April 7, 2004

The Little Prince. So they've found Antoine de Saint-Exupery's plane in the Mediterranean Sea, where it crashed in 1944, when the brilliant author was only 44 and while he was on a wartime reconnaissance mission. There were no bullet holes in the plane, and no body was found. I believe he merged with the stars.

It's interesting to see that "Le Petit Prince," which I read in French class in high school, was originally written in English! So I guess I should have been saying "The Little Prince" all these years, when I thought I was being true to the source.

Nina contemplates the fact that The Little Prince is third on the all time best seller list after the Bible and Das Kapital. I find that impossible to believe, but okay.... Nina wonders if the same people are reading The Little Prince and the Marx tome:
After the eyestrain of paging through Marx, ‘The Little Prince’ may well offer the perfect antidote.

‘The Little Prince’ is one of those books that makes you think that surely there is a subtext, a Great Meaning of some sort. It’s not hard to imagine a Great Meaning hidden in simple statements about our planet –as seen from the eyes of an interstellar traveler.
I'm guessing Das Kapital is bought a lot more than it's read and when it's read, many words are skipped. The chance of reading every word of The Little Prince is infinitely greater. Many read it over and over.

Speculating about Communists reading The Little Prince reminds me of the discussion in My Dinner With André, when André, totally fixated on the book, starts speculating that Nazis would love the book and goes off on a strange rant. Nothing on the web to link for that, so you'll just have to watch the movie yourself. Oh, but a Little Prince quiz did turn up--a really great Quizilla. As for me:

UPDATE: The link has gone dead but my answers identified me as the fox.
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.... It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.... Men have forgotten this truth... But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . ."
For the annals of self-surgery.
A woman in Mexico cut open her own womb with a knife and delivered a healthy baby boy in her rural home when problems developed during labor, doctors report in a medical journal.

The woman and her son, her ninth child, both survived despite an eight-hour car ride to the nearest hospital and a wait of several hours once she got there, said co-author Dr. Rafael Valle, a Northwestern University obstetrician who learned about the case from a colleague.

"She was asked, 'Why did you do that? Do you know you could have died?' She said, 'Yes, but I wanted to save my baby,'" Valle said Wednesday. He added: "This is heroic to me."

The authors of the report said there are other cases of women attempting the same thing, but none they could find in which the mother and child survived.

The woman, 40, lived in a dirt-floor house with no electricity or running water and had previously lost a baby during childbirth, the authors said.

She was alone when she went into labor, and fearing the same thing would happen when it appeared childbirth was not progressing, she decided to perform the crude C-section. She drank three small glasses of hard liquor first to numb the pain, he said.
Yikes! That reminded me of story told by the great director Werner Herzog--I think it's in the incredibly cool documentary My Best Fiend--about working on the movie Fitzcarraldo. A crew member who was cutting down brush with a chainsaw got bitten by a snake so poisonous it would kill him in seconds. The man instantly used the chainsaw to cut off his own leg, saving his life. I don't trust Herzog not to lie, though, but it's a great story. The C-section one though is in a medical journal ... apparently.
"I remember when rock was young." They probably never play Speedy Gonzales on the radio anymore--it's absurdly politically incorrect by today's standards--but people ought to know that Crocodile Rock completely borrows from Pat Boone's novelty hit. John Stevens is kind of a Pat Boone type, so conceivably that connection led him to choose that song.

And let me point out another the Clay Aiken-Grease/John Stevens-Crocodile Rock similarity: they both conspicuously wore red jackets. And both, previously non-dancers, let loose with some weird dance moves. Judges were equally skeeved by both redheads.

Oh, and what about Speedy Gonzales the cartoon character? Should he be banned?
American Idol mostly drove home for me how great a singer Elton John is, as the contestants bungled or oversang his songs. It was pretty much torture last night. I don't have a good sense of pitch myself, so I didn't suffer as much as someone who really hears pitch well, but I was cringing at all the bad notes. I didn't even like my previous favorite Fantasia, who doesn't seem to care enough about the melody or musicality of a song, and who tries to make up for it by redoing her old trick of adding ten "yeahs" to the end of the song (which I think is most like something Paul McCartney used to do). Jennifer Hudson--oh, great, we said at my house--she's going last so she must be the best. Well, really, I think the show was trying to save Jennifer and LaToya by putting them last and as far away from Fantasia as possible, because they were in the bottom three last week. I suspect the producers think that Fantasia is getting a lot of votes that should be shared with LaToya and Jennifer. Because John Stevens (newly Aikenized) or JPL (looking like the young Elton John) are getting the young-girl-loves-cute-boy vote, which has no potential to shift to the more adult sounding black female singers (even if they are the best). Actually, last night George Huff was the best. He cracks me up, because he has the most mature-sounding voice and then after he's done singing, when he's interacting with people, he gets really childish facial expressions, that are kind of endearing, but that also remind me of Gomer Pyle or a cute baby. Well, at least he's distinctive.

Jennifer, my original favorite, didn't impress me with her bellowing of that Lion King song, though I still want her to stay around and really like her personality. Picking the Elton John song young kids know best was a sly move. But I don't like that kind of cornball singing. It's not poppy. It's not sophisticated. It's devoid of real human feeling. I really find it tedious. But the judges loved it. But then I like John Stevens. He's adorable! And he had nerve to do Crocodile Rock. And the judges, who want to destroy him, seemed to be going all out to make him cry on camera. They know he's getting a lot of votes and they want him out. His performance last night reminded me of the time Clay Aiken sang Grease and the judges pilloried him for it. But Clay gained energy from the adversity. They always tell you to get out of your box--as Television Without Pity's commentator likes to point out--but then they slam you for doing it. Did it take nerve to do the Pat-Boone-singing-Speedy-Gonzales part of the song (the falsetto la-las)? Yeah! I enjoyed it.

So what are Prof. Yin and Prof. Brito saying? Go check them out.

April 6, 2004

"I really think it's time we stopped flying together." David Brooks sustains a column-long metaphor about flying on specialized airlines, the like of which I have not seen since Prince's International Lover:
Good evening. This is your pilot Prince speaking.
U r flying aboard the Seduction 747
And this plane is fully equipped with anything your body desires...
Except Brooks is using his metaphorical device to critique partisan politics. His column caught my eye because he invokes my hometown (Brooks is obsessed with American geography):
The political divisions in this country being what they are, it's not enough that liberals and conservatives have different radio networks, different Web sites and different networks of friends. In order to eliminate all possibility of trans-partisan conversation, I really think it's time we stopped flying together. It's time to set up two different airlines: Liberal Air, with direct flights between Madison, Berkeley, Ann Arbor and the New School for Social Research; and Right Wing Express, which will have planes with no oxygen masks in case of emergencies because anybody who can't handle a little asphyxiation doesn't deserve to live.
Brooks doesn't usually go for humor this broad. Maybe he got a look at the Quizilla test (which I noticed via Prof. Yin): "Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?" I took the test and didn't post it because, though I didn't mind being David Brooks, I couldn't identify with the quiz's description of Brooks:
You are David Brooks! You're exceedingly smart, but your writing is as compelling as wallpaper. You are a thoughtful though hard-line conservative, but lack any of Safire's verbal pyrotechnics. In addition, you dress like you're colorblind. Fall down, juvenile.
So maybe Brooks is trying to spice things up, to be more Dowd-y.

Note to Mithras: I didn't identify with "hard-line conservative."

Sidenote: Safire has "verbal pyrotechnics"?? Don't you mean Dowd? Safire is interested in language, but he's awfully mellow and restrained!

Interior decorating note re "compelling as wallpaper": depends on the wallpaper.
"Welcome Back, Kotter" ... Groucho Marx. Here's a nice thing from the NYT Boldface Names about "Welcome Back, Kotter" and ... Groucho Marx:
... RON PALILLO, perhaps best known for his role as ARNOLD HORSHACK in "Welcome Back, KOTTER," [didn't want to talk about various things and] preferred to recount the time GROUCHO MARX arrived on the set to do a guest appearance in 1975 or '76, not long before his death.

"We were his favorite show," Mr. Palillo recalled. "We didn't know what to say, so we all just went up to him and made the famous HARPO raspberry mouth. It really threw him. He just misted over and couldn't speak. They took him out and he never got to do the guest spot."

Of course, "Welcome Back, Kotter" would have reminded Groucho of the Marx Brothers' vaudeville skit "Fun in Hi Skule." And to see all the Kotter boys do the brilliant Harpo mug would have been incredibly endearing and overwhelming for the old man. How sweet! (Boldface doesn't seem to care for the pathos of this scene, being much more involved in finding ways to show that celebrities on the decline are pathetic.)
Althousercation. I see I was added to the blogroll at NewzillaNotes. I don't know much about that blog, but there's a good post about The O'Franken Factor with David Kay. I see I'm listed right after Altercation. Hey, I should have named my blog Althousercation.
Jerry is to Superman as Darrin is to Samantha. As Tonya notes, Jerry Seinfeld was on The Daily Show last night, basically to get people to go to the American Express website to look at a five minute commercial that you have to go there to see. Tonya has the interchange with Jon Stewart ribbing him about doing a long commercial that you have to go out of your way to find, and that was pretty funny. Jerry showed admirable restraint by not gloating about how he not only can get people to go watch his commercial, he can get Jon Stewart to let him on a show to do an extra long interview just to promote a commercial. Who else has ever gotten to do that? And, amazingly, still looked good doing it. Think of all those actors who can barely pull off promoting a good movie.

Since Superman is in the commercial, Jerry had the opportunity to talk about Superman, which seems to be an endless source of material. I enjoyed the speculation that Superman is really not too bright and that that would be a side effect of having superpowers. Jerry was talking about the next ad, which has him and Superman going on a road trip and getting locked out of the car. Superman offers to rip the hood off the car, and Jerry protests that they had an agreement that it was going to be a no superpowers trip. So he's like Darrin in Bewitched, who made Samantha promise not to use witchcraft to accomplish her various household tasks. Samantha, of course, always entertained us by using her powers at the drop of a hat whenever Darrin's back was turned. So that's my question for Jerry: does Superman use his powers on the sly? (I guess I have to watch an AmEx ad to find out.)

I'm thinking Jerry and Superman would have a whole ethic going, like "the covenant of the keys", and if Superman broke the deal, the whole relationship would implode. There would be no next time (as with Darrin). It would be like:
I don't want the keys back! No, I'm glad the way things turned out. I was clingin' to those keys, man! Like a branch on the banks of a raging river. And now I have let go. And I'm free...to go with the current. To float. And I thank you.
Great writing! Important to recognize though that Seinfeld didn't write that, Larry David did.

Speaking of writing, Tonya's also defending Stone Reader, but I think her defense supports my position--public service ads have some bit of flair, don't they?
Right? I haven't activated the comments function on this blog, mostly because I want to control how things look and also because anyone can communicate with me by email (using the name of this blog followed by @wisc.edu) and I'll post comments that I think are worth reading, but some other blogs have comments. Prof. Yin has comments, and I just discovered that someone said something about me in response to something nice Prof. Yin said about me. The commenter is "Mithras," who has named himself after a god and also has a blog. Check this out:
"...she exhibits a level-headed non-partisanship."

You are kidding, right? I haven't noticed one time that she criticized conservatives for anything or praised liberals for anything.

"The Democrats try to scare me about the Republicans, and the Republicans just want to be loved."

She doesn't curse, is that what qualifies as a thoughtful conservative now?
Well, talk about overheated rhetoric. Oh, and taking things out of context. I was writing about the letters I get from both parties, who both assume I'm already a supporter, and comparing the styles of the pleas for help:
I always find it weird that they assume you're a hardcore supporter, but they must find that the assumption helps make people feel needed and willing to chip in. I even receive membership cards to things I've never joined and letters inquiring why I haven't "renewed" my membership, letters full of wacky self-examination, mulling about what they could have done wrong to turn me away, like some needy old lover. Those last few things are all Republican moves. The Democratic letters are always trying to scare me about things that are about to happen, how I'm about to lose all my rights and so forth. I would have thought the Democrats would be more about love and the Republicans more about fear, but not so, at least when speaking to people they think might have some money to hand over. The Democrats try to scare me about the Republicans, and the Republicans just want to be loved.
The assumption that "Democrats would be more about love and the Republicans more about fear" hardly seems more flattering to the Republicans. And the part Mithras quoted, "the Republicans just want to be loved," goes with the earlier statement that their letters are "full of wacky self-examination, mulling about what they could have done wrong to turn me away, like some needy old lover." I haven't read much of Mithras's blog, but I see from Technorati he's reasonably popular. Well, I don't like his rhetoric from what I've seen (that one comment about me).

"You are kidding, right?" is the sort of line that passes for a witticism in TV screenplays (the actor lays heavy, faux world-weary emphasis on the second word). That thing of adding "right?" at the end of a statement, you can get dependent on that, right?

April 5, 2004

Even women aren't reading the Styles Section. Ridicule Karen Hughes's fringed outfit (worn on Meet the Press) all you want Electablog and Wonkette. I think it's ridiculous too. But it's quite in fashion. And it's not hard to learn this info. It's all over the NYT Styles pages.

Here's Ruth LaFerla:
"It's funny," Nanette Lepore, a New York designer, was musing last week. "Women don't really know why they want something — they just do." Ms. Lepore was trying to puzzle out why little bouclé jackets — and in particular a tweed plaid version with a boxy shape and frayed edges, a knockoff of a Chanel original — should be the surprise hit of the season.... "
Here's Ben Cunningham (click on "Into the Fray"):
Not long ago, frayed edges signaled that a jacket should be sent to a charity sale. Today, such jackets and skirts with clipped and frayed edges are the trend. The styles this spring, shown here in New York and Paris, have had their fringe manicured for wider appeal. The raggedy extreme, from Junya Watanabe, may be seen at the far left. The look's inspiration can be traced back 20 years to avant-garde apanese and Belgian designers. Chanel's fringed versions are elaborately refined.

Try shopping at Barneys. That damn fringe is everywhere. Don't "rag" on Karen Hughes about it!

Today's Bascom Hill display--inopportunely following a weekend when Madisonians thought a lot about false reporting--features life-size silhouettes painted with statistics about sexual assaults:

Political correctness, Spring 2004 version. Yesterday, I was at my favorite café and they were playing very irritating music that made it hard to concentrate on the editing project I was struggling with. As one of the few customers (Sunday morning), I considered asking them to change the music. But I decided not to, because the music was distinctly ethnic, and I was afraid it would be taken the wrong way. This morning, Cheryl came to work wearing a rather insane jacket that was covered with large cartoon characters (I'm talking twenty faces, 5" in diameter).
That's quite a jacket!

I thought I needed to liven things up. But the problem is there are no persons of color.
Just when you're trying to amuse the students, who knows what risks of offense one takes? I think the students should be happy that the teacher is willing to wear something positively absurd in order to cheer them up. Would anyone really think: Hey, that jacket is not inclusive enough!

I pointed out that that faces on the jacket were white (that is chalk white) and orange, so there was color variety, but she clearly felt it was deficient that a more pronounced attempt at diversity had not been made by the lunatic that patched that jacket together. And I'm not disrespecting Cheryl's clothes. I think clothes should be amusing, at least much of the time.

Oh, I forgot I had the digital camera! Missed opportunity! Cheryl did give me permission to blog about her jacket.
Elevator conversation at the Law School:
It's winter again.

I heard it's going to snow.

Where'd you hear that?

NPR. But I don't believe any of their crap.

It's a left wing conspiracy.

Yes, everything is terrible. Part of scheme to get Kerry elected.
Constitutional thrills. For me, apparently, daylight savings means waking up in the middle of the night and seeing that the time is close enough to a reasonable hour to go ahead and get up. The NYT is here, I can check out the overnight activity on my blog. Hmm... someone came here after doing a Yahoo search for "this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing," a phrase Justice Breyer used to refer to God in the Newdow oral argument. This entry of mine is one of only three results for that. I'm surprised more people haven't commented on Breyer's striking locution.

One of the search results is just a reprint of Leon Wieseltier's article in The New Republic, "What America Can Learn From Its Atheists."
Citing United States v. Seeger from 1965, though he might have illustrated his speculation more vividly with the historical precedent of the Cult of the Supreme Being in revolutionary Paris, Breyer proposed that such a faith "in any ordinary person's life fills the same place as belief in God fills in the life of an orthodox religionist," and so "it's reaching out to be inclusive"--so inclusive, in fact, that it may satisfy a non-believer such as Newdow. Breyer suggested that the God in "under God" is "this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." And he posed an extraordinary question to Newdow: "So do you think that God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive, and if it is, then does your objection disappear?"

Oh, yes, life would be so much more vivid if Supreme Court Justice's would stop being so stodgy as to prefer references to their own old cases! Please cite more foreign sources, Justices, because that is way more fun ... and it gets a rise out of Scalia.

Anyway, the only thing extraordinary about Breyer's statement is the idiosyncratic syntax. The idea itself is straight out of ... oh, how tedious ... some old Supreme Court cases. But Wieseltier is jazzed up by the way Newdow did not back down, even though, obviously, since he's trying to win his case, he wouldn't. Breyer was just asking for a response to the utterly predictable argument that generic ceremonial deism doesn't violate the Establishment Clause.
Newdow's objection did not disappear, because it is one of the admirable features of atheism to take God seriously. Newdow's reply was unforgettable: "I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' which is exactly what I think. I deny the existence of God." The sound of those words in that room gave me what I can only call a constitutional thrill. This is freedom.

If only more ideologues could get the opportunity to do Supreme Court arguments, more constitutional thrills could be had by all. According to Wieseltier:
Breyer was advocating the Lockean variety of toleration, according to which it would be based on a convergence of conviction, a consensus about the truth, among the overwhelming majority of the members of a society. The problem with such an arrangement is that the convergence is never complete and the consensus is never perfect. Locke himself instructed that "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God." The universal absolute is never quite universal. And there is another problem. It is that nobody worships a "very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." Such a level of generality, a "generic" God, is religiously senseless.

Except that Breyer wasn't invoking Locke's idea about freeing up the discourse so the individual can search for the true answer. Breyer was talking about an invocation of God that is too bland and generic to warrant judicial intervention. What Wiesentier is calling a "problem" is the central point Breyer's argument makes: no one's version of God is being preferred. And it isn't fair to Locke either, again quite obviously. Is the person who makes the first big step toward freedom and away from repression to be raked over the coals because his step was not big enough? Should we impute a blindspot that existed in 1689 to Locke's intellectual descendants of today? That's just sophistry. The ceremonial deism idea--even though it can be criticized as encouraging the ennervation of serious religion--is valuable because it allows courts to avoid excessive intervention in small matters. That ideologues can pump up small things and make them seem all-important is very old news.

April 4, 2004

Is Stone Reader a good documentary? Tonya is praising the film Stone Reader, so I feel compelled to dissent and say that this is a ridiculous excuse for a documentary, though people who enjoy the pacing of, say, NPR radio may enjoy it. (Sideswipe at NPR: This morning they went on and on about people in India who made clay pottery. Why they kneaded the clay by hand and used a potter's wheel! We listened our way through each supposedly bizarrely primitive step of the pottery process that will be familiar to anyone who ever took a ceramics class.)

Stone Reader is the dragged out search for an author of a book the filmmaker read and loved a long time ago. Tonya writes: "You must see this film if you are a bibliophile." I'd say if you're a bibliophile, just read, don't waste time watching a movie about how long it takes to find an author--with numerous pointless shots of things like raking leaves (you know, time is passing, and the author is still not found) and the filmmaker's son opening his new Harry Potter book and interviews with people who might know where the missing author is that go on and on and then conclude with the news that the interviewee does not know (and, yeah, I know Citizen Kane kind of proceeds in that way--"Rosebud? Never heard of it!"--but this is not Citizen Kane). Read the customer review "10% actual content, 90% padding" at Amazon. And check out the inflated price of the DVD--which I paid. (Sure, it has a lot of special features, but what consolation is that? There's no special feature that gives me two hours of my life back.)

Stone Reader feels like a 2-hour public service announcement about the benefits of reading. Can a good movie be made about reading? What movies are there about reading? I can think of The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride, which use the device of reading a book to enter into a story (which Alice in Wonderland does too). I can think of really only one decent movie that really is (pretty much) about reading: La Lectrice. It's hard enough to do a film about writing, but reading? Reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld--The Pitch--where George and Jerry pitch the idea of the show about nothing:
JERRY: ..Well, as I was saying, I would play myself, and, as a comedian, living in New York, I have a friend, a neighbor, and an ex-girlfriend, which is all true.

GEORGE: Yeah, but nothing happens on the show. You see, it's just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.. You eat, you read, You go shopping.

RUSSELL: You read? You read on the show?
Here's a mean but funny list from NY Press: 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers (via Apt. 11D). At #50, the first entry hit me as hilariously dead-on--for Sophia Coppola:
AN ART BIMBO whose daddy happens to be movie royalty rides in on the tired back of Bill Murray and is proclaimed a new film genius. The genius' film, Lost in Translation, is the most pretentious, overrated movie of last year, about an alienated Yale brat who feels so lonely in her five-star hotel that she strips down to her panties and curls up on the windowsill every half-hour.
Love the drawings, even if they do make Sarah Jessica Parker (number 13) look an awful lot like Coppola. Aw, what's so bad about Parker?

WHEN GIRLS THINK another girl is beautiful, but guys know she isn't, call it the Sarah Jessica Parker syndrome. Parker is a dual monument to millennial American female vanity and inanity. Spoiled and groomed to the point of psychosis, Sarah Jessica Parker is the final dead-end in the American feminine odyssey.
Do girls think Parker is beautiful? It seems to me most actresses who are called beautiful are nowhere near beautiful. It's often a stretch to call them pretty. The fascinating ones are rather weird looking, really, like Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts.
Please, guys. Please read the Styles Section. Once again, the NYT makes an all out bid to get guys to read the Styles Section. This time, it's a giant front page article headlined "The Very Long Legs Of 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

Interesting business angle: GGW is a $100-million a year business. Do they pay the "girls"? "Occasionally we pay if they ask, but 95 percent of the girls just get a tank top."

Interesting legal angle: the founder of GGW, Joe Francis, is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive business practices and is being prosecuted in Florida, charged with "racketeering, obscenity and enticing underage girls to expose themselves and engage in sex acts."

But this is the Styles Section, and the big colorful photo on the front page shows the "girls" having nothing but fun. There's also a nice little picture of Francis posing in front of his swimming pool.

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.