January 8, 2005

''I knew she was oversize, but now she appeared a fair match for Falstaff.''

So wrote Abraham Lincoln, making fun of his fat girlfriend! (And Richard Brookhiser doesn't think much of the new Lincoln-was-gay book.)

"None of us floozies was that nuts!"

Researching the update to the previous post, I wanted to track down the expression "bee-stung lips," which I knew went back to the 1920s. All signs pointed to the actress Mae Murray, "The Girl With the Bee-Stung Lips." The quote above is from her, commenting on the movie "Sunset Boulevard." What a great quote! I love the way it admits they were floozies and they were nuts! Born in 1885, she goes back to the really early days of film and, it seems, is quite forgotten, though bee-stung lips are still perceived as beautiful. I note that her lower lip exceeds her upper lip in size. Or does it? Here's a fabulous movie magazine illustration of her. Here's another. Beautiful!


Who decided -- in this age of scientific lip plumping -- that the female should ideally have the top lip much larger than the bottom lip and the male should have the bottom lip much larger than than the top? If you don't believe me that a decision has been reached, examine this poster:

It was not always so. Greta Garbo, long the standard of perfect beauty, had a notably larger lower lip. Ingrid Bergman, the actress with the most beautiful lips, had a much larger lower lip. And look at Sophia Loren's lips. (I mean it. Look at her lips.) Look at Catherine Deneuve, famously the most beautiful woman in the world in the 1960s, at the time of "Belle de Jour." Have I proved my point?

You might say, all of those beautiful women had a larger lower lip because nearly everyone does, and that the new look exists now simply because it has become possible through technology, but I would say that the great beauties of the past had unusually large lower lips in proportion to their upper lips. Why am I obsessing about lips? Because that "Closer" poster has been bugging me! Presumably, they want it to drive you a bit nuts. We see only one eye of each of the four actors, and those eyes are almost -- but not quite -- lined up. The image is supposed to be disconcerting, to go along with the movie's tag line, "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking." But it's the eyes that you should feel compelled to "never stop looking" at, and it should be because you are contemplating the characters. I find myself staring at the lips and thinking about collagen injections.

UPDATE: An emailer writes:
I think the full upper lip trend springs from Angelina Jolie. While it certainly works for her, I can't think of many others for whom it does. Generally the person appears as if they took a "poke" in the mouth -- very sexy!
Well, here is a topic that has spawned many a feminist essay! Who was the first to write that beauty standards imposed on women create the look an assault victim, thus demonstrating the immense problem we have with eroticizing violence? I can't think how many times I've read that blue eyeshadow resembles bruising. And that high heels excite men because they disable the woman from running away. And those oversized lips are the boxer's "fat lip."

The classic way to refer to puffy women's lips, is "bee-stung," which sounds more painful than collagen injections. I think the original beautiful puffy lips woman is Brigitte Bardot. (What a perfect early sixties look! Do you know how hard it is to tease -- torment! -- your hair to get it that big?)

Here are the annals of collagen abuse, for your amusement and to serve as a warning.

Anti-terrorism lawn-mower drag racing.

No, that's not just a string of absurdly unrelated words. Texas officials used federal antiterrorism grant money "to transport lawn mowers to 'lawn-mower drag races.'"


Sometimes, blogging, I run across news stories where the only thing I can think of to say is "That's terrible," which doesn't seem worth making people read, but where complete silence seems as though you're letting them get away with it. So, let me just say this is terrible.

The search for a smart mate, continued.

Here's an email prompted by yesterday's post "The pros and cons of marrying someone smarter than you":
I'm extremely skeptical of the entire notion of choosing mates based on their intelligence. In my experience, intelligence is surprisingly hard to judge, especially as part of an initial impression. Anytime someone claims to choose a mate because he/she is smarter, or less smart, than he/she is, my overriding impression is that the person making the claim doesn't have the faintest idea what he or she is talking about.

Good point. Some people you think are pretty smart are just good at displaying one thing they are good at, such as verbal wit. They may be quite foolish in many aspects of life, including their ability to deal with other people, which is the one thing you're going to care most about in a relationship. Some people you might think are smart just crave admiration or worry about their inferiority, so they put a lot of effort into trying to seem smart. Some of the smartest people feel quite secure about it and don't feel motivated to show it off. They believe they get along better with others by keeping it to themselves.

Imagine meeting two men at a party. One makes a point of talking really fast, using big words, and dropping names of academic writers in a field he's studied and knows you haven't. The other man speaks at a normal rate, using ordinary words, and asks you if you saw a recent, popular movie. Is Man 2 smarter than Man 1? Well, we at least know he has more emotional intelligence. But if you had your heart set on finding an intelligent mate, you might go for Man 1. And good luck being happy with him. Substitute woman for man if that's what you are in pursuit of, but I can't help thinking women would be more likely to make this particular mistake. Note that if Man 1 is also the sort who wants someone less intelligent, we can predict an especially grim relationship.

That said, one very common way to find your intellectual equal is to meet your mate in college. You're surrounded by a large group of people who are roughly your intellectual equals. Now, you can choose based on compatibility and physical attraction. If you miss the big opportunity in college, or, wisely, you decide not to pair up so early, you can always go back to school -- for example, law school, though then you've got to want to marry a lawyer.

You could check your prospective mate's paper credentials: SAT score, IQ. Of course, some people are good at standardized tests and some aren't, and marriage is not a standardized test.

I still think the best advice is to seek equality in a marriage. I think we are good at recognizing when people are on our level and make mistakes when we want either an idol or someone we can dominate. Equality is a good principle all around.

By the way, my own parents knew the results of their IQ tests. (They met in the Army in WWII, and I think the Army tested them.) My father's IQ score came out one point higher than my mother's, and they had a very long happy relationship. They had to think, based on the tests, which I think they believed in, that they were equal, but perhaps it helped his ego to know he had that one point edge on paper. They used to joke about it. You do the taxes, you've got that extra IQ point.

January 7, 2005

Two things and a thing about two.

A day or two ago, two different emails advised me that something that I wrote reminded them of "The Substance of Style," the Virginia Postrel book that just came out in paperback, so I decided I ought to buy the book. As longtime readers know, I can't stand to buy just one thing. If I have one thing to buy, I become a prowling beast of a consumer, in search of a second thing to buy. The nearest book that appealed to me, in the Sociology section at Borders, was Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death," which either is or is not related to the themes in "The Substance of Style," though I'm sure if my life depended on it I could come up with a theory about why they are about the same thing. Postman's book dates back to 1985 and so, as it predicts the future, I presume it completely fails to account for our absorption into cyberspace, but I'm interested in Chapter 10 – "Teaching as an Amusing Activity" – and as I said, I needed a second book in order to be able to buy the first book.

And speaking of two, this is my second post of the day offering up raw material for anyone who would like to work on the theory Althouse is a bit insane about numbers.

The pros and cons of marrying someone smarter than you.

Yesterday's post "A high IQ is a hindrance for women" brought this email:
OK, data: I'm a man and I want to marry a smart woman. I would find most attractive a woman who was smarter than me, if she found me attractive. Validation for my ego! Plus, smart people are (ceteris paribus) usually more fun to be around than less-smart people, and a smarter woman ought to be more valuable as a marriage partner for numerous practical reasons. I'll bet lots of men, particularly smart men, feel the same way as I do. Look at the male-blogger fascination with Condoleezza Rice (not to mention various smart female bloggers), for example. OTOH, I might worry that a woman who was much smarter than me would eventually lose interest in me. But if men can be satisfied to be married to women who are less smart than they are, perhaps the converse is also possible. There is hope!

Unfortunately I am still unmarried. Perhaps this means that the smart women I find attractive are so smart that they don't find me attractive? Probably I shouldn't overthink this issue.

Well, that other post was a lot of speculation about why men and women might have different preferences about wanting a partner who was more/less/equally intelligent. But let's look at why everyone doesn't prefer a partner who is smarter than they are, or at least why the preference isn't as widespread as the preference for someone who is more attractive than oneself.

Here are some advantages I can think of in having mate that is smarter than you. He/she can can be trusted to handle various difficult family tasks -- such as finances, taxes, figuring out technical manuals -- that you would find exasperating. He/she might be good at solving problems and helping you or the kids get out of the various jams you might be dumb enough to get yourselves into. He/she would not need as much help him/herself. He/she might have lots of interesting things to say and be smart enough to notice when he/she is boring the pants off of you.

Against this we must weigh the disadvantages. He/she might use that superior intelligence to figure out ways to avoid difficult tasks or to convince you that you really are much better at them. He/she might find your mundane problems too boring to engage with. As for dealing with the kids, he/she might find the routines of childrearing too tedious. A mate who doesn't need your help may prove aloof and solitary. And when it comes to conversation, he/she might be so fascinated with the workings of his/her own mind that he/she pontificates and holds the floor too long and really doesn't care about your feeble contributions.

For every possible advantage to having someone smarter, there's a corresponding disadvantage. I think we need to know whether this smart person is kind and considerate or pretty much of a jerk before we know how this intelligence is going to play out. From what I've seen, a very smart person is at least as likely as an average person to be pretty much of a jerk. One thing about beauty: what you see is what you get. If you're fascinated by brilliance, it make take a while to notice the problems. Remember this wily character is going to be good at hiding the problems, great at explaining them away if you point them out, and a genius at demonstrating why it is in fact your fault!

I'm not really writing an advice column here. Note how I didn't actually help the emailer!


Nice Philadelphia photos over at Satan's Laundromat. I especially like the first one. I'm fond of numerals, just as design, and I make a point of photographing "4" when I get the chance. I've also always had a place in my heart for that cool old Charles Demuth painting "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold." You can buy a watch based on that painting, which is particularly nice if you love 5 o'clock. Me, I happen to be an immense fan of 4 o'clock. A.M. or P.M. -- I love 4 o'clock! And, yes, I know there are flowers called 4 o'clocks and that it's tea time (or just a good time for a late lunch) and that there's a movie called "The Devil at 4 O'Clock." Ah! When the Evil One crops up twice in one short post, it's time to stop!

UPDATE: Speaking of 4 o'clock, may I point out a little currently dismantled rock band I care a lot about -- Four O'Clock Tragedy.

"I didn't know that if you wanted a show cancelled, all you had to do was say it out loud."

So said Jon Stewart, on last night's "Daily Show," about the cancellation of CNN's "Crossfire."


I'm procrastinating, even though it isn't 7 a.m. yet. I've read the NYT, done the Friday crossword puzzle, and I open the blinds and it's still dark out. I'd like to go in to the office and read some admissions files today, but it's six degrees and, as I've said, still dark. So I'm reading some blogs and not really feeling that inspired to blog. I thought Andrew Sullivan had a lot of good posts up from today and yesterday, but nothing I wanted to opine on, so I clicked away from there and onto an Economist article that looked interesting ("Meritocracy in America"), and finally I got distracted by the sort of thing that makes me want to blog, actually, probably, my favorite thing to blog about: a language puzzle with a pop culture dimension.

A subheading in the article is "All snakes, no ladders." What does that refer to? I wondered. I knew the British called runs in nylon stockings "ladders," but then what were the "snakes"? Or is it something like the old board game "Chutes and Ladders"? Googling, I discovered that, in fact, "Snakes and Ladders" really was the original board game that the American "Chutes and Ladders" was based on. It's an apt metaphor, being a game in which one tries to advance along a path of squares, but the roll of the dice might land you on the first step of a ladder (which lets you immediately climb far ahead on the path) or the top of a chute (in which case you slide back to a much earlier point on the path).

Here's a brief, illustrated history of the game "Snakes and Ladders." It goes back to the second century B.C., to India:
Some say the game was developed by religious teachers who used the game to teach children the difference between "good and evil". In any event, the British "discovered" the game during the "Empire" days and introduced it into England in the 1890s, and eventually it was marketed as a children's game.... [T]he American version is known as "Chutes and Ladders" and first appeared in the US in 1943.

Interesting that the Americans replaced the snakes with chutes! If the snakes were intended to convey a moral message, what does the substitution of chutes for snakes say about America and how we teach our children morality? Obviously, the snake is still a symbol in American-style morality teaching. Who escapes the story of Adam and Eve? Did the Chutes and Ladders people decide that children should only be told that there are pitfalls out there and not warned that there were evildoers who might tempt them? Or was it merely that a chute (a slide) made a more sensible counterpart to a ladder, something the children could easily visualize sliding down? Most likely, the American game designers just thought snakes were too scary for the little kids who would play this very easy game. It's frustrating enough to encounter a big setback, so why torment the kids with snakes. Make it like playground equipment.

One reason I think this last explanation is most reasonable is that Candyland (from 1949) is clearly based on Chutes and Ladders. Apparently, even those slides are a bit too frightening for youngsters, and having Candy-based pitfalls and shortcuts seemed much more appropriate. It was packaged as "A sweet little game for sweet little folks" -- if you can believe the marketing. But maybe you shouldn't believe the marketing. Maybe Candyland was part of the nefarious corporate plot to addict Americans to mass-produced foodstuffs.

UPDATE: I note that for the French-speaking, "Chute" would imply the snake-infested, morality story of Adam and Eve. But the French version of the game marketed in Canada keeps the snakes: "Serpents et Echelles." I also note that "Snakes and Ladders" has Biblical imagery not only in the snake, but in the ladder. Hmmm... I wonder if Prince was inspired by the Bible or if he played Chutes and Ladders when he was a kid. I'm guessing both.

January 6, 2005

"A high IQ is a hindrance for women."

Here's a report on a study that supposedly shows that "a high IQ is a hindrance for women wanting to get married":
The study found the likelihood of marriage increased by 35 percent for boys for each 16-point increase in IQ.

But for girls, there is a 40-percent drop for each 16-point rise, according to the survey by the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The study is based on the IQs of 900 men and women between their 10th and 40th birthdays.

The professors theorize that high IQ types work hard at demanding careers and this causes the women to find the men around them "not interesting enough," while the men are going to want "an old-fashioned wife [who] looks after the home, a copy of his mum in a way."

This assumes that the old fashioned, mum-style woman won't have a high IQ, and that smart men prefer to be looked after while smart women want an intellectually stimulating partner. But I'm not going to quibble with those assumptions. I'm going to quibble with the larger assumption that the desire to marry is the same for men and women and at all levels of intelligence. The preference for marriage results from many factors. It may well be that some or all of these things are true: 1. women have less to gain from marriage once they are able to provide for themselves economically, 2. women with a higher IQ are more likely to be able to support themselves well, 3. more intelligent persons are better able to form preferences by analyzing real world factors and less likely to adopt established conventions, and 4. not marrying is the more rational choice for an intelligent woman. If some or all of these things are at least partially true, a high IQ in women might be a hindrance for the institution of marriage, but not for the woman herself.

I realize I may be misinterpreting the British use of the word "hindrance," and maybe the headline doesn't mean, as I interpreted it, that if you're a woman and you want to get married, a high IQ is going to make it more difficult for you to achieve your goal. Maybe it only means, if you are a woman, the higher your IQ is, the less likely you are to get married. If the study only means to say that, then I don't mean to criticize anyone for bad logic, only to say that we still don't know whether a high IQ makes a woman less able to attract men when she wants to do so or whether a high IQ makes a woman see marriage as a less desirable way of life. A safe guess is that it's some combination of the two.

But let me add an incendiary postscript. To generalize roughly: women want their partners to be at least as smart as they are, but men prefer to have something of an edge on the woman. A very smart man -- someone whose name you would recognize -- once told me that in looking for a wife, he made a list of qualifications, one of which was that she be "almost as smart" as he is. Now, maybe he only meant that he knew he was so incredibly smart that the most he could hope for was someone "almost as smart," but I think he meant that he wanted smart, but he didn't want to be outmatched. He wanted to feel dominant. If this pattern of preference is followed by most people, the men at the bottom and the women at the top will have the hardest time finding partners. Too bad! One more reason to favor the equality of the sexes: more people will find mates. If the theorizing in the previous paragraphs is true, however, maybe the smartest women will embrace the unmarried state happily. In that case, the ones who are hurt the most are the least intelligent men, whose true equals have been snatched away by dominance-seeking men who have outwitted them.

"I cannot live between the sky and the earth."

Under Iranian law, you can't be a homosexual, but sex change surgery is accepted. The BBC reports on the situation here.

Excusing "Alexander," now in the UK.

Oliver Stone is still shirking responsibility for the abysmal badness of his movie "Alexander." He thinks perhaps he'll have a fresh start in the UK by emphasizing the old Americans-are-Puritans angle:
At the UK premiere of his epic film of Alexander, Oliver Stone last night blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's US box office failure.

"Sexuality is a large issue in America right now, but it isn't so much in other countries," the Oscar-winning director explained yesterday. "There's a raging fundamentalism in morality in the United States. From day one audiences didn't show up. They didn't even read the reviews in the [American] south because the media was using the words: 'Alex is Gay'."

I wonder what Stone will use as an excuse when the movie flops outside of the U.S., but for now, he's got to grasp at the straws that are within range. You're so much better than those Americans, now, aren't you?

The movie's star Colin Farrell has a more downbeat explanation:
"The film is a draining experience to watch. It's loaded with mythology, icons, symbolism and destiny. My friends have watched the film and said: 'Jesus Christ it's not exactly Gladiator.'"

Come on, Colin. You could easily have punched that up into a challenge for the European moviegoers: The Americans, being simple-minded folk, were not up to the difficult comprehension of mythology, icons, symbolism and destiny. Surely, Europeans will get the allusions and revel in the complexity. But, no. He admits his friends have already razzed him about what a bad movie he made. Still, I think Farrell is probably wise to distance himself from Stone and reclaim his once-cool image.

"Small wounds have been left so long they end up being big wounds."

From the NYT, terrible stories of the medical needs of the tsunami survivors:
"To some extent a process of natural selection has occurred," Dr. Shumack said. "People with no treatment at all are already dead."...

The seawater that swamped the city consisted of a foul mixture of sanitation waste, garbage and debris. Many of those who did not drown were cut by flying bits of trees, wood and metal. Even for the injured who managed to scrounge a few dabs of antiseptic and a bandage at chaotic camps, wounds have become seriously infected, in many cases septic.

"A couple of drops of this putrid water gives these people rip-roaring pneumonia and lacerations that get horrendously infected," Dr. Shumack said. "The septicemia is incredible. The surgical cases have become more complicated because the infections are becoming more spectacular."...

At this point, for many, the only hope is amputation, and the doctors are struggling and running out of amputation saws.

Fear of regime change?

There's this report about why Burma has been so secretive about the effects of the tsunami:
Superstition, distrust and a secretive military regime are making it difficult to assess the death toll and damage from the Dec. 26 tsunami in Myanmar, a country ruled by dictators since 1962.

"There's an age-old superstition that if there's a big natural disaster, there's going to be a new king or a regime change," says Stephen Dun of Seattle. "That's one of the reasons they're keeping a big blanket on this whole situation."

Dun serves on the board of the US Campaign for Burma, a human-rights and pro-democracy group, and is an elected representative of the Karen National Union. The Karen tribe, the largest and most powerful of Myanmar's ethnic minorities, has been fighting the government for decades...

David Steinberg, an expert on Myanmar at Georgetown University, says the generals who have ruled since 1962 have always been economical with bad news. "Disasters, naturally or otherwise induced, tend to undercut the perceived legitimacy of the state, so they report them only reluctantly or in a tardy manner," he said.

The government is claiming that only 59 people have died from the tsunami.

UPDATE: Note that the U.N. is backing up the government's report of only light damages.

Naming the wave pool.

From the Wisconsin State Journal:
The Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells has decided to stick with "The Great Tsunami" as the name for its outdoor wave pool that opened last summer, at least for the time being, a company official said Wednesday....

"It's pretty much an industry standard to name water park rides and attractions after natural weather events, such as hurricanes, typhoons and tidal waves," [Joe Eck, director of sales and marketing,] said. "Unfortunately, ours was named before this incident."

Another thing I'm not keeping up with.

I'm not keeping up with the snow shoveling and exam reading, as the last post shows. I also cannot properly keep up with my email. I lost my grip on it yesterday. The only other time I lost my grip on all the email from my readers was when I was debating the relative merits of keeping my Beetle (seen, kept, in the photo just below) or replacing it with either an Audi TT Coupe (the car I really want) or a Corvette (an absurd fantasy brought on by a brochure that came in the mail that many readers decided to encourage me to plunge insanely into). Yesterday, I lost my grip on the email because of two posts that were, apparently, highly provocative.

The first was the little thing about "crazy old aunt in the attic." I've done two updates, and really, that's that. I don't know why it provoked people so much. Maybe, they've been saying "crazy old aunt in the attic" and they need to feel that it's a good expression and here I am forbidding it, repressing them. But then James Taranto is repressing people who want to have fun mixing metaphors like mad. People who write safirically about language are such party poopers. Okay! I'm sorry!

The second thing that unleashed the email was the set of posts yesterday about beauty, and it's easy to see why these were provocative. I appreciate all the comments, but can't answer all the email personally. I'll post on this subject again in the future. I know it is something people really want to engage with. The feminist position that everything is patriarchal culture is offset by an extreme sociobiologist position that everything is evolution. I'll just say for now, in answer to all the people who emailed to tell me the sociobiology side of the story: I find both extremes highly implausible. Quite aside from email: I liked reading responses to those two posts in other blogs, especially this one in The Sheila Variations (which, speaking of beauty, is a really nice looking blog).

Snowed in.

It hadn't snowed all season, except for nature's desultory recognition of Christmas day with a pretty dusting. But last night, a foot of the stuff landed on us. Here's the view from my front step, in the dawn light:

Car fans can see that I still have my cosmic green Beetle, whose rounded contours go well with the rounding effect of a thick layer of snow. Here's the view looking in the other direction.

[photograph unrecoverable, sorry!]

The snow makes that Adirondack chair look upholstered.

I partly shoveled the walk, partly to make a path for pedestrians, and partly to try to find the New York Times. There was a rounded rectangle at the end of the walk that I just knew would be the Times under a layer of snow, but when I got to it, it was nothing at all. So now, I haven't got the Times to read, but I'm surrounded by piles of exams. I'm quite snowed in, because the street is not plowed, so it's a good day to plow through those exams. If I read with the thought that finishing the shoveling will be a break from the reading, maybe I will get everything done.

UPDATE: I don't know what possessed me to make me write "a foot" of snow fell. It was 8.8 inches. Still, that's a lot. And I did go out an shovel, after the street plows came through. Did I read the exams? Eh. Not enough. Still trying....

YET MORE: Haiku'd.

January 5, 2005

Some Madison things.

1. Madison has its own minimum wage now, after a judge today rejected the argument that only the state can set the minimum wage. So now the state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, and the city minimum wage is $5.70. The minimum wage will rise to $6.50 in 2006 and $7.75 in 2008.

2. The local paper, the Capital Times, has an editorial today calling on Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to object to the presidential election results from Ohio. The paper thinks it would be a good idea to "focus attention" on the "irregulaties" that occurred in Ohio.

3. A 150-pound red kangaroo was found hopping along the highway near here, and no one seems to know where it came from. The poor thing must have been cold. It's been snowing like mad. They're taking him in over at the zoo.

Causal chains: marriage, sex, money, happiness.

Jim Lindgren explains a study of of marriage, sex, money, and happiness by economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald. It's nice that people are doing these studies and good that Lindgren is critiquing them, but I remain dubious. Do happy people have more sex, or does sex make people happy? Does marriage make people happier/richer/more sexually active, or are people with a happy nature, a good job, and a strong sex drive more likely to get married? These factors are interrelated in such complex and unknowable ways that it's hard to see how any collection of statistics can show what is cause and what is effect. Everyone is tempted to put first in the causal chain whichever thing (marriage, sex, money, or happiness) they most would like to see causing things.

More on the beauty disequilibrium.

That last post of mine prompted a reader to track down this old quote from Andrew Sullivan:
If women weren't so damn forgiving of slobbiness, if they weren't prepared to look for the diamond buried in the rough of a man's beer-belly, men might have to shape up a little. The only reason gay men are - on the whole - better turned out than straight men is because they have to appeal to other shallow, beauty-obsessed males to get laid, find a mate, etc. The corollary, of course, are lesbians. Now there are many glamorous lesbiterians, but even the most enthusiastic Sapphic-lover will have to concede that many are not exactly, shall we say, stylish. The reason? They don't have to be to attract other women; and since women find monogamy easier, they also slide into the I'm-married-so-what-the-hell-have-another-pretzel syndrome. When straight women really do insist on only dating hot guys, men will shape up. Until then, it's hopeless.

Sullivan makes more sense than Kipnis (and is also much more amusing to read). Both observe that there is a disadvantage to women rooted in the different attention men and women pay to beauty, and neither has a solution.

Feminists like Kipnis tell women to stop concerning themselves about their physical beauty and accept the consequences. Women who take her advice and let themselves go will be less competition for the women who still try to look good. By the way, Kipnis herself looks great and wears plenty of makeup. The competition among women will continue, and those who took Kipnis's advice will just lose in that competition.

Sullivan would have women insist that men uphold higher standards of beauty themselves. Again, the women who take the advice merely remove themselves from the competition: there will always be another woman ready to accept the man with his faults. The competition for men will continue, and those who took Sullivan's advice will just lose in that competition.

The problem of women having to put more effort into beauty than men do is thus heavily reinforced and not susceptible to easy dismantling. You can't explain a reason for it and persuade people to see the light and thereby solve the problem.

Oh, did you want me to solve the problem? My solution would be very non-grandiose. Women should continue to concern themselves about how they look, but without overdoing it. You don't need to buy expensive products or spend a lot of time using them. You don't have to drive yourself crazy comparing yourself to everyone else. Just take reasonable care of yourself. And let men do the same. Women could be a little more in touch with the fact that men who don't take care of themselves aren't attractive. Maybe if people behaved a little more sensibly, some equilibrium between the sexes could be reached.

UPDATE: Judging from the email I'm getting, there are a lot of men who think that nature created them to want to see beauty in their mate, but that women lack the same desire. I recommend looking critically at beliefs that are that convenient. You may think the woman doesn't mind or doesn't notice, but I don't. A woman may be willing to accept less beauty in return for economic security, but that doesn't mean she lacks the appreciation for beauty. It just means she appreciates the money more. You could also compensate for lack of looks with great sexual technique or witty conversation. But then, couldn't she compensate that way too?

Rituals of the beauty culture.

Laura Kipnis explains the "irreconcilable contradiction between feminism and femininity":
The reason they're incompatible is simple. Femininity is a system that tries to secure advantages for women, primarily by enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men. It also shores up masculinity through displays of feminine helplessness or deference. But femininity depends on a sense of female inadequacy to perpetuate itself. Completely successful femininity can never be entirely attained, which is precisely why women engage in so much laboring, agonizing, and self-loathing, because whatever you do, there's always that straggly inch-long chin hair or pot belly or just the inexorable march of time. (Even the dewiest ingénue is a Norma Desmond waiting to happen.)

Don't any dewy ingénues get to be Jeanne Moreau or Catherine Deneuve?
Feminism, on the other hand, is dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy. It strives to smash beauty norms, it demands female equality in all spheres, it rejects sexual market value as the measure of female worth.

That's awfully pre-Madonna.
[F]or all feminism's social achievements, what it never managed to accomplish was the eradication of the heterosexual beauty culture, meaning the time-consuming and expensive potions and procedures...

Note that Kipnis can't just say feminism failed to extinguish the human love of beauty. It's not beauty, it's a beauty culture that is the problem, and a heterosexual one at that. There's some sort of crushing patriarchy imposing something on women, something unnatural, involving "expensive potions and procedures." The assumption – actually quite incredible – is that empowered women would not care how things looked. I think it's more likely that empowered women would demand that males meet a higher standard of beauty.

What if women really didn't care about winning the sexual love of men? How would they look?
Women here may pant, "I'm doing it for myself" while strapped to their treadmills…

… but the fact is that the beauty culture is a heterosexual institution, and to the extent that women participate in its rituals, they, too, are propping up a heterosexual society and its norms.…

You can make a lot of thudding assertions like that, but it doesn't make them true. Don't homosexuals love beauty too? If you fix your hair and put on makeup and choose your clothes with some care, are you participating in a ritual? Is the heterosexuality that most of us feel a "society" that needs "propping up"? And really why must we say all these tedious things all over again?

Oh, I can answer that last question: Eve Ensler has a new play. I'd rather be strapped to a treadmill than sit through it.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for linking. And note that I have more to say on the subject in the next post.

January 4, 2005

Can Reid read?

Despite the tweaking of the previous post, I think James Taranto does great work on Best of the Web. In fact, the real reason I looked over there today was at the behest of an emailer who was interested in what he wrote here about Senator Reid's continuing idiocy about Justice Thomas. On "Inside Politics" on December 26th, it turns out, Reid was asked to back up his earlier statement that Justice Thomas's opinons are "poorly written." Can he name one opinion?
Oh sure, that's easy to do. You take the Hillside Dairy case. In that case you had a dissent written by Scalia and a dissent written by Thomas. There--it's like looking at an eighth-grade dissertation compared to somebody who just graduated from Harvard.

Scalia's is well reasoned. He doesn't want to turn stare decisis precedent on its head. That's what Thomas wants to do. So yes, I think he has written a very poor opinion there and he's written other opinions that are not very good.

As Taranto notes, the case Reid cites doesn't even have a Scalia dissent, so Reid's answer says something about Reid's poor reading, but nothing about Thomas's writing compared to Scalia's. Maybe he meant to compare Thomas's dissent to Stevens's long majority opinion. Well, "Scalia" and "Stevens" do both start with an "S," and maybe someone who reids reads on a first grade level might get confused. But it's not as if the two Justices were asked to write essays of a particular length and Thomas couldn't do it. Thomas wrote the sort of brief dissent that cites an earlier dissent that already explains the reason for dissenting. This is absolutely standard and much appreciated by readers of court opinions. In the case Thomas cites, Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Justice Thomas writes a very long, scholarly opinion about the negative commerce clause (and, as Taranto notes, Justice Scalia, joins that opinion!).

It's certainly true that Thomas's position on the negative (or "dormant") commerce clause would overturn a lot of precedent. Reid and other Thomas opponents really are worried that a reconfigured Court might change too many things that people have come to rely on. In fact, as I blogged here, Justice Scalia has been critical of Justice Thomas for not having enough respect for precedent. Of course, if this is the distinction between Thomas and Scalia that Reid is hoping to highlight, he's doing a pathetic job of it by citing an opinion in an area where Scalia has agreed with Thomas.

There is good reason to worry about the changes Thomas would make in this and other areas of constitutional law if he had enough votes, but it doesn't have anything to do with poor writing. Is Reid a racist for impugning Thomas's intelligence? He's an idiot for saying things that make him look like a racist, but I doubt that he is. I think he is resorting to the Thomas-is-too-dumb message because he thinks he can't openly say what he really thinks: that he doesn't like the outcomes in Thomas's opinions. As I've said before, the Senators think they need to oppose a judicial nominee with something other than the will to make the cases come out the way they want. That makes it a lot harder for them to talk about how they are handling nominations, and Senator Reid does not really seem to be up to the delicate maneuvering that will be needed if the Democrats are going to have some measure of power in the coming confirmation processes.

Metaphor alert alert.

Best of the Web's James Taranto calls "metaphor alert" on Helen Thomas:
From a column by Helen Thomas, American journalism's crazy old aunt in the attic: "I have observed that whenever a major news outlet is stung with the label 'liberal' and feels the hot breath of ultra-right critics on its neck, it circles the wagons and hires yet another conservative commentator. Take PBS, for example. Running scared after giving [Bill] Moyers the spotlight over the years, PBS made amends by hiring two conservatives."

Stop smirking, James. Your expression "crazy old aunt in the attic" isn't very apt either. People may say "crazy old aunt," but the madwoman in the attic -- a character in "Jane Eyre" -- was most definitely not the aunt!

UPDATE: Since I've gotten a couple emails from people saying that "crazy old aunt in the attic" is an expression they've seen before, let me hazard to guess that if you've seen it before, it's because James Taranto has said it before -- about Helen Thomas. I'm standing by my position that it is a corruption. If you know the literary allusion that's being corrupted, it's quite annoying. You wouldn't accept the expression "the Mother Goose that laid the golden egg" or "he was buried in Harry Potter's field" or "I need to get my Donald Ducks in a row" or "you don't know Jack Sprat."

ANOTHER UPDATE: This post has spawned a lot of email! Okay. I did a NEXIS search of news sources, and came up with eleven uses of "crazy old aunt in the attic" older than two years ago. The oldest one was -- as several emailers suspected -- from Ross Perot. In 1992, he called the deficit "the crazy old aunt in the attic that no one wants to talk about." I still stand by my position that it is a corruption, adopted by those who aren't familiar with a literary character that they should be aware of. If James Taranto wants to appoint himself as a stickler for language usage, he ought to care. He shouldn't want to be the pot calling the kettle black. Or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow calling the kettle black. Or the pot calling Ma and Pa Kettle ... oh, you get the idea.

Nun's Oath Ale.

Somebody emailed me a link to this anagram generator, and that reminded me of an anagram I found long ago for my name (aka an "ann-o-gram"). I like the name Nun's Oath Ale so much it makes me want to go into the brewery business! As I've mentioned before, spellcheckers have for years been telling me to change my last name to Alehouse, so I feel truly called.

Email I feel vaguely threatened by.

This email just came in via the law school faculty discussion list:
Did anyone leave a book called "Bethlehem Road Murder" around, or, was anyone expecting it? It was found lying around the mailboxes in the main office. It has a note and seems to be for "A" and from "J." Any help would be appreciated, please email me back, thanks.

Fashion economics, fashion psychology.

Last February, in response to fashion writing that tried to analyze, on some deep sociological level, why all the designers were offering up very prim clothes, I wrote :
I'll bet they are just laying the groundwork for saying "All that prim swaddling looks so old now" next year. The trick in fashion is to get you not to notice how bad something is now so that in the future they can sell something else that looks pretty bad by contrasting it to that thing from the previous year.

I want some recognition for my fashion savvy, because here they are now, abjuring primness:
A year ago they were all taken with ladylike clothes. You would have thought a fur tippet was the most exciting thing since fulminate of mercury. Now they're sorry they ever met the lady.

"If I see another tweed pencil skirt," the designer Lazaro Hernandez said, "I'm going to . . . "

Ha, ha ... I think that's the way many of us felt the first time we saw one! But, so, anyway ... what is in style now, you might ask. One thing is clear, it's not grunge! It can't be grunge, we're told. One sells luxury in the fashion industry. But fashion economics has its own outlandish psychology:
David Wolfe, the creative director of the Doneger Group, which forecasts fashion trends and whose clients include Wal-Mart and Nordstrom, [said] ... [i]f a young woman ... used to spend two paychecks for a coveted handbag, she will soon be spending an entire month's wages if it means that much to her.

Anyway, to a forecaster 2005 is already a wash. Mr. Wolfe has his sights on 2006. "It's going to be the start of dropping out, downsizing and divesting yourself," he said. "And that's going to have all kinds of design implications. Too many products right now are overdesigned." He foresees the beginning of "an aesthetic movement" that will lead people actually to brag that they own only one bag or expensive coat.

Mr. Wolfe chuckled. "I like this idea," he said, "that it's so elitist."

If your handbag cost you a month's wages and you think you're in the elite, you're absolutely out of your mind. Yet the fashion industry is built on expert theorizing that pictures a woman who would think such a thing.

I don't like spectator sports much either.

But, really:
The [Green Book], still heralded on billboards [in Libya] like the latest best seller, lays out Colonel Qaddafi's "Third Universal Theory," covering governance, economics and society....

Government officials tried desperately to carry out the book's tenets, twisting Libyan society to fit Colonel Qaddafi's utopian, quasi-socialist vision. For years, team sports were banned in favor of "mass games," like communal tugs of war, because of the book's declaration that "sport is a public activity that must be practiced rather than watched."

"Toe nails keep terror suspect from court."

Interesting headline over on CNN. Less exciting than the Drudge news noted in that last post, but more likely to be true. Weirder and truer.

Al-Zarqawi arrested?

Drudge reports: "Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, whom the US occupation authorities declared to be the 'target number one' in Iraq, has been arrested in the city of Baakuba, the Emirate newspaper al-Bayane reported on Tuesday referring to Kurdish sources." Let's hope so!

Death penalty numbers.

In today's NYT, Adam Liptak discusses the pending Supreme Court case that challenges the constitutionality of imposing the death penalty on a person who committed his crime when he was less than 18 years old. Under the current law, the youth of the offender is taken into account as a mitigating factor, and the question now is whether there should be an absolute rule. (There is already an absolute rule for those under 16.) In this context, what should the Court make of the fact that it has become rarer and rarer to give the death penalty to someone in this category?
A central issue before the court, which is expected to rule in the next few months, is whether the plummeting number of such death sentences - there were two last year - lends weight to the argument that putting youths on death row amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Supporters of the juvenile death penalty argue that the small number proves instead that the system works and that juries are making discerning choices on whom to sentence to death, taking due account of the defendants' youth and reserving the ultimate punishment for the worst of the worst.

I'm opposed to the death penalty, but I think the supporters here have the better interpretation of the decreasing number. If the opponents' interpretation were taken seriously, that would also mean that, in general, for all murders, the more strictly courts and juries restrain themselves and reserve the death penalty for the most truly heinous murders, the more they generate evidence that the death penalty is cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional. Those who want the death penalty to be available to express the ultimate condemnation of a crime would need to hope to see it imposed more frequently, lest they lose it altogether.

Carnival of the Doodles.

Ambivablog has taken up the doodle mantle, which I dropped a while back. She's got some nice doodles at the link and is trying to put together a Carnival of the Doodles, so why don't you help? She's raised the issue of defining the doodle: "Honor system: we'll just have to take your word that it's an honest-to-God, spaced-out doodle and not a deliberate fake." So, what, once you think about the fact that you are drawing, you've deprived the thing of its essential doodlosity? I was more coming at the subject from the other direction: once you call something a "drawing," you invite serious art criticism. By offering your drawing up as a doodle, you fend off judgment. You're thinking people will look with a more forgiving eye and be slightly entertained or say "that's pretty cool." But by Ambivablog's account, you'd be a fraud if you did this.

"I'll link to that"/"I'll drink to that."

These phrases rhyme, I note. One is a common expression. The other is a phrase I find myself saying a lot these days. I'm not opposed to drinking or to drinking to things. Yet you never find yourself saying I should be drinking more, but you might think I should be linking more. You might say to yourself -- or have someone say to you -- you're drinking too much, but you never hear you're linking too much, do you? On the other hand, you might well hear -- or even say to yourself -- you're blogging too much. Do you ever hear that you're blogging without linking enough? Some folks say the big thing about blogging is the linking. Maybe if you blog a lot without linking, people are going to think you have a blogging problem. Maybe it's like the way you can drink a lot, and no one will say that much, but if you drink and drive, they're going to feel they have to intervene. By the same token (the reversed token?), maybe there will be interventions for people who blog heavily and don't link.

UPDATE: Now if you find yourself blogging and driving, you really do have a problem. Drinking and blogging, however, is a classic combination.

January 3, 2005

Stingy actors!

I see that Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million for tsunami relief. So Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, and Jennifer Lopez: you're going to have to give one million ... or you're stingy!

Strange matter.

This is from Peter Singer's review of Richard Posner's new book Catastrophe: Risk and Response":
High-energy particle accelerators, used by physicists to investigate the fundamental laws of nature, could produce particles that create hyperdense ''strange matter'' that in turn might attract nearby nuclei, thus growing larger and attracting ever more nuclei, until the entire planet is compressed into a sphere no more than 100 meters in diameter...

The official risk-assessment team for one of these accelerators, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, offered a series of estimates, one of which puts the annual risk of a disaster at one in five million. That seems a very small risk. But since the disaster would kill six billion people, that estimate gives it an expected cost of 1,200 lives per year. Even if the risk is estimated more conservatively at one in a billion, it has an expected annual cost of six lives. Would we build such an accelerator if we knew that six people would die every year in which it operates?

I don't understand the purported helpfulness of converting the problem of destroying the entire world into an annual death rate calculated along with the low probability. One in five million already sounds like a ridiculous chance to take. Can somebody remind me why we let scientists fool with particle accelerators?

UPDATE: James Bellinger, an associate scientist in the High Energy Physics Unit here at UW-Madison, emails:
Cosmic rays hit our atmosphere with a spectrum of energies: the higher energy, the rarer they are. We've seen evidence of energies so high that no earthly accelerator planned so far comes close to matching the center-of-mass energy you get when one of those cosmic rays hits a nucleus. Given that the earth (and the sun, or anything else in our solar system for that matter) hasn't imploded yet, you have to conclude that the risk is pretty small that undiscovered strange matter physics is going to kill us.

And some people have looked for evidence of "strange nuclei" in cosmic ray interactions. The last time I looked at this was back in 87 or so, but a quick googling about this morning finds a Japanese team which claims to have found a couple of odd events (PRL 65 p2094, 1990) and an upper limit on rates from another group. If the Japanese result is correct, then we at least know that strange matter doesn't destroy balloons . . . And there's this.

So please, let us keep playing with accelerators :-)

The ideal class size.

Different teachers have different ideas about what the ideal class size is. Obviously, it depends on the level of school you're teaching and the methodology you want to be able to use. For me, the ideal is 40 students. I'm quite close to having exactly that number in the two classes that begin at the end of the month. I always love semester beginnings -- such an optimistic time! -- but a semester beginning with two ideally sized classes is really quite excellent.

"We live in an era that has placed too much emphasis on diagnosis."

In the Washington Post, Tim Page writes about Glenn Gould:
[H]e talked happily, obliviously, on and on into the night about any subject that crossed his mind -- this composer, that recording, his favorite television programs (he loved "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), the stock market (he played actively and lucratively), his love for animals, which he generally preferred to people.

His sex life seems to have been virtually nonexistent; his friendships were kept up mainly through the telephone (how he would have delighted in the Internet!); he worked by night and slept by day. It has been suggested that Gould may have had a touch of autism -- he was profoundly uncomfortable with most physical contact and demanded, throughout his life, the psychological safety of unbroken routines whenever possible. But we live in an era that has placed too much emphasis on diagnosis...

Is it true that back in the 1950s, there wasn't an emphasis on diagnosis? It seems to me that back then, people were intent on framing all sorts of behavior in Freudian terms. Popular culture was full of Freudian analysis, while today's culture is full of talk of mental disorders that have drugs and other treatments of the sort that do not demand the services of a psychoanalyst. Here's some analysis from a psychiatrist, Helen Mesaros, who studied Gould:
Although some of Gould’s symptoms on the surface may be similar to those typical for Asperger’s disorder, they differ because they have a psychodynamical origin; they are functional in nature and have a symbolic meaning as opposed to being nonfunctional and involuntary.

The old psychoanalytic diagnoses were colorful family stories of distant fathers and suffocating mothers. Today's talk of autism is not a new pathologizing of human behavior, just a new perspective on the origin of pathology.

Side note: I adore the movie "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould."

"The blogosphere's tendency toward crackpot theorizing and political smack down."

The NYT is observing the blogosphere again and somehow I feel all inspired to smack them down.
The interplay between the sites, left and right, is typical of the rumbles in cyberspace between rivals at different ends of the political spectrum. In many ways, Web logs shone after the tsunami struck: bloggers in the regions posted compelling descriptions of the devastation, sometimes by text messages sent from their cellphones as they roamed the countryside looking for friends and family members. And blogs were quick to create links to charities so that people could help online.

But the blogosphere's tendency toward crackpot theorizing and political smack down could not be suppressed for long.

So those little, special things you bloggers are in a position to do are just fine, but when it comes to analyzing anything, you just revert to your usual crazy tendencies. Now, why isn't that a crackpot theory? Will the NYT ever notice how much sane and sound analysis goes on in blog form?
Online discussion can evolve toward truth, said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University and a blogger. One result is a process that can be more reliable than many new media, where corrections are often late and small, if they appear at all.

(New media? Isn't that a description of of old media?)

So the Times approves of the portrayal of blogging as some sort of low level phenomenon -- it can "evolve toward truth" -- but it won't recognize that there are plenty of bloggers who can seize on some fresh item and analyze it on the spot quite well and quite apart from crazy theories and pat ideology. The Times gleefully begins its piece with an idiotic Democratic Underground theory (Bush caused the earthquake), which the reader is left to think typifies the nutty blogosphere. Well, that's their theory and they're sticking with it.

Blogger doings.

Jeremy Freese has returned from blogging hiatus and he's posting about yesterday's brunch, pushing the blogging ethics envelope, and provoking a comments response from "arguably the single most irrepressible spirit to walk the earth." Bonus material: an old Communist joke from the 60s that I remember too, blog-stimulating alphabet magnets from Poland, and a year-old email (which I'd never seen before) describing the origin of the Althouse blog.

January 2, 2005

Colin Powell, screaming in outrage.

I'm always amazed at the unflappably fluent Colin Powell. He calmly and efficiently explains everything. But what's this?
MR. RUSSERT:  There's a front-page report in The Washington Post today that the administration is considering a prison to detain alleged terrorists where they do not have enough evidence to bring them to prosecution.  What's your role in that and do you seem...

SEC'Y POWELL:  I am not familiar with that and I can't talk to it.

MR. RUSSERT:  The State Department is involved.

SEC'Y POWELL:  I just don't have the facts on that one.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why would the United States detain people for life without bringing them to trial?

SEC'Y POWELL:  I have no information on this one, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about the Middle East. 

The transcript does not show the repeated throat-clearings. Powell maintained his usual steady demeanor, but for the throat clearings and perhaps a slight hint of unease. Powell has steadfastly defended everything he has been called on to defend over the last four years. I'm sensing that this is how Powell, that intensely controlled and restrained man, looks when he is screaming in outrage.

The new "Sideways" backlash.

A.O. Scott writes in the NYT that "Sideways" is "the most overrated film of the year." The "Sideways" backlash has arrived. You can't get away with so much praise. Here's a movie that virtually all the critics liked, but how much did they like it? Maybe not enough to tolerate seeing it vanquish more thrilling, daring movies. It's just a charming, little film that hit home, but should it win the Oscar? We saw a similar chronology last year with "Lost in Translation," as critical praise led to backlash and the Oscar for "Return of the King" was saved.

According to Scott, the male critics have their reasons for being seduced by "Sideways":
In "Sideways," a good many critics see themselves, and it is only natural that we should love what we see. Not that critics are the only ones, by any means, but the affection that we have lavished on this film has the effect of emphasizing the narrowness of its vision, and perhaps our own. It both satirizes and affirms a cherished male fantasy: that however antisocial, self-absorbed and downright unattractive a man may be, he can always be rescued by the love of a good woman. (What's in it for her is less clear.)

It's the critics' own self-love we're seeing displayed in the over-good reviews. All right. That settles it. Now I don't have to drag myself to the second-rate theater where this film is playing in Madison. If it was playing at Point, I'd probably go, but it's so depressing to go to Westgate. I'll wait for the DVD. It'll probably be better on DVD anyway, being a small-scale film. It will fit the TV. Who needs the "downright unattractive" Paul Giamatti looming over you for two hours on the big screen anyway?

The Right Cabbage.

"The Right Cabbage Can Win a Scholarship."

Brunch topics.

Do we celebrate blog-birthdays now? Nina staged a brunch in honor of the first year of her wonderful blog. A certain blogger who doesn't want to be linked without preclearance was a no-show, assertedly because she food-poisoned herself after being intimidated by last night's ice storm into not going out to eat. Worse than missing the brunch, from the bloggish perspective, is not blogging about poisoning yourself. She has not posted since Christmas. Come on! How about some vomit-blogging?

Nina's blog, it should be noted, has not missed a day since it was born. We discussed whether you can celebrate a blog-birthday after only one year if you haven't posted every day. Maybe the post-free days shouldn't count. But if you were in a coma part of a year, you'd still keep your birthday on the same day, I said as we were leaving the brunch.
"Hey, watch out for that ice! I nearly killed myself driving in this ice last night. It would be bad dying on January 1st, but at least you'd have made it into the new year. Even though, not really."

"Your tombstone would be deceptive.

But we survived the brunch. We didn't die or get food poisoning. In fact, it was delicious. Nina put on her usual cooking show, which this time involved using multiple ovens during the event and scones and a cake that had been baked beforehand. Complex drinks were cococted. One trayful of food was burned -- purely for theatrical effect.
"Hey, what is this froth? There's froth on the bacon."

"There's always froth on bacon. It does that when the grease cooks."

"Froth is interesting. I've been thinking about froth. There is good froth and bad froth. There is the froth that we think of as particularly delicious -- cappucino, zabaglione -- and there is the froth that we think of as particularly vile and disgusting -- frothing at the mouth, spittle. Wait a minute, I've got to get my notebook. Not my notebook computer, just a little notebook."

"It's a Moleskin notebook."

"Yes, have you noticed how these Moleskine notebooks are suddenly everywhere and presented as if they are some big, important tradition that we've cared about for a long time? Whoever heard of these things before this year? And now it's Moleskine! I must have my Moleskine notebook! It's the notebook Hemingway used! How did that happen? That was some excellent marketing. Okay, I'm just writing 'Froth: good or bad?' and I'm going to blog about this later. Also 'Moleskine marketing.' Also 'burn something, theater.' I've noticed Nina always burns something, and I'm thinking she does it as theater."

Knowing nods confirm my suspicion. Ah ha! I knew it! So it's true? She actually does always burn something for effect? Apparently, the answer is yes!

So much yummy food was consumed and a long bloggish conversation in honor of the blog-birthday ensued, but as you can see, I didn't simulblog and I stopped taking notes, the better to wield a spoon and fork, so I'll end my little account here.

Tsunami relief and logistics.

Following up on that last post from yesterday, I see this quote, from David Nabarro, head of the World Health Organization's crisis team:
"Perhaps as many as 5 million people are not able to access what they need for living. Either they cannot get water, or their sanitation is inadequate, or they cannot get food."

This article in the Chicago Tribune put the number of survivors with "serious injuries" is 500,000, and has this quote from Jan Egeland, the UN emergency aid coordinator:
"The immediate relief problem had more to do with logistics than with money. We see now as our biggest challenge not the availability of funds nor the availability of supplies that are in the pipeline, but the logistical constraints on getting it out to people."

And this quote from John Budd, a UNICEF spokesman in Jakarta:
"Getting aid into Aceh is very difficult. You can get to the Banda Aceh airport, but there are no trucks and no fuel to move it out of there." He said the airport at Medan was also receiving tons of aid, but noted that there was only one road from Medan to Banda Aceh and that it was very rough and took 12 hours to traverse.

This AP article says that rescue efforts are about to end:
Officials were pessimistic.

"There is very little chance of finding survivors after seven days," Lamsar Sipahutar, the head of Indonesia's search team. "We are about to stop the search-and-rescue operations. If you survived the earthquake, you probably were killed by tsunami."

I hope people who are concerned about aid to the survivors appreciate the importance of the military when it comes to getting relief to people:
The American military was mounting its largest operation in southern Asian since the Vietnam War, delivering supplies from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln stationed off Sumatra and sending a flotilla of Marines and water purifying equipment to Sri Lanka.

UPDATE: The NYT on the role of the U.S. military in providing aid:
While the Abraham Lincoln and four accompanying ships represented the vanguard of American emergency aid to Indonesia, American officials said seven more vessels led by the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard were steaming west from the South China Sea with more supplies and were expected to be off the coast of Sri Lanka in the coming week, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Military officials said that yet another convoy, six slower-moving ships loaded with food, water, blankets and a 500-bed portable hospital, was en route from Guam, but was not expected to reach the stricken region for about two weeks.

Capt. Rodger Welch of the Navy, representing the operations directorate of the military's Pacific Command, said late Saturday that the American relief mission likely was the largest in the region in at least 50 years. "And we are only beginning this effort," he added.

About 10,000 to 12,000 American military personnel were now involved, mostly aboard the Lincoln and Bonhomme Richard groups....

American military officials said 1,500 marines and 20 helicopters would be deployed in the next few days to clear debris and aid survivors in devastated areas of Sri Lanka. The first contingent of 200 was expected to arrive today.