October 9, 2004

John Lennon.

I've written about John Lennon a couple times in the last week, but today is his birthday--I don't care that it would have been his 64th--and I'd just like to take note of that. I've loved John Lennon ever since The Beatles arrived on the scene. I vividly remember one day in the fall of 1975 listening to his wonderful album "Mind Games" all day, then going out to eat that night with two young men--old acquaintances--at our favorite hidden away little East Side restaurant Residence. We were seated at a little table in a niche next to a large round table set in the window alcove.
Don't look now, but John Lennon and Yoko Ono are sitting at the next table.
And yes, they were. I can figure out that it was the fall of 1975, because Yoko Ono was very pregnant (Sean Lennon was born in October 1975). Did we go over and talk to them? No! Maybe if they were passing on the street you could say something to them, but here they were in the middle of eating dinner. It just didn't seem possible. But shouldn't the fact that I was listening to "Mind Games" all that day give me a special dispensation? It seemed that it should, but still it felt quite wrong to intrude, and we did not. Nevertheless, it was a huge thrill just to sit so near him for so long.

The postscript to this anecdote is that I sat at the very same table on another occasion, around the same time, with my brother and a friend of my brother's (whose name I can't remember). Midway through the meal a young woman rushed up to my brother's friend in a state of ecstasy and began hugging him, gushing about how much she loved him and had all his records. We were kind of drunk and didn't know what the hell was going on. Later, in a state of sober reflection, I realized that my brother's friend did look quite a bit like Bruce Springsteen.

So did I or the ecstatic young woman have the more intense personal engagement with her musical idol?

"Kerry's Undeclared War."

A fascinating article by Matt Bai in the Sunday NYT Magazine:
Kerry seems to find presidential politics in the era of Karl Rove as treacherous as riverine warfare, and he has run for the presidency in much the same way. From the beginning, Kerry's advisers said that the election would be principally a referendum on Bush, whose approval ratings, reflecting public anxiety over Iraq and a sluggish economy, were consistently low for a president seeking re-election. All Kerry had to do to win, the thinking went, was to meet a basic threshold of acceptability with voters and avoid doing or saying anything that might be fatally stupid. The riverbanks were lined with hostile Republicans and reporters, lying in wait for him, and Kerry's goal as he sailed upriver was simple: Stay down. Exercise caution. Get to November in one piece.

Which is exactly what it's like to interview Kerry as he runs for the presidency; he acts as if you've been sent to destroy him, and he can't quite figure out why in the world he should be sitting across from you. When I met him for our first conversation, in his cabin aboard the 757 that shuttles his campaign around the country, Kerry didn't extend his hand or even look up to greet me when I entered, and he grew so quickly and obviously exasperated with my questions about his thoughts and votes on Iraq that he cut the interview short. ...

Kerry's guardedness has contributed to the impression that he does not think clearly or boldly about foreign policy. ... Kerry's adversaries have found it easy to ridicule his views on foreign policy, suggesting that his idea of counterterrorism is simply to go around arresting all the terrorists.
In this light, consider the quote, also in the NYT article, from Richard Holbrooke, who seems to be the most likely candidate for Kerry's secretary of state:
"We're not in a war on terror, in the literal sense. The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor. What we're really talking about is winning the ideological struggle so that people stop turning themselves into suicide bombers.''
Bai confronts Kerry about this, and Kerry does not directly agree with the Holbrooke statement, but ultimately, Bai concludes:
One can infer ... that if Kerry were able to speak less guardedly, in a less treacherous atmosphere than a political campaign, he might say, as some of his advisers do, that we are not in an actual war on terror. ... If Kerry's foreign-policy frame is correct, then law enforcement probably is the most important, though not the only, strategy you can employ against such forces, who need passports and bank accounts and weapons in order to survive and flourish. ... [Kerry] may well be right, despite the ridicule from Cheney and others, when he says that a multinational, law-enforcement-like approach can be more effective in fighting terrorists. But his less lofty vision might have seemed more satisfying -- and would have been easier to talk about in a political campaign -- in a world where the twin towers still stood.

UPDATE: I'm looking at the paper version of the NYT Magazine now. The cover photograph is quite striking. Possibly the picture is completely neutral and you just project your own opinion of the candidate onto it, but if so, the opinion I'm projecting is: blankness. A willfully blank facial expression fits with the thesis of the article: Kerry is withholding his real plan for how to deal with the war on terror. This thesis, I note, would account for his continued use of the phrase "I have a plan," which is frustrating to some people, who perhaps find themselves yelling at the TV screen: Yeah, what is it? Maybe Kerry really does have many plans, wants to be seen as a man who plans things quite carefully, but is also trying very hard to avoid revealing what his plans are. It may well be that our uneasiness with him is that we sense that he's doing this. Interesting that the NYT, who I assume strongly supports Kerry, is printing this article. Maybe the NYT thinks that most of its readers really would like to see terrorism reconceptualized as organized crime.

Derrida dead.

Jack Balkin has a tribute: "Although accused of undermining liberal and Enlightenment values he was actually deeply devoted to them."

UPDATE: I liked this quote, from the BBC report, taken from a film (could they name the film?) about Derrida:
At one point, wandering through Derrida's library, one of the filmmakers asks him: "Have you read all the books in here?"

"No," he replies impishly, "only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully."
That's a nice lesson about reading, comprehensible to anyone.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The NYT gives Derrida a long and very negative obituary, with plenty of attention to the Paul de Man scandal.

Poll shows Bush won the debate by a stunning two-to-one margin!

"Almost no one on either side gave the win to the candidate they opposed," reports ABC News about its post-debate polling. Here's the relevant ABC chart, highlighted at Volokh Conspiracy, where the take is: "When asked to name the debate winner, participants from each side remained true to their team." But don't give up on the search for the spin so quickly, Bush supporters. I offer this:

Despite an overwhelming tendency to declare one's preferred candidate the winner of last night's debate, there were twice as many Kerry supporters who thought Bush won as Bush supporters who thought Kerry won. If you exclude those who chose their own candidate as the winner, along with those who saw the debate as a draw, the poll declares Bush the winner by a stunning two-to-one margin!

Dylan's "Chronicles"--Chapter 1.

Bob Dylan begins his story with a scene where he meets Jack Dempsey, who, assuming this happened at all, thinks or acts like he thinks Bob Dylan is another boxer, and that scene sets the tone for the rest of the first chapter, where we see Dylan arrive in New York, interested in music, but even more interested in fighting his way to success. The first action we see him take is signing a contract with a music publishing company.

First song mentioned in the book: "Rock Around the Clock."

Most distinctive good friend in his early days in New York: Tiny Tim. "I gave the rest of my French fries to Tiny Tim."

Reason given for being outraged that Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era: his ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Page 6.

Indication that the book could have been better edited: "What I did was come across the country from the Midwest ... straight out of Chicago ... eastbound through the state lines, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania ..." Page 8.

First long passage of praise for a fellow music artist: pages 13-14. The artist is Ricky Nelson. "I felt we had a lot in common." But Ricky's days were numbered--unlike Dylan's.

UPDATED to put in the links.

Rules for simulblogging ... or are we calling it "liveblogging"?

Last night's debate inspired a lot of simulblogging. That's what I call it, based on the word "simulcast," but if everybody is going to say "liveblogging," I guess I'll cave eventually. But what are the conventions of simulblogging/liveblogging? Are we supposed to watch live and reject TiVo pausing as an illegal performance enhancement? N.Z. Bear has this:
- So is TiVo the liveblogger's equivalent of performance-enhancing drugs for athletes? It seems somehow...unsporting. I've got TiVo too, but I shall endeavor to do true realtime... pausing is for sissies.

- Someday I'll figure out how to do a competitive liveblogging competition...
Should we make each point in a separate post, or string all the comments into one long, oft-updated post? If the latter, I guess starting each paragraph with a time-stamp makes more sense than my numbering approach, although my numbering approach is more oriented to my TiVo-assisted, out-of-real-time approach.

Do female bloggers even have to worry about the whole don't-be-a-girlie-man angle?

Should we not only reject TiVo and blog in real time, but also read other real-time bloggers and link to them profusely as we go? Instapundit seems to be able to do that--while fighting a migraine, no less! But really, I think what he does is link a lot of people before he starts, and then again at the end, not within the actual simulblogging posts. (He also has something to say about blogging and the debates available on his MSNBC blog, but "MSN Video does not support your computer’s operating system.")

At the other end of the spectrum from N.Z. Bear and the blogging as sport crowd, Vodkapundit just went out for the night and plans to simulblog from his tape the morning after. It really is a lot cooler to reveal the existence of a social life, wait for the crowd to clear, and then weigh in the next day, with a more world-weary, distanced attitude.

Other elections.

Another email received today is: "Good news from Australia." This one is not about a new drug, but a note that "Prime Minister John Howard and the conservatives have been returned with an increased majority." In America, last night, we were absorbed in a mere preliminary to our own election and, in typical fashion, ignored the Australian election. I did go over to Tim Blair's blog to try to get a feeling for the Australian election, but I got distracted immediately by a blogpoll he has there: "Teresa Heinz Kerry calls her private plane the Flying Squirrel. What might she re-name Air Force One if her husband is elected?"

Meanwhile, the Afghan election is taking place today, and there is controversy over the ink used to mark voters' thumbs. The NYT reports that all of Karzai's challengers are "vowing to boycott the results." Supposedly, at one point the wrong ink was applied to voters' thumbs, making it possible for them to clean it off and revote. Why assume revoters are for Karzai and not his challengers? The answer would seem to be that the challengers already expect to lose to Karzai, and they are setting up their basis for challenging the results even before they hear them. But isn't this part of American-style democracy? I expect to hear all sorts of claims of fraud made while our election next month is in process. Who can simply accept the results anymore? These days, there must be an elaborate, contentious post-election phase to magnify the losers' discontent. The only hope to avoid that is a wide margin of victory. That hope seems better in Afghanistan than in the U.S.

"See what comes of your jokes!"

That's the subject line of email I assumed was from one of my blogreaders and opened that turned out to be a spam message for Cialis.

October 8, 2004

Simulblogging the debate.

Time for debate simulblogging. I'll use TiVo to keep from getting mixed up, but I'll also try not to get too severely time-lagged. I'll keep all my comments in this one post and number the paragraphs to indicate the updates. Chris, my 21-year-old son, is here watching with me and may contribute some comments. He's for Kerry, by the way.

1. The ground rules are delivered sternly, as if we were being told to follow them. Bush has a blue tie; Kerry has a red. They are positioned on the opposite sides of the stage from the positions they took last week. The first question, to Kerry: are you wishy-washy? Kerry begins his answer with various thanks, then addresses Cheryl by name. He uses the question as an opportunity to state positions on assorted issues, inserting the phrase "that's not wishy-washy" here and there. Bush starts with thanks too, then states some examples of Kerry changing positions. He never uses the term "wishy-washy" (or "flip flopping"); he says Kerry "changes his mind ... because of politics."

2. The second question is about invading Iraq, addressed to Bush. He's speaking much more quickly and confidently than he did last week. He moves around on the stage well. He's saying many of the things he's said before about Iraq, and notably says Kerry would have left Saddam Hussein in power. Somehow Kerry's rebuttal refers to "health care" and "No Child Left Behind." He does that puppy-tongue lick of his lower lip that someone should tell him to stop doing. Give this man some ChapStick. Then he gets to Iraq, speaking really quickly: "I've never changed my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat." Bush didn't go to war with Iraq the right way, he "took his eye off the ball," and now Iran is more dangerous. That's saying a lot very quickly, and it was a bit strange the way Iran popped in at the end. Chris says, "Everything he just said was perfect and the whole thing was great. He just did that so well."

3. Bush gets some extra rebuttal time and he talks about Kerry's "global test" language from the previous debate. Kerry gets some more time and says that the goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein but to get rid of WMD, and that the sanctions were working. He's facing Bush as he says this and Bush is laughing in his face! Bush raises a finger to indicate he wants to respond and he looks raring to go. But Bush is not given another chance to respond.

4. Kerry is answering another Iraq question. He sounds strong and emphatic. Bush is tapping his foot. Bush slowly rises to answer and talks about meeting with Allawi in the Oval Office. [UPDATE: The reference here wasn't to Allawi but to the Iraqi finance minister. Here's the transcript.] He mocks Kerry's summit proposal (made last week). "Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed ... who says follow me into a mistake." Kerry follows up: "the right war was Osama bin Laden." Both men are quite vigorous tonight.

5. Bush defends his decisions against the accusation that he's lost support around the world. He's made "unpopular decisions" but he's done "what's right." You don't want a President who just tries to be popular. Chris: "He did that really well. I think they're both doing really well." Me: "I do too." Kerry: Bush is promising you more of the same for the new four years. The Security Council would have been with us, he says, if only we'd taken more time. Bush's answer is about relying on generals to fight the war. Bush missed a chance here to come back and say that the Security Council would never have come along with us. Kerry's response is to brush aside the matter of the generals and to say: "The President's job is to win the peace."

6. A question to Kerry about Iran. Kerry says Iran is a threat but Iraq wasn't, so our attention to Iraq missed a chance to engage with Iran. But what would Kerry have done about Iran? Join with allies and lead the world to crack down on nuclear proliferation. Bush: "That answer almost made me want to scowl." A reference to last week's bad face-making.

7. The bugaboo of a draft. Bush: we're not going to have a draft. Kerry: "I don't support a draft." Then he names a bunch of generals who support him and who think the military is overextended. His military won't be overextended because he will build alliances with world leader. Bush jumps up and talks over the moderator. He's really fired up, talking about the members of the existing coalition and how offended they would be by Kerry's attitude. A bit too hot-headed, I think, and we've heard this standard comeback before.

8. A questioner points out that we have not had further terrorist attacks. Kerry: "It's not a question of when ... excuse me ... it's not a question of if, it's a question of when." He claims he'd be better at fighting terrorism, without giving any regard to the cited fact, that Bush seems to have done something to have staved off terrorist attacks. Of course, Kerry doesn't credit Bush for that. Bush jabs Kerry for voting to cut the intelligence budget. Kerry has a bit of a simpering expression on his face here, and now he's smirking and jotting something down. Bush repeats the point that you can't win in Iraq if you don't believe it was the right thing to do, blending the topics of terrorism here and the war on Iraq.

9. Importing drugs from Canada. Bush just wants to make sure the drugs are safe. Now it's domestic policy time, issues that will need to be hammered out in Congress. I'm much less interested in what the Presidential candidates have to say about issues like this. Kerry lumbers off his stool and seems a bit slowed down. He seems to be stumbling around the stage. He's droppin' his "g's" now and saying "'em" for "them." "Ahm fightin' for the middle class." Both candidates are doing the "I care about you" routine now. Bush finishes his answers early, it seems. He winks at the end of one answer.

10. Tort reform. Kerry: Blah blah blah I have a plan blah blah. Oh, and the tax cut is bad. Bush: Senator "Kennedy" is the most liberal Senator. D'oh!

11. Spending. Bush defends both his spending and his tax cuts, unsurprisingly. That "earpiece" lump Salon wrote about today is visible on Bush's back. Oh, I'm losing my focus as the candidates spew the usual statistics about economics. Kerry: "The only people affected my plan"--he seems bored with this part too as he reels out stock phrases and drops the word "by."

12. Taxes. Senator Kerry, will you look into the camera and pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $200,000? Well, what can he do? He gets right up in the camera and pledges. Tax cuts will be rolled back, though, for the over $200,000 crowd. "Lookin' around here at this group here, I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected." Himself, Bush, and the moderator. Hey, he just kind of insulted the audience! There's not one successful businessperson in the audience? Chris: "Looking around at you people, I can see you're all poor."

13. Significant difference appears on environment. Kerry is more oriented toward working with the rest of the world, improving the Kyoto treaty and so forth. Bush is oriented toward research and development and solving problems through technology.

14. Stem cells. Kerry "respects the feeling" in the question about refraining from using embryonic stem cells. He argues that it "is respecting life" to pursue cures and give people hope. Bush: "balance science and ethics."

15. Supreme Court nominees. Bush won't tell who he'd pick, but he'd pick a "strict constructionist." And he wouldn't pick someone who'd say you can't have "under God" in the Pledge. He brings up the Dred Scott decision, a bit strangely. Kerry quotes Bush saying Scalia and Thomas are his favorite judges. Kerry doesn't want conservative or liberal judges, but just a good judge.

16. Kerry is asked about not spending tax money on abortion: he's Catholic--former altar boy--but he can't impose his "article of faith" on others. There's a right to abortion, and he has to respect that. Bush: "I'm trying to decipher that." The audience laughs. He speaks of "the culture of life" with some feeling. Kerry: "It's not that simple."

17. Bush is asked to name three mistakes. He admits he's made bad decisions. He takes responsibility. But he stands by his big decisions: Afghanistan, Iraq. He defends these decisions and does not, as asked, enumerate any bad decisions. He indicates the mistakes he would name would be appointments, but he won't say who. Kerry now gets to point out Bush's mistakes, rather than his own, and naturally we hear about how Bush rushed to war, without a plan .... Bush, on rebuttal, slots in the criticism of Kerry that he "voted for the war before voting against it."

18. Both candidates get their closing statements out about as they'd planned them, it seems. Bush strikes me as more natural and impassioned, Kerry more robotic. [Who was better?] Chris? "I wasn't paying attention. ... Probably Kerry."

19. Generally, overall: I think both men performed well in terms of style and getting their statements across. There is little basis for going on about who performed better tonight. People will have to pick between the two based on substance this time.

20. Ah, wait. One key style point. After it's all over, Bush plunges into the audience and interacts warmly and enthusiastically with the people, while Kerry goes over and hangs around with the moderator and then hugs his wife. Bush is posing for pictures with people. Where's Kerry now? He's milling about with people now, but in a more restrained way than Bush has been doing.

An espresso at Borders.

I went to Borders to get a double espresso (to insure wakefulness through tonight's big debate) and to take advantage of the 25% discount they're offering teachers this weekend. It turned out that the two books I bought were already 30% off and they don't "stack discounts" they told me. Okay. I did get half off on the espresso though, just for saying I was a teacher when they asked me. Free cookies too. The books I bought were Bob Dylan's "Chronicles: Volume One" and Augusten Burrough's "Magical Thinking: True Stories." Not horribly original choices, but both books look pretty amusing, though the Dylan book is printed in an inexplicably weird typeface. I got the espresso "for here" and went to sit down with my books (I had a third book, too, Nicholson Baker's "Checkpoint"), and I saw two colleagues and sat down with them. We talked about any number of things and at one point I revealed that I was planning to vote for Bush. A request was made to shake my hand: "You're the first person I've ever met who is voting for Bush." Asked to explain myself, I said I didn't want to get into any fights, but I reluctantly said a couple things. The phrase "national security" was used, and my tablemates did not really seem to disagree with what I said. Yet the idea of voting for Bush! How could you?

"The Apprentice."

Entertainment Weekly has this:
I'd like to say that my friend Al and I were all shocked 'n' stuff when Pamela got booted off for not being an efficient enough price gouger — I mean, we both made the obligatory sucking-in-of-air noises and placed our hands over our mouths . . . but then we both sort of went, ''Eh,'' and got up to get some pudding from the kitchen. We didn't even sing along with the dun-dun, Dun-dun, DUN-dun, duhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuh music. And we always sing along. Sometimes we sing it during Survivor, we find it so compelling.

Prof. Yin is doing some "Apprentice"/"Survivor" comparison. Television Without Pity has a recaplet up, making this point:
The men sell a panini grill for more than $70, while the women sell a cleaning sponge for about $30. Despite the fact that the women sell many more units, no thanks to Maria's insane television presence that makes everyone feel like they're watching someone have a rapid-fire nervous breakdown, the difference in price ultimately allows the men to earn the higher gross amount, which, for no particular reason, is the standard by which the task is being judged.
Yes, the men had access to a product that was worth much more. What was to stop them from pricing it at $1 and racking up a huge number of sales? The women were stuck with a much lower value product, yet they somehow sold a lot of them at a pretty inflated price. So didn't they really do the better job? The men made a mess of demonstrating the product on camera, and they picked a goofy price, $71.25, rather than something normal like $69.99. The show got all didactic about how pricing is everything in business, but what kind of pricing takes no account of the cost? I didn't quite catch who made the decision to sell such a low-value product, but if they knew at the time that only the gross sales figure would determine the winner, that's the person who should have been fired.

Black soap.

Kausfiles writes:
If a man says he has a gun, acts like he has a gun, and convinces everyone around him he has a gun, and starts waving it around and behaving recklessly, the police are justified in shooting him (even if it turns out later he just had a black bar of soap). Similarly, according to the Duelfer report, Saddam seems to have intentionally convinced other countries, and his own generals, that he had WMDs. He also convinced much of the U.S. government. If we reacted accordingly and he turns out not to have had WMDs, whose fault is that? Why doesn't Bush make that argument--talking about Saddam's actions in the years before the U.S. invasion instead of Saddam's "intent" to have WMDs at some point in the future?
I wouldn't be surprised to hear Bush pick up this neat form for an argument he is already making. And in case you're thinking the image is inelegant--because who has a black bar of soap?--there is a legendary black soap. It's Erno Laszlo's Sea Mud Soap. Remember Woody Allen/Alvy Singer obsessing over Annie Hall's black soap in "Annie Hall"?

Don't tell me you're jealous?

Yeah, jealous. A little bit like Medea.
Lemme, lemme-can I show you something,

(He takes a small item from his
pocket to show the woman)

What I have here ... I found this in the
apartment. Black soap. She used to wash
her face eight hundred times a day with
black soap. Don't ask me why.

Well, why don't you go out with other

Well, I-I tried, but it's, uh, you know,
it's very depressing.

That was Erno Laszlo soap. And by the way, you ought to be grateful you're even allowed to buy this soap:
Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Doris Duke, Greta Garbo, Lilian Gish and Paulette Goddard. As the 1940s turned into the 1950s, the Erno Laszlo Institute had over 3,000 clients. Mrs. Vincent Astor, Mrs. Stavros Niarchos, Mrs. Gianni Agnelli, Mr. Truman Capote, The Begum Aga Khan and, in 1954, the Duke of Windsor, were numbered among its members. In the 1960s, the list was enlarged by Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Hubert de Givenchy, Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and many more. In the pictures of Marilyn Monroe's death bed in August 1962, her Laszlo preparations could be seen on her bedside table.

The Erno Laszlo Institute was a closed society of the rich, famous and powerful. One needed to be recommended to gain admittance, and a single reference alone was often not good enough. In 1954 (?), each consultation visit cost $75, an unheard-of sum at the time. The Doctor's time was limited. He could only see a limited circle of persons.

In the 1970s, Barbra Streisand, Diane Keaton, Yoko Ono, Madonna, Woody Allen, Sting, Val Kilmer and James Spader joined. Later, Erno Laszlo products could be seen in films like Bonfire of the Vanities, Working Girl, Annie Hall and Final Analysis.

Erno Laszlo remained severe even with his most famous clients. In June 1963, the doctor cautioned the President's wife, Mrs. Kennedy not to put more oil or cream on her face. As she admitted having made changes to his instructions, he firmly replied: "You cannot make changes!" He also refused to remove Katherine Hepburn's freckles, when she asked him to remove them. He declined, saying they were an integral part of the Hepburn beauty.

When Ava Gardner insisted that she had followed his instructions, he told her: "Excuse me, but you are lying". - "How would you know?" - "Your skin tells me. You have not been doing your ritual. When you do, then you may come back, but not before." As the fiery brunette refused to leave, he came as close as he ever had to actually throwing a patient out the door. When she finally realized that she could not get away with any ruse, she calmed down and agreed to follow the Doctor's instructions.
But if you don't have $32 black soap to carve into a gun, you can use white soap and use black shoe polish to make it look like a gun, as Woody Allen--him again--did in "Take the Money and Run."

Mystery voice of the day.

When I drive to work in the morning, I usually listen to WHA-AM 970, which is the all-talk Wisconsin Public Radio station. Today, I joined the program in time to hear a man ranting against Bush. The tone was that of the typical impassioned call-in. Oh, these hard-left Madison callers--they are so exasperating, I thought. I waited to hear who the show's guest would be and how he would rein in the comments and make something useful out of them. Then Kathleen Dunn, the show's host, came on and thanked Terry McAuliffe for coming on the show.

Questions for Kerry, questions for Bush.

Terrific illustration by Peter Hoey for this NYT op-ed--here and here--that collects questions for the big town hall debate tonight. The drawing--of a United States-shaped boxing arena--looks especially sharp and striking on the computer screen, but the layout is cleverer in the print version because the illustration is under the text and the cord extended up from the light divides the piece into two columns--questions for Bush and questions for Kerry. Some of those who contributed questions for this piece used it--predictably--as an opportunity to express their concern about a particular issue, without really framing a question that could extract an answer worth hearing ("What steps would you take to protect consumers from deliberately or inadvertently tainted food?"). And we all know what the candidates do with questions like that: they brush them aside and say something else they wanted to say. Of course, tonight, the questioners won't be the kind of experts that contributed to this op-ed, but regular folks, so the candidates will have to be especially careful to be graceful as they brush the question aside.

And, yes, I plan to simulblog the debate (with a bit of TiVo delay).

You've heard of the Department of Silly Walks.

Denmark has the Department of Silly Names. Well, shouldn't the government prevent parents from engaging in the psychological child abuse that comes in the form of burdening a child with an odd or misspelled name? And while they are at it, the government really ought to intervene when your mother dresses you funny.

October 7, 2004

"I loved Dick Gephardt because every time I saw him he would sit down and eat a pie."

That's a quote from Alexandra Pelosi, whose documentary about the Democratic primaries premieres on HBO Monday. That and similar nuggets appear in Cathy Siepp's article about the film. I greatly enjoyed Pelosi's "Journey's With George"--about Bush's 2000 campaign--and eagerly await the new film. In 2004, Pelosi liked pie-eating Gephardt the best, and I get the impression--from her film diary at the HBO site--that she did not get much good material about John Kerry, because he just wasn't the type to goof around in front of the camera. I don't think HBO is planning to reshow "Journeys With George" to go along with the new Pelosi movie, but it is available on DVD and highly recommended. Quite sweet and funny, with a lot of material about what people ate while traveling around on the campaign. Seems like the new one has a lot about food too. Food is Pelosi's idiosyncratic humor theme.

Things Mimi wouldn't understand.

Yoko Ono (in today's NYT) explains why John Lennon's early drawings were surrealistic, but his later ones realistically depicted domestic life:
"In the beginning, when he was doing the exaggerated stuff - the monster-looking people, and all that - those come from a time when he felt that Mimi was always looking over his shoulder," she said, referring to Mimi Smith, Lennon's aunt, who raised him. "He said that was how he came to surrealism. He would write things in his diary that he wouldn't want Mimi to understand, and the drawings were an extension of that. He was getting into an unreal, illusory world.

"Then when he met me, he felt that reality wasn't that scary anymore, so he began drawing us. And eventually, because he was learning Japanese, his drawings were a reflection of that experience too, but the more prominent change was that he began doing a lot of animals, and that was for Sean."
Oh, I think there is a lot more to surrealism than hiding from Aunt Mimi. Ono also says that in the early days of their relationship, talking about art, Lennon said "I think of myself as Magritte." The fact is, the early surrealistic line drawings are much more interesting. If his surrealism was about hiding from the female authority figure of his early life (Mimi), why should we not view the later realistic domestic scenes as mollifying the female authority figure of his later life (Ono)?

The Times article relates to the "When I'm Sixty-Four" gallery show, the title of which I complained about at some length here. There's a slide show of Lennon's drawings at the first link above.

UPDATE: Here's a link for Magritte, whose work really isn't very much like Lennon's surrealist line drawings. Lennon's work is far more similar to Jean Cocteau's drawings.

"The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position."

From a NYT piece on Kerry and Religion:
Careful not to question the sincerity of Mr. Bush's faith or to criticize the mobilization of conservative religious forces on his behalf, Mr. Kerry nonetheless suggested his opponent's campaign had gone over the line with the way it frames some issues.

"I think you have to draw that line, so the answer is yes, they reached beyond that line, and in my judgment they're trying to exploit certain issues," he said. "The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position. But they're out there misleading people and exploiting it."

Isn't the gay marriage issue also exploited, in different quarters, by Kerry supporters who--if the positions really are the same--also mislead people?

The NYT piece is also interesting for a quote by Kerry in what the Times calls "the left-leaning Catholic tradition of helping the poor and criticizing the war":
"If you look at Catholic teaching, ... it teaches about the environment, our responsibilities to the next generation. It teaches about poverty, our responsibility to the poor. It teaches about fairness. It teaches about peace and brotherhood and a whole series of things which I think this administration is failing on."

How different the campaign would feel if Kerry openly embraced a deeply principled, committed dedication to helping the poor. It's considered such a political liability to be a liberal, that the liberalism that does appear is desiccated and devoid of passion.

UPDATE: Both Instapundit and Kausfiles link to the Times article via this blog (thanks!) and call for Andrew Sullivan to pay attention to it [the article, not this blog], which he does here:
I have never trusted Kerry on gay civil rights, still don't, and wrote a piece earlier this year for the Advocate, warning gay voters not to trust him. So, yes, Mickey, I am aware of his slippery, unprincipled and vacuous stand on civil rights for gay couples. (This, of course, is indistinguishable from his slippery, unprincipled and vacuous stand on almost every other issue as well).

But Sullivan's for Kerry, remember. To be fair to Sullivan, let me acknowledge that he goes on to talk about a key difference between Kerry and Bush: Bush has spoken in support of amending the U.S. Constitution with respect to gay marriage. It's fine to make that distinction, but if you want to rely on that, how can you read Kerry's statement above as anything but shameless opportunism?

Air Madison.

Al Franken's Air America broadcast live from the Great Hall of the UW Memorial Union yesterday. With him on stage were "Gov. Jim Doyle, The Capital Times Associate Editor John Nichols and Alta Charo, a UW-Madison professor of law and bioethics. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D- Madison, and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, joined the show by telephone from Washington, D.C." (Note the Wisconsin lawprof in the group.) He had this to say in an interview:
"We do a different kind of show. I'm not the mirror image of Rush Limbaugh. I do a totally different kind of show. I don't bloviate for three hours and pull stuff out of my butt and mislead and lie. We're very scrupulous about our facts. I'm proud of that."

He did go for three hours though. I didn't attend (or listen on the radio). If you did and you have any information on whether he did in fact bloviate or anything else bloggable, email me.

October 6, 2004

"You're our Michael Jordan, you're everything."

So said Sirius to Howard Stern. Stern says: "Sirius — the future of radio — will take this dream to a whole new level as I bring my fans my show my way. It will be the best radio they will ever hear." He also said this on air: "The FCC ... has stopped me from doing business. Clear Channel, you (expletives), I will bury you."

Well, why shouldn't satellite radio be the equivalent of HBO? Get rid of the commercials, free the speech, and run with it. I'll subscribe. Good for Stern for drawing attention to this new technology. Broadcast radio has its place, and I'm not criticizing the FCC for keeping it decent, but I love the alternative!

Swastikas in Madison.

A few days ago, the Capital Times reported:
A west side backer of President Bush found a large swastika in his yard Thursday, right next to a Bush-Cheney sign. ...

[A police spokesperson] said the 8-foot-by-8-foot swastika was probably made by pouring some chemical over the green grass, causing it to turn brown.

The resident also reported other political vandalism in the area, but police haven't confirmed any other cases, Samson said.
And here's the Wisconsin State Journal, reporting on last night's Vote for Change concert (featuring the Dave Matthews Band) at the Kohl Center. The band was promoting Kerry, and one concertgoer, a 48-year-old man, wore a T-shirt with an "image of the president and a swastika." Another concertgoer said he had been planning to vote for Kerry but would now vote for Bush to counter the guy with the shirt.

Kerry seems to have a good number of supporters who are not helping his cause at all.

UPDATE: That this sort of thing hurts Kerry makes me wonder if it's an anti-Kerry dirty trick. Maybe neither swastika-wielder in these stories was a Kerry supporter. I note that the vandal in the first story seems to have used herbicide to burn the swastika into the grass. I would expect hard left anti-Bush types to be more environmentalist in their choice of hate-speech writing tool. [ADDED: In that last sentence, I had "anti-Kerry" when I meant "anti-Bush" and I've corrected it. Sorry.]

Madison politics.

Here are a few signs seen in and around the UW campus this week. In Madison, there's a vivid dialogue:

There are those who put up "Liar" stickers and those who respond by scratching out Bush's face. It's a little ambiguous. Are the sticker defacers Bush supporters?

Then there's the forthright bumper sticker:

Here's another:

Sunshine Daydream is selling "Psychedelic Republicans" cards, like this one of Laura Bush:

Kiosks provide space to tape up fliers. The secret plan for a draft is a big topic today. Someone has written "false" on all these fliers with a light blue marker:

There's a chalking announcing a meeting of Feingold supporters:

And the Catholic student center is offering an alternative take on current issues:

The morning after the debate.

Lots of visitors in the last 24 hours! Thanks for stopping by. It took me more than three hours to get through that debate, with my "simulblogging" operating on a TiVo delay. It was strange but cool to see that I was getting over 4,000 visitors an hour as I was setting my reactions to Cheney and Edwards in writing. I watched some debate analysis shows, talked to Chris, called up John, reproofread my debate posts, and found it was well after midnight. I had to get up a 6:30 the next day, because I'd made one of those early morning dentist appointments. I hate waiting in the waiting room, so I take the earliest appointment, even though I also hate an early morning appointment. Getting to sleep at 2 meant that my middle of the night wake-up took place at 5, so I just got up. That gave me time to half-read the paper and check out some of the blog reactions to the debate. Vodkapundit has a lot of good observations. I liked:
7:10. Know who Edwards reminds me of? Bush on a good debate night. Repeat your points, stay unruffled, sound folksy.

He was drunkblogging. I started out with my glass of wine with dinner. A bit later, I could feel my energy flagging and, what with 4,000 visitors an hour and the domestic policy section of the debate coming up, I figured I'd better drink a big Diet Pepsi--one of the reasons I was up until 2 and then back up at 5. Ah, now for the tedious trip to the dentist. I'm sure the hygienist will be perky and talkative, which is hard enough in any case--how can you converse when she's got all those instruments in your mouth?--but it's sure to be pretty irritating this morning.

UPDATE: The hygienist was pleasantly less chatty than hygienists of past visits. She did ask me if I watched the debate. Why yes I did. How about you? Who did you think won? She didn't know. In fact, she hasn't really been following the election and doesn't know much about the candidates yet. Well, you still have plenty of time. Cheney and Edwards really have very different images, though, don't they? "Yes," she said, "And so do Bush and Kerry. Both of those ... couples ... are very different."

And let me just say, in case you're planning to take me to task for asking her who won or for saying at the end of last night's long post that Cheney clearly won, that I'm not disqualified from discussing who won by my "Who won?" post from last week. I won't annoy you with a lawyerly style parsing of that post to demonstrate why. Suffice it to say that I could. And that it would be annoying.

October 5, 2004

May the best man of the best man win.

I'm going to simulblog the Vice Presidential Debate , so I'll number my posts, with each new number representing an update.

1. Bremer's not-enough-troops statement leads off, in a question to VP Cheney. Cheney plugs in his prepared statement about Iraq: Iraq was "the most likely nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction." The war in Iraq was "exactly the right thing to do," and he'd recommend it all over again if he had the chance. Pay no attention to that Bremer behind the curtain! Cheney had nothing to say about Bremer at all.

2. Edwards, similarly, plugs in his prepared material about Iraq. (Poor Bremer is not getting the attention he might have wanted ... or not.) Edwards says lines I think I remember Kerry saying last week. "We lost more troops in September than we lost in August, we lost more troops in August than ..." The litany of defeatism. People have died, people have died. When I turn on NPR in the morning, the first thing I hear is nearly always the number of persons who just died in Iraq, almost never in a context connecting those deaths to what they fought for, just dismal, hopeless death. Edwards takes that tack. "Iraq is a mess"--the grand simplification. A mess! And McCain agrees with me--Edwards asserts. McCain's not there to protest, but Cheney will do it for him most likely. [He never does.] Edwards does have a line in there about Bremer. But most of it (as with Cheney) is the phoned-in prepared Iraq material.

3. Cheney rebuts, and the split-screen shows Edwards blinking furiously. Nervous? Or just contact lenses? Edwards then gets rebuttal time and he seems all charged up as he says there's no connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, which is, again, totally phoned-in, because Cheney said nothing about the connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. Cheney spoke only about progress in Iraq (the refutation of "Iraq is a mess.")

4. Gwen Ifill--who's wearing a terrific blue jacket with dramatically curved lapels--asks Edwards--who's wearing a standard dark gray suit, red tie, and, for originality, light blue shirt--whether, if he and Kerry had been in office, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. Good question, but of course he has to say no. The only interest here is in how artfully he frames his no. Like Bush last week he mixes up the names of the nemeses: "Saddam ... I mean ... uh ... Osama bin Laden ..." How did bin Laden get into the answer? He plugged in his material about botching the war in Afghanistan, which is tangentially related to refocusing attention on Iraq. But allowing the Northern Alliance to take the lead in Tora Bora was not done because of Iraq. It was simply the preferred strategy for Tora Bora (even if, in hindsight, it was bad). Edwards characterizes Iraq as a diversion, as if that is why we failed to capture bin Laden in Tora Bora. This seems to say that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, finally approaching Ifill's question. Now, he's getting all harsh on the no connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11th point, but he's the one who dragged Osama bin Laden into the answer to a question that was only about Iraq. And, most importantly, he never answered Ifill's question! He never said whether he and Kerry would have left Saddam Hussein in power. He never even got in that "no" I assumed he'd have to say. He just wandered over to something else he wanted to talk about and hoped we wouldn't notice.

5. Cheney: "They are not prepared to deal with states that sponsor terror. ... A little tough talk in the midst of a campaign or as part of a Presidential debate cannot obscure a record of 30 years of being on the wrong side of defense issues. And they give absolutely no indication, based on that record, of being willing to go forward and agressively pursue the war on terror ..." This is the first blow that lands in this fight, I think.

6. Ifill, showing her scripting, raises the question of Afghanistan, which Edwards just pre-answered. But this question is to Cheney, who points out that Afghanistan is four days from an election, and that two and a half years ago, Edwards announced that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and chaotic. So: Edwards was defeatist, calling Afghanistan a mess too soon, and (we may infer) he's prematurely giving up on Iraq. Edwards cocks his head to the side and gives a quick smile. He needs a comeback. But Edwards merely repeats the accusation that Tora Bora was handled wrong and that Iraq was a diversion. He then consumes the rest of his time defending John Kerry over the "global test" proposal made in last week's election. But I want a response that has something to do with the GOOD Dick Cheney just claimed we achieved in Afghanistan. It's as if Edwards is programmed to keep telling us that everything went bad. But is nothing good? Is it not good that there will be an election in Afghanistan and that women will vote and so forth as Cheney just said? Ah--Edwards pooh-poohs the "rosy scenario" that Cheney paints about Afghanistan (and Iraq): Afghanistan is growing 75% of the world's opium! There are warlords! Not every place is secure! Cheney slams back, comparing Afghanistan to El Salvador: we succeeded against terrorists there because people aspire to democratic self rule. Edwards responds to this by suddenly switching to the topic of Iran, and I'm thinking that Ifill is cursing Edwards to herself, as he introduces another topic that she had planned in her questions.

7. Ifill's next question, to John Edwards, is about Kerry's "global test" proposal, which Edwards has already addressed out of place in two previous questions. There really is a clear answer on the "global test" point, but Edwards is not making it crisply. Cheney is gathering steam now. His arms are crossed on the desk and his head is down and wagging from side to side as he makes each point. Some of his points are preplanned (voting for the war and against the war; wrong war, wrong place, wrong time). Now he's marking out his points, patting with his palm in spots along the surface of the desk. "There's no indication at all that John Kerry has the conviction to successfully carry through on the war on terror." Edwards rebuts: this is a "complete distortion." The proof? "The American people saw John Kerry on Thursday night." So, yes, Kerry did a good job in the debate last week, and he said strong things, which, if that was all we knew, would make us think he was going to be tough on the war on terrorism. But Cheney's point is that if you look at Kerry's long record, it doesn't back up that tough stance. Edwards is saying: ignore that record, remember how Kerry won the debate last week?

8. Would it be dangerous to have Kerry as President? Ifill asks. Cheney: he's not aggressive enough! He was against fighting Saddam Hussein in 1991. He voted against funding of the current Iraq war because he was caving in to pressure from the Dean anti-war candidacy in the primaries. If he couldn't stand up even to Dean, how can we trust him to be tough enough?

9. Is it believable that Kerry can bring together a coalition of foreign nations at this late point in the war? Ifill asks Edwards. His answer is scattered. How can it not be? Who believes there is anything that Kerry could do beginning in January that would bring in more allies? Edwards--using the politician's pointing thumb--switches to another topic. Lack of body armor! Cheney: "It's hard, after John Kerry referred to our allies as 'a coalition of the coerced and the bribed' to go out and persuade them to send troops and participate in the process." You can't say "wrong place, wrong war, wrong time" and "oh, by the way, send troops." Of course, this is exactly what Bush said last week, but Cheney's solidity here is impressive. Now, he plays what I consider his ace: our most important ally is Allawi, and when he was here, speaking to the Congress, Kerry "demeaned him, challenged his credibility." Edwards answer is, first, about money. The first Gulf War cost five billion dollars, he says, holding up five fingers. The current war, "200 billion and counting." Second, 90 percent of the casualities are American. Cheney's answer: "He won't count the sacrifice and the contribution of our Iraqi allies." This fits with the point about Allawi: you want allies, the Iraqis are our allies! John Edwards looks upset by this response, but he does not get a rebuttal.

10. Edwards uses the next question for rebuttal of the previous question, but it is an unmemorable mix of previous points about how badly things are going in Iraq. The question on the table is about intelligence. The next question is about sanctions on Iran. I'm beginning to feel a bit sorry for Edwards. Cheney is an intimidating presence, and, frankly, he's kicking Edwards's butt. Ah, the first mention of Halliburton. Cheney: Halliburton is a smokescreen. Go to Factcheck.com for the facts! [ADDED: That should be Factcheck.org.]

11. In answer to a question about Israel, Edwards tries to tell what he characterizes as a personal anecdote. It's the story of Israelis killed by a suicide bomber. Children are killed. Cheney goes back to Halliburton, but then he doesn't really. He just says Halliburton is a smokescreen (again) and Edwards has an undistinguished record as a Senator. Just forget about Ifill, why don't you? She wanted to talk about Israel, but screw it! Let's just plug in the material about all the votes Edwards missed as Senator! Cheney is in the Senate, as the President of the Senate, almost every Tuesday, and the first time he ever met Edwards is tonight! Ouch! Edwards successfully stifles any reaction. Cheney deigns to answer Ifill's question about Israel: Saddam Hussein paid Palestinian suicide bombers' families. Edwards rebuts: Cheney voted against Headstart back when he was in the House! Against Meals on Wheels! Against the Martin Luther King holiday!

12. Finally, the foreign policy section is over. And the question is: what are you going to do about Cleveland? (They are in Cleveland.) Cheney cites No Child Left Behind; education is key. Edwards subtly scoffs at Cheney for talking about education when the question was really jobs and poverty. Of course, Cheney probably really does think education is the right approach to the problem, but Edwards is somewhat successful at making the education strategy seem cold and heartless. Edwards asserts that the administration is "for outsourcing jobs." They think it's good! Cheney's rebuttal praises tax cuts. Edwards rebuts bringing Iraq back into the picture to fit with a planned punchline: "I don't think the country can take four more years." He leans over toward Cheney with an insouciant smile on his face. Cheney glances back and gives him the stink eye.

13. Taxes. The usual positions are taken.

14. Same sex "unions." Cheney: traditionally it's been an issue for the states, but Massachusetts has acted, and the President thinks it's the "wrong way to go, and I support the President." Edwards has a great opening here, but he loses momentum by going back to tax policy, which was (I think) dully batted around on the last question. Now, Edwards goes on about Cheney loving his gay daughter and Cheney looks like he might lean over and take a bite out of Edwards. Finally, Edwards gets to the best point: we shouldn't amend the Constitution to exclude people from equal treatment! Ifill wisely comes in with the next question challenging Edwards (and Kerry) about their opposition to gay marriage. Edwards now has to say "marriage is between a man and a woman," and the distance between him and Cheney dwindles into a technicality. Now, the constitutional amendment is no longer actively offensive, it's just "unnecessary" (the theory being that one state's recognition of gay marriage is not going to exert any pressure on the other states and that there is no concern that courts might force other states to recognize that first state's marriages). And let's talk about health care and Iraq!! Cheney's "rebuttal" is just to thank Edwards for his kind words about his daughter.

15. Medical malpractice. Cheney tries to shock us with the fact that a doctor in Wyoming must pay $100,000 a year for malpractice insurance. Somehow, I don't find that number shocking. Edwards agrees that there should be fewer lawsuits and recommends an independent review of malpractice cases before they can be filed. He's against frivolous lawsuits too. This is an area where Edwards might be attacked or might also do well, but it comes off as a fairly technical issue and I don't think either man makes any headway over the other.

16. AIDS. This is a subject that does not allow either man to make much headway. Both express concern; Edwards tries to broaden the question to be more generally about the need for healthcare.

17. Ifill asks Edwards how, given his inexperience, he has the qualifications to handle the Presidency. What can Edwards do here but babble about good judgment? When it's Cheney's turn, he says, do you want me to talk about his qualifications, and he can barely suppress a grin. It's the happiest we see Cheney all night. He says, I know I was chosen because of my experience and my ability and that it had nothing to do with political ambition.

18. Why is Dick Cheney like John Edwards? That's the question now. Cheney refers to his humble beginnings. Edwards is writing a lot during this answer. At one point, he noisily rips a sheet of paper off his pad. This question seems a bit weird and pointless. A ground rule of the question is don't say the name of your running mate: Edwards breaks the rule twice. But who cares? The question seems nonexistent. Cheney doesn't even want his rebuttal time!

19. What's wrong with "a little flip-flop now and then"? This is another bad question that Edwards uses to throw out a variety of statements that he might have said at any point. Cheney, naturally, uses it to list all the inconsistent things Kerry has said and done that he can think of. Edwards might have talked about the importance of nuance and adjustment to changed conditions and new information, but he utterly ignores that opportunity, perhaps wisely.

20. How to "bridge that divide" and bring the country together? I'm getting pretty tired at this point and don't like the abstraction of this question. Nevertheless, I'm a bit irritated when Edwards says a word or two in answer to the question and then just plugs in a lot of material about health care. I've noticed Edwards has looked for as many opportunities as possible to say the words "health care."

21. Finally, closing statements! Edwards says "I have grown up in the bright light of America, but that light is flickering today" and expresses a hope of bringing that light to us all. Cheney rattles off a pre-planned speech with many references to the war on terrorism.

22. Conclusion: a clear win for Cheney.

UPDATE: Here's the full transcript of the debate.

ANOTHER UPDATE: As has been widely noted, Cheney was wrong about not having met Edwards before. Why would he say that? Even assuming for the sake of argument he's willing to lie, it's so easily shown wrong that it utterly backfires. My guess is that it wasn't a preplanned zinger, at least not a carefully preplanned zinger, and that Cheney just didn't remember meeting Edwards. Even that doesn't make that much sense. Normally, you don't assert you haven't met someone, you ask if you've ever met him or you act as though maybe you have met. This is a very common social situation: people know to be careful about assuming they haven't met someone.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Looking at this clip again (via "The Daily Show"), I get the impression that Cheney could be seen as saying that he never met Edwards in the context of the Senate. That is, "met" could mean "run into" as opposed to "be introduced to for the first time." Still pretty lame, but possibly defensible on a very technical level.

Goodbye to Rodney Dangerfield.

Thanks for all the laughs for so many years. I remember looking out my office window and seeing you standing in the middle of Bascom Hill, surrounded by cast and crew and a hoard of onlookers as you filmed "Back to School." I remember when we first became aware of you back in the 60s, when you were on "The Tonight Show." We all imitated you and laughed. And you were pretty damned terrifying in "Natural Born Killers." Nice work!

On not subscribing to Wired.

The Wired that just arrived (see previous post) is not the newest issue, but the September issue. Wired does that annoying thing that magazines do when you subscribe, which is to send you an older issue, even though you might very well have bought that issue on the newstand. This practice makes subscribing to magazines less of a bargain than the card in that copy you just bought makes it seem.

Yet, in fact, I did not subscribe to Wired. I did something even more foolish. I paid for the premium subscription to Salon.com, because I figured I'd go there often enough that it was worth buying off the commercial they make you watch to get through to the content. But Salon turns out to be less enticing when it isn't walled off with a commercial. Anyway, the subscription to Salon included free subscriptions to Wired and U.S. News & World Report, magazines I now feel that I must at least flip though. Wired and U.S. News & World Report each sent me a postcard offering to cancel my subscription for a $12 (or so) payoff, but I missed my chance. Now I receive these rather silly publications in the mail and waste time looking at them.

I knew it was dumb to say "awesome," but Wired helps me stay hip by advising me to replace "amazing" with "audacious." That's asinine. And Wired's coverage of politics is fatuous. Little sidebars in the September issue identify problems with American politics. Problem #2 is: "The electoral college is broken." A checked box appears next to "SOLUTION." There is a half column explanation of the amazing, audacious solution Wired's genuises have hit upon:
Move to a popular vote. And make it count with instant runoffs. In this system, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If the first "winner" doesn't get 50 percent of the vote, the least favorite candidate is dropped, and those votes go to the voters' next favorite candidate. You do a new count, and repeat the process until someone gets 50 percent. This way votes aren't wasted: If voters don't get their first choice, they get something close - their second or third choice. It also allows third parties to emerge without "spoiling it" for like-minded candidates. In 1992, for example, many votes for Perot would have transferred to George Bush Sr., and Clinton might never have triumphed. (The reverse applies to Gore and Nader.) The system hasn't been tried partly because the big parties selfishly don't want to encourage competition, and partly because all that recounting is logistically tricky. But now that we're moving to electronic voting, "the technological barrier vanishes. Computers can do those recounts in an instant," says Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Digital tech could usher in an age where your vote finally matters.
Do you think you might come down for a moment from your high-tech high and apply some of your intelligence to thinking through the ramifications of how this system would play out? Without the Electoral College system, we would have completely different candidates and many more of them, including many strange niche candidates and extremists who would have unpredictable clout. You want to give a chance to a third party candidate? Your solution gives a chance to a tenth party candidate! You think the "big parties" are just being selfish? Have you ever tried to understand the beneficial moderating effect of the two party system?

I recommend Alexander M. Bickel's book Reform and Continuity: The Electoral College, the Convention, and the Party System, published in 1971, which I reviewed, a propos of the 2000 election, in "Electoral College Reform Déja Vu," 95 Northwestern University Law Review 993 (2001). People spent a lot of time considering abolishing the Electoral College in the decade that followed the very close 1960 election and discovered important safeguards it provides that would be lost with a switch to the superficially appealing popular vote. In any case, given the difficulty of amending the Constitution, especially when shifting the states' power is concerned, it isn't going to happen.

Tom Waits: "Real Gone."

The new Tom Waits album came out today. I'm enjoying the tactile cover design, which you can see at the link, but you need to feel to fully appreciate. I want more tactile graphic design! No sooner do I write that than the afternoon mail drops through the slot and onto the floor. It's the new issue of Wired, the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover, and it's nicely tactile too. Mmmmm!

"I just don't want to die on the street."

The NYT reports on Afghan women's reluctance to vote, based on a distinctive fear of dying outside of the home:
There is a saying in the culture, [one woman] said. For a woman, a death in the home - with purdah, which literally means curtain - is a death of honor. A death outside the home is a death with dishonor. ...

Roshana, about 30 and the mother of a 14-year-old son, agreed. She envisioned lying in the street missing a head or a limb, being viewed by strange men. It would be an insoluble stain on her family's reputation.

"Law porn."

Gordon explains why he's getting so much of it lately.

Most interesting fact about Bob Dylan

revealed in the NYT review of his autobiography: "he now owns a bumper sticker reading 'World's Greatest Grandpa'"--or so he says.

Mysterious personal reaction to Dick Cheney.

With the big vice presidential debate tonight, let me say something about the vice presidential debate four years ago. In 2000, I supported Al Gore from the beginning, I voted for him, I stayed up late into the night on election night waiting to hear that he had won, and I monitored each phase of the post election legal battle hoping for Al Gore to find a way to victory. On the Friday when the Florida Supreme Court ordered the full-state recount, I felt stunned by joy. I remember going to see a performance of Handel's oratorio "Israel in Egypt" at the Music School that night and thinking about Al Gore throughout the performance. The whole time I was listening to the story of Exodus, I was also thinking about Al Gore. Lines like "He spake the word, and there came all manner of flies and lice in all quarters" blended in my mind with images of hanging chads and Floridians eyeing punchcards. When the oratorio was over--"Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously"--and we got up to leave, the first thing I said was: "Al Gore!"

In short, I was for Al Gore.

But there was one point when I was surprised by the anomalous thought: maybe I should vote for George Bush. Within the long period of commitment to Al Gore, the contrary thought that Bush might be the right choice flared up briefly, shortly after Dick Cheney began to speak at the vice presidential debate. (Transcript.) Astounding! Why would that be? Lieberman made the first opening statement. It was warm and folksy, thanking "wonderful people," naming his wife, saying that his 85-year-old mom had called him that day to tell him to be positive. How could the charmless Cheney compare? Cheney began with a quick thanks, an agreement about being positive, and an ad lib about Lieberman's singing, then said, in that flat, warmth-free Cheney manner:
I think this is an extraordinarily important decision we're going to make on November 7. We're really going to choose between what I consider to be an old way of governing ourselves of high levels of spending, high taxes, an ever more intrusive bureaucracy, or a new course, a new era, if you will. And Governor Bush and I want to offer that new course of action.
Well, what is the great appeal in that? It's a bit of a mystery to me. Did I find the very flatness refreshing? He was saying: look, there are two ways of doing things, and you people are just going to have to choose. Not: I'm charismatic, love me. Just: here's the deal; decide.

UPDATE: Gerry Daly of Daly Thoughts tries to solve the mystery:
Obviously, I do not know your mind beyond your writing on the blog, so the possibility I am floating here would be offered to anyone saying that the reaction was a mysterious one.

As you probably have guessed from my blog, I am a bit of a poll junkie. Over the years, I have learned a few things following the polls. One thing is that people lie (or maybe it would be better stated that people often answer in ways that cannot be reconciled with reality). An example is this is how often polls show that people are disgusted with the way politics are conducted. They hate the negativity. They hate the pandering. They hate the money. They hate the disingenuousness. Yet time and again, it is proven that the negativity works, that the pandering works, that the money works, that the disingenuousness works, and the way politics are conducted works. The public does not like it, yet the public acts as if they do like it; they are persuaded by it, and when it is not there they complain about how boring and uninspiring the candidates are.

A second thing I have learned is that even when the public lies, there is some truth involved. And I believe that people really do not like the negativity, the pandering, the money, the whole kit and kaboodle. Time and again, the reformist mindset shows polling appeal when it is properly tapped by an aspiring politician. The public just hates when the views they hold lose, more than they hate the crud that goes on. They believe that both sides do it, so why punish the guy they agree with for doing it?

Now, read Lieberman's offering. It was nothing like what Al Gore has become, what Howard Dean is like, or anything of the sort. As you put it, it was "was warm and folksy", and positive. It was prepared. It was political. Not that there is anything wrong with that; the world would be a better place if politics were conducted more like Senator Lieberman approached it that night.

But Cheney's was a little different. It offered a glimpse beyond politics. It provided a glimpse of the world if, instead of us making political decisions, we made decisions on how we wished to be governed.

Sadly, I think that Cheney is gone. I have not seen him since 9/11. It is almost like since then, he has decided that it is just too important to lose, and that he must play the politics game. I am not sure that is what has happened. If it is, I am not sure he is wrong.

But I wish that Cheney was back, and I wish that mindset was the predominant one. Here's how it is. Choose. And then get back to living life rather than playing these silly games.

Well put. We'll see soon enough which Cheney we will get in this year's debate. My new TV is being set up with HDTV reception today, and I will be testing it out tonight with the wonderfully contrasting mugs of Edwards and Cheney. I'm hoping for some high definition in their substantive positions as well.

ADDED: I've got the title ready for my simulblog of the debate: HDVP.

ANOTHER UPDATE: First, thanks to Instapundit for linking to this. Second, I'm told the debates are not shown in HDTV, so that dashes my hope of getting the chance to inspect every well-shampooed strand of John Edwards's hair and to use my planned title. Third, more than one emailer has observed that two out of three of the components of the "old way" have survived in the Bush Administration.

October 4, 2004

City with the best abs.

San Francisco! Worst abs: St. Louis! According to Men's Health, based on what methodology I don't know.

Phone call just now.

"Hello?" I say, assuming a human being is on the line.

"Hi," says a woman who sounds nice and friendly. But she goes on: "Twenty-two thousand single women didn't vote in two-thousand ..." I slam the receiver down. Who listens to these calls? I've even gotten some where I say hello and I get: "I'm John Kerry ..." and I hang up on him.

When John Lennon is 64.

I see from an ad on page D2 of the paper NYT, that a gallery in New York is having a show of John Lennon's artwork titled "When I'm Sixty-Four," "in honor of" John Lennon's 64th birthday. We don't really need a special occasion to get interested in John Lennon, but even if we did, this one would rub me the wrong way. Is there a more McCartneyish Beatles song than "When I'm 64"? Did John even like it?

UPDATE: My son John emails:
One of the Beatles books that's in the house---probably either Tell Me Why or Revolution in the Head--points out that near the end of When I'm 64, John plays some very idiomatic guitar, which seems to cause Paul to laugh audibly. So maybe John did like it.

And doesn't John do some nice harmony singing?

On the other hand, this is emailed by a reader:
Oddly enough, if my random-trivia books serve me as well as I hope they do, John wasn't a big fan of the song. It was, in fact, written by Paul when he was just a teenager, and was put on the album to honor is father (who, oddly enough, was indeed sixty-four years old at the time). The story goes that Paul's father never did like John, and this didn't make him like the song much more.

So, a mystery emerges. Email me if you have some answers.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I'm checking out the home library of Beatles books, and I see John's memory is right. "Revolution in the Head," footnote on page 176, has this to say about "When I'm 64":
Apart from backing vocals, Lennon contributes some anomalous folk-blues guitar picking to the final verse/chorus (2:17-2:29)--a style joke that provokes an audible grin from McCartney (2:23).

The same page of the book also says that "When I'm 64" was one of Paul's earliest songs and that it ended up on "Sgt. Pepper" because his father's turning 64 made him remember it.

Another emailer sends this link to a Playboy interview, with this quote from John, who was asked who wrote "When I'm 64":
Paul completely. I would never even dream of writing a song like that. There are some areas I never think about and that is one of them.

He may nevertheless have liked the song, but as indicated, it wasn't his sort of thing at all. I stick by my original opinion that "When I'm 64" should not be the name of a John Lennon art show.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Yet another emailer provides this:
Some years ago, I read a short story by sci-fi author Spider Robinson wherein, after Lennon was shot, his body was (secretly) put into (cryogenic?) storage of some kind. The punch line being [spoiler alert!] that, upon successful resuscitation / reanimation, he and Paul realize that they are both, indeed, sixty-four...

I like Spider's writing in general, and though this was a slight story, I guess it was sort of memorable! After brief Googling, it seems to have been "Rubber Soul" published in Omni magazine in 1984. It seems to have been reprinted in at least two short story collections, "Melancholy Elephants" and "By Any Other Name"... Check the sci-fi ghetto of your neighborhood library.

"Kerry's hard-line, right-wing, unilateral, pre-election policy epiphany."

William Safire on Kerry's new hawkishness, as seen in the debate. Safire notes that Bush supporters have opted to ignore it:
Instead, the president focused on the Democrat's sugar-coating of his first-strike pill of prevention: his assurance that his pre-emption had to be one that "passes the global test" to make it legitimate. By ridiculing Kerry's notion that such a surprise attack had to have prior world-public approval, Bush was able to prevent his opponent from out-hawkishing him.

October 3, 2004

Sims 2.

Conversation at Cheeseburger in Paradise:
I'm very involved with Sims 2.

Do you love the characters?

Kind of ... yes ...

Do you feel that Sims is more like life than life itself?


When they die ... do you ... cry?

... no ...

UPDATE: Here's a much nicer Sims 2 link. I'm told the prime improvement of Sims 2 over Sims 1 is that the characters go through all the stages of life (from babyhood to death--before, they were frozen in time). Another innovation is that each character has an overarching aspiration in life (popularity, romance, money, knowledge, or family). And "there are a lot of random weird things that can happen," for example, you can be abducted by aliens, your house can be haunted by Sims who have died, if you aren't very good at cooking, you can set the kitchen on fire and die, and if you get lonely, a large imaginary bunny may come and socialize with you.
Sounds like Donnie Darko.

But it's a friendly bunny. It's not a mean bunny.

ALSO: I'm told all Sims are bi-sexual.

"A T-bone moment."

Fooling around with my new TV, I turned on the closed captioning (which my old TV didn't have). I was watching the tail-end of my TiVo'd "Fox News Sunday," where they had just shown the clip from the debate with Bush snapping that he knows that Osama Bin Laden attacked us. Juan Williams comments:
Well, I think, if you look for a TiVo moment ...

Closed captioning had:
Well, I think, if you look for a T-bone moment ...

"A T-bone moment"--I guess that's when a candidate gives us some of that "red meat" we keep hearing about.

A minute later, Brit Hume, refers Bush's demeanor as "peevishness," and the caption is "peacefulness." Two minutes later "neutralize" is rendered as if it were a guy's name: "Newt Ramize."

On the other hand, there are times when the closed captioning is more accurate than the spoken word. In the first episode of this season's "Joan of Arcadia," Joan's boyfriend Adam is telling her about his summer spent working full-time in a hotel and the caption reads: "What do you want to know about plaster, grout, or unclogging toilets? And don't get me started on caulk 'cause that's my passion." But the actor clearly mispronounces the screenplay's word "caulk" in the most hilarious way possible. I mean, look at that line. It's hard to believe the whole thing wasn't set up as a joke. With the help of the TiVo, we got many laughs from that T-bone moment.

The Sunday shows: rechewing the debate.

I'm reviewing what the TiVo dragged in this morning: the Sunday news analysis shows. The old "who won the debate?" question is provoking predictable talking points. The Republican favorite: whether Kerry won or not, he made some statements that can be used against him ... and now let me use the rest of my time to use those statements against him.

The real reason Bush will win Wisconsin.

Bizarro Gordon has made a discovery.

Our new Islamic law scholar.

The Wisconsin State Journal has a nice piece on our new lawprof Asifa Quraishi (who has the office next to mine):
The California-born scholar of Islamic law, who also worked as a death penalty law clerk for the U.S. appellate court covering the West Coast, was a sought-after prospect in her first crack at a post in academia this fall.

Too often, though, prospective colleges and universities seemed to see her as either an oddity or a token, she said. Many interviewers found it hard to get past her personal background - questioning how she could be a Muslim, an educated woman and an American - while other places seemed attracted to her expertise in a flavor-of-the-day way, driven by the notoriety surrounding recent world violence wrought by radical Islamic movements.

But at UW-Madison, she said, her future colleagues were more interested from the start in exploring the specific ideas in her specialty, which involves comparing the American and Islamic legal systems.

"I felt like I was coming home ideologically," she said.

"It wasn't one-sided," she added. "They critiqued me and I had to work. But I was really into the meat of my ideas. It was right there."

There's much more on Asifa in the article, including her Iraqi-born actor husband and her brief on behalf of a Nigerian woman, an unwed mother sentenced to flogging (she lost, but there was at least some willingness [ADDED: on the part of the Nigerian courts] to listen to the arguments, because they were based on Islamic law).

UPDATE: I've had to deactivate the link because the WSJ took the article down. Too bad!

"The chronic vice of blogs."

The NYT Book Review takes literary websites--the kind without a print counterpart--seriously. Actual links provided. This jumped out at me: "the chronic vice of the blogs -- has she mentioned her fellow bloggers? And how clever they are? And how much she really, really likes them?"

Hmmm.... Well, I'm just sitting here in my dining room trying to make my way through the Sunday Times. For some reason, I'm starting with the Book Review, which I usually toss onto the far corner of the table and mean to read last. The truth is, last week's Book Review is still on the table, unread. So I can't explain my choice of entry point this morning. But I'm thinking, is that the chronic vice of "the blogs"? Surely, there must be other chronic vices capable of challenging that vice's entitlement to the honor of "the chronic vice." Maybe there should be The Seven Chronic Vices of the Blogs. If enough people email me with good candidates for Blog Vices, I'll add a list here later.

UPDATE: I see a complexity in the analysis of blog vices. There are the secret vices and the vices on display to the reader, like the fawning over other bloggers that annoyed the NYT. An emailer suggests two related vices, which are secret vices:
•constantly checking to see who visited your blog via NedStat, Sitemeter, etc. AND whether they are linking to you.

•feverishly tracking/commenting on how well "connected" your blog is through services such as the Blog Ecosystem and Technorati.

Perhaps in these private vices we see the root of the public vice observed by the Times.

A SECOND UPDATE: Another emailer offers two more vices:
•Sneering. A really juvenile, off-putting form of discourse. The blogosphere is slathered with it.

•Opinion incest -- only reading or linking to those who agree with you (or to the "other side" only for purposes of sneering). Has the effect of digging everyone deeper into their ideological ruts/trenches.

Irritating best-seller formula.

Joe Queenan hilariously slams A. J. Jacobs' "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." Queenan seems perhaps jealous that he didn't think up this formula for cranking out a $25 Simon & Schuster product: "drift through the encyclopedia [Britannica, which you claim to have read cover-to-cover], yank out an entry, tear open his Industrial-Strength Comedy Handbook and jerry-build a lame wisecrack." Queenan is particularly annoyed by the way Jacobs reports amazing facts seemingly unaware that "educated people" have heard it before (e.g., Marat was killed in his bathtub): "Jacobs constantly seeks to bedazzle the reader with his latest shocking discoveries, unaware that things he perceives as riveting arcana are common knowledge in many quarters."

In Jacobs' defense, let me say, there is always someone who hasn't heard history's fascinating facts yet. This might be a great book for a young reader, assuming they can stomach the cornball humor.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner also flags this review, noting Queenan's strange aversion to Entertainment Weekly and the reformatting of the print version of the NYT Book review to drop the line about the reviewer's background (which he finds interesting in Queenan's particular case).