February 26, 2005

Mr. Moderato.

A new trend?

"Scissors count, but the knife does not."

Now that we've defined what a gadget is, let's identify the top 100 gadgets of all time. Or, let the fighting begin by having one magazine -- Mobile PC -- identify the top 100 gadgets of all time. Most of them are either electronic or goofy novelties (like the Ronco egg-scrambler): the list is dripping with bias toward things the listmakers remember from their own lives. So, lest you get steamed at the absence of the catapult -- or whatever -- you might want to read "all time" as all the time that youngish guys have personally experienced. But they do throw in some old stuff to try to make it look a little "all time": the sextant and the abacus get slotted in at 59 and 60. Yet somehow Etch-a-Sketch and Speak-and-Spell are greater! Numerous different laptops make the list -- I lost count -- and the Apple Powerbook 100 comes in at first place.

The taser is number 79. (No other guns make the list!) Did you know a University of Wisconsin professor is testing tasers on pigs?
Over the past three years, more than 70 people in North America have died after being shocked by Tasers, according to the human rights group Amnesty International. But John Webster questions whether Tasers were really the cause of death.

Many of those people were high on drugs, namely cocaine, argued the emeritus professor of biomedical engineering.

"If you Taser someone with a cocaine overdose, and they die, did they die of the Taser?" Webster said. "I know that many people make it to the emergency room and then die. In my opinion, they were not electrocuted by the Taser. They were high on drugs."

He'll use about 10 anesthetized pigs to help settle the question of whether Tasers alone can send a subject into the deadly state of ventricular fibrillation. A Taser gun ejects darts with a 50,000-volt electrical charge that is designed to briefly immobilize people.

Some of the pigs will be shot with the Taser. Some will get cocaine or another drug. And some will get both the drug and the Taser shot. Webster and his students will measure the effect on the pig's heart.

"The question I'm trying to answer is, can Tasers electrocute subjects?" Webster said. "My hypothesis is, no." He did leave open the possibility that an "emaciated person" who is hit by a Taser whose darts hit directly on and around the heart could die of the shot.

The study is funded with a two-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

It seems to me that people high on cocaine are especially likely to get into the kind of situation where they do get shot with Tasers. If you know the Taser-cocaine combination is deadly, isn't there still a problem?

The Oscars!

Yes, I will be simulblogging the Oscars tomorrow night. Will I be playing the Oscars Drinking Game while simulblogging? Better not! But great list: "Drink if you can't figure out a damn thing Prince says when presenting an award." Prince is presenting an award? Yes. And well he should. He won an Oscar once. I wish I could find a picture of him in that purple-hooded cape he wore when he accepted the award.

Why does Road Kill candy send the wrong message?

A rash of criticism has already bullied Kraft into getting rid of its Road Kill candy, a Gummi-style candy in the shape of various animals with a tire-tread mark. But why is this considered offensive? The complaint was that it encouraged cruelty to animals. It seems to me an ordinary Gummi animal -- sans tread mark -- has the kid biting into a living animal, which would indeed be cruel. The road kill animal has died an accidental death. To eat road kill is to dispose of flesh in an environmentally sound way -- to recycle. It would seem to me that even those who oppose meat-eating out of deference to animals should accept the eating of road kill. So what's wrong with candy that presents road kill as the acceptably edible form of an animal? I really think Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals went after the wrong product. They should complain about ordinary Gummi bears and worms and the like. And what about Animal Crackers? I bit off the head! I bit off the legs! Why have we been tolerating that all these years?

Power and image.

My post about Condoleezza Rice on GlennReynolds.com brought a lot of email, some of which I reprint here, but one email really stood out. Reader Edward Tabakin makes a brilliant association between Rice's new look and the new image devised by Queen Elizabeth I as she rose to power:
Ms. Givhan wrote in her article that "Rice's coat and boots speak of sex and power . . . . the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature." Well, maybe her mind. My mind went to historical movies and history. The scene that came to mind was the one at the end in the movie "Elizabeth," with Cate Blanchett in the leading role. Elizabeth has foiled the Pope's plot to kill her and ordered the deaths of the conspirators, including the man she might have married had her life turned out a little differently. In the last scene, she makes herself up in a new look: she cuts her hair short, applies makeup almost like pancake makeup to whiten her face; she creates the image of Elizabeth R.

Elizabeth is famous for one particular speech, which she gave to the troops, the soldiers, sailors and marines, who were about to go out to fight the Spanish Armada. Spain was the great military power at the time, and England was a second or third rate upstart. Elizabeth was about 55 years old at the time 1588, roughly the same age the Dr. Rice is now. The photo of Dr. Rice before the troops also made me think of Elizabeth's Armada speech. Here it is:

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject; not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and by your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

"I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too." Wow, who wrote that, Shakespeare? Cutting through the 16th century english, it's an amazing and inspiring speech. As every school child once knew, the English won that battle, defeated the Armada, and because the great island empire. Nineteen years later, the first settlers landed in Jamestown.

When I think about image and political power, the first movie that springs to my mind is this one. Too much focus on image ought to alarm us. We should worry that a political figure means to reach down past our reason to some primal level where we cannot defend against manipulation.

But Rice's new look does not consist of very much. Surely, it is not the sort of extreme and shocking transformation chosen by Elizabeth. But like Elizabeth, Rice must convince the world that she has the "heart of a king." We should not pretend woman are judged in the same way as men. Saying that you believe it is wrong to judge us differently does not make it stop. Even if you sincerely want to believe and even do believe that a woman can be a great world leader, something involuntary, underneath your conscious reason, may still say: but no, not her, she cannot be the one, this does not feel right. Whoever does overcome that prejudice and become the first woman President will need to be able to reach into that part of our mind and turn it around.

It may seem bizarre that thin, three-inch heels could dislodge that last grip of prejudice. How many times have feminists written that high heels symbolize sexual vulnerability by making a show of the woman's inability to run away? That is too rational. Something much less accessible to the rational mind occurred when people gazed on that photograph of the Secretary of State. Something in that image -- the heels, the black, the brass buttons? -- had a very strong effect.

If there were some way to figure out exactly how to devise an image that would make people accept the exercise of power, we would be in trouble. Or perhaps not: all who seek power would simply adopt that image and that would cancel out image as a factor, leveling the playing field. To a great extent, men have hit upon an answer: the dark suit, the white shirt, the red tie. But a woman who just adopts the power-seeking man's look would set off a whole different set of associations. Women need to find some other way, something similar perhaps, but also different.

In the historic movement of women into power, how women look matters, and Condoleezza Rice played a role. Those high-heeled boots belong in the Smithsonian, do they not?

ADDED: Even the men's power look is complicated, as a reader points out the recent shift to blue ties. Another reader asks whether Condi Rice is Galadriel and quotes this, from "The Fellowship of the Rings":
"In place of a Dark Lord you would set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!"

MORE: Several people have emailed to say that running is not much of a sign of strength -- especially if you're talking about commanding the military. Standing your ground is the stronger position.

Another thing about those thin high heels: not only are they named after a weapon -- the stiletto -- but they exert a heavy force by concentrating your weight on a small point. Stiletto heels are quite damaging to floors for this reason. You could really hurt someone stepping on their toes with a stiletto heel: that's a power image.

And, of course, heels make you taller.

February 25, 2005

"These boots are made for running for President."

So you want to know what I thought about that Washington Post article about the sexuality of Condoleezza Rice's new clothes? I put my opinion up over on GlennReynolds.com -- where somehow writing under a male name provoked me to fem it up all week!

UPDATE: I'm getting an avalanche of pro-Condi email from that post. A sampling:
I agree with you about those boots - made for walking right into the Oval Office. What struck me about the picture is her comfort with herself and the situation. She's a woman, and dresses with style and femininity, which is wonderful to see. She's a world leader, and she strides out in command of the setting, just as she should.

them boots are for kickin' ass. . . now, and in '08! run, condi, run!


You GO Condi!

So Dr. Rice enjoys and understands fashion. She is fortunate in having the face and figure to look good in very fashionable clothes. She comes across as elegant and graceful - also very comfortable in her choices. So analyzing her wardrobe as if it all has some Freudian deep meaning is just too silly and awful.

I certainly hope Condi runs! I'll come out of polical campaigning retirement (since Reagan left office) if she does!

I liked her before and I like her more now that I know she can look like the first female president. I say more presidents should wear black leather. Well, maybe not Taft.

Ann, I agree 100 percent. She looks good and I don't think she detracts from her position at all. Miss Condi is attractive, smart and witty and brings some fresh air to the President's foriegn policy. I would vote for her in '08 without hesitation.

Is it all pro-Condi? No, I got this too:
Is it wrong to talk about powerful women this way? How about this way? Condoleeza Rice must have been conceived in a testtube and raised in a laboratory. Where else in world history can you find a black woman so devotely facist. Who else claims religious principle and has an oil tanker named after her. Condoleeza is a liar, a hypocrit, a coward, and severely overrated. She is basically a rightwing whore like you.

"distinctly attractive"???? Who the heck are we talking abut here cuz it sure ain't Condoleeza (even her name is damn ugly!!!). You must be some sick weirdo, that gets off on satirical humiliation of others.

Attractive - are you kidding! Rice is one of the least attractive women I've ever seen! Her hair dooo - for one - is pretty ridiculous. She has an over-bite and looks angry and mean most of the time. Her smile is devilish. That outfit was pure EGO - all bark - no bite! Probably trying to attrack the attention of her "husband" - Bush. Probably will grab it - next we'll see Laura in black with high heels. She is already trying to slim down and dress up - Rice is tough competition!

God help us if this obfuscating Shrub puppet ever became another pResident. She's worse than the lying hypocrite who has been installed as pResident. The problem as I see it: The so-called "religious moral values" voters are so sexually repressed that when they see a woman in black and wearing, oh my, black high heeled boots they get so hot and bothered that they want to run her for president. These sexually repressed "values" voters need to get into a normal healthy sexual relationship;perhaps, then, they can see past the, oh my, black coat and back high heeled boots as articles of clothing and not as a sex object for their repressed fantasies. Rice failed miserably as security advisor! Black boots and coat may turn on the sexually repressed, but thinking individuals know that the only reason she got where she is is because she will mouth whatever she's told to mouth. Get a normal healthy sex life for God's sake before you sexually repressed "values voters" attempt to sieg this obfuscating puppet on America as another pResident.

A "normal healthy sex life"? Does being a right wing whore count?

Don't romanticize Thompson's suicide.

Under big red block letters that say "ENTERTAINMENT" over on CNN.com:
Thompson shot self while talking with wife

'He set the receiver down and he did it'

...She said her husband had asked her to come home from a health club so they could work on his weekly ESPN column -- but instead of saying goodbye, he set the telephone down and shot himself.

Thompson said she heard a loud, muffled noise, but didn't know what had happened. "I was waiting for him to get back on the phone," she said.

I have a hard time thinking of this suicide as a rational act, like that of a person in the advanced stage of a painful, fatal disease. He kills himself while he's in the middle of talking to his wife and trying to get her to come home and help him do his work. He doesn't say goodbye. And he shoots himself in the head, leaving the gory remains to be cleaned out of the kitchen. And meanwhile, his son, daughter-in-law, and 6-year grandson are in the house, doomed to come upon the scene before the wife comes home from the health club. That seems like a sudden, impulsive act that expressed some strong feelings toward the wife. The wife characterizes things this way:
"He wanted to leave on top of his game. I wish I could have been more supportive of his decision," she said. "It was a problem for us."

The wife is 32. He was 67.

UPDATE: Ambivablog adds her thoughts. And here's news of family and friends sitting at around the kitchen table with the hours-old corpse, drinking Chivas Regal and exchanging stories.
"It was very loving. It was not a panic, or ugly, or freaky," Thompson's wife, Anita Thompson, said Thursday night in her first spoken comments since the icon's death Sunday. "It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here."

Anita Thompson also echoes the comments that have been made by Hunter Thompson's son and daughter-in-law: That her husband's suicide did not come from the bottom of the well, but was a gesture of strength and ultimate control made as his life was at a high-water mark.

"This is a triumph of his, not a desperate, tragic failure," Anita Thompson said by phone, recounting that she was sitting in her husband's chair he called his catbird seat in the Rockies.

She added: "He lived a beautiful life and he lived it on his own terms, all the way from the very beginning to the very end."
And so begins a new legend, a story spun by the survivors. I repeat the point from my title: do not romanticize a suicide. I'm sure the family needs to find ways to deal with their own loss and their own sense of responsibility and, less sympathetically, has an interest in preserving and promoting the reputation of the author, but statements like this are reckless and dangerous. How many young (and older) people read and admire Hunter S. Thompson and sometimes have thoughts of suicide? Portraying it as a beautiful thing, a triumph, and an act of sublime control over destiny is profoundly wrong!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Bebere joins the plea not to romanticize suicide and reminds us of the Werther effect.


Like the new lips festooning my sidebar? I do!

February 24, 2005

Blog game ironies.

A ridiculous irony in the game of blogging is that you can score a lot of links by saying something that people disagree with vehemently. It's particularly ironic that Kevin Drum has hit the link jackpot by pissing a lot of women off about how men are better at playing the blogging game. I've played into his hand more than once already, and I do it one more time in my role as guest-blogger over at GlennReynolds.com, where I score an Instapundit link every time I post, but don't win any points in the blogging game because the links go there not here. Which just goes to show how badly women play the blogging game!

Let me thuddingly say that I'm kidding, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to blog on GlennReynolds.com and all the Instapundit links I've gotten over the months, and I'm not jealous of all the links Drum has attracted by being unattractive to women.

And, quite seriously, the real way to win at blogging is to create a place for yourself that you find energizing and intrinsically rewarding, which is probably going to be at odds with the goal of getting the most traffic and the most links. It's the readers that you get and keep by writing in a way that you find intrinsically valuable that matter the most, sort of like the way your best friends are the people who like you when you're being yourself. So those traffic and link rankings do not show who is really winning. You'll have to look into your own heart to find out if you're winning.

And yeah, yeah: go ahead and mock me, guys, for being like those school teachers who ban dodgeball and insist on games where everyone can win. I mean it: mock me! Mock me and link, because I find it intrinsically rewarding to gaze at Site Meter and the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem!

UPDATE: I like this Drum slam over on the RLC blog:
Why don't people who are pretty sure that what they have to say is stupid just keep it to themselves? Why the "my blog can kick your blog's ass," anyway?
I hope some readers are getting a little mixed up and thinking, I thought Drum was the liberal blogger and Althouse was the right wing blogger. Think, people! Is the left feminist? Is it?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Kesher Talk wisecracks:
I think Ann has the goods on Kevin. He's playing dumb to get links. How feminine of him. Bat your eyelashes, too, Kevin baby.

Confronting terrorist plane hijackers -- circa 1985.

Goodbye to Uli Derickson, whose story appears on the obituary page today:
On June 14, 1985, when a pair of Lebanese gunmen commandeered a T.W.A. flight from Athens to Rome, Ms. Derickson took the lead in protecting the 152 passengers and crew members.

Though the two hijackers spoke almost no English, Ms. Derickson was able to speak with one of them in German and occasionally calm him by singing a German ballad he requested. She won the hijackers' pity for one passenger by explaining that his daughter had been delivered by a Lebanese doctor.

She also intervened during beatings, often putting herself in harm's way.

"Don't you hit that person," she would shout, a passenger later told The New York Times. "Why do you have to hit those people?"

When a ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without payment, even when faced with the terrorists' threat to kill passengers, it occurred to Ms. Derickson to offer her Shell credit card. The ground crew charged about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of fuel.

The most terrifying moment for her, she later told Glamour Magazine, was when the crueler of the two hijackers asked her to marry him.

At one point they asked Ms. Derickson to sort through the passengers' passports to single out people with Jewish-sounding names. Although various news organizations initially reported that she had followed their orders, she in fact hid the passports, her son said. "Everybody looked to her for courage and guidance," Tom Cullins, an architect in Burlington, Vt., who was a hostage on the plane, said in an interview yesterday. "She was clearly in control. She even made demands of the hijackers."

Mr. Cullins added, "We have nothing but the utmost respect for her and a debt of gratitude for really heroic acts."

After about 36 hours, the terrorists released a second wave of hostages, including Ms. Derickson and 65 others, in Algiers. They had already killed a Navy diver, Robert D. Stethem, but his was to be the only death. The hijackers released other hostages over the next 15 days, with the ordeal ending for the last 39 on June 30. It ended after Israel's release of 31 Lebanese prisoners, a fraction of the 766 the hijackers had demanded.
What a story! If only we could all keep our wits about us in times of crisis as she did.

What the heavy metal musician is really thinking.

Citing his Christian beliefs, guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch leaves his heavy metal band, Korn:
Welch told The Bakersfield Californian that his decision might be surprising to some. "A lot of people think I'm crazy. I don't care."

Welch said he'd become increasingly disenchanted with producing heavy metal music that invokes dark and morbid images.

"Those guys in the band, they're not bad guys. They're just a bunch of kids getting marketed how these guys in the big corporate firms want to do," Welch said. "It makes us look like bad people, but we're really just a bunch of kids who never had a chance to grow up."

Of course, dark and disenchanted teenage angst has been packaged and marketed for decades. The bands convey a sense that in expressing such feelings they are finding liberation from the terrible oppression of [???]. But perhaps they are nice young people -- hardworking, earnest musicians who are feeling oppressed by the obligation to pretend to be dark and disenchanted and becoming horrified at looking out on an audience of even younger people who are merging with and mirroring that ersatz negativity.

UPDATE: More from MTV:
On February 8, he had apparently written a "letter of resignation" to the band's management. In the note, Welch detailed a long list of reasons for leaving the band, including increased moral objections to Korn's music and videos. In particular, he was upset by how he was portrayed in the clip for their cover of Cameo's "Word Up," off their recently released Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 album. In the video, Welch's face was superimposed on a dog patrolling a strip club.

"I can go up there and play those songs and those solos but ... I distanced myself from Korn for probably a year and a half, two years. I just wanted to fade away, it was crazy. I was so gone," Welch told Bakersfield, California, radio station KRAB on Sunday. "But I found my way out and I want to help anyone that wants to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to go through the lows to appreciate the highs and it's not perfect but it's damn near."

The good teacher's nightmare.

Richard Lawrence Cohen reports this true story from Austin, Texas:
In an Austin elementary school known for its diversity, a second–grade class was learning about Texas’ segregationist past. Their textbook taught them a slogan segregationists used to chant: “Two four six eight/ We don’t want to integrate.”

At recess, the teacher found a group of her girls chanting that slogan on the playground. A beautifully mixed bagful of kids—white, black, brown, yellow—clapping hands and chanting together loudly and happily, just because it was such a fun rhyme.

Read the rest of the story at the link.

The horrible Mr. Wead.

I'm officially abandoning my theory that Bush knew Douglas Wead was taping him -- because things have gone so badly for Mr. Wead:
Mr. Wead has appeared on several television news and talk shows to defend his actions, insisting several times that he had never sought to profit from the tapes and had decided to release some of them only after the president's re-election.

"My thanks to those who have let me share my heart and regrets about recent events," Mr. Wead wrote in the statement, posted on his Web site Wednesday. "Contrary to a statement that I made to The New York Times, I know very well that personal relationships are more important than history."

That statement itself is a lame formulation of what Wead had to have learned from his long twisting in the wind. What he learned -- and he's too much of a weasel to put it straightforwardly -- is how deeply wrong it is to betray a friend for personal gain.

Are personal relationships more important than history? That question calls to mind a famous movie quote: "[I]t doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Many virtuous people have sacrificed personal relationships because they understood that there were historical matters of greater importance.

Here's Wead regrouping his thoughts:
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mr. Wead, sounding noticeably fatigued, said he decided to change course because of "the perception that I have tried to exploit the tapes and make money off of it and hurt the president and had all kinds of agendas."

"This seems like the best thing to show that isn't the case," he said.

"Nobody believes my story that I saw him as a figure of history," Mr. Wead said with exasperation. "I guess I have got a story that is unbelievable to people."

Oh, no one believed his story? We all formed a "perception" about his motives -- which was wrong because those motives in fact were so unbelievably lofty. We imagined his mind worked like that of an ordinary person -- an ordinary person with a book to sell and a publicity gimmick and the ear of the NYT.

Yeah, and we don't believe that either, Mr. Wead.

UPDATE: Regarding my question "Are personal relationships more important than history?" Richard Lawrence Cohen -- AKA my ex-husband -- emails:
E. M. Forster famously said, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." That comment, although collected in the 1951 TWO CHEERS FOR DEMOCRACY (the essay is "What I Believe"), is often seen today as emblematic of the mentality of prewar middle-class British appeasers.

Strangely, as I was in the middle of writing this update, I opened an email from the Conlawprof list and saw that someone was offering this very E.M. Forster quote about a completely different subject. Just a coincidence I guess, or are people thinking a lot about betrayal these days.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For more on coincidences, read this recent post of mine and click on the last link.

Descent into karaoke hell.

Tom Bozzo has some nice photos of last night's blogger dinner, both before and after it descended into karaoke hell. Tonya writes: "The only holdout was Althouse -- but she seemed to be having a good time enjoying the spectacle of the rest of us singing our hearts out." Key word: "seemed." Nina portrays karaoke as being some sort of irresistible force and reminds me of the horror of some of the song choices. I did not need to hear hear two [adjective deleted] professors sing "It's getting hot in here/so take off all your clothes."

February 23, 2005

Some blog thoughts.

There's a blogger dinner tonight, and we're bringing our laptops and cameras, so who knows what might get posted. I look forward to some good conversation -- some of which somebody is sure to blog -- and plenty of food and drink. But it's a school night! Some people have arranged their schedules so that the weekend starts Wednesday night, but I've got a 9:30 class tomorrow -- Fedjur -- and have to be fresh enough to talk about ripeness (and ripe enough to talk about freshness). Meanwhile, I'm sorting through my mental file of ideas for something that's GlennReynolds.com-able. When you go to the front blog page over there at MSNBC, you see Glenn's name, not mine, in front of my title, and maybe he's not so happy to have, so far this week, the titles "Primate Perversions" and "Fat is sinfully complicated" next to his name. So I'd like to do something with more law or politics. What do you think? The Wead tapes? The Oregon Death With Dignity Case? Kevin Drum's Hobbesian blogosphere (bloggsean Hobbosphere)? With some luck my threads of thought will knit up into something before it's time to head over to the dinner.

Comparing the reactions to the deaths of Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur Miller.

Have you noticed the difference in how the press has covered the deaths of these two prominent writers? When Arthur Miller died, the press did what was necessary to mark the passing of the man who was generally recognized as a major literary figure (and had the celebrity plus factor of having been married to a mega-celebrity). But the outpouring of interest in Hunter S. Thompson doesn't seem to be an effort to give coverage equivalent to his literary standing. It seems to be an expression of genuine, spontaneous love. That's my impression anyway. Do you disagree? I realize part of it is that journalists have a special feeling for another journalist. But the coverage of Thompson has been extraordinary.

Just to take the NYT, in addition to the usual obituary, there are a number of extra articles, like "The Thompson Style: A Sense of Self, and Outrage" ("To Mr. Thompson, it was all true, every word of it. Maybe not literally, you-can-look-it-up true, but true in a way that the bean counters would never understand.") and "With an Icon's Death, Aspen Checks Its Inner Gonzo" ("Some said that Mr. Thompson's suicide on Sunday night marked the stilling of a voice that kept some of Aspen's old counterculture alive. Others said the roots that he helped establish here ran too deep and would live on without."). In contrast to the usual circumspection about the use of guns, the Times picks up an AP story that begins this way:
Hunter S. Thompson, the "gonzo journalist'' with a penchant for drugs, guns and flame-thrower prose, might have one more salvo in store for everyone: Friends and relatives want to blast his ashes out of a cannon, just as he wished.

"If that's what he wanted, we'll see if we can pull it off,'' said historian Douglas Brinkley, a friend of Thompson's and now the family's spokesman.

Thompson, who shot himself to death at his Aspen-area home Sunday at 67, said several times he wanted an artillery send-off for his remains.

"There's no question, I'm sure that's what he would want,'' said Mike Cleverly, a longtime friend and neighbor. ``Hunter truly loved that kind of thing.''

Shooting the remains of a gunshot suicide out of a cannon? Isn't it extraordinary for the NYT not only to refrain from the usual headshaking about the suicide risk from keeping a gun around the house but also to seem to celebrate the craziness of shooting a gunshot victim from a cannon?


Coy lawprof blogger "Oscar Madison" has some some thoughts about blogging pseudonymously. (What is the blog equivalent of "pen name"? I say it's keyboard name.)
Maintaining [a professorial] image means drawing a line between your professional persona and your personal life.

Most law-prof bloggers seem content to put their blogs largely or mostly on the professional side of that line. While they don't always blog about law, they seem to refrain from saying stuff that would be inappropriate in a conversation with a student in their offices. Folks like Professor Bainbridge, or the Volokh Conspiracy, or Althouse, or Conglomerate maintain an informal, yet not-unprofessional tone. To varying degrees they trade on their academic affiliations, and would have relatively little ground for complaint if, for example, their law schools posted something about their blogs on the law school web sites.

Oscar wants to be free to use naughty words and otherwise break out of the professorial mode. But my experience is that even though students know who I am and can and do read this blog, they seem to accept this as a separate mode of mine and don't use it as a basis for talking to me in a newly confidential way. In the law school, the student-professor relationship is very well established. It really doesn't break down, even when students read your personal journal.

Of course, there are things I won't say here, but these are things I wouldn't say even if I used a keyboard name. I would never insult or demean or deliberately hurt the feelings of students. I wouldn't casually knock my law school (though there are some considered criticisms I would be willing to make). I wouldn't hurt my family or acquaintances or even reveal much of anything about them (without permission). So there aren't really any significant ways using my own name limits me. Like Oscar, I care immensely about freedom as I do this blogging. But I also want to be aware of myself as an identifiable person, responsible for what I say (which is true whether you use a pseudonym or not). And I don't mind getting personal credit for anything good I might happen to say. Also, I kind of like being a public persona.

UPDATE: I don't know but is a blog with an important good reason for remaining anonymous: to protect children. Here, the authors want to be able to write about -- among other things -- parenting children with Aspergers syndrome.

Women and blogging, re-Drummed.

Kevin Drum collects responses to his recent Women and Blogging post, including mine. He concludes:
Hmmm, should I defend myself? Only to this extent: the reason I suggested that women are turned off by the "fundamental viciousness" of blogging and opinion writing is because many women have told me this (and have told me the same thing in non-blogging contexts as well). Men are so routinely dismissive of women and so fundamentally dedicated to playground dominance games that many women decide they just don't want to play.

But hey — click the links and decide for yourself. My critics certainly make a spirited — if anecdotal — case for the proposition that women have no problem being as nasty as men.

Well, that has nothing at all to do with the point I made, so let me just sigh again.

Condi's glower.

I'm an early enthusiast in the Condi for President movement. See here and here. But I still laughed a lot at "The Daily Show" last night, which featured photographs of Condoleezza Rice, sitting behind the President at various recent events on the current make-nice European tour. Jon Stewart verbalized her thoughts in the form of a kid dragged along on a European vacation when she just wanted to stay home with her friends: "I didn't even want to come on this stupid trip." Well, you can just imagine the classic Condi look that made that line funny.

And note, I'm not saying Rice ought to smile more. Everyone ought to have a look. She's got a look. I think it's cool. And, of course, when it was her job to go to Europe and take the lead in the make-nice effort, she had all the Euro-leaders smiling warmly. And check out her smile at that link. Make fun of Condi all you want, Daily Show. I'll watch and laugh and still think Condi rules.

Let Oregon be Oregon?

Here's Linda Greenhouse's analysis of the Oregon assisted suicide case, which the Supreme Court announced yesterday it would hear. (The Ninth Circuit case to be reviewed was decided back in May, and I wrote about it at the time here.) Greenhouse (along with others) has written so many pieces decrying the Supreme Court's "federalism revolution" that it's interesting to see how she (and others) will write about a case where deferring to the states upholds a policy choice that is as far away from social conservatism as you can get. By the same token, it will be interesting to see if conservatives can stick to their federalism values and will be able to entertain the notion of letting Oregon be Oregon.
In the administration's view, suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" under regulations that carry out the federal Controlled Substances Act. Consequently, the administration will argue before the Supreme Court, as it did unsuccessfully in the lower federal courts, that doctors who prescribe drugs for committing suicide violate the federal law and are subject to revocation of their federal prescription license. The license applies to broad categories of medications and is necessary, as a practical matter, for a doctor to remain in practice.

Yet the case presents more of a challenge for the liberal side than for conservatives. Given the existing case law, the basis for federal power over prescription drugs is very strong, and it's hard to think of a way to pry drug law enforcement out of the grasp of federal power, even if you do believe that state experimentation in this area is a good idea. The same sort of federalism problem is also present in the medical marijuana case that the Court is already considering.

Liberals have strongly supported strong and pervasive federal legislative power for a long time. It is hard to think of how they can back off from that commitment simply because they approve of a policy a particular state has devised in a given instance. I think, to be principled, they should denounce the administration for taking the position it has with respect to enforcing the drug laws and stop there. Here's Greenhouse:
Although the justices have agreed to review the case, the "who gets to decide" argument on the merits may be a hard sell. The court has been notably deferential to the states, and eight years ago, in another assisted-suicide case, it appeared to invite continued state experimentation.

So here's the liberal talking point: the conservatives on the Supreme Court have been deferring to the states and they specifically encouraged state-experimentation in this area, so if they fail to follow through and uphold Oregon's experiment, they are unprincipled and result-oriented.

Don't believe it! The Supreme Court has upheld federal regulatory power quite consistently, and the deference it has shown to the states has only been in discrete areas. Congress's power to regulate all components of a national market -- such as the market in drugs -- is quite solidly established. It will be hard to find a way to back off from that. I support the Court's federalism decisions and I approve of allowing the states to experiment as Oregon has, but I don't see a good way, considering the precedents, to disempower the Attorney General in this decision about how the Controlled Substances Act ought to be enforced.

Note: The Ninth Circuit case is named Oregon v. Ashcroft, and it was Attorney General Ashcroft who announced the policy to lean on Oregon's doctors. But now Ashcroft is gone, so it will be Alberto Gonzales who will have his name on the case: Gonzales v. Oregon.

Surgical -- and plumbing -- wonders.

Not for the faint-hearted.

Which pre-blogging writer created the style of writing found in blogging?

Ambivablog introduced the topic, we emailed, I said that one of her choices is the answer, and she updates her post to add that. (This writer used to be represented in the "favorite books" category of my profile, but is no longer. Why did I take him out? I probably thought people would think it was pretentious, but it really isn't. It is the opposite of pretentious!)

February 22, 2005

"American Idol": the hazards of splitting up the "guys" and the "girls."

The restructuring of "American Idol," separating the male and female contestants for the middle phase, is making me hyper-aware of my preference for male singers! Tonight, I could barely put up with hearing out the female singers. I was groaning in pain at having to listen to at least nine of the twelve. I hated watching them, with their awkwardly glammed up looks and their appalling dance moves. Must everyone plant their feet a yard apart and then bounce up and down? Must they all belt out meaningless, melody-deprived lyrics until my ears bleed? I never, ever, want to hear anyone sing whatever that crap song is with the line "How am I supposed to live without you?" (Translation: I am, literally, a parasite.) Last night, I listened to the guys, and I enjoyed nearly all of them. Especially Bo and Mario. I'm not saying men are better than women, but I think someone or something gets to the kind of woman who want to be on a show like this, and drains the very humanity out of them. And the clothes! Must everyone wear tight jeans topped with a floppy, floaty baby-doll dress? The men all seemed like real people. Some were boring, but they haven't been bent out of shape by some strange show biz force, some pitiful hunger to be loved.

Federalism and the assisted suicide case.

I'm glad to see that the Supreme Court has taken cert in the assisted suicide case:
The Oregon law was intended to help adults with incurable diseases who are likely to die in six months. They can obtain lethal drugs from their doctors, who may prescribe but not administer them. Doctors are granted immunity from liability.

In a 2-to-1 decision last May, a panel of the Ninth Circuit declared that the states, not the federal government, bear primary responsibility for evaluating doctor-assisted suicide.

"We express no opinion on whether the practice is inconsistent with the public interest or constitutes illegitimate medical care," Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote for the majority. "This case is simply about who gets to decide."

From a strictly legal standpoint, that may be so. But it also involves personal concepts of morality. Social and religious conservatives have long sought top undermine or abolish the Oregon law, contending that any official sanction of suicide is immoral.

In 1997, the Clinton administration's attorney general, Janet Reno, said individual states should be able to regulate their own doctors, as she rejected a request to declare that physician-assisted suicide violated federal law.

That request came from John Ashcroft, who was then a Republican senator from Missouri. As President Bush's attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft reversed Ms. Reno's position and tried to get the court's to nullify the Oregon law.

Here's a post I wrote when the Ninth Circuit opinion came out:
Today, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Oregon v. Ashcroft rejecting the "Ashcroft Directive," the Attorney General's position that a doctor using a controlled substance to assist a suicide violates the federal Controlled Substances Act and faces criminal prosecution and the loss of prescription privileges. The court tapped federalism values as it made room for Oregon's experiment under its Death With Dignity Act.

In Washington v. Glucksberg, a 1997 Supreme Court case cited in today's opinion, Justice O'Connor wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that there is no federal due process right to physician-assisted suicide and arguing for the narrow interpretation of constitutional rights because the states were actively serving as "laboratories," working through the complexities in this complicated area of policy. The laboratory that is Oregon subsequently produced the Death With Dignity Act, and the Ninth Circuit cited O'Connor's Glucksberg opinion as it showed great respect to Oregon's policy work today.

The court also cited another Ninth Circuit case about doctors, federalism and the Controlled Substances Act: Conant v. Walters (2002), which protected doctors who recommend marijuana for medicinal purposes under California's Compassionate Use Act. In Conant, the court saw the states as having the central role of supervising doctors and looked askance at the federal government's attempt to use the CSA to horn in on the state's area of responsibility. The Ashcroft Directive at issue in today's case also involved the federal government's use of the CSA to prevent doctors from carrying out the state's ideas about good medical practices. Conant involved the recognition of the doctors' First Amendment right to communicate with their patients, though Judge Kozinski's concurring opinion relied much more on federalism values. The case today saw a special role for the states with respect to doctors, and based on that traditional role, it chose a narrow interpretation of the CSA to leave that traditional role untouched.

In opting for narrow statutory interpretation to serve the interests of federalism, the Ninth Circuit cited the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case, Gregory v. Ashcroft. Gregory stands for the proposition that federal statutes will not be read to change the traditional federal-state balance unless they make a clear statement of their intent to do so. (John Ashcroft was a party to that case as a state governor, successfully avoiding the application of the federal law against age discrimination to state judges.) Today's decision uses the Gregory presumption in favor of the traditional federalism balance and finds enough unclarity in the Controlled Substances Act to justify reading the CSA not to permit the Justice Department to punish doctors who are engaged in the practice of medicine within the standards set by state law.

One judge (on the three-judge panel) dissents. Judge Wallace relies heavily on the principle that courts should defer to the Attorney General's interpretation of the act he has the duty to enforce. Let Congress change the statute if he's wrong, or let the people elect a different President and bring in a new Attorney General. (Note that Clinton's AG, Janet Reno, took the position that the CSA did not reach the Oregon doctors). The majority rejected that sort of deference though, again, on federalism grounds. It cited the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, which rejected the Army Corps of Engineers' interpretation of the Clean Water Act to apply to nonnavigable streams. In the Solid Waste case, though, the Supreme Court wrote, "Where an administrative interpretation of a statute invokes the outer limits of Congress’ power, we expect a clear indication that Congress intended that result." The problem there was that Congress may have reached the end of its Commerce Clause power if it meant to reach isolated wetlands. But there is no question that Congress could reach doctors in the practice of medicine under the Commerce Power. The Solid Waste Court premised this departure from the usual deference on a "prudential desire not to needlessly reach constitutional issues and our assumption that Congress does not casually authorize administrative agencies to interpret a statute to push the limit of congressional authority." That is not true in the Oregon case.

The Solid Waste court did also say that its concern about a statute reaching the edge of congressional power was "heightened where the administrative interpretation alters the federal-state framework by permitting federal encroachment upon a traditional state power." And that is the issue the Ninth Circuit is relying on. So a key question that should face the U.S. Supreme Court very soon is whether to accept this idea that medical practice is a special area of state power to be protected from federal intrusions. The Ninth Circuit has taken the federalism cases of the the conservative Supreme Court and applied them to protect the autonomy of states like California and Oregon that are engaged in the sort of policymaking that tends to bug the hell out of conservatives.

Unlike individual constitutional rights, which can be found to extend to some substantive areas but not others, constitutional federalism protects state autonomy, and the state may do all sorts of different things with that autonomy. If you think you like (or don't like) federalism, you may want to rethink it if a state starts to do something you don't like (or do like). To want to do things with federalism, judges have to want to take the good policies and the bad, to trust local decisionmaking--unless they are reckless enough about their appearance of neutrality to turn their support for federalism values on and off, depending on whether they approve of what a particular state has done.

Everyone will want to talk about the morality of assisted suicide, but you should also pay attention to the federalism aspects of the case, which are extremely important.

Why does the word "bloggers" appear in the NYT's Hunter S. Thompson obituary?

A bold-faced, pull-out line in the paper NYT reads:

Like bloggers, building his case for the state of America around his opinions.

Here's the whole context:
[T]his early work presaged some of the fundamental changes that have rocked journalism today. Mr. Thompson's approach in many ways mirrors the style of modern-day bloggers, those self-styled social commentators who blend news, opinion and personal experience on Internet postings. Like bloggers, Mr. Thompson built his case for the state of America around the framework of his personal views and opinions.

So what do you think. Is this one more sign that the NYT is obsessed with bloggers? Or is it actually a pretty damned accurate insight?

"Fat is sinfully complicated."

That's the title of my new post over on GlennReynolds.com. Someone emailed to denounce me for ignorantly ripping on the Atkins diet, which I found amusing, because I'm always using the Atkins diet. I love it for precisely the reason stated in the post: it's excitingly transgressive!

UPDATE: If I had to judge from the email I'm getting -- and I would be very sad if I did -- I'd have to say people don't seem to understand much of anything about why I wrote that post. People keep emailing me to inform me that the best way to lose weight is to eat less and get more exercise! And here's something someone wrote me about the Monday post over there (the one about Koko the talking gorilla): "You as a law professor at worst have encouraged this gorilla tit problem. At best ignored it." I'm not entirely sure what that means. I know it's a criticism of me, but it certainly made me laugh quite a lot.

AND: I had to change the link to a page in the Wayback Machine. MSNBC let the link die, so I'm going to reprint the entire thing here to assist in preserving it.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him. But people taught a gorilla to speak and she said the very thing – if we are to believe this new lawsuit – that drunken guys say to women at Mardi Gras. If a gorilla could speak, we would understand her all too well!

Perhaps sensitivity to gorilla culture ought to have moved the women who worked with the renowned Koko to show her their nipples, but, America being what it is, they sued. Ah! Our litigious society! Should that be part of a job? Accommodating a gorilla? Make that, accommodating a celebrity gorilla! Well, there's no hope – exceedingly little hope – of convincing the gorilla that sexual harassment is wrong.

Being human, we love Wittgenstein's idea that the lion – or the gorilla -- would say something stunningly new. But the truth may be that the animal would just say "show me your t**s" – again and again. Oh, Koko! We once thought you were so profound. We believed we could make you human through language, but what have we done? Have we only reminded ourselves of our own lack of profundity?

Meanwhile, a lion seems to be roaming about in California. It's not a talking lion, and it's surely not a reading lion, but it is lurking somewhere in the vicinity of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library.

In the style of MSM, fiction-writers worry about bloggers.

Some fiction writers blog about bloggers making them obsolete. RLC concludes it's the "Americanization of the arts, going along with the Americanization of the whole world."

Wolfe on Thompson.

Tom Wolfe writes a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, who shared his first-hand research for "The Hell's Angels, a Strange and Terrible Sage" with Wolfe, giving him what he needed to write "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." People like to say Hunter S. Thompson invented something new, Wolfe writes:
Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization.

February 21, 2005

A rabbi looks at Christo's "Gates."

On Kesher Talk. An excerpt:
The gate is the threshold between the known and the unknown, past and future. It's a place of risk, where demons lurk; it's where one hangs the mezuzah.
Very nice. That makes me think of the familiar use of "gate" in the New Testament:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Speak English.

Gregg Easterbrook writes in TNR that it's great when languages die out. [ADDED: The link is for subscribers only -- sorry.] The fewer languages the better. There's no interest comparable to the interest in biodiversity. It's better for more people to be able to communicate.
[T]he fewer languages, the better--and I say this not just because English may win the competition. Mandarin might win; Barbara Wallraff of The Atlantic Monthly devoted a lengthy 2001 story to the idea that Mandarin will best English in the struggle to be the global tongue. Okay, maybe Mandarin comes out on top. As long as the number of languages in common usage keeps declining, I'll be happy.

Well, I can't remember reading Wallraff's article, but I can't imagine what mechanism would drive the spread of Mandarin much beyond China. Easterbrook himself notes the recent NYT article about the drive to teach English in Mongolia:
Even here on the edge of the nation's capital, in this settlement of dirt tracks, plank shanties and the circular felt yurts of herdsmen, the sounds of English can be heard from the youngest of students - part of a nationwide drive to make it the primary foreign language learned in Mongolia, a landlocked expanse of open steppe sandwiched between Russia and China. "We are looking at Singapore as a model," Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mongolia's prime minister, said in an interview, his own American English honed in graduate school at Harvard. "We see English not only as a way of communicating, but as a way of opening windows on the wider world."
Why is Singapore so much more affluent than its neighbors? In part owing to a long-standing policy of teaching public-school students English. Someone safely tenured in a comfortable Western university might idealize living a subsistence lifestyle speaking a rare language unintelligible except to one's tribe. For citizens of the developing world, speaking a top ten language opens doors to a better life.

If you were making policy in one of those countries, choosing a second language to teach everyone, wouldn't you, like Mongolia, pick English?

UPDATE: From Ireland, Paul Musgrave disagrees and has a lot to say, including a lot about Irish.

Women and blogging.

Kevin Drum asks why there aren't more women writing op-eds and blogs.
So what's up? There aren't any institutional barriers in the traditional sense of the word, which means either (a) there are fewer female political bloggers and thus fewer in the top 30, or (b) there are plenty of women who blog about politics but they don't get a lot of traffic or links from high-traffic male bloggers.
Ironically, he -- being a "high-traffic male blogger" -- failed to link to the female bloggers he named in this post, but, upon razzing, he unembarrassed himself and linked.

Drum kind of wants to analyze the women and blogging problem but kind of worries about getting summersed (to coin a word):
My guess is that it's a bit of both, and the proximate reason is that men are more comfortable with the food fight nature of opinion writing — both writing it and reading it. Since I don't wish to suffer the fate of Larry Summers I'll refrain from speculating on deep causes — it might be social, cultural, genetic, or Martian mind rays for all I know — but I imagine that the fundamental viciousness and self aggrandizement inherent in opinion writing turns off a lot of women.
Sigh. Why is he assuming that promulgating opinions is a mean and domineering sort of behavior? I've certainly noticed that a lot of bloggers that I find unreadable display this tendency, but I think the best blogs are reasonable, good-natured, humorous, and well-rounded.

Drum continues:
[D]oes this mean that women need to change if they want to enter the fray, or does it mean that the fray needs to change in order to attract more women? As usual, probably some of both. Unfortunately, the blogosphere, which ought to be an ideal training ground for finding new voices in nontraditional places, is far more vitriolic than any op-ed page in the country, even the Wall Street Journal's, and therefore probably turns off women far more than it attracts them.
I don't think women or the blogosphere needs to change. Each blog is a place unto itself, where a writer establishes a tone and a voice. As long as you keep the comments function off, you control your own space. A thousand vitriolic male blogs don't prevent one woman from setting up her own blog and making whatever she likes of it.

The surprisingly weed-free Wead tapes.

I see Mickey Kaus also thinks the Wead tapes are awfully flattering to Bush. I wrote yesterday that the tapes make Bush look so good I suspect he knew he was being recorded. Oh, he admits he smoked marijuana, and perhaps he wouldn't have let that slip if he knew it was on tape, but why aren't there a lot more slips about much more damaging things if he was really confiding in a friend? If you think he really didn't know he was being taped, then, despite the marijuana admission, he's rather squeaky clean.

UPDATE: I'm in too much of a rush at the moment to say something I want to add about the stance Bush takes toward fundamentalist Christians, but this post cries out for the immediate addition of the joke:

The Wead tapes are "surprisingly weed-free" except for the weed.

Presidents Day.

It's Presidents Day. All I'm planning to do for Presidents Day is to teach a Constitutional Law class about the power of the President, and I don't know if many bloggers are going to go mad for Presidents today. Sheila Variations is going mad for a non-President, Alexander Hamilton.

Never a snow day in Madison.

As I sit at my dining table reading the newspaper and blogging, I have a good view of the schoolkids walking to the bus stop at the middle of the block. Their heads are bowed down as they trudge along at 7 a.m. I imagine them feeling unusually glum after all that snow that fell yesterday. One more missed opportunity for a snow day. Here in Madison, they come around awfully fast with the snow plows. If there is any kind of a gap between the snow fall and school time, you're not going to get a snow day. And college kids, forget it. I've been teaching at the law school for more than twenty years, and I can't remember a single snow day at the university!


I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm guest-blogging this week over at GlennReynolds.com (part of the MSNBC website). If you read Instapundit, you know that Glenn's wife Helen has been in the hospital, and I agreed to help out by taking over the MSNBC blog for a week. I want to wish Helen (whom I've never met) a very successful treatment and recovery. (I"ve never met Glenn either, by the way!)

My first post is up over there, and I will probably have two more later in the week. With only three (longish) posts and what I presume is a large audience, I felt a lot of pressure about the content of those posts, yet somehow I ended up making my first post about breasts. (And some other things!) Guest-blogging at Instapundit last fall was different because you put up so many short posts over there. You could ease into it, whereas this felt more like diving into it. So even though I was used to blogging a lot more conspicuously than here at the humble Althouse blog, it still felt like something I wasn't used to.

It was funny, blogging on Instapundit last fall -- how overwhelming it seemed just before starting to do it, but then, once you've started, it feels pretty normal. Actually, before starting a blog at all, even beginning at zero readership, it felt overwhelming to dare to expose something you just thought up to the entire world -- with no editor and usually not even taking the step of asking a single person whether a particular thing is worth saying or possibly stupid or embarrassing for some reason.

February 20, 2005

Memo to Hillary Clinton.

Based on your performance today on "Meet the Press" and assuming you intend to run for President, I have this advice:

Speak in short sentences.

Avoid a robotic tone. Never speak as if you've memorized something.

Respond to a question in a way that makes the listener feel you are really trying to answer exactly that question. Don't distance yourself from the question with a lot of stock verbiage that makes it seem as though you're trying to make us forget the actual question.

Put another way: Study the interviews John Kerry gave during the last presidential campaign and make sure you don't sound like that.
Speaking about national security issues from Iraq today, you're trying to project an image of seriousness and competence. I get it. But you can't expect us to listen to a 74-word sentence like this (about Bush's upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin):
At the end of such engagement, at the end of an effort to try to, you know, move President Putin back on the path to democracy and free market economies and other matters internally, as well as trying to speak out strongly and engage him on the basis of some of the interference in Ukraine and elsewhere, if that proves unsuccessful, then perhaps I would agree that we have to take some additional measures.

Actually, that reads more lucidly than it sounded embedded in your long answer. But now I'm reading the transcript. Heard, that made me just want to shut off.

You speak as if you were afraid someone would take advantage of any pause to interrupt you, which is the speech tic of the world's most boring people. You don't need to stop up each gap with "you know" and "uh." President Kennedy did "uh" charmingly, but no one, absolutely no one, should emulate him.

The perils of teaching a gorilla to talk.

What might the gorilla ask you to do? And if your job is taking care of a famous talking gorilla, who does your employer side with in a dispute: you or the gorilla?

UPDATE: And here's news of an additional lawsuit making the same allegations. Also, here's a post about the gorilla I did for GlennReynolds.com.

A snow walk.

It seemed like a good idea to get out of the house once this weekend, but the snow has been piling up like mad. I decided to set out on foot and took my camera. I didn't get very far -- skis or snowshoes would have helped -- just to my corner and around the next block, but I snagged some pictures of the big snow.

The Smarties tube, an escaped lion, and the relationship between insomnia and my preference for audio novels, two of which are recommended here.

It's funny how sometimes there's something that you've never heard of once and then, within a very short space of time, you hear about it twice. This morning I was checking the most blogged-about news stories and was surprised to run across one informing us that the manufacturer of Smarties candy is going to eliminate its distinctive tube packaging. I had never heard of this beloved-in-Britain candy packaging until just last night as I was going to sleep listening to the third disc of the audiobook of Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" and reached this passage where a teacher uses a Smarties tube in an experiment demonstrating that the young narrator did not understand that other people have minds.

It's a great passage, by the way. Go over to the link and read it. The narrator, an autistic boy, looking back on what the teacher demonstrated, tries to understand the human mind and needs to think about computers to work out an answer. The Turing test and saccades are discussed, concisely and brilliantly.

Why am I listening to this book on CD rather than reading it? You might well ask, if you remember that yesterday I went on a bit about how reading is so much better than audio. It's all about insomnia, my friends. What I like about reading is the freedom to think my own thoughts and go at my own pace -- which is, as a consequence, ridiculously slow, as I am usually rather entertained by my own thoughts. (This blog is a testament to that.) What gives me insomnia is thinking too many of my own thoughts. I discovered long ago that listening to an audiobook cures my insomnia, because I can use the unpausing words of the book to supplant the freewheeling thoughts of my own that would keep me awake.

It takes me several months to make my way though an audiobook used this way, because I usually fall asleep in a minute or two. The last novel I listened to was "The Story of Pi," and interestingly, I ran across this story in the newspaper today that called that book to mind:
A large exotic cat, possibly an African lion, appears to be roaming the rural countryside near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the authorities said on Friday.

Trackers were brought in to hunt for the animal after several sets of tracks, far too large for native bobcats or mountain lions, were found on a ranch not far from the hilltop library. Wildlife officials were bringing in a trap, baited with fresh meat, to catch the animal, said Lorna Bernard, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Fish and Game.

A ranch caretaker reported seeing a large cat, possibly a lion, dart into the brush on Tuesday. At least two other people within a quarter-mile of the ranch reported seeing the cat, which officials estimate may weigh 600 pounds.
"Pi" contains more than one passage about a large wild animal escaping captivity and disappearing into an inappropriate habitat where human beings cannot find it. Here's a passage I especially like (and have blogged about before):
If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you'd be amazed at all the animals that would fall out: badgers, wolves, boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, ostriches, baboons, capybaras, wild boars, leopards, manatees, ruminants in untold numbers. There is no doubt in my mind that feral giraffes and feral hippos have been living in Tokyo for generations without being seen by a soul.
Sleep well, read books, and don't get spooked by coincidences.

Tree expresses wish for a rest from granting wishes.

The NYT reports:
People from across Hong Kong and nearby mainland China, as well as tourists from around the world, have long come to light incense and make wishes beneath the spreading limbs of a huge Chinese banyan here in Lam Tsuen, a bustling village near the mainland border. Respect for the banyan, which is hundreds of years old, is based partly on feng shui, a Chinese system of philosophy that emphasizes harmony with nature, and partly on centuries-old local beliefs about the mystical value of trees. The tree is so popular that it shows up on highway signs and has its own expressway exit.

But the tree's main limb suddenly broke over the weekend with a loud crack during Chinese New Year festivities.

The entire limb fell to the ground, breaking the left leg of a 62-year-old man. Some branches also scratched the head of an unrelated 4-year-old boy, who was treated at a local hospital and released.

The incident has prompted considerable debate here over what if anything it foretells for Hong Kong's fortunes this year. To prevent further injuries, the tree is now ringed with a wide circle of chest-high, crowd-control fences. A Taoist temple nestled against the base of the tree, just below the angry brown scar where the limb broke loose, has been padlocked.

"It makes for a loneliness between tree and people to have this distance, but it's good for the tree to let it rest," said Edith Yu, a 41-year-old businesswoman, after lighting a thick handful of incense sticks and bowing several times to the tree, believed to be the residence of earth gods.

Is Jerry Brown blogging?

Jerry Brown started a blog on February 15th with one post, which got a lot of attention: Jerry Brown is blogging! Then he put up his second post on February 17th. So far, that's it. The first post reprints a letter about a political issue that had already been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the second post is little more than pointing out that fact about the first post and noting the obvious, that he's arrived in the blogosphere. He's got 40 comments on the second post at the moment, many of which contain the phrase "Welcome to the blogosphere." I hate to be unwelcoming, but, jeez Jerry, after you got all that all that attention for putting one reprint up on a blog, why didn't you show us that you actually meant to be a blogger by tossing us a tidbit every day? I hate to be as catty and exclusionary as a state school sorority girl, but maybe we ought to hold off saluting a new blogger until he's demonstrated some actually tendency to blog.

Are we sure the Wead tapes were recorded secretly?

The NYT reports that Doug Wead secretly recorded private conversations he had with George Bush back when Bush was planning his run for the presidency:
Mr. Wead said he recorded the conversations because he viewed Mr. Bush as a historic figure, but he said he knew that the president might regard his actions as a betrayal. As the author of a new book about presidential childhoods, Mr. Wead could benefit from any publicity, but he said that was not a motive in disclosing the tapes.

"Might"? But of course it would be a flat-out betrayal to make secret recordings of a conversation with someone who came to you as an old friend and sought advice, as Bush purportedly did with the man he called "Weadie" or "Weadnik."

The NYT puts the story of the tapes on its front page, and the first few sentences hint that there may be some juicy morsels in the tapes. But:
The private Mr. Bush sounds remarkably similar in many ways to the public President Bush. Many of the taped comments foreshadow aspects of his presidency, including his opposition to both anti-gay language and recognizing same-sex marriage, his skepticism about the United Nations, his sense of moral purpose and his focus on cultivating conservative Christian voters.

The similarity between the private Bush and the public Bush is so great, in fact, that I suspect the Times is being taken for a ride and Bush actually knew he was being taped:
When Mr. Wead warned him that "power corrupts," for example, Mr. Bush told him not to worry: "I have got a great wife. And I read the Bible daily. The Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego in check."

Bush comes across as a remarkably consistent, morally grounded man. Look at the material about gay rights:
Mr. Bush appeared most worried that Christian conservatives would object to his determination not to criticize gay people. "I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said after meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical minister in Texas.

But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his position. He said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a convention of the Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."

Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr. Bush had pledged not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said sharply: "No, what I said was, I wouldn't fire gays."

As early as 1998, however, Mr. Bush had already identified one gay-rights issue where he found common ground with conservative Christians: same-sex marriage. "Gay marriage, I am against that. Special rights, I am against that," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, five years before a Massachusetts court brought the issue to national attention.

If the tapes are what they purport to be, respect for Bush should grow. But how do we know Bush and his friend didn't stage the tapes? The Times tells us "The White House did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes or respond to their contents." Did the White House confirm the tapes were made secretly? That they were made at the time they are said to have been made?
The New York Times hired Tom Owen, an expert on audio authentication, to examine samples from the tapes. He concluded the voice was that of the president.

Well, good. But how did the Times convince itself that the tapes were made secretly? To me, they seem too good to be truly confidential conversations with an old friend.

"Party hardy" or "party hearty"?

The NYT has a "Sunday Styles" article about sororities at Harvard. Somehow, at the NYT, the fact that something happens at Harvard is the essence of newsworthiness.
[S]ororities of the traditional state-college variety have taken root at Harvard, a place where for years the biggest social event for women was the annual Take Back the Night rally. Kappa Alpha Theta, the sorority of Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney, was the first to arrive on campus, in 1992. Delta Gamma followed in 1994, and Kappa Kappa Gamma opened its chapter in 2003. But while Harvard sororities share the same Greek letters as their party-hardy sister chapters at Michigan, Texas and Ole Miss, their social agendas are startlingly wholesome, perhaps giving new meaning to the phrase Harvard Square. They hold kickball tournaments and pajama parties and take apple-picking trips. Their recruitment meetings take place not at bars but at the local Finagle a Bagel and Au Bon Pain. And far from being catty and exclusive, they strive to welcome any woman who might hope to join.
"Party hardy"? Shouldn't it be "party hearty"? Google shows a slight edge for "party hearty" (31,800 hits) over "party hardy" (27,700), but let's check out the commentary:

Hardy/Hearty. These two words overlap somewhat, but usually the word you want is "hearty.” The standard expressions are “a hearty appetite,” “a hearty meal,” a “hearty handshake,” “a hearty welcome,” and “hearty applause." "Hardy” turns up in “hale and hardy,” but should not be substituted for "hearty” in the other expressions. “Party hearty” and “party hardy” are both common renderings of a common youth saying, but the first makes more sense.
I'll bet a lot of people haven't really noticed that these are two different words:
These two sound much alike and can easily be mistaken for each other in the spoken language. Hardy means “strong, daring, able to withstand stress” and, of plants, “able to live through the winter.” She’s a hardy person, at eighty-two still caring for her own house and garden. Hearty means “cordial, enthusiastic, unrestrained, vigorous,” as in She gave us a hearty welcome followed by an equally hearty dinner.
Well, what are you really trying to say to someone when you say "party hardy/hearty"? If you're trying to wish the person well in holding up to all that drinking, it's "hardy." If you want them to have a lot of rollicking fun, it's "hearty." If you're trying to say both, stick to the spoken word. If you're the NYT, and you mean to insult the catty, exclusionary state school girls, "hardy" actually is the better choice.

It was a dark, snowy morning.

It's 5:51 a.m. here in Madison, still dark out, with a thick, wet layer of new snow to which I added a couple dozen clog-footprints as I went out without a coat to pick the Sunday NYT up off the front walk. It's the first time I've been out of the house since I went out in the morning darkness to pick up the Saturday Times. No, I'm not sick. I just got so woefully little sleep on Friday night that I didn't even want to drive, and I indulged in the simple pleasure of hanging around the house all day, reading, blogging, talking, and watching TV. Now, I've had enough sleep, having gone to bed embarrassingly early, and the challenge is to read the newspaper, sample the TV news shows, and do a little blogging without letting the entire morning slip by in the process.