December 30, 2006

A year in the life of the blog.

This is a New Year's Eve eve tradition -- see? I did it last year -- to select one blog post from each month. What is the basis for the selection? Oh, it's just the post I like the most, the one that represents what I consider to be the essence of what I'm trying to do here. It will take me a while to make the choices, so I'll start with the months followed by blank spaces.

January: When a judge writes a memoir.

February: Mysteries of the Althouse house.

March: Simulblogging the Oscars.

April: Live-blogging the Bloggership conference!

May: "We're emenies on account of we both loves Olive Oyl."

June: Blind item.

July: Two lawprofs, vlogging.

August: Arches.

September: Yes, it was a tad ridiculous to pay $8 million for it...

October: Think. Respect....

November: What happened last night?

December: That conversation about a whole lot of blood.

"Then, with his eyes wide open, no stutter or choke in his throat, he said his final words cursing the Americans and the Persians."

Marc Santora writes a vivid description of Saddam Hussein's last moments. I believe the full video of the hanging can be seen on the web now. I won't watch it. I have watched the video that goes up to the part where the noose is put around Saddam's neck. It is very disturbing, and one must admit that he accepts his fate with dignity.

ADDED: Allahpundit writes:
I don’t know whose bright idea it was to let three punks in leather jackets and balaclavas take care of business instead of the Iraqi army, but the more I watch it, the more it looks like a hit instead of a state execution. This doesn’t help either:
The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr. Hussein. “Prayers be upon Mohammed and his holy family.”

Two guards added, “Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.”

Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their direction.

They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who many believe Mr. Hussein had murdered.

“Moktada?” he spat out, a mix between sarcasm and disbelief.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some readers don't think I focused enought hate on Saddam for what he did in his life. I say:
When I look at the video, I see a man who is facing death. I see death itself, and it distracts me from the details of what this man did before he arrived in that place.

Oligonicella responds:
Sorry, Ann, I think you need to learn to compartmentalize about death. Everyone dies; you, me, Saddam. It's what happens before that is important, not what happens at.
Why do you not notice your own failure to compartmentalize? What is happening in the picture is the state executing a man. In the past, that man did things, and I recognize the evil of it. In the video, I am witnessing the state's grim, methodical destruction of a human life.

I love this new moderation!

I've switched to moderating comments on Blogger. Forced by annoying circumstance... but it turns out to be saving me an immense amount of time, because it's easier to read through the comments on Blogger's moderation page than to check them out in the email (and actually finding them all in the posts is impossible). And I've been able to turn off word verification. You wouldn't believe how bad I am at typing in those verification words. (All those double "v"s trying to look like "w"s!)

I hope you enjoy the change, this escape from having to type gibberish, even though it means there may be some delay in getting the comments up.

And here's some advice for avoiding having your comments rejected. Don't use bad language. (I don't mind it myself, but I'm worried about filters.) Don't be abusive. (I'm fine with people disagreeing with me, but if you just want to call me a moron, get your own blog. You can whine about censorship over there too.) Don't try to make the thread be all about you. Don't cut and paste long quotes. And don't bring up subjects that are completely unrelated to the post, unless it's funny or cool or aptly analogous or something else that I happen to appreciate.

Are we having Fund yet?

Dan Drezner, having encountered the giant to-do about my experience inside an exceedingly right-wing Liberty Fund conference, makes some general observations about Liberty Fund conferences:
1) Liberty Fund conferences attract idea geeks -- people who will stay up until 2;00 AM debating the merits and demerits of different ideas. That's kind of the point of these things.

2) I've never encountered any racist attitudes, ideas, or even the benign neglect of these attitudes at these conferences.

3) At these conferences I have, on occasion, encountered a personality type that I suspect gave Althouse the willies -- people so besotted with the positive appeal of an abstract idea that they will argue in its defense against any and all comers. Indeed, they consider this a pleasurable activity. The worst of these lot will pooh-pooh valid counterarguments or appeals to pragmatism as besides the Big Point they are trying to make. Let's call these people True Believers.

4) Give that these are Liberty Fund conferences, I would wager that libertarians comprise a high percentage of True Believers at these functions compared to other ideologies.

5) Despite point (4), True Believers make up a very small minority of overall Liberty Fund attendees. Indeed, with the acknowledgment that modern liberals are probably the least represented group at these functions, the intellectual and professional diversity of these conferences is pretty broad.

6) I'm enough of an idea geek that I'm usually glad that one or two True Believers are in attendance, because it forces me to keep my arguments sharp in a Millian sense of debate.

7) The overwhelmingly predominant personality type in attendance at these functions are Contrarians. Wich [sic], of course, makes consensus pretty much a logical impossibility.
Idea geeks. Okay. Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.

We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.

Should judges accept amicus briefs from former judges?

Here's a conspicuous rejection:
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will soon decide an important case concerning detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rejected a friend-of-the-court brief submitted in the case by [seven retired federal] judges. Two former chief judges of the court were among those rebuffed....

“It certainly tells you,” Mr. Rivkin said, “how at least some of the D.C. Circuit judges feel about the anti-Bush-administration judicial activism by their former colleagues.”...

The two former chief judges on the brief, Abner J. Mikva and Patricia M. Wald, were appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
Mikva interviews that it's not political, it's personal: the judges are just mad at him for opposing those free vacations people like to give them.

Let's assume, though, that this was an actual legal opinion and not an abuse of power or a fit of spite. Isn't this a serious issue? Two legal experts take two sides:
Ronald D. Rotunda, a law professor at George Mason University, said it was an unexceptional application of a sensible policy.

“There is no particular reason why former judges should be able to leverage their titles in litigation,” Professor Rotunda said.

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, disagreed. “It’s more than petty,” Professor Gillers said of the brief’s rejection. “It’s unnecessary and insulting.”
The court's opinion -- for Judges David B. Sentelle and A. Raymond Randolph -- is very short, little more than an invocation of a sentence in Advisory Opinion No. 72 of the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct:
Judges should insure that the title 'judge' is not used in the courtroom or in papers involved in litigation before them to designate a former judge, unless the designation is necessary to describe accurately a person's status at a time pertinent to the lawsuit.
That opinion appears in full in Judge Judith W. Rogers's dissenting opinion, and you can see there that the concern was the appearance of partiality where a judge calls one lawyer "Mr." and the other lawyer "Judge," not any larger question about whether judges have a sufficient interest in the litigation to justify filing an amicus brief. In this case, here's how they phrased their interest:
Amici are retired federal judges who have dedicated their professional careers to our judicial system. The issue presented by these consolidated cases challenges the integrity of that system: may this Court sanction life-long detention in the face of credible allegations that the evidence upon which the detention is based was secured by torture?
Basically, the judges offer their judicial opinion. As the dissenting judge notes, the U.S. Supreme Court accepts briefs from former federal judges whose interest is solely a judicial perspective. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, there was a brief from former federal judges whose stated interest was only that they were former federal judges and had an opinion on the issues in the case.

If it is an established practice and since the motion to submit the brief was unopposed, it does seem "more than petty" and "unnecessary and insulting" to reject the brief. I might be willing to accept the idea that there is something deeply wrong with former judges submitting what are nothing more than judicial opinions to sitting judges, but with no substantial opinion explaining this position, Sentelle and Randolph have nothing.

ADDED: To stave off confusion and needless corrections, let me say that the usage of "interviews" above is Television Without Pity style slang. And you can consider me to be doing Courts Without Pity. And don't steal Courts Without Pity™ as name for your blog.

MORE: Three Volokh Conspirartors weigh in.

Eugene Volokh says:
[T]he reason that they are filing the brief is that they are hoping that their experience and past accomplishments will impress the judges and Justices who may consider the case, and will move those active judges to pay special attention to the arguments in the brief. (They may also hope that the public and the bar will pay such special attention as well.) But there seems to be nothing nefarious in that -- the whole point of having amicus briefs be signed rather than anonymous is so that the court may consider, for whatever it's worth, the identity of those making the argument as well as the contents of the argument.
Orin Kerr suspects that the retired judges are probably just allowing their names to be used on briefs they didn't work on and know little about. Maybe this should be discouraged, but it wasn't worth rejecting the brief.

Jonathan Adler writes to reject Mikva's charge
that Sentelle and Randolph had a personal grudge: "I think it clear that Judges Sentelle and Randolph believed that Mikva and the other judges on the brief were inappropriately using their status as former judges in an effort to influence the case."

"It’s like the suffocating rubber clown suit begins to dissolve."

David Lynch explains Transcendental Meditation. He's into it. Is it going to change his films?
“You don’t have to suffer to show suffering,” he said of the violence in his movies. The filmmaker sees no contradiction between inner harmony and external edginess.

“I heard Charles Bukowski started meditation late in his life,” Mr. Lynch said, referring to the poet laureate of Skid Row, who died in 1994. “He was an angry, angry guy, but he apparently loved meditation.”

Of course, just as meditation never got Mr. Lynch over a taste for the macabre, it never quenched Mr. Bukowski’s famous thirst for whiskey. “Well, maybe in time, it would have,” Mr. Lynch said with a smile. “In the meantime — just more enjoyment of the whiskey.”
I wonder how it would go with blogging. All the same old taunts and snark, but inside: new mellowness!

The exclusion of African Americans from "the social, communal and intimate cultural life of white Americans."

Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson calls this "The Last Race Problem" (TimesSelect link):
[A]ccompanying [the integration of African Americans into "the upper echelons and leadership of American society, public life and national identity"] has been the near complete isolation of blacks from the private life of the white majority. Recent modest improvements notwithstanding, blacks, including the middle class, are nearly as segregated today as they were in DuBois’s day....

The celebrated tipping-point theory of Thomas Schelling, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has long appeared to offer a pessimistic answer to the puzzle. It holds that even where a majority of whites favor having black neighbors, the all-white preference of just a few will always rapidly escalate into total segregation.

However, the economist William Easterly, after examining data on segregation over the past three decades, has demonstrated conclusively that Schelling’s theory is groundless in regard to race. In the vast majority of neighborhoods studied, Easterly found no pattern of acceleration of white decline, no evidence of a sudden, extreme exodus at the fabled tipping point, but instead a steady, almost constant decline in the proportion of whites from one decade to the next. Moreover, the typical neighborhoods that did change from being predominantly white to predominantly black in this period still had a significant proportion of whites living in them.

So why does segregation persist? The evidence seems clear that, in sharp contrast with the past, the major cause is that blacks generally prefer to live in neighborhoods that are at least 40 percent black. Blacks mention ethnic pride and white hostility as their main reasons for not moving to white neighborhoods. But studies like Mary Pattillo-McCoy’s ethnography of middle-class black ghettos show that the disadvantages, especially for youth, far outweigh the psychic gains.

It would be naïve to discount persisting white racism, but other minorities, like Jews, have faced a similar dilemma and opted, with good reasons, for integration. The Jewish-American experience also shows that identity and integration are not incompatible, and that when the middle class moves, others follow. If America is ever to solve the second part of DuBois’s color problem, it will be on the shoulders of the black middle class.
So, according to Patterson, it is up to the black middle class to change its ways. Whether they are reading TimesSelect is another matter. I assume the people who get TimesSelect are already living in middle class white neighborhoods. Patterson is encouraging complacency on their part. That doesn't mean he's not right, though.

(Here's an article of his from last March about "the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream.")

"That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption."

John Burns on Saddam Hussein:
The man who stepped into the court had the demeanor of a condemned man, his eyes swiveling left, then right, his gait unsteady, his curious, lisping voice raised to a tenor that resonated fear....

At that instant, I felt sorry for him, as a man in distress and perhaps, too, as a once almighty figure reduced to ignominy. ...

That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption. I came to understand how a Westerner used to the civilities of democracy and due process — even a reporter who thought he grasped the depths of Saddam’s depravity — fell short of the Iraqis’ sense, forged by years of brutality, of the power of his unmitigated evil.
I too have that "profound moral corruption" of expecting to see "the civilities of democracy and due process." I hope that corruption spreads.

The mature-woman porn genre.

Eh... The NYT is covering it, so I'm flagging it for you. Maybe you're interested in the 50-year-old "administrative assistant at a sex-related entertainment company" who decides to become a porn actress because she "loves sex" and "wanted to do something different." So she says! Her husband supports her because "She’s doing it for the right reasons." The "right reasons." I love that. What are the wrong reasons? Presumably: money, to please someone else, low self-esteem. You know, all those things that motivate those other people. But not you. You just love sex and have a wonderful sense of adventure. Well, that's just peachy. Celebrate yourself.

So I find the woman really pretty dull... because she thinks she's exciting. I'm more interested in the director:
The director, Urbano Martin, points his camera strategically, scarcely disguising his boredom. “I shoot specialty films,” he explains during a break in filming, adding that he has been in the business for 17 years. “Fat women, old women, hairy girls — all kinds. We feed the niche.”

The market for beautiful, airbrushed young women “is oversaturated,” he says. “This is more normal people, more meat on the bone, like what you have at home.”
Now, this guy is a human being: suitably bored by what is boring and working for the money. Mature-woman porn is not some NYT-appropriate culture trend. It's just one more way to find a niche in a saturated market.

Do you worry more about dancing or the kind of people who worry about dancing?

Dad tries to write an essay about a middle school talent show "without sounding like a prig." He sounds like a prig:
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again.
Reminds me of this:
They danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire...
Do you worry more about dancing or the kind of people who worry about dancing?

December 29, 2006

"If you take a cold bath in pure libertarianism... it's horrifying. It's not a world you could want to live in."

So says Mark Schmitt about 14 minutes into the new Bloggingheads episode (with Jonathan Chait). And I'm not just linking to this because they start off talking about the recent Althouse/Goldberg episode. They've got a good discussion about libertarianism (and federalism). Both Chait and Schmitt recognize that a lot of people say they're libertarian or express some attraction to it, but they don't mean real libertarianism. That resonated with me, as you can imagine.

The creepy death watch...

... for Saddam Hussein.

UPDATE: I've been watching the cable news stations, mainly Larry King, and it is quite something. "You've heard the word imminent today, and I'm sure it's really imminent. I'm sure it's going to happen within minutes," says Larry. Every time he goes to commercial, he assures us that they will break in if they hear Saddam has died. I'm sure it's about to happen any minute. Anderson Cooper, taking over on CNN, says: "Everything we are hearing points to it, perhaps, in minutes."

ANOTHER UPDATE: CNN reports that the hanging took place 10 minutes ago. We see a split screen, with the reporter on the left. On the right, they put up an old clip of Saddam laughing heartily. A million viewers make the wisecrack, "He ain't laughing now." Meanwhile, Drudge is running two revolving sirens.

MORE: I get the impression that every commentator that goes on to fill the air time tonight makes a fairly lame effort to seem to be talking about the execution while really doing not much more than telling us whatever it is they think about the situation in Iraq in general.

NOW: The news channels try to figure out whether to show the pictures of the hanging. It's quite exquisite how they want to demonstrate their taste but loathe to see any other channel get the jump on them.

Moderating comments.

If you want to know why I've started moderating comments, it has nothing to do with the Reason Magazine attack. I'm up to fending that off. In fact, it's just great the way I've been -- essentially -- authorized to take off the itchy, stuffy gloves I've been wearing for the last few weeks. I'm moderating comments because of one individual -- and regular readers know who it is -- who is a longtime abuser of the comments section here.

When divas attack, Part 2.

Virginia Postrel seems to approve of her colleague's attack on me. It's just a short post. I can't tell how she feels about government being so bold as to ban racial discrimination in hotels and restaurants. She seems to think it was amusingly ridiculous of me to object to ideologues who took umbrage at such laws.

ADDED: I'm just remembering that I tangled with Postrel over this before Bailey wrote his post. I suspect that lit a fire under Bailey somehow. Maybe it was this line: "What is shocking is to encounter walking relics who are in love with the ideas that were used back in the 1960s to fight off the Civil Rights movement... and who aren't ashamed to declare their love publicly."

Here's the post where I take on Ron Bailey of Reason Magazine.

Ron Bailey has put up a long attack on me on the Reason Magazine blog. It's his version of what happened at the Liberty Fund colloquium on Frank S. Meyer, which I've alluded to but avoided talking about in detail. Now that he's written so much over there, it forces me to get specific about some things I'd rather leave unsaid. Here's Ron:
... Althouse bizarrely came away thinking that conservatives and libertarians were frightening "true believers." Why? Evidently because they took political and moral ideas seriously.
False. I came away surprised that some people, especially the libertarians, were hardcore, true believers, wedded to an abstract version of an idea and unwilling to look at how it played out in the real world. I had come to the conference thinking I had more in common with libertarians but was quite put off by them in person. By contrast, the conservative position, because it had more to do with the real-life context, was much less troubling to me. This surprised me, because I disagree with so much of what social conservatives favor.
Much too seriously for Althouse's comfort. For one thing, there was quite a bit of discussion about the relation of virtue to liberty. Meyer's argument is that liberty is the necessary prerequisite for practicing virtue. Apparently some conservatives, such as L. Brent Bozell, Jr. (see Bozell's 1962 essay "Freedom or Virtue?" which we read for the seminar) with whom Meyer was arguing, believe that the state has the right and obligation to coerce virtue. This is anathema to libertarians. The first concern of libertarians is state power and this paramount concern for the abuse of state power means that the state should stay out of private activities that traditional conservatives might consider vicious, e.g., personal use of recreational drugs, voluntary prostitution, and so forth. Anyway, this politico-philosophical discussion apparently confused Althouse. Perhaps her skills at abstract thinking have been dulled by all the time she spends dissecting the particularities of legal cases as a law professor.
False. This didn't "confuse" me. But thanks for the "apparently." I agree -- and said at the conference many times -- that the state should not coerce virtue when it doesn't affect other persons. What disturbed me was the assertion in the writings that the public accommodations provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were pernicious. And when I said that at the conference, a lot of the participates immediately challenged me. Did I think the law was right?!! This is what I mean by the excessive belief in the libertarian principle at the abstract level. These folks -- including Bailey, I think -- would have left restaurants and hotels to continue discriminating against black people as long as they pleased. Someone asserted that the free market would solve the problem better than government regulation. I said that the restaurant in the case about the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in fact made more money by seating only white customers and serving take-out to black people. One other person at the table agreed, but the point was pushed past. It didn't fit the abstraction. I thought the failure to deal with this point was very damaging to the credibility of what we were reading and talking about.
In any case, I had never met Althouse before the colloquium nor even read her blog. When chatting with her over cocktails, she seemed pleasant enough if a bit vague. In casual conversation, she made sure that I knew that she had been a "hippie" back in the day.
Self-deprecation and modesty doesn't play well with libertarians. "Cocktails," by the way, was a glass of wine. Bailey -- I'll say -- wasn't pleasant or vague. Should I counter with some adjectives about him? He was brusque and didn't seem at ease chatting over cocktails. Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink, and she reveals some little fact about herself. What do you do? Smile and reveal some little thing about yourself and make connections? Or do you grunt a few syllables and decide she's a lightweight?
During the sessions when the group analyzed various texts from Meyer, she often seemed lost, not really following the discussion. As she has blogged, she was clearly out of her milieu.
I was uncomfortable with the crowd I found myself in because I felt they were essentially celebrating a man who had written a slim book touting a political philosophy that was used in its time very specifically to oppose civil rights and desegregation. Too many people at the table wanted to talk -- at length and repetitiously -- about abstractions, such as the meaning of the word "virtue." I found this perverse and offensive. I may have "seemed lost" to Bailey, and I surely was not content to just "follow the discussion." I thought there were serious matters that had to be dealt with. Why should I respect this man Meyer at all to want to engage with his book? He wrote screeds in the National Review urging the southern governors to take over the National Guard and fight off school desegregation! It was simply bizarre. Yet I had committed myself to nine hours of conversation! I had to listen to everyone politely. I had no option to walk out. If that look on my face "seemed lost," then I was doing a decent enough job of concealing my true feelings. It wasn't easy.
One session at the end of conference was devoted to Meyer's defense of federalism-his idea is that the constitutional structure that divides state power among political subdivisions tends to limit the power of the state over individuals, thus enlarging the sphere of personal liberty. The tragic historical abuse of federalism was state-mandated racial segregation which Meyer defended. As I understood Meyer's argument, he believed that preserving federalism as bulwark [sic] against the growth of central government power was more important to him than vindicating the rights of black Americans.
Big of him, huh? He really believed his principles, so deeply that black people were just going to have to suffer for his beliefs. What a guy! But you tell me: How do I know he loved his principles first and felt just terrible about how other people were going to have to pay the price for his lofty commitments or whether he actually came to love his ideas because of where they would lead? Why do you love the abstractions you love? To ask this question is not to fail to be an intellectual. To fail to ask this question is to fall short as a thinker.

I heard way too many people say they wanted to stay on the abstract level and then flatter themselves by saying this made them intellectuals. This did not unleash waves of admiration from me, however. It made me begin to entertain the thought that some of these seemingly normal, nice enough people really were racists. How could you tell?
Now here's where Althouse begins to get strange. During that session, as I recall, absolutely everyone around the table condemned Meyer's defense of federalism in the face of the real evil of state-mandated segregation. Everyone!
Yes, state-mandated segregation. But I had brought up the subject of discrimination by private business-owners, which was roundly defended at the table in the name of restricting government to the most minimal level of intrusion on the individual, in hardcore, true-believer libertarian style. (Believe me, the readings expressed the most morbid fear of government you can imagine.)
But apparently not vigorously enough for Althouse.
Because my problem was not limited to state-mandated segregation. You were very clear that that was all you opposed.
Although she did not say it during the sessions, she apparently believes that past racism means that federalism is tainted. She has not made very clear what that "taint" means for the future of federalism.
I've written about this a lot, and not only did I talk about it at the conference, but I've been writing about this in law review articles for 20 years. You might try educating yourself about what I think before writing a big attack on me. Or maybe you're the one with dulled thinking skills. My point, which is quite clear, is that federalism has been associated with the evils of racism historically and that this presents a problem for those who would portray it as good thing today. There are many people who simply experience "federalism" as a code-word for racism. I have written about the positive values of federalism for a long time and have often encountered this problem. I know from long experience that it is crucial to disaggregate federalism from the history of racism to make it attractive in political and legal arguments. As long as Bailey is disparaging my intelligence, I may as well say that Bailey's inability to get this point doesn't make him look terribly smart.
However, during the session, some participants did wonder if there was a way to rescue federalism and really re-establish states as 50 different "laboratories of democracy." Contemporary libertarians strongly favor federalism because it allows some states to permit gay marriage, physician assisted death, medical marijuana, concealed carry of handguns, and surrogate motherhood contracts and other private activities without interference from the Feds. I would be even more startled to discover that Althouse opposes these and similar cases of federalism.
Bailey doesn't seem to know that this is a subject I've written a great deal about in my scholarly writing. Nor does he seem to remember that I brought up this aspect of federalism at the conference. I was the main person who did! Talk about not paying attention!
Of course, libertarians who are eager to prevent the state from interfering in the lives of citizens in order to enforce its version of virtuous behavior, support this kind of federalism. This point was made repeatedly in conference sessions.
Yeah, mainly by me.
As I said, if Althouse thought America's shameful racist history meant that federalism is beyond rescuing (including the "good kinds" just mentioned), she had ample opportunity to make that point during the formal sessions.
Which I don't, so this is just an obtuse point.
However, she can't expect everyone in the room who have been discussing these issues for years to just roll over and agree with her. Oh, by the way, did I mention that no one defended Meyer's views on federalism and racial segregation?.
Again: obtuse.
Liberty Fund colloquia strongly encourage conversation among participants outside of the formal sessions. Participants dine together every evening and are usually seated at tables of six or so participants in order to facilitate conversation. (Althouse weirdly and incorrectly refers to these rules that aim to encourage discussion as "cult-like" here.)
The surly Bailey doesn't appreciate my sense of humor.
After dinner, conferees are invited back to a hospitality suite for cocktails and snacks where they can talk further with one another for as long they like. As it happens, I was sitting at a table at the dinner in which Ann Althouse had her apparent epiphany about tainted federalism and her panic attack about the racial sensitivities of conservatives and libertarians.
We'll get to what he terms a "panic attack" further down.
What happened is that since she had not joined several of us in the hospitality suite the previous night, she asked what we have been discussing until 2 am. Some of my tablemates at dinner told her that I had provoked a spirited debate (lasting perhaps and hour and a half) about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I had asserted that state-sanctioned racial segregation was so egregious a violation of the rights of black citizens that it was absolutely necessary for the federal government to intervene to smash it.
Again, note that he was only opposing "state-sanctioned racial segregation" and only because it was "so egregious" a violation. And apparently, it took a big one-and-a-half-hour fight even to get through that point! I'm trying to convey to you readers just how retrograde things were here. At what point would you start to wonder if this is what it is like to be with racists (of a certain level of intelligence and social class)?
The whole political point of libertarianism is to strictly limit the power of the state over individuals. Mandating racial segregation via state power (as was done in the Southern states) is precisely the kind of state tyranny what libertarians detest [sic]. In any case, I think she found my view of the Civil Rights Act agreeable.
Hardly. You would have protected the individual rights of the businesses that would have gone on discriminating. You only wanted to limit the state, which is what you always want to do anyway, in service of your big idea.
During the discussion in the hospitality suite, absolutely no one defended state-sanctioned segregation and all agreed that Federal intervention was necessary to outlaw state-enforced Jim Crow segregation.
Again with the "state-sanctioned"! That isn't the point. This is so obtuse!
Once the topic had been broached over dinner, I turned to another tablemate who is a fervent Catholic intellectual to discuss some bioethical stuff. We had brought up transhumanism during one of the sessions earlier in the day. The two of us were having a perfectly civil conversation about the moral status of embryos. Anyway next thing I know, Ann Althouse is shouting at two of our dinner companions demanding that they prove to her (Althouse) that they are not racists! She kept asking over and over, "How do I know that I'm not sitting at a table full of racists?" This was completely bizarre! It should go without saying, but I will say it: No one at the conference could even remotely be accused of being racist.
I've already explained how I came to feel that the people I was sitting with could in fact be racists. At the table, I asked my question calmly at first, but was met with continued assertions about the rights of business owners and hypotheticals about the rights of white people. There was a long, irritating hypothetical about KKK members that I couldn't hear over the din of the restaurant. The other woman at the table who was going on in this vein was very young, in her mid-twenties, and she maintained a smug expression on her face as she talked about the rights of white people and repeatedly declined to express concern for the history of racism in the United States and the suffering of real people. It was always back to the hypos about white people. I tried very hard not to express anger at her, but finally I did: How do I know you're not a racist? It was a serious question, something I'd been wondering about all day.
Apparently, the three of them had been discussing the constitutionality of the public accommodations sections of the Civil Rights Act that forbids private businesses to racially discriminate among customers. That is an interesting issue where people ask serious questions about how to balance state intervention and individual choice. Anyway, it's an important issue over which people of good will may disagree-once state-enforced segregation is obliterated, will individual choices under equality of law and in a free market place end racial discrimination? Perhaps not. As Nobel Economics Laureate Gary Becker has argued if a minority group is a very small percentage of a population, then the costs of discrimination will be borne mainly by the minority and market forces may not be strong enough to overcome such discrimination. To me, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that compelled private businesses to serve people of all races have largely resulted in beneficial outcomes. But beneficial outcomes may not be the only desideratum of state intervention. Consider the egregious violation of property rights that took place in the Kelo v. New London case. After all, forcing Ms. Kelo to sell her house so that the city could give it to a private developer is beneficial to the city of New London's tax base. Again, people of good will can have serious disagreements on where the proper limits to state power should lie. For example, should the Feds outlaw gay marriage, medical marijuana, concealed carry, surrogate motherhood even though some states want their citizens to have the opportunity to participate in those activities? Some conservatives would say yes. Libertarians would say no.
Got that? He thinks the government should have left the private businesses alone to discriminate against black people as long as they felt like it.
In trying to explain to Althouse why private discrimination might be OK, I later pieced together that my tablemates had posed the question of whether or not Althouse would want to have the right to refuse to serve KKK members if she owned a restaurant--say, the KKK members were planning to have a weekly luncheon meeting at her cafe? My interpretation of what happened is that because she didn't want to appear to be hypocrite, she refused to answer and kept asking more and more abstract questions about their example. When she was backed into a corner, she lashed out, suggesting that people who disagreed with her feelings were racists. Eventually, she was so upset that she began crying. Of course, at that point the possibility of civil intellectual discourse completely evaporated.
My friends, in all honesty, what made me cry -- and I'm not too sentimental, as you may have noticed -- was the realization that these people didn't care about civil rights.
I was also astonished by the poise with which my tablemates handled Althouse. Our companions did not raise their voices nor dismiss her (as I would have), but tried to calm her down. In fact, Althouse made the situation even more personal by yelling repeatedly at one of my dinner companions (who is also a colleague) that she was an "intellectual lightweight" and an "embarrassment to women everywhere." In fact, in my opinion, with that statement Althouse had actually identified herself. Before Althouse stalked away, I asked her to apologize for that insult, but she refused.
I don't think I said "embarrassment to women everywhere." That doesn't sound like my language. But I really was very angry at this young woman for her smiling and for her incessant justification of racial discrimination. I left the table because Bailey himself yelled at me in an extremely harsh way. He just kept saying "You don't know her. I know her." Basically, they were colleagues, and he was vouching for her. He didn't respond on the substantive issue. How could he? He agreed with her about private discrimination. At that point, I was so offended by these people that I got up and left. I felt terrible about causing a scene and being part of any ugliness. But on long reflection, I think I would have felt far worse if I had sat through all of that without saying anything.

IN THE COMMENTS: Ron Bailey shows up and I respond:
RON BAILEY: Professor Althouse: It is perfectly OK to complain that you think that people are foolishly adhering to principle while ignoring actual experience in the real world. What is NOT OK is for you to shout at other people calling them "racists" because they don't completely agree with your analysis. Especially when they are NOT racists.

Ron, you took the cake for shouting that night, but I agree that I got angry in the end, after much provocation and a severe lack of friendliness. I did not call people racists. I talked about how important it was to distinguish yourself from racist things that adhere to your abstract ideas. If anyone at that table had had the decency to say sincerely that they cared about civil rights and wanted to find a way to make it show that they hated racism, I would never have gotten angry like that. You suddenly became very vicious toward me, in defense of your friend. It looked really ugly. I was just begging for people to care about racism. Your colleague had an infuriatingly insolent smirk on her face for two hours. I tried very hard to deal with it, but it was just too much for me in the end. You did nothing to reach out toward me, a moderate, who came to the conference interested in libertarians. You completely alienated me and lost me as a potential ally, which was surpassingly foolish politically.

RON BAILEY: As you know calling someone a racist in America in the 2lst century is the worst epithet you can use. Deservedly so, racism is despicable. So you'd better reserve the term for people who really are racist, say, David Duke.

Oh, spare me. You're the one that just wrote a big, long post on a prominent website insulting me every which way you could think of. And yeah, racism is very bad. That's why you should try harder to disassociate yourself from it! Since it's so ugly, get the hell farther away from it. Don't attack me for saying you're standing too close to it... unless you like the impression it gives!

RON BAILEY: Finally, as much it pains me, I guess I have to spell it out for you. When I write: "To me, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that compelled private businesses to serve people of all races have largely resulted in beneficial outcomes" that means that I support the public accommodations sections of the Civil Rights Act. Now have I jumped through your racial sensitivity hoops enough?

No. You admit that there were benefits but you still stood by the principle that government should not have acted, and you're still calling my concern about civil rights "racial sensitivity hoops." It's quite absurd, really. You didn't have to make a big display today of how little you cared, and I never wrote a post about you. Go ahead and stew in your own fetid juice. You're missing a part, man.

RON BAILEY: BTW, your ad hominem, "Think about it. You're a middle-aged man, meeting a woman for the first time, having a drink" implying that if I'm not racist, that I may be anti-feminist. Priceless.

It wasn't an accusation of sexism, Ron, as the context of my post makes pretty damned clear. It was a way of saying that you did not understand the function of small talk and were socially awkward. You still don't get it. And the only reason I went ahead and wrote it is because you blatantly insulted me. You took any number of gratuitous shots at me and that freed me to be rude right back at you.

UPDATE: Three academics respond to this post, and I fight back here. I'm not responding to everyone who goes after this post, though. There are a few people who apparently monitor this blog constantly and do dumb little posts that -- really -- I have seen. If you send significant traffic here, and I never respond to you, it's because I think you're boring, little man.

A benevolent law plays out unfairly in real life. Surprised?

Here's a story about how statutory law is forcing Old Greenwich, Connecticut to oust a family who has been operating a coffee stand for 8 years and give his concession to a man who happens to be blind:
[L]ittle-known but longstanding federal and state laws [gives] preference to the blind when it comes to operating concessions on government property....

On Wednesday, a crowd of regulars were quick to speak their minds in support of the Mahers. “To me, it seems unconstitutional,” said Ralph DellaCamera, a hedge fund trader passing through the station about 6:30 a.m. “That’s not the capitalistic system.”
Well, that is a funny understanding of constitutional law.
Some customers said they would treat the new vendor warily. “I’m not looking forward to giving him any of my business,” said Stephen Mesker, a regular. “Preference is one thing when you award a contract” for the first time, Mr. Mesker said, but taking it from an existing operator is “like telling someone who owns a house: ‘Guess what? We have someone better for it.’ ”
Hmmm... Don't tell him about Kelo.

The ordinary person's sense of justice means something, but it's hard to see how the law is unconstitutional or how the city can avoid it. The customers are certainly free to shun the new guy and to say in advance that they will to try to pressure him to withdraw.

I'm sure the people who passed the law thought highly of their benevolence toward the blind, don't you think?

Lynette Alice "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.

Two women who tried to kill Gerald Ford. Must we look at them again? No, but we want to anyway:
Although the two would-be killers' roots are different, their plots were both symptoms of the 1970s, the "goofiest decade of the century for California … in terms of its sheer ominous weirdness," said Kevin Starr, USC history professor and state librarian emeritus.

"Moore's style was middle-class, whereas Squeaky Fromme was a genuine cultist. Moore represented the individual derangement of the period and Squeaky the social derangement," said Starr. The assassination attempts — Fromme's in Sacramento and Moore's in San Francisco — also contributed to "an atmosphere of lawlessness" in Northern California, Starr said, compounded by such 1970s events as the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the slaying of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and the mass suicide of the Jonestown cultists.

Others say the acts symbolized an unraveling of American society in the aftermath of Watergate and the Vietnam War.

"A lot of people were rolling around unmoored, finding a reason to believe there was a political or conspiratorial explanation for their inner upheaval and concluding if they could only act on their impulse, they could save the world," said Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and a former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society whose books include "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage."
The 70s! They were horrible. Assassins are horrible in any decade, but here the assassins are not only horrible for being assassins, they symbolize the decade. The 70s!

Edwards.

He said he would say he was running that then he did. Do I need to post about stuff like this? A news thing happened. Ah, what the hell.
Though Mr. Edwards’s central theme in the 2004 campaign was poverty, that was not the case on Thursday, as he made only a passing reference to the “two Americas,” his slogan two years ago. Instead of choosing to announce from the Lower Ninth Ward, the impoverished neighborhood that has become a symbol for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, opted for middle-class East New Orleans, and an area of solid, single-story tan-brick homes that are salvageable, unlike the flimsy frame buildings in the Lower Ninth Ward....

He said the next president would “need to re-establish America’s leadership role in the world,” called for quick withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 troops from Iraq, and said it “would be a mistake for America to escalate its role in Iraq.”

Roundly denouncing the administration’s approach, he said, “You can’t lead through raw power.”

He expressed regret for his Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq. “My vote was a mistake,” he said. “I should never have voted for the war.”
Why am I so bored with the idea of Edwards running for President? I voted for him in the primary in 2004. Why did I do that? Because I thought he was the remaining candidate with the best shot at winning. I thought he was smart, charming, and articulate enough to make people want to vote for him. As opposed to what we were about to get. And got.

ADDED: Ooh, I'm so bored with Edwards that I forgot to write the ending of the post saying why I'm so bored! I just don't like a guy who serves one term in the Senate and then reveals to the whole world -- by not running for reelection -- that he doesn't want to bother with any other public service than the one biggest plum job on the face of the planet.

21 favorite dishes, eaten in Madison this year.

The Isthmus has a nice list. Let me see which ones I've had:
Cocoliquot -- Braised short ribs

Framed by velvety smoked potato purée, the whole dish comes delicately flavored by bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions....
I just has this a few days ago. If I had to limit myself to one restaurant dish in town and had to eat it every night of the year, it would be this. Here's an old post showing the restaurant. And here's a new photo, from last week, showing a dessert that's made to look like sushi:

Dessert that looks like sushi

I've also had this:
Fresco -- Gnocchi

Surprisingly big, they have a perfect, pillowy bite and pick up layers of subtle flavors from shiitake mushrooms, brown herb butter, shaved Parmesan and sautéed asparagus tips and carrots...
I always like Fresco, the restaurant atop the Overture Center. Here's an old post about it, with pictures. And another.

I haven't had this next one, though I've eaten at the restaurant many times. I've always gotten that salad with all the bacon in it. But I'm just going to flag this one because sounds like something that people traveling through ought to eat if they're looking to understand Wisconsin:
The Old-Fashioned -- Baked potato

Slathered with sour cream and a nest of matchstick fries, just to make sure you get your double order of starch. The nice thing about going old-fashioned is that none of this demands any apology. In Wisconsin tradition, a baked potato that doesn't come piled with butter and sour cream is one pretentious, empty vessel.
And this is one I'd travel out of the city to get to:
The Old Feed Mill, Mazomanie -- Pot roast
Ever-so-slowly cooked beef yields easily to the fork. Unsullied by seasonings but graced by dark, rich brown pan gravy, this is indeed a pot roast for the gods.
I love the slow-cooked beef. And isn't it cool that there's a town called "Mazomanie." It sounds sounds like a form of insanity. A cute and amazing mania.

New light on the Nixon-Ford relationship.

Bob Woodward reveals information he characterizes as showing that Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon were closer friends than we'd thought:
During one of the darkest days of the Watergate scandal, Nixon secretly confided in Ford, at the time the House minority leader. He begged for help. He complained about fair-weather friends and swore at perceived rivals in his own party. "Tell the guys, goddamn it, to get off their ass and start fighting back," Nixon pleaded with Ford in one call recorded by the president's secret taping system.

And Ford did. "Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances, you give me a call, Mr. President," he told Nixon during that May 1, 1973, conversation. "We'll stand by you morning, noon and night."...

"You've got a hell of a lot of friends up here," Ford told him, "both Republican and Democrat, and don't worry about anybody being sunshine soldiers or summer patriots."

"Well, never Jerry Ford," Nixon replied. "But if you could get a few congressmen and senators to speak up and say a word, for Christ's sakes."

Ford was played a copy of that tape in 2005. Although the existence of Nixon's secret taping system had been publicly disclosed in 1973, no such tapes of Ford had come to public attention, and the former president seemed stunned. "I remember vividly that," he said, recalling how Nixon often turned to him to get things done on the Hill. He added that he considered himself to be Nixon's "only real friend."
Woodward pushes forward the question whether Ford really was chosen as VP simply because he was objectively the best person for the job and whether Ford really did pardon Nixon for the stated reason of moving the country forward. These are dark and critical questions that Woodward is now free to raise. We're honoring the dead President this week, and that is fitting, but historical understanding is more important. What should we really think of President Ford?

"Local singer loses dog while in Germany."

Just checking the morning headlines. What if that's the most exciting news of the day? It would be the best day in the history of the world.

December 28, 2006

Schnappi.

Das kleine Krokodil:



(Via Metafilter.)

Oh, noooo! I'm in the future!

Oh! How could it happen!!!

Oh, nooooo! I'm in the future!

It's the year 2066!!!

If only I had voted for John Kerry, maybe none of this would have happened!

ADDED: Sippican offers this:

you forgot poland

The Postal Service versus The Postal Service.

I love amicable legal settlements. This one is perfectly charming:
In 2004, the United States Postal Service sent the band a cease and desist letter citing their trademark on the phrase "postal service". After negotiations, the USPS relented, allowing the band use of the trademark in exchange for promotional efforts on behalf of the USPS and a performance at their annual National Executive Conference. Additionally, the USPS website sells the band's CDs.

In a glitzy but filtered place.

I'm here at my car dealer's getting a glitch in the window fixed. Yesterday, I got in my car -- an Audi TT Coupe -- and saw that the driver-side window was down an inch. It refused go up. The service guy on the phone said it needed to be reprogrammed. How could it get unprogrammed? I asked. He didn't know. Cars aren't mechanical so much anymore. They have their own minds, and they make their own decisions. In the future, look out. That thing might do... who knows what? If it can think, no, I want to keep the window cracked at all times, what else might it decide to do? I know, there are 12 Stephen King books I haven't read on this theme.

Anyway, the new Zimbrick European is pretty glossy. Get your special Quattro Starbucks coffee...

Audi showroom

And sit down in the lounge or -- I like it here -- at this work station...

Audi showroom

See that convertible? That's what I'm getting when my lease on the coupe expires. But not silver. What's with all the silver? Everyone wants a silver car, the service guy informs me. Enough with the silver! And enough with the roof.

Well, get to work. There's WiFi here, but it won't let me get to Blogger to post or even to read my blog. ("Your organization's Internet use policy restricts access to this web page at this time. Reason: The Websense category 'Message Boards and Clubs' is filtered.") But I can read blogs that don't have comments. Hmmmm. I'd like to upload these photographs but I can't get to Flickr. ("The Websense category 'Personal Network Storage and Backup' is filtered.") And I can't get to BloggingheadsTV -- no streaming media -- and I can see that Mickey Kaus is saying that he took Bob Wright to task for going easy on Andrew Sullivan. I definitely want to see that when I can. I've watched the Bob & Andrew Show and found Andrew insufferable. Frankly, I have little patience for just about anyone who fancies himself a theologian, but what on earth makes Andrew Sullivan think he's credible as a theologian? The claim that Jesus speaks to him?!

• • •

Okay, I'm now in a place where I can get on the unfiltered web, so let's watch the part of The Bob & Mickey Show about Andrew. Noting that Bob pursued Andrew about Darwinian theory, Mickey says:
Why didn't you bring up that [Sullivan's] whole book was about wanting to rationalize gay marriage and to smite the opponents of gay marriage. And that is his Darwinian impulse that is underlying his whole very interesting, cogent theological discussion....

Having a discussion with Andrew Sullivan where you don't talk about gay marriage is ignoring the sexual drive that underlies human nature.
They get into a nice big fight about whether -- to put it more bluntly than they actually do -- Sullivan's theological posturings are all a manifestation of his sexual drive. "He's driven by his sexuality and the political dilemmas that puts him in as a conservative," says Mickey. Bob seems disgusted by the idea that everything a gay man thinks is driven by his sexuality. But Bob thinks everyone is always driven by sexuality, Mickey asserts. Bob wrote a book about that ("Moral Animal"). I wonder whether there's some reason to feel different about heterosexuals and homosexuals when it comes to making these big Darwinian claims. It's easy to say things about heterosexuals, but you worry that saying equivalent things about homosexuals is actually going to hurt people by stirring up hostility and prejudice. Mickey seems to realize this and throws in a "Not that there's anything wrong with that" as he glides on to the next subject.

The Daily News was hilariously paraphrasing.

I can't believe people think Ford actually said "Drop Dead" to New York City.

December 27, 2006

"Hatred does not leave space for a person to be fair and it will blind your vision and close all doors of thinking."

In his farewell letter, Saddam calls on Iraqis "not to hate":
[T]he letter says: "Here, I offer my soul to God as a sacrifice, and if God wants He will lift it up to where the first believers and martyrs are and if His decision is postponed, then He is the most merciful. . . . So be patient and depend on Him against the unjust nations."

Addressing the "generous, loyal people," the letter bids them farewell. "I say goodbye to you, but I will be with the merciful God who helps those who take refuge in Him and God won't disappoint any honest believer."
Much as I assume this language is utterly conniving and self-serving, I hope it will nevertheless do some good. And I feel compelled to restate my deep-seated opposition to the death penalty. No matter how much of a beast the condemned man is, it is wrong to inflict death on someone who has been completely incapacitated.

"Joe, you're 23.... Can you be expert in anything?"

Hugh Hewitt grills Joseph Rago, that (surprisingly young) guy who put down bloggers in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Hugh rakes him over the coals with practiced skill, and little Joe survives the ordeal better than you might think he could.

Ben Stein hates Borat.

Let's see why. I should say first -- and before reading Stein's comments -- that I saw the movie a few weeks ago. Why didn't I write about it? I started to, actually, but never got past the first sentence. I liked the movie well enough, but I much prefer "Da Ali G Show," with its short Borat segment, mixed with just enough Ali G and Bruno. I'm happier with disjointed sketches than with a long, connected narrative. It must be the blogger in me. Really, I didn't need the narrative frame involving the cross country road trip and Pamela Anderson and so forth (although I took advantage of it in concocting a fact pattern for my Civpro2 exam). As for the little encounters that were stuck in the frame, I've seen many Borat segments on "Da Ali G Show" that were just as funny or funnier.

But let's see what Ben Stein says:
1.) The auteur and star of the movie, Sacha Baron Cohen, is a Jew of high degree in England and now in Hollywood. But much of the movie is viciously anti-Semitic. This includes not just some but many "jokes" about killing Jews, about how Jews are the devil, about how Jews will kill for money, about how Jews are like cockroaches (the last a direct steal from Joachim Goebbels, who compared Jews with breeding rats and insects). This is in a world where we just lived through an anti-Semitic holocaust with the same themes and another is promised by the terrorists in Iran.

These are not funny jokes. These are really just old-fashioned sickening racism disguised as hipness. It's also a smug joke by Sacha Cohen which is basically his endlessly saying, "I hate Jews, too, even though I'm Jewish, and hey, I guess I don't look Jewish because I can say all these horrible Jew hatred things and no one says, 'Hey, what are you doing? You're a Jew.'"

It's repulsive.
Clearly, Cohen means to lampoon anti-Semitism. You could say that it's ineffective, because there really is nothing to force anti-Semites to look critically at themselves and feel chastened. They can sit back and laugh heartily at the anti-Semitism.

I remember the first time I saw Andrew Dice Clay, before I heard all the outrage at his sexism. I thought he was brilliantly lampooning sexism. So I may not the best person to judge.

Back to Ben:
2.) Much of the movie is about Borat making fun of people who have been completely kind to him. This is just infantile and narcissistic oppositional disorder. It's also rude, and it's not very funny. Maybe it is if you are five.
Well, the key question is whether it's funny. But I can see feeling that it's wrong to laugh if he's being rude to people who are trying to be nice to him. But it's awfully straitlaced. All sorts of practical jokes and teasing are sort of mean. You could object to everything going back to "Candid Camera."
3.) Much of the story is mocking and belittling Southerners as a group....
It is a bit cheap to target Southerners.
4.) It has a genuinely nauseating mockery of a woman just because she happens to be black. Why aren't people getting upset about that? It's pure, unadulterated KKK type racism. You have to see it to believe it.
She happens to be a prostitute as well. Actually, I thought the movie got politically correct about the black woman. In the end, Borat goes back to her and marries her. It was more sympathetic than it needed to be. If anything, the movie targeted white men.
5.) Worst of all, it has acute mockery of Christians. There is a long scene mocking Christian fundamentalists, in which Borat makes cruel fun of the idea of Jesus as Savior...
I agree that this was a pretty cheap target. It wasn't so much Christians as rural Southern Christians.
A close friend who saw the movie the same night I did said, "It makes you laugh, but then you want to take a shower after you've seen it."
I think he's being way too prissy about it. What do you think? Is this just a matter of taste or is there a serious moral question here?

Unfinished.

I'm sorting through all my CDs, making five piles in preparation for loading them into the computer so I can fill up a new iPod, and we got to talking about the ages at which certain composers and musicians died. We feel sad if anyone dies before they get old (even if they're ones who played along to the lyrics "I hope I die before I get old"). But this question is about us, what we feel we have lost. List 10 composers and musicians who, by dying when then did, deprived you of the most things that you wish you had now.

Sidenote from the dining table that is covered with stacks of CDs that jiggle as we type incessantly: Talking about this post, I asked whether "composers and musicians" is redundant (and whether any of my commenters would tell me that it is redundant, whether it is or not). John took the position that composers are not musicians. Chris said some people say singers are musicians. John said, "Singers are musicians. Musicians use an instrument." I'm all: "The brain is an instrument." Chaos ensues.

About that tainted federalism.

On Christmas, Orin Kerr weighed in on what I said about federalism on Bloggingheads. Now, two more Volokh Conspirators have taken on the subject. (I'm still waiting to hear what the Conspirators have to say about sex with robots.)

An excerpt from Eugene Volokh (but read the whole thing):

[F]ederalism is rather like individual freedom from government restraint, or government power, or many other concepts. That a particular proposed individual freedom from government restraint (e.g., freedom from government restraint of parents' abusing their children) is improper doesn't by itself tell us much about the propriety or not of other freedoms, or even other parental rights. Likewise, that a particular proposal for state freedom from federal government restraint is improper doesn't by itself tell us much about the propriety or not of other proposals for state autonomy.
True and I agree, but my comments were about the difficulty of convincing people about the value of federalism when it has the historical resonance that it does have. And many liberals feel -- with some reason -- that a Court that shows some willingness to enforce federalism values, will do it erratically and only in service of policies that liberals don't favor anyway.

More from Eugene here:
[A] particular incident in which an institution has yielded bad results -- or, to be precise, yielded results that we think were worse than they would have been in the institution's absence -- is some evidence against the institution's quality. In that respect, it does taint the institution. But by itself each such incident taints the institution only slightly, because the question isn't whether the institution will ever help bring about bad results, but whether on balance it's better than the alternatives.
True enough, but the question of slavery, segregation, and racism is so overwhelmingly important in American history and the connection of states' rights to this terrible history is so close that we cannot be satisfied with this generality.

And Ilya Somin has this:
There is no question that state governments have often oppressed minorities, particularly African-Americans. On the other hand, the federal government also has a far from perfect record in this area. Consider, for example, the federal internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the feds' decades-long persecution of the Mormons during the nineteenth century. The states are "tainted" by their history, but so too is the federal government. Perhaps one can argue that the states are "more" tainted because they supported slavery, the single biggest human rights violation in American history. However, the federal government also played an important role in promoting slavery, for example through its enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Acts. If the history of state repression of minorities taints the argument for federalism, then the history of federal government repression taints the case for unlimited federal power.
Here, you should cite Wisconsin, the state that stood up to the federal government over the Fugitive Slave Act. Remember, I'm not saying federalism is bad per se. I'm asking for it to be defended as a positive force, not embraced blindly.

There's lots more at Ilya's post, so read the whole thing.

He told them they were losers for being there.

So they essentially told him he was a loser for being there.

[Bad link fixed. Sorry.]

ADDED: Some people are saying this picture is not what it purports to be, on the theory that the camera imprinted the wrong date. The best analysis appears to be that the camera didn't have the time properly set. If you think otherwise, you can comment here.

MORE: Michelle Malkin analyzes the photograph quite well and thinks it's authentic. I've been called a liar very conspicuously, on Daily Kos. When will I get my apology?

UP-UP-UPDATE:Oh, nooooo! I'm in the future!!!!

ANOTHER UPDATE: It looks as though there's a good explanation for why Kerry is sitting alone in the picture, so I'm sorry I made fun of him. The explanation does, however, refute the assertions that the picture was taken at a different time altogether, so the attack over on Daily Kos is still wrong. They really need to put up a retraction and an apology! I'm not going to apologize for the "in the future" post linked above, because that one is making fun of the bloggers who made up a defense of Kerry based on a timestamp they perceived on the picture. They are still wrong about that.

"How long do you think it will take before they make a James Brown biopic?"

I said yesterday. Answer: here.

Cinematic, but real.

Is this photograph -- by Akintunde Akinleye -- too beautiful to illustrate this story?

"Our long national nightmare is over."

I woke up to the long-familiar words in the familar voice of our long-lived former President, Gerald Ford. NPR was reporting what I already knew -- someone knocked on my door to tell me in the middle of the night -- Ford had died. He was 93.

I liked him. I voted for him, even though I'd voted for George McGovern four years earlier. He had the distinction of being President without ever having been elected President or Vice President, which was one of the things I liked about him. Lacking a national vote had to mean he didn't deserve to be President, especially since the constitutional process by which he became President involved appointment by a man -- Richard Nixon -- who was disgraced into resignation (soon after the Vice President slot opened because Spiro Agnew was disgraced into resignation). What I liked was the fact that he hadn't presumed to seek the presidency. I have always instinctively resented anyone who thinks he should be President, and that has the overwhelming tendency to include everyone who ever runs.

I was all set to vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976. I'd voted for Carter in the New York primary when he was still a face in a crowd of candidates. But the day before the election, I saw a TV interview in which a reporter asked Carter what he would do if he didn't win. He said he'd go back to his peanut farm. This answer -- does it seem innocuous to you? -- gnawed at me overnight, and, as I was walking to my polling place, I sat down to talk about it with someone who was also planning to vote for Carter, and the two of us changed our vote to Ford. It wasn't so much Ford. It was Carter. I'd decided he was a small man. He didn't fit the Presidency. Did Ford? But Ford was already President. In truth, no one deserves to be President. But Ford did not select himself as President. He had only selected himself to represent one legislative district. I found that appealing.

When Ford became President, I was living in New York City. I wanted to be an artist -- I was presumptuous enough to select myself for that -- but I was working at a day job in a market research firm, doing a job that consisted of reading and classifying the articles in magazines. I remember the cover of Newsweek -- or was it Time? -- when Ford came in. It was a cartoon of Ford in the Oval Office with housecleaning implements -- maybe a feather duster and a vacuum cleaner, perhaps with extra hands and even more implements. There was an article inside about how the cartoonists -- so used to Nixon -- were going to draw Ford. Nixon offered the cartoonist such rich material. Now what were they going to do? Ford looked so normal. And he didn't mean anything to anyone yet. Nixon not only looked weird, he had come to mean so much over the past two decades, and the meaning seemed to burst out of those weird features. We had been talking about his weird features in connection with his character traits for so long. Shifty eyes! Five-o-clock shadow! Ski-jump nose! One cartoonist cited a general principle of cartooning: You have to decide on one feature to exaggerate. Trying to decide on the spot, he said -- maybe this is verbatim: It looks like his chin is giving birth to a golf ball.

I remember watching the speech in which President Ford pardoned Nixon, and I remember thinking -- before I heard all the indignant outcry from my friends -- that he was doing the right thing. I believed his asserted reason: Let it be over. Let's not drag ourselves through the further torment of a criminal prosecution of the man. Let's not dwell on the past. Let's look to the future. He was right about that, wasn't he? Did he throw away his chance in 1976 because he pardoned the man who made him President? I knew a lot of people who considered that unforgivable. They needed to get even farther from Nixon than Ford could take them.
Stuart Spencer, his campaign manager, said that polling data about the pardon had made it clear that “it cost him the election.” He said 7 percent of Republicans had either voted for Mr. Carter or stayed home because of the pardon, and it hurt with Democrats and independents, too.
The NYT obituary (linked above) has this quote:
"It was an hour in our history that troubled our minds and tore at our hearts," he said. "Anger and hatred had risen to dangerous levels, dividing friends and families. The polarization of our political order had aroused unworthy passions of reprisal and revenge. Our governmental system was closer to stalemate than at any time since Abraham Lincoln took that same oath of office."
We might do well to think about that today.

It's a long obituary. There was that Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." I remember seeing that on the stands.
As president, he was quick to assert to Congress, in a play on words that nobody misunderstood, “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.” If it was true, as was often said, that the Oval Office shaped the occupant, Mr. Ford resisted the temptation of the imperial. On an early trip as president to South Korea, he called American enlisted men “sir.” His prose was so pedestrian and his tongue so unreliable — he referred on one public occasion to the noble American “work ethnic” and on another to the disease of “sickle-cell Armenia” — that he became a favorite target of comedians.
(And then Jimmy Carter replaced him and went around saying "nucular" and got terrorized by a swimming rabbit. Everything was terrible but funny in the 70s.)
John Hersey, after spending a week in close observation of [President Ford] wrote in The New York Times Magazine of April 20, 1975: “What is it in him?”

“Is it an inability to extend compassion far beyond the faces directly in view?” Mr. Hersey wrote. “Is it a failure of imagination? Is it something obdurate he was born with, alongside the energy and serenity?”

The answer seemed to be a belief — one Mr. Ford was schooled in if not born with — in the essential dignity of human struggle. “Everything didn’t turn to gold just because I did it,” he remarked. “I had this foundation, and I had been brought up with the training that — and this is an oversimplification, but I think it’s indicative — the harder you work, the luckier you are. And whether it was in such things as the Boy Scouts or athletics or academics, I worked like hell.”

There were those who contended, as did Richard Reeves, the author of a critical biography, that Mr. Ford had a “tragic gap” in his understanding of such crucial matters as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. More common was the assessment of Mr. Ford as “innately decent.”

Mr. Ford disputed the notion that it required forceful, even harsh, character to meet the tests of the White House. He was asked once if a nice guy should be president, and answered: “Those who allege that you’ve got to be a mean, sinister, devious person to be president are just dead wrong. I don’t see how a president in his conscience could be that.”

He, too, could be forceful. He resented the accident of fate that had made him president as the nation watched South Vietnam and Cambodia — where so much of America’s human and economic treasure had been spent by three predecessors — fall to the Communists in 1975. Rebuffed by Congress when he sought a last-minute $972 million in aid to Saigon, Mr. Ford made it possible for 130,000 or more refugees to come to the United States.

When the Cambodian Communists seized the American merchant ship Mayaqüez in May 1975, Mr. Ford reacted with uncharacteristic emotion, sending United States military forces to recapture the ship.

The order was motivated in part by concern for national image. “We had just pulled out of Vietnam, out of Cambodia,” Mr. Ford said later, “and here the United States was being challenged by a group of leaders who were bandits and outlaws, in my opinion, and I think their subsequent record has pretty well proved it. And it was an emotional decision to tell the Defense Department we had to go in there and do something.”

Mr. Ford’s economic policies were traditional for Republican conservatives. He proclaimed, amid considerable White House ballyhoo, a campaign to “Whip Inflation Now,” complete with “WIN” buttons. Scarcely had it begun than mounting joblessness and the worst recession since the 1930s caused Mr. Ford to abandon the anti-inflation program and propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy instead of tax increases to dampen it.

Congress, meanwhile, reflected its dominance by the Democratic Party in a steadily increasing number of spending programs and expansion of the federal deficit.
"Whip Inflation Now"... how we mocked him for that... for everything. At least the NYT obituary spares him the mention of the name of Chevy Chase, who in the early days of "Saturday Night Live" ridiculed him by doing little that had anything to do with him. Chase just acted like an idiot and took endless pratfalls.

We even laughed at the two assassination attempts:
On one of those trips, to Sacramento on Sept. 5, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme, who had been a follower of the convicted killer Charles Manson. Mr. Ford was moving through a crowd in Capitol Park, shaking hands and waving, when a Secret Service agent saw Ms. Fromme’s arm and the pistol. She was subdued, and it turned out that while the gun was loaded there was no bullet in the chamber. She was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The other attempt, by Sara Jane Moore, took place in San Francisco. A former Marine, Oliver W. Sipple, knocked a pistol out of Ms. Moore’s hand as she fired.
These were only absurd because they failed. Gerald Ford went on to live to be very old, mostly out of our view. And now he's gone. R.I.P.

December 26, 2006

Official Song of the Althouse/Goldberg Diavlog.

I'm assuming you watched the whole diavlog, which they called "Solstice Edition," my second choice for a title. My first choice was "Life with Robots," but I concede that would have been unfairly skewed to my side. Since they didn't use my title, I forgot that I wanted to say this diavlog has an official song. Here it is. (Or here, for low resolution.) [Low-res recommended if you at all think you might need it!]

If you can't take the time to watch the whole diavlog -- or have trouble getting through the scary fight at the beginning (which I unleash with the innocent question, "What's the deal with the right-wing conspiracy, Jonah?") -- at least watch the part about the robots. Then enjoy the song.

ADDED: Volokh Conspirator Orin Kerr links to the diavlog and gets a discussion going about whether someone promoting federalism today needs to pay attention to the way it was used 50 years ago. (In the diavlog -- and elsewhere -- I say they do.)

"In terms of practical politics, the reality is this: We have to be on good behavior so we have a chance to win the presidency."

Says Jim Cooper, one of the 44 conservative Democrats in the the House "Blue Dog Coalition." I think he's right, but I also suspect that the Democrats' talk about "fiscal responsibility" is just a setup to demagogue about the war.

"The appeals court approved the verdict..."

"... to hang Saddam."

"The feelings are very bad, very confusing -- everywhere, it's confusing."

Mogadishu.

MORE: Here:
The Islamist fighters, who had seemed invincible after taking Mogadishu in June, now seem powerless to stop the steady advance of the Ethiopian-backed forces of the transitional government.

By this afternoon, the transitional government troops were within 60 miles of Mogadishu and calling for the Islamists to surrender. The Islamist leaders refused, saying they would take their fight “everywhere,” which some people viewed as a veiled threat to expand the guerilla tactics and suicide bombs they have already used.

The fast-moving developments seem to confirm what United Nations officials and witnesses in Somalia have been saying since the fighting erupted a week ago: that the young forces of the Islamists, however religiously inspired, were no match for the better trained, better equipped Ethiopian-backed troops who have tanks and fighter jets.

Still, the conflict is hardly over. Thousands of people continue to march in the streets of Mogadishu, rallying behind the Islamists, and analysts are unanimous that an Ethiopian occupation of Mogadishu, a city thick with weapons and xenophobia, could become a bloodbath.

IN THE COMMENTS: Paco Wové writes:
"All this could have been averted," Prendergast said. "If the U.S..." {snip}

Ahh, yes. I knew it had to be all our fault somehow.

The number of Americans who have died in the Iraq war...

... has now surpassed the number who died in the 9/11 attacks.

ADDED: A key question -- with an unknowable answer -- is: How many Americans would have died in post-9/11 attacks if we had not chosen the path of fighting back?

MORE: So many people -- in the comments and on other blogs -- are attributing things to me that I did not write here. Reading with comprehension has, apparently, become optional. Amusingly, the blundering blowhards out there keep calling me and idiot. Mirrors are in short supply these days.

Post-Christmas musings about a real necklace and a virtual tiara.

Hi, everyone. Hope you had a nice yesterday, whether you experienced it as Christmas or Monday or anything else. Things were swell here. Other than that I received a necklace as a gift and then immediately proceeded to lose it! Since I didn't leave the house, the occasions for saying "It couldn't just disappear" and -- the classic -- "It didn't just get up and walk away" -- were many. It got to the point where it wasn't clear whether we were repeating the old clichés for humorous effect or whether it was nothing but the sincere expression of frustration. And now I'm blogging about it as if I think maybe my readers might have some idea where the thing is.

But you can help in another way. Start entering daily votes for me in the final round for Grande Conservative Blogress Diva. They've narrowed it down to four, not just two, which means it's not just me against Michelle Malkin. I think this is an advantage, since the vote for real conservatives is split among three, and the eccentric votes -- mine -- may be enough to beat any of three. I think I would have lain low and let Michelle have the tiara if it had been a contest between just us two. I mean, really. She's so much more the Conservative Blogress Diva than I am, don't you think?

(I'd much rather find the necklace!)

December 25, 2006

Highly praised movie...

... that really was not very good: "Little Miss Sunshine."

My, our standards have fallen, if this was critically praised.

Kubrick.

Bloopers:

That conversation about a whole lot of blood.

Another one of Jack Handey's "Deeper Thoughts," read aloud...
You know what's probably a good thing to hang on your porch in the summertime, to keep mosquitoes away from you and your guests? Just a big bagful of blood.
... stirs up memories of a question in another book, "Innumeracy," by John Allen Paulos: What would be the size of a cube containing all the human blood in the world?

I tried to answer, using a reasonable method, thinking about the amount of blood in one person times the number of people in the world, divided by the number of gallons I believed to be in a swimming pool, times what I guessed to be the length of that swimming pool reimagined as a cube. I came up with 40 miles, which was way off, caused in part by getting the first number wrong. (It's 4 quarts, not 4 gallons... obvious now.) The right answer is 870 feet. Amazingly small, yet still insanely huge. Don't worry. If all the blood were in a cube, there would be no human beings to get upset by looking at it.

That reminded me of something I read today about the movie "The Shining":
Stanley Kubrick, known for his compulsiveness and numerous retakes, got the difficult shot of blood pouring from the elevators in only three takes. This would be remarkable if it weren't for the fact that the shot took nine days to set up; every time the doors opened and the blood poured out, Kubrick would say, "It doesn't look like blood." They had tried shooting that scene for an entire year.
Yeah, well, check out this feminist performance art -- NSFW -- "Red Tide."

Not Christmasy enough for you? Eh... it's red.

"When this girl at the museum asked me whom I liked better, Monet or Manet, I said, 'I like mayonnaise.'"

"She just stared at me, so I said it again, louder. Then she left. I guess she went to try to find some mayonnaise for me."

-- Jack Handey. "Deepest Thoughts."

Oh, and...

Merry Christmas!

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

You can see that last night we came up with a choice of four movies to watch and -- you should be able to tell from my set of favorite quotes -- we chose "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Is that a Christmas movie? If I had to argue it was, I'd point to the party scene. It's a Christmas party. The music playing is "Jingle Bells," and we see some Christmas decorations, including a little Santa Claus. And you could say -- cornily -- that it's a movie about the triumph of the human spirit, and you could contend that that's Christmasy. Or do you think it's a movie about the triumph of the masculine spirit over the feminine? McMurphy arrives to show all those mere shadows of men how to be men. That's what the book -- which I can't stand -- was about.

IMDB has a lot of interesting "trivia" -- their word -- about the movie. I knew that many of the extras were real mental patients. I didn't know Will Sampson got the role of Chief Bromden because he was the only person they could find who had the two qualities they needed (Native American and physically huge). [NOTE: He wasn't an actor.] I didn't know that Jack Nicholson and Milos Forman (the director) were at odds with each other:
...Nicholson and director Milos Forman had very different ideas about how the narrative should play out; for example, Forman thought that the ward should be in bedlam when McMurphy showed up and Nicholson posited that his character would have absolutely no effect on the mental patients if they were already riled up, which would have negated the purpose of his character and therefore much of the plot. Nicholson and Forman both refused to give an inch, both believing they were right and the other was wrong. The two months that Jack Nicholson disappeared for was more like two weeks, and he didn't disappear. In actuality, Nicholson spearheaded a coup among the other actors and refused to let Forman run rehearsals, running them himself instead.
Wow. Nicholson got it right. Other evidence of how wrong Forman could be: He wanted Burt Reynolds to play McMurphy! But he was right -- I think -- not to want the fishing scene. He thought -- I agree -- it interfered with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the rest of the film. I detested the fishing scene in the book. It's exactly where I stopped reading. I liked the movie McMurphy as an anti-authoritarian, counterculture guy. The McMurphy in the book was Mr. Masculine Energy. Let's fish, let's watch baseball, let's play basketball, let's drink, let's have sex with prostitutes... and isn't the nurse a bitch?

Other evidence of how much credit Nicholson deserves:
Most of Jack Nicholson's scene with Dean R. Brooks upon arriving at the hospital was improvised - including his slamming a stapler, asking about a fishing photo, and discussing his rape conviction; Brooks's reactions were authentic.
Brooks actually was superintendent of a mental hospital. This scene reminded us of the office interview scene in "The Shining," which Nicholson made 5 years later.

Kirk Douglas owned the rights to the book for a long time and wanted to play McMurphy. When I read the book -- which was after I saw the movie and knowing Douglas wanted the part -- I fell into picturing Kirk Douglas. He was much more the sort of person (the author) Ken Kesey had in mind. Nicholson made the movie into something that resonated in 1975. The book was published in 1963... and feels like it.

Ken Kesey was pissed:
Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden's first-person narration....
[Kesey said] he would never watch the movie version and even sued the movie's producers because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is)....

Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story that he vowed never to watch the completed film. Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through TV channels when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
"After a few minutes"... hilarious.

Watching the movie last night, I had to stop and think who Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) was reminding me of. Something about that voice. Then I realized: Condoleezza Rice! Oh, no! So steady, so calm... so infuriating. And I like Condoleezza Rice! Louise Fletcher did a fine job with her role. Has anyone ever won an Oscar for showing so little expression? She was not -- as Nurse Ratched was in the book -- an embodiment of matriarchy and women's repression of men. She was horrible, cold, and controlling, but she also had some humanity. She was in a predicament trying to deal professionally with some very trying individuals. She made all the wrong decisions, but she was recognizably human.

The actors who played those patients did a fine job portraying seriously ill men and making them dramatically effective and immensely entertaining. We felt free to laugh at them a lot without getting the nagging guilty feeling that we weren't showing enough respect for the mentally ill. There's bonus entertainment in the fact that two of them are actors we came to love in bigger roles: Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd.

"If they made this movie today, they'd ruin it with music," I said halfway through. There was scene after scene with no music, other than the occasional record that a character in the movie played. Jack Nitzsche got an Oscar nomination for the score, and his music is memorable and evocative, but I think it only plays over the opening credits and at the very end. There was never any of that sort of movie music that instructs us on how to think and feels our emotions before we get a chance to feel them for ourselves. When Nurse Ratched puts a syrupy, soporific version of "Charmaine" on the record player for the ritual of dispensing the psychotropic drugs, what we feel is in counterpoint to the music. (With all the special features on DVDs today, I wish there was one that let you turn off the score.)

Such are my scattered thoughts on Christmas morning about "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," watched on Christmas Eve.