July 7, 2004

"When I'm 64."

Finally, a Beatle actually is 64. Happy Birthday, Ringo! And "A Hard Day's Night" is 40. Hmmmm... buy the DVD. It's got a lot of special features, like "Such a Clean Old Man!' – Memories Of Wilfrid Brambell." I see an Amazon commenter is complaining that Paul McCartney didn't do a commentary track, but, really, Paul's gotten to be a bit of an old bore. If you care about the Beatles, don't you already have the Anthology DVDs and haven't you, therefore, already heard enough from Paul? And I don't think good old Ringo is inclined to blab all that much. He's a decent guy and not a blabbermouth. I love them both, but leave Ringo alone, and Paul's said more than enough already. Just watch the great old movie "A Hard Day's Night." Hey, here's the whole script. A juicy segment:
Oh, wait a minute, don't tell me you're ...

No, not me.

Oh you are, I know you are.

No, I'm not.

You are.

I'm not, no.

Well, you look like him.

Oh do I? You're the first one who ever said that.

Oh you do, look.

[JOHN looks at himself in the mirror.]

My eyes are lighter.

Oh yes.

And my nose...

Well, yes your nose is. Very.

Is it?

I would have said so.

Aye, but you know him well.

No I don't, he's only a casual acquaintance.

That's what you tell me.

What have you heard?

It's all over the place, everyone knows.

Is it? Is it really?

Mind you, I stood up for you, I mean I wouldn't have it.

I knew I could rely on you.


You don't look like him at all.

Old TV gets the high art treatment.

In amongst the fancy fare playing at UW's Cinemateque this summer (like "The Five Obstructions") are some old TV shows. (Via The Capital Times.)(All shows are free.)

On July 30, they are showing two episodes of "Twilight Zone" along with two episodes of "Way Out." It looks like each "Twilight Zone" will be preceded by a "Way Out," the way the shows used to run on Friday nights in 1961. How well I remember completely loving "Twilight Zone" and watching the lesser "Way Out" to get a larger dose of Twilight-Zonishness on Fridays, often in the context of sleepovers and slumber parties. I never realized until just now, from the Cinemateque website, that Roald Dahl hosted "Way Out"!

On July 23, you can watch an "archival print" of the "Toody's Paradise" episode "Car 54, Where Are You?" with original ads for Tide detergent, Camay soap, and Gleem toothpaste. If I remember correctly, Camay "creams your skin while you wash," and Gleem has "Gardol" which is represented by an "invisible shield" of clear glass/plastic that protects the announcer when a golfer hits a golf ball into into it. I can't remember a thing about old Tide commercials, which I think is because I was in a state of hypnosis, caused by the whirly orange and yellow packaging. I remain incapable of buying any other laundry detergent.

Edwards ... and those terrible trial lawyers.

Yesterday, I set my all-time record for least posting: a single line. I wonder why the big announcement of Kerry's VP pick did not inspire me to write? Edwards was a choice I expected and approve of. We talked about it a lot in my house as we watched a different news channels last night. Most of my comments were about what a great speaker Edwards is compared to everyone else we've been hearing: Kerry, Bush, and Cheney. Both Kerry and Bush require some patience to listen to. The return of Edwards was quite a relief, a bit like the recent reexperiencing of the speaking skills of Reagan and Clinton. People on TV keep commenting on how good Edwards looks. More important is how well he speaks. Heard in my house: "He's the Great Communicator."

The other subject relating to Edwards that keeps coming up is the fact that that he was a--gasp!--trial lawyer. Are the news media getting enough play out of this? Attempts to stir up general anxiety about that fact alone are getting old already. Anyone who wants to raise this as a problem had best do it behind Edwards' back, because if he's around to respond, he will respond brilliantly. An attempt to drag Edwards (and Kerry) down by slurring lawyers is likely to end up improving the image of the whole legal profession. And after the events at Abu Ghraib and the Supreme Court's push-back against the most extreme assertions of unchecked power by the Bush administration, a return to law seems like a good theme.

UPDATE: A lawyer responds:
I disagree with your contention that Edward's profession is not a liability. Its significant that you call him a trial lawyer. Actually, he's a personal injury lawyer. The difference [is] the difference between pro-choice and anti-life, rain forest v. jungle, homeless v. vagrant, and many other formulations. A trial lawyer doesn't sound so bad - after all, Perry Mason was a trial lawyer! A Plaintiffs Personal Injury lawyer, as Dave Barry can tell you, is a shark.

Count on the GOP, if they're smart, to use his proper title. Count on them to solicit a lot of Doctors to oppose Edwards. Count on them to tell the truth, that we've never heard of a PI lawyer who didn't claim to " fight for little girls who were horribly mistreated." ( It's always a little girl.) Count on them to tell the Republic what percentage of consumer items goes towards lawsuit insurance. It won't be that hard.
Is "trial lawyer" a euphemism that the other side will gain ground by declining to use? I don't think there is a "proper title" here or that ordinary people are going to become excited if they are told that he calls himself a "trial lawyer" but really he's a personal injury lawyer. It's just not that alarming. It even sounds nice--personal. Now, "shark" is alarming, but it's hardly a "proper title." My point is that even if being a personal injury lawyer is something of a negative for some people, the issue is easily overplayed, beyond its significance to ordinary voters, and Edwards has a comeback that is so appealing and powerful that those who try to make headway are giving him an opportunity to display his skills and to make lawyers seem noble. Last night, C-Span re-ran a 2001 interview in which Edwards was asked about being a trial lawyer and his response was so perfect, so measured and balanced as he justified the role of the personal injury lawyer in particular cases with respect to truly culpable defendants. He is extremely well-prepared to respond to the kinds of arguments you cite. I'm not saying these arguments shouldn't be raised in some well-thought-out and substantial form, but the bare fact that he's a trial lawyer/personal injury lawyer is not good enough.

By the way, where did this idea that "rain forest" is a euphemism for "jungle" come from? I've heard that before, but it is just wrong. A rain forest is not a jungle.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Prof. Bainbridge is surely right that there are plenty of people whose support for Bush will be reinforced now that there's a trial lawyer on the Democratic ticket. And maybe some voters who could tip one way or the other could be influenced to tip away from Kerry because of some issues that have to do with trial lawyers. But I don't think the swing voters are going to be tipped by the mere label "trial lawyer," which is already overplayed. Something more substantive is needed, but Edwards is very good at dealing with these issues in a balanced way that would probably not strike moderates as anti-business.

July 6, 2004

Great cartoon.

About that John Edwards VP choice: this is a great cartoon.

July 5, 2004

Old campaign ads.

Here's a great website where you can watch ads from old presidential campaigns. (Via the NYT.) The ads are nicely organized by theme, and it is both funny and sad to see how the same themes have been used and re-used. For example, under the theme of "fear," the Republicans have repeatedly tried to scare us with the idea that the Democratic candidate would cut back on defense, and the Democrats have tried to scare us with the idea that the Republican candidate is a war-monger. Under the "commander-in-chief" theme, the Democrats keep finding a way to say the Republican candidate is too dumb to understand the complex issues, and the Republicans keep finding a way to say the Democratic candidate is too weak to do what is needed. Watching a lot of these old ads is a good way to immunize yourself against the manipulation of today's ads. It would be especially good for high school kids, who can't remember too many old campaigns, to study these things and to analyze the various themes and devices. But even for those of us who were subjected to these ridiculous short films the first time, it is enlightening to see them when one is not gripped by hopes and fears about the outcome of the election and the Presidency that would follow.

ADDED: Don't miss the bear ad. As John put it: "It seems like something from 'The Simpsons.'" (You have to click on the bear, over on the right side.)

A walk that starts at the zoo.

Chris, who wanted my car so he can go to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" with friends, drove me to the starting point of my walk: Henry Vilas Zoo. As soon as he drove away, I saw that I'd forgotten my camera, so I called him via cell phone, and he came back, drove me home for the camera, and re-drove me to the zoo. The extra driving elongated the conversation, which was about whether you could isolate your view of the art of a documentary film from its message. We agreed that you could. The example of "Triumph of the Will" was raised. Ah, here we are back at the zoo.

The orangutan was meditative:

The flamingoes were in love with the letter S:

Heading back toward home, I climbed up on Bear Mound, an Indian burial mound:

That is centered in the beautiful Vilas neighborhood, where, as a photographer, I gravitated to the unsightly things, like this area behind the bars across from the football stadium:

Can you see the grafitti under the white squares? It says: "Institutions support war. Stop supporting institutions."

Here's another wall I found photogenic:

Go here for the full set of today's pictures: I'm resisting displaying the "proud" grease vat, for example. [ADDED: Hmmm... Jeremy claims he used to live in the above-pictured boarded-up building with the proud grease vat next to the back door. ADDITIONAL ADDED: Now, he's saying he lived next door ... and was traumatized by a dumpster.]

Here's a faded "legalize" sign:

And some sadly under-neoned signage:

Ah, I've reached my midway-home goal, Ancora Café on Monroe Street, with its very blue, very well-ducted ceiling:

I get a tall cappucino and an almond scone and sit down to finish my book ("Stiff," by Mary Roach):

I read about the prospect of disposing of human bodies by freezing them, shattering them, freeze drying them, and then using the freeze dried bits "as compost for a memorial tree or shrub." The shattering part would be easy after freezing, I read, because the human body is mostly water, about 70 percent. Here's a morsel of the author's humor: "[Jellyfish] are either 98 or 99 percent water, and that is why you never see dried jellyfish snacks."

Then it's on to home to post these pictures and ask Chris how he liked the film.

UPDATE: Chris said the film was "okay." In answer to questions, he said it wasn't art, and it wasn't very funny, and it didn't change his opinion on anything political. He said the Madison audience really loved it--especially the brief part when Tammy Baldwin is on screen.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The book "Stiff," pictured above, was prominently displayed in the episode of "Six Feet Under" that ran on July 11, 2004.

Law School rankings.

Here's something for law-school-rankings-obsessed people to obsess over. (Via JD2B.)

"At the time these men seemed like giants."

John Burns has a beautifully written account in today's NYT of Dr. Muwaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's new national security adviser, who witnessed the arraignment of Saddam Hussein. Rabaie had not known that Hussein knew of his case--"he was seized from an operating room while still an intern in Baghdad in 1979, taken to a dungeon, tied up, and hung from the ceiling and rotated for hours"--but a prison guard told him that Hussein had said, "The man with the beard, was that Muwaffak al-Rubaie?" Rubaie describes what he was thinking as he watched the arraignment:
"You know, at the time these men seemed like giants, like monsters, but it turns out that they were basically just thugs. I sat there in court thinking, how could it be that men like this reduced a nation with a 5,000-year history of civilization to this? How did we allow it to happen?"

"The invisibility of Chief Justice Rehnquist."

Linda Greenhouse contends that this is "the year Rehnquist may have lost his Court." She notes the paucity of major opinions written by the Chief Justice and analyzes the voting pattern this way:
[I]t appears that while he has stood still, the court's center of gravity has moved away from him. One statistic is particularly telling. There were 18 cases this term decided by five-member majorities (17 were 5-to-4 decisions and one, the Pledge of Allegiance case, was 5 to 3 but would surely have been 5 to 4 had Justice Scalia participated; he would certainly have agreed with Chief Justice Rehnquist, in the minority, that the court should rule that "under God" posed no constitutional problem). Of the 18 cases, Chief Justice Rehnquist was in the majority in only eight.

In other words, in the closest cases, one of the swing voters (O'Connor, most likely, or Kennedy) is going to vote with the liberal set of Justices (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer); the conservative set of Justices (Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) is not able to keep both of the Justices it needs to make a majority. Greenhouse notes the trend:
[This most recent term] contrasts sharply with the chief justice's notably successful term two years ago, when he was in the majority in 15 of 21 5-to-4 decisions. A year ago, he was in the majority half the time, in 7 of 14 cases with 5-to-4 votes ...

She points to Tennessee v. Lane as evidence that Rehnquist's "federalism revolution ... [has] stall[ed] in its tracks." True, the Chief Justice dissented in Tennessee v. Lane, the case that rejected state sovereign immunity with respect to access to courthouses and the Americans With Disabilities Act, but the idea that the Chief was running a revolution headed in a different direction is wrong: he wrote the decision in Hibbs last year, which laid the groundwork for Lane when it found that Congress could abrogate state immunity with the Family and Medical Leave Act. (I have an article coming out on Hibbs, and will put a link to it here when I can.) That is, the Chief too has had cold feet about trusting states to operate autonomously.

The most important case written by the Chief Justice this year (considering the narrow point on which Padilla, his other "major opinion," was resolved) was Locke v. Davey, a case that allowed a state to exclude a student from its college scholarship program because he wanted to study for the ministry. Greenhouse characterizes this case as a falling away from the school vouchers decision of two years ago (which permitted a state to provide vouchers usable in religious schools and rejected an argument that it violated the Establishment Clause). But Locke ought to count as a decision in favor of state autonomy (the "federalism revolution" in Greenhouse-speak). By permitting vouchers (in the earlier case) and not requiring inclusion in the scholarship program (in Locke), the state is given the maximum latitude to experiment in the area of education: both the Establishment Clause and the individual's rights under the Free Exercise Clause were kept small, leaving the state with more autonomy. Where she might have seen the federalism principle at work, Greenhouse sees "pragmatism":
[A]lthough the consequences of turning permissible vouchers into required vouchers would have been profoundly unsettling, the court's recent insistence on an equal place for religion at the public table provided at least a plausible basis for that outcome. Instead, the majority looked at the consequences of carrying the recent precedents to their logical conclusion, and stopped short.

"Pragmatism rather than doctrine seems to be the order of the day at the court now," Greenhouse writes, tagging O'Connor as "the court's leading pragmatist." The suggestion is that the Court's federalism is somehow only doctrinal and bereft of any weighing of real-world effects. But the decision about whether judges should protect state autonomy does entail the pragmatism of thinking about consequences: when is disuniformity and decentralized decisionmaking a problem, and when are state and local governments involved in policy experiments that may improve life for people?

Think about the Compassionate Use medical marijuana law that the Court will resolve next year: do we think there's an answer in "doctrine" here? Surely, for Rehnquist as well as O'Connor, the practicalities of the federal government's drug policy and the possible benefits of marijuana used as medicine--not to mention public support for the autonomy of the seriously ill--will play a strong role in the decision.

July 4, 2004

Justice O'Connor.

Charles Lane has a terrific article in today's Washington Post Magazine called "Courting O'Connor/Why the chief justice isn't the Chief Justice." For law students who may resist thinking about the Supreme Court Justices as individuals, with their own styles of thinking, this would be a great place to start.

There is a lot of great information about her upbringing (living on a ranch, "[f]or playmates, O'Connor had lizards, a bobcat, horses with names such as Chico and Hemorrhoid, and a handful of leathery cowboys, who taught her how to ride and cope with cactus thorns"), her education (she was influenced by "an eclectic law professor named Harry J. Rathbun ... [who] taught business law during the week and led discussion groups on psychology, religion and ethics at his home on Sunday evenings"), her appointment to the Court ("much of her face-to-face meeting with Reagan was taken up by a discussion of horseback riding and mending fences on the Lazy B"), and her role on the Court.

Her importance as a swing voter is aptly explained. I liked this quote from Georgetown lawprof Richard Lazarus:
"What I do, and what I advise people arguing cases, is to treat all the justices with great respect," says Lazarus, who also practices before the court. "But . . . when Justice O'Connor asks a question at oral argument, every advocate would be well advised to answer in full, and pause and look at her, because nothing is more important to you than making sure you've addressed her concerns. With the others, it may not make a difference."

Hot dog eating inspiration.

At the Nathan's hot dog eating contest--on ESPN today--the winner, Takeru Kobayashi, set a new world record, eating 53 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Here are some inspiring words from the founder of the International Federation of Competitive Eating:
"This was nothing short of an emotional journey. I know, the journey within, down the alimentary canal. A journey is what it means to be a human. The very essence ... of humanity."

Here's what the skinny Kobayashi had to say about his skill:
"Fat grows out and also in, which makes your stomach smaller. The thinner you are, the more you can consume."

The 98-pound Sonya Thomas came in third, with 32, beating her old record of 25, which was the women's record. Here's how she conceptualized her competitive spirit:
"My nickname is the Black Widow. It's female spider ... bites male spider, right? And it kill him, right? So, when I'm doing eating contest, I wanna kill the men!"

Then there's this hot dog wisdom, from Badlands Booker (who is quite large, and came in fourth):
"The hot dog is the pinnacle of competitive eating, because you're dealing with two substances. You're dealing with the bun ... and also the dog. I've just gotta stay focused and stay hungry. I have the appetite, and now, I've just gotta focus my mind and just mind meld between me and the dog."

A great book and a bad cliché.

There's a decent discussion of Stephen Shore's great photography book "Uncommon Places," in today's NYT. The piece, written by Philip Gefter, ends:
In Mr. Shore's photographs, a descriptive, almost deadpan, quality lets the viewer contemplate the subject without ambiguity. That's the influence of Warhol in this body of work and what gives it the feel of that decade [the 1970s]. At the same time, Walker Evans remains the ghost in the frame. Mr. Shore agrees: "If I were to say in the photography world that there was one person who I used as a springboard for ideas and a resource to learn from, it was Walker Evans."

Mr. Shore's work is not quite so sober as Evans's. There is an antic undercurrent to his straight-faced pictures, as if, after staring at the sheer actuality of what was laid out before him, he might have burst out laughing before making the picture. Think of Walker Evans — stoned.

It's an excellent write-up generally, but I really object to that lame last line. Isn't it time to abandon the tired expression that something is like something else on drugs? To say it is to display a lack of descriptive imagination, but it is worse than the usual cliché, because it degrades the art it means to praise and deprives the artist of credit for his own vision.

The joys of C-Span.

C-Span at 6:26 am today:
Our next call comes from San Bernadino, California. Good morning.

Oh ... hello?

San Bernadino?

Yeah. This ... this is me.

Go ahead. You're on the Washington Journal.

Yeah. I believe George Bush should be re-elected. I think he really believes in people.

[After a long pause.] And why do you say that?

And ... why do I say that?

Why do you say he believes in people? What kind of evidence do you have?

Well, I think he's a strong believer in ... in the people.

Okay. Next up is Escondido, California. Good morning.

Two "Streetcar" dialogues.

John and I were watching "A Streetcar Named Desire" yesterday, and Blanche had just gotten Mitch to put the paper lantern over the bare light bulb. Blanche and Mitch were continuing to talk, and the lantern was conspicuously framed in the foreground:
John: Get that lantern out of the way! The director isn't very good at framing the shots.

Me (after pausing the film): That lantern is going to be very important.

Today, I'm driving Chris to work and talking about how John and I watched "Streetcar":
Me: John thought the lantern was blocking the view of the actors. I had to pause it and tell him the lantern was going to be really important.

Chris: It's a hypersituated object.

"Purple Rain."

For tonight's movie, may I suggest "Purple Rain"? It was twenty years ago today. Prince celebrated the occasion with a five-hour music extravanganza:
The show started out on a bizarre note -- Prince, onstage in a disguise of a straight-haired wig, hat and beard, playing the guitar on inline stakes as relatively unknown performers danced or sang around him.

Least obscure of the obscure: Graham, formerly of Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station. Uh-oh ... it may be time to drop by Amazon again. What to add to reach the free shipping level? "Purple Rain"? No. The reason the answer is no is the reason I don't already have it: the crappy DVD isn't widescreen! Come on! How about a re-issue with widescreen ... and lots of extras? That's got to be in the offing.

UPDATE: "Inline stakes" is the Times's typo. If Rollerblade hadn't been so fussy about its trademark, that never would have happened.


Hey! They are finally re-releasing The Zombies' great album "Odessey and Oracle"--the album so druggy they misspelled the title and never even noticed. The 1968 album is said to be a "perfectly balanced song cycle." The one song you probably know that is on the album is "Time of the Season," so imagine a perfect set of songs like that, and you can see that if it is the sort of thing you're inclined to like at all, it is indispensible. So go buy it right now. I did.

UPDATE: Okay. Number 1: that link I provided for buying the CD is not a link to the re-release the NYT wrote about. Having ordered it, I now see it is a release from the late 90s (which means the album hasn't been nearly as hard to find as I had thought). I'm not seeing anything more recent on Amazon, so maybe the Times was referring to something that isn't out yet. That's pretty annoying, the way it caused me to assume the older one was the new one. Number 2: I've listened to it now, and I do not think it is nearly as good as it's cracked up to be. The song "Time of the Season" is far, far better than the rest of the album, which seems quite unfinished to me. The rest of the album seems to be a rather pathetic attempt to copy the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." You could say, but "Pet Sounds" is the greatest album ever, so can't something like it but not as good be good enough? Theoretically, yes; in this case, no. And is anything preventing you from listening to "Pet Sounds" again?

"A Streetcar Named Desire."

We watched "A Streetcar Named Desire" last night. We had been close to watching it the other day, and now, with Brando's death, it was easy to pick it out from the DVD collection as the movie of the night. We have a ridiculously large DVD collection, the product of too much idle shuffling about on Amazon.com. To give you a sense of the size and nature of the home collection, I'll list the four movies that were shelved on either side of "Streetcar" (from the set of alphabetized DVDs that belong to me and are not music, documentary, or television):
Stardust Memories
The Story of Adele H.

Sweet and Lowdown
The Sweet Hereafter
Swimming with Sharks
Talk Radio

("Stargate" was sent free by Amazon, back when Amazon used to send you presents to remind you that you were spending a ridiculous amount of money there. I've never watched "Stargate," but I'm interested enough in it not to have sold it.)

Here's an explanation of the censorship that affected the transition from the play of "Streetcar" to the movie. The rape scene, crucial to the plot, has been restored on the DVD. The tacked-on Hollywood ending, however, remains (though you're free to click the movie off at the point when Blanche finally exits). It's idiotic for Stella to have the last grand gesture, suddenly gaining feminist sensibility and leaving her abusive husband, as though she had turned into Nora from "A Doll's House." When I was in high school, we were shown a film of "A Doll's House" that had an alternate ending in which Nora's husband shows her their sleeping children and causes her to change her mind and stay. You can't just tack on a different ending to a great play. It's especially bad in "Streetcar" because Stella is not the main character, and her story had been appropriately tied up before the resolution of Blanche's grand tragedy. To reopen Stella's story in a banal, moralistic anti-climax was just awful. [ADDED: In the play, after Blanche is taken away, Stella calls after her, Stanley lulls her with a few comforting words and seductive petting, and one of the poker players calls out the last line, "The game is seven card stud."]

It was interesting to watch Brando display his grand talents. And he looks just great. (No human body in the history of cinema comes close to the extremes of good and bad set by Brando in "Streetcar" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau.") It's hard not to absorb the movie as: Brando takes off his T-shirt! Brando dunked in the shower! Brando screaming in the courtyard! Brando heaving the radio through the window! Brando gnawing on chicken bones! Brando uncapping a beer! Brando in his silk pajamas! It's a real struggle to concentrate on Blanche's story, even though the play is Blanche's story, and Vivien Leigh is on screen without Brando much of the time. It's especially hard to focus on Leigh today, since she seems so stilted and mannered compared to Brando, who seems to be acting not in some brilliant new way, but the way actors are supposed to act, because we are so used to all the actors that learned to act from looking at Brando. Is it worth the struggle to watch this movie and empathize with Blanche? You can only do so by compartmentalizing your reaction to Brando, which makes you think he's screwing up the movie by deliberately undercutting Leigh's performance.

A rainy Fourth.

It poured rain yesterday, squelching the planned "Rhythm and Booms" Event--Madison's "Family Festival" and fireworks display. Fortunately, the rain date isn't today, because it is raining again today, in that completely dreary way that seems to hold zero potential for breaking into a clear day. The rain date is tomorrow, so good luck to all Rhythm and Booms fans.

July 3, 2004

Truman Capote on Brando.

The NYT Brando obit calls attention to "a crushing profile by Truman Capote in The New Yorker in 1957." The New Yorker has the Capote article up on its website. There is a lot of great Capote writing in the article, so you should read it. I'll just set out my three favorite Brando quotes:
"The last eight, nine years of my life have been a mess," he said. "Maybe the last two have been a little better. Less rolling in the trough of the wave. Have you ever been analyzed? I was afraid of it at first. Afraid it might destroy the impulses that made me creative, an artist. A sensitive person receives fifty impressions where somebody else may only get seven. Sensitive people are so vulnerable; they're so easily brutalized and hurt just because they are sensitive. The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalized, develop scabs. Never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much. Analysis helps. It helped me. But still, the last eight, nine years I've been pretty mixed up, a mess pretty much. . . ."

"I’m going to walk through the part, and that’s that. Sometimes I think nobody knows the difference anyway. For the first few days on the set, I tried to act. But then I made an experiment. In this scene, I tried to do everything wrong I could think of. Grimaced and rolled my eyes, put in all kind of gestures and expressions that had no relation to the part I’m supposed to be playing. What did [the director] Logan say? He just said, ‘It’s wonderful. Print it!’”

“I’ve seriously considered—I’ve very seriously thought about—throwing the whole thing up. This business of being a successful actor. What’s the point, if it doesn’t evolve into anything? ... You know, it took me a long time before I was aware that that’s what I was—a big success. I was so absorbed in myself, my own problems, I never looked around, took account. I used to walk in New York, miles and miles, walk in the streets late at night, and never see anything. I was never sure about acting, whether that was what I really wanted to do; I’m still not. Then, when I was in ‘Streetcar,’ and it had been running a couple of months, one night—dimly, dimly—I began to hear this roar. It was like I’d been asleep, and I woke up here sitting on a pile of candy.”

A sport I would watch on TV...

... if this athlete was playing.
Sonya Thomas ... who weighs anywhere from 100 to 110 pounds depending on the contents of her stomach, ... is ranked No. 2 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. ... She routinely outgorges men four times her size. She hopes to do the same Sunday at Coney Island, where the contest will be televised live on ESPN. ...

The records Thomas holds are astounding. Eleven pounds of cheesecake in nine minutes. Nine pounds of crawfish jambalaya in 10 minutes. Eight pounds of turducken (chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey) in 12 minutes. Forty-three soft tacos in 11 minutes. 167 chicken wings in 32 minutes. ...

Her body ... seems to place no limitations on her ability to eat. Thomas said her doctors examined her and found that her stomach is only slightly larger than normal. But her slight, skinny build may be one of her biggest advantages.

The prevalent theory in the competitive eating world is the "Belt of Fat" theory, which postulates that skinny people's stomachs can expand more easily because they are not corseted by the ring of fat that burdens the heavy eaters.
So, apparently, the fat on fat people keeps them from getting even fatter? Maybe that's why people regain their weight after they diet: they are in better condition to eat more. In any case, I'm going to TiVo this event: it seems like an exciting and amusing spectacle. Or am I supposed to disapprove of the waste of food or the celebration of gluttony and tie it to what's wrong with America and the SUV problem and that sort of thing? I'll leave that to somebody else.

I will just say: "turducken" is a very unfortunate word. Didn't the people who coined it notice the first four letters? As for the idea of stuffing one bird with another in order of size, why stop with the chicken? There ought to be at least two or three more birds that could be used. Once you accept the basic idea, shouldn't you run with it?

Plastic cadavers in L.A.

The art/science exhibition of plasticized human cadavers, which I wrote about back in February (here, here, and here), is now in Los Angeles, where the kids who see it say things like, "It's kind of cool ... because they're, like, dead."

Maybe Professor Bainbridge, who responded to my February posts (and did not like the idea of the exhibit at all), will check it out now that it's come to his town.

Evaluating Marlon Brando.

The NYT runs an above-the-fold obituary for Marlon Brando. (You'll have to look at the paper copy to see this, but here's the obit.) Meanwhile, will the anti-Brando people resist having their say? Terry Teachout doesn't hold back out of respect for the recently dead. (Via Jeff Jarvis, via Memeorandum.) I favor having a full discussion of Brando, just as I think it was appropriate to evaluate Reagan's life work right after he died. One ought to refrain from nasty sniping, perhaps, especially if there are still family around, but the death of a great man or woman is a unique occasion for a retrospective, for learning about art or politics or some other important area of human endeavor, and readers deserve good information and trenchant opinion. Brando was a controversial figure for many reasons, and he himself had a broad idea of what was appropriate to do on a given occasion, as he showed when he used the Oscar ceremony to plead for attention to the way movies portray Native Americans. In fact, Brando did a lot of bad and sloppy work, and he made too few movies and too many bad movies. He squandered much of what he had to offer, and that was a great loss.

I watched "Don Juan de Marco" last night, and it demonstrates many of the problems. For one thing, Brando's body, once a powerful part of his screen expression, was a constant obstacle to full expression. For another thing, he was not trying half as hard as the two brilliant actors--Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway--who seemed all jazzed up by the opportunity to play opposite him. He didn't bother to meet the enthusiasm they brought to the project.

His off-screen statements show that he was not interested in the phenomenon of being Brando. These statements remind me of the sorts of things The Beatles said about breaking up: they got tired of being The Beatles. But when you're a one-person phenomenon, you can't break up--at least not the way a foursome can. You can become so fat that you're not that screen idol anymore. It's to his credit that he put that broken-down man on film in at least three great films: "The Godfather," "Last Tango in Paris," and "Apocalypse, Now."

Here are some apt lines from the NYT obit:
And more often than not, he would express contempt for the craft of acting. "Acting is the least mysterious of all crafts," Mr. Brando once said. "Whenever we want something from somebody or when we want to hide something or pretend, we're acting. Most people do it all day long."

He described himself as a lazy man, and he was notoriously lax about learning his lines. "If a studio offered to pay me as much to sweep the floor as it did to act, I'd sweep the floor," he said. "There isn't anything that pays you as well as acting while you decide what the hell you're going to do with yourself. Who cares about the applause? Do I need applause to feel good about myself?"

Yet no one was better at finding brilliant touches that brought a character to life. Many have pointed to a scene in "On the Waterfront" during which he delicately put on the dainty lace glove of the young woman he was awkwardly trying to court, a seemingly unconscious gesture that fills the moment with heart-breaking vulnerability.

The NYT refers "to a pair of truly odd appearances on "Larry King Live" in the mid-1990's." I'm thinking King will re-run these over the weekend and recommend setting the TiVo.

A questionable political gesture.

The Seattle Times has this story:
Still smarting from the 2000 Florida recount, a group of congressional Democrats led by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas has asked the United Nations to monitor this year's presidential election.

"We are deeply concerned that the right of U.S. citizens to vote in free and fair elections is again in jeopardy," the legislators wrote to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The letter writers can't have meant for their request to be granted, since the U.N.'s own standards would demand an invitation from the State Department, not a small group of legislators, so the question is whether the letter is justified as a political gesture. Johnson's aides say it is because of the "widespread allegations of voter disenfranchisement" in the last election and a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights finding potential "significant problems" in the coming election. It seems to me that persons like Johnson, who actually hold positions of political power, deserve criticism for attempting to employ a power that they do not have to solve a problem. Why have you not in the four years that have passed since the last election found a way to use your power to do something? You're concerned specifically about democracy in this case, yet your own actions breed cynicism: Why should voters care about voting if members of Congress have no useful power?

July 2, 2004

Another Fourth of July weekend image:

A Fourth of July weekend image:

Ugly art, ugly politics.

How interesting it is to see that the artist behind the Nation ad that shows Bush devouring a child is Richard Serra (link via Drudge), the artist who imposed that egotistic expression of hostility, "Tilted Arc," on Manhattan office workers in the early 1980s. It especially interests me not just because I've been critical of the ugly images being used by Bush opponents, but because I've been interested in "Tilted Arc" for a long time and even mentioned it in two posts this week.

First, I was praising the colorful carpeting installed in Grand Central as a good public art installation by contrasting it to "Tilted Arc"--"a curving wall of [rusting] raw steel, 120 feet long and 12 feet high, that carve[d] the space of the Federal Plaza in half." The art imposed on people by forcing them to encounter its unconventional aesthetic and by requiring them to take a long walk around it every time they crossed the Plaza. They could then spend their lunch break thinking about how much they detested the artist who forced them to engage with his hostile vision or, alternatively, to curse the federal government, which purchased the thing with their tax money under a federal program that required 0.5 percent of a building's budget to be spent on art. Here's how Serra characterized the experience he'd created for the office workers:
"The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes."
The entire environment really changed when the sculpture was removed in 1989, after years of complaints. The sculpture's high art proponents ridiculed the complaints, including a fear of "terrorists who might use it as a blasting wall for bombs." Serra himself said that to move the "site-specific" sculpture would be to destroy it. He also said: "I don't think it is the function of art to be pleasing. Art is not democratic. It is not for the people." Fine, but then, keep it out of the plaza! And don't take taxpayer money. The Grand Central carpeting on the other hand, can be walked on comfortably, is amusing for almost everybody, and is going to be removed after a short time, so any perception of ugliness will soon enough give way to the good feeling of relief when it is gone. "Tilted Arc" was there, in the way, permanently, with no feeling or sensitivity for the people who worked in the Plaza. I worked in the area at the time and know first-hand its effect on human beings, who had "site-specific" jobs and did not deserve to be challenged by art to take a 120-foot walk around a steel arc hundreds or thousands of times.

Second, I referred to "Tilted Arc" in a discussion of the awful teardrop WTC memorial, which I hope is never installed. Here, my point was that the high art experts will not defend the piece the way they defended "Tilted Arc." The memorial flouts high art sensibility. I don't want public art by democratic vote either. There do need to be taste leaders. And in any case, there's what lawprofs would call a dysfunction in democracy if the people of Jersey City vote for a big monument that they erect where the people of Manhattan have to look at it all the time. Here, I'm on the side of the high art people. It's not a contradiction: public art needs to satisfy both high art values and the needs of the people who use the space.

So what do I make of Richard Serra's newest creation, the Bush-bashing riff on the great Goya painting? It makes me suspect that Serra, like many artists, feels a raging hostility that motivates his art. I've always thought "Tilted Arc" showed the artist's hostility toward the workers who used Federal Plaza and his sense of superiority about the rightness of his own vision. Serra's Bush ad betrays the same qualities. Yet now he does not have the mantle of high art; lured into the political fray, he has added his hateful image to the pile of vicious anti-Bush propaganda that makes me want to ignore ugly politics and contemplate of high art in a beautiful plaza.

The great Marlon Brando.

The brilliant Marlon Brando has died. He died on Thursday--I had a dream about him in the early a.m. hours of that day. We were looking at the cover for "Don Juan De Marco" just yesterday and talking about what a great actor he was. I was going to watch "Don Juan De Marco" last night; I will watch it tonight. I was just looking at my old computer the other day, the one where I had changed all the little folder icons to other images, and the folder called "ideas" was a tiny picture of Marlon Brando--it was Brando in his white T-shirt from "A Streetcar Named Desire." We almost watched "Streetcar" the last time we had to agree on a movie--it was in the final three. I've seen that film many times. It's a film that is hard to see for the real story it tells because one is so absorbed and affected and fascinated by Brando. IMDB only lists 42 movies for Brando--which ones have I seen?
The Island of Dr. Moreau
The Freshman
The Missouri Breaks
Last Tango in Paris
The Godfather
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Fugitive Kind
Guys and Dolls
On the Waterfront
The Wild One
Julius Caesar
A Streetcar Named Desire

I've also seen the Brando parts of "Apocalypse, Now."

Brando invented a way of acting that has affected what many other actors have done. Too bad he was not in more great films. Why did he make some quite awful things? I've read Peter Manso's biography of Brando, which explains a lot of his strange choices, though it was published too early to explain how he got the idea to wear a bucket of ice strapped to his head as Dr. Moreau. Ah, it's sad to lose the great man--a great artist! Good-bye to Brando!

UPDATE: There will be many beautiful obituaries in tomorrow's papers. This is from the NYT:
Certainly among the handful of enduringly great American film actors — some say the greatest — he has also been, without question, the most widely imitated. Virtually all of the finest male stars who have emerged in the last half-century, from Paul Newman to Warren Beatty to Robert De Niro to Leonardo DiCaprio, contain some echo of Mr. Brando's world-shaking paradigm.

Simply put: In film acting, there is before Brando, and there is after Brando.

And I did watch "Don Juan de Marco." Marlon Brando was last seen dancing on a perfect beach with Faye Dunaway.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I have more to say about Brando and the response to his death here.

Blog dinner ... with earwigs!

Jeremy finally checks in with his report on the Wednesday dinner here, with a post entitled, in part, "Do these weblogs make me look fat?" The prospect of eating a box of earwigs is made relevant to the issue of Senator Feingold.

Laptops and law school exams.

My law school does not yet allow students to take exams on computers. I chaired a committee many years ago that addressed the question whether to allow them, and we decided against it. For me the deciding factor at the time was the expense: we would need to make students buy laptops, and many students wanted their better, cheaper desktops. A related concern was that students from more affluent backgrounds would be more comfortable with computers and more adept, and that would be daunting to students from less privileged backgrounds who would see the test-taker next to them speed-typing and cutting and pasting with great ease. My committee surveyed the students, and a huge concern was how annoying and possibly unnerving the sound of fast typing would be. Then there was the complicated question of exam software to prevent students from cutting and pasting from their notes: would it work, would students have to keep buying it forever?

These days, laptops are, of course, much cheaper than they were then, keyboards are quieter, and everyone is much more used to them. Most students are going to buy them anyway for taking notes in class and using the internet around campus and around town. And handwriting is becoming worse. Word counts can be imposed to keep speed-typers from producing excessively long answers, and word counts are much more effective than page limits on handwritten exams, because page limits create an incentive for small writing, which exacerbates the bad handwriting problem. And as many faculty members switch to take-home exams to avoid having to read handwriting, a change in the computer policy may be needed to preserve the traditional, in-class, time-pressure, proctored exam.

But what about that software? Presumably, the kinks have been worked out. But what is this I see? "The exam software we use does NOT support Macs." (It's not just one law school: see here and here and here and here and here and here and I'll stop now.) Do these schools have any idea of the feelings of revulsion a statement like that on their websites provokes? If you've been using Macintosh all your computer-life, the idea of being forced to use those other things is really depressing. If I were going to law school today and had a choice of schools, support for Macintosh would be a factor. For your damned exam software, you're going to make everyone who has bonded with Apple give up a central pleasure of daily life? It's hard and intimidating enough to go to law school. To make young people give up their Apples? No! Not acceptable!

Law school websites try so hard to project a friendly and welcoming image to prospective applicants. May I suggest supporting Macintosh and highlighting the fact that, unlike many law schools, you do? I look out on my class full of students and the lit-up Apple icons on the lids of laptops are everywhere. No switch to the use of computers on exams should entail taking this basic happiness away from them.

UPDATE: Some of the exam software requires a floppy drive, and of course Mac laptops haven't had floppy drives in quite a while. (And, when we had them, our discs were never floppy.) But a floppy drive is an add-on option for a Dell laptop, so this feature is falling out of favor even outside of the Mac fold. Be careful new law students! You may receive a memo from your law school telling you the requirements for a laptop to use to take exams that does not bother to tell you that you'll need a floppy drive. I know of at least one prominent law school that is setting up law students for this surprise. Call your school's tech advisor--don't rely on the website or some prepared memo.

July 1, 2004

Some Fourth of July weekend images.

A sequinned halter top and some vintage (or pseudo-vintage) posters--all from the heartland of Madison, Wisconsin:


Tonya now has her South Africa material up, including lots of photos and that description of lions and hyenas I mentioned in the previous post. (Start here and scroll up.) Still no word from Jeremy today. And not too much from me today either.

A Madison dinner.

Tonya is back from South Africa and posting, though not yet posting about South Africa. I happen to know that she has a great description of a street fight among lions and hyenas to put in writing, but we will have to wait for it. Nina has an account of last night's dinner (where the hyena story was told). Nina has a photograph of a dessert that violates the rule against eating anything larger than your head and some enigmatic references to a part of the conversation that addressed the question whether men over 40 are sufficiently attractive which for no sensible reason ended up focusing on Russ Feingold! I'll file that under "Things That Are Distinctively Madison"--along with the opinion, stated by one diner, that Russ is "too conservative"!

Personally, I was exhausted yesterday and just limping toward my four day break from classes, but I nevertheless met up with Tonya, Nina, and Jeremy for a dinner that went on for 4 hours. Though ostensibly a blogger dinner, little was said about blogging. I'm too tired to figure out why. I can't figure out how I lasted the 4 hours, especially since I drank more than my share of the two bottles of wine the four of us consumed. I did learn a useful thing about blogging: that people read blogs using software that causes every little typo correction I make to seem to be a new post, so the minor tinkering I do is actually quite conspicuous.