April 30, 2005

Surprisingly risqué comedy material for Laura Bush.

Laura Bush took over for her husband doing the comedy at the White House Correspondents Dinner tonight. I was surprised by how risqué it was. She talked about her frustration that Bush goes to bed early, while she stays up and watches "Desperate Housewives." She portrayed herself going out to Chippendale's with Lynne Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and running into Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg there. And she described Bush's ineptitude in his early days of ranching with the old joke that he "tried to milk a horse ... and it was a male horse." So, thanks, Laura, for leaving us with that picture of George with a horse's penis in his hand!

But I don't have a problem with this because I'm tired of the recent upsurge of social conservatism. Was Laura's routine a sign that we're entering a libertarian conservative phase? I hope so. And is it too much to imagine that the appearance of those two Roe-upholding Justices in that Chippendale's scenario is Laura's way of assuring us that Bush is not planning to nominate a social conservative Justice to the Supreme Court?

UPDATE: Ambivablog connects Laura's routine to Frank Rich's column about "South Park Conservatives." There's also some discussion along these lines in the comments. And I'll just say that horse joke reminded me of this "South Park" episode. Oh, and that I also thought that Frank Rich column was too dull to talk about. Obviously, there are social conservatives and libertarian conservatives. Who thought "South Park" was promoting socially conservative ideas? No one who likes "South Park" could have been surprised by the way it treated the Terri Schiavo case (in the "Best Friends Forever" episode). Rich acts like Republicans were taken by surprise after thinking "South Park" was on their side. What a straw man!

You know you've been working on the computer too long...

When the mouse starts to resemble Angelina Jolie.

The racial side of the filibuster controversy.

Lawprof Steven Calabresi has this piece in the new Weekly Standard:
Why are Senate Democrats so afraid of conservative judicial nominees who are African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, and women? Because these Clarence Thomas nominees threaten to split the Democratic base by aligning conservative Republicans with conservative voices in the minority community and appealing to suburban women. The Democrats need Bush to nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court whom they can caricature and vilify, and it is much harder for them to do that if Bush nominates the judicial equivalent of a Condi Rice rather than a John Ashcroft.

Conservative African-American, Hispanic, Catholic, and female judicial candidates also drive the left-wing legal groups crazy because they expose those groups as not really speaking for minorities or women. They thus undermine the moral legitimacy of those groups and drive a wedge between the left-wing leadership of those groups and the members they falsely claim to represent.

Take Janice Rogers Brown, who won reelection to her state supreme court seat with a stunning 76 percent of the vote in one of the bluest of the blue states, California. Or take Priscilla Owen, who won reelection to the Texas Supreme Court with a staggering 84 percent of the vote in Texas. It is Brown and Owen who represent mainstream opinion in this country--not the Senate Democrats who have been using the filibuster to block their confirmation to the federal bench. If Brown or Owen were nominated to the Supreme Court, the record suggests she would win the ensuing national contest for hearts and minds. Best of all for conservatives, Senate Democrats would be forced by their left-wing interest groups to go down fighting these popular minority and female nominees. At a bare minimum, Republican Senate candidates would acquire a great issue for 2006.

Thus the driving force behind the Democrats' filibuster of conservative minorities and women is political--driven by a desire to protect the party's advantage with minority and women voters and cater to left-wing interest groups. Democrats are also driven in part by their odd belief that "real" African Americans and Hispanics and women cannot be conservative.
These are strong charges. The other side of this coin is that Bush may nominate minorities precisely to create this dissonance for the Democrats. There is no end to the complexity of the two parties' use of race as they fight for power. It's a shame, but it's reality, and we should be ready to look at all sides of it. Calabresi is participating in the struggle from one side. He has some good points, of course, but he's not standing back and trying to describe the whole complex struggle.

Songs transformed with the sex of the singer.

What songs well-known as girl songs would take on intriguing meaning sung by a guy? Tori Amos comes up with a list of 20 songs, but I find her list uninspiring. Do you have any better ideas?

There's also the reverse: what boy songs could be transformed if sung by a female? The obvious actual example of this is Aretha Franklin singing Otis Redding's "Respect."
In Redding's reading, a brawny march powered by Booker T. and the MG's and the Memphis Horns, he called for equal favor with volcanic force. Franklin wasn't asking for anything. She sang from higher ground: a woman calling an end to the exhaustion and sacrifice of a raw deal with scorching sexual authority. In short, if you want some, you will earn it.

"For Otis, respect had the traditional connotation, the more abstract meaning of esteem," Franklin's producer, Jerry Wexler, said in his autobiography, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music. "The fervor in Aretha's voice demanded that respect; and more respect also involved sexual attention of the highest order."
The trouble with a man singing that song is that it's a bit ugly: I make the money, so you owe me. It's the conventional arrangement. The lyrics are a bit awkward in the female re-sing. Why was Aretha giving this guy "all my money"? But we ignored that. It was the remnant of the Otis version. She sang through that and pulled out the better, female meaning through sheer force.

UPDATE: The classic example of a man singing a woman's song is Frank Sinatra singing Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me." He's forced to sacrifice the most beautiful couplet -- "Although he may not be the man some/girls think of as handsome" -- but singing words that are an entirely conventional woman's dream, Sinatra lets us see a shocking, haunting vulnerability.

"Too immature" to decide to have an abortion?

A state judge is preventing a 13-year-old girl from having an abortion, the theory being that she is "too immature" to make her own decision. Her immaturity, of course, also makes it especially burdensome for her to go through pregnancy and childbirth. But before getting too upset at the judge, consider this:
Florida's department of children and families intervened and took the matter to court, arguing the teenager, who is under the care of the state, is too young and immature to make an informed medical decision. Judge Ronald Alvarez in Palm Beach accepted that argument and has granted a temporary injunction and psychological evaluation, which effectively blocks her from terminating the pregnancy.
The girl may be afraid, pressured by others, without resources, unaware of options. Even if you think it is obvious that she had already made the best choice in seeking an abortion, the state is only intervening to impose counseling and advice and is only temporarily preventing the abortion.

But it's quite clear that "too immature" can't be the final call. What if she were 9? Immaturity may be a reason not to leave you to your own devices, but those who intervene cannot simply impose their choice on you. They must be legitimately helping you make a well-balanced, reasoned choice.

Virtual high school.

I'm interested in virtual high schools, as I wrote here. And now, I see there's this virtual high school blog.

The runaway bride.

"14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen"! Maybe it's not such a great idea to have a super-huge wedding.

On the other hand, if the super-huge wedding is freaking you out -- and when we can see the whites of your eyes above your irises, you are freaked out -- setting off a nationwide search, with family members crying on television, is not such a great idea either.

I just watched last night's Nancy Grace show -- which predates the surfacing of the runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks -- and found something really quite creepy about the whole wow-we've-got-another-Scott-and-Laci vibe.

And the poor groom-to-be! He had to know everyone already had him pegged as the murderer. Everyone on TV was into analyzing why he would take a private lie detector test, but wanted special conditions before he'd take the police test. He wanted it videotaped, and the police refused. Think how he felt! They were closing in on an innocent man, and his efforts to protect himself were just more reason to speculate he was guilty.

"That's not what a guilty man does."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a victory for the Wisconsin Innocence Project of the University of Wisconsin Law School:
The first jury had been told that tests on DNA from cigarette butts at the murder scene did not match Zimmerman. But the appeals court said Zimmerman's attorney also should have introduced evidence of many other DNA tests - on hairs from Thompson's pants and sweater, as well as scrapings from her fingernails - that also did not match Zimmerman.

The retrial was held in Juneau in Dodge County because of publicity in Eau Claire surrounding the first trial. Before the jury returned for duty Friday, Eau Claire County District Attorney Richard White announced that he was dropping the charges....

Zimmerman's lead attorney in the retrial, Keith Belzer of La Crosse, said much of the testimony in the first trial was incriminating because it was incomplete. He said that more thorough questioning of witnesses in the retrial, including those commenting on the mass of physical evidence that did not implicate Zimmerman, made it clear that Zimmerman could not have committed the crime.

Belzer said Zimmerman was too exhausted to give an interview, but [Innocence Project co-director Keith] Findley, who assisted Belzer in the retrial, said the former Augusta cop initially was upset to learn that the prosecutor was dropping the charges. "No, I don't want him to do that. I want the jury to find me not guilty," he quoted Zimmerman as saying.

Findley also said Zimmerman had refused a plea bargain that was offered several months before the retrial and again during the retrial. He said Zimmerman could have been convicted of a reduced charge of reckless homicide and been given probation, but refused.

"That's not what a guilty man does," Findley said.

What would Robin Hood do?

John Tierney has an op-ed today about Bush's plan to reshape Social Security to give the greatest benefit to the poor:
[Democrats] tried yesterday to portray him as just another cruel, rich Republican for suggesting any cuts in future benefits, but that's not what the prime-time audience saw on Thursday night. By proposing to shore up the system while protecting low-income workers, Mr. Bush raised a supremely awkward question for Democrats: which party really cares about the poor?...

Democrats like to portray Mr. Bush as King George or Marie Antoinette. But on Thursday night, when he promised to improve benefits for the poor while limiting them for everyone else, he sounded more like Robin Hood, especially when he rhapsodized about poor people getting a chance to build up assets that they could pass along to their children.

It was the kind of talk you might expect to hear from a Democrat, except that Democrats don't talk about much these days except the glories of the New Deal.

Mr. Tierney aren't you forgetting something? That other way Democrats like to portray Bush? "He sounded more like Robin Hood"? Why not say he sounded more like Jesus? It seems to me Democrats also love to say that Bush is too much of a deep-believing Christian, but the usual charge slips out of their heads altogether when Christian belief points toward doing things they approve of:
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

April 29, 2005

Beware of the man with a cause, a guitar, and a belief in his own way with words.

Michael Newdow -- the man who opposed "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance -- what's he up to these days? Look out, he's got a guitar!
Newdow told the audience that he is overwhelmed by the abundance of words beginning with the letter C that are used to describe the United States' history.

"You have the Colonial era, the Continental Congresses, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention," Newdow said. "It's really quite confusing. Just think about who discovered this place: Christopher Columbus, who comes to this new continent where communities congregate and coalesce into colonies such as Connecticut and the Carolinas.'

He continued to relay the events from colonization to the creation of the Constitution through alliteration.

Aside from being an accomplished orator, Newdow is also a singer-songwriter. He presented two of his songs during the lecture.

The first was a tune about the inaugural use of "So help me God," and the other was a melody about the Ten Commandments rock that was placed in the Alabama judicial building several years ago.

Newdow's next project is challenging the placement of "In God We Trust" upon American currency.

"I'm an atheist," he said. "I don't believe in God, so why does my money have to say that?"

I'm someone who can't stand media hounds, so why does my internet have to have a picture of him with a guitar on it?

Most laughs ever received by a right-leaning guest on "The Daily Show."

I'd say it was Christina Hoff Sommers, this past Wednesday, promoting her book about how the self-esteem movement in schools has gone too far. The tales she had to tell -- about "Circle of Friends" replacing tag and the demand that the red correction pen give way to lavender -- really connected with the audience, who seemed quite eager to receive this info. They were prepped, I think, by some combination of their own school experiences and "South Park." And Stewart did not make it easy for her. His approach was to challenge whether her little anecdotes represented anything other than some highly affluent enclaves. Every time he made this move, she shot out some little thing -- "The Girl Scouts have an anti-stress badge" -- that made the audience burst into spontaneous laughter. And you know it would not be their normal thing to give a warm welcome to a right-ish guest.

Regrettably, the Sommers interview is not included on the best interviews page at the "Daily Show" site. (You can, however, see the Dennis Miller interview. He, too, did well. I felt bad for him when he expressed his envy of the "Daily Show's" audience, which was, apparently, visibly way hipper than the crowd he's stuck with out in California.)

Pretty/ugly street.

Such a pretty street. Look how the cherry blossoms lean out next to the old brick building, as a solitary woman makes a private call:

Cherry blossoms

There's even a charming local cooperative bookstore on this street. Or maybe not so charming. Here's what its side wall looks like:

A closer look:

(Click on the image for an even closer, much more detailed shot. The image, which I find offensive, is actually very well drawn.)

Isn't this the Rosie O'Donnell movie you've been waiting for?

Virginia Heffernan writes:
[L]ike Tom Hanks's Forrest Gump in "Forrest Gump" and Sean Penn's Sam in "I Am Sam" and Juliette Lewis's Carla in "The Other Sister," Beth is mostly a constellation of misfit affectations - funny clothes, bipolar outbursts, a forced, garbled voice - and goofy physicality. Beth seems to be wrapped in a loose, superfluous layer of flesh, a symptom of some kind of metabolic disorder (she also gobbles sweets). As a character, she doesn't make sense: she's socially awkward, but not consistently disabled. She's less poignant or tragic than merely clamorous and bothersome.

But if she bugs you, it's your problem. This underhanded movie makes Ms. O'Donnell into an appalling cartoon only to pretend innocence - or, no, moral superiority - when the viewer is appalled. Is Beth's voice deafening on your television set? Is her lumpy form in a Tweety Bird T-shirt depressing? Is her nascent sexuality hard to contemplate? You must have no heart. And you will have to come around to her innocent wonders.
Maybe we can finally draw the line and say if it's just an actor playing developmentally disabled -- a well-known Oscar/Emmy-begging strategy -- we may -- we must! -- level our harshest judgment.

What happened to "The Apprentice"?

After watching all of the first two seasons of "The Apprentice," I abandoned this season somewhere in the middle, though I did occasionally watch a scene I'd heard was especially good. Last night, I watched the whole show. At this point, they were down to the last four contestants, all of whom seemed haplessly bad for any number of reasons. Two of them, stuck working together, could barely hide their contempt for each other. Of the other two, one was entirely lame and the other had insanely bad judgment -- she just had to go to Staten Island in search of a BeDazzler when the task was to sell a limited edition of artist-designed T-shirts. Maybe it makes for a better reality show to have a bunch of bumbling incompetents. Trump keeps saying these people beat out a million applicants, but he never really admits what characteristics he was looking for.

Two things Matt Drudge thinks people make fun of him for caring about.

1. Human cloning.

2. Surveillance cameras everywhere.

He's on C-Span with Brian Lamb right now. At one point, we see him check his traffic statistics and he smiles and glows with pleasure as he swivels the Sony Vaio laptop over for Lamb to see.

Blogging, not slogging.

"Movies encourage passive titillation; videogames encourage active involvement, and often present consequences as well."


Now, substitute "journalism" for "movies" and "blogging" for "videogames." That seems true to me. I mean, other than that "titilliation" makes reading the newspaper sound like more fun than it is.

Personally, I've nearly entirely stopped watching movies, though a few years ago, I went out to the movies three times a week, and I watched many movies at home. My old weekly total is more like my annual total, and my avoidance is almost entirely a result of enhanced awareness and consequent dislike of the passivity of sitting, trapped in the theater for two hours. I don't play videogames, but for a viewing experience, I'd rather watch something on TV that I can blog. In that sense, for me, "American Idol" or a political debate is like a videogame. I have an active role, through writing. As for the newspaper, I can hardly imagine just sitting and reading it through. It's so much more entrancing to read to write.

Blogging has transformed the way I read. Before blogging, I was slogging -- reading, frustrated by the slowness of my own reading. Now, my old vice is a virtue. That draggy slogging from sentence to sentence was the pull of my own thoughts, which are liberated by blogging. In blogging, you focus on the little phrases that hang you up. What used to slow me down is now a portal into my own writing -- the active, not the passive engagement with words.

The scream is over.

I hope not.

April 28, 2005

"You Really Got Me."

The Telegraph reports:
The Kinks' You Really Got Me is officially the best song of its period. Radio 2 listeners voted it above Dusty Springfield's I Only Want to Be with You, Let There be Love by Nat King Cole, and the Beatles' Please Please Me and She Loves You in the first of a series of "songs of the decades" contests to celebrate the Ivor Novello Awards' 50th anniversary.
Ah! I remember when that song came out and some people said it shouldn't count as a song at all and music had reached a new low. Da-da-da-da. They'd sing "Stronger than dirt" -- the Ajax Laundry Detergent jingle -- to prove the point. Me, I'm eternally dedicated to The Kinks.

(You can hear the "Stronger Than Dirt" jingle and other 60s commercials here.)

UPDATE: My son sends this correction:

should be:

Which, I note severely undercuts the "Stronger Than Dirt" criticism. Several emailers have written to say that they thought this was something about "Touch Me" by the Doors. I think the Doors thing is that Morrison actually audibly sings the jingle. With "You Really Got Me," people were ridiculing the guitar riff: it was dumb because it sounded like a dumb commercial. "You Really Got Me" substantially predates "Touch Me."

Bo Bice ≈ Bob Ice.

Did you know if you Google "Bo Bice," you're asked if you meant "Bob Ice"? I could make an ice/snow wisecrack about the poor "American Idol" contestant whose drug misdeeds are now coming to light.
The network claims it knew all about Bice's drug busts ahead of time and that it doesn't care. (We paraphrase.)

"The information disclosed on various salacious gossip websites regarding Bo Bice's past was already well-known to Fox and the producers of American Idol," the network said in a statement released Wednesday. "From the beginning, Bo was honest and forthcoming in revealing his previous indiscretions and their outcome."

Fans, however are not so forgiving. Several posts on the idolonfox.com message boards are suggesting Fox dump Bice and replace him with the competition's other self-styled rocker, Constantine Maroulis, who was voted out on Wednesday's show.
Well, I'm on record as "devastated" that Constantine got kicked off (despite his cute kicking at the camera -- his signature and prophetic dance move this week). But I don't want some ugly fact that was known all along to be used now to change the outcome. The linked article seems to express disbelief that the show knew. I guess if they really didn't, some sort of fairness to Frenchie Davis and Corey Clark might require retaliation against Bo too. But I think we've had enough of this demand for squeaky cleanliness.

The Hindu Disneyland.

Gangadham. I love it! Not every religion could be expressed as a theme park.

The Lord God bird lives.

Thrilling! A grown man breaks into sobs when he realizes what he has seen. Beautiful!

It's the end of the radio as we know it.

Here's a piece in the Washington Post about how people in Washington don't listen to talk radio much anymore. The station with Al Franken's show gets "less than 0.1 percent of the audience, too low to be counted," but the conservative stations are doing terribly too. Why?

I'd say people get tired of talking about politics all the time. And -- the article doesn't mention this -- the debate about Social Security was mind-numbing! Also, even though I'm especially interested in the topic, the subject of judges, religion, and the filibuster is really tiresome. What are the good topics? The other day Rush Limbaugh was going on for hours about ABC's exposé of "American Idol." He tried to tie it to all sorts of big themes about how journalism is left-wing and the left is all about character assassination, but it was a tiny topic and it seemed awfully silly to make such a big deal about it. So what if Paula slept with Corey? (Not saying she did, just that it doesn't matter.)

The New York Times has a piece about how rock music is failing on the radio:
Ratings for rock radio stations have been languishing for years. The share of the 18-to-34 age group that is tuning in to alternative stations has shrunk by more than 20 percent in the last five years, according to Arbitron, while stations playing rap and R&B or Spanish-language formats have enjoyed an expanding audience.

As a result, many rock programmers aren't sure what to play.

"The format in the last couple of years has gone through an identity crisis," said Kevin Weatherly, program director of KROQ, a closely watched alternative powerhouse in Los Angeles. "You have stations that are too cool, that move too quickly and are only playing the coolest music, which doesn't at the end of the day attract enough of the audience. Or you have the other extreme, dumb rock, red-state rock that the cool kids just flat out aren't into."

Well, this is why satellite radio is so good: you can have lots of niche rock channels.

Now, I've got to quote another paragraph:
Such scrambling to strike a balance has cost many alternative programmers large chunks of audience. Some radio executives said that they made a fateful choice in the last few years to jettison the pop-rock side of their genre to concentrate on heavier-sounding bands, and now are afraid to turn back. As part of that shift, many stations also decided to eliminate women from their audience research. These stations decided to aim at men almost exclusively because of the heavier sound. "You got yourself into a corner that you can't get out of," said Tom Calderone, senior vice president for music and talent at MTV, and a former radio programmer and consultant. "When you listen to alternative stations do their 90's flashback weekends, you can hear something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden to something as silly and quirky as Harvey Danger and Presidents of the United States of America. When you become 65-75 percent guys, you're leaving a huge audience on the table."
I suppose I should lambaste them for programming to men, but in fact, I like niche-programming, so I have no problem with that. It's their problem. If you satisfy some listeners, you lose others. You can't please everyone, and putting together an interesting mix is an art. I just wanted to say "something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots"? "Something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots"? If we're looking back on Stone Temple Pilots as some Golden Age of Meaning... that's just sad.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking and making some additional connections between the two parts of this post. First, just as I said satellite radio beats broadcast radio, he's saying blogging beats talk radio. Lots and lots of channels. And second, he takes my "you can't please everyone, and putting together an interesting mix is an art" and applies it to blogging, answering (it seems) all the people who are always (apparently) telling him what he ought to be blogging about). They want him to blog more about politics, but he admits he's also bored by the political topics I said I found boring.

Camille/Constantine: the vote.

If the comment count on this blog can be regarded as some sort of vote: Constantine Maroulis is trouncing Camille Paglia. People are way more interested in discussing why the American people failed to keep Constantine on "American Idol" than why Camille Paglia thinks Americans need to concentrate on poetry reading to cure our culture's shared case of A.D.D.

Octopus pants! Pelican wigs!

Eggagog is back from vacation! I'm going to be smiling all day!

Odd odds.

I'm very glad they caught this serial rapist. I remember how it felt to be a woman living in NYC at the time these attacks were occurring. But can the NYT aim a little copy editing at this?
The near-perfect match between Mr. Worrell's DNA and the sample recovered from the Manhattan victim's underwear means that the odds that he is the assailant are more than a trillion to one...

Wouldn't that make Worrell the least likely suspect?

UPDATE: Now, based on the discussion in the comments, I'm thinking I'm wrong. Or the odds that I'm wrong are... high.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A "trained probabilist" has arrived in the comments and is defending my original post, making odds of my being right higher. Or at least different.

MORE: Let me make an updated copy-editing point. Statistics should be stated in a very clear way that doesn't cause readers to stop and puzzle about which way the numbers work. So they could have written, for example: "There is only a one in a trillion chance that he is not the assailant."

By the way, does this statistic bother you because one trillion is far MORE that the total number of human beings who have ever lived? [Sorry, I had "less" there for a while-- and, me, talking about copy-editing....]


Today is kind of the first day of summer. The last class was yesterday. I've still got two exams to write (and, later, grade) and a big presentation to prepare, but the discipline of appearing in a particular place at a particular time is over, and that's a luxurious new freedom. Though I do always enjoy getting back to classes too, it's also always a pleasure to reach a break. So I'm going to spend an extra hour or so reading the paper -- which for some reason is extra-long today, padded with extra sections on The Arts, House & Home, and Styles.

Don't miss my big Camille Paglia post from last night -- which has a substantial update written this morning.

April 27, 2005

The Constantine shocker!

The American people voted off my guy! Constantine! I can't believe it! So that was a weird "American Idol" tonight, and everyone can speculate about what kind of magic Scott has! I'm glad Vonzell survived -- too many black contestants in a row have gone home. But, damn! My Constantine is gone! I'm desolate!

UPDATE: Trey Jackson has the video of Constantine being told he's out, along with the lengthy response from Paula. Chez Althouse, our state of shock was broken by laughter at the sheer quantity of tears drenching Paula's face. Then Paula goes into the audience to comfort the Mother of Constantine. The pathos level at this point would have fit news that Constantine had died.

Cheer up, fans. Constantine is free! On Tuesday night, Simon ridiculed him for trying to be a rocker: when he came on the show he "crossed over to the dark side -- or the light side." Well, now the light side has tossed out rocker boy, and we shall see if the boy can rock.

Of course, there's still the other rocker boy left, and Bo is actually a sincerely serious rocker -- Constantine never was. (Which is what I most liked about him.) What's Bo supposed to do if Simon's right about rock and "Idol"?

And whom do I support now? I guess it's going to be Bo again. He was my favorite once, and I only abandoned him when Constantine openly embraced the light side by singing "I Think I Love You." But Constantine lost, if we're to believe Simon, when he tried to go back and be a fully serious rocker again.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tim Harden thinks Constantine's mistake was song choice. Unlike me, Tim not only knew the song but was really sick of it, and so, presumably, were a lot of people. To me, everything sung on Tuesday night was crap, but crap that I wasn't familiar with, so I didn't have the extra irritant of having endured radio overplay to count extra against just one of the crap songs.

"Try to survive a tornado with a post-structuralist."

Camille Paglia in Madison.

Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia

I show up early for the Camille Paglia reading at Borders this evening. The place is packed. I find a seat and then, here’s Chris, sitting with Nina, and they’ve saved me a seat in the second row. There are a lot of saved seats. Next to me is a seat saved with a copy of a book called “Wicca – a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner… over 400,000 copies sold.” At first, I think, 400,000? So we’re screwed... And then, I think, well, apparently not. Two women show up and claim the Wicca seats. One says, looking at the book, “Oh, cool. I’m kind of interested,” and the other says, “Me, too.”

A bookstore guy comes out to read us a bunch of rules from “Miss Paglia.” No photos until the signing session. No large bags at the signing. Don’t try giving Miss Paglia any manuscripts or presents. She comes out. She’s quite tiny, even in three-inch heels. She reacts, animatedly, to each line of the introduction. She takes the mike and says she’s avoided Madison until today. In the early 90s, it was “a bit too P.C.” (And now?)

She launches into a 40-minute rant. Films today are “a blizzard of fast editing,” they’re “crap.” Not like when she was young. Soap operas have gone way downhill since when she loved them, when she was young. Young people have migrated to the web, where nothing can be trusted, and everything lingers forever, “like space junk.” The whole culture has Attention Deficit Disorder. We need to “stabilize kids’ eyes,” and that’s the point of her new poetry book. Read some poems, kids. Focus!

She rants against post-structuralism, which, she says, can only -- at most -- be aimed at long, narrative, European texts. It’s hopeless in America and hopeless with poetry. She’s against that theoretical, academic blather and wants to talk to ordinary people and get them to care about art. Actually, she’s a lot like a generic high school English teacher who just wants everyone to pay attention to art, to appreciate it.

Writers need to experience things and not live the bland, featureless life of the writing program grad student. Like this guy who wrote a poem about surviving a tornado. “Try to survive a tornado with a post-structuralist.”

In the question session, one young man asks what she thinks of blogging. She says, “I’m worried about blogging.” There’s “decadence” in the web. Once you’re “swept up in the blogosphere,” you become self-referential. (Afterwards, my colleague expresses amusement that she said other people were being self-referential.) Instead of blogs, she prefers on-line magazines. Mainly, Salon. Do you know she’s returning to Salon? There’s also Slate, but Slate’s “a little bit more wonky,” though it has “some good wonky articles now and then.” Who knows which blogs to read? There are so many! What bloggers need to do is join together and make on-line magazines. Like Salon. Did you know she’s returning to Salon? On Salon, years ago, she was developing a style that was “all about her,” but she was “an established writer” already, and she’s worried about people now trying to start becoming writers through blogging. But, she admits, if she were just starting out now, she’d be blogging.

But those blogs! Some are just “snark, snark, snark,” and others are very pedestrian. But maybe “blog style will mature,” maybe a “blog master will emerge.” Then, shifting position, she says “bark bark bark yap yap yap – I like that!”

A teacher in the audience recounts his difficulty getting his students to watch the movie “Casablanca.” Paglia thinks he might have had more luck with “Ben Hur,” but then moves into a rant that gets her back to her point about how awful post-structuralism is, and she extends this to a criticism of the left. The left “has become spiritually empty.” It has no connection to art and religion. And the right gets art wrong too: it thinks there should be a moral message.” Art for art’s sake is what needs to be taught. Art appreciation is what this country needs today.

Time for one more question, one that can be answered in two minutes, which is a really funny thing to say, considering Paglia’s propensity to take any cue and spin out ten minutes of material. A man asks what she dreams about. She does a whole thing about the importance of dreams, but finally comes around to an answer. She dreams of natural disasters: the sea rising and tornados.

UPDATE: Kate Marie at "What's the Rumpus" just wrote a poem titled "Surviving a Tornado With a Post-Structuralist." It's really good -- and hilarious!

ANOTHER UPDATE: A commenter senses that I didn't really like Paglia all that much, and I want to respond. I greatly enjoy her form of expression, but I think there's a lot less content than you might think. She loves art and wants other people to love art because art is important and she loves it. Nothing she said made me want to read poetry, which was ostensibly the point of the book she spent five years writing. She didn't even read us or quote us a single line of poetry.

Like a lot of people, she hates post-structuralists, but her attack on them is largely an expression of disgust. There's no detail to her critique. Take her word for it: that stuff's terrible. But exactly why? Are we not to analyze art in an intellectual way? Should we just be close-reading enthusiasts? Paglia always falls back on her life story: she's Italian, she's working class, she was raised Catholic, and she had trouble advancing in academia because she would not do post-structuralism. Fine, that's all interesting and entertainingly stated, but it doesn't make me want to read poetry, and it doesn't explain why I should reject post-structuralism. (Not that I don't.)

Finally, she acts as if she was the only one circa 1970s who embraced pop culture as a worthy part of art and that her troubles in academia had to do with this. But this was the great era of Pauline Kael, who was all about making movies part of what intellectuals talked about. We were all about pop culture then! The Introduction to Poetry class I took in college around 1970 included Beatles lyrics -- I still have the anthology -- and one of the main papers topics was to pick a rock song and analyze the lyrics -- I still have my paper. (I did "Maggie Mae"/And got an A.) The blurring of the line between high and low culture was scarcely something she started and suffered for daring to do.

AND A BIT MORE: That was the Rod Stewart "Maggie Mae" ("Wake up, Maggie, I think I've got something to say to you") not the Beatles' little snippet of a song ("Oh, dirty Maggie Mae, they have taken her away").

AND THIS TOO: Kevin Drum has a funny link to this post.

And then what?

That last post got an Instapundit link for the proposition "HAVING A BLOG means that no research idea is ever wasted!" I could make that a whole series, as I must have hundreds of little snippets of things that never got off the ground. Someday, someone's going to look back at this blogging business and say it was all so wrong. People used to develop elaborate ideas, think about them for years, hone them into crystalline prose for the ages, and then, somewhere around the turn of the millennium, they switched to tossing up fresh-thought ideas and abandoned fragments and....

And what? Chaos ensued? We lost our gravitas? Nobody took any responsibility for anything anymore? It was all just fun and games from then on?

Meanwhile, all new snippets from me always get off the ground, and I'm really not taking any responsbility, am I?

Constitutional blood.

Sometimes, going over lists of documents on my computer, I find things that I've entirely lost track of. Today, I saw in my "conlaw" folder a document I'd titled "blood." Interesting! What is this?

It's a collection of three quotes -- one from the Constitution, one from FDR's court-packing speech, and one from a Supreme Court case -- all of which contain the word "blood."
U.S. Constitution, Article III:
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Modern complexities call also for a constant infusion of new blood in the courts, just as it is needed in executive functions of the Government and in private business. A lowered mental or physical vigor leads men to avoid an examination of complicated and changed conditions. Little by little, new facts become blurred through old glasses, fitted, as it were for the needs of another generation; older men, assuming that the scene is the same as it was in the past, cease to explore or inquire into the present or the future....

[My] plan has two chief purposes. By bringing into the judicial system a steady and continuing stream of new and younger blood, I hope, first, to make the administration of all Federal justice speedier and, therefore, less costly; secondly, to bring to the decision of social and economic problems younger men who have had personal experience and contact with modern facts and circumstances under which average men have to live and work. This plan will save our national Constitution from hardening of the judicial arteries.

Missouri v. Holland (Justice Holmes, 1920):
When we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation. The case before us must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago.
I can see that "blood" is a metaphor, and that each of the three quotes uses "blood" in a different way. The Constitution uses "blood" to refer to a person's descendants (as in "blood line"). Roosevelt used "blood" to mean vigor and strength and youthfulness. Justice Holmes used "blood" to mean sacrifice in battle.

I must have meant to collect more "blood" quotes and write an essay about the blood metaphor. Years have passed and I haven't done that, and now I offer up the three quotes in an open-ended blog post. Feel free to use the comments to add more constitutional blood quotes or to suggest what path this unwritten essay might have taken.

MORE: An important document in constitutional history, dating back to 1644, is Roger Williams' "The Bloody Tenent, Of Persecution for Cause of Conscience." Anyone interested in the current controversies about the separation of church and state should know this writing, which demonstrates a very deep and strong Christian root to the Establishment Clause:
[T]he blood of so many hundred thousand soules of Protestants and Papists, split in the Wars of present and former Ages, for their respective Consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace....

The Doctrine of persecution for cause of Conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the Soules crying for vengeance under the Altar....

God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill State; which inforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civill Warre, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisie and destruction of millions of souls.

Last day.

It's 37 degrees here in Madison, but at the same time, it's the beginning of summer, because today is the last day of spring semester. My last class is Constitutional Law, and I've said I'm going to sum things up and give the big picture. Usually, the last class is just the last assignment, and I don't try to do a review or a big conclusion, and I think that is characteristic of most lawprofs (or at least a lot). But today, I've committed myself to speaking in broad, sweeping terms.

April 26, 2005

"American Idol" -- songs of the past few years.

The "theme" tonight is songs of the past few years, and with only six contestants left, we're going to while away the extra minutes going back to their home towns and hearing what the townsfolk have to say about how fine a person their favorite son/daughter is.

First we go back to a one-stop-light town in Oklahoma to learn that Carrie Underwood loves fuzzy-wuzzy wittle kwitters and has a mom who tears up just saying Carrie is a good girl. Said good girl trots out in tight jeans and bleats an endless, featureless country thing that involves long-held notes and that teeter-tottering dance done in a spread-legged, bent-kneed stance that the camera forces us to view from the least small-town, mom-pleasing angle. Still, it's all very chaste. And dreadful. Randy takes ten minutes telling her she was off-pitch. Paula murmurs incoherently, but seemingly in agreement. Simon -- acknowledging the ABC exposé in the offing -- says "I don't think anything you say tonight is going to make much difference, to be honest with you," then adds, "Mind you, that applies to every week."

Before the commercial, we see Bo Bice, wearing a dashiki and sunglasses, which makes me think he's decided to go a little Constantine and not take himself so seriously. Back from the break, we see Clay Aiken's in the audience. He has nothing much to say. He's "nervous." Next to him is a woman with black hair in a bun who makes a big point of turning her head away from him. Does that mean she's with him or not with him?

We learn Bo's from a small town in Alabama. He's got a house, a girlfriend, and parents named Nancy and Earl. He seems to be just the complete southern, rocker boy. There's a startling picture of him as a very skinny, guitar-playing teenager. I don't recognize this song either. Some generic rock thing. Randy and Paula praise his authenticity, which ties to the lyrics of that song I don't know.

Vonzell Solomon is from Fort Myers, Florida. She delivers mail and does karate. We see her music teacher and her two handsome brothers who are wearing big T-shirts with Vonzell pictures on them. The brother wearing the baby Vonzell picture breaks down and cries trying to say how much he loves his sister. Another song I don't know. She doesn't seem up to the range and loses some low notes entirely, but she does that end-high-and-big thing. Actually, it was pretty awful. I think she's going home this week. Randy and Paula seem to love it though. Simon? "I have a horrible feeling that wasn't as good as [Randy and Paula] thought." Yes. Too bad. I (heart) Vonzell, but I think she's going, unless Anthony or Scott falters -- which is a decent possibility.

Heather Locklear is here, with her daughter Ava. Ryan Seacrest asks Ava if she's "a big fan of the show" and she pauses: "um..." Good lord, the little girl is still a human being! She's thinking about whether it's true! She has yet to be absorbed into the vast mind of celebritydom. Fight it, Ava! Fight it! "Say yes," they tell her, and she says "yes!" Ava! Fight it! There's still hope!

Anthony Federov is from a small town in Pennsylvania, but originially from Ukraine. We see his parents Natalia and Vladimir, and Vladimir has an old boom box on his lap and he presses "play" to let us hear a recording he made of the first time Baby Anthony sang. You might think I'm totally inured to sentiment on this show by now and that I'm going to say something snide, but I'll admit that at this point, I broke down and cried!

Vladimir is almost like an Andy Kaufman imitation: "He's singin' about long, long time ago." And here's the impossibly blond and blue-eyed sweet boy, aged maybe five, standing in front of a Christmas tree. The baby voice is still playing, and now we see Vladimir wiping tears from his eyes as the camera closes in on him. Natalia (sounding like a Meryl Streep imitation): "He's our dream. His dream: our dream. I can't believe, our dream came true." Now we see the dream boy, sitting on the stage. He, too, sings a song I don't know. Face it, I don't know any of the songs of the last few years.

"I surrender"? He hits a big high note and I just want Vladimir and Natalia to be happy. Ack! This is all so sincere! Apparently, that was a Celine Dion song. Simon says: "You're a very brave man. I personally hated it." See, that's why I love Simon. His point -- basically the same point he made to Carrie -- is he hates that kind of music, but there are voters out there who love it and they'll love you.

"Fans of pouting, stay where you are. That nice freak boy is live after the break." Freak boy? Rewind! Oh, Greek boy. It's Constantine. So Scott goes last: what does that mean? Either Scott has something great this week, and they really do mean to slough off Vonzell, or they are hanging Scott out to dry.

Finally, somebody from someplace big. Constantine Maroulis, born in NYC. His father [ADDED: brother, probably] is the coolest looking guy, like somebody Egon Schiele would draw. I want to draw Constantine's dad. Constantine's dad reminds me of my father. [YET MORE: I "watched it back" and can tell you that guy who looked so much older than Constantine, but so much younger than Constantine's mother, was definitely Constantine's brother.]

Constantine, too, sings a song I don't know. He's dressed in black, wearing various chains, and he keeps kicking his foot at the low-angle camera. Let it be said, at this point, I am completely for Constantine. The question isn't whether he embodies what "American Idol" is, but that "American Idol" must embody whatever it is he is. He's completely serious and completely not serious at the same time. I love that! The judges crab about the performance. What?

Finally, Scott Savol. He's from Shaker Heights, Ohio. Aw, big Scott was a cute kid who sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." You can tell from the clips Scott is the one with the poorest, hardest life. They try to put a nice slant on that, but you can tell it wasn't nice. His mom says: "He's the average Joe." Most moms go at least a few levels higher with the praise, even when there's nothing special at all.

Another song I don't know. I guess I haven't listened to new things in the last few years. It's another bland, featureless song, and within a few notes I feel they've put Scott in the last position to hang him out to dry. Scott will go home this week. A sigh of relief for Vonzell. Let's hear the judges try to bury him. Simon: "I'd pack your suitcase."

So, it will be goodbye to Scott this week. The others in the bottom three? Vonzell. Who else? I guess that's the really interesting question to be answered tomorrow night. Regular readers know who I want to see there.

Late afternoon, redbud reflected in the glass table.

Windows Window

ABC vs. "American Idol."

Drudge is reporting that ABC is going to run an exposé revealing how Paula Abdul is somehow "cheating" on "American Idol" by picking favorites and "nurturing" them. Losing contestants will whine out the info. That Paula loves some of the contestants more than others? Not news. Anyone watching the show can see that on full display. Hearing the complaints of the sorest losers? That's only going to provide more fun for "American Idol" fans. "American Idol" is often at its best in the early shows of the season, when they go on location and reject nearly everybody. They select the most expressive losers and entertain us with their free-swinging charges. ABC doesn't seem to understand the charm of pop-trash TV. ABC is an idiot.

Laboratories of justice.

In constitutional law, we often speak of the states as "laboratories of democracy" -- Justice Brandeis invented the term. Less often do with think of the state courts as laboratories of justice -- I think I had to invent that term. But here's a nice example of the state courts working in a new way and setting an example for the rest of the country:
New York State is ... creating a homelessness court, domestic violence courts and mental health courts. Backed by the state's chief judge, and bolstered by the court system's own research, these new courts are, among other things, trying to cut down on the number of people who appear in courtrooms over and over again.

Judges - who in law school may have mastered the rules of procedure or the penal code - are now meant to know about the science of addiction, the pathology of wife batterers, the bureaucracy of welfare programs....

"It's a very important new revolution" in the way courts work, said Bruce J. Winick, a former city health official who is now an academic expert on what he calls "therapeutic jurisprudence."

And while New York and California are at the forefront of this movement, there are now hundreds of such courts nationwide, from Hartford to Honolulu, addressing problems like drug abuse and drunken driving; Anchorage opened a court last year dedicated to dealing with the problems of veterans.
This, too, is federalism. Read the article -- it's long -- to see who is critical of this and why.

I'll just pick a little fight. That definition of what law school is like: "master[ing] the rules of procedure [and] the penal code." I'm afraid that's what a lot of people who avoid law school imagine it's like and a lot of people who go to law school are disappointed that it's not. We actually put far less emphasis than you'd think on learning a lot of detailed rules -- something some students might find a bit disconcerting. And some schools -- Wisconsin in particular -- make the interplay between law and society the center of legal education.

"They don’t dare stand up in their own defense because it’s not the attractive thing to do."

Did RLC take a big lurch right yesterday?
Meanwhile, relativist leftists are starting to look more and more like their liberal, well–bred counterparts in Chekhov’s plays: sitting around chatting amusingly about their own helplessness and the need to reform society. They don’t dare stand up in their own defense because it’s not the attractive thing to do.

And what are we to think of people who not only disagree with you but stop being your friend after you say you think Mozart is better than gamelan music? Our own John Cohen -- the ambitious baby, below -- has a nice contribution in the comments:
I've had many conversations with Madisonians along the lines of your conversation with your friend about Mozart and Indonesian gamelan music. It amazes me how friends of mine who have devoted enormous amounts of time toward honing their own artistic talents can turn around and insist that no evaluation of artistic merit can possibly have any authority. If no art is better than any other art, then what motivation does the artist have to perfect his or her craft?
What, full-out fingerpainting self-esteem is not enough?

April 25, 2005

Judges and religion: the Young-Bainbridge debate.

Cathy Young responds to Stephen Bainbridge on the question whether it is discrimination against religion to oppose a judicial nominee who has strong socially conservative beliefs that are founded on religion. She writes:
Take a hypothetical nominee for the federal bench who has publicly stated that male dominance is essential to a healthy social system. He is (a) an evangelical Christian whose beliefs are rooted in his understanding of biblical principles, or (b) an agnostic whose beliefs are rooted in his understanding of sociobiology. It seems that according to Prof. Bainbridge, the Senate would be allowed to hold the nominee's views against him in scenario (b), but not in scenario (a). Personally, I think that this particular belief ought to disqualify him whether it's based on the Bible, the Koran, Confucius, Darwin, Nietzsche, or the Gor novels.
I agree. The origin of a nominee's views -- in religion or outside of religion -- should not matter. Both Democrats and Republicans have exploited religion to manipulate people in the current squabbles over the judiciary. Some Democrats assert that nominees are religious zealots who will drag us into theocracy. And Republicans will try to immunize nominees because their unacceptable views have a religious source. Both parties need to avoid stirring antipathies about religion and irreligion for political gain.

Chaos without the filibuster?

In The Atlantic, Stuart Taylor writes from the imaginary perpective of post-election 2008 and sees disaster for the Republicans -- all following from abandoning the filibuster:
The Republican Party's stunningly swift swoon from controlling the presidency, the House, and the Senate to losing all three is rooted in what conservatives saw not long ago as their greatest triumph.

That was the use of an unprecedented parliamentary power play in April 2005 to ban filibusters of judicial nominees and the subsequent takeover of the Supreme Court by Bush-appointed justices bent on rolling back decades of liberal precedents....

With Democrats thus neutered, the Senate narrowly confirmed in near-party-line votes all of Bush's choices to succeed Rehnquist, O'Connor, and Stevens. Once on the Court, the three new justices allied with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to form the most cohesive, conservative majority bloc in seven decades....

[T]he specter of a conservative Republican steamroller taking over the judicial as well as the executive and legislative branches—and then engineering sudden, sweeping change in previously settled interpretations of the Constitution—eclipsed debate over the individual merits of the Court's decisions. A lot of voters found the whole business scary.
Stuart's nightmare scenario has the Court suddenly overruling all sorts of cases -- bringing back "The Constitution in Exile" and so forth. Is the filibuster all that keeps us from tumbling into a chaotic, frenzied remaking of constitutional law? Supreme Court nominees would still need a majority vote in the Senate, and surely at least some Republican Senators would worry about extreme Justices, if for no other reason than the effect it would have on the party's future. The new Justices themselves would be wary about excessively disrupting settled expectations. And don't be so sure that Justices Scalia and Thomas would not see the value of adhering to precedent. In what is regarded as one of Thomas's most extreme federalism opinions, his concurring opinion in United States v. Lopez (which struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act), Thomas wrote:
Although I might be willing to return to the original understanding, I recognize that many believe that it is too late in the day to undertake a fundamental reexamination of the past 60 years. Consideration of stare decisis and reliance interests may convince us that we cannot wipe the slate clean.
So Stuart's scenario strikes me as the opposite of David Brooks' overly rosy prediction of how things would play out if Roe v. Wade were overturned (which I critiqued here). Stuart's exaggerated picture does not adequately take into account how other players in the system would respond at each step.

The ambitious baby.

Originally uploaded by John Cohen.
I took this picture in 1981.

Our local idol, Bucky.

I hear some shouting out on the Hill, and I turn away from my work to see what's going on. They're putting up a big Bucky Badger float. Do I have to take a picture of that? They did the same thing last year. It looked like this. It's the same today. I took some new pictures anyway, but I've left the cable at home, so I'll have to post them later. May last year's pictures satisfy your need to see Bucky now.

I'm trying to write up notes for a big semester-end review in Constitutional Law. I hear a tapping at my door. It's Tonya, asking if I've blogged the Bucky float yet and saying that Madison is starting to look like my blog.

I get back to work. No, I need more coffee. I go to the faculty library, and a woman is sitting in the lotus position on one of the low bookcases by the big windows that look out on the Hill.
ME: Meditating on Bucky?

SHE: Actually, I can't see him from this angle.

ME: Kind of like God. You can't see him but you know he's there.

UPDATE: Here's a picture taken from my office window today:

The Bucky float

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, I throw down the gauntlet:
I'm not really into comparative mascots, but do you think maybe we've got the best one? And don't just disagree because you're from another school. Bucky is the best campus mascot, isn't he? Don't tell me a Trojan is better or a Wolverine. It's not even a specific Trojan or Wolverine, is it? No Tommy the Trojan or Wolfie the Wolverine.

Feel free to go in and argue!

Sincere divas.

Camille Paglia is appearing at Borders in Madison this Wednesday at 7 p.m. Not to be missed, if you're in the vicinity. And here's the New Criterion piece on her new book (via A&L Daily).
[T]hough not all of the forty-three poems discussed in this volume are among the “world’s best,” the reader is confident that they really are Paglia’s favorites, and grateful that she is generally lucid, diligent, and entertaining in justifying her taste. She doesn’t call the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock” an “important modern poem” just to shoehorn an extra woman into the canon and rankle the Great Books set. She is agenda-free. For good or ill, she means it.

"Sincere" -- it seems like such an unPagliaesque aspiration.

Speaking of sincere, how sincere was Joni Mitchell in "Woodstock"? She didn't attend, and, in fact, she played at the Atlantic City Pop Festival, a few weeks before, and walked off in the middle of her set, after ranting at the audience for failing to pay rapt attention to her. We were milling around, dancing and talking, and acting like a big bunch of hippies. She did not like it one bit. She steered way clear of Woodstock, then wrote a song idealizing it.

"Then can I walk beside you?" she wrote, but the fact is, she didn't want to be anywhere near these people.

The big, foaming mass-o'-celebrities blog.

Arianna Huffington thinks she's discovered something new in blogging: the group blog with famous people, a lot of famous people. If you've got 250 people -- famous people -- able to post on one big, foaming mass-o'-celebrities blog, that's got to be exciting, right?

When I think of blogging and celebrities, I think of bloggers tweaking and slamming celebrities. When I think of a big mass of celebrities, I think of pretty people murmuring self-congratulatory banalities -- like at the Oscars -- barely able to say anything interesting to go with the pretty pictures.
Among those signed up to contribute are Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

Well, now my picture isn't so pretty. But they'll be writing, so it doesn't really matter that they are not really telegenic. Of course, if they're writing, how do we know it's really them and not some assistant or P.R. person or joke-writer?

UPDATE: This post was talked about on an MSNBC TV segment today. Political Teen has the video clip here.

Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft, who does the segment, pronounces my name funny. It's "alt" as in "salt" without the "s," and then "house" as in "house" -- just plain old "house is not a home" "house." It means: old house.

Unrelated observation: The "v" key on my keyboard suddenly only works if I hit it twice. What could possibly cause that? This problem just started when I first tried to type MSNBC TV. Do you think I should hold Bill Gates responsible?

April 24, 2005

It has something to do with Satan and a toad.

Richard explains why he's still not posting photographs on his blog.

Oh, do I have to go out?

I'm getting a lot of things done sitting right here at the dining table today: blogging, newspaper reading, pulling my notes together for the last week of classes.

Sunday table

The view from here is kinda spectacular, by my standards.

Sunday table

I see lots of people running and walking by. I should do that too. But isn't it chilly? Still, it's so sunny. No, I've got some things I've just got to read right now. Don't worry, though. I'll be going out to dinner in an hour or so, and we'll be having lots of laughs and eating cheeseburgers.

Does this make me look like a tourist?

No, it's not the sandals, the fanny pack, or the camera anymore...

"All nine actors put on the owlish glasses to play Lennon himself, including the four women and two black men."

It's that new "Lennon" musical, playing in San Francisco -- described by Newsweek. Sounds heavy on the Ono:
It was the Lennon-as-everyman conceit that won Ono over. "I was sort of hesitant to say yes to the usual proposal, but this one was very special," she says. "It's very significant that we are saying anyone can play John, not one race or one special kind of people."
Is that special? Or is that maudlin crapola?

So far, the reviews have been "weak." Consider that "Woman Is the N----- of the World" comes across as the best song in the show.

Cool photos.

Originally uploaded by John Cohen.
I gave my son John one of the free Flickr accounts I had, and he's uploaded a ton of photos. Here's a particularly cool example!

MORE: A nice thing about the way Flickr works is that if you click on the picture, you'll enter John's "photostream" and can see the other pictures next to it. Whether that answers your questions about what's going on in this picture is a different matter! It's an art project!

YET MORE: If you liked that, but would prefer a different color, try this.

"I'm a waiter!"

Chris says happily. He's got his summer job -- his first waiter job, the one after which you can always say you have experience as a waiter. I've been a waiter -- i.e., a waitress. In fact, the first job I ever had was as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes. I wasn't very good at it. I found it hard to say: "Hello, my name is Ann, and I will be your waitress tonight. How many will have coffee?" You had to say that. So just say it! I thought you had to say it well, with sincerity, and perhaps somehow conveying the goodness and importance of coffee.

Shooting the caviar.

Hey, did you know Tonya returned to the world of active blogdom? I just noticed she blogged last Thursday's dinner, replete with a hilarious photo of me and Nina photographing the caviar-and-salmon-on-potato hors d'oeuvres. She includes a really lovely picture I took of her, and then a picture of me looking like I'm mercilessly assassinating the appetizers. Nina's looking cold-blooded, while I seem to be more at the heat-of-passion degree of criminal intent toward the fish eggs. (Strangely, someone in the comments over here, talking about a different photograph, thinks Nina and I look like we belong in a "Lethal Weapon" flick.)

Finally, Satan!

So what do we want from a third season of "Joan of Arcadia"? The last episode of season two laid out some options. Do we want Joan to go all Buffy? Do we want Helen to become our Arcadian Arquette? Me, I just want more Glynis.

But I must say I adore the new devil character. Remember in first season when we all thought the principal was going to turn out to be Satan? Now, Satan -- Ryan Hunter -- has finally arrived, and this is a well-written, well-acted character. The actor is handsome in a disturbing way -- like Eddie Haskell on steroids. He murmurs things to people as he slips by and you just think: snake! The things he says are aptly expressed objections to the rule of God -- offers of freedom. He makes a lot of sense -- that's what's so frightening to Joan:
We don't have to be bossed around by some love-starved, egocentric diety. I didn't ask to be born, but now that I'm here, it's all up to me. I like it that way. My life is a gift? Okay. Thanks. You can't ask for it back.

Joan asks God for help. At least Joan of Arc had an army. She's all alone. God points out her nerdy brother and four geeky friends, who are, at that moment, studying physics and throwing food at each other. I try to think of a movie/literary allusion that just beyond my grasp. The hero needs to fight, and he goes about getting some pretty unpromising looking people to join his group. Am I just thinking about Jesus getting the disciples together? Robin Hood? The Wizard of Oz?

UPDATE: A commenter points out that the situation at the end of "Joan" is not so much the one of going about assembling a motley crew (and "Lord of the Rings" would be another great example of that), it's about looking at the group you've already got and seeing how bad your chances are.

But he loves lemonade and kitty-cats.

Pope P.R.

"Those who describe him as cold, detached, inaccessible and too intellectual have not met him."

"Since your title is my quote..."

A person quoted in an article I linked shows up in the comments section here. (Scroll down to Jennifer Mickel. I assume it's really the same person. No way to be positive.)

Should we screen out mean?

The fuss over the Bolton nomination leads to a more general examination of the phenomenon of mean people in politics. Apparently, there have been plenty of people with various nasty character traits who attained high positions of power. How can you disqualify someone for something that could be said about all the various people named in this article (including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as many, many senators)? Well, it worked against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork:
"Bork is the classic modern instance of someone who made it easy for his opponents, in part because of his demeanor," he added. "I don't think he ever cracked a smile." For former Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, the personal criticism of Mr. Bork reached absurd heights. "They turned him into a gargoyle," he said.
And Bork had that beard, remember. Is it any surprise people keep zeroing in on Bolton's mustache?

"The university was in chaos... It was horrible."

The NYT portrays the new pope's conservatism as an emotive reaction to leftist protesters. Interesting article. A sample:
[W]hile his deep reading and thinking in theology, philosophy, and history were fundamental to development as a theologian, it was the protests of student radicals at Tübingen University - in which he saw an echo of the Nazi totalitarianism he loathed - that seem to have pushed him definitively toward deep conservatism and insistence on unquestioned obedience to the authority of Rome....

"People of his age and background panicked at the thought that a new, radical, dictatorial and totalitarian regime might come out of the '68 uprising," said Gustav Obermair, a liberal physicist who was president of Regensburg University, where Father Ratzinger went after leaving Tübingen in 1969. "Of course, this was a complete misreading of the '68 movement. But that is what they thought."...

Max Seckler, then the dean of the Catholic Theological Faculty and now professor emeritus at Tübingen, put the student protesters in a darker light, and recalled a particular challenge to the new professor.

"The university was in chaos," he said. "It was horrible. The students kept professors from talking. They were verbally abusive, very primitive and aggressive, and this aggression was especially directed against Ratzinger. He had the most students coming to his lectures, but his personality was a magnet for this aggression. He had something fascinating about him, and this made him an object of hatred."

Comments persona.

An emailer writes:
I immensely enjoyed your comment response appended to the Feingold post. If I read it correctly, it was not quite written in your usual voice, and that change was part of what made it so entertaining.

Do I have a different persona in the comments? Maybe so. I feel more casual writing on the comments pages and tend to dash things off without thinking so much. It's more like email or an in-person conversation.

But generally, on the front blog page, in the comments, and teaching, when the subject is constititutional law, I tend to shift around to different levels of observation. Sometimes I'm trying to convey how the judges put the argument on paper, just to translate difficult textual and doctrinal arguments for laypersons or law students. Sometimes I'm trying to locate the debate in a political context. And sometimes I just step back and speculate about what kind of a human being would think about things like that.

And even in speaking on these different levels, sometimes I adopt a sober tone that channels the judge (or legislator or litigant) and defends him as he would defend himself and sometimes I adopt the voice of that person's opponent restating his motivations in rough sarcasm. Sometimes when I'm teaching I just walk to the other side of the room to play the cynic -- a move that worked better when a room had a stage. (All the stages were ripped out in the last renovation -- for various political reasons.)

But maybe, for the blog, I should add a new "team member" over here that would just be my nastier, more cynical alter ego. Or maybe I should just put the text in red when I'm walking over to that side of the stage.