts are the ways in which these common copies of a creative work can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, enlivened by other media and sewn together into the universal library. Soon a book outside the library will be like a Web page outside the Web, gasping for air. Indeed, the only way for books to retain their waning authority in our culture is to wire their texts into the universal library.
Kelly takes the extreme position that copyright holders will have to give up on the outmoded practice of making money from selling copies. No matter how much they've been able to get their needs served by legislators, the sheer force of technology will defeat them in the end.
[T]he economic model built on [copies] is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies lose value. They are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer and engage a work. Authors and artists can make (and have made) their livings selling aspects of their works other than inexpensive copies of them. They can sell performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information, the scarcity of attention (via ads), sponsorship, periodic subscriptions — in short, all the many values that cannot be copied. The cheap copy becomes the "discovery tool" that markets these other intangible valuables.
How painful it must be to the average author -- an introvert -- to hear that the new way of making money will be selling personal access to you.

Kelly is very good at getting us excited about how great it will be to have all of humanity's writing in position for infinite linking, but way too blithe about the burden to be inflicted on writers. In his technology triumphalism, he goes so far as to say:
Having searchable works is good for culture. It is so good, in fact, that we can now state a new covenant: Copyrights must be counterbalanced by copyduties. In exchange for public protection of a work's copies (what we call copyright), a creator has an obligation to allow that work to be searched. No search, no copyright.
So Kelly would not even permit the author with a highly saleable book to opt out of being scanned into the system. That's harsh. Maybe it's a bargaining chip for the legal dealing that is going on. But he's very convincing when he talks about the benefits to most authors, whose works go out of print and lose economic potential. For them, moving from oblivion into a lively system of linkage is a great benefit.

May 14, 2006

Audible Althouse #49

Whoa! Almost up to 50 in this crazy podcasting endeavor. Number 49, get it while it's hot. Subscribe, or stream it here.

The aversion to politics -- including insect politics. Rabid bats. Emotional support animals. Animistic beliefs about a volcano. The passive aggressive strategy of the holdout juror... and of God. Walking out of the forest -- and the Stone Age -- but venturing back in -- for monkeys.

UPDATE: Here's the passage from Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography" that I talk about in the podcast. He's just discussed his role in providing for street sweeping and streetlamps:
Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho' dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produc'd not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good instrument.

"Obviously, from a party point of view we want to get in and do things, but I'm talking about the ideal political thing."

Adam Nagourney notes that winning Congress might not do the Democrats much good.
[S]ome Democrats worry that the worst-case scenario may be winning control of Congress by a slim margin, giving them responsibility without real authority. They might serve as a foil to Republicans and President Bush, who would be looking for someone to share the blame. Democrats need a net gain of 6 seats in the Senate, and 15 seats in the House. "The most politically advantageous thing for the Democrats is to pick up 11, 12 seats in the House and 3 or 4 seats in the Senate but let the Republicans continue to be responsible for government," said Tony Coelho, a former House Democratic whip. "We are heading into this period of tremendous deficit, plus all the scandals, plus all the programs that have been cut. This way, they get blamed for everything."

Mr. Coelho quickly added, "Obviously, from a party point of view we want to get in and do things, but I'm talking about the ideal political thing."
"It's going to be very difficult to lead, because the loudest voices in both parties will be those that feel the strongest about their certitude," [Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator from Nebraska who is president of the New School said.] "That's going to be the left: Impeach him! Investigate him!"
Doesn't it make you want to avert your eyes? Let see. What are the monkeys doing today? How about bats? Hyenas?

You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects... don't have politics. They're very... brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can't trust the insect. I'd like to become the first... insect politician. Y'see, I'd like to, but... I'm afraid, uh...

I don't know what you're trying to say.

I'm saying... I'm saying I - I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake.

No. no, Seth...

I'm saying... I'll hurt you if you stay.

"The energy and karma is being boomeranged back on these people."

Says Sally Regenhard, an opponent of the design for the World Trade Center memorial. The project is in disarray:
The current rethinking has been prompted by a report leaked May 5 estimating the project's cost at $1 billion. But criticism of the design had mounted on such grounds as safety, symbolism and the order in which victims' names would be listed in underground galleries. Last week, representatives of the city, state and private agencies in charge of rebuilding at ground zero returned to the drawing board, looking at alterations that would cut the memorial's estimated cost in half....

Last year, [Michael] Arad's design underwent another change, reducing the number of ramps descending into each void from four to two — one entrance and one exit — after consultants said visitors would find his design too confusing. Arad, who is contractually prohibited from discussing the process, is said to have been unhappy with the decision.

What the present crisis over cost means for the design is "very unclear," said Frederic Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. But Bell said he has been troubled by suggestions that the underground portion of the memorial could be eliminated. That change, Bell said, would be "the last straw" for Arad's original design.
Does it not seem wrong to spend so much money on a memorial? Isn't simplicity, not extravagance, what is called for? But the design is simple. Surely, it's not ornate. It's expensive because of the scheme of moving people underground:
"That's what Michael's scheme is about. It is about going down and separating from the street life and hurly-burly," [Frederic Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects] said. "The lack of descent would be the irreconcilable change that would finally cause the scheme to lose its meaning."
Shouldn't they have thought this through long ago? Or would any design have embroiled us in boomeranging energy and karma like this?

The depravity expert.

"When is a murder like many other murders and when is a murder truly the worst of the worst?" says Dr. Michael Welner, an NYU forensic psychiatrist who's designed a "depravity scale":
In 39 states, including New York, judges and juries can mete out harsher sentences for crimes described with words such as "depraved," "vile" and "atrocious."...

Using a Web-based poll (, Welner asks 25 nuanced questions that gauge why a person thinks one crime is more depraved than another.
A web-based poll? Isn't that an atrocious research method? I'll analyze the comments to this post in my quest to become a reseach methods expert. And I'm counting on you to keep it nuanced.