April 24, 2004

Marrying the father figure. So if a teenage girl goes for a year believing an older man is her biological father, but then finds out it was just rumor, is it okay to marry him? I mean in a conventional family-oriented movie. That's what happened in "That Hagen Girl" (discussed here, with pictures, yesterday). Ronald Reagan was none too happy with the role of the father figure and begged for a rewrite in which he doesn't end up marrying Shirley Temple.
Reagan's misgivings about the script were borne out when the film had its first preview screening. After he rescues Temple from her suicide attempt, he admits that he loves her. But when he said the words on screen, the preview audience screamed "Oh no!" almost in unison.

So they recut it, so people wouldn't scream in horror! But that only made it an inexplicably sexless marriage.
The TA Strike. The TAs here are about to strike:

But I wonder how much student support for them there is:

(You may need to scroll down on that second link to get to the discussion of the strike.) Note the technique used by the signmaker to engage the interest of undergraduates in labor issues: "Don't go to class!" That surely has appeal quite aside from any understanding of which side is right in this dispute. But "Strike Party"? Okay, skip class and come to a party--that will surely prove the degree of student support. Not a word on the sign about why the TAs are striking. Note the fine print: "Kites--Music--Dancing."
"Defend your beloved country." The NYT reports:
L. Paul Bremer III, chief of the American occupation authority, delivered a stark television address on Friday in which he declared that "Iraq faces a choice" and that the American plan to bring stability and democracy here might not succeed unless ordinary Iraqis come quickly to its defense.

"If you do not defend your beloved country, it will not be saved," he said.

Why doesn't that tell the reasonable Iraqi to do nothing? If time is short and the Americans are about to give up and leave Iraqis to their own devices, wouldn't you want to lie low and not call attention to yourself? Wouldn't you picture the future by reference to the aftermath of the 1991 war and steel yourself for the next brutal regime?
Inferiority or superiority? David Brooks has a meditation on misunderstanding the Columbine murderers (who suffered, the evidence now shows, not from feelings of inferiority but feelings of superiority):
[I]t is striking how resilient this perpetrator-as-victim narrative remains. We still sometimes assume that the people who flew planes into buildings — and those who blew up synagogues in Turkey, trains in Spain, discos in Tel Aviv and schoolchildren this week in Basra — are driven by feelings of weakness, resentment and inferiority. We cling to the egotistical notion that it is our economic and political dominance that drives terrorists insane.

But it could be that whatever causes they support or ideologies they subscribe to, the one thing that the killers have in common is a feeling of immense superiority. It could be that they want to exterminate us because they regard us as spiritually deformed and unfit to live, at least in their world.
Interesting how he turned self-blame into an "egotistical notion." I'm sure the self-blamers will find a way to say that the distorted sense of superiority grows out of a feeling of inferiority--mania is a mood swing away from depression.
Technical difficulties experienced. It was a morning of minor technical difficulties.

The Charter cable internet access was down again, so I couldn't get to my blog quickly with my laptop open on the dining table next to my New York Times and my coffee. I noted bloggable ideas on a Post-It, as I used to do before I got the high-speed access. Then I used my dial-up access and learned something that I'll try to put to good use. I knew I was putting up a lot of photos yesterday. It was that sort of a happening day, what with the Sexual Health Festival, The Madhatters, Ernie & Roger, and it being Shirley Temple's birthday and all. And still hanging around on the not-yet-archived first page were all the many photos taken last Saturday in the best photo-op in Madison ever, the 9 Beet Stretch. And then there was that day I walked to Dancing Grounds and took pictures of the neighborhood flowering trees along the way.... Needless to say, the page loaded slowly. So I'll try to be a little more careful, within a given front-page span, not to put too many pictures up. And yet... I liked that new idea of recapping a film with photos, every one of which was justified. Oh, really? Even the blur of Reagan--or Reagan's double--diving into the river? Why, yes, emphatically! And that was Reagan. And Reagan caught pneumonia diving repeatedly into the river, and it left him hospitalized at a time when Jane Wyman went into premature labor and gave birth to a baby that soon died. The marriage never recovered, I read, from that harsh separation in time of direst need. So that dive changed the entire history of the world, didn't it?

I also set Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner, to try its ... uh ... hand at my living room. I set a row of thick candles to block the entry to the fireplace, which was full of ashes, and tucked the rug fringe under according to instructions, and I draped the curtains up over the radiator and closed all three sets of French doors (which I like to call "freedom doors"). I go back to my newspaper and Roomba is making its little electronic sound that means "I have a problem." Well, it's one thing after another. Tucking the fringe under made a bump that Roomba got stuck on. Untucking the fringe led to some nasty tangling. Roomba got stuck under a chair. Roomba started up the slanted base of a floor lamp and couldn't figure out what to do. One thing that didn't stop Roomba was the line of candles I foolishly believed would keep it out of the fireplace: a trail of ashes had been dragged across the rug when I wasn't supervising. Oh, but the instructions said to supervise Roomba the first time you do a room. But this thing is supposed to save time. And just the task of tucking the fringe under took longer than old fashioned vacuuming! Yeah, but you have to drag out the vacuum cleaner. I have to drag out the Roomba. The worst thing about the Roomba, though, is that long hair (like mine) gets coiled around the brush axle, and I have to wield a Phillips screwdriver to detach the brush and remove the axle-braking hair after every use. Conclusion: much more work than an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner. I'd love to have more robots for housework and yardwork, but they need to be much better!

Roomba did provide some amusement, like when my son imitated its blind idiocy as it bumped into objects and picked another direction setting it into an eccentric zigzagging path that would take forever to actually find every spot in the room. And when my other son said, "Every time I hear the word Roomba, I think of the line 'Do you rhumba? Pick a rhumba from one to ten.'" (And if you know what movie that's from you will enjoy this trivia test. Hmmm.... Mrs. Claypool's first name was Fluffy!)

End of my exposition of the morning's technical difficulties. I'm now at the café, using the wireless access here, and watching the folks stroll by on State Street. It's the first Saturday of the Farmer's Market and there's a big race, called Crazylegs, that will be snaking all over the town. I saw all the traffic barriers that I expect to find blocking many of the roads I'd intended to use on the way home. But it's all just fine. It's a cool but lovely Saturday, the last weekend of the semester. Ah! Here come the runners!

April 23, 2004

Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple. Today is Shirley Temple's birthday, and TMC is showing a lot of her movies. I love Shirley and have my TiVo programmed to capture her work. Today, it caught "That Hagen Girl," which is only a one-star movie, but it co-stars Ronald Reagan, so--what the hell!--I started watching and made it to the end. It's bad, but awesome. Ronald Reagan comes to town, hears people gossiping about him, and doesn't like it.

He's a lawyer, and he sets up in a law office that has a nice portrait of Lincoln on the wall:

When he mouths off to a pretty young teacher, he apologizes: "I'm sorry I sounded off on you. I'm an attorney and every once in a while I talk to people as if they just belted someone with a meathook." Here's how he looks, delivering that line:

The gossip is all about how Mary Hagen, played by Shirley Temple, is an illegitimate child and the father is Reagan. Shirley was the most adorable child ever, but here she is as a gorgeous teenager:

The small town in this movie is entirely designed for the purpose of torturing Shirley Temple. Here's how to insult people in the town: "Why don't you go somewhere and catch yourself, you foul ball?" What possible solution could there be for poor Shirley? Especially after Ronald Reagan offers to pay her "tuition fees" to go to a university that they'll choose for her after she graduates from junior college. But she hangs around and has conversations like:
I've never done anything wrong ... except getting born.

I know, it seems like an injustice, but...
We remain confused throughout the movie about whether Reagan really is Shirley Temple's father, until the point where he's about to call her on the phone and ask her to marry him. At exactly that point, the townsfolk read in the newsaper that Reagan has received a medal from the President of the United States for his contribution to "the successful launching of atomic warfare." Apparently, Reagan has dropped the atomic bomb on Japan! The townsfolk decide they love Ronald Reagan, and they burst in on him just as he's about to go to Shirley. He tries to leave. They say:
But we haven't accomplished our mission!

Like you boys in the airforce, we believe in Mission Accomplished.
(Hmmm.... there's a phrase!) They invite him to speak at graduation. He suggests the subject of his speech: Mary Hagen! But she's been expelled! For going to the "tavern"! He tells them off. They leave, and immediately an official of some sort arrives and hands him a suicide note from Mary! She's "picked the lagoon," according to the note. Thunder rolls. We see Mary walking in the rain, and, wet, Shirley is modern and fabulous:

It's our dear girl, Shirley, wet and suicidal! She's looking into the water and her whole life flashes in front of her, and her whole life is the mystery of whether Ronald Reagan is her father. I watch the flashback and think: 1. Shirley Temple was so beautiful (I seriously believe Marilyn Monroe derived her vision of female loveliness from Shirley), and 2. Mary Hagen really needs to go to college in some other town! Suddenly, Ronald Reagan runs up, his trenchcoat flapping in the storm: "Mary! Mary!" We see him desperately trying to take off that trenchcoat and then a wide shot of trenchcoat-removing Reagan and the flowing river. Mary has jumped! Reagan, in dress suit and shoes, but sans trenchcoat, dives into the river.

And our man Reagan, finally, after all these years, tells her that isn't important. "It's what you are, and where you're going that really matters."

He tells her she was an ordinary adopted orphan, no connection to him at all. Yay! Reagan can marry her!
Old things. This book finally came out. It was interesting (for me at least) to go back and read that entry from the early days of this blog. Funny to see a post right under it, from January 25, about The Apprentice, titled "How much of 'The Apprentice' is a set up?" I considered the possibility that the women were actresses, in on a joke on the men.
Beyond the Madison Sexual Health Festival. Well, the Sexual Health Festival wasn't the only thing happening in Library Mall today. The Madhatters were giving an al fresco a cappella performance and drawing a big crowd:

And Ernie & Roger's is back with their giant vat of popcorn, stirred with a big paddle and popped in the open air:

I love the joyous spectacle of dumping the popcorn into a huge copper kettle:

Oh, and ASCAP has a new way to try to get the kids to stop downloading music:

Do you know who you hurt when you download music? A little baby! You bad, bad person!

Ah, guilt! Just the thing to wash away the atmosphere of fun and games generated by the Sexual Health Festival. Once sex was very, very serious, and often involved a lot of guilt. That was not the mode of presentation used for the Sexual Health Festival, which portrayed sex as hilarious. Why was sex more serious when the topic wasn't disease? I don't know, but this downloading music business: it's very serious, people. Something really terrible is going to happen to a baby if you don't cut it out!
Festival atmosphere explored. Place: Library Mall, Madison, Wisconsin. What's this festival atmosphere?

Did you notice the warning sign? Neither did I, not until I was leaving the area. But here's a closer look.

So walk into a public square, my friend, and you are giving your consent. To what? Well, there's this:

And this (which doesn't seem too scientific):

And this (which could be taken as a personal insult--like the old Army slogan "Be all that you can be"):

And--oh, no!--there's this (possibly unintentionally inspiring abstinence):

The vote for versus the vote against. Prof. Yin has an interesting new post on the question of whether the American Idol vote this week is evidence of racism, in part responding to my post here. He agrees with me (and Jennifer Hudson's own public statement) that the voting system is the most likely cause of the outcome. He says the voting system should be changed, possibly switching to voting against people instead of for them.
Since we are voting for who want to keep, not who we want to boot, people who think that Jennifer, Fantasia, and LaToya are the three best are in a bit of a quandary. Who do you vote for? You could spend two hours splitting up your votes among all three, but that makes you less effective than the obsessive John-boy fan who spends two hours voting for him.
But the show has a successful formula based on voting for who you like, not ganging up on someone to convey the message that you are against them. The spirit is positive. The voters who are happy with three contestants and dislike one should not be able to kick off the guy that is the only one some other people love. If three "divas" make a great show, why didn't more people watch the all-diva VH-1 contest a year ago? (And why don't more people buy the unbelievably great gospel recordings that already exist?) It's not an objective talent contest. People like the music they like (and much of it is by black artists). The producers want to keep everyone watching to the end, want the winner to sell records (not just be the least disliked, but to have rabid fans, as Clay does), and are not averse to the drama produced by the constant risk that the "wrong" person will go. That's the successful formula. Don't change it. Just keep reminding people to vote--a lot--for the one they love most. That split vote effect works to keep at least one person of the type that a segment of the audience likes. That's how John Stevens survived after JPL was gone. And Nikki McKibben outlasted Tamyra Gray because people who loved Tamyra also loved Kelly Clarkson and people who liked "rockers" had only Nikki to vote for after Ryan Starr was gone. It's the nature of the game.

Hey, I wonder if Kerry would have emerged from the Democratic primaries as the candidate if the process were one of sequentially voting against the one you like least, until only one was left.

UPDATE: CNN.com has a big piece on the AI "controversy." This is interesting:
The New York Post reported it was deluged with calls complaining that the voting was racially motivated: Hudson, Barrino and London are black. (The Post is owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox TV.)

George Huff, still in the competition, is black, as was last year's winner, Ruben Studdard. "American Idol," unlike other reality shows featuring competition, is more popular in black homes than white homes.

For the current season, the show was watched in 19 percent of all black households, compared to 15 percent of white households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
"You better pick a nice, good, expensive college.'' I love that Trump locution. It reminds me of Peter Sellers improvising in the role of Quilty disguised as a police officer in Kubrick's Lolita.

(Donald Trump is offering to pay for the college education of Apprentice contestant Troy. Subscribers to Entertainment Weekly: go here, where you can also read about Omarosa getting fired from a Clairol Herbal Essences ''streaking party'' ad.)
Jeremy thinks he's special. Or not. Funny that his response to the charge "narcissistic" was to go to the DSM and mine was to recast it as sin, which may indicate that law is not a social science, though the Law School is in the Social Sciences Division here. Or it may indicate that Jeremy's natural instincts are the sort that cause a person to become a political liberal and mine are the sort that pull in the other direction: If something is wrong, do you think of it as a disease to be cured or a personal failing for which the individual should take responsibility? Anyway, Nina's response is to be off to Japan, and she promises to blog about the extent to which she becomes lost in translation. She's flying to Japan over the Atlantic Ocean and she's not going to Tokyo, so it's all very mysterious! The original "friends" that called blogging narcissistic were/was apparently only one person, whose response was to start her own blog. So you see, just like your mother always told you: they're just jealous. And: you are special!

April 22, 2004

Speaking of language, John reminds me that it is wrong to say "expound on" something, as I just did in that last post. It's so common to say "expound on," especially in legal circles, that it almost seems too prissy to refrain from using it in casual speech/writing, but John is definitely right that you should say that you expound something, and that the misuse arose from confusion with the phrase "expand on" (or the more rare "expatiate on"). According to Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage:
To expound is to set forth in systematic order ...
Not necessarily reticulated...
... to explain, make clear, elucidate--the word calls for a direct object without intervention. You expound a doctrine; you do not expound on it.
I think people are attracted to the word "expound" over "expand" because "expound" contains "pound" and therefore feels weighty, while "expand" seems "expansive" and that seems empty. "Expound" thus seems to work when you want to flatter someone who speaks at length, because their words have weight, and when you want to insult someone for being ponderous. Isn't it interesting how the weight metaphor works in both a positive and negative way? Well, whether it is or not, people like to say "expound," often with an added "on," which is incorrect, technically, for now, according to Follet....
What the President thinks of the use of weird words. Having just expounded on the use of strange words, I especially enjoyed this extract--in Slate's always appreciated we-read-this-so-you-don't-have-to series--from Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack":
Page 186: Bush aide Nick Calio declares his intention to vitiate a congressional filibuster. Bush says, "Nicky, what the f**k are you talking about, vitiate?"
Is blogging a sin? Nina's friends keep telling her blogging is "narcissistic"? Self-publishing falls into the category of "vanity": printers with self-publishers as customers are called "vanity presses." So some vanity, a sin, must be involved. (And a little envy on the part of those friends, in that other ring of hell.) But it's a very low-grade sin isn't it? Think of all the trouble we could be getting into if we weren't tied up at our keyboards.

Putting a picture on my blog has got to heighten the vanity entailed here. When Chris was taking photos yesterday, I can't say that I said, "Please try to get something unflattering." And when I sorted through the results in iPhoto, I can't say that I thought, "Let me find the one that's most reticulated."

UPDATE: Oh, and that internal self-referencing! Not to mention going back and rereading ... and updating ...
"If I had paid enough attention to discover what was going on ... I would have called the chancellor's office and said, 'Hey, do you guys realize that you've got a problem?" More about the Madison bars, drink specials, and antitrust lawsuits involving UW.
Who wrote "the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in 49 years"?

Why, it was Alexander Hamilton, "inspired windbag."
"Reticulated"? That's reticulatus! Justice Scalia conspicuously used the word "reticulated" in the oral argument yesterday. Let's examine this. Now, we know Scalia cares a lot about text in legal interpretations, and he seems generally to have an interest in language and etymology. So when he comes out with an unusual word like that, we should do more than laugh and think "That's ridiculous" or nod and think "He's really smart."

He asked, as I noted yesterday, whether the Supreme Court ought to be in the business of "draw[ing] up this reticulated system to preserve our military from intervention by the courts."

To the Dictionary. And if you've read his opinions, you know he likes to cite dictionaries. Let's look up "reticulate" in the American Heritage Dictionary:
ADJECTIVE:Resembling or forming a net or network: reticulate veins of a leaf.

VERB: Inflected forms: re·tic·u·lat·ed, re·tic·u·lat·ing, re·tic·u·lates (-lt)

TRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To make a net or network of. 2. To mark with lines resembling a network.

INTRANSITIVE VERB: To form a net or network.

ETYMOLOGY: Latin reticulatus, from reticulum, diminutive of rete, net.

re·ticu·late·ly —ADVERB
re·ticu·lation —NOUN
First, a tiny point. "Reticulate" is already an adjective, so he could have simply said "this reticulate system." But a good number of listeners would have heard that as "this ridiculous system"--it would even have gone into transcripts and print articles in that form.

But here's the real question: why use a big word that a lot of people don't know? I can think of a number of reasons: to try to appear learned, to exclude the uneducated, to be funny, to achieve an aesthetic effect, and to attain precision that can't be attained with more common words. The first two reasons are almost never justified.

How about the comedic use? Polysyllabic humor has its place--picture W.C. Fields calling a nose a proboscis--and it actually was pretty funny. Would it be inappropriate for Justice Scalia to have been funny in the middle of an argument about the Guantanamo detainees? Justice is serious business. I think mild humor was justified in this context, which was to emphasize the ineptitude of judges in this area. The word might have been used to draw a cartoon in our heads of a judge with an overinflated opinion of his own powers, drawing all the wrong lines in an area of great importance.

How about the aesthetic use for choosing an unusual word? One might pick a different word for rhythm or alliteration. (For example, if you wanted to refer to some people who were nattering, you might want to call them nabobs.) But quite aside from the poetics of the sound of a word, there may be aesthetic appeal to saying something in an unusual way. If nothing else, it may be striking and memorable. The statement Scalia made that contained the word "reticulated" stuck a memory marker in your head. I actually don't think I will ever forget it!

The best reason for using an unusual word is that it has a precise meaning that is what you really want to say, and no simpler words do what is needed. (The weird word won't work, however, if listeners don't understand it.) Here, we need to ask, does "reticulated" mean what Scalia wanted to say, and was there really no other word that means that? I think he meant to say something like "detailed, delicate, and nuanced." But "reticulated" means having lines on it in the pattern of a net. Most people who know the word "reticulated," I would hazard to guess, know it because they've heard of the reticulated giraffe. So is the legal framework the judges would have to draw up similar to the a pattern of lines on a giraffe? I'd say the pattern of lines on a giraffe is rather regular and easy to map out once you get started. The etymological root of "reticulated" is the Latin word for "net." A net pattern can be graphed, so a judge tasked with drawing a legal framework in a "reticulated" form really could rely on abstract reasoning neatly within the judicial capacity. Therefore, "reticulated" is surely not an odd word justified by its unique, precise meaning. It isn't even the right word at all.

April 21, 2004

Redoing the blog photo and color. When Gordon said I look just like the sidebar picture, but with orange hair, that was another picture. This one has actual orange hair, and I've made the blog background color orange in the bargain--dull orange, ochre really, dulled down so it wouldn't clash with the various photographs that appear here from time to time. The photo isn't the staring-into-the-computer, Josh Marshall look I was going for, but just something Chris snapped this afternoon. I got some good photos of him too, looking, I think, like a young Robert DeNiro. I was trying to get him to adjust his face with the advice "lips together teeth apart," which I was under the impression was standard advice, and it caused him to make a face that made me laugh so hard the neighbors must have thought I'd lost my mind. Anyway, I hope you like the new look!

UPDATE: It's February 2011 and I'm restoring photos that mac.com screwed up. I'll add the photo here, then, too, because the profile pic described here is long gone, and perhaps, some day, somebody perusing the archive will read this and wonder. It was this:

American Idol: The Outrage. What the hell happened? That was the worst thing ever on American Idol. See my post from this morning for how I read the show last night: I thought Jennifer was the best. I thought the three Divas would be the final three. They were the bottom three! How could that happen? Jennifer was my original favorite, from the first audition. I can only think that the strong praise for the Divas caused people to think they didn't need help, and people speed dialed for two hours for favorites they believed were in danger. I must say they really revealed the results dramatically, telling George to join the safe group, causing him to walk over to the Divas (forming a group that was my predicted final four: George and the Divas), then telling him he'd joined the wrong group. Oh, the outrage!

UPDATE: Prof. Yin was also shocked but questions whether this was actually the worst thing that ever happened on AI. The only serious contender for worst, in my opinion, is when Tamyra Gray didn't make the final three. But that was far from this bad, for several reasons. Her performance that week was really bad. And the remaining three had well-deserved fans. I especially liked Nikki McKibbin. I thought she had real style, and she sang more the sort of music I like. The night Nikki beat Tamyra, Tamyra sang a bad rendition of that dreadful Dr. Laura song "New Attitude" and a song I can't remember called "Feel the Fire." Nikki was at her peak doing "Mary Jane" and "I'm the Only One." Tamyra was better over the whole season, but Nikki beat her fairly that night.

Wait, wait, a cloud just lifted from my memory. There is one other contender for the worst thing ever on AI. It happened on tonight's show. It was that horrible ... thing... that thing... that ... that... that Barry Manilow song! What the hell was that? Some crap about freedom. He made me hate freedom!

The outrage about tonight in the Television Without Pity forum is over the top. (Sample page.)

FURTHER UPDATE: Wow, Shack at Television Without Pity deleted the board I just linked to, with the statement:
Jennifer was ejected. Comments that don't make ridiculously unfounded accusations of racism against the voters are welcome.

YET FURTHER UPDATE: Hudson herself voices the theory stated in the original post:
"I think people just take it for granted because it's Fantasia, Jennifer and LaToya, and we are the divas,'' she said ''They just assume we'd be fine so they decided to help out somebody else... and just left us hanging.''
"Shrummery." Most interesting passage in Ryan Lizza's piece on Bob Shrum in the May issue of The Atlantic:
More than any other figure, Shrum has crafted the populist philosophy that for two decades has been the hallmark of Democratic politics: the belief that "powerful forces" stand in the way of progress for average Americans, and that Democrats are the only agents of change who will fight to restore balance and fairness. It has become one of the most potent and oft-used strains of Democratic rhetoric, famously echoed in Al Gore's 2000 campaign pledge to fight in behalf of "the people, not the powerful" against the "special interests."

And how does that relate to Kerry?
What is perhaps most fascinating about the coming election is that Shrum's trademark populism, which seemed so discordant just two years ago, will suddenly have renewed resonance. With much of the country passionately aligned against President Bush, the consummate Shrum villain if ever there was one, the sociological and political landscape may at last be hospitable to the consultant's steadfast world view. And a win for Kerry would bestow on Shrum the one thing that separates him from Karl Rove: credit for bringing a President to power.

If, however, Kerry loses, he will become the second patrician Democrat in two presidential elections to do so on populist themes of economic and class warfare. It's hard to see how Shrum's outsize reputation—and by extension the current direction of the Democratic Party—could possibly remain intact.

It's a good day for reading about Shrum, because Kaus is also on his case. ("Can Shrum Do Centrism?") "Shrummery" is Kaus's word, and here's his bottom line:
[A]sking Shrum--who's spent much of his life looking for the next JFK--to be the man to tell Kerry--who's spent all of his life trying to be the next JFK--that he isn't the next JFK seems way too much to expect.
Surreal moment of the week. I'm working away in my office, get up to take a short break, walk twenty feet down the hall, and there's Janet Reno, standing at the lectern in the faculty library (talking to a group of students it turns out).
The oral argument in the Guantanamo detainees case. You can listen to the whole oral argument here, but it's not very edifying. Retired Judge John Gibbons, arguing for the detainees, stumbles along, and the Justices seem to hold back from pushing a fellow judge too much. At one point near the end, Gibbons seems to be groping to find something else to say, then says there seemed to be a question Justice Breyer asked a while back that he might not have answered, but he's forgotten what it is. Justice Breyer, perhaps only because time has almost run out, says he’ll take it up with the Solicitor General. Gibbons did hit upon some good lines, and these will be found in the press reports, but there was a woeful lack of eloquence overall.

The SG, Ted Olson, has a sonorous voice, but his argument was uninspired. He responded to key questions by noting for the third or fourth time the absence of statutory language and “the line that this Court drew” in an old case. “But why is it a good line?” Justice Souter burst out. I don't think Olson ever conveyed a strong reason to stand back so far in deference to the President. You can say "The United States is at war"--Olson's excellent opening line--but that can't mean: so anything goes. The question is how far back to stand, and you ought to have good reasons for the degree of deference you're asking for.

Justice Scalia actively picked up the slack. (Listen to Nina Totenberg's summary with great clips from the oral argument here.) His argument is all about the lack of judicial capacity to draw lines in this area and the lack of need for a judicial check on the Executive because the political process can respond. That's no help if you're an innocent detainee and the American public is willing to ignore you. But in Scalia's view, the courts do not sit to right all injustices. The fate of some individuals can be left in the hands of the Commander in Chief--which, of course, is inevitably true in war to some extent. Everyone's real question is: to what extent? Scalia is likely to say: if the detainees are not American citizens and are not on American territory, we should leave it to the President to determine how similar or different they are from persons detained on the battlefield, because it will be too hard for the courts to design the necessary legal structure to deal with this area properly:
We have only lawyers before us, we have no witnesses, we have no cross-examination, we have no investigative staff. And we should be the ones, Justice Breyer suggests, to draw up this reticulated system to preserve our military from intervention by the courts?

Breyer took another tack, and ribbed Scalia for saying "reticulated." He asked Olson whether the Court might not help him in a different way, by finding jurisdiction, reaching the merits, and then "shaping" the substantive law so that there is no significant limit on the Executive.

So the Court might find jurisdiction, probably because the United States controls everything in the rented space that is Guantanamo Bay--as Gibbons noted, a letter with a stamp with Fidel Castro's picture on it would not get delivered, and we protect the Cuban iguana. But that will just mean that the federal court on habeas will reach the merits of the claim, and it is likely that very little will be needed to satisfy the courts that no relief is warranted. Deference to the Executive will be accomplished by articulating extremely narrow or nearly nonexistent rights--or no rights at all.

Breyer might be right that the Executive would benefit from this approach. His opponents could no longer bemoan the large area of unchecked power and the neat trick of putting everyone in Guantanamo, but power could remain virtually completely unchecked by courts, just unchecked in a way that makes it difficult to criticize as unchecked. If that's true, maybe those who worry about the detainees ought to reconsider the appeal of Scalia's position. If the courts forthrightly say, we will have nothing to do with these matters, people cannot soothe themselves with the hope (the futile hope) of a judicial check and may still see the need to push the Executive (or Congress) to behave in a just way toward the detainees.

This is of course an old argument, and I cite law types to Felix Frankfurter's opinion in Baker v. Carr and Robert Jackson's opinion in Korematsu.
First, a word or two about American Idol... and then I'm going to approach the reticulated Cuban iguana I was too tired to talk about last night.

I've never liked Barry Manilow's music, but I've seen him on talk shows and think he is a really nice person. That meant he'd be a bad addition to the already-too-nice panel of judges and he was. It was like two Paulas, except one of them had a lot of opportunities to murmur about his own greatness, in the Neil-Sedaka-you-did-my-song-proud mode. And Barry Manilow seized every opportunity. My favorite thing about Barry Manilow was how all the contestants performed as instructed and enthused about how great he was, and the phoniness of this fawning became obvious when Diana DeGarma accidently called him "Mr. Barry" twice. (As if he was her hairdresser.)

Though I don't like the Manilow type of music, it is powerfully melodic, so it offered the contestants a chance to show that they can put over a melody. Unfortunately, the American Idol selection process leaves us with people who try to avoid the melody (and not just by going off key). They trill and do melismas and cover the melody up, like it was an embarrassing family secret. Poor Mr. Barry!

Only one contestant is melody-focused: John Stevens. But like Diana DeGarma, he's been branded "too young" to stand up to the powerful three women who last night were branded "The Divas." Stevens's performance made me remember how unsweet the narrative voice is in "Mandy": you just know Stevens would never have sent Mandy away in the first place. (That song has an infectious melody, but I've always hated the words, because the "I" is so damned self-involved: good for Mandy for staying away from that shaking, curable-by-kissing loser. He needs her again to solve his problem? Tough! Develop some inner resources for a change! I'd like to hear a nice bitchy song called "Mandy's Side of the Story": So you think you sent me away?)

The branding mentioned above is being done by Simon Cowell, who tries so hard to influence voting and whose favorite test of the contestants is "Do you think you can win this?" For a pissy old bastard like Cowell to embrace the philosophy You're a Winner If You Only Believe is just part of the mixed up world of American Idol. Cowell likes to create drama too: not only are Jennifer Hudson, LaToya London, and Fantasia Barrino The Divas who deserve to be the final three--they can make if they only believe--but they just hate each other now, don't they? C'mon Jennifer, admit it--you hate them: that was Cowell's attitude last night.

This attitude seems to reflect a theory that the voting process will tend to produce a race and sex balance (as if the telephone dialers were a University Admissions Committee). But ask Jon Peter Lewis if that's true. And if John Stevens leaves tonight, maybe the Ruben-Can't-Win racial theories of American Idol voting ought to be retired. And quit pushing Jennifer, LaToya, and Fantasia to hate each other. Those three are completely different and not special rivals just because they are all black women. LaToya is much cooler, maybe too cold to win, and she sings the songs in cleaner style. Fantasia has a strange, distinctive tone to her voice, a very manic personality, and a strong happiness and energy (even though she made herself cry singing "Summertime" last week). Jennifer is very warm and emotional, sometimes to the point of corniness. But she was great last night. The best of the group. The idea that the voters will be mixing these three up is really insulting to everyone involved. I understand Cowell wants to produce a drama, but must part of the drama be: how can the three best performers survive when they are all black women?

But I think he wants them to be the final three, and I give Cowell and the rest credit for not even seeming to have an idea like: for the sake of the ratings we need to keep some white performers. The white performers have been slammed, and it's quite likely that the final four will all be black: George and The Divas.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Tonya's young son likes John Stevens the best, because he thinks he looks like a Weasley. He calls him "that red-headed guy." (But he doesn't remember last year's red-headed guy. Imagine how Clay Aiken would have thrilled us if he'd had the chance to sing "Mandy.") Prof. Yin thinks the bottom three will be John Stevens, Diana DeGarmo, and Jasmine Trias, and that Jasmine will lose. Jasmine hit a horrendous note at the end, and though Kelly Clarkson got away with hitting the single worst note in the history of American Idol (singing "Natural Woman"), I think Jasmine might be punished. Also, she discarded her magic flower. But I predict Diana will be the one to go. I think Stevens will survive, because he sang "Mandy," which stood out as the best song, and he sang it so we could hear it and understand it, and I think enough people appreciated that.

FURTHER UPDATE: After the results show, which I discuss here, by my own standard ("if John Stevens leaves tonight"), it's not yet retirement time for racial theories of American Idol voting.

April 20, 2004

Reticulated Cuban iguana. I listened to the oral argument in the Guantanamo detainees case, but I'm too tired now to blog about it. Tomorrow.
Adding that picture. I was fooling around with the blog template tonight and figuring out how to have a little self-portrait appear in the sidebar. I take Josh Marshall's classic blog photo as the model. I like the way his position and demeanor suggest the existence of the computer outside the frame. Anyway, this picture is just a place holder for now so don't get used to it. I would like to redo the whole template here, because I don't like the standardized Blogspot look. Mostly by trial and error, I've tweaked it a little over the weeks, like changing the light blue background to lilac. It took me forever tonight to figure out where in the mass of html coding to stick the image, but now that I've figured it out, I'll work on getting the properly emblematic picture to replace this one.
How I bought four gadgets. So I got the brilliant idea to make my own Atkins-satisfying Haagen-Daz-quality ice cream. (This stuff isn't very good. And it's surely not "super premium." And the brand name rubs me the wrong way.) I go to Sharper Image, which weirdly has a branch near here in what a couple years ago was farmland. I find a nice little Panasonic ice cream maker but I also walk away with three other gadgets, like the kind of big Sharper Image sucker that the store was invented to hypnotize. One thing was a clothes steamer, which makes sense because it looks like way more fun than ironing and doesn't involve dragging out the ironing board. One thing was an alarm clock that is a light that comes on very slowly, like a sunrise, which makes sense because sunrise wakes me up very nicely (compared to sound) and because I bought a similar device 15 years ago, but it never worked right (it would come on at some completely wrong time in the middle of the night). The fourth thing, the most expensive, was a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner (a "pro elite" one no less), which makes complete sense, because my vacuum cleaner is 20 years old and because it seems really cute and cool and because I never feel like dragging out the vacuum (which is undoubtedly why my vacuum cleaner still works after 20 years). So am I a Sharper Image idiot or a reasonable person?
Hey, that was my answer. "Starfish and Coffee"!
Free speech in Philadelphia. I love the photoblog Satan's Laundromat. Here's a choice example of the style.

UPDATE: Photo removed.
How should Clinton title his memoirs? It was a good idea for a readable magazine list to ask a bunch of usual suspects this question, but the answers are so lame as either political commentary or comedy that it wasn't worth publishing. (Via Swamp City, which I discovered looking for blogs that made fun of Kerry's "restaurants" remark.)
So you want to meet a foreign leader? Now that the transcript from Kerry's Meet the Press appearance is available, let me reprint the part that had us laughing at my house:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me see if I can clean up a comment that you made in March that created an awful lot of controversy and stir. "I have met more leaders who can't go out and say it publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, `You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy'--things like that. So there is enormous energy out there. Tell them, wherever they can find an American abroad, they can contribute."

The Washington Times added this: "Although Mr. Kerry indicated that he had met in person with foreign leaders who privately endorsed him, he has made no official trips abroad in the past two years. Within the United States, he has had the chance to meet with only one foreign leader since the beginning of last year, according to a review of his travel schedule."

Specifically, which foreign leaders have you met with who told you that you should beat George Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Tim, first of all, that is an inaccurate assessment of how I might or where I might be able to meet or talk to a foreign leader, number one.

MR. RUSSERT: But you have talked to foreign leaders who told you...

SEN. KERRY: Number--Tim, what I said is true. I mean, you can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader. There are plenty of places to meet people without traveling abroad. ...

Let's see, I need to meet some foreign leaders. I'll just go to restaurants ... because, you know, it's New York...
Understanding politics with brain blood flow patterns. Maybe some people will be critical of the use of MRI technology to test political ads.
[A man] lay inside an M.R.I. machine, watching commercials playing on the inside of his goggles as neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, measured the blood flow in his brain. Instead of asking the subject, John Graham, a Democratic voter, what he thought of the use of Sept. 11 images in a Bush campaign commercial, the researchers noted which parts of Mr. Graham's brain were active as he watched. The active parts, they also noted, were different from the parts that had lighted up in earlier tests with Republican brains.

Here's why I was eager to find out what science can tell us. Democrats were harshly critical of Bush for using 9/11 images in ads and asserted that they were outraged at the desecration of the images. But maybe the claim of outrage is being asserted because it is an effective political argument to counter what is actually an effective commercial that doesn't outrage people who have some potential to actually vote for Bush. So can you answer such questions from seeing blood flow patterns?
Mr. Graham, like other Democrats tested so far, reacted to the Sept. 11 images with noticeably more activity in the amygdala ["the part of the brain that responds to threats and danger"] than did the Republicans, said the lead researcher, Marco Iacoboni, an associate professor at the U.C.L.A. Neuropsychiatric Institute...

"The first interpretation that occurred to me," Professor Iacoboni said, "is that the Democrats see the 9/11 issue as a good way for Bush to get re-elected, and they experience that as a threat."

But then the researchers noted that same spike in amygdala activity when the Democrats watched the nuclear explosion in the [LBJ] "Daisy" spot, which promoted a Democrat.

Hmmm.... so what's the interpretation?
[Clinton strategist Tom] Freedman suggested another interpretation based on his political experience: the theory that Democrats are generally more alarmed by any use of force than Republicans are. For now, Professor Iacoboni leans toward this second interpretation, though he is withholding judgment until the experiment is over.

Freedman's interpretation is self-serving, but is there an alternative? Maybe not. What makes someone affiliate on a deep level with a political party? It can't be actual rational agreement with all the positions that party currently espouses. Maybe present day affiliation with the Democratic Party is founded on an emotional aversion to violence. Maybe people with steelier nerves (or an attraction to violence) are drawn into the Republican Party.

This is even more interesting:
One of the most striking results so far is the way subjects react to candidates after seeing a campaign commercial. At the start of the session, when they look at photographs of Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry and Ralph Nader, subjects from both parties tend to show emotional reactions to all the candidates, indicated in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with reflexive reactions.

But then, after the Bush campaign commercial is shown, the subjects respond in a partisan fashion when the photographs are shown again. They still respond emotionally to the candidate of their party, but when they see the other party's candidate, there is more activity in the rational part of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. "It seems as if they're really identifying with their own candidate, whereas when they see the opponent, they're using their rational apparatus to argue against him," Professor Iacoboni said.

That seems to explain a lot about the way people behave in politics and why people talk past each other once they've bonded with their candidate. It also suggests why people in the middle (like me), who actually have the potential to vote for either candidate, get so sick of hearing the arguments both sides make.
High contempt on the Jack Paar Show. I watched the first of the full-length episodes of the Tonight Show on The Jack Paar Collection. It is a night in 1962, before the classic desk-chair combination became The Tonight Show set and before the show adopted the classic order of guest appearance (biggest star first, music performance last). But the show does begin with an announcer, followed by a monologue, and the monologue has the familiar attribute of an easy joke about a celebrity who the audience can be depended on to know has one distinctive characteristic (in this case, Jackie Gleason is fat).

The show gets off to a crashingly slow start as Giselle McKenzie sings two songs, one right after another, one of which is "As Long as He Needs Me," that song from Oliver! that romanticizes domestic violence. Then Giselle comes over to sit next to Jack, where she makes one lame remark, before Jack introduces Jonathan Winters. In the introduction, Jack asserts that all comedians except Winters have influences. Winters is a true original. The truly originally thing to do turns out to be to play the character of a stereotypical "sissy" (who hilariously is a sailor on the Pequod who has brought his mother aboard, which displeases Ahab).

Finally, the big guest of the night comes out. It's Bette Davis! The highlight of her appearance for many will be the part at the end when Bette, Jack, Jonathan, and Giselle all light up cigarettes and start puffing heartily. Bette coughs and causes Jack to make a crack about cancer. And then Bette teaches the others how to smoke like Bette Davis, which mainly involves twirling your hand around and saying, "Peter," even though, as she asserts, she's never said "Peter" in a movie.

But the highlight for me comes later, when Bette talks about "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," which has just come out and proven a big success. Bette recounts how the Hollywood people refused to back the film. The look of contempt on Davis's face as she says "Those two old dames! I won't give you a dime!" is priceless:

April 19, 2004

So what is it like in Madison today? Springtime is moving in at a decent enough pace. Remember this tree? Here's how it looks now:

The flowering trees are are pre-peak but lovely:

The nonflowering trees have a youthful spring look:

More intense maturity can also be found:

If you take a walk in my neighborhood, University Heights:

Prince: "I don't run with that." First, he has the classic style of arrogance (and rightly so!):
Benjamin Disraeli: When I want to read a good book, I write one.

Prince: When I want to hear new music, I go make some.
Second, he has an opinion of the record industry:
''You know that guy who dances funny on 'American Idol'? The Asian-American kid?'' He means William Hung. ''That works for the record industry,'' he says with a laugh. ''We need somebody to release those kind of records.'' Does his implied critique include packaged popsters like Britney Spears, too? Prince begs off, not wanting to name names. Kinda. ''I mean no disrespect,'' he says. ''But I see it as my duty to school young people coming up. Lip-synchers? What does a kid -- what do other artists get out of that? I don't mind if Mariah Carey hits bad notes.''
Is he wallowing in the past?
''You know that old lady in 'Sunset Boulevard,' trapped in her mansion and past glories? Getting ready for her close-up? I don't run with that."
These quotes and much more are in a big article in the new Entertainment Weekly, which you can read here if you have a subscription. But go buy a paper copy, the one with Prince on the cover!

And Chris Rock has this to say in his new HBO show:
"Remember back in the day when we all would argue who's better, Michael Jackson or Prince...well, Prince won!"
Kerry on Meet the Press--a few observations. Kerry has been working on his face. As Chris put it, "He made himself orange." Why did he do that? Going orange didn't work too well for Gore. I supposed it's the Tanned-and-Rested image, which he seems to be striving for generally. At least he went with brown rather than red rouge. Chris adds:
He has the Charlize Theron tan. You realize it's like a major Hollywood fad. All the big Hollywood celebrities, especially the female celebrities, are getting an orange tan. Britney Spears got it. ...He's gone way too far. I mean, it's hard to even take him seriously."

Why did Kerry get his eyebrows waxed half off? They now begin directly above the inner edge of the iris. Once you notice it, it looks really weird. I assume they thought you wouldn't really notice but would just subliminally think he had stopped scowling.

The degree of facial reconfiguring that has gone on is made clear whenever Russert puts one of Kerry's old quotes up on the screen: there's a little picture of Kerry looking quite pallid and withered. The fact is, he does look a hell of a lot better now, despite weird eyebrows and orangeness.

Most insane exchange:
RUSSERT [after playing a 1971 clip of Kerry stating that he took part in war atrocities in Vietnam]: You committed atrocities?

KERRY [laughing]: Where did .... Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me.

He does then go on to deal with the issue of his characterization of the fighting in Vietnam as atrocity: it was the "over the top" language of the time. As to "all that dark hair"--as if he's gracefully accepting the effects of age and wouldn't use artificial means to regain youthful looks!

Russert asks him a direct question, maybe the single most important question: What would you do different from Bush in Iraq? Kerry's "response" is to launch into an anecdote with no apparent connection to the question (about a Vietnam vet--of all things) and gradually work his way toward something that will seem to be an answer. The strategy is to put the "answer" as far from the question as possible, in the hope that you'll forget the question and accept the proffered "answer" as an answer (or just hope that he'll stop talking already). Does Kerry ever answer the question about the future of Iraq? He always substitutes assertions about mistakes in the past. The most I'm hearing about the future is that Kerry will pursue all the same goals, but in a "smarter way." I'll just do it better. Trust me! Why? Because Bush hasn't been good enough.
How Bob Mould and Justice Scalia helped me lose weight. Really! You've got to go with the inspiration that happens to come your way in life.

A few years ago, when Justice Scalia gave a talk at the Law School, I ended up sitting next to him at the luncheon that followed. When I somehow had the nerve to banter about how neither of us was eating the dessert, he told me about his diet, which sounded like the Atkins diet--I think it was the South Beach Diet. His comment: "You can have all the butter you want, but you can't put it on anything." That inspired me to go on a diet, just because I figured, it was so strange to talk about dieting with Justice Scalia, that I had to go on a diet. So, thanks, Justice Scalia!

More recently, following a link from (I think) Gawker, I checked out diet tips at Bob Mould's blog. Now, Bob Mould offering diet tips on his blog is scarcely on the level of a personal discussion with Justice Scalia. But one of the tips was to buy a good scale, with a link to Amazon. You may remember my recent run-in with my doctor's scale, which weighed me about 20 pounds more than my home scale. The home scale was pretty untrustworthy, because I could stand in different places on it until I got a weight I was willing to accept. So Bob Mould's advice and link caused me to get the high tech scale. It arrived and forced me to see the reality: the doctor's scale was right. So now I'm desperately trying to live up to that scale's standards (aka "reality") and am Atkins-ing once again. So, thanks, Bob Mould!
Old houses, old windows. My last name means "old house," and in fact, I live in an old house. And it's an old house with the original windows--which look really nice, by the way. But that means every spring the big wood-framed storm windows need to come down and the big wood-framed screens need to go up. In the fall, it's the reverse. Twice a year, I am overjoyed to get the call from the guys who do this job for me. Twice a year, I worry that they might not call, that they are quitting doing it. (They are firemen and retired firemen.) This year, when they said, "We'll see you in the fall," I said, "I certainly hope so. I don't know what I'd do without you. I'd have to move."

You know, one of the nicest things about Madison is that all the people who work on houses--plumbers, construction people, window guys--are really competent and smart and polite.
Least Exciting Slate Headline of the Day.
The Genius of Helen Mirren

Usually Slate oversells its articles with front page headlines, but I don't know what happened there. Ooh! I've just got to find out why Helen Mirren is a genius! Maybe there's something about the Slate demographic I don't understand. Diehard PBS types who will exclaim, "Finally, the recognition that is her due!"

Okay, so what is the Most Exciting Slate Headline of the Day? "Sticking It to a Book-Mauling Homophobe"? No, just books involved in, apparently, mauling. You can't trick me there. I'd say it's:
Did Kerry just endorse means testing?

Now, that's exciting. But I would have checked Kausfiles on my own. Ah, Kerry on Meet the Press. According to Kaus, Kerry backed a form of means-testing that's modified in a way that it won't make any difference, bottom line. So what's the political strategy there? People who make a lot of money will figure out that they won't lose anything so they won't oppose him, but other people will be excited that he's doing something at the expense of people who make a lot of money? Presumably, these groups think differently, move in separate circles, and don't compare notes.

Actually, the book-mauling headline may be worth following. There's a slideshow of art made out of vandalized books. But the image on the Slate front page is quite a bit better than the other items in the slide show--and some are real stinkers. My position on political art: It's usually bad. And: No political statement justifies making bad art.
A busy Monday morning. Welcome morning visitors. Check out the wealth of weekend posts if you haven't already. I'll have something today by mid-afternoon, but for now I've got some notes that need studying and a class to teach.

April 18, 2004

Congratulations, Cliff! My nephew, Cliff Kresge, after a difficult Saturday which left him in 58th place, shot 5 under par today to finish in 16th place at the MCI Heritage tournament. That was done with an eagle and three birdies--he was one of only three bogey-free players--for a 66. Nice! Only one player had a better day, Stewart Cink, who shot 7 under par to move from 22nd place to win the tournament, beating out poor Ted Purdy who started the day with a big lead but fell to second place at two over par. The tragic case of the day was Heath Slocum, who began in second place, but shot 7 over par and fell to 32nd place. What a relentless and remorseless game golf is, where every shot counts and people can rise and fall so far in one day.
Ode to Masculinity, cont'd ... ovation for nature. Sarah offers an addition to my Ode to Masculinity, which involves guys running down State Street in the rainstorm last night:
Some are screaming because they're bothered by the rain, but others--disproportionately male--are cheering the rain. One guy actually yelled, "bring it!" Yes, that's right: he yelled at the rain for the rain to "bring it."

Yeah, that definitely belongs on the list. Something about the high spirits tinged with ridiculousness/stupidity. (The larger the ridiculousness/stupidity tinge, the higher the dorkiness ranking, but you need some of that tinge--in my opinion--it's not a bad thing.)

She also recalls another nighttime rainstorm, on Halloween, when "[h]undreds of people--whose costumes were ruined by the burst of rain--stood in the street cheering for the thunder. ... Each and every time there was thunder people screamed and applauded." Well, that gives me an opportunity to do one of my I-remember-back-in-the-60s things. It was August 1969 and, no, it wasn't Woodstock. (I didn't go to Woodstock because I didn't have $17.)

It was before Woodstock, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, the one no one remembers, because there was much less suffering--no mud, bad acid, traffic jams, or fence-jumping. But it was pretty cool. Joni Mitchell got mad at the audience for fooling around too much and not paying appropriately folky rapt attention to her. She told us off and quit, then skipped Woodstock too, then wrote a song about Woodstock as if she were really all into the chaotic love-in atmosphere. Ha ha!

The festival took place at the race track and there was a nice open air stage. (I remember it had a big red peace sign right in the middle, which my pal Bruce said was like a pimple in the middle of a forehead. Did you know that in the summer of 1969, the peace sign was considered embarrassing (quite aside from actual political preferences about war and peace)?)

Anyway, there was an amazing lightning storm. No rain, just vast networks of lightning branching over the whole sky. Oh, did the audience enjoy that light show! The screams and applause for nature went on and on through the night.
Blogtending. Do I spend a lot of time writing this blog? A better question might be: do I spend a lot of time reading this blog? One reason to write is to make something you yourself want to read.

Benjamin Disraeli said: "When I want to read a good book, I write one." Well, that's a little arrogant. He did also say: "An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children." And we all know how bad that is! Anyway, I think the point is, if you want a piece of writing that addresses only what you're interested in, you ought to write it yourself, which is how I feel about blogging. (And, perhaps, if you want to find children endlessly interesting, have some.)

But a big part of reading your own blog is just rechecking your own proofreading. Even though I care a lot about grammar and spelling and form of expression, I have an uncanny ability not to see typos. I could check five times and then find a typo on the seventh. Like this morning, when I wrote "If you're easily board..." And you might have thought, yeah, why am I reading a blog by someone who's too "board" even to proofread? So, I spend a fair amount of time reading my own blog so you won't have to think that. And yet... there is always one more thing!

UPDATE: I could check five times and then find a typo on the seventh. Uh, I meant to say that?
"Getting-Into-College-Camp." The NYT has a new entry in its continuing series of stories about how students today are working too hard. They need to ease up and enjoy life more--that's the theme. Today's article is about--horrors!--high school kids who spend a couple weeks in the summer living in college dorms in places like Boston and LA and taking a bunch of classes about writing good college applications and managing the SAT. But they aren't hiking! They aren't getting enough fresh air!

"How far can the frenzy over college admissions go?" wails Times reporter Tamar Lewin. The dean of admissions at Pomona College in California offers Lewin a quotable quote: "This is just sick ... I can't imagine how it's going to help, and it sounds like such a ridiculous waste of money that it distresses me that parents would be so obsessive-compulsive." Well, that's a tad hysterical. Admissions deans ought to look into their own failings, not criticize students who are trying to get throught the barriers they set up. And I say that as someone who managed to get into a good law school despite the fact that I was clueless about how to do the application, had no idea of the importance of the personal essay, and, not even realizing I could type out extra pages and writing only what fit in the space provided on the application form, told the simple truth about what was going through my head about going to law school! (And what was going through my head was cringe-inducingly lame!) I would have loved to have had a way to talk to someone who could have explained what is involved in putting together a competitive application. That said, when I read application files today as an Admissions Committee member, I try to look through the application and see the person. There are some people who don't come from a background to know what a competent advisor would tell them or even to realize that they could have gotten some advice. That these people still can prevail because of the facts in the file certainly doesn't mean that there is no reason for any given applicant to do what they can to present a good file. For people who do not come from an underprivileged background, a poorly prepared file can convey the impression that they are not mature or dedicated or hard-working enough.

Exactly why is doing a little summer course so terrible and "obsessive"? If the real point that admissions dean is making is that summer camp is expensive, so the underprivileged lose out, he should deal with that disparity himself, by reading files carefully and taking account of deficiencies in applications that are traceable to lack of privilege. But don't knock students who just work hard at perfecting their applications! And don't act like living in a cool city for two weeks with other kids your age is terrible because you ought to be out hiking. Personally, I'd rather "hike" around a cool city. To be able to discover a city, with kids your age, while you get some advice about something that is making you really anxious: I would have loved to have done that as a high school kid! With that anxiety tended to, there are still ten weeks left to the long summer for long hikes in the woods--though I bet far more of that time is spent indoors, watching movies and TV and playing video games, while the parent who sent you to get-into-college camp is hounding you to go out and get some fresh air!
Listening. You can listen to 9 Beet Stretch on line here. (See yesterday's posts if you don't know what I'm talking about.) It takes a while to make any audible sound at all, so don't give up. The ordinary speed first movement has a mysteriously slow intro, so when you slow that way the hell down, it might make you think the MP3 isn't working. I think it's nearly silent until the second minute! Well, if you're the impatient sort maybe this isn't your thing, but you might want to speed ahead to minute 2. The first audible note is very Ninth Symphony. If you get easily bored, you could simultaneously play, in slow motion, with the sound off, your DVD of Clockwork Orange. Or just read--read Philip K. Dick, like this guy, who made 9 Beet Stretch his Philip K. Dick reading soundtrack, noting that that it "is somewhat reminiscent of Blade Runner's soundtrack. It's got just the right mixture of desolation and transcendence, and is my favorite online audio find since SpamRadio."

I found the 9 Beet Stretch website through this nice review in The Village Voice. Here's an excerpt from that:
Electronic-sound jockeys must have fantasized about this idea ages ago, and it's a wonder that it waited for [9 Beet Stretch composer Lief] Inge to get around to it. Early composers who worked with audiotape agonized over their inability to change the speed of a sound without raising or lowering the pitch as well. In the '60s (according to genius sound engineer Robert Bielecki, my source for such data), there was some success in doing this with vocal samples, but music-quality time compression and expansion waited for the digital age. Today, many audio programs like ProTools contain pitch-shifting algorithms, because that's what you need: Changing the pitch without changing the speed is the same problem. Slowing down a sound is especially difficult, since the computer needs to interpolate identical wave forms in between the ones already there, but without causing glitches....

The second and third movements are remarkably lovely, eight hours of ethereal ambient music between them. The isolated violin notes of the scherzo's fugue turn into gossamer lines, while the slow movement's dissonances and suspensions take forever to melt, holding the ear rapt like the slowest Furtwängler recording of a Mahler adagio, only much slower. I find this 330-minute version of the Adagio a considerable improvement over the original. Who would have thought that Beethoven could have been a great ambient composer, if he had only divided his metronome markings by a couple dozen?

Looking back over my photos from yesterday, I realize that a glaring question is: Where is everybody? It looks completely empty! I was avoiding including people, in part because I wanted to be able to put the pictures up here and in part because I thought most people didn't add to the somber glory of the abandoned factory (visitors to my office know that when my iMac is unused for a couple minutes it starts to play pictures of abandoned buildings, which I got from a website I've now forgotten and would love to be able to find again (Inge used an iMac, by the way)). There was one woman I wanted to photograph--I would have asked her first, though. She was dressed like the people in this book. Oh, how I would love for this style of dressing to take hold in Madison!

I wonder if the audience grew as the 8pm end time approached. Perhaps it seemed to be an evening thing to do, or people just assumed the Ode to Joy part of the symphony would be best, the way I thought I'd prefer to hear something other than the Third Movement, which seems least interesting in normal time.