November 27, 2004

Gore Vidal bumbles to the defense of Oliver Stone.

Reuters reports:
Tired of watching the movie critics of America pile on director Oliver Stone - or perhaps sensing a golden opportunity to make headlines - novelist Gore Vidal leaped to Alexander's defense, calling Stone's film barrier-breaking for its frank depiction of bisexuality.

Vidal tells Reuters that Stone's $160 million Thanksgiving turkey was "a breakthrough in what you can make films about. Movies are always the last to register changes in society and this movie does it."
Except that since "Alexander" is a monumental flop, it would seem to stand more as a lesson in what you can't make films about. Which, of course, it isn't either, because it's really just a thuddingly non-breakthough reminder that people don't want to go to see boring, bad movies. But Vidal does have a point, and it's the point Vidal usually has: Look at meeeeeeee!!!!

Blogging self-censorship.

Tonya recounts part of a conversation she and I had last night at Harmony Bar, including a lot about beards. She writes: "Why should I spend so much time shaving, tweezing, exfoliating, moisturizing, deep conditioning, blow drying, curling and polishing when the men around me look like freaking Grizzly Adams?" But having said all that, she hits the real topic: how much should a blogger self-censor? Especially a blogging lawprof.

Democratic art.

Yesterday, I complained about the Wisconsin quarter. An emailer wrote:
If I do collect that one at all it will be like the daffy great-aunt, relegated to some attic room. Most of the state quarters have been, shall we say, "unfortunate," but that's what you get with a popularity contest amongst amateur designs. Compare that to the spring 2005 version of the nickel.
Yes, the new nickel is excellent. I note the entire bison is pictured, not just a head. The the new Jefferson profile is even less that a head now. Still, it looks nice, and it was designed by artists. Art cannot really be done by a democratic process.

For a demonstration of how bad art produced by democracy is, I strongly recommend "Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art." This is from the Library Journal review:
In December 1993, the Russian emigre art collaborators Komar and Melamid began a statistical market research poll to determine America's "most wanted" and "most unwanted" paintings. Since then, the whimsical project has spread around the world. Polls in the United States, Ukraine, France, Iceland, Turkey, Denmark, Finland, Kenya, and China revealed that people wanted portraits of their families and always "blue landscapes." After conducting research, the pair paint made-to-order works that meet the wanted (landscape) and unwanted (abstract) criteria; they follow up with town meetings as virtual performance pieces.
The paintings in the book, produced to give people what they've said they wanted, are hilarious.
For a brilliant collection of ideas about art and facts about artists, I recommend David Markson's "This Is Not a Novel." It contains the too-snobbish Schoenberg quote: "If it is art it is not for all, and if it is for all it is not art." It also contains a quote, from Diego Rivera, at the other end of the spectrum of opinion about art: "Art which is not propanganda is not art."

UPDATE: Komar and Melamid have a terrific website, where you can read their surveys and look at the various paintings. The material is well-organized. You can click through all the countries on a particular question. I enjoyed seeing what color was the most popular in each country. It's always blue! And the second most popular color is nearly always green. Is that because we've adapted to the natural world?

Komar and Melamid (with David Soldier) also have a most wanted songs project, as one of my students just pointed out. Unfortunately, you can't listen to the most wanted song at this website, but here's their description of it:
The most favored ensemble, determined from a rating by participants of their favorite instruments in combination, comprises a moderately sized group (three to ten instruments) consisting of guitar, piano, saxophone, bass, drums, violin, cello, synthesizer, with low male and female vocals singing in rock/r&b style. The favorite lyrics narrate a love story, and the favorite listening circumstance is at home. The only feature in lyric subjects that occurs in both most wanted and unwanted categories is “intellectual stimulation.” Most participants desire music of moderate duration (approximately 5 minutes), moderate pitch range, moderate tempo, and moderate to loud volume, and display a profound dislike of the alternatives. If the survey provides an accurate analysis of these factors for the population, and assuming that the preference for each factor follows a Gaussian (i.e. bell-curve) distribution, the combination of these qualities, even to the point of sensory overload and stylistic discohesion, will result in a musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably “liked” by 72 plus or minus 12% (standard deviation; Kolmogorov-Smirnov statistic) of listeners.
UPDATE: Prof. Bainbridge responds to this post, adding a point, which he predicts I'll agree with, and I mostly do. Art is best produced by artists, and it is usually best that they act separately from government. But I don't support the complete separation of art and government, because government must have its coins and paper money, monuments, signs, buildings, and so forth. In producing these things, it is best to rely on artistic experts and not simply put things up for a vote. I want such things to be beautiful, and it seems that many of the people who are doing the voting are thinking about things other than beauty, such as the representation of corn on the quarter. As to trusting markets to produce art, as Prof. Bainbridge recommends (and I agree), we end up with a lot of trashy but decently good pop art, and there isn't anything terribly wrong with that (although I insist on zoning to protect me from trash of the architectural kind). There will still be artists who chose to produce high art, and some people will pay money to some of them some of the time.

Today's drawing: Voltaire, pens.

This is the drawing I wish I'd used yesterday. It's from the same notebook as the Thanksgiving drawing of the wineglass, which was not drawn on Thanksgiving but in Paris a few years ago. The reason I wish I'd used this drawing yesterday is that yesterday was the day my Normblog profile ran, and there was a reference to Voltaire in one of my answers. I don't know when I'm going to have occasion to talk about Voltaire again and rather than try to work Voltaire into some future posting, let me use the Voltaire drawing today. This drawing was done at the Louvre, the bust is the work of Houdon, and the comment in the cartoon bubble was not something I heard but something I read on a card on the wall.

Going through my Paris notebook is always troubling to me because I remember how much I disliked the pens I took to Paris. They were India ink felt tips that just didn't feel right. I had recently taken a trip to Amsterdam and done my best travel notebooks, and I knew part of the reason the Amsterdam notebooks worked out well was the pen: a new gold-nibbed Mont Blanc pen, which I filled with fountain India ink. A fountain pen enthusiast emailed after I posted the law school notes drawing and asked if I still used a fountain pen. This is a bit of a sore subject with me, as I wrote back:
I lost the Pelikan pen that got me through law school, eventually admitted to myself that I wasn't going to find it, replaced it with a Mont Blanc pen, which I used a lot, including for drawings (with fountain India ink), finally admitted that it just didn't work right anymore and I wasn't going to be able to figure out a way to fix it, replaced it with another Pelikan pen, which I promptly lost. So I'm in the phase where I think I've got a shot at finding the lost pen.
The emailer sent me to a very nice website for pen enthusiasts, and I'm thinking maybe I can find some way to revive the Mont Blanc pen, which is the one that helped me so much in Amsterdam and was so sadly missed in Paris. I've never had a pen I liked so much as the Pelikan pen I had in law school. When I finally gave in and replaced the Mont Blanc with a new Pelikan, I really hoped to get back to the feeling of the best pen I ever had, the law school pen. But the truth is the new Pelikan did not feel like the one given to me 25 years earlier. Is it possible I lost it on purpose out of disappointment? Yet I still believe that I would have broken it in and made it feel like the old one. Maybe memories of how things felt 25 years ago cannot be trusted.

But back to Voltaire. Mont Blanc, I see, makes a Voltaire fountain pen. This seems fortuitous. Maybe I should buy one. What is the connection between pens and Voltaire? He was a writer, of course. But also, he used a pen name. It would be quite nice if it were Voltaire who said "The pen is mightier than the sword," but he did not, even though it seems like the sort of thing he might have said. Even that other great free speech quote, is apparently not actually his. But there is a Voltaire pen quote:
To hold a pen is to be at war.

November 26, 2004

"We don't need no education."

But we do want our royalties.

State colors, state quarters.

Here are the winners of a Crayola contest, with a color name for each state. You can buy the State Colors Collection of crayons here. Maybe a good Christmas present for someone who thinks the state quarters are cool.

Since they were producing a set of crayons, these are not the 50 best names they got. They needed names to cover a proper array of colors. In case you're wondering, black is "Abe Lincoln's Hat," the state color for Illinois. White is "Space Needle," the Washington crayon. Here's a local news story about the woman -- hey, it wasn't a contest for kids? -- who won the Wisconsin section of the contest. And, of course, yeah, it's cheese-related.

Speaking of cheese-related and the state quarters, the Wisconsin quarter came out recently, and, man, is it bad. Possibly the worst state quarter yet. I understand why something dairy-related was desired, but why a cow head and a block of cheese? And then why throw in an ear of corn? The corn farmers are jealous of the dairy farmers getting all the attention? And a block of cheese is not an interesting image. They should have used just the cow -- and the full cow, not the severed head of a cow. Look at the Kentucky quarter, which uses just a horse and it's the entire horse. I suppose Kentucky figured out that a horse's head, shorn of the horse's body, would have led to "Godfather" jokes.

Why haven't the states later in line learned from the mistakes of previous state quarters? The best state quarters show just one thing. The more items you throw together the worse it gets. And keep the words to a minimum! Wisconsin puts its motto on the quarter, on a dumb banner swirling from cow head to cheese block. It's true the motto is only one word, but what does that word say about Wisconsin?
Wisconsin adopted the State motto, "Forward," in 1851, reflecting Wisconsin's continuous drive to be a national leader.
So basically, we're admitting that we're backward and we need to catch up.

Chris peeks over at what I've just written and says: "You should note that the dairy product does not come out of the cow's head. The important aspect of the cow is not its head."

A cow's udder -- and nothing more! -- now, that would be a fabulous state quarter. If we had the guts to do that, why, then, we wouldn't be backward any more!

"The widespread parable version."

Virginia Heffernan, in today's NYT, reviews tonight's incendiary "20/20":
"20/20" takes the position that the description of [the Matthew Shepard] murder as an anti-gay hate crime is entirely wrong. After six years of sentimental theater, documentaries and television movies that have bolstered the hate-crime view, tonight's program is no less than iconoclastic. ...

None of this ... changes the horror of the murder, or the inspiration and awareness that people gained from the widespread parable version of the event. But getting the truth - in ABC's revisionist investigation, which seeks to overturn the powerful and canonical version of the facts and meaning of this crime - is worthwhile, as it thickens the description and adds to the mystery of what happened that night in Laramie.
"The widespread parable version" remains intact as a source of "inspiration and awareness"? "Getting at the truth" is "worthwhile" because it "thickens the description and adds to the mystery"? We like the mythological story, and the reason we also like the truth is because it makes the myth more mysterious???

Isn't the truth a bit more important than that?

Consider this commentary from JoAnn Wypijewski in the L.A. Times:
So was Shepard's murder a hate crime or was it something else? "20/20" comes down on the side of something else, amplifying the meth connection, which I first reported in Harper's in 1999, and exploring Laramie's drug subculture, through which Shepard seems to have become acquainted with McKinney. Some gay advocates of hate crime laws have already blasted the network for raising the question. Michael Adams of Lambda Legal Defense says ABC is trying to "de-gay the murder."

Scrapping over the nature of Shepard's victimhood is the wrong debate. Whatever his killer's degree of homophobia, Shepard is dead. Powerless to restore him, society is obligated to ask what is owed to the living — to gay people, who have suffered ages of abuse, and also criminal defendants. Tinkering with criminal law is a backward step in countering the deep cultural realities of homophobia, racism, sexism. Prosecuting murder as a hate crime only lets the rest of us think we're off the hook, while it tramples on justice.
If a legend is used as leverage to change the law, we need to be willing to think about whether the legend is true, and if it is not, we need to be willing to rethink our analysis.

Remember Cindy Dixon? She was the mother of Russell Henderson, one of the two men convicted of murdering Matthew Shepard. Henderson, the L.A. Times article tells us, "was the driver that night. He never hit Shepard, but, on McKinney's order, he tied him to the fence."
In January 1999, Henderson's mother, Cindy Dixon, was found dead. She had been raped and struck and left in the snow to die. No powerful advocates spoke for her. She was likely to come to a bad end, people said, what with the drinking and the men, and then her son….

Nobody took the measure of hate. By the time the Dixon case was wrapped up, they weren't even talking murder. A man pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and the same judge who sent Dixon's son to prison forever sentenced her killer to four to nine years. He got out last year.
Justice demands that we think clearly about criminal responsibility and not let our minds be clouded by evocative stories that mesh with our assumptions about the world and our social policy aspirations. I believe the cause of gay rights is a very good one, and I also think that if the cause is good, truth should serve it. If you think your cause is so important that you must put it ahead of the truth, you are deeply confused.

UPDATE: I've watched the "20/20," and it didn't impress me much. There were a lot of interviews with people who had plenty of reason to lie. Now that the public's strong reaction to the original "gay panic" story is known, the two murderers have every motivation to say it wasn't like that at all. And the people of Laramie can't appreciate having their town associated with bigotry, so they too have a motivation to retell the story. I have no idea what is true here. Since the men weren't convicted of a "hate crime" and, in any event, they pleaded guilty, their convictions are sound whether their motivation was robbery or bigotry. As to the question of whether there should be hate crime legislation, I do not mean to offer an opinion on the subject. I have not done the complex policy analysis that I think is needed to decide whether there should be additional, separately defined crimes in addition to murder and assault. The main point of this post is to highlight the importance of truth and to be critical of people who would subordinate truth to their political and policy goals.

Doodle of the day.


My Normblog profile is up!

November 25, 2004

"The unexpected ruling, released in the evening darkness."

The NYT reports:
"There is a God," Mr. Yushchenko said to the crowd, and told them that complaints of election abuse would be heard in court. The square erupted in cheers and applause.
I understand the deep feeling that makes someone say "There is a God" in this situation, but there is also law: there is something in human beings that wills law into existence.

One more thing.

I'm sorry, but I've got to kick "Alexander" one more time, even as it dies at the box office. For anyone who thinks Oliver Stone is bestowing some sort of favor on gay people, read this insight from the Washington Post review:
In many ways the movie feels 50 years old already. It offers the standard 1950s melodramatic theory of Alexander's sexual orientation: the scheming, sexualized, domineering mother, and the distant, uncaring father.

A Thanksgiving-appropriate post.

Sorry for going off the Thanksgiving topic in that last post (my longest ever, long enough that I know that without looking over any other posts). Here's a Thanksgiving post as an antidote, in which Jim Lindgren, of Volokh Conspiracy, gives us a contemporaneous account of the original feasting and makes some observations about the history of gun ownership. And this is a good article in the NYT about immigrants experiencing some perplexity over Thanksgiving ("The children have Thursday off to eat a turkey?").


Read the amazing story of the doctors--here in Wisconsin--saving the teenage girl who developed rabies after being bitten by a bat. It is the first time a human being has survived rabies without receiving the vaccination. Sometimes people don't go in for treatment because they don't realize they've been bitten, but this young woman did know. A bat flew into her church during a service:
"As society has developed, people have forgotten the folklore about don't play with stray animals, or stay away from bats," Dr. Willoughby explained. The bat drew blood, he said, but the bite was quick and small, so Jeanna thought she had just been scratched. Her fellow churchgoers assumed that only healthy bats could fly, so they picked it up after it flew into a window and threw it out the door.
The girl was not taken to a doctor, or she would have received the vaccination. Ah! People need to know not to touch a bat!

I used to have problems with bats getting into my house. As I later figured out, they came in through the attic. More than once, I went up to my bedroom at night, turned on the light, and had a bat swoop right at me. I always scream, quite hysterically, but then I try to figure out a solution. One night, a few years ago, I had already prepared a box to trap the next bat. It was a shoe box with one edge of the lid removed so that the box could be placed over the bat when it landed on a surface and the lid slid under. Then, I planned to toss the box out the window. The first time I tried this maneuver, the bat squiggled its way out as I was trying to get the lid under. It flew lengthwise figure eights in the room over and over and never found the open window. Finally, it flopped onto a table, I got it in the box, and I threw the box out the window, feeling quite triumphant. I closed the window and went to wash my hands and saw a tiny wound --- just four little lines -- on the back of my right ring finger.

It took me a few hours to decide I ought to go to the hospital. It was such a tiny wound. I knew even a scratch could lead to rabies, but I kept thinking maybe I had scraped my finger on the sand-textured wall. What made me go to the hospital was the observation that the four little lines were symmetrical, like this: | '' |. That is the pattern of teeth. The wall might, by chance, produce such a symmetrical pattern, but that was much less likely. I felt silly going into the emergency room with such a tiny wound, especially when a moaning boy with gauze wrapped over his eyes came in. Later, I was in a room where the opthamalogist came in to get some equipment, and we talked for a moment. I asked what happened to that poor boy, and he said "I'm not at liberty ... someone poked him. He's going to need surgery."

I was apologetic when I arrived at the emergency room. I said things like "maybe I'm overreacting," but I also mentioned over and over again something I'd read in a Harper's Magazine Index about how many people die from rabies after they don't realize they've been bitten. In fact, as is usually the case, there were very few people using the emergency room at the University of Wisconsin Hospital. I was quickly seen by a nurse, then a doctor, then a second doctor. All three had me tell my elaborate story and expound my symmetry theory, and all three spent a lot of time puzzling over the wound. Doctor 1 thought maybe it was from the wall. Doctor 2 said it was my choice, but he'd get the treatment. He said, you could get 1000 bat bites and do nothing and nothing might happen, but considering that you would die if you bet wrong and the treatment, done now, is 100% effective, you should get the treatment. This puzzling over the wound process took three hours for some reason. Slow night? State law required them to call the police when an animal bites someone, and that call resulted in a long visit from police officer, who took pages of notes, apparently about how I caught the bat in a box and threw the box out the window and so forth.

Finally, I got the treatment. And the rabies shots, which were given in the arm, did not hurt any more than a tetanus shot. It did hurt to get one of the immunoglobulin shots that preceded the rabies shots, because it was injected at the site of the wound. It is damn hard to find a place to put anything in the middle of the back of a finger! But they did. Afterwards, I felt faint and they had me rest for another twenty-five minutes. At midnight, the nurse said "The witching hour," and I said "I'm going to turn into a bat."

The next day, when I came home from work, I found a legal notice posted on my door. It was a formal demand for me to surrender the animal that, according to a police report, had bitten a person. I had to call animal control and explain how I had thrown the bat, in a box, out of a three-story window. The person I talked to was very chatty, and I had a long interesting discussion about rabies and bats. She told me about Americans who get rabies shots before traveling to certain parts of the world where there is great danger of exposure and difficulty obtaining treatment. (The linked article notes that "rabies kills tens of thousands of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.")

Later, I was asked to come in and talk to two doctors at the UW Hospital who specialized in infectious disease research, and these two men also talked to me for a long time. I heard all sorts of stories about rabies. I asked if it was true that if you had the vaccination there is zero chance of getting the disease, and they told me that there are cases of people with very deep, tearing bites from wolves who still get the disease. The disease creeps slowly up through your nerves to your brain, and that time gives the vaccine a chance to work. But with the large wolf bites, the disease reaches the brain much too soon. In the cured case in Wisconsin, the treatment consisted of using drugs to induce a coma, to deliberately shut down the girl's brain while the disease passed through.

So, wonderfully, there is now hope for those who fail to get treatment, but it is much better, still, to go in for treatment, even for a tiny scratch. Once the symptoms appear, as in this recent case, it is too late to prevent the disease. The other thing I learned from my rabies experience was to catch a bat in a little plastic margarine container, with a snap-on lid, and take the bat in for testing. It wasn't that long after my experience, that I woke up one morning hearing that leathery flapping sound, and I tried to convince myself that I was still dreaming. Then I felt that leathery wing brush my hand, did some preparatory screaming, then got the margarine container and caught the bat against the window. I snapped on the lid and took it over to the animal testing lab. When I handed the container to the woman at the counter, she asked "How long has it been dead?" I said, "It's alive."

Not long after that, I spent $800 having the house bat-proofed. The bat proofing guy told me all the houses in my nicely wooded neighborhood probably had bats, unless efforts had been made to seal out the bats. I know he was in the business of providing that service, but based on my experience, I'd say get an older house bat-proofed. I haven't had a bat in the house since I did. I do still worry, though, when I hear a little noise in the night, and many times I've turned on the light to look around for a bat!

UPDATE: Let me add that awful as a bat in the house is, bats outdoors are perfectly excellent. Here's a bat conservation website. And here's a cool blog entirely devoted to bats.

Thanksgiving in NY/Madison.

Nina's in NYC for Thanksgiving, and she's got some relevant photos today, including "Kermit, still groggy after a year in seclusion." I'm jealous of her trip to the new MOMA--here, with photos, including one of a woman with a baby, which reminds me of how, back in 1981, I took my two week old baby way uptown to the Whitney Biennial, which I didn't want to miss, and felt guilty, because I was still skipping law school classes, having told myself I wasn't sufficiently recovered from my C-Section. That's how much I care about art museums.

I'm not so jealous of the ventures into food shopping in NYC, shown here at Balducci's, because Nina mentions that the Whole Foods in NYC has a one hour long checkout line! I just got back from the Madison Whole Foods, a mile down the street from my house. Granted, it was early, shortly after the 8 a.m. opening time, but I breezed though the beautiful place and did not have to wait in line at all. Two cheese attendants were ready to help me find things. And the meat guy not only got me that two-pound, securely tied, pork loin roast I needed, but he also offered an explanation for why the two-pounds looked so large (it has no bone, and muscle is lighter than bone, though fat is even lighter than muscle).

So, why did I rush out at 8 a.m. to buy a pork loin roast? After posting the previous entry, I worried that one or two of my Madison readers might suddenly decide they wanted the ultra-delicious arrosto di maiale al latte for Thanksgiving dinner too and would dash off to Whole Foods and get the last one. There were three luscious pork loin roasts there, and it was nice to get there so early and see the place almost empty of people but teeming with even more beautiful food than usual.

Speaking of loin, here's a bonus family story: When my sons were little, we often drove all the way to Florida to see my parents and my sister's family, and we always stopped to eat at Cracker Barrel restaurants. Three times a day, mealtimes were determined by the presence of a Cracker Barrel at an exit along the Interstate. Once, when Chris was pretty young, he tried to read the menu and cried out "Baby Lion Back Ribs! That's terrible!"

Doodle of the day.

Happy Thanksgiving. This was drawn some years ago in Paris, hence the big ashtray on the table. I don't recommend smoking for Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving smoke--that's not a tradition, not for me anyway. But I do recommend a nice glass of wine, and whatever else you've decided to make.

I've decided to make arrosto di maiale al latte--pork loin braised in milk (which I know sounds horribly wrong from some religious perspectives). This is an old favorite recipe from Marcella Hazan's "Classic Italian Cookbook," which is by far my favorite cookbook. After cooking for two and a half hours, the milk is not at all recognizable as milk, but has become a delicious gravy.

I have not had this dish, which we used to make all the time, since 1989. I was just thinking yesterday about how much I love it and why I had not made it for so long. It took no time to remember the reason: the last time I sat down to eat it, I received a phone call and heard shocking news about my father. Shortly thereafter, my father died. Thanksgiving is a good time to gather with the family that you do have, but it can also make you think of the ones who have gone. Yet I didn't make a special Thanksgiving effort to think about my father. I was just running through my mental file of festive meat dishes and remembered that pork roast that became associated by chance so long ago with a sad memory. Nevertheless, it has been 15 years, and that pork roast was quite delicious. The moratorium is over.

November 24, 2004

Iconic character needed.

Yesterday, I said we need a character like Scrooge or the Grinch for Thanksgiving. And I mean I want an iconic character, a major, memorable character who embodies our hostility to Thanksgiving, through whom we can experience our antisocial feelings vicariously and who, in the story narrative, learns the true meaning of Thanksgiving so we can distance ourselves from our own unacceptable antagonism and feel good about ourselves in the end.

It's not enough to coin a term for a Thanksgiving hater. And it's not enough to say some character on some sitcom (e.g., "Friends") bellyached about Thanksgiving for whatever reason. People are always complaining about various things about Thanksgiving. In fact, one of the main things I don't like about Thanksgiving is having to listen to the same complaints every year: turkey makes you sleepy, it's dry, etc. I especially don't like hearing routine, flat statements about how your family members misbehave or are annoying. At least you have a family sizable enough to create an Thanksgiving-style crowd.

"Alexander" versus "The Aviator."

Oliver Stone's movie "Alexander" is getting such abysmal reviews that it can't all be chalked up to red-state homophobism. But if the movie weren't so horribly long and boring, it might be a laugh to see the Angelina Jolie performance. NYT meanie Manohla Dargis writes:
Mad of eye and teased of hair, Olympias, played with nose-flaring gusto by Angelina Jolie, was the mother of all monstrous mothers, a literal snake charmer whose love for her only son had the stench of incestuous passion and the tedium of the perpetual nag....

As the young marauder kills and enslaves peoples from Egypt to India, Mr. Stone repeatedly returns us to Olympias, snakes coiling around her body and chastising her absent son in a bewildering accent, part Yiddishe Mama, part Natasha of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" fame: "You don't write, you don't call, why don't you settle down with a nice Macedonian girl?" or words to that effect. Rarely since Joan Crawford rampaged through the B-movie sunset of her career has a female performer achieved such camp distinction.
Meanwhile, Roger Friedman of Fox News says Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" "will not only be nominated for the Academy Award, but ... will win [it] without too much trouble." In a world where Oliver Stone has won an Oscar and Martin Scorsese has not, one last chance has come to restore justice and fairness, so that one day, we may hear that Martin Scorsese has won a Best Director Oscar.

UPDATE: Larry Ribstein points to one of the many older films that depict gay relationships. (Here's a great documentary on the subject of gay characters in films.) Ribstein writes:
The important point is Stone's reticence compared to a more than 30 year old film. Does this suggest, not that the public is not ready yet for gay relationships, but that a once-ready public is not so ready anymore?
First, as I've said before, I don't think Stone is displaying any reticence. He's just using current political issues to promote his movie and excuse its horrible badness. Second, he may show the relationship less graphically than this older film, but that doesn't say much at all about the culture then and now. He's crafting a hugely expensive Hollywood film that must bring in far, far greater crowds than an art film. Stone would like you to think people have gotten especially repressive and intolerant lately, but I am not buying it. Gay marriage is controversial, but it wasn't even mentioned thirty years ago. I'm quite sure that if it were, it would not have found a ready public. In fact, people are much more accepting of gay relationships now than they were then.

The "Seinfeld" DVD.

Somehow, I couldn't help buying the first "Seinfeld" DVD collection. I stopped by Borders for another purpose and there it was on one of the front tables, with an excellent price, so I picked it up. Once I decide to buy one thing, the chances of my buying any given other thing in at the store skyrocket. For some reason, I have no problem leaving with nothing, but I hate to buy just one thing. So if I'm going to buy one thing, it seems I have to find something else. Every other item near that item I've choosen suddenly becomes more desirable. Once I find the second item, I'm able to back off of this mania. It's basically an anything-but-one mania. Yesterday, what I picked up, from the same table, was "Eddie Izzard, Unrepeatable."

I sat down to read a few things for a while, because I had 20 minutes or so to kill before I needed to be at an appointment. A woman slumping in a chair near mine was reading "The Bush Survival Bible." She looked very glum. I tried not to let my get-over-it-already reaction show. The Democrats need to win new converts. How do they expect to do that as the Party of Deep Depression? And why mire yourself in books about your own oversensitive psyche? I thought the point of being on the left was your deep concern about other people. Sigh.

(I'd like to put in some Amazon/Borders links, but can't reach the site. Is Amazon down?)[UPDATE: Finally got through and have added links.]

So, the "Seinfeld" DVD. Seasons 1 & 2. That sounds like a lot, but it's just the first eighteen episodes. I watched the original pilot episode, with the written commentary on. These subtitles give you all sorts of trivia. It takes some doing to read this commentary and watch the show at the same time, clearly not the best way to savor the comic energy of the show, but there are lots of cool facts to absorb. Like: not only are they calling Kramer Kessler in this episode (because they haven't cleared the name Kramer with the real-life Kramer) but they considered calling Kramer Bennett. And: why Kramer had a dog just that one time. You can also get distracted trying to spot the 1 to 2 minutes of material that has been missing from each episode since its original airing. Unless you watch the DVD alone, there's sure to be a lot of talk in the room along the lines of: "Hey, that's it," "No, that's not it," "Yeah, I don't remember that," "Well, I do, that's not it."

This DVD collection makes a great Christmas gift, if you can avoid buying it now as a gift t0 yourself, as I did. If only I had one of those shrink-wrap re-wrappers and the will to resist blogging about the DVD, maybe I could have "re-gifted" this to one of my sons.

Doodle of the day.

Yesterday, I looked through a folder of class notes that I had kept since 1981, when I studied Federal Courts at NYU School of Law. I suppose I kept these notes (and not all my law school notes) because this was the first course I taught here at Wisconsin (where we call it "Federal Jurisdiction"). I've never referred to these notes, in my teaching preparations, but I've somehow always thought maybe I would. I still do!

There are 167 legal-pad pages of notes, written in black fountain pen. I'm shocked at how many topics we covered in that class, far more than I cover when I teach the course. How did we do it? A week of these notes is copied from someone else's: I had a baby on March 17th of that semester. That fell on spring break, luckily, but, having a C-section, it took another week to make my way back to school. Consequently, the Eleventh Amendment has always been a special mystery to me, but I have discovered over the years, that it is a bit of a mystery to everyone.

There are many marginal doodles in these 167 pages. Here's one:

UPDATE: An emailer writes:
I saw your doodle today and have to say that it looks like an individual contour from a contour map of steep terrain.

I used to be a mining engineer, and, to be more precise, would produce maps that estimate where mineral deposits would intersect the surface. Your doodle looks like a map that would be produced for such an investigation.

Its odd to see something so familiar in such an unusual venue. The unusual aspect is that the doodle looks like a mineral deposit that is dipping to the right where it intersects more surface than it does on the left. That your spacing would emulate this scenario surprised me. Of course you may have seen this type of map before.
Maybe I was a mining engineer in a previous lifetime. Spooky!

ANOTHER UPDATE: My email correspondent writes back:
Just checked your site and appreciate you including my comment. I probably didn't make myself clear but the previous doodle was the one I was referring too.

So if you get comments that my comments don't make sense, you should know that I was referring [this] doodle.

Since I work for NASA now, I'd have to say that the doodle the update is attached to looks more like a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Well, that proves I didn't steal my ideas from mining engineering maps!

November 23, 2004

"The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

I didn't like this movie very much when I saw it in the theater, but I really enjoyed it at home on DVD, for some reason. The DVD has a couple deleted scenes and a nice interview with Jim Carrey and the director Michel Gondry. I went back and found my old post from when I saw the movie in the theater and was surprised to see that I wrote:
I prefer TV--including watching DVDs--because I don't like being stuck in the theater. Some things need to be seen on the big screen, but ES isn't one of them. It has a music video look that would do better on TV I think. There is a bluish pall over the whole thing, broken only by Kate Winslet's hair, orange sweatshirt, and a few other things. Okay, that's a color idea. I think color movies should have color ideas, but I think it is a video screen, not a movie screen idea.

Funny to read that! Before reading that, though, I had a big conversation about the difference between movies on TV and movies in the theater and what makes the experience so different. I was saying I have more patience at home, because I'm in control and I can pause it if I want, but that the theater can be good precisely because of the loss of control. Another thing I like about TV is that the frame is there, so you see the composition. And the picture is crisply rectangular. The theater screen has that ugly curve, which you're supposed to ignore, letting the big picture envelope you. Then, composition doesn't matter so much. But having the frame around the image can totally change the effect, greatly improving a well-shot movie (for me).

Christmas has Scrooge and the Grinch. What about Thanksgiving?

Isn't Thanksgiving more deserving of a naysayer? I mean, really, we eat dinner every day. Is it that for Thanksgiving--as opposed to Christmas--you are only asked to give thanks, not presents? To give thanks and eat dinner. But you must give thanks and eat dinner in a way that outdoes the thanks-giving and dinner-eating of other days. I do think there should be a Scrooge/Grinch analog. The Thankswithholder. The Ingrate.

UPDATE: Midwestern Mugwump suggests "Thanksgriper."

ALSO: More here.

Two polls on Bush.

The NYT/CBS poll, according to the headline, detects that "Americans Show Clear Concerns on Bush Agenda."

The CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll shows "Majority gives Bush good job approval marks."

Despite the headline, the NYT poll found:
[E]ven after this tense and vituperative campaign, 56 percent said they were generally optimistic about the next four years under Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush's job approval rating has now inched up to 51 percent, the highest it has been since March....

Across the board, the poll suggested that the outcome of the election reflected a determination by Americans that they trusted Mr. Bush more to protect them against future terrorist attacks - and that they liked him more than Mr. Kerry - rather than any kind of broad affirmation of his policies.
I like the way the NYT poll reexplored the question of support for "moral values" (which 22 percent of respondents called the most important issue on a well-publicized Election Day poll). In the Times poll:
[W]hen allowed freely to name the issue that was most important in their vote, 6 percent chose moral values, although smaller numbers named issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. On a separate question in which voters were given a choice of nine issues, 5 percent chose abortion, 4 percent chose stem cell research and 2 percent chose same-sex marriage.

The top issue was the economy and jobs, which was cited by 29 percent of respondents.

I didn't like the way the Times then went on to pad its article with material about the red state/blue state culture clash that it has been so wedded to since the election. If you've done a survey, talk about what the survey shows. I don't need the long quote from a Republican guy from Michigan and a Democratic guy from Georgia, especially when they seem to be selected to keep the big "moral values" issue going.

Distinguished diatribe.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:
People who packed the Union Theater on Monday night expecting to hear about the best-selling book "Fast Food Nation" were instead served a diatribe from the author about his thoughts since the presidential election.

"Three weeks ago . . . I went into a real funk," said Eric Schlosser, author of bestsellers "Fast Food Nation" and "Reefer Madness."

"I really went into a depression. A really dark place."

A crowd of 1,100 had gathered to hear this lecture which was part of the university's distinguished lecture series.

UPDATE: Here's the coverage in the UW student newspapers the Badger Herald and the Daily Cardinal. Both of these articles make Schlosser's speech seem more coherent and focused (on the topic of legalizing marijuana). So who knows? I wasn't there and I don't have a text. Feel free to email me if you were there and can describe the lecture.

Doodle of the day.

Your shrinking brain.

So alcohol, it turns out, does not kill brain cells, according to the NYT. But a study associated back pain with brain shrinkage. And another study found brain shrinkage in obese women. I'm making a mental note to make an appointment with my chiropractor, to stop eating, and to worry even less (if such a thing is possible) about that glass of wine.

"The artful, undulant array of organ pipes captivated."

The NYT appreciates the pipe organ and the Overture Center that houses it, here in Madison.

November 22, 2004

Oliver Stone's new rant.

I have a new entry in my running account of Oliver Stone's attempts to prepare the American people for his grand opus "Alexander." This is Stone raving to the AP (the "thing" referred to is the movie):
"I started this thing before all this nightmare came down, this morass," Stone said of the Iraq war. "It's ironic, and I think there is a coincidence that's far beyond my understanding, but I would certainly not limit this to the current situation. This is an older situation, East vs. West. This is pre-Muslim, and there was always a conflict between Persian and Greek."
So you got the idea to make the movie, and then world events caught up with you, you brilliant, prescient man!
"Alexander was beautiful because he saw beyond that conflict into a synthesis," Stone added. "I'm not so sure our present administration does. It's great that they say, `Democracy, blah, blah, blah,' but you have to modify democracy to the local customs."

Even though the world has changed dozens of times over since Alexander's days - which predated Jesus Christ and Mohammed - lessons in ancient history remain for modern people.

"And what is the lesson?" Stone asked. "Alexander brought the Hellenic way which is, let's say, more freedom for the individual. He abided by the customs of, unlike our administration, of leaving the (opposing) armies intact and used the armies. He always needed more men."

After Saddam Hussein was toppled, the United States disbanded the Iraqi army instead of incorporating those not loyal to Saddam as a police force, a move criticized as making it more difficult to fight anti-U.S. guerrillas.

"(Alexander) was always inclusive, and we were exactly the opposite when we went into Iraq. We were totally exclusive. ... You could argue the policy was malformed from the beginning, misintended."

Stone said he considers that an error in strategy and has no interest in bashing the president.

"I would not put Bush down..." Stone said.
No, no, of course you wouldn't. You're just offering some military advice. Great. Thanks. That was really a very useful explanation how Bush can become "beautiful" by seeing "beyond that conflict into a synthesis."

UPDATE: Film critic Richard Roeper makes fun of the movie:
A group of Greek lawyers has threatened to file a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and Oliver Stone "for suggesting Alexander the Great was bisexual," as the National Post put it....

Having seen the film, I can categorically state that Stone does not in any way suggest Alexander was bisexual.

He suggests Alexander was absolutely, fabulously gay.
ANOTHER UPDATE: If you've come here from a link where I was characterized as part of a big Them that has a Plan to do something or other, I would encourage you to read around on my blog, including following the link that appears in the first sentence of this post to my earlier, much more substantive statements about the film "Alexander." I would encourage you to judge for yourself whether it makes much sense to characterize me as part of a politico-cultural scheme.


Drudge is linking to this AP story headlined "Christo to Wrap Central Park in Fabric." Look at Christo's beautiful web page explaining this brilliant project. He's not wrapping anything! He sometimes has wrapped things, but this is not a case of wrapping. These are flowing, flapping hangings! You might enjoy reading Christo's "Most Common Errors" page. I've blogged about Christo before here and here.

TV on DVD.

Tomorrow the new "Seinfeld" DVD collection comes out and Entertainment Weekly is recommending it because you'll get to see the full-length original show (the syndicated version shaves off a minute or so), there are commentary tracks (with Julia Louis-Dreyfus partaking of episode one for the first time), there are deleted scenes, additional stand-up material, and there's a 60-minute documentary.

EW also has some recommendations about what other TV shows ought to come out in disc form. But they don't seem remember any shows before 1965, so they fail to mention the show I really want: "Dobie Gillis"! Oh, how I love that show! Warren Beatty was even in it--a minor character, but it's fun to see him as a high school student. There are all these people who love "Gilligan's Island," so there must be a fan base for Bob Denver: he was unforgettably great as the beatnik high schooler Maynard G. Krebs ("You rang?"). And no one has ever been more beautiful and funny at the same time than the brilliant Tuesday Weld (who played Thalia Menninger).

UPDATE: I picked up the first "Seinfeld" collection on Tuesday. Couldn't resist.

Desperate moral values.

The NYT, in a front page article, searches for meaning: if a lot of the voters in the last election polled that they cared about "moral values," why is "Desperate Housewives" such a big hit? I didn't get much out of this article.

For one thing, there's no serious discussion of the numbers and what those numbers represent. The article doesn't even mention that only 22% of voters said they voted based on "moral values" and the many criticisms that have been made of that poll. And the television ratings numbers aren't translated into percentages of voters in particular areas, so why are we inferring that the same segment of the population that picked "moral values" is watching that popular TV show?

Secondly, the article assumes that people who would say "moral values" and watch "Desperate Housewives" must be hypocrites, showing one face to the world and doing something else at home in private. But someone watching a TV show about adultery is not necessarily secretly embracing the immorality of the characters. You might watch people involved in adultery because you are struggling with temptations yourself and want to experience the good and the bad vicariously. I haven't watched "Desperate Housewives," but I know the series began with the discovery that a housewife has committed suicide. Is the show promoting adultery or warning people about it? "Desperate" is a word with multiple meanings. It may suggest the "housewives" in question are just eager to have sex, but it also connotes anxiety and despair.

There are many interesting things that might be said about wanting both to watch "Desperate Housewives" and to reelect George Bush, but this article doesn't say them. It's just a ragged hash of speculation. Why not do a real survey and find some people who both watch "Desperate Housewives" and voted based on moral values (and really meant traditional sexual morality); then follow up with some questions designed to understand these people? To me, this article, featured on the front page, is just one more example of the way the New York Times has decided to process its disappointment in the election results into a tale inferior red staters and their bogus moral values.

Doodle of the day.

Those religion-oriented law schools.

The NYT reports on the new religion-oriented law schools.
"The prevailing orthodoxy at the elite law schools is an extreme rationalism that draws a strong distinction between faith and reason," said Bruce W. Green, Liberty's dean.

The claim that professors at the leading law schools tilt to the left is supported by statistics. According to a forthcoming study of 21 top law schools from 1991 to 2002 by John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University, approximately 80 percent of the professors at those schools who made campaign contributions primarily supported Democrats, while 15 percent primarily supported Republicans.
Hmmm.... that seems to equate "tilting to the left" with "extreme rationalism." What's needed are law schools that expose law students to the full range of professional debate. It doesn't make much sense to counter one law school with another law school: the poor student has to go one place or another!
But where mainstream law professors tend to ask questions about judges' fidelity to precedent and the Constitution, Liberty professors often analyze decisions in terms of biblical principles.

"If our graduates wind up in the government," Dr. Falwell said, "they'll be social and political conservatives. If they wind up as judges, they'll be presiding under the Bible."
Try saying that at your confirmation hearing!

But that's Jerry Falwell, the school's chancellor. What are the lawprofs really like? The Times makes the civpro teacher's class sound much weirder than perhaps it should:
In Professor [Jeffrey C.] Tuomala's civil procedure class, the topic on Wednesday morning was a law school warhorse: the Supreme Court's 1938 decision in Erie v. Tompkins, a case that has baffled generations of law students. Judging by the halting Socratic dialogue, Professor Tuomala's natural-law critique of the case did not immediately clarify matters.

The Erie decision, which is viewed as uncontroversial in much of the legal academy, represented a disastrous wrong turn, Professor Tuomala said. In ruling that federal courts may not apply general principles in some cases but must follow state laws, he said, the Supreme Court denied the possibility of "a law that's fixed, that's uniform, that applies to everybody, everyplace, for all time."
The "natural-law critique" of Erie is not just some quirky angle Tuomala cooked up! Erie overruled Swift v. Tyson, an 1842 case, written by the great Justice Story, which did in fact rely on principles of natural law. Any lawprof teaching Erie would need to talk about natural law. Erie is the one civpro case where you have to talk about natural law. And nearly any civpro lawprof (myself included) when attempting to teach Erie in the Socratic mode would seem "halting" and unclear much of the time. A good civpro lawprof would not polish Erie off as "uncontroversial," even though it must be seen as well-settled law, but would vividly present the different jurisprudence underlying Swift and the case that overruled it. It is the most interesting question to be found in Civil Procedure!

Tuomala isn't a bad lawprof if he happens to think Swift was right and Erie was "disastrous." That's a perfectly sensible thing to think. What would be wrong would be to teach students that they ought to go out into the world as lawyers and attempt to do legal work without understanding that they have to function in a system that accepts Erie as settled precedent. Lawprofs at all law schools are likely to convey to the students their opinion that key cases were wrongly, even disastrously, decided. There is nothing abnormal about that. What is important is to equip your students to work within the existing legal system (which, of course, includes working to change things).

"We're the good guys."

The NYT directs us to the web posting of the cameraman who photographed the shooting of the wounded Iraqi in Fallujah last week. Here is the post at Kevin Sites Blog:
[O]bserving all of this as an experienced war reporter who always bore in mind the dark perils of this conflict, even knowing the possibilities of mitigating circumstances -- it appeared to me very plainly that something was not right. ... [T]he rules of engagement in Falluja required soldiers or Marines to determine hostile intent before using deadly force. I was not watching from a hundred feet away. I was in the same room. Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all....

I did not in any way feel like I had captured some kind of "prize" video. In fact, I was heartsick. Immediately after the mosque incident, I told the unit's commanding officer what had happened. I shared the video with him, and its impact rippled all the way up the chain of command. Marine commanders immediately pledged their cooperation....

For those who don't practice journalism as a profession, it may be difficult to understand why we must report stories like this at all -- especially if they seem to be aberrations, and not representative of the behavior or character of an organization as a whole....
Even if, in the end, it is determined that the act shown on the video was unjustified, the willingness of the military to include the reporters, to release the video, and to fully investigate the incident supports the belief Sites says he relied on that "We're the good guys."

November 21, 2004

George Carlin.

George Carlin was on Tim Russert's CNBC show this weekend, promoting his book "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops." The show ended with Russert asking Carlin "Do you vote?" Carlin answered:
No, I don't. No. I voted up to McGovern. I feel, actually, a little purer, a little more detached emotionally from it. I really have no stake. If you dropped me from an airplane, I would come down left of center, because I believe more in humans than I do in property. But in terms of the minor machinations and the way they put these things together, I've no interest.

I think Carlin's distance from mundane political choice makes him a better comedian, which is so much more valuable than his individual vote.

"I loved Tang and I would sometimes eat it by the teaspoon, straight from the jar."

So writes Augusten Burroughs in the first true story in his new book "Magical Thinking." He's a school kid at the time, excited to be chosen to appear in a Tang commercial. One thing I love about Augusten Burroughs is, as soon as he brought up the subject of Tang, the first thing I thought of was eating it straight from the jar. And there he is, eating Tang out of the jar.

Reading about Burroughs and Tang brought back a flood of memories of a childhood spent eating sugary granules that were supposed to be mixed into some more conventional food substance. I was particularly fond of eating strawberry Jello mix straight out of the box. And of course there were always the lumps to be found in the brown sugar. Great, it got lumpy. And why not eat plain white sugar? We would eat spoonfuls of white sugar, but we preferred to sprinkle a thick layer of sugar on a slice of white bread, fold the white bread in half, and make a delicious and crunchy snack out of sugar sandwiches. We would also, routinely, sprinkle plenty of white sugar on tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and cottage cheese. Much as we viewed mashed sweet potatoes as a way to eat marshmallows, we saw tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and cottage cheese as a way to eat sugar. For a particularly thrilling, inappropriate sugary treat, we would eat Fizzies, undissolved.

UPDATE: A number of people have emailed me to say that they too ate sugar sandwiches but thought the bread ought to be buttered. We used butter too sometimes, but you need softened butter and butter would also melt the sugar a bit, making the sandwich less crunchy. Hardcore granule fans could do without butter. But butter is good too, and makes the concoction something more like cake--instant cake, you might say, or a homemade pseudo-Twinkie. One writer, from India, specified using two thick slices of white bread, slathering both with plenty of unsalted, softened butter, and sprinkling on either white or brown sugar. Well, as long as we're thinking of switching to brown sugar, I'm thinking, why not try sprinkling on some Tang, for a pseudo-orange-sponge-cake effect?


Nice photo sequence!

That unidentified saucer.

Last spring, I had a temporary copy of the program iBlog, and I started a second blog, which I kept up until the software expired. But I still occasionally get email from people who protest this post, about trying to figure out the markings on a saucer that I'd had lying around in my kitchen for a long time. The saucer had a star on it, and I'd always assumed it was a souvenir from Texas. On closer examination I see letters arrayed inside the star: A-L-F-A-T. I can't figure out which letter to start with, so I go through the various options until I get FATAL, which I don't like very much. Anyway, I pursue the mystery a bit and end the brief personal essay. That was back in May. I still get email like this:
It is ... sad that you may now have been led to believe that your grandfathers may have some how been involved in some sort of evil secret society.

The anti-masons appear to forget or choose to ignore how Masons where involved in the founding of this country and the freedoms the anti-masons now have.
Well, she's right that I really don't know much about the Masons, but I don't go around worrying about them. Nevertheless, "FATAL" is one hell of a motto.

UPDATE: Apparently that crappy new movie that's number one this week--"National Treasure"--has a big Masonic angle:
[A child watching] this sluggish two-hour trudge through landmarks in Washington, Philadelphia and New York [might] come away believing the bogus mythology that detonates it with a squishy thud.

That mythology, derived from Freemasonry, holds that a map, drawn in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence, contains clues to the whereabouts of the Greatest Treasure Ever Told About. The Knights of Templar, some of whom were Founding Fathers, supposedly left a trail of coded clues that begins on a frozen ship north of the Arctic Circle and ends in the bowels of Lower Manhattan under a crumbling system of dumbwaiters.

It should be easy enough to acquire that treasure. All you have to do is steal the Declaration of Independence, unroll it on a kitchen table, apply a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice, heat with a handy hair dryer, and presto, letters and numbers appear. Another major clue can be deciphered only through special spectacles designed by the real-life Benjamin Franklin and hidden behind a brick near Independence Hall.

If I really had true blogging stamina, I'd go to see this piping-hot pile of patrio-tainment so I could blog about it.

Journey through the NYT completed ahead of schedule.

For some reason, I'm through the whole pile by 10 a.m. Only the crossword puzzle is left. I feel like the weekend has an extra day to it! Maybe I'll actually finish hanging those blinds I blogged about hanging last Sunday (when I only got one of the five blinds up). Perhaps a little breakfast and a look at what Sunday news talk shows the TiVo dragged in....

The intense sexual politics of the new literature Nobelist.

Elfriede Jelinek interviews:
I describe the relationship between man and woman as a Hegelian relationship between master and slave. As long as men are able to increase their sexual value through work, fame or wealth, while women are only powerful through their body, beauty and youth, nothing will change.

How can you cling to such dated stereotypes when you yourself are acclaimed internationally for your intellect?

A woman who becomes famous through her work reduces her erotic value. A woman is permitted to chat or babble, but speaking in public with authority is still the greatest transgression.

You're suggesting that your achievements, like winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, detract from your overall appeal.

Certainly! A woman's artistic output makes her monstrous to men if she does not know to make herself small at the same time and present herself as a commodity. At best people are afraid of her.


You can't have a piece about the filibuster without a picture of Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a film that is much worse than people remember. Yes, Jimmy Stewart is great, and he's especially great in the scene from the movie that people remember as he talks about America! and Justice! and Democracy! until he passes out on the Senate floor. Do you even remember the part where the Senator played by the equally great Claude Rains is moved by Stewart's efforts into such profound remorse that he runs out of the Senate chamber and just shoots himself to death? Well, not only don't you see that sort of response to the filibuster, you don't even have the speechifying anymore.
[In the 1970s,] the Senate created a two-track process that allows senators to block action on a piece of legislation merely by invoking the right to filibuster, without actually having to stand before the chamber and drone endlessly on. Meanwhile, the Senate can take up other business.

The measure, intended to promote efficiency, inadvertently encouraged filibusters by making them painless, said Julian Zelizer, a historian of Congress at Boston University. "The filibuster exploded, and became a normal tool of political combat," he said. In 1995, he noted, almost 44 percent of all major legislation considered by the Senate was delayed by a filibuster or the threat of one.
Bring back the pain! In the era of C-Span and 24-hour news networks, we want to see the real-time, real-world blocking of debate, if that's the right these characters mean to invoke. You can't wave that cornball Jimmy Stewart image around and not put on the big Jimmy Stewart show. Bring back the politico-tainment. And then if what you are doing is foolish and obstructionist, we'll be able to say, "Senator, I've seen 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'; I love Jimmy Stewart. Senator, you're no Jimmy Stewart."

UPDATE: As an emailer was nice enough to remind me, the Claude Rains character only tries to kill himself. He gets off a gunshot, but other Senators are wrestling the gun away from him. Rains emotes:
I'm not fit to be a Senator! I'm not fit to live! Expel me! Expel me! Every word he says is true!
Rains rushes back into the Senate Chamber confessing to all that he's comepletely corrupt and Mr. Smith's been telling the truth. Once Rains confesses, everyone instantly takes Mr. Smith's side and jumps around and cheers for Stewart, who is still passed out. Our last sight of Mr. Smith is a beaten, unconscious man being carried out of the Senate. The image reminds us of paintings we've seen of the dead Christ.

Mr. Smith, we should know, filibustered to convince his colleagues of the truth of particular facts--that Rains was corrupt. The filibusters we actually see in the Senate are not about getting facts straight, though, they are about policy or political preferences. The real filibusterer is not a crusader for truth, but simply someone who holds the minority position and wants to block the majority from having its way. The maudlin vanity of Senators identifying with Mr. Smith--and surely not Rains!--should embarrass them.

"Intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo."

A school district in Pennsylvania has authorized teaching "a new theory called intelligent design" to balance the teaching of evolution. No litigation yet.

Wisconsin plays defense against California... over stem-cell research.

When California voters authorized spending $3 billion on stem-cell research, that put pressure on Wisconsin, where stem-cell research originated, to preserve its leadership in the field. Now Wisconsin Governor Doyle has responded by proposing to spend $750 million on a biotechnology research institute here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It's a matter of economic self-defense, according to the Governor.
"I know the vast majority of the people of Wisconsin understand how important this research is, and they want me to help the scientists that are working so hard to cure juvenile diabetes, and Parkinson's and spinal injuries," Doyle said. "And we also know how important it will be to the future economy of this state."

Not everyone is a member of Doyle's "vast majority":
"When you hear people talk about this and the biotech industry . . . it's all in economic terms," said Susan Armacost, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life. "They're willing to destroy human life to build an economic base.

"Is that what we're about in Wisconsin? I don't think so."

"I have always thought of New England as the last death-free zone in the United States."

So says a lawprof and former capital defense lawyer. Connecticut faces the fact that it has the death penalty:
Beyond resurrecting the vicious details of the killings, the pending execution is forcing a confrontation with a discomforting fact for one of the country's most liberal regions. It would be the first time in more than 40 years that an inmate has been put to death north or east of Pennsylvania.

Note that the impetus toward this execution is not coming from the state, which hasn't executed anyone in over 40 years and which has housed this man on death row for 20, but from the murderer himself, who has chosen to forgo more appeals. And not everyone in Connecticut feels a compunction against capital punishment:
"This guy is a poster boy for the death penalty," said Michael Malchik, the former Connecticut State Police detective who arrested Mr. Ross in 1984, after the body of his last victim was found hidden inside a stone wall bordering a field. "He deserves no sympathy from anyone. I think the problem is that the people who are against it have never seen the other side of it. They've never smelled it, looked at it, felt the weight of a dead body in a body bag."

A Whitmoresque Bush.

Wow, kind of like President Thomas J. Whitmore having to do everything himself.

Doodle of the day.

Let's just start off with the drawing, photographed on the window sill next to where I'm planning to sit all morning reading the Sunday NYT. I've sorted the Times into sections. Tossed in the far corner of the table are the things I'm not going to read: the special poetry edition of the Book Review, the travel section, the travel magazine, the business section. Piled in front of me are the things I'm going to read re-piled in the order I'm going to read them: front page section, Week in Review, Sports (only to check a couple things), Styles, Arts. Tossed over there is the thing I'm saving for last: the NYT Magazine (with the crossword puzzle but, sadly, no acrostic today).