February 28, 2007

Blind item.

What is lamer than fearfulness from people with tenure?

Low fat foods and vitamin supplements.

Bad for you! A new study suggests. I suspected as much.
Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?

I'm free!

Did you notice? I didn't say one word about it.

Look, over here!

Righties into the vortex!
Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, writes in a New York Times opinion piece

Exhibit "A" in the case against the NYT and liberalism.
It's an amusing day, chez Althouse.

What's that movie?

I idly turned on the television in my bedroom as I was getting ready for work this morning. It was some black and white melodrama with a woman screaming about how she didn't want her baby, she was only 26, she still had her figure, and she wanted to have fun. Told she needed to get a job, she was all: "I don't want no dirty job."

I loved the dialogue.

Then, we see the little girl, trying to show her mother her report card, calling out for friends who never arrive, going up the stairs to her shabby apartment. I found this fascinating for some reason and decided it must be a great film to get my attention over what should be just a cliché: a lonely little girl. But I loved this low-dialogue exposition of loneliness. The girl leaves the door open, gets a lone glass from a high shelf, pours a glass of milk. A kitty cat wanders in, the girl gets a bowl from another shelf, pours some milk for the cat, watches the cat, pets the cat. I'm telling you: fascinating!

Next, she's older. Who's that actress playing her now? She's going on about how the boys only want to go out with her because of what she lets them do with her. At regular intervals she says things like "I'm going to Hollywood!"

Who is that actress?

I go downstairs and turn on the TV that displays the show titles and see the movie is "The Goddess," and the actress is Kim Stanley. I'd order the DVD right now if it were on DVD, but it's only on VHS. I scroll through the listings on the channel -- it's Turner Classic Movies -- to see if they're going to repeat it. There is an unbelievably high-quality set of movies being shown there in the next few days, but I'm not seeing a repeat of "The Goddess."

Have any of you seen that movie? Talk about it!

So let's see what's going on with TCM. Oh, it's the "31 Days of Oscar" schedule, and today they're in Best Screenplay. Who wrote the screenplay for "The Goddess"? Paddy Chayefsky!

Very good.

Another lefty into the vortex.

Richards1052 just doesn't understand. He writes because he has "a burning passion to say something to the world" -- a specific message about politics -- and he can only imagine that I must be an idiot to write and let politics be one of my subjects if I don't burn with a political mission.

Remember:
Why do you blog? > To live freely in writing.
Words to perplex a vortex victim.

Eric Alterman contemplates whether he has "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism."

I inspired his reverie, not because I accused him of having a tendency toward fascism. I just quoted something he happened to say while rambling along in a Bloggingheads conversation:
"I think it would be valuable if we had... uh... I mean, there's some sense where blogs correct themselves if you read enough of them, but I still I think it would be good if we had some sort of, you know, blogging -- you know -- council, where we could condemn people. Sort of... responsible body. You could still blog if you want. Nobody's going to stop you. But we're going to... everybody's gonna know that you're not to be trusted... unless you can sort of apologize or answer for yourself."
I thought it was revealing, and I used the quote (cut down a bit) in my NYT column yesterday. (Free here.)

On the blog, I said I was "put off by the mindset he revealed" -- that desire to "blacklist" -- and in the NYT, I called it the "impulse to control."

Alterman is right to read my quoting and characterization as a very harsh accusation. I wouldn't call it "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," as he does. If I was going to use the inflammatory word "fascism," I wouldn't say "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," which makes no sense to me. At the very least, I'd replace "liberal" with "left-wing" or "illiberal."

The idea of fascism does come up in the comments. In the second comment, Jeff says: "The leftist will to power (and more importantly, control) rears its ugly head." A little further down, Mike just says: "Fascism - Oppressive or dictatorial control." And John takes a hard (but humorous) swipe:
Alterman is one of those pathetic little mediocrities who in another time and place would be a very dangerous person. Put him Weimar Germany, revolutionary France or early Soviet Russia and he would be full fledged rhetorical thug pushing the brown shirted masses to smash windows and heads. As it is, he is just fascist little prick whom you hope will disappear like a rash if properly ignored. I almost hope he would start such a council just so I can start blogging and get on the blacklist.
Later, Mike comes back with:
I don't think Eric Alterman is a fascist (though he is many other disagreeable things) but I find it amusing that it is his ilk who are prone to hurl that term, yet it is they who are the control freaks.
So Alterman is right to feel provoked and, really, embarrassed to have shown so much of an urge to repress and control. His own words were telling. It's not my habit to type out spoken word, and I don't monitor Bloggingheads episodes for stray quotes to use to make people look bad. That quote jumped out at me and demanded transcription. And I think Eric knows he was saying something bad. The pattern of the stammer, with the double "you know," is telling.

Let's work our way through Eric's reverie.
1) It was a conversation. I was just sort of musing.
Right! That's why it's so interesting. The things people say when they let their guard down...
But still, it's fair game.
Damn right.
2) I do actually believe what I said. Ever since the beginning of blogging-time, I have worried -- in public and on blogging panels -- about the loss of the media's gatekeeper function. Now, I believe I literally wrote the book on this topic -- and it's about to go out of print for the second time, so if you don't own it, hassle Cornell University Press -- and I am as aware as anyone on earth, I believe, of the dangers of the misuse of that function. Almost all of my books deal with this tension in one way or another. But the fact is, the function is absolutely necessary. A democracy of hundreds of millions of people is functionally impossible for reasons it requires an entire book to explain. Particularly when the media profess to strive toward objectivity, punditry/gatekeepers play a crucial role. My problem with the punditocracy has never been that they are pundits, but that they are so incompetent at the job they do.
There you have it. Controlling speech seems to be his mission in life. What's he really saying here? He writes books, and he's obsessed with speech, but he's none too articulate.

The "function" of "gatekeeping" is "absolutely necessary." And, speaking of functions, something is "functionally impossible." On a quick read, I thought he was saying that gatekeeping -- that function -- is functionally impossible. But no, what is functionally impossible is democracy. But you'll have to read his book to understand why. Here we see even more of the urge to control.

You can't have your democracy, and there are a lot of complex reasons why you can't, as elite, intellectual study shows. I own the truth. I write the books. If you can get your hands on the hard-to-find book and spend some good long time with it, you might come to understand what I already know. I am the gatekeeper of this information explaining why you can't have democracy. Trust me.

Notice that phrase "media's gatekeeper function." The media deliver information, but Alterman characterizes that as gatekeeping. The emphasis is on what they don't let out. Not having read his book, I'm not sure what he's driving at in point #1. I get the sense it's that voters are dependent on the media filtering the information well, and bloggers ought to improve that filtering, not bypass it. You don't want too much information, because it might be bad.
3) If bloggers are going to perform this function -- that is, helping busy and usually uninformed people make sense of the world -- we are going to have to employ some sort of standard with which to judge their reliability. If they are pathological liars, psychopaths, religious or ideological extremists who cannot be trusted to tell the truth, well then, it'd be useful to have them branded as such -- in order to keep them from further infecting the body politic with even more lies, ideological obsessions, and intellectual corruptions. True, the mainstream media do not do a great job of this themselves anymore, but many people inside it do try. In many cases, their brands and relationship to their peers depend on it.
Speech as disease! Some speakers are sick, and they may cause infection! He would justify quarantines. This man does not believe in free speech. He will not put his faith in the marketplace of ideas and the remedy of more speech.
4) Bloggers tend to argue that this problem will sort itself out over time.
That's scarcely some eccentric blogger thought. It's the core idea of American free speech.
I worry about the "over time" part. I also worry about all the damage that can be done in the interim.
This is the mindset of a censor. Of course, you mean well. You're here to save us from ourselves.
And so I raised it on Bloggingheads.tv and offered up a notion in response. Maybe it's a bad idea. It's not as if I gave it any thought before I said it.
Well, you did write those books. This is your area of expertise, isn't it? It's just that you let the words tumble out this time, and it showed more ugliness that you would have liked. If only you could control things more, control freak.
But I'm not convinced it is [a bad idea]. Or at least, I've yet to see a better one. After all, it's a panel of bloggers; it's the judgment of one's peers and it would enjoy no power whatever, save the influence it amasses by virtue of the quality of its judgments. Just what is so threatening about that?
I'm not threatened by your panel. I simply loathe your censorious frame of mind, your fear of speech as sickness, your urge to control and purify, and your belief in the beneficence of panels. I thank God that I live in a country where the institution you dream of would not be allowed to "enjoy power."

So now, instead of quivering in fear about what my supposed "peers" would like to do to me, I'll have another cup of coffee and a nice little giggle over the way you finally expressed some faith in the marketplace of ideas -- when it came time to talk about why your damned panel should be trusted.

I love a little irony in the morning.

February 27, 2007

Who are you calling unserious?!

I laughed so hard I nearly had a nervous breakdown, watching this new Bloggingheads with Jonathan Chait and Jonah Goldberg, where, unbeknowst to Chait, his camera goes into crazy demo mode. It's especially hilarious when Jonah calls some policy "unserious," and Jonathan is all about oh it really is serious, while his head is going through absurd permutations, rotating on a cube, dividing up into multiple moving squares and reuniting. It was a screwup, but a truly glorious one.

"Primal Code for Brand Romney."

The Boston Globe snags 77 PowerPoint slides of inside analysis of Mitt Romney's strategy:
Dated Dec. 11, the blueprint is wide-ranging and analyzes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of Romney and his two main Republican rivals, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York. The plan, which top Romney strategist Alex Castellanos helped to draft, charts a course for Romney to emerge as the nominee, but acknowledges that the "electorate is not where it needs to be for us to succeed."

[A] page titled "Primal Code for Brand Romney" said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis. Romney should position himself as "the anti-Kerry," the presentation says....

McCain is described as a war hero and maverick with a compelling narrative and a reputation for wit, authenticity, and straight talk. But he's also seen as "too Washington," "too close to [Democratic] Left," an "uncertain, erratic, unreliable leader in uncertain times." "Does he fit The Big Chair?" the document asks. The plan calls McCain, 70, a "mature brand" and raises questions about whether he could handle the rigors of leading the free world.

Giuliani is called an outside-the-Beltway rock star and truth teller who earned the nation's trust for his leadership of New York City's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he is described as a one-dimensional Lone Ranger whose social views -- he supports abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples -- could destroy the "GOP brand." "We can't disqualify Dems like Hillary on social issues ever again" if Giuliani is the nominee, the document states.

The plan also touches on what it calls Giuliani's ethical issues, including his relationship with Bernard Kerik , former New York police commissioner who withdrew from consideration to become US homeland security secretary amid allegations of improprieties. It raises Giuliani's "personal political liabilities," an apparent reference to his three marriages and bitter public divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover....

The case for Romney, according to the plan, is this: "Mitt Romney, tested, intelligent, get-it-done, turnaround CEO Governor and strong leader from outside Washington, is a better candidate than McCain & Giuliani to ensure that America's strength is maintained so we can meet a new generation of global challenges."

Did you know about my vortex?

Jason Joyce writes in [the] Isthmus:
Sucked into the Althouse vortex

Boy, left-wing bloggers really hate Ann Althouse.

I arrived at work Tuesday morning to find a voice mail from Roxanne Cooper, director of marketing for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, informing me that Althouse, a UW-Madison law professor and nationally prominent blogger, had name-checked Isthmus in a New York Times op-ed piece. The left-wing blogosphere was hustling to check the veracity of her claims.

The piece, "A License to Blog" (paid subscription required)[free Int'l Herald Tribune link: here], mentions our paper in the first paragraph:
Unlike a lot of other political bloggers, I started blogging with a distinct lack of interest in politics. My first post about a presidential campaign, back in January 2004, the first month of my blog, was purely an accident. I was reading The Isthmus [sic, it's just Isthmus, Ann], our free alternative newspaper here in Madison, Wisc., when I ran across a chart comparing the Democratic candidates for president.

Because I had the longtime habit, inherited from my grandfather, of reading out loud whatever little things in the newspaper happened to catch my attention, I said: "Hmm. Little known fact: at 59, Wesley Clark has only 5% body fat."

My son Christopher, who was used to finding himself on the receiving end of this habit, came back with: "Should it be: 'Wesley Clark is 5% body fat?'"
Evidently, there's a pack of bloggers hoping to catch Althouse on any slip-up, particularly when the Times has given her space. Cooper was calling to see if Althouse was accurately representing our article. Shortly thereafter, Duncan Black of Eschaton (atrios.blogspot.com) checked in by e-mail with the same request.
Ha ha ha! What possible use were they hoping to make of it if I got Clark's body fat wrong or whatever?

[The] Isthmus put up a PDF of the old article, which wasn't on line before and thus was not linked in the original blog post, written on my second day of blogging.

Jason reflects on my vortex:
Personally, I have no opinion of Althouse's blog and rarely read it..., but this morning's experience proves that her adventures in online writing have brought her a measure of fame and notoriety normally reserved for talk show hosts and professional pundits.
Yes, it's an endless source of amusement for me that my off-handed commentary here gets people going. I have no political agenda. I'm barely even interested in politics.

I'm just out here in Madison, Wisconsin, doing my thing, since January 14, 2004, saying what comes to mind... creating a vortex....

"In Left Blogistan, where Ann is often derided and mocked as a conservative partisan, there will surely be howls today."

Howls Eric Muller.

ADDED: This is another post about today's NYT column, which is up now -- free -- on the International Herald Tribune site: here. It's funny to see Eric fall into the vortex.

AND: Eric has vortex envy.

I respond to letters about two NYT columns (on abortion and law school).

The NYT today has three letters on my Feb. 24 column, "Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion." And, check it out, the first one is from Floyd Abrams:
Ann Althouse’s apologia for the so obviously politically crafted shifts in position on abortion by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney is undeserved....

Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have a similar problem, one not to their credit. Running as Republicans in liberal Northeastern areas, both sought to reassure pro-choice voters that they had nothing to fear from their election.

Now, both seek to appease pro-life Republicans elsewhere in the country by assuring them that their views are truly conservative, that they will appoint “strict constructionist” (read anti-Roe v. Wade) judges and the like.

Neither candidate deserves what Ms. Althouse refers to as “decent sympathy” for their expression of complex views, since there is nothing complex about waffling.

Who knows, after all, what views either of these politicians ever actually had or has now? All we do know is how far both are prepared to go to be elected.
I certainly concede these political realities. I simply defend their statements in spite of that. Of course, politicians are political. Deal with it! But abortion is a difficult issue and those who craft complex positions deserve some sympathy. Otherwise, you're left with those who stay at the crisp extremes.

Basically, I like the sort of liberal(ish) Republican that can succeed in a blue state, and the point of the column is to show that their convoluted statements are not as ridiculous as they appear on first read.

The second letter is from Nancy N. Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and she mainly (and unsurprisingly) stakes out the position in favor of abortion rights (which, remember, I support). But let me focus on the last part:
Unless a woman can make her own decisions about her life, she isn’t in control of her future. Allowing states to take away women’s fundamental human rights is not a “part of our freedom,” as Ann Althouse writes, but rather the tyranny she fears.
This refers to my discussion of Giuliani's garbled sounding comment about "how it’s 'part of our freedom' for the legislatures in the various states to make their own decisions about law." I say:
If Roe were overruled, [state] legislatures would decide how to regulate abortion. And decentralized legislation really is fairly called “part of our freedom” because the Constitution’s framers saw the balance of power between the national government and the states as a safeguard against tyranny.
All I'm doing there is explaining the sense of what Giuliani said. It isn't my preference to return the question of abortion to the states, and I don't think it's Giuliani's. But if Roe were overturned, the question would go back to the states, and there is a question what that would be like. What would happen?

In thinking about this eventuality, it is helpful to remember that the federalism has long been considered a structural safeguard that has something to do with individual liberty. As I have written here before, there is plenty of reason to be suspicious of how well that kind of safeguard could work, but my point remains: It was not incoherent or bizarre for Giuliani to connect federalism and freedom.

The third letter comes from a reader who is pro-life, Richard H. Escobales Jr. He says he "appreciated" my column, but: "I find that the muddled positions of Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney on this critically important issue do not inspire confidence." So, he kind of didn't appreciate my column.

And there was a letter yesterday, by David W. Massey, about my Feb. 20 column -- "'A Skullful of Mush'" -- which recommended a revival of Socratic teaching in law school:
There is an underlying premise in Ann Althouse’s plea for traditional law school instruction (“ ‘A Skull Full of Mush,’ ” column, Feb. 20), and that is that law school graduates, drilled in the case method, will leave knowing “how to think like lawyers.”

My law school experience long ago taught me to challenge pious premises.

If law school teaches students properly, it can only begin to prepare them to confront the unexpected in advising clients, working with other lawyers and arriving at acceptable results.

Last year, while celebrating a college reunion, I wandered back to the law school, and in the same classroom where the Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. of my acquaintance practiced his particular brand of intimidation, I observed a different approach: where the professor respectfully listened to volunteers and didn’t dictate to his class how they should think, because he knew that there wasn’t one way for lawyers to do so.
There's a paradox here. Did he learn from the method or not? He admits he did, even as he admires another method. Yet I'm not so sure he learned how to read all that well, because he's seeing something in my column that was not there: an endorsement of the use of intimidation, disrespect, and dictatorial indoctrination.

I emphasized that I didn't know any law professors who were the Kingsfield type, so that it was rather nonsensical for us to worry about acting like that fictional character, who the "Paper Chase" author, John Jay Osborn Jr. admitted was an exaggeration. I said that we lawprofs ought to have some respect for our own tradition and concluded:
The students who come into our law schools are adults who have decided that they are ready to spend a tremendous amount of time and money preparing to enter a profession. We show the greatest respect for their individual autonomy if we deny ourselves the comfort of trying to make them happy and teach them what they came to learn: how to think like lawyers.
Note that I didn't say we should try to make them unhappy, only that we default in our central responsibility if we structure class around the idea of trying to make them happy.

Actually, I think they are more likely to end up happy if the class teaches them what they need to know. What I was rejecting was a class that is too much about students "telling their stories." I am willing to bet that most students don't want to spend too much of their time listening to the stories other law students have to tell.

As for taking volunteers instead of calling on people, I have to confess that I've usually done that in my 20+ years of teaching. But I think it is self-indulgent -- it's much easier! -- and it invariably leaves too few students doing too much of the talking. When you call on students, you find that they really are all quite capable of speaking and responding well to questions, and it is important to demonstrate this and to provide them all with this experience.

About that "scalping"... and other blogospheric collective activities.

After this post of mine questioning Lindsay Beyerstein's assertion that there is a right-wing term "scalping" -- meaning "pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye" -- and that it is exclusively the practice of the right wing, Andrew Sullivan says:
I hadn't heard this term before...

Marcotte is the alleged victim in [the case Beyerstein writes about]. But isn't the left just as guilty in hounding campaigns? Or are they too disorganized? Personally, I'm all for making life difficult for bloggers who have whored themselves out as paid propagandists for campaigns. But it's always best just to expose ugliness and dishonesty, not punish it.
Did Sullivan call writers who work for politicians whores? No. He said "whored." It's a verb, not a noun. (Remember that time on "Survivor" when Candice told Jonathan he was "trying to...weasel your way in...somehow," and Jonathan accused her of calling him a weasel, and she was all it's a verb, not a noun. She got voted off right after that, but still.) It is whoring, and it is propaganda. Let's call things what they are. Sullivan isn't saying it's morally wrong to sell your writing skills for the purpose of promoting a political agenda, just that it's a good idea to make life difficult for bloggers who move into that line of work.

And here's Ross Douthat:
Like Ann Althouse and Andrew, I must have missed the memo on this term - though it's certainly a real enough phenomenon, and "scalping" is a good a word as any. But Beyerstein's suggestion that it's the exclusive preserve of right-wingers - like most suggestions that some dirty trick is the exclusive preserve of right-wingers - is just silly.
He cites the case of Ben Domenech.
But re-reading Beyerstein, it's possible that her "unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action" line wasn't meant to suggest that left-wingers don't scalp, but that they do other things as well, whereas right-wingers don't.
That is the better reading of what Beyerstein wrote. (Which was: "Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it 'scalping'...")
This is an overgeneralization, obviously, but it gets a lot closer to an interesting truth about the blogosphere, which is that the lefty blogs have become way better at doing political things - raising money, raising issues, and influencing elections at the grass/netroots level - than most of the right-wing blogs. The conservative 'sphere became adept at picking apart the MSM in the first couple years of the blogosphere, but it hasn't really adapted to the Kos/MyDD era - and its anti-MSM shtick has grown pretty stale since events in Iraq started proving Big Media right, and the warbloggers wrong.
I don't like the implication that there is a flow of things and that it goes in the direction of increasing agglomeration. Why isn't greater independence and individualism among bloggers a good thing?

Douthat points to this post by Daniel Larison:
Why have the big lefty blogs evolved into online “communities” that sponsor political activism that actually has a remote chance of influencing elections? Because the people on the left are very big into a) political activism and b) collective expressions of that political activism. They also tend to be generally outraged about the state of the world, which lends itself to blogging, while there is nothing more uninteresting than Hewittian, “Gee, I sure do support the President a lot” posts and the old chestnuts of “why aren’t they reporting the good news from Iraq?”
Well, general outrage about the state of the world is pretty uninteresting too. But what question are we asking here, how to write and interesting blog or how to be an effective political activist? Larison is really talking about the latter:
Consider that the big example of Hewittian activism today is an attempt to enforce party discipline against wayward backbenchers over a…non-binding resolution. This is not really grassroots activism, but the use of a megaphone to try to whip the Republican caucus in the media. It is furthermore the ego trip of some big name bloggers and pundits who want to display their servile attachment to the President. What is different between Kos and Hewitt? Kos actually wants to win elections and the Kossacks spend a fair amount of time thinking, however poorly, about how to do that. They haven’t had that many successes, obviously, but they actually want to expand the reach of the Democratic Party rather than retreat into the bunker with the last five true believers. Will the Kossacks become a pathetic White House-defending gang should the Dems win in ‘08? You better believe it. Nonetheless, the model of their blogs will continue to make them politically relevant in a way that the celebrity-blogging on the right never can be.
Well, I prefer what Larison seems to mean by "celebrity-blogging." And I'm quite happy to see that bloggers have trouble succeeding in their collective activities.

AND: Let me speculate that this old post by Kevin Drum is the source of the "scalping" terminology.

Was Washington Irving gay?

Richard Brookhiser examines a new biography of the writer:
[H]e was a restless man. He traveled constantly, never married and did not buy a home of his own until his 50s. "His smile is one of the sweetest I know," wrote a woman friend, "but he can look very, very sad." Was he gay? [Andrew] Burstein examines the question without prurience or presentism and concludes that he doesn't quite know. There are no deeply intimate relationships between men and women in Irving's fiction; what he lost in realism, though, he made up in myth.
The book is called "The Original Knickerbocker." From the Publisher's Weekly blurb at that Amazon link:
... Burstein thinks it more likely the writer was simply a bachelor, a respectable role in his time and place.
What do you think of this practice of examining external facts of the life of a person long dead in an effort to determine his sexual orientation? Are we engaging in "presentism" and failing to understand what was done in other times and places if we assume that unmarried men who have no apparent intimate relationships with women had a homosexual orientation (whether acted upon or not)?

200 years for possessing 20 photographs.

A prison sentence that the Supreme Court declined to review.
The case, Berger v. Arizona, No. 06-349, has drawn considerable attention in criminal law circles as providing a possible occasion for the justices to take a fresh look at a subject they have treated only sparingly. While fully engaged in reconsidering the respective roles of judges and juries in criminal sentencing, the court has been extremely reluctant to strike down particular sentences as excessive.

Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and an authority on sentencing, also noted the difference in the court’s treatment of punitive damages and criminal sentencing.

In an interview on Monday, recalling that the court last week vacated an award of punitive damages against Philip Morris, Professor Berman said, “For a host of good reasons, the justices think they have a role in regulating extreme corporate punishment, but I fear the court doesn’t embrace a role in regulating extreme individual punishment.”
Here's Berman, blogging about the Philip Morris case and before the Berman cert. denial:
[I]t remains to be seen if the five Justices who are prepared to constitutionally second-guess certain instances of harsh corporate punishment might also be willing to sometimes constitutionally second-guess certain instances of harsh individual punishment.
I guess now we've seen.

February 26, 2007

"A License to Blog?"

It's my Tuesday column, over at the NYT, on TimesSelect. This one has some personal anecdote, and there are some good words about you blog commenters!

ADDED: You can read the column, free, at the International Herald Tribune: here]

Is he 107 because he stopped having sex when he was 30?

Chan Chi's wife died in the Japanese invasion. Imagine going 77 years without sex. Few would do it on the hope it would make life last longer. And who even believes that it could? But it's touching to think of a man who lost his wife and remained faithful to her.

"It held me like two angels' hands."

Said Helen Mirren to Oprah Winfrey on Oprah's post-Oscar show today as she was displaying and explaining the inner structure of the Lacroix gown she wore last night. The camera closeup of the inside of the bodice revealed a delicate structure, the brassiere built into the dress. The audience burst with laughter and applause. Why aren't all our clothes so constructed? Don't you want angel hands for your breasts?

A moment later Mirren makes a gesture with her hand, and I can see that she has some crappy tattoo between her thumb and forefinger. Oh, no! She's so elegant... and then, that!

Oprah asks her if Queen Elizabeth has seen "The Queen." I read a press report -- can't find it at the moment -- that said the Queen is a big Mirren fan but won't watch "The Queen" because it would be too disturbing. Mirren, answering Oprah's question, says "I'm sure she has, because who could resist? Really." She laughs a lot.

"I loved being that woman, and that took me by surprise."

Speaking of morality...

Let's have some standards!

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As you indulge your taste for ice cream and lottery tickets, we're not asking for much:

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Could you please just refrain from burning down our little store? Show some respect. This is America, and we're proud of it...

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Or are we making fun of it? The flag is in such poor condition, I couldn't tell if it was perhaps a satire. But it didn't seem like a satirical kind of a place:

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In Ithaca, New York.

I'm glad someone was taking notes.

Simon blogs the hell out of the Federalist Society's Law and Morality conference.

How the Edwards campaign blundered into hiring those bloggers.

Based on this Salon essay by Lindsay Beyerstein -- who declined their invitation to blog for them -- I'd say they were fooled by their own smug belief that they really get it.
As we walked, Bob downloaded his vision: The whole Edwards campaign was going to be a decentralized grass-roots operation.

"Elizabeth Edwards gets it," he said with unabashed admiration....

Bob assured me that my controversial posts weren't a problem as far as the campaign was concerned. They were familiar with my work....

"That's you, that's not John Edwards," he said.

Bob was confident that people would understand the difference....
Beyerstein refused the job, in part because she thought it would interfere with what she could say on her own blog. She recommends Amanda Marcotte: "Marcotte was the best writer in the feminist blogosphere. If they wanted a high-profile feminist blogger, Amanda was the best." But she warns "Bob" that Marcotte has said lots of nasty things -- "A-list polemicists are popular because they say things you don't hear on television" -- and has enemies who will try to attack her.

I love this part:
What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.
Ha, ha. Only the right. Sure. I have the personal experience of lefties trying to do exactly that to me -- including on Beyerstein's blog, though I think Beyerstein actually stepped in at one point and told her commenters that their idea of trying to get UW to fire me was not a good one.

Beyerstein distinguishes two types of political bloggers:
There is a breed of blogger that has proven useful working in an official capacity for political campaigns -- the party activist/consultant/blogger hybrid, someone like Matt Stoller of MyDD. Ideally, but not always, that kind of blogger puts his or her own blog on hold while being paid by a campaign, perhaps returning to it once the race is run. And the content of a party activist's blog is heavy on poll numbers, policy discussions and electoral minutiae. An opposition researcher might unearth something allegedly "intemperate" from the archives and use it against the candidate, but that risk is less than with the other style of blogger, an independent polemicist like Amanda.
And this is a really good point:
I think the candidates who benefit the most from the netroots are the ones who can inspire bloggers to do their work for free. They create unpaid, unofficial surrogates....

The Edwards campaign wants decentralized people-powered politics. Ironically, by hiring well-known bloggers to manage a destination Web site, it was actually centralizing and micromanaging.

ADDED: I've never seen the term "scalping" used like this. It's some kind of right-wing blogging lingo? Can somebody prove that? I've heard of "swarming," but not "scalping."

Uncracked: wisecrack that was begging to be cracked.

I was TiVo-blogging the Oscars last night after my long trip home, and there was all this material about Al Gore's movie about global warming, and I kept throwing in comments and photographs about the giant load of snow that fell on Madison in the two-and-a-half days I was out of town. It never even occurred to me to connect the two subjects. Now, I think it's dumb to believe that what happens on any particular day proves anything about climate change -- as I've noted here -- but I'm not above the occasional wisecrack that pretends to believe such a thing -- or at least I wasn't back in 2004 when it snowed in May. But I can't take credit for resisting an easy source of humor. I really didn't put 2 + 2 together. Too frazzled by the weather or too dazzled by the celebs.

February 25, 2007

Simulblogging the Oscars!

I've got to get home first. The flight to Madison is boarding, so let me get going. Start without me!

ADDED #1: Hey, I made it home. No flight delays, but you should have seen how buried my car was. Well, you will see, because I took pictures. Anyway, I can see you're way ahead of me talking about this. 29 comments as I start. But the TiVo is running, and I've seen the really charming Errol Morris film that kicked things off. A sweet, self-effacing attitude. And now, here's Ellen DeGeneres, continuing the sweet, charming, self-effacing tone. She's wearing a dark red velvet tuxedo -- with white shoes -- and looks very sharp. Her first joke makes me laugh. She has a nice joke about Americans not voting for Jennifer Hudson (on "American Idol") and then how they did vote for Al Gore. For no apparent reason, a gospel choir comes out and Ellen dances and plays tambourine. Now, for the first award, for Art Direction, and it's Nicole Kidman, looking very Barbie-like, all plastic-y and shiny. She's wearing an impossibly tall, thin red dress, with a knot at the side of the neck. The award goes to "Pan's Labyrinth."

ADDED #2: They didn't start with a supporting acting award. Good! Now, there's a comedy song, and I'm using it as a chance to try to catch up with you guys. On to the next award: makeup! Again, with the "Pan's Labyrinth." The makeup did look pretty cool. Ooh, now it's Abigail Breslin and Jaden Smith. Kids. They're short, so they do the nominees for shorts. Sorry, it's another fast-forward opportunity.

ADDED #3: Wow, you guys are up to 43 comments. I'm desperately trying to catch up with you. Ooh, it's Rachel Weisz. She looks just great in a strapless beige dress that has a nice jeweled swirl across the chest. I like her dark red lipstick and piece-y dark brown hair. She's doing the Supporting Actor award. Aw, Eddie Murphy looks like he really wants to win. It's Alan Arkin. My favorite. I love this guy. He puts the Oscar down on the floor so he can pull out his speech. The film -- "Little Miss Sunshine" -- can help us in our "fragmented times." It's a choice not to act out the speech. Surely, he could have memorized it. Maybe he was acting the part of a guy reading a speech.

ADDED #4: Melissa Etheridge performs the song from "An Inconvenient Truth," and then out come Leonardo DiCaprio and Vice President Al Gore. Al looks happy (and carries his great weight well). Leo asks him if he's got anything he'd like to announce. He says he's "just here for the movies." He thanks Leo for being "such a great ally" in his anti-global-warming efforts. Leo's all "thank you, sir," and the camera -- pretty randomly -- goes to Jerry Seinfeld, who's caught looking like this:

Jerry Seinfeld reacts to Al Gore at the Oscars

Cameron Diaz, who also has piece-y dark brown hair, gives the award for animation to "Happy Feet," and she's unbearable cutesy and phony. Nice clip show about movies about writers. At the end, we see Jack Nicholson -- who was featured in the clips for both "The Shining" and "As Good As It Gets" -- and he's shaved totally bald. (A tribute to Britney Spears?)

ADDED #5: "The Departed" wins Best Original Screenplay. Hey, you guys are up to 75 comments. I'm still not reading them, because I'm trying to catch up. I'm sure it's all clever and stuff. There's a great commercial for American Express -- must be a Jerry Seinfeld thing, explaining the "random" shot noted above. And a beautiful ad for iPhone... of lots of hellos from movies. (No need to convince me to buy one of those things when they are available, so the commercial seems to just be about getting me more excited about it.) They're doing the costumes award now. "Marie Antoinette" wins. Tom Cruise presents the Jean Hersholt "humanitarian" award to Sherry Lansing. We're in the depressing "dead" center of the show now, so let me regale you with pix of my car, as I encountered it after my long trip home. It was in this deep:

Car buried in snow

And here's how it looked after digging just enough of a space to back it out:

Car buried in snow

How did I get it dug out? Am I the kind of person who keeps a shovel in the trunk? No, but as I was walking to the car, dreading seeing how locked in it was, I ran across a woman with a shovel, and she loaned it to me. Then, carrying a shovel, I attracted a man who helped me because he needed a shovel and a second man who had his own shovel. These two guys dug out the snow while I scraped the windows and lights. (I do keep a scraper!) And I was out in no time. And don't just say: Guys! Because there was also that woman with the shovel. I asked her, "Do you work here?" And she said no, she just drove over with a shovel because a friend called her up, and she trusted me to return the shovel to a spot in the snow that we agreed on. I left that trust with Guy #1 and I'm sure he kept it.

ADDED #6: Speaking of movies, I got my little movie up at last in the previous post. You can hear me and my long-time ex-husband RLC talking about things seen in a record store window. Whoa! You guys are up to 119 comments! Okay, I've gotta rush. Visual Effects. Doesn't Naomi Watts look lovely in that yellow-gold, strapless dress with a thick black band under the breasts? "Pirates of the Caribbean" wins. Now, we see Catherine Deneuve for... what the hell is this? Ah! There's Sacha Baron Cohen in the audience. He's so adorable! "Best Foreign Language Film. "The Lives of Others." Oooh! It's George Clooney. He's handsome! Best Supporting Actress!!! Jennifer Hudson!!!!! She says: "Look what God can do!"

ADDED #7: It's Jerry Seinfeld. He's doing the Documentary award. Oh, so they showed him before when Al was on stage because later he was going to present the award for which Al is nominated. Seems too fix-y to me. And Al wins the Oscar!!!!! Closeup of the oh-so-pleased Steven Spielberg. Why did they make the film? Because of the problem of global warming??? Oh, no: "We were moved to act by this man." So says the director, reaching over to touch the hem of Al Gore's garment. He's gasping with awe. It's kinda embarrassing. He pumps the Oscar weirdly twice in Al's direction and he says "We share this with you." The camera goes to Larry David, clapping righteously. Now, Gore speaks: global warming is "not a political issue, it's a moral issue." I like Al. He makes his wooden squareness hip and cool.

ADDED #8: Kirsten Dunst is wearing a beautiful, witty dress. It's gray and has a see-through section at the top with a collar that seems to belong on a prim blouse. It's intelligent. And the dress makes me love Kirsten! The award is Original Screenplay, and it goes to "Little Miss Sunshine." Now, we see Jennifer Hudson sing a song, which must be fun for her, having already won the Oscar. I try to imagine how Simon Cowell would detect deficiency. Beyonce joins her, and -- isn't it true? -- Beyonce is the better singer. Does Beyonce feel she needs to prove her superiority?

ADDED #9: There's a Michael Mann montage about "America." We're racist war mongers, you know. Then the elegant Thelma Schoonmaker wins the editing award for "The Departed." Now, we see Jodie Foster, dragging excess yards of slate-blue fabric along with her. But she's introducing my favorite segment, In Memoriam. I'll impolitely name the ones that had the most effect on me: Don Knotts, Sven Nykvist, Robert Altman.

ADDED #10: Phillip Seymour Hoffman arrives to give the Best Actress award. It's no surprise that the wonderful Helen Mirren wins. I love the array of actresses as the award is announced. They all do a perfect performance of the thought: Indeed, Helen Mirren is grand! I love the way Mirren "salutes" Elizabeth Windsor.

ADDED #11: It's Reese Witherspoon, here to give the award for Best Actor. She's got major hair extensions and a simple black strapless gown. Oh, don't you want Peter O'Toole to win? Yikes, what is that incredibly smarmy look Jada Pinkett Smith gives Will? Does she hate him + is a terrible actress? And it goes, as expected, to Forest Whitaker. The look on Peter O'Toole's face says: And now, it's impossible. He's very old. Whitaker raves -- touchingly -- about how acting is the belief that we can connect to others and create a new reality.

ADDED #12: Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg gang up to deliver the long-awaited Oscar to Martin Scorsese, and the Oscar really does go to Marty. Li'l Marty hugs C, L, and S. He stammers and just thanks a lot of people. "So many people over the years have been wishin' this thing for me."

ADDED #13: Damn! I never caught up! I've been struggling and fast-forwarding, but I never could make it. I hope you accept my belated scribblings! Well, Best Picture now. Presenting: Diane Keaton (swathed in black) and Jack Nicholson (gloriously bald). I'm just thinking about how nobody made a political statement tonight. They kept it clean and elegant. And the winner is... "The Departed." Excellent!

ADDED #14: I turn off the lights and collect my bags to trudge upstairs after a long day. I peer out the front door and see the people came to shovel my walks as I was watching the Oscars. I'd parked my car in the street and stalked through foot high snow when I got home tonight. So I put on my big down coat and went outside to pull my car into the driveway. Let me leave you with one last shot of my car at the airport. Actually, this one is so abstract, I'm not positive it is my car:

Car buried in snow

But what about all that snow?

Flight alert just received via airport WiFi:
NW 247 February 25 ON TIME departs DTW at 7:26 pm arrives MSN 7:41 pm Gate 4
Okay. I'm taking your word for it! Departing Ithaca at 4 pm and hoping not to spend the night in Detroit.

I could have stayed another day in Ithaca. Northwest has some kind of "winter waiver" that lets you change your flight without a penalty. But I have class on Monday, and you don't wuss out about snow when the flights are listed as on time. But there is so much snow!

No snow yet here in Ithaca, where we had fun last night at "cabaret" -- the law school show. Today, we brunched at Mahogony Grill and had some laughs talking about any number of things including the topic "Is America ready for a Satanist President?"

I contemplate whether that's a good topic for my Tuesday NYT column:

Mahogony Grill

We talk about writing, and I go on at some length about that David Foster Wallace essay about Tracy Austin in "Consider the Lobster." John points this out, right above my head:

Magnolia Grill

I say if I was crazy, I'd freak out right now. I'd think I was doomed... or at least destined for a serious encounter with alcohol.

Afterwards, we take a stroll in Ithaca, and someone makes fun of me for half-remembering things. You called Madeline's Marguerite's, and you called the Mahogony Grill the Magnolia Grill, and now you're calling the Commons the Concourse.

We stop to look at a lot of old album covers:

Picture disc

I surreptitiously do some YouTubing... but I'm having some mystifying "file format" problems, so I'll have to add that later.

ADDED:



[Click here if you have trouble playing it in that window.]

UPDATE: I'm now in Detroit and the flight is scheduled to leave on time. I hope to get home soon. Perhaps my car is buried under two feet of snow, but I'm feeling optimistic.

AND: You have the picture above that John took of me. Here's one that I took from the other side of the table:

Mahogony Grill

And John's father Richard Lawrence Cohen was there too. Here's RLC's blog. It's his voice that you mainly hear along with mine on the video clip above, talking about, among other things, the song "Little Boxes."

IN THE COMMENTS: "Of course, it's Badfinger," says Sippican Cottage, who notes a recent comment on a February 7th post that brought up Badfinger and linked to the very picture we're talking about in the video clip. I don't remember clicking on that, and I'm surprised I had a mental image of Badfinger, but rather pleased with myself for having exactly the nugget of information requested on a particular occasion.

"A potent debating strategy: he compares the status quo to the age of al jahiliya, the Arabic term for the barbaric state of pre-Islamic Arabia."

Mohammad Akram Nadwi teaches about the history of women and Islam:
Barring Muslim women from education and religious authority, Akram argues, is akin to the pre-Islamic custom of burying girls alive. “I tell people, ‘God has given girls qualities and potential,’ ” he says. “If they aren’t allowed to develop them, if they aren’t provided with opportunities to study and learn, it’s basically a live burial.”

"The anger was palpable. The objectification was extreme. The clothes were mean. And it was always the men who were responsible."

Robin Givhan writes about the latest Milan fashions. This is a beautifully written article, and yet the central point is one I've seen many times, for decades. The life of a fashion writer is not easy! You have all these complicated details to describe -- "headgear that looked like slabs of plaster that cracked off the ceiling" -- and then when you try to resolve it into some general insight, it's always the same.

"In the end, voters will decide what's off-limits, but I can't imagine that the public will reward the politics of personal destruction."

Laying the groundwork for the argument that anyone who brings up the Clinton impeachment now is not playing fair.

Paradoxically, it was the whole Lewinsky affair that originally made Americans warm up to Hillary Clinton. And since she has started invoking President Clinton's successes as support for her candidacy, how can she presume to righteously exclude the other aspects of his story.

I detect a fantasy of control. Is it fair play to talk about that?

And considering that we liked her most when she lost control of things swirling around her, I wonder what she can do.

"The immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live?"

"Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice -- how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice."

Words that should inspire mistrust.

February 24, 2007

Thermal image: Althouse at Stella's.

Althouse at Stella's

ADDED: A description of Stella's (which I'm reading the next day):
The coffee house ... was opened in the early 1990s. It had an old European feel to it and quickly became the home to brooding writers, cynics, Marxist revivalists, and all other manner of people looking for a dark and smokey place in which to waste away the hours of their lives.

Yes, it's an unusually dark café. When I walked in, I said "Oh, it's the beatnik kind."

Will sensitivity about racism turn racism into a taboo subject?

I don't know what really happened here, but it's been on my mind. Now, I read this. What is going on? I should think that people who care about race would want to open up the discussion, but reactions like these are teaching the lesson that it's risky to bring the subject up at all.

ADDED: I've fixed the links. The first link is supposed to go to a post of mine from yesterday, about an incident at my law school. The second link is about an incident at Duke. There is an eerie similarity between the two stories. Please take the time to read the links and the links within the links to get what I'm trying to say here.

"Who appointed Diane Keaton to the position of National Commissioner for Aging Female Sexuality?"

Oscar asks. One of the commenters theorizes: "Maybe her appeal is that she's as sexy now as she was in 1970s, even if she's never been all that sexy."

The literature professor with the nerve to lecture about books he's only skimmed...

... is selling a lot of copies of "How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read."
“I am surprised because I hadn’t imagined how guilty nonreaders feel,” [Pierre] Bayard, 52, said in an interview. “With this book, they can shake off their guilt without psychoanalysis, so it’s much cheaper.”

Mr. Bayard reassures them that there is no obligation to read, and confesses to lecturing students on books that he has either not read or has merely skimmed. And he recalls passionate exchanges with people who also have not read the book under discussion.

He further cites writers like Montaigne, who could not remember what he read, and Paul Valéry, who found ways of praising authors whose books he had never opened. Mr. Bayard finds characters in novels by Graham Greene, David Lodge and others who cheerfully question the need to read at all. And he refuses to be intimidated by Proust or Joyce.

Having demonstrated that non-readers are in good company, Mr. Bayard then offers tips on how to cover up ignorance of a “must-read” book....

... Mr. Bayard’s most daring suggestion is that nonreaders should talk about themselves, using the pretext of the book without dwelling on its contents. In this way, he said, they are forced to tap their imagination and, in effect, invent their own book.
How bloggerly!

Well... hmmm... I haven't read Bayard's book, so let me say that this makes me think about devising a set of tips for teaching law school without reading the cases. (Me, I feel compelled to reread the cases I teach right before each class, so that there are some cases that I've read closely more than 40 times. Did you know that it's emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is?)

I know one lawprof who's proud of the time -- like, the one time -- that he got to the end of the cases he'd prepared and used the Socratic method to teach the next case, which he'd never read. It went quite well, he says.

Theoretically, it could work especially well, because your actual need to figure out what happened in the case and why it's in the book would drive your questions. But the guilt!

I admit it.

I'm in Ithaca.

Ithaca

I'm here to see the law school show tonight. Unlike NYU (where I went to law school) and Wisconsin, they don't take a comedy sketch approach. It's a music talent show.

The flight out was fine (including the craziness of writing for a deadline and having repeatedly to shut down the laptop for take-offs and landings). It's so much nicer to travel when there aren't any delays. I'd forgotten!

Driving an unfamiliar car around a strange city after a long day is kind of not that fun, but we managed to get out and around and have some dinner at the Lost Dog Café and drinks and dessert at (I think the name was something like) Marguerite's.

Can anyone suggest a good scenic route around the Ithaca countryside?

"Giant rats roam free!"

A PR nightmare for Taco Bell.



I love the person-on-the-street interviews: "I won't eat here again." Good call!

Babies watch television!

Oh, noooooo!

Be sure to watch the video at the link, it's a masterpiece of editing. They savaged this poor mother, purely with her own self-congratulatory words and some pix of her innocent babe.

Let's get some expert opinion about the scourge of television:
"We're in the midst of a huge national experiment on the next generation of children," said Dimitri Christakis, a pediatric researcher at the University of Washington. "We don't know the effects and we're letting them watch."
Oh, please! Tiny kids have been watching TV for over half a century. Here's one of mine circa 1983:



Have values changed? I started watching TV in the 1950s, and my parents never said one negative thing about it. We watched hours of TV every day, including the worst possible crap -- unimaginably bad stuff -- just because there was nothing else on. We'd sit and watch the test pattern:



Our hearts lifted when the sermonette (or whatever it was) finally came on.

The main difference is that they now have super-simple DVDs to give a kid -- in the words of the mother on that video -- "the developmental tools to help her with her development."

I'm mainly concerned about the loss of randomness. These days, they subject kids to things that purport to be scientifically designed to structure their minds properly. That's the "a huge national experiment on the next generation." When are we going to see a class action blaming these things for causing autism or some such disorder?

Kos "is waging a war for ideological purity."

The New Republic, doing badly, cuts back to bi-weekly publication, and the editor Franklin Foer whines about Kos.

"I was so enthralled with the line, I didn't see the ball mark."

"I knew if I hit it left-center, the match would be over. It's my fault for not paying attention to detail."

Yes, but I do love your detail in reflecting on what happened.

February 23, 2007

"Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion."

My Saturday NYT column is up! (TimesSelect link.)

Subversive thought cascade unleashed by David Geffen.

Bill Kristol says:
Hillary Clinton was cruising along, raising big money, triangulating on Iraq, rounding up supporters who felt they had little choice but to sign on. And then Geffen spoke up. Suddenly Democrats all over the country may be thinking to themselves, "Well, what about that? Why exactly do we have to be for Hillary anyway? Shouldn't we consider some alternatives?"

Once unleashed, this series of thoughts is subversive. So much of the Hillary Clinton candidacy depends on an aura of inevitability, supported by oodles of money and a fear of retribution if you're not on board. But what if she's not inevitable? And what if the retribution isn't so all-powerful?

Amusing.

I note that Kristol calls Maureen Dowd "the New York Times gossip columnist."

Is Randy Barnett giving me the finger?

And, since I can't see it, why am I giving him the stinkeye?



The image survives -- courtesy of David Lat -- but the context is lost in the dustbin of history.

And what am I so tickled about here?



I'm pretty sure it was when Jack Balkin tossed me that quote for the banner. (See above: "legal scholarship as performance art," context here.)

"We have to be very careful. We want professors to speak with what they see as their truths."

Says UW Professor Donald Downs, who is a strong voice for free speech here on campus. "We're here to push the envelope. … Academic freedom has to be very strong and vibrant."

ADDED: Speaking of context, consider the academic freedom case of Kevin Barrett, whom the university supported last fall, as he turned part of his course on Islam into a study of the theory -- which he believes -- that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

Do you care who got cut from "American Idol" last night?

Ack! Never wear a target on your shirt, maybe is the lesson here. And please don't pose like that! Don't aim that thing at us when you're wearing a target on your shirt. So much for Rudy Cardenas. Amy Krebs, Nicole Tranquillo -- who were you, even? We forget. Paul Kim, you made yourself memorable, but a little too memorably annoying perhaps, what with the bare feet and the grumpy attitude.

But a few interesting things happened. The formidable Chris Sligh humbled himself, apologizing for smart-mouthing Simon -- apparently because he figured out that AI voters punish kids for being disrespectful.

And, we learn, that Sanjaya Malakar is a big fan favorite. They tease us, like maybe he's in the bottom two, but they reveal he was in the top four. It was believable that he'd be in the bottom two, because he gave a startlingly weak performance. He's the only one who was told how high he placed, so something distinctive is going on with him. It's not easy to guess what it is. America fell in love with the 17-year-old sweetheart.

And we found out which celebrities are going to appear on the show this season. The one that gave me a tiny thrill: Peter Noone! Others I can remember without looking it up: Jon Bon Jovi, Diana Ross, Jennifer Lopez, Tony Bennett.

"I think there is an ethical line crossed when someone is actually being paid to sound like they're not being paid."

From an article about political campaigns infiltrating the comments sections of blogs. It shows the high standards of blogging, doesn't it? In normal life, there are plenty of places where you're paid for sounding like you're not being paid.

"I find myself, even while strongly disagreeing with them, stimulated by the ideas of David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, Ann Althouse, George Will..."

Hey, that grouping -- in an essay by Alan Wolfe in The New Republic -- surprised me!

"You will soon be more aware of your growing awareness."

That's a Chinese cookie fortune I got yesterday... that by its own force immediately came true. Ever get one like that?

"Every Case Gets the Judge That It Deserves."

David Lat says that about the Anna Nicole Smith case. Wouldn't it be weird if that were a general principle.

ADDED: Judge Larry Seidlin's wife doesn't quite say he was auditioning for his own reality show.
"People who know him, and people who meet him on the street all say the same thing, 'You should have your own television show,'" Seidlin's wife, Belinda, said Thursday night....

As he read his ruling Thursday — giving custody of Smith's body to a court-appointed guardian for her 5-month-old daughter Dannielynn — he wept.

Earlier in the week-long hearing, Seidlin told one high-strung blonde lawyer that she was beautiful, and took cell phone calls from his wife. He shared his morning exercise routine with the courtroom and the cameras....

At one point, referring to a dress being made for Smith's burial, Seidlin's face soured as he expressed his general discomfort over funeral details.

"This is the one area I always ran away from — the death," Seidlin said.

It prompted amused attorney Stephen Tunstall to note wryly, "But you're a probate judge," referring to the type of judge whose job is to deal with wills.

"I don't think him to be crazy at all,'' said Belinda Seidlin. "I find him to be brilliant, and that's tough to say when you're married to someone for a long time."
Absurd.

February 22, 2007

Lieberman has his way with the Democrats.

How delicious and apt:
Lieberman says leaving the Democratic Party is a "very remote possibility." But even that slight ambiguity — and all his cross-aisle flirtation — has proved more than enough to position Lieberman as the Senate's one-man tipping point. If he were to jump ship, the ensuing shift of power to Republicans would scramble the politics of the war in Iraq, undercut the Democrats' national agenda and potentially weaken their hopes for the White House in 2008. Those stakes are high enough to give Lieberman leverage with both parties no matter how slim the chance of his crossing the aisle. Which means Senate leaders aren't worrying only about whether Joe Lieberman will switch parties. They're wondering what, if anything, he plans to do with the power that comes from keeping that possibility alive.
UPDATE: Lieberman's been reminded that he repeatedly assured voters that he'd stay with the Democrats, and maybe now he's back in his cage.

The crying, melodramatic judge in the Anna Nicole case.

I find him quite bizarre. Too much self-expression!

Is "Bullies" an offensive team name?

"Anti-bullying advocates" are up in arms about the Syracuse Bullies, a new ABA team.
People who run anti-bullying programs are crying foul over the Bullies name. They say when children attend the games, they'll get the wrong idea that bullies are cool.

I just have one thing to say: Let's not be L-seven.

"The Nazi hunter's ultimate prize."

It's art. Not saying it's good. Just pointing at it.

Covering "American Idol" the lazy way again.

Here's Jacob of TWOP mini-recapping last night's show, which featured the "girls" and was much better the Tuesday's "boy" show. Notably, he does not think Lakisha was the best:
Lakisha Jones, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going": Yes, it was wonderful, yes I believe it, but Simon's tongue bath is doing her no favors.
And I'm sick of that song, which seems to have supernatural power to make people think the singer is brilliant. I've seen it done too many times lately. It's a huge cliché. Maybe once, back in the days of Frenchie Davis, it was surprising to hear the fat woman demand love so forthrightly. But now, I'm feeling pushed around. You don't like people telling you what to do? But here you are telling us what to do! Rather hypocritical, isn't it? I'll love who I damn well please... and it won't be based on histrionic songifying.

What Jacob likes:
Leslie Hunt's "Natural Woman" rocked out, like I was sure it would. She's so weird and neat, but I think she'll be okay.
Yeah, why didn't the judges like her more? I think it's something about the way she looks... like the sort of actress who'd be in a commercial for some mindnumbingly ordinary household product.
Jordin Sparks proved once again with "Give Me One Reason" that she's one to watch this year.
I like her too.
Stephanie Edwards started the night with "How Come You Don't Call Me?" and sang in a frenetic manner, like Fantasia without the scary aspects of Fantasia -- and I'm not just saying that because of the hair, she's an original.
She annoyed me. I guess I just can't stand that style of singing. I was sure they were going to say she was "all over the place." But they ended up saying somebody else was "all over the place." You know, on every show, somebody has to be the one who is "all over the place."
Melinda Doolittle sang Aretha's "Since You've Been Gone," and proved to be maybe the most likeable person ever to perform on this show.
Yeah, she was good. And likeable. You could get sick of that.

I think my favorite was Sabrina Sloan. Jacob put her in the middle group:
Sabrina Sloan still looks like a visiting cast member from Rome and sang a very determined "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You," which usually sounds the same all the time.
Hmmm.... maybe I mostly think she looks really cool.

As for the bad ones. You can go read Jacob for that. I'll just say that Antonella Barba really was disgusting, trying (and failing) to be so damned irresistible singing those horrible words:
Lying close to you feeling your heart beating
And I'm wondering what you're dreaming
Wondering if it's me you're seeing
Then I kiss your eyes
And thank God we're together
I just want to stay with you in this moment forever
Forever and ever
This song goes on and on about how the guy -- it's a guy's song -- is just going to stay up the whole damned night, because -- so he says -- he's just got to look at her as much as possible. It's like he's stalking a girl who's already sleeping with him. If he really likes her so much, he should get some sleep, because what kind of a companion is he going to be the next day, when she's actually conscious? I'm very suspicious of this character. I get the impression he doesn't like her all that much, since he's so deeply engrossed with her personality-less sleeping body. Stop the maudlin "eye" kissing -- it's really eyelids -- and get some sleep or you are going to be hell to live with.

ADDED: Princess Midwest is nicely bitchy about the show. (A taste: "Her and her buddy were such bitches during Hollywood Weak, I’m not sure what it’s gonna take for me to get behind her. And she kind of looks like Denise Richards, who is a heinous bitch. She’s also no Steven Tyler.")

"Everybody in politics lies, but [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

That's just one of the mean things David Geffen said, as quoted by Maureen Dowd (TimesSelect) and being talked about everywhere. More from the mogul:
“Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.

“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”
The guy can really string thoughts together, can't he? If you are actually worried about the war and polarizing people, why is Obama the solution? He's way on one side, where Hillary is in the middle. You really think generic, banal inspirationalism is going to paper over all the differences?

Here's the story on the two candidates squabbling about those terrible things Geffen said. And Bill Richardson gets some coverage:
...Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, said Mr. Obama should denounce Mr. Geffen’s remarks. “If we’re going to win, we have to be positive,” Mr. Richardson said. “I think these name-callings are not good.”

"That's what we do in WI; beer, cheese, Harleys, serial killers, and crazy."

You might want to keep the volume turned down when you're watching porn in Oconomowoc, lest your neighbor burst through the door with his sword extended. And that's not some cute way of referring to a penis.

"President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant."

So the Daily News wrote back in January:
Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.

"The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

"The danger is they're reading Americans' mail," she said.

"You have to be concerned," agreed a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush's claim. "It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."

A top Senate Intelligence Committee aide promised, "It's something we're going to look into."

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.
What's really going on here? My colleague Anuj Desai has a spiffy little article explaining the law, where a lot hangs on the way the words "letter" and "mail" don't mean the same thing:
I conclude that the statutory prohibition on mail opening only applies to mail matter that falls into the category of “letter” - which, roughly speaking, is defined as a “message” or “communication” or “correspondence.” The prohibition on mail opening thus does not apply to mail matter other than “correspondence,” such as bombs, anthrax or any ordinary good. The statute bars the opening of letters without a warrant, subject to only one relevant exception: the “physical searches” provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). The government may not open letters without either a warrant or following the procedures set forth in FISA. There is no “exigent circumstances” exception for letters, though the government may temporarily detain a letter for the purpose of obtaining a warrant.

On the other hand, the government may open other mail matter without a warrant subject only to the strictures of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment does contain an “exigent circumstances” exception to the ordinary rule that a warrant is required. Thus, scenarios that might involve hazardous materials such as anthrax or a ticking time bomb would in many circumstances fall into this exception.
You can download the paper here.

February 21, 2007

It's me and Jim Pinkerton on Bloggingheads.TV!

Enough with the Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads. My diavlog is up now. I'm gabbing with the estimable Jim Pinkerton.

Topics (with times):
Iraq inspires Arab romanticism (as Isaiah Berlin predicted and Doug Feith didn't) (07:13)

McCain is yesterday, Hagel is today. Giuliani tomorrow? (07:57)

Romney's ecumenical appeal (02:18)

Justice Kennedy begs for love and money (09:33)

Britney shaves head, Anna Nicole completes career (09:22)

Why Edmund Burke would like "American Idol" (04:56)

What do women want? Not Bloggingheads.tv? (13:07)

"Ann Althouse Defends Scott Turow's Honor."

Writes David Lat, who wishes I'd been more catty in that NYT column -- and attracts a first comment from a pseudonymous former student of mine who meows that I made him unhappy.

Why aren't we paying much attention to the most qualified Democratic candidate in the race?

Matt Yglesias wonders (via Memeorandum):
[Bill Richardson is] the popular, second-term governor of a swing state -- you know, the sort of person who back in the day used to win presidential elections. And it's not as if Richardson isn't getting attention because the field is crowded with popular second-term governors of swing states. No. We're too excited about the first-term senator from Illinois whose only competitive election in the past was against Bobby Rush -- and who lost. Or that vice presidential nominee from a losing ticket....

The point about Richardson is that in many respects he's exactly the sort of person -- a popular governor -- who was taken seriously as a presidential contender in the very recent past. The list is long and familiar -- Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. The difference is that Richardson is also super-experienced.

In retrospect, however, Bush was less the last of the governor presidents than a transition to the new era in which, to be president, you need to be a famous celebrity. Mayors of New York City are always famous, because the people who run the media live in New York. Hence, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate... Barack Obama has an extremely interesting personal story and was one of the only Democratic successes in 2004, so he became famous and now he's a serious candidate. John Edwards got famous running on a national ticket, so he's a serious candidate. Hillary Clinton's husband used to be president (you may have heard), so she's famous and she's a serious candidate....
So, let's pay some attention to Bill Richardson!

Ezra Klein responds to Matt:
... I attended a small policy breakfast with Richardson and found him very underwhelming. He talked of tax cuts and making Democrats "the party of space." His is a resume without -- at least thus far -- an inspiring vision or a clear ideology, and it's worth saying that pure technocrats rarely win national elections. The hunger for celebrity is unfair, but the appetite for inspiration isn't necessarily off-base.
Where does the bogus lure of celebrity end and real inspiration begin? In any case, I keep my distance from all politicians and don't look for them for any sort of inspiration. I know it's a stodgy device to drag out a dictionary definition, but let's look at what "inspiration" means:
1a. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity. b. The condition of being so stimulated. 2. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention. 3. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired. 4. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration. 5. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind. 6. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.
It seems too spiritual to me. I just want to vote for the most competent person and let him do his job well.

"American Idol" -- the guys.

I didn't blog about "American Idol" last night. You may have noticed. I did watch it though. It was just too boring and bland for me to feel like writing about it. Twelve guys, and they all blended together into a meaningless blur.

By waiting until morning, I have the Television Without Pity mini-recap to point to and quote, and that spares me the frustration of trying to describe something featureless. Well, the recapper -- Joe R-- finds a few things, like:
Chris Sligh rocks out on some song nobody on Earth has ever heard before, particularly Simon, which of course is why he criticizes it. Here's where Ryan really flips his lid, though, as he goads Chris into some backtalk, which references Il Divo and Teletubbies and actually seems to throw Simon off for a few moments. Which is scary as hell, in a "the pilot's dead, who can fly this plane?!" way. Not good times for anyone involved.
I rather liked Simon last night, except when he went into that long self-justification about how he's not rude, he's a truth teller. The thing about him is that he doesn't lie, he will not tell a lie, he is not a liar.

I don't think I'm going to make it through this season. I really just don't care, and, strangely, never have! I don't like the music. They rarely do a song I like.
Sundance continues to take the express train to suck-town, singing "Knights in White Satin" without a single note in tune.
"Knights in White Satin" is the sort of thing that someone might sing impressively, but that I utterly despise. Yeah, "I love you, I love you, I love you." I get it. Very impressive concoction of lyrics there. But can you give me a clue why the knights are in white satin? I picture knights in armor, so... are these satin undies, or what? Hey, wait, it's "Nights in White Satin"!

I do sort of like "Rock With You" and "Careless Whisper," which were sung last night, but they were sung in that way that makes you marvel at how excellent the singing was on the original recordings and how clearly you can still hear Michael Jackson and George Michael in your head... if these clowns would just shut up.

Eric Alterman thinks there should be a "blogging council" to condemn bloggers who go wrong.

Alterman is talking with Mark Schmitt on the new Bloggingheads. They've just discussed the problem the Edwards campaign had with the bloggers it hired. (Eric says, and I agree, "You can't credibly blog for a campaign.... You can have a campaign blog as long as it's not a real blog.") And they're fretting about the way bloggers can damage a campaign by floating a rumor. Then Eric comes out with:
"I think it would be valuable if we had... uh... I mean, there's some sense where blogs correct themselves if you read enough of them, but I still I think it would be good if we had some sort of, you know, blogging -- you know -- council, where we could condemn people. Sort of... responsible body. You could still blog if you want. Nobody's going to stop you. But we're going to... everybody's gonna know that you're not to be trusted... unless you can sort of apologize or answer for yourself."
Alterman's affect is so flat that you can't detect if perhaps he's joking. In any case, I'm sure he doesn't think it is too likely to happen. But I was put off by the mindset he revealed. He'd like a blacklist.

Anyway, if there were such a list, it wouldn't be the case that "everybody's gonna know" anything. We'd just be forced to blog about the damned council and what's wrong with it. It could never be neutral. Why do I feel so sure I'd be condemned by a council appointed by Alterman?

Also in this Bloggingheads segment, Alterman complains that bloggers mix too much about their personal lives into their political opinions, as if they think the personal information bolsters the argument: "Tom Paine didn't say 'Common Sense' is a good idea because I'm such a hip guy." But of course, Tom Paine would have blogged, and he probably would have come across as a cool guy, and we would perceive that as bolstering his argument.

Eric is especially perturbed by Andrew Sullivan's personal revelations, notably his description of curling up with his boyfriend in bed on Valentine's Day. I can't find that post on Sullivan's blog, and I looked through the archive of that week, which didn't seem too personal at all. In fact, it has an extraordinary variety of posts on many subjects that are not Sullivan's personal life.

In the course of expressing his hostility toward personal blogging, Alterman lets us know that he went to a "dirty movie." Then it turns out it was the surrealist classic "Exterminating Angel," directed by Luis Bunuel and screened at Lincoln Center. This reminds me of the time my friend ridiculed the hell out of me for saying I was just doing some light reading, and then had to confess that the book was "The Clouds" by Aristophanes. [CORRECTION: Joseph Angier points out in the comments that the movie playing at Lincoln Center was "'Exterminating Angels' - which is some kind of new French arthouse quasi-porno film that screened as part of a Film Society of Lincoln Center festival last week." And I do hear Eric say the "s" in the recording. My point still stands though, because we're talking about a very classy, arty film.]

ADDED: A commenter points me to Andrew Sullivan's Valentine's Day column. It reads in full:
We watched "Basic Instinct" last night with a bottle of champagne and freshly-made brownies. I'd never seen it before. It was washed down by a HD Sunrise Earth special on Machu Picchu. Life is good when you're in love and have a widescreen television.
Here's what Alterman said:
Too many bloggers feel that their private lives are intrinsically interesting. And maybe they are. But in a very unhealthy way. In a very Us Magazine, not even a People way. In an Us Magazine way. And I think that interferes with the quality of ... the ability of one to make one's argument on the quality of one's argument....

And I think too much blogging is taken over with too much cuteness, too much personality, and not enough of the quality of the argument....

Getting off the topic of silliness, like Andy, Andy, curling up... I just noticed this because last week he wrote about Valentine's Day, how happy he was to be curling up in bed with his boyfriend to watch a DVD. I'm like: Why do I have to read this?
I didn't find the post because I used the search terms "bed," "boyfriend," and "curl," none of which appears in the post Alterman referred to. Would Alterman's council condemn me if I wrote that I detect a whiff of homophobia?

IN THE COMMENTS: Snarky, but true, from Undertoad:
[I]t's no surprise that Alterman doesn't like bloggers to show their personality. Because he loses in that category.
AND:
Beware bloggers of ill motive and shoddy skill. You are being watched. And for the glory of all the blogosphere and the citizens therein, you shall be brought to the scouring light of truth by this Council.

Look out!