December 25, 2004

A Madison Christmas peace vigil.

A Madison man walked around the Capitol Square for six hours yesterday wearing sign that read "1,300" (the number of U.S. dead in Iraq):
"We're such a culture that is about doing. Are we such a busy, crazy, manic culture? Meditation says no," he said. "You start with being. You start with peace in your own heart. And then it spreads."

People have not yet gotten energized for the long fight ahead, he said. Circumstances will spur action, he said.

"Things haven't gotten bad enough. But they will."

Here's a man who is sure things will get much worse, yet believes there's a point to trudging around for six hours wearing a sign. Do you consider him an optimist or a pessimist or some weird blend -- an opti-pessimist?

UPDATE: The email is showing enough of a difference of opinion that I thought a blogpoll was in order.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Lindgren at Volokh Conspiracy responds with a comparison of the number of Americans dead in Iraq to the number who died in Vietnam.

A white Christmas.

Only once all season had there been even a slight trace of snow on the ground, so the chances for a white Christmas seemed low. But at dawn, a pretty dusting of gently falling snow could be seen from the deck:


UPDATE: On looking at this picture again, I said it should be called a "blue Christmas," which touched off a round of Elvis impersonating.

AND: Now we're listening to various versions of "Blue Christmas" -- first Elvis (the best), then Ringo, then the Beach Boys (the second best), Jon Bon Jovi, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson (nicely zippy), Fats Domino, Low, Leon Redbone, the Platters, Chris Isaak, Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Harry Connick Jr., Sheryl Crow (the worst!), Booker T. & the MGs, John Holt (reggae does not fit this song), Tammy Wynette... I note that most artists try to sing the song like Elvis -- it's pretty much homage to Elvis for Ringo, Bon Jovi, and many others. Too many people make a big point of slowing the song way down (which is, apparently, a way of life for Low). Ah, now we're back to Elvis, with a different version, from the 1968 TV special. The greatness of Elvis really came through in that little exercise.

The topic of a spider in a urinal comes up on Christmas.

A dialogue on opening a present:
"This has the story of the spider in the urinal."

"Very few Christmas families are talking about a spider in a urinal.... Wait a minute."

"She's blogging."

"She stops Christmas to blog."
Here's how the chapter "Birth Death, and the Meaning of Life," in this book, begins, on page 208:
One summer more than ten years ago, when I taught at Princeton, a large spider appeared in the urinal of the men's room of 1879 Hall, a buiding that houses the Philosophy Department.

A liberal Christmas.

The erstwhile ascetic koan-blogger, R.L. Cohen, has used Christmas as an occasion to break into full out political blogging:
My support of the widespread and cheerful use of the word “Christmas” is not just a gesture of ecumenicism, it’s a protest against euphemism. A euphemism is always a coverup. Where there’s euphemism, there’s dishonesty. And to say “holiday” when the whole world knows you’re referring to Christmas is to engage in an especially silly kind of euphemism.

There are far too many people on the left who spend far too much of their time trying to compel others to use the approved euphemisms, and trying to invent new euphemisms to press upon the public. People who are seriously worried about whether other people are saying “autistic” or “person with autism” need to turn their attention to something else, if for no other reason than that the approved catchwords will probably change next year.

The euphemists practice a kind of sanctimony which is offputting to people in the center. I’m convinced it’s a large part of what moderate and conservative people visualize when they visualize a liberal: someone who is constantly trying to force a petty, humorless conformity upon us all.

R.C. points out that it costs the liberals votes! I note that "liberal" implies freedom, and this desiccated sanctimony is no fun at all.

McGovern and Santa Claus.

Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern has a letter in today's NYT:
I'm for keeping Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of defense because he is against increasing the number of American soldiers in Iraq. Sending more soldiers only means more targets for those Iraqis who don't want our army occupying their country.

I did not want any Americans to risk their lives in Iraq. We should bring home those who are there. So better Mr. Rumsfeld than some eager beaver who wants to double our army in the desert as we repeatedly did in the jungle to no avail in the 1960's and 70's. We toppled Saddam Hussein; as George Aiken, that wonderful old Republican senator, said of an earlier time of troubles, Declare victory and come home.

Once we left Vietnam and quit bombing its people, they became friends and trading partners. Iraq has been nestled along the Tigris and Euphrates for 6,000 years. It will be there 6,000 more whether we stay or leave, as earlier conquerors learned.

I tried to persuade Santa Claus to bring our troops home for Christmas, but he said, "No, Rumsfeld sees light at the end of the tunnel if we hang in there and don't listen to old veterans like McGovern."

Is there really a Santa Claus, Virginia? If so, why were 14 soldiers killed at lunch after a hard night searching for that light at the end of the tunnel?

I don't remember Santa Claus having the function of bringing us peace. But here we have McGovern talking with Santa, getting an answer, and then questioning his existence because he failed to give him what he asked for.

Even assuming McGovern was really praying to Jesus or God, since when have believers questioned their faith because soldiers have died fighting for a cause? How could any religious faith be left in the world if that is the way we think it works?

In the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas," "The children were nestled all snug in their beds," and, according to McGovern, "Iraq has been nestled along the Tigris and Euphrates for 6,000 years." Oh, yes, it was having a sweet old time dreaming visions of sugar-plums before we came along. We should just stop fighting (for what those soldiers have already died for) and leave, McGovern tells us, and the Iraqis can go back to being the happy friends they've been for thousands of years. They've got those rivers to nestle alongside of, after all.

Aw, come on, George, admit it. You really do believe in Santa Claus.

Blogging on Christmas?

I don't know how old you are or how old your kids are, but, let me tell you, when you are as old as I am, and you have kids my kids' age, there's a substantial time gap between when you get up and when they get up.

Oh my gosh, stop giving away your age on your blog!!

Somebody emailed that to me in response to the photo in the previous post. Sorry. It's not that I'm above lying about my age or haven't thought of the idea, it's that I have too many stories to tell from the deep past and too many opinions that connect to social and political events that I lived through.

One thing about being older is that there are more things that any given thing reminds you of. That might make a person tedious -- why I remember when I was a little girl -- but it's a big source of blogging material. Having been around at the time is a source of authority. It's sometimes untrustworthy, but it may be interesting nonetheless, and at least it's not shared by the vast majority of bloggers, who tend to be young.

I'll bet those other bloggers didn't get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. this morning.

It's more likely that they have really little kids. When you're young and have really little kids, they get up before you on Christmas morning, and they prod you to get up, and you drag yourself out of bed way before you want to get up. But when your kids stay asleep, and you're the one that gets up early, you don't even make some extra noise to try to get them up. You just make some coffee, dash outside -- it's 14 degrees -- to pick up the New York Times, and sit down to read the paper. Will there be blogging? Of course! The daily pleasures are at least as enjoyable as the annual ones. At my age.

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2004

First encounter with Santa Claus.

Here I am, the skeptical one in the center. I'm almost 3, and the year is 1953. My sister Dell is enjoying the moment, while I'm suspicious about that beard and the lack of convincing attachment around the mouth.


"If I wanted to face insurgents I would've spent Christmas with my relatives."

Letterman goes to Iraq for a Christmas Eve show. Grinder Girl and Hula Hoop Girl go too and are much appreciated.

The article (in the Marine Corps News) points out that Letterman is "a staunch supporter of the Marine Corps":
On the Sept. 17, 2001, episode of "The Late Show," his first show after the attack on the World Trade Center, Letterman declared he had "three new heroes now. They are New York's bravest, the firefighters; New York's finest, the cops; and the United States Marine Corps because, as you know, before this thing is finished, it will be the Marine Corps that goes in and settles the score."

At the Blue Moon Café.

We celebrated Christmas Eve over cheeseburgers and beer at the Blue Moon Café, a local bar and grill. Chris and I had just gone to see "Finding Neverland," which we criticized all the way to the car: boring, badly directed, flat screenplay, some good acting, some nice set decoration and costumes.

"Well, you cried."

Yes, I can't help crying -- despite my aesthetic objections -- at certain sorts of melodrama.

We were hungry, and we called John to come meet us at the Blue Moon. When we pulled up I could see through the window that the Packer game was playing on about 10 TVs.

"Oh, there's a big Packer game."

We went in anyway. As we were finishing scarfing down the food in a booth upstairs, the game was 31-31 with a few minutes to play. We came down to pay the bill at the bar, and at that point the Vikings had taken their last time out with 3 seconds to go and the Packers within easy field goal range. So, I care enough about the local pleasure caused by football that I said hang out and wait for the last play. The Packers get their field goal, and the group of guys that were sitting at the bar cheer. One guy starts jumping around yelling: "Go home, Viking fans!" Then he turns around and sees us and I hear him say, "Oh, there actually are Viking fans here."

Outside, as we get into the car, I say to John and Chris, "We were so undemonstrative, he thought we were Viking fans."

I really don't care about football, but I am happy enough that the local folk are happy that the Packers won the game.

A Christmas disclaimer.

Richard Lawrence Cohen writes:
As a Jew, a liberal, a lover of the Constitution, and a loather of Fox News, I wish to declare that the word “Christmas” does not faze, throw, offend, upset, or disconcert me in the slightest...
More at the link.

The Time Tracker.

A few days ago, the NYT had an article about a new toy that was supposed to dismay us, the Time Tracker:
Shaped like a colorful peppermill, with a digital readout panel, lights that suggest a traffic intersection and an electronic male voice that booms "Begin" and "Time's up," the Time Tracker, which sells for a list price of $34.95, has turned into a surprise hit of the holiday season, according to some toy sellers. By using the tracker during playtime, homework or any other activity, children are supposed to develop a sense of passing time - 20 minutes, half an hour, an hour - that translates into better management during tests. Siren sounds indicate when a certain period has gone by, and the lights switch from green to yellow to red to demonstrate how close the child is to the end of the allotted time....

"It's obviously not the type of thing kids would want for themselves," said Andrea Galinski, product development manager at Chelsea & Scott, a Lake Bluff, Ill., company that owns Leaps and Bounds. But, she added, "We've had a very positive response from parents."

Supposedly, parents think the gizmo will help their kids adjust to a life of standardized tests. Duly dismayed Times readers weigh in today. A psychology professor writes that "the deepest and most creative thought often occurs outside clock time," so children ought to be left free of the awareness of time so they can tap this deep part of their potential. A professor of education writes that the toy won't help anyway, because "test preparation is not real learning." And the former editor of the Harvard Education Letter detects a political problem: politicians send their kids to private schools, which rely less on standardized tests, yet they "foolishly and cruelly" impose the standardized tests on other people's kids at the public schools.

Is a toy that teaches a sense of time really so bad? I sometimes set a timer as an incentive to get through a task quickly. Would it really be so bad to set a timer for 20 minutes and say, if you can get your toys picked up in this time, you can watch a TV show? It might be a good way to learn to get certain things done without dawdling and distraction. There are many little chores that children need to learn to do: life isn't all about dreamy, timeless, fantasy play.

I note that all the letter writers are men. I don't know anything about them as individuals, and I too like enhancing a child's capacity for deep thought, creative play, and true learning. But have these letter writers had to manage children trying to get ready for school in the morning, picking up their rooms, and helping with getting dinner on the table? Would these people who romanticize the child's ignorance of time abolish bedtime, that classic imposition of time upon the child? Do psychology professor dads call bedtime on their kids when they are duly engrossed in creative play?

Time awareness is a valuable thing to learn! It's not just about dealing with school. And even in the context of school, time awareness has many applications outside of the standardized test. The class period has a time limit (who has not watched the clock while a teacher speaks?), an essay test has a time limit, and many sports and games have time limits. Many people find competing against the clock stimulating and fun. And a deadline can unlock mental powers.

I wouldn't mind having a Time Tracker myself to push me on through a certain task that is piled up right next to my computer at the moment. Okay, if you grade exams for one hour, you can have 20 minutes to blog.

UPDATE: An emailer writes:
Had you ever heard that ADD or ADHD kids should use timers? Because they have such trouble focusing, the timer gives them structure and allows them to meet shorter-term goals. Thus, they do 5 min of homework (or whatever) and then they are permitted to do some other activity that they find pleasurable. And what's weird is, it works. My daughter is not diagnosed with ADHD, but has some of the symptoms (distractability being chief among them). The timer trick works like a charm. I can see where this gizmo would be a cooler way to do the same thing.

December 23, 2004


An emailer, having read my last post, declares: Forget tire-blogging! The new thing is cabbage-blogging! I look into it the new trend. Hey! Just yesterday a head of cabbage was revealed as Fafblog's Man of the Year!

Well, maybe you are in the midst of making your Red Cabbage Christmas Salad. Maybe you are Croatian, celebrating a traditional Croatian Christmas, with some fine stuffed cabbage. Here's some Spanish Christmas cabbage. How many nationalities have a Christmas cabbage dish? Feel free to cabbage-blog!

Or maybe you have a Christmasy cabbage miracle to tell about.

Did you know broccoli is a type of cabbage?

Did you know "cole slaw" is just Dutch for sliced cabbage: koolsla?

Did you know Cabbage Patch Dolls are back this year? Maybe you've got one wrapped under the tree right now. Did you know there was an urban legend that the CIA or President Reagan had Cabbage Patch Dolls designed to get people used to loving ugly babies so humanity could carry on after a nuclear war?

Speaking of ugly, did you know you can get a Donald Trump Cabbage Patch Doll?

And then there is the cabbage of fable:
It is said that no sort of food causes so much thirst as cabbage, especially that called colewort. Pausanias tells us it first sprang from the sweat of Jupiter, some drops of which fell on the earth. Cœlius, Rhodiginus, Ovid, Suidas, and others repeat the same fable.

Rabelais: Pantagruel, book iv. (Prologue). “Some drops of sweat happening to light on the earth produced what mortals call cabbage.”—
The poets have lavished their attention on the lowly cabbage. Yeats:
All his happier dreams came true
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
“What then?”sang Plato’s ghost, “what then?”
Lewis Carrol:
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
There is also the cabbage of politics. H.L. Mencken has good political wisdom framed in cabbage terms: "An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup."

And George Orwell begins his "1984" with the reek of cabbage:
The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face. The reality was decaying, dingy cities, where underfed people shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes, in patched-up nineteenth-century houses that smelt always of cabbage and bad lavatories.
Well, that reminds me what I don't like about cabbage. So maybe I won't get too carried away with the new cabbage-blogging craze. So don't hesitate to pick up the slack and cabbage-blog yourself.

A dialogue about food.

"What do you think is the best food? I mean, not taking health into account. If you had to pick one food and say that it is the best, what do you think it would be?"

"Ice cream."

"Really, because I had an idea..."


"I was just thinking -- not because I really think it's the answer -- but it just came into my head as the answer ..."


"Cole slaw."

UPDATE: The dialogue continues a half hour later:

"You know, I think cabbage is one of the most repulsive foods."

"I don't like cabbage either. It's cole slaw."

"If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you cabbage, make cole slaw."

Another perspective on "Merry Christmas."

Here's a quote from J.B. Priestly:
Something in me resists the calendar expectation of happiness. Merry Christmas yourself! it mutters as it shapes a ghostly grin.


There's been a lot of talk lately about preserving the greeting "Merry Christmas." Some folks think the phrase has too much religion in it, and it's undeniable that "Christ" is right there in the word Christmas. Yet much of what makes Christmas tiresome to non-Christians is that it goes on for over a month, and this time-stretch ought to trouble Christians too. From a Christian perspective, this is not the Christmas season, it's Advent, a time of waiting and hope, not a time of merrymaking. But even if it were already Christmas, is "merry" the right word to express the religious meaning? The American Heritage® Dictionary defines "merry" this way:
1. Full of high-spirited gaiety; jolly. 2. Marked by or offering fun and gaiety; festive: a merry evening. 3. Archaic Delightful; entertaining. 4. Brisk: a merry pace.
E. Cobham Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) traces the history of "merry":
The original meaning is not mirthful, but active, famous; hence gallant soldiers were called “merry men;” favourable weather, “merry weather;” brisk wind, “a merry gale;” London was “merry London;” England, “merry England;” Chaucer speaks of the “merry organ at the mass;” Jane Shore is called by Pennant the “merry concubine of Edward IV.” (Anglo-Saxon, mœra, illustrious, great, mighty, etc.). (See MERRY-MEN.) ’Tis merry in hall, when beards wag all (2 Henry IV., act V. 3). It is a sure sign of mirth when the beards of the guests shake with laughter.
"Merry" has little to do with the message of Christianity. It connotes eating, drinking, dancing, joking, laughing, and horsing around. "Merry" turns Christmas into a generic winter festival. To express the spiritual happiness of Christmas, you would do better to say "Joyous Christmas." But the word "joy," standing alone, contains the meaning of Christmas. Why not make the one-word expression "Joy!" the seasonal greeting? It's both more inclusive and more Christian. UPDATE: "Merry" is only used in four places in the English translations of the New Testament that I checked. It is used in a positive way to describe the celebration of the return of the Prodigal Son and in this short passage, but it is used negatively in Revelation and in the context of the famous phrase "eat, drink, and be merry." "Joy," by contrast, appears in 60 verses in the New Testament, all of which seem quite positive, including the quintessential Christmas passage: "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." "Joy" is also a fine Old Testament word. "Merry," on the other hand, seems to have mostly to do with drinking a lot of wine. ANOTHER UPDATE: Nina says the Polish Christmas greeting -- "Wesolych Swiat" -- translates as "Merry Holi-days." (She seems to imply that the second word there is something in between our "holidays" and "holy days.") She titles her post "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry," but I note that the New Testament passage with that phrase provokes a rebuke from God ("Thou fool"). Note that I have nothing against partying, by Christians and others. I just don't think it's particularly religious.

December 22, 2004

A pile of books raises a question.

Books left on the chair by the last occupant of the table I was lucky enough to grab here at Borders café today:
Matter (serious looking book of poetry)

I Keep Falling in Love with You (cheesy looking poetry anthology)

Readings in Economic Sociology

Principles of Economic Sociology

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: New Help for the Family

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:The Facts

Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals: The Hidden Epidemic of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Wouldn't you think someone that interested in obsessive compulsive disorder would reshelve his books?

Is "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Holidays" the new red/blue?

I see Metafilter is discussing the Lileks response to the James Woolcott response to Lileks, Instapundit, etc. etc., commenting on the way "Happy Holidays" is replacing "Merry Christmas." Now, the whole subject has been talked about so much that it's going to seem like saying "Merry Christmas" is throwing down the gauntlet. Is "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Holidays" the new red/blue? We're declaring political positions now with our choice of seasonal pleasantry?

In a related development, my local Borders bookstore is not playing any Christmas or seasonal music of any kind this week, it seems (based on my afternoon visits on Monday and Tuesday). Is this some sort of declaration of blue state-iness? Personally, I found it a relief not to hear Christmas music (or the related "it's snowing"/"I'm cold" music) while shopping, but I wonder if turning it off is now some sort of staunch political move.

People have worried about the commercialization of Christmas, but now we've got the politicization of Christmas. Must politics leak all over everything?

The magnificent Tony Blair.

I was just listening to C-Span's re-airing of the press conference that took place yesterday in Baghdad with Tony Blair and Iyad Allawi. Blair's brilliance as a speaker always amazes me. My intense admiration for his speaking is tinged with the pain of the comparison to President Bush, whose gift for communication is modest. If only Bush could speak like Blair, it seems, things would go much better. I know Blair has his troubles back home, but I marvel at his capacity to inspire. This part of the press conference particularly impressed me, as a reporter tries to pin him with a hard question:
Q: Nick Robinson, ITV News: Can you just give us a sense of your feelings today? You flew here in secrecy under armed protection into what is still a safe zone more than a year and a half after Saddam fell. Can you honestly say to yourself, this is what I meant to bring about when I said that we ought to invade Iraq?

Tony Blair: That's a good question. I'll tell you exactly what I felt coming in. Security is really heavy - you can feel the sense of danger that people live in here.

He takes a very long pause here -- long enough to make you worry that he's going to crack and reveal his despair.
But what I felt more than anything else was this - the danger that people feel here is coming from terrorists and insurgents who are trying to destroy the possibility of this country becoming a democracy.

Now where do we stand in that fight? We stand on the side of the democrats against the terrorists. And so when people say to me, well look at the difficulties, look at the challenges - I say well what's the source of that challenge - the source of that challenge is a wicked, destructive attempt to stop this man, this lady, all these people from Iraq, who want to decide their own future in a democratic way, having that opportunity.

And where should the rest of the world stand? To say, well that's your problem, go and look after it, or you're better off with Saddam Hussein running the country - as if the only choice they should have in the world is a choice between a brutal dictator killing hundreds of thousands of people or terrorists and insurgents.

There is another choice for Iraq - the choice is democracy, the choice is freedom - and our job is to help them get there because that's what they want. Sometimes when I see some of the reporting of what's happening in Iraq in the rest of the world, I just feel that people should understand how precious what has been created here is. And those people from that electoral commission that I described as the heroes of the new Iraq - every day... a lot of them aren't living in the Green Zone, they've got to travel in from outside - they do not know at any point in time, whether they're going to be subject to brutality or intimation even death and yet they carry on doing it. Now what a magnificent example of the human spirit - that's the side we should be on.

UPDATE: An emailer suggests that Tony Blair comes across as too slick when you have to hear him all the time. Conceivably, Bush's imperfect, but strong and heartfelt speech is more effective.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The link above is to the text of the press conference, but you can watch the streaming video here. The delivery is a big part of the effect.

The travails of the stay-at-home father.

The NYT reports that it's a hard life for the man who stays home with the kids and has a wife who's a good provider:
"If I were a woman, people would say I was amazing," he said, sitting in his kitchen on a gray day this month. "But I'm a man, and so this is seen as weak."

And they are left out of play date arrangements. They've had to go out of their way to find other stay-at-home dads to arrange play dates with. Some of them, anyway. Then there's this guy (who, I suspect, is more the usual stay-at-home dad type than those play date guys):
"I would like to get other people's tips and hear how they handle things, but I'm not really interested in finding men just to talk to..."

[The man's wife] has encouraged him to make more male friends near their home..., but he says he is content to doze or play video games during his downtime in the day.

I have nothing to say individually to the particular couple in that anecdote. But just generally, guys, when your wife says something like that to you, maybe she's not just trying to prod you to derive a little more enjoyment out of life. Maybe she's letting you know that you are not a very interesting person to come home to. People imagine that women will think it's just great to have a man who devotes so much time to taking care of the kids. But will this dozing, video-game-playing man remain attractive to the woman who is out in the world interacting with lively, career-driven men?

The Times article concentrates on the way the men feel and drags in the pop-culture reference of the day:
And while the desperate housewives on Wisteria Lane have their exciting trysts with teenage gardeners and mysterious neighbors, there are seemingly few worries that these stay-at-home husbands have any potential for steamy affairs with their female counterparts. After all, what is threatening about a man loaded down with diapers?

"It takes one's manhood, chews it up, spits it out and does it again," said [a man] who has taken care of his daughters for two years. "You really need a strong marriage and confidence. I don't have a lot of friends who could do this."

Hmmm ... let's see. Who is more likely to have an affair -- the man who feels secure in his masculinity or the man who feels his manhood has been ground into a pulp?

UPDATE: Nina writes that the dozing, video-game-playing guy was probably already inherently boring, which is way he's satisfied to doze and play video games. This is a chicken-and-egg conundrum: do people do boring things because they are boring or are they boring because they do boring things? I'm inclined to think boringness is a big complex interactive mix of inherent tendencies and acquired attributes. But if the question is not are you really boring but will your spouse lose interest in you, the context matters. Picture two boring men: one is dozing on the couch when his hardworking wife comes home and the other comes home to his stay-at-home wife after a long day as the most boring man in the office. Which marriage is more at risk?

ANOTHER UPDATE: I've been asked whether I'm simply trying to justify traditional sex roles. Not at all. I'd like to see the most freedom for people to decide who stays home with children, who goes to work, and whether both go to work. I'm only saying that choosing one approach or the other does not insulate you from the hard feelings or the erosion of the relationship that may follow. There is nothing about choosing a nontraditional division of labor that insures that you will not have retro-feelings that hurt the relationship.

December 21, 2004

When is it considered socially acceptable to joke to a stranger that people like you should all be dead?

Answer: When you find out someone is a lawyer.

I learned this little point about the expression of hatred when Christmas shopping today. The salesman saw that I had an American Bar Association credit card and proceeded to tell the ancient joke about what you call a large number of lawyers in a crashed bus at the bottom of a body of water, with the answer being "A good start." He was Madison enough to make the body of water Lake Mendota.

Now, you could substitute any group for lawyers in that joke, and I'm sure the joke has had many versions over the years, used to express hostility to all sorts of groups. But the only version I've ever heard is aimed at lawyers, because apparently it's just perfectly fine to say anything nasty you want about lawyers. But here I am, buying Christmas presents at the man's store. How about a little "Merry Christmas"? Or even "Happy Holidays"? What the hell, I'd settle for "Seasons Greetings"?

A strangely recurrent Wisconsin dialogue.

"Did you get a haircut?"

"No, I was wearing a hat."

Notes on yesterday's press conference.

Here are just a few assorted things that struck me about Bush's press conference yesterday.

1. Most enigmatic exchange:
Q I'd like to go back to Secretary Rumsfeld. You talked about --

PRESIDENT BUSH: (Inaudible.)

Q Thank you.


2. Cutest quip:
Q Mr. President ... As you know, presidents back to Carter have searched for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Your dad worked hard for it. Your predecessor said once it was like going to the dentist without getting your gums numbed. I'm wondering what great --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Guy had a way with words. (Chuckles.)

3. Nice recognition:
[I]n case you're not following high school football in Texas ... the Crawford Pirates are the state 2-A, Division 2, champs. And we look forward, don't we, to wave the championship banner above the Crawford High School.

4. Best save after petering out:
[T]he minute you bring up Social Security reform, people go running around the country saying, "Really what he says is, he's going to take away your check," or that which you become dependent upon will no longer be available for you to live on. And so therefore part of setting the stage, laying the groundwork for there to be a successful reform effort is -- is assuring our seniors that they just don't have to worry about anything. When they hear the debate is that is taking place on the floor of the Congress, they just need to know that the check they're getting won't change, the promises will be met; that, you know, if there's to be an increase in their check, they'll get their check. In other words, the -- the formula that has enabled them to -- to -- to extent -- to the -- to a certain extent to -- the formula they're relying on won't change. Let me put it that way. I was trying to be really brilliant.

5. Best occasion for a chuckle:
PRESIDENT BUSH: ... Now in terms of the --




PRESIDENT BUSH: -- DNI -- the -- I'm going to find somebody who knows something about intelligence -- (chuckles) -- and capable and honest and ready to do the job.

6. Part of the press conference that made me say, "Notice how many times he said 'heart.' That makes me think this really is what he originally wanted his presidency to be about."
Q. Yeah, Mr. President. Since early in your first term you've talked about immigration reform, but yet people in your own party on the Hill seem opposed to this idea, and you've gotten opposition even on the other side. Do you plan to expend some of your political capital this time to see this through?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. I appreciate that -- first of all, welcome. I'd like to welcome all the new faces, some prettier than others, I might add. (Laughter.)

But yes, I intend to work with members of Congress to get something done. I think this is a -- a issue that will make it easier for us to enforce our borders, and I believe it's an issue that is -- will show the -- if when we get it right, the compassionate heart of the American people. And no question it's a tough issue, just like some of the other issues we're taking on. But, you know, my job is to confront tough issues and to ask Congress to work together to confront tough issues.

Now let me talk about the immigration issue. First, we want our Border Patrol agents chasing, you know, crooks and thieves and drug runners and terrorists, not good-hearted people who are coming here to work. And therefore, it makes sense to allow the good-hearted people who are coming here to do jobs that Americans won't do a legal way to do so. And providing that legal avenue, it takes the pressure off the border.

Now, we need to make sure the border is modern and we need to upgrade our Border Patrol, but if we expect the Border Patrol to be able to enforce a long border, particularly in the south -- and the north, for that matter -- we ought to have a system that recognizes people are coming here to do jobs that Americans will not do, and there ought to be a legal way for them to do so.

To me, that is -- and not only that, but once a person is here, if he or she feels like he or she needs to go back to see their family, to the country of origin, they should be able to do so within a prescribed -- and the card and the permit would last for a prescribed period of time. It's a compassionate way to treat people who come to our country. It recognizes the reality of the world in which we live. There are some people in -- there are some jobs in America that Americans won't do and others are willing to do.

One of the important aspects of my vision is that this is not automatic citizenship. The American people must understand that. That if somebody who is here working wants to be a citizen, they can get in line like those who have been here legally and have been working to become a citizenship (sic) in a legal manner. And this is a very important issue.

And it's a -- and I look forward to working with members of Congress. I fully understand the politics of immigration reform. I mean, I was the governor of Texas, right there on the front lines of border politics. I know what it means to have mothers and fathers come to my state and across the border of my state to work. Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River is what I used to tell the people of my state.

People are coming to put food on the table. They're doing jobs Americans will not do. And to me it makes sense for us to recognize that reality and to help those who are needing to enforce our borders; legalize the process of people doing jobs Americans won't do; take the pressure off of employers so they're not having to rely upon false IDs; cut out the coyotes, who are the smugglers of these people, putting them in the back of tractor trailers in the middle of August in Texas, allowing people to suffocate in the back of the truck; stop the process of people feeling like they got to walk miles across desert in Arizona and Texas in order just to feed their family -- and they find them dead in the -- out there, you know.

I mean, this is a system that can be much better, and I'm passionate on it because the nature of this country is one that is good-hearted and our people are compassionate. The system we have today is not a compassionate system. It's not working. And as a result, the country is less secure than it could be with a rational system.

UPDATE: I see that Jacob Weisberg has made a "Bushism of the Day" out of the misspoken "working to become a citizenship" in that last quote. Doesn't Weisberg have anything better do? A "Bushism" should at least be a distinctively Bushian type of mistake, not the sort of speech slip that everyone makes. And it really ought to be also, maybe, you know, a little funny. I really hope people point and laugh inanely at Weisberg whenever he fails to say everything just right. Jeez! Am I sick of him!

Santa is horrible!

Here's a funny collection of photos of kids horrified at Santa Claus. (Via BoingBoing.) I'll have to remember to scan and post a very old photo of me with Santa. I'm not crying, just very skeptical.

UPDATE: Just corrected some spelling. I note that there is no "e" in Santa Claus. Having written about constitutional law for a long, long time, it is nearly impossible for my fingers to type C-L-A-U-S and not instinctively add an "e." Here's a related laugh.

"You're not suddenly going to see a different kind of Slate."

The Washington Post buys Slate.

Free speech in Britain.

Free speech is a hot topic in Britain these days, as a Birmingham theater closes down a play that offended a religious group and touched off a violent protest.

Only last week, the comedian Rowan Atkinson led a call defending "the right to offend," against government plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

Atkinson argues the law would force "creative thinkers" to bite their tongue, and so produce a "veneer of tolerance concealing a snakepit of unaired and unchallenged views."

Not Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Here's a worthy collection of photographs.

December 20, 2004

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays.

It seems as though everyone picked today to talk about the insidious plot to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." Rush Limbaugh: "Boy, it's a big battle this year just saying, "Merry Christmas." Mark Steyn: "Say 'Merry Christmas' while you still can." The San Francisco Chronicle: "Frighteningly retro as it sounds, the honest truth is I miss saying "Merry Christmas."

But I note that President Bush, at his press conference today, said "Happy Holidays" twice. In fact, he made no mention of Christmas, even when responding to a question that asked about troops spending Christmas in Iraq.

Workation and Darkmonth.

I'm not really getting my work done, but I'm not really on vacation. I'm on workation.

I don't really like this feeling. One ought to go one way or the other. Say you're on vacation and don't touch your work, or plow through that work and stop taking breaks that stretch out but don't feel that good because your inner voice keeps nagging about how this is just supposed to be a break but it's eating up the whole day. If you're going to think "get back to work" at least get some work done.

Agh! I think it has something to do with the light, that is, the lack of light. We are deeply embedded in the time of year I think of as "Darkmonth." Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the midpoint of Darkmonth, the darkest 30 days of the year. After tomorrow, there is, at least, the knowledge that each day has a little more light than the day before. Here in the north country, the darkest days are so dismally short. I've gotten used to the cold over the years, but never to the extreme dark. At 2:30 in the afternoon, you already feel the darkness setting in. These days have so little sense of their own existence, it's hard to take them seriously.

Bloggers promoting products.

Mickey Kaus is praising an obscure music CD that was sent to him. He's not specifically saying more free things should be sent to him, but, really, why shouldn't review copies of CDs, DVDs, and books be sent to bloggers who might write about them?

And doesn't it seem inevitable that there will be a blogger payola scandal at some point? We bloggers build up our credibility with readers over the months and years of writing. You assume if a blogger you trust says that a TV show or a movie or a book is good it's because he thinks so for purely independent and un-self-interested reasons unless he says otherwise. I don't think free review copies of things undermine this independence. MSM reviewers get free copies of the CDs, DVDs, and books they write about. A blogger has such a strong interest in maintaining credibility that he's likely to make a point of saying he's received a free copy.

But don't you think the day will come when we will hear that a trusted, seemingly independent blogger is being paid to express an opinion about a product or even a politician or important policy? Will we be horrified? Will we just stop caring what the blogger has to say? Or will we accept it, the way we accepted it when we found out about paid product placements in movies? I made my local car dealer look quite posh in this post, just because I had nothing better to do than observe my immediate surroundings (and also because I wanted to get in on the big new tire-blogging craze). But what if it were the case -- it's not! -- and you found out, that Zimbrick gives me free oil changes in exchange for disguised ads? Small potatoes, you might think. Who cares? Imagine something bigger then: a high-traffic blogger paid big bucks to back the privatization of Social Security.

UPDATE: An emailer writes that there should be a spiffy little word for blogger payola, like "blogola." Maybe we could also do with a word for blog product placement, like maybe "product blogment."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me just flag the recent incident of the two blogs that received $27,000 and $8,000, respectively, from the Thune campaign. This is not, I think, an example of an existing, high-traffic, trusted blog selling out, but it is a related phenomenon. I hope blog readers are savvy enough to know that anyone can start a blog, and that, presumably, many blogs have undisclosed interests behind them.

MUCH LATER UPDATE: For my discussion of this issue postdating the revelation that Kos took money from the Dean campaign, go here.

Christmas ordering on Amazon.

I was wondering why I hadn't received an order from Amazon that I'd placed on December 7th. How long can it take? I checked my account and saw that the predicted delivery date was in 2005. In my many years of Amazon shopping, I've never seen this kind of problem getting Christmas orders out before. I had to cancel the order, of course, but not before printing out the page to make a shopping list to take to my local stores.

Not guilty?

Psychiatrists can explain why someone would murder a pregnant woman, cut the baby out of the womb, and adopt the baby as her own.

[Lisa M. ] Montgomery, news reports said, showed off the baby proudly, as if nothing were wrong. This almost certainly reflects delusional thinking, psychiatrists said.

Psychosis may give rise to elaborate narrative fantasies of good and evil and voices commanding some action. The criminal complaint said Ms. Montgomery found her victim over the Internet, where a picture of the pregnant woman could have prompted any number of thoughts and plots, forensic psychiatrists say.

"In these cases a woman might have a delusion that that's my baby in that woman, she's stolen it, and if I don't rescue it she's going to kill it, and the motivation is so overwhelming that you just lose contact with reality," said Dr. Jack M. Gorman, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "It's hard for people who've never had this kind of experience to understand, but the voices and hallucinations and demands become overwhelming."

The Autistic Liberation Front.

Some autism activists don't think in terms of curing a disease but celebrating difference.
A neurological condition that can render standard forms of communication like tone of voice, facial expression and even spoken language unnatural and difficult to master, autism has traditionally been seen as a shell from which a normal child might one day emerge. But some advocates contend that autism is an integral part of their identities, much more like a skin than a shell, and not one they care to shed.

The effort to cure autism, they say, is not like curing cancer, but like the efforts of a previous age to cure left-handedness...

On e-mail lists frequented by autistics, some parents are derided as "curebies" and portrayed as slaves to conformity, so anxious for their children to appear normal that they cannot respect their way of communicating.

I note that the cost of treating autism is high, and that ought to create a lot of momentum for people who argue that treatment is not desirable. But there is a big difference in interest between "high-functioning" autistics and other autistics. If the high-functioning autistics win support for the idea that they should be appreciated for their distinctive differences and that treatment is oppressive and abusive, won't that tend to undermine the availability of treatment for those who are not high-functioning? You can see why those who care about non-high-functioning autistics are afraid of the acceptance movement.

Reading to the end of the article after drafting that last paragraph, I realize that, although I tried to present both sides of the extremely complex problem, I leaned towared the liberationists by writing "autistics" and not "persons with autism." Those who want the condition treated see it as separate from the person, something they hope to remove. Those who do not say things like "describe me as 'an autistic' or 'an autistic person,' versus the 'person with...' ... Just like you would feel odd if people said you were a 'person with femaleness.' "

UPDATE: An emailer provides some very helpful insight:
Thanks for pointing out the article. Unfortunately I am rather familiar with Asperger's, as three of my children have it.

I think they are using misleading language when they speak of disease and cure. Aspergers people are essentially emotion-blind. This makes interacting with others fraught with misunderstandings, and is a substantial handicap in dealing with other people. Imagine trying to get the day's work directives from your boss when the small-talk and the assignment seem of equal importance. As far as I know there is no "cure" to give them the neurotypical understanding of body language or voice tone. But we've found that the didactic approach seems to help them figure out "what to do next."

Teaching a child protocols sometimes helps: if the other person does X, you can say Y or Z. Some people have had success teaching children how to recognize facial expressions. I'm trying to drum up interest in experimenting with using acting coaches to teach about body language.

None of these are "cures" and none deal with the various quirks that come with the Aspergers package. Quirks don't matter so much, provided you can communicate without misunderstanding. We can easily make a place in our lives for someone with an intense fascination with doorknobs; which I suppose is what they mean by acceptance. But I very much want my own children to be able to figure out when you can joke with a policeman and when you cannot.

Unfortunately the intensive training you need is exceedingly expensive, and some things work with one kid and not with another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The day after running the above-linked article, the NYT runs a long article about the difficulties of getting insurance companies to pay for the very expensive treatment:
Insurers have long raised objections about the very nature of autism treatment. Edward Jones, a senior official of PacifiCare Behavioral Health and chairman of the American Managed Behavioral Health Association, an insurance industry group, asked, "Is this really an educational service or a therapeutic service?"

A diagnosis for autism is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Treatment of some kind for most disorders in the manual is covered by health plans.

According to Mr. Jones, though, "most people feel it is a biological, neurological disorder, but that cannot be proven." He added that "we don't seem to have any biological treatment for autism."

December 19, 2004

Medical marijuana.

Although there is no Wisconsin law permitting the medical use of marijuana, a Wisconsin judge dismissed a marijuana possession charge against a woman with a California prescription to use the drug.

The future of the filibuster.

NPR reports on the future of the filibuster. There is a proposal in the Senate to exempt judicial nominations from the filibuster. Years ago, the filibuster was associated with southern Senators objecting to civil rights legislation. Strom Thurmond went 24 hours without urinating, we're told, in his diehard filibuster against civil rights legislation. So why is it so hard to oust the disreputable old technique? The theory is that the filibuster exemplifies the individualism of Senators and that they will not dare to change their institution by removing the old, ideosyncratic tradition.

"A personal friend of Santa Claus."

Ringo performs the public service of tracking Santa.

From the year's person's parents.

Time's Person of the Year issue has an interview with the person's parents, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. (Sorry, I don't have a link for this piece in the new issue of Time.) Two things really struck me. This:
[GEORGE H.W. BUSH] Remember when Ann Richards said George Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth? And then when George beat her in his first run for Governor--I must say I felt a certain sense of joy that he finally had kind of taken her down. I could go around saying, "We showed her what she could do with that silver foot, where she could stick that now."

MRS. BUSH: Good speech material.

And this (answering the question what was the "low point" of Bush's first term):
BUSH: Michael Moore's got to be the worst for me. I mean, he's such a slimeball and so atrocious. But I love the fact now that the Democrats are not embracing him as theirs anymore. He might not get invited to sit in Jimmy Carter's box [at the Democratic Convention] again. I wanted to get up my nerve to ask Jimmy Carter at the Clinton thing [the opening of Bill Clinton's library], "How did it feel being there with that marvelous friend of yours, Michael Moore?" and I didn't dare do it.

MRS. BUSH: Darn.

BUSH: You can write that if you want. Michael Moore just slandered our family and me.

Hey, thanks!

Weird problems solved.

The Sims have been having some pretty funny problems, as this update reveals:
Visitors will no longer kidnap a baby or toddler by leaving the lot
while carrying them.

Maids can now clean up pizza boxes and baby bottles.

An adopted baby no longer snaps to the ground when the social worker that delivers it puts it in a crib.

Fixes the problem where the teddy bear would occasionally float after being put down.

Teens no longer get the unsatisfiable "Write a Novel" want.

UPDATE: I've corrected this post to reflect that "Sims" is plural. I had no call to refer them as "the Simses." Each individual, I've been assured, is a Sim.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The solution to weird problems may cause new weird problems, as my son Chris writes:
The Sims 2 download that's supposed to solve all those bugs actually creates, I think, new ones that are much worse. One of my Sims went to work and never came back. When they're at work, their needs continue to change (they keep getting more and more hungry, etc.), so she's literally starving to death because of her inability to return from work.

Juicy bait not taken.

Deborah Solomon, the NYT Magazine's ace interviewer, has an enticing, feminist question for Elizabeth Stroud, a minister convicted by the United Methodist Church of violating its ban on homosexuality:
You're the third lesbian in two decades to be tried by a jury assembled by the Methodist Church, but they haven't openly tried any gay men. What do they have against lesbians?...

[Solomon adds this prompt after Stroud's nonanswer.] I would guess that lesbians are viewed as a menace by a patriarchal institution like the church because they take men out of the equation, or at least make men feel less important.

Stroud does not take the bait. She says "I think it's because we have chosen to tell the truth," which, of course, does not address the question why try the women and not the men. Unless Stroud means to imply that no male homosexual ministers have "chosen to tell the truth," she has simply opted -- perhaps wisely -- to avoid the question.

Solomon pressed that question awfully hard, even proffering the answer. Maybe we're seeing how Solomon manages to extract such great answers from her subjects every week. I wonder if the original transcripts of her interviews are full of prompts like this. She is so successful, week by week, in getting people to say amazingly revealing things.

"I'm tired of talking about Rumsfeld."

Said Joe Biden on "Meet the Press."

UPDATE: Here's the transcript. This is the full quote:
I'm tired of talking about Rumsfeld. The only thing that bothers me about it is this arrogance of not acknowledging obvious mistakes. I mean, that's the part that bothers me. And I think that Carl is right. I mean, look, the president makes these decisions. Granted he delegates them to Secretary Rumsfeld, but, you know, the--it's just an arrogance of not acknowledging that there's been any mistake on anything and people are dying.


Christopher Hitchens, who makes a point of saying he's never smoked marijuana, writes about hippiedom (in the NYT Book Review).
Every now and then, one would hear people talk in mysterious tones about log cabins or geodesic domes on virgin land in Vermont or Montana, and the growing of organic vegetables. John Denver's song ''Country Roads'' made West Virginia a favored destination. Then there would be a brisk exit from the blighted city, with a car towing an assortment of furniture, tools, pets and sometimes children. The pull of nature and authenticity, so imbricated in the original material of the American Dream, had overcome the easy temptations of materialism....

There was always a slight embarrassment to be experienced when these would-be Amish came sidling back to town, to resume work in brokerages and banks and universities. To this day, that especially vile reminder of the epoch -- the graying and greasy ponytail trailing off the balding pate -- is their living memorial.
Far more young people of the era entertained romantic thoughts about doing this back-to-nature thing than actually did it, of course. It was always completely easy to predict how unpleasant the reality of such a life would turn out to be. Nevertheless, it was a putdown of the time to call someone a "phony hippie." You felt you really should drop out and live on a commune. How absurd it seems now to have felt guilty about such a failing!