April 3, 2004

Oh no! It's the new US News rankings!

So four posts on US News and that's all for Saturday? Strange but true.
US News & me. Back in the early 1970s, after I graduated from the University of Michigan's School of Architecture & Design with a BFA degree, before I went to law school, I supported myself by working for a small market research company in NYC. We specialized in producing a monthly report analyzing the editorial content of magazines and doing various individual studies for magazine publishers. I thought this was a very nice day job for an artist, because we sat around reading magazines all day. I read at least 50 magazines a month, including many I never want to see again (like Woman's Day, Grit, and Sports Afield ...), for about three years.

One of the clients that were most interested in our individual studies was US News & World Report. Like the 3d and 4th tier schools on their present-day lists, US News had an inferiority complex. For them, Time and Newsweek were like Yale and Harvard. They wanted to find a niche. They needed leverage of some kind to get ahead of the elite newsweeklies. Their idea was "news you can use." Time and Newsweek, you see, didn't care about the consumer. They just told you what happened in the news. But how could you use that news? US News would give you news you can use, and they wouldn't just give it to you, they would document that they were doing it and use that documentation to prove that they were better than the two newsweeklies with the bigger reputations. At my little market research company, we found and measured and counted up the lines of news you can use in the newsweeklies, producing a statistical report that US News could use to show that they had more news you can use.

Specialization as the newsweekly that serves the consumer led them to serve the consumer of educational services. What poetic justice that the little newsweekly with the inferiority complex found a way to make all the elites tremble every year as it made its own success as a publisher of special school-ranking issues! What poetic justice that in finding a way to distinguish itself, US News created a mechanism that all the schools snubbed as inferior could use to challenge their elite competitors!
The US News peer assessment component. Brad Leiter has analyzed the US News rankings too, and he seems to find the most value in the peer assessment score, which is derived from a survey about faculty quality. My school has always done relatively well on this factor, and we invariably call attention to how well we do and (of course it's self-serving!) how this is the factor that matters most. But how can the surveyed profs know enough about all the schools they are asked to score? You are most likely to think of the people you know at the school--are the school's most well-published scholars in your field?--and judge the whole school by that standard. Are you thinking about the present or the long history of the law school? Do you really know if the scholars who exemplify a law school are still active on the faculty? If someone prominent moved to a school you are more likely to know, because the schools--especially the richer schools--put great effort into glossy reports to show off information precisely with the purpose of affecting the US News survey. At what point, in judging so many schools, are you resorting to general opinions about the prestige of the school? And where does that opinion come from? Oh, certainly not from the US News survey! No, no, no! That couldn't happen. Do you think reputation is some sort of echo and US News a huge echo chamber?

UPDATE: Leiter's discussion used faculty quality rankings not from the US News peer assessment factor, but based on an independent survey. It differs from the US News faculty survey results. For example, he shows Yale first, but US News puts Harvard and Stanford above Yale. Well, UW is at 19 for US News and only 22 for his survey, so you can guess which survey I think is more ... accurate. US News surveys "the dean and three faculty members at each school." Leiter surveyed "150 leading legal scholars." [UPDATE ABOUT THIS UPDATE: US News, when re-sorted by the peer assessment factor puts Harvard, Stanford, and Yale at the same level. H & S are only above Y as a matter of alphabetical order. Leiter puts Yale alone in first place and Harvard and Chicago tied for second, and Stanford 4th.]

ANOTHER UPDATE: I was just rereading that update (blog tending can get pretty damned involuted) and it struck me that surveying "the dean and three faculty members at each school" versus "150 leading legal scholars" makes a big difference. I'm sure Leiter's survey has been dissected elsewhere, and excuse me for not looking up previous comments, but these 150 "leading legal scholars" are a particular sort of person, likely to interact with other profs at a very elite level and to think well of the people who cycle through elite events. They will have their preferences and allegiances. US News is surveying a much larger group, which includes many much less elite faculty members, who are going to bring quite different ideas to the process of participating in determining who has the opportunity to become the new elite. These are people who struggle to bring recognition to their schools, and they may feel that schools that outrank them on the reputation score are riding on longstanding prejudice. It's not at all clear to me that Leiter's survey takers are more trustworthy. I wonder, do scholars with big reputations read more of other scholars' work? Maybe profs who write more read less. Maybe people who build their own reputations pay less attention to exactly what everyone else is doing.
US News and law school admissions. The new US News rankings are out, and I subscribed to their website so I could re-sort by LSAT, GPA, "peer assessment," or whatever subcategory contributes to the overall score that produces the famous, agonized-over ranking. I'm unusually interested, not just because I'm a lawprof and on the admissions committee here (60 files are stacked on the floor of my office at the moment, and I've also got two articles to edit in the next week). I'm especially interested because one of my sons is applying to law school. So I'm well aware of how the rankings affect a school that is trying to assemble a class of students for the next year and how an applicant simply must take the rankings into account. A school could go all out for the numbers, knowing that would produce a rise in the ranking, and perhaps in some later year, it could switch to more complicated factors, knowing the people it wants to select with these factors are more likely to apply and accept if the school has a higher rank. A school that goes all out for the complicated factors and downgrades the importance of the LSAT and the GPA has to know that it will sink in the rankings and that in the coming year, the people it would like to select using those complicated factors will not be applying or, if they apply, when the see the new rankings in the spring, will not accept.

As a US News subscriber, I reranked the list purely on LSAT score and could easily see which schools went all out for the LSAT score, because they would appear in the rankings far above their overall ranking. Georgetown is 14th in the overall ranking, yet appears 7th when you resort by LSAT. Fordham goes from 34th to 16th. On the other hand Michigan sinks from 7th to 12th and Texas from 15th to 22d. My school, which is 31st overall, is sandwiched between two schools that are ranked at 67th overall. But you'll find some other fine state schools down here with us: University of North Carolina, Iowa, Illinois.

If you re-sort by GPA, you'll find Baylor ranked 4th, though overall it is ranked 50th. Berkeley, which people seem to think doesn't deserve to be ranked at 13th overall, is, quite interestingly in 5th place in the GPA rank. North Carolina, which slighted LSAT scores, has compensated with GPA, because here it appears in 6th place (overall rank 27). In 8th place is Florida (overall rank 43). And in 9th place is Nebraska (overall rank 89). When I read admissions files and look at GPAs, I take into account how competitive the college is, what courses were taken, the trend over four years, grade inflation at the school, and so forth. But we could simply pick the highest GPAs. Now, maybe Nebraska, for example, could be explained this way: they take a lot of people from Nebraska who have terrific grades from Nebraska, and that's what they should do. They aren't necessarily playing a US News game. But it's pretty damn obvious how to play the GPA factor--it's the most playable thing in the game. Why are Columbia and NYU at 13th and 14th place in the GPA rank, when they are at 4th and 5th in the overall rank? Maybe they are going lower into the pool from some very strong, competitive colleges and taking people with terrific LSATs (they rank 3d and 4th on the LSAT rank).

My school is in first place on one of the re-sorted list (shared with Marquette): "School's bar passage rate in jurisdiction." 100%. How'd we do that? Why that's the neatest trick in the whole US News game! Just try to beat that, US News competitors!

April 2, 2004

Madison life. It's this kind of afternoon in Madison:

The students are lounging and conversing on Bascom Mall:

But what is this display?

You are invited to take one of these flags and proudly show your support for MEChA:

I am seeing no MEChA flag taking or waving of any kind. [CLARIFICATION: MEChA is sponsoring the display, but the flag itself is a United Farm Workers Flag.] Here's another hardcore political image from campus:

In the end politics merges with the more beautiful and gentle aspects of life in Madison.
Short-fingered vulgarian. I'm enjoying reading Throwing Things, which has a lot of smart remarks about TV (and movies). I hadn't seen the "short-fingered vulgarian" term for Trump in a long time, and seeing it on TT made me Google for something Spy Magazine-related and find this, from a cool website devoted to Spy nostalgia. So, really, what were satirists satirizing seventeen years ago?
Wonderfalls ... Rumsfeld. I keep hearing that Wonderfalls is a good TV show and seeing it lumped together with Joan of Arcadia (a personal favorite of mine). But what was it doing on at the same time as The Apprentice? Okay, I'll watch a little and TiVo The Apprentice. No, no, it's not on the JoA level. It reminds me of those exaggerated sitcoms with smartass kids that have been on forever and that I never watch. Or am I wrong and it's in a kind of Serial Mom style? Pink Flamingoes noted. And I did like the idea of the talking animals, but in execution, it's not as good as the God characters--like Goth God--on Joan of Arcadia. And I did really love that the dad looks exactly like Donald Rumsfeld. But since he seems to be a quite a bastard, the show perhaps belongs in this discussion.
Music videos. Chris recommends this list of greatest music videos of all time. Does Madonna deserve all this recognition? Yes! And more. I especially like "Open Your Heart," which is number 16 (or as they say in music list talk: which comes in at number 16). Nice to see the old 80s favorites like "You Might Think." I always liked The Cars--they seemed to be keeping something from the 70s alive that was keeping something from the 60s alive that was keeping something from the 50s alive.
Not driving. Like some of the best people I know, Andrew Sullivan doesn't drive--can't drive. Not driving keeps you from doing some things, but the limitation shapes your life in many positive ways, as AS notes. Personally, I love to drive, but once I lived for a semester in Boston without my car, and not having the car made life better in many ways. Oh, and "once" I lived in New York City for 10 years without a car, and it was great. Not driving increases the likelihood that you will live somewhere interesting.
Is it clever to call your show "Morning Sedition"? Well, the play on Morning Edition has been used before. I'll just note that I started by misreading it as "Morning Sedation," thinking they were making fun of the tediousness of (some of) Morning Edition and then thinking "Sedation" isn't a good term to repeat to people when they are trying to get up in the morning. You don't want to pick a name that makes it easy to make a joke at your expense ("Morning Sedition"? More like Morning Sedation! ... ha ha....) And considering that a big theme of Air America is that liberals are patriots too, isn't sedition--"[c]onduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state"--the wrong word? Quite aside from that, isn't the liberal self-image "I'm a revolutionary" a bit tired? I mean like 30-years-out-of-date tired?
In which I pan last night's The Apprentice. Gordon Smith has some funny simulblogging. And Prof. Yin has a lot of observations. I thought the episode was pretty boring. The contestants tried to rent out fancy real estate for as much $ as possible. Wow, beautiful space, I thought at first. Later, I'm still looking at that big empty space, and I don't really know anything about the people looking at it or anything about what they'll do with it--other than, have a big party. But I don't get to see a party or anything. Just a few characterless people filing through! And the dumb narrative device we've seen before: just when the team was losing all hope, with seconds left on the clock, a customer from the blue walks in the door and makes a big offer. Compare that to the art-selling episode, which had the different paintings, the artists, the gallery parties.

With the best players left, the most colorful contestants are gone. I'm not surprised they are now resorting to trying to get us excited by revealing they're bringing back Omarosa (the break-out star of the series!). And then, poor Troy has to go, because he is least bland person left, so he looks out of place. There was only so much cowboy we could take, and then we want only smoothly polished applicants. The main reason Troy was told he had to go was that he lacked the education the other two team members had. As a mere high school graduate, he never really had the qualifications! But good for you for making it this far, high school boy.

Oh, and the dullest part of the show has always been the winner's reward. Too often the reward is that you get to fly somewhere in some aircraft. You're in New York, there are a million great things to do, but we've got to keep flying you out of there because we want to show off the aircraft. Yeah, it was quite nice, but like the cavernous apartment space, it's boring to keep looking at it. We might as well have an episode that's just a closeup on Trump's face where he looks into the camera and says, for an hour, "I am rich, I am so rich, I am so much richer that you can imagine .... " That's what it felt like last night.

April 1, 2004

Dawn. It is April 1, so say a prayer for Dawn. And, you readers, all still alive, take care driving. That left turn could be death. Hesitate.

UPDATE: I am an aunt to two persons, one the lamented Dawn. But let me not only lament Dawn, let me cheer my wonderful nephew Cliff Kresge, who is in 17th place after the first round of the Bell South Classic. Life goes on.

UPDATE FRIDAY AT 3: Not a good day for Cliff, but there he is just under the cut line. It looks like there's a decent chance that the cut will be moved though. I hope.
High-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem... Soylent Green ... Cocteau. My dear return readers will know of my recent travails with my digital camera, which turned out to be one of those high-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem problems (a wall switch was involved, a variation on is-it-plugged-in troubleshooting). Another high-tech-problem-is-really-a-low-tech-problem problem happened again today, when Charter Communications set up my cable modem, but the cable guy recoiled in horror at the sight of my wireless device (Airport): "I can't touch that!" He will only hook the cable directly into to the one desktop computer that doesn't have a wireless card and checks it all out and I'm supposed to do the Airport part of the setup myself after he leaves. But oh it's easy, he says, just reconnect the cable to the airport and then run a cable to the desktop. But, no, that in fact does not work, as I eventually figured out. The cable modem will have given an IP address to the desktop, so the Airport won't be able to "pull" an IP address of its own. Solution: unplug the cable modem box and turn it back on with Airport connected. How much time did I throw away before I discovered the old unplug-it-and-replug-it maneuver? Hours. And a life is only made up of hours....

Ah, but okay, I like the wireless, now that it's working, and all the digital cable that got attached seems pretty nice too. I like the "Music Choice" channels, as I sit here writing, using the wireless. I don't usually listen to music, but maybe now I will. One of the channels is called "Light Classical." I can't read that term without thinking of Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green. Am I the only one? In the unforgettable scene in which Robinson requests Light Classical music in Soylent Green (why am I refraining from spoilers? isn't this the most spoiler-ruined movie in movie history?), what is played is Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

Once, I drove to San Francisco, then to Las Vegas, then back to Madison. I was visiting family members in those two cities, but I also cared about driving through Death Valley, between SF and LV. Driving, I was listening to The Teaching Company lectures about Beethoven's symphonies along with the symphonies. What was so strange and beautiful was that Death Valley coincided with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the un-Death-Valley-like Pastoral. In thinking about music not matching the visuals, I always think about Jean Cocteau's memoir about making Beauty and the Beast, which I could not more highly recommend. Cocteau favored film music that wasn't closely tied to the visuals. Put in the score, and let accident determine what sound went with what visual. The spirit of Cocteau was with me when I loaded up the CD player with Beethoven symphonies and drove across the vast wastelands of the American west.
Ridiculous turns of phrase. I have two. There's this, from a NYT story about Kerry's shoulder operation taking him out of active campaigning:
"The Bush people have seized the vacuum," said Carter Eskew, a senior adviser to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign

Isn't that a bit ... askew? Seized the vacuum? I don't think the image is of the housecleaning appliance. You're referencing nothingness. Not seizable. Fillable.

The second one is a Bush quote that appears in Michiko Kakutani's review of Richard Clarke's book (which is worth reading generally--the review, I mean. Key line: "The narrative of 'Against All Enemies' is very much a story in which Mr. Clarke depicts himself as the prescient gunslinger trying, often in vain, to rally a bunch of dilatory bureaucrats.") Here's the locution I'm going to critique:
"I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring [bin Laden] to justice and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling."

Boiling blood is extreme hyperbole for anger. It is enough to say, after 9/11 my blood was boiling. Even that is too extreme. How could one carry out the duties of the Presidency if one fell into the greatest extreme of rage? I would think after 9/11, a person in the President's position would feel a crystalline concentration of the mind, not boiling anger, but a state beyond anger, to an instant resolve to do all the things that need to be done. Boiling blood is nevertheless an acceptable trope for the 9/11 state of mind. But the expression "my blood was not nearly as boiling" enfeebles the whole statement. You mean your blood was boiling before, but at more of a slow boil as opposed to a rolling boil? Absurd! His blood was not yet boiling, but he doesn't want to concede that he wasn't intense enough about the war on terrorism before 9/11. He wants to be able to say 9/11 really changed him without admitting that he didn't care enough before 9/11. I do understand the impulse, though. Politics makes people use ridiculous expressions that they would not use if they spoke straightforwardly.
Are American Idol voters crazy? Here's Shack at Television Without Pity:
I just figured that after Leah's and Matt's ejections, the increase in viewership had stabilized some of the more bizarre voting decisions. Silly me. What was I thinking? Given terrible performances by Jon, John, Camile, and Diana, the voters send … Amy, Jennifer, and LaToya, to the bottom three.

I think what happens early on, when there are a lot of contestants, is that voters concentrate on helping people they like who they think might be in danger. They assume the really best people, like LaToya are getting votes from someone else. That's a real problem. Maybe each judge ought to have the power to bestow immunity on one contestant at this phase. But no, it makes the show exciting when the wrong people are voted into the bottom three. What fun it was for millions of people to watch the closeups of John Stevens, a sweet teenage kid, and look for a sign of a tear and impute thoughts to him ("I am so much worse then LaToya! The American people are wrongly favoring me and missing the true talent!"). Just don't put Tasia in the bottom three, or I'm going to get mad. I had been expecting the finale to be Fantasia and LaToya, but now I guess I don't think so. Based on this week, Fantasia and George are the best. And, please people, let poor Camile go home. If you really want to do something nice for her, don't vote for her. She's terrified and suffering and needs to go home.

UPDATE: I didn't link to Prof. Yin in my original post (and he commented last night), so here's the link. (Too busy to check the usual blogs this morning!) He also disapproves of America's choice for the bottom three. And he thinks Jennifer Hudson was good. Now, Hudson was my original favorite, going back to the first audition, but I have switched to Fantasia. I have a problem with Hudson's singing now. It's weak and kind of weird in the lower register and it seems phony to me, not that I think she is a phony. I think she knows she has to knock people out, and she pushes hard to do that, but as a result, there's no warmth of feeling. Generally, that is a problem with the show. Lots of power belting at the expense of believable interpretation.

I actually like John Stevens because he resists the pressure to be like that: he sings in an easy manner and tries to do good phrasing like his singing idols. But he's just a kid--he's not Frank Sinatra. Yet, I'll bet the kid Frank Sinatra was really great (any recordings of him at 16?). I'll bet Frank never aimed his singing at his grandparents. That said, I'll bet a hundred thousand young girls have a crush on young John.

Now, Fantasia, my favorite for the last few weeks, is able to do all the power stuff they want you to do and still seem like a specific, real person with personality and style--and to be having a great time on top of it. She's just way more entertaining than anyone else! Even that goofball sweater she was wearing was entertaining.
Law School Rankings. The U.S. News website is still showing the 2004 Grad Schools guide, and I'm seeing some discussion of the "leak" of the of rankings (here and here), but the new guide was on the magazine rack at Borders on University Avenue yesterday.

Anyway ... it's that time again for schools that moved up to preen and schools that moved down to denounce U.S. News and their mischievous, unscientific ways. How tedious to listen to this self-serving blather year after year! Or is it that I can afford to be blasé because my school stayed in the same place.

Really, I think it is good that U.S. News gathers and systematizes information for people who are making decisions about where to go to law school. If it's not perfect information, it's still some information, and let someone else try to put out better information and compete with U.S. News. If U.S. News is so defective that ought to be easy. U.S. News sells plenty of these guides so there must be a lot of money in the enterprise.

March 31, 2004

Friend of the Law School. The Capital Times reports:
Frederick W. Miller, the longtime chairman of the board of The Capital Times Co. who died Dec. 15 at the age of 91, left more than $7 million of his estate to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to endow the deanship of its Law School, from which he graduated in 1936....
Life in Madison: chilly, musical, and overworked. Well, I'm horribly busy today. With an edit of a long law review article on one side of my desk and a pile of admissions files on the other, two more pieces to edit arrived as email attachments yesterday. That's not supposed to happen. I'm feeling some pressure! And I started the day by getting up extra early to take advantage of my dentist's first appointment of the day (because it minimizes the time spent in the waiting room). The dentist pipes in music that most resembles the kinds of songs that contestants on American Idol sing. When I'm at the dentist I'm hyper-aware of how much I hate that kind of music, which makes me wonder what strange force makes me watch American Idol. Oh, the Motown stuff last night was good--I like Fantasia--but it's that generic bellowing anthemic crap that I can't tolerate (for example, at the dentist today, Melissa Etheridge singing something along the lines of "It only hurts when I breathe....," where the approach seems to be come up with one line that appears clever and just emote the hell out of that one line over and over). But that is all to say: I really do have a lot of work to get on to. I've got a Conlaw class at 11, where we'll be beginning the always fun topic of the negative Commerce Clause. So let me just leave my valued return readers with another little Madison picture. This one is from a few days back, but the weather today has returned to the state it was the day these two guys were playing. Yes, it's chilly again today, yet many students will just assume the weather, once warm, will continue on a steady path toward summer heat. There will be people out in sandals and T-shirts today, I'm sure, even thought the temperature is back in the 30s. So here are two of our local street musicians as they were two Saturdays ago, playing their hearts out doing one of the kind of songs I really do like, that old 60s tune "I'm a Believer."

UPDATE: I've been informed that wasn't Melissa Etheridge. Sorry, Melissa.

March 30, 2004

Journeys With George. I didn't have HBO back when Alexandra Pelosi's documentary Journeys With George was on originally, so it was nice to finally get the DVD. It's quite enjoyable. Pelosi did not hesitate to some include footage shot from the TV (usually with the camera tilted to give the talking heads that David-McCallum-on-Outer-Limits giant cranium effect). This encouraged me to continue with my TV photographing propensity, displayed below with John Kerry on Dick Cavett and earlier with Courtney Love on Letterman (TiVo helps you get the best frames). I like the effect of getting extra close, which Pelosi did, and forthrightly showing the lines and imperfections of the TV image. It's similar to the way Roy Lichtenstein gets close to a newspaper image and revels in the dots:

So let me give you a frame I liked from Journey's With George, where George Bush is spelling out the letters to VICTORY in cheerleader style. This is the R:

Anyway, it's a cool documentary, quite funny, about what it's like to be a journalist following a candidate around. At one point, there's a telling statement, that the journalists traveling with Gore can't stand him (though they want him to win), while Bush, surrounded by reporters who are hoping he will fail, has "charmed the pants off" them.
"George Bush has launched a full-scale assault on women while the war in Iraq continues to provide cover for the damage he is doing to our rights at home." So reads a letter from NOW I received yesterday. Oh, how I detest this kind of rhetoric! I suppose it helps raise money to instill a sense of emergency and to make the other side look aggressively evil.

I was particularly struck by the weird invocations of the war on terrorism, because there is no connection between the war and abortion rights (other than that people in politics have positions and fight about both things). The letter calls for a march on Washington in support of abortion rights, and states "we've put our bodies on the line to stop anti-abortion terrorism. And now we must take to the streets again." One could defend the use of the word terrorism by saying it refers only to people who try to murder abortion providers and bomb clinics, but the letter is all about defeating George Bush. The letter says we need to "send the ultra-conservatives who've hijacked out government a message," and I don't think the word "hijack" (or any other word) in this letter is accidental.

The letter describes the faces of "Bush and the applauding crowd of men behind him," as he signed "an abortion ban," as "smirking." It contends that Bush is "pulling out all the stops to impose his anti-woman agenda." (This is done, in case you're interested, by appointing federal judges who are "extremists who will enforce his malicious policies." And did you know that NOW's "allies in the U.S. Senate understand that we expect them to filibuster each and every judicial nominee who opposes" abortion rights?)

The tone of this letter is so overheated and lacking in rationality that if I were not seeing the name of the organization that sent it, I would not believe it was sent by a large, important organization. Clearly, many people who support abortion rights also understand and can respect the position of those who oppose them. I'm completely offended by this characterization of abortion opponents as outrageous extremists who smirk with glee as they exercise ill-gotten power to carry out a dangerous anti-woman agenda.

March 29, 2004

Slightly off Madison windows. Maybe you should use a window sill as a bookshelf, especially if your window is at street level and people look in all the time. Face the spines inward, and no one will know what you're reading, but they will know that you are a book-reader ... or at least a book-user.

But this other window really disturbs me, not because I'm wasting any time worrying about people getting tattoos. I'm worried to find myself living in a world where people get tattoos in places that display gnomes in the window. (Is tattooing a step in a profit-making scheme that includes stealing underpants?)

Chants recently chanted. The AP reports:
The Massachusetts Legislature adopted a new version of a state constitutional amendment Monday that would ban gay marriage and legalize civil unions ... The vote came at the opening of the third round of a constitutional convention on the contentious issue, as competing cries of "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" shook the Statehouse outside the legislative chamber...

After each intonation of "Jesus" by gay rights opponents, gay rights advocates tacked on "loves us." The two opposing sides then shouted "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" simultaneously, blending into a single, indistinguishable chant.

"I'm just here to support Christ," said Olivia Long, 32, of Boston, a parishioner at New Covenant Christian Church. "We love all people, but we want to keep it like it was in the beginning."

The indecipherable blending of "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" is not the most absurd chant reported in today's news, however. That would be "Karl Rove ain't got no soul," chanted while pounding on the windows of Karl Rove's house, with the bizarre expectation of improving "educational opportunities for immigrants."
Lidrock. We were just talking last night about why CD packaging hasn't been improved (after all these years of complaints about how hard they are to open). If people aren't buying enough of a product--and CD sales are bad these days--they ought to do some things to make it more appealing. Making CDs way cheaper was the main idea that occurred to us (that and making them easier to open). But here's a really new idea: making soda lids that contain little CDs. This is especially cool as a design idea because a soda lid and a CD are both round with a center hole. It seems that CDs have always belonged there. That's really satisfying. There's also a plan to put little DVDs in the lids of movie theater sodas: that's quite elegant!
A Borders encounter with a Bush supporter. I was browsing at the front display table at Borders last night, when an old woman, for some reason, started talking to me about how bad it is that there are so many books attacking Bush. I told her not to worry, that no one who didn't already oppose Bush would read a book like that, so it didn't matter. Maybe I specialize in reassuring old ladies, because I also went so far as to assure her that Bush was going to win and he was going to win by a lot. Another basis for reassuring her occurred to me as I was driving home: the people who buy these Bush-attacking books imagine they are doing something for the anti-Bush cause by buying the book, but a more rational use of the same money would be to donate it to the Kerry campaign; she should feel reassured that money that ought rationally be donated to Kerry is just going to some writers.

UPDATE: I would note that the covers of the books do function as anti-Bush ads, so the books' presence on the display tables and racks in the bookstores does work as advertising that has some effect on the people who are undecided about Bush. If the books sell well enough, they will be prominently displayed, so buying the books helps maintain the display, so the covers (quasi-ads) are seen even by the people who won't buy the book. Thus, buying the anti-Bush book is indirectly buying an advertisement for Kerry.

March 28, 2004

Kerry in 1971. C-Span showed an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show with the young John Kerry debating a Nixon supporter, also a Vietnam vet, about the Vietnam War--in particular the assertion that the soldiers were war criminals. Kerry was very articulate and also quite mild mannered, almost diffident, with eyes downcast most of the time, making it hard to capture an image of him. Below are two images, one showing the glorious 1970s set, sprouting with orange shag carpeting and space age chairs. The other vet, John O'Neill, started off incredibly stilted, reading an opening statement, and awkwardly trying to attack Kerry, but he loosened up a bit toward the end. Seeing O'Neill reminded me of how tough it was for a young man to be an actively political conservative in those days. It was very uncool! Better to be the frat boy, then, as perhaps George Bush aptly perceived.

The Evil One relents, just enough to preserve the allegiance of one who was about to turn to the light.
The original Eternal Sunshine ending. I can't find a link for it, but the original text of Charlie Kaufman's screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is floating about. Too bad the original ending was not used and we were given more of a Hollywood conventional ending. Maybe they filmed the original ending and we'll get it on the DVD, so don't read on if you don't want it spoiled. [UPDATE IN BRACKETS: Chris tells me the original ending was filmed, but it tested poorly, so expect to find it on the DVD. If you want to wait for the cool surprise ending, skip the next sentence.] But in the original screenplay we see the two main characters as old people and learn that they have gone through their whole lives erasing each other and then getting back together fifteen times!

Another Hollywood decision that was imposed on the film was to concentrate on the two main characters--"This is really Joel and Clementine's story..."--and only use the other characters to further the plot. You may have noticed that the Jim Carrey character referred several times to his current girlfriend Naomi, but then she never showed up. She is in many scenes in the original screenplay.

One thing in the movie that bugged me was that the way the Jim Carrey character is suddenly inspired to skip work and take a train out to Montauk and go to the beach on a cold day. He wonders what came over him. Then, when there's one woman out there on the beach, and there she is again in the restaurant later, and then again on the train home, it never occurs to him to connect her insistent presence with his original impulse to go out there. Wouldn't anyone with half a brain have thought fate made her appear here? I mean, if he did that first impulsive act with this whole "something was drawing me off the one train onto the other train" attitude shouldn't that belief in destiny have stayed with him so that he would expected something to happen? And then she's so obviously it. But it would be dumb to have him just see her as his destiny at that point, so he can't say it, and we're not supposed to notice.

UPDATE: Trimblog has a link for the original screenplay.
Madison themes merge here. In the window of Badger Liquor, there's this chalked sign:

And one of their more traditional signs:

And, to find it from a distance, the familiar ice cubes:

Scenes From a Marriage. I've been watching the DVD of the Ingmar Bergman TV series Scenes From a Marriage, which had been edited down to feature film length for theater release in the US back in 1974. (Of course, being DVD, the film version is included. It's a beautiful Criterion release.) It is so exciting to get a chance to see the original form of the material, because the film itself was incredibly good and one had to assume the TV version was better. I saw the film when it came out, and one scene in particular had made a big impression on me, which I had remembered very clearly for 30 years. Liv Ullman plays a woman who, as presented in the first scene, is happily married. She's a divorce lawyer (so put this on those lists of films about law), and in another scene, which occurs in the second TV episode ("The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"), she's interviewing a woman who is seeking a divorce after 20 years of marriage, a woman who told her husband 15 years ago that she didn't love him and wanted to leave but then agreed to stay until the children had grown. Now, describing her feelings about the marriage, she starts to speak of her feelings generally: all of her senses have diminished and the whole world lacks feeling and seems "puny" and insignificant. There's a closeup at this point that I waited to see once again, just the woman's fingers touching the wooden table next to her, as she describes having lost her sense of feeling. Then there's a closeup of Liv Ullman's face, the professional demeanor combined with the horrible fear that the same thing is happening to her. Liv Ullman's face at that point, which for some reason I didn't remember as much as the hand on the table, is my candidate for best closeup of all time (oh, along with Ingrid Bergman--another Swedish actress--at the end of Casablanca).

Scenes From a Marriage made an interesting contrast to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, seen earlier yesterday, and written about below. Sunshine is all about how you'll regret leaving, but Scenes is all about how you'll regret staying. In Sunshine, you stand to lose the love of your life. In Scenes, you stand to lose your own senses. There was a different zeitgeist then! Anyway, if that partner you're trying to leave took you to see Sunshine to prove to you why you should stay, you can argue the other side with Scenes, which is designed to stun you out of your complacency. No one wants to be that woman 20 years into a relationship who can't even feel the reality of the table under her hand. I think she might be the most frightening character in the history of film.
The Kerry surgery-snowboarding mystery. There are reports today that John Kerry is going in for surgery on his shoulder, to deal with an old injury that was aggravated while he was campaigning in Iowa. Why did he go snowboarding then? I guess he had to make a big show of being hale and hearty before appearing weak and debilitated. (He's going to be wearing a sling for a week.) No wonder he got pissed off at the Secret Service agent who knocked him over when he was snowboarding.

Ah, poor guy. It's his right shoulder too, and he's had all those hands to shake and still has all those hands left to shake. God forbid he should wince or look at all unenthusiastic when engaging physically with the crowds. And then when one thing goes wrong, it creates opportunities to tie to other things, as the Times reports:
Some campaign aides were concerned about scheduling the surgery, which is elective, because they feared it would ... revive memories of Mr. Kerry's struggle with prostate cancer last year, though it is unrelated.

When he went on vacation earlier this month, some Democrats suggested that Mr. Kerry was leaving himself vulnerable to negative portrayals in President Bush's television advertisements while Mr. Kerry was still relatively unknown to many voters, and the break for surgery presents a similar risk.

As if the "vacation" wasn't part of the campaign. And of course any damn thing a candidate does is "vulnerable to negative portrayals." But I'm particularly tired of the subject of the health of the candidates. Somehow I don't think the Democrats are going to pass up the opportunity to bring up the topic of Cheney's heart or whatever such topic presents itself for "negative portrayal."
The science of reality show casting. The NYT reports--on the front page--on the science of casting for a reality show:
[T]o be cast in the second season of "The Apprentice" this fall, [an auditioner] will have to make it through six rounds of cuts, two extensive questionnaires, a medical exam, an intelligence test and the kind of background check usually reserved for secret agents.

The casting of reality shows, once an intuitive, on-the-fly endeavor, has become much more of a science, with its own growing set of protocols and rituals. Several producers have hired psychologists to help them with the vetting process.
Good subject for a law school exam, isn’t it? Oh, I think the fact that there was science to the casting of reality shows was evident long ago. I did a Civil Procedure II exam using this material maybe ten years ago, after the third season of The Real World. At that point, you could see that the casting was scarcely done “on-the-fly.” There was always a person with conservative or religious principles (e.g. Rachel) who was chosen to react to the outrageous character (e.g., Puck) and the character with something about him that would challenge her values (e.g., Pedro), and a person who was extra sensitive about conflict who was chosen to suffer. The Apprentice is produced by the same company that does The Real World, so it’s no surprise that the cast of characters resembles the mix on the MTV show. You need drama and comedy, so be sure to cast a Puck--that is, in modern parlance, an Omarosa.

But suddenly it’s front page news that the producers of reality shows are putting some major effort into their selections? Oh, I think the NYT is just hot to talk about The Apprentice:
"The Apprentice" — with its majestic views of the New York skyline and lingering shots of the show's other towering presence, Donald J. Trump — is built on a seemingly can't-miss concept, a seductive weave of aspiration and Darwinism.
“Seductive weave”? “Seductive weave”? Quit making me think about Trump’s hair!