June 4, 2005

Justice McConnell?

Tony Mauro has a detailed piece in Law.com about Michael McConnell as a Supreme Court appointee. An excerpt:
[A]s scrutiny of his record intensifies, it's hard for many to decide exactly what McConnell is: conservative, liberal, or a perplexing blend of both.

Capitol Hill sources and other players in the increasingly frenzied Supreme Court sweepstakes place McConnell, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, at or near the top of the short list of possible picks for the high court if a vacancy occurs later this month.

And while some liberals like McConnell, others are gearing up for a battle royal against him, especially over his sharp opposition to abortion rights and his deep support for school vouchers and for aid to parochial schools.

"He is very troubling, and very likely," says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Yet if President George W. Bush appoints McConnell, 50, it appears he will have at least some support from liberal academics, as he did when more than 300 law professors supported him for the appeals court judgeship in 2002. "He has integrity, smarts, and is more open to a range of views than others we might get," says one liberal law school ally of McConnell who did not want his name revealed before a vacancy materializes.

UPDATE: Am I for Justice McConnell?, a commenter asked. I'm certainly one of the 300 lawprofs who signed the letter Mauro refers to. And I love the idea of a "perplexing blend" of liberal and conservative, and not just because that's what I consider myself. I'm sure my blend is different from his. But what I want is a real human being, a hardworking, serious scholar, who is not an ideologue, but someone we really can trust for the next thirty years. It will be a credit to President Bush if he picks Judge McConnell.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Gordon concurs.

He's remembered as "Explorer of Mars"...

But Norman H. Horowitz -- dead at age 90 -- opposed a manned mission to Mars:
In a 1988 interview with The New York Times, he voiced disapproval of proposals to send humans to Mars, saying: "It's just as wrong as can be. It's wrong because it guarantees there won't be any space science. We know how NASA treats science as a second-class citizen when it competes with man-in-space programs."

I'm inclined to believe that.

But I must say, when I saw the headline about a 90-year-old "Explorer of Mars," an idea that occurred to me was having a one-way mission, sending some quite old persons to Mars, with no way to bring them back. I was assuming he'd be in favor of sending a man to Mars and imagined him saying I'm 90, send me! I'm going to die pretty soon anyway. I'd like to have a shot at making it to Mars. And you can just leave me there!

Would it be wrong to have a mission like that? Why is it that young people take the most risks with their lives? Shouldn't the oldest people take the most daring risks, since they've lived the greater part of their lives and therefore risk less of it?

But Horowitz what not that kind of Mars explorer, not the physical adventurer, but a man who did his explorations intellectually.

Titan Arum!

Here's the UW website for tracking the progress on the blooming of our Titan Arum -- corpse flower.
Four of the five bracts (or scales) that enclose and protect the plant's spathe and spadix now have fallen. The largest bract was still in place this morning. When the last one has fallen, it will be a signal to the bud that it is time to move toward its bloom. The maroon color is developing on the inside of the spathe. There is just a hint of it visible today. Much of Titan IV's spadix is purple in color, just as it was in 2001. The bloom is expected within the next 4-8 days.
You can click on the live streaming video of the flower. It's currently 84". Two feet to go to set a world record.

UPDATE: The description above is from yesterday. Today:
As of this morning, the largest and last bract had fallen only partially. The top of the spathe is showing more maroon at the margin, and the upper part of the spadix is turning dark purple. The top one foot of it is a beautiful greenish cream color.

"Judith Christ."

The Anchoress, writing about the problem some feminists have with the use of male pronouns to refer to God, points to this book -- "Judith Christ Of Nazareth, The Gospels Of The Bible, Corrected To Reflect That Christ Was A Woman, Extracted From The Books Of Matthew, Mark, Luke, And John" -- which addresses the problem somebody somewhere apparently has with the idea that Jesus was male. Is it worth getting upset about that book? Maybe not. There are many versions of the Bible, some rewritten in slang or as comics. It's just another way to take in the material. It's not as if someone is messing up the only copy. If you're concerned about blasphemy or heresy, and you think this book is a problem, don't read it. I have much more of a problem with demands that shared rituals be rewritten to eliminate the masculine references to God -- even though the argument that God is not male is much stronger than the the argument that Jesus is not male.

The "Judith Christ" version of the Bible reminds me of Virginia Woolf's "Judith Shakespeare," in "A Room of One's Own." Except it's not like it at all. Woolf envisions a female equivalent of Shakespeare -- Shakespeare's sister -- and works out that she would never have achieved anything. But "Judith Christ" gets to do exactly the same things Jesus did, mostly because virtually no effort was put into the creation of the new book. Just a few "search and replace" commands would do the trick. It would take some imagination to come up with the Virginia Woolf-style treatment of "Judith Christ."

Sex and religion: the Christian gender gap.

In recent years feminists have criticized the Christian church for what they consider its patriarchy and sexism, but far more women than men go to church. Peter Steinfels writes in the NYT:
And the pattern is not limited to the contemporary United States. With a few possible exceptions in Eastern Europe and Asia, the gender gap holds for Catholics and Protestants worldwide, even for the rapidly growing Pentecostal churches in Africa and Latin America. It has long been the norm in Catholic Europe, perhaps since the Middle Ages. Certainly the rolls of New England churches in Puritan times recorded a majority of female members, and 19th-century church leaders reported a similar preponderance of women at services.

By contrast, [David Murrow, author of "Why Men Hate Going to Church"] claims, no such gender gap exists in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam - an interesting point, although one he doesn't at all document. "Only Christianity," he writes, "has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners."

So why do men hate going to church? Hormones, says Mr. Murrow. Brain structure. Prehistoric imprinting.

Men can't sit still, want to be outdoors, aren't very verbal and can't read and sing at the same time. Men crave adventure, risk, danger and heroic sacrifice. Men value boldness. They love action, tools, technology and competition.

Men are hunters and warriors. Women are gatherers and child-tenders.

Is all this true? Mr. Murrow clearly thinks so, even if he apologizes now and then for being politically incorrect, or allows for many female exceptions, or hedges about whether he thinks those traits are ingrained and relatively fixed or culturally created and relatively malleable.

And Christian churches, he maintains, have an antimale culture. Their "spiritual thermostats" are set for women - set for comfort instead of challenge. The emphasis is on relationships, security, sensitivity, nurturance, children and family. Guys don't get it.

Well, my spiritual thermostat is set for being disgusted by that sort of talk.

Steinfels is somewhat critical of Murrow, especially his self-help writing style. He notes (citing the European historian Hugh McLeod):
[F]or freethinkers in the last two centuries the problem was never that too few men went to church but that too many women did. Their common explanation was nearly the opposite of Mr. Murrow's, although by today's standards it was no less politically incorrect. It was not that men were driven away from church by their warrior hormones, their less flexible brains and the peer pressure of their drinking buddies, but rather that they stayed away because of their greater rationality and composure, while women remained pious because of their emotional susceptibility and their subservience to the clergy.
What a complicated problem! The most complicated part of it is that you can't talk about it at all without offending everyone. What is the message here? Women should stop complaining about patriarchy and sexism, because the church needs to be patriarchal and sexist to keep the men from avoiding it altogether?

UPDATE: The quoted material above suggests that men and women inherently require different religions, but to put it that way is to say that religions exist to serve people's emotional needs and not because they are true in the sense that they claim to be true. If they are only serving emotional needs, then there's nothing wrong with women attending and men opting out. The problem goes away except to the extent that the women who attend want male companionship. If a religion is true in the sense that it claims, it would make demands on people, not simply cater to their existing preferences. But in a free society, people can decide not to meet the demands. If so, is it anything more than a social problem if more men than women turn away? The religion that claims to be true shouldn't change its tenets in order to balance the sexes, but I would think it could change some things about the service, such as the music or the sermon topics or the poliitical advice.

"A grotesque use of church."

The WaPo reports:
Gov. Rick Perry (R) is going to church tomorrow, not necessarily for the obvious reason: He plans to sign two bills sought by conservatives and passed by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. One requires parents to sign off on abortions for minors; the other calls for a November vote on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Actually, the signing will be held in the gymnasium of the private school that is next door to and under the auspices of Calvary Cathedral, one of the largest Christian churches in Fort Worth.

"This is way over the line," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is a grotesque use of church by a political figure."

People who are religious Christians should find this as offensive as people who are not find it.

The spell is broken.

I watched the big National Spelling Bee the other day. Don't know why I didn't post about it. Maybe I didn't have the heart to say things about how the kids looked. (If a kid's going on TV and has even the shadow of a mustache, it's time to start shaving. Somebody needs to tell you that!) But looking back -- I was just reading this post over at Throwing Things -- I realize I do have something I wanted to say. I think the new success of the Spelling Bee, now that it's the subject of a movie and a Broadway show, has destroyed its beauty and innocence. Although some of the kids retained that classic nerdiness -- I loved the kid who turned to the side and talked into his fist for each syllable -- a lot of them had become smartasses, like the girl who asked "How do you spell that?" and the girl who heard a word and said "Whatever!" If you think you're cool, why am I watching you spell? The whole charm was that you were the completely uncool kids.

Why Brad Pitt is fun to watch half the time.

I agree with this theory. And don't forget "Fight Club," where Brad's good.

Number 1.

From the Daily News:
For the first time since WKTU (103.5 FM) started doing top-103 countdowns for each decade, Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is not No.1 for the '70s.

This shocking news came out when 'KTU did its latest countdown and the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" bumped Gloria to No.2.

Prince's "1999" was No.1 for the '80s, while Madonna's "Vogue" was No.1 for the '90s.

So dance music ruled for thirty years? If you'd have told me in 1976 that was going to happen, I would have broken down and cried!

It seems to me they didn't even get the best Prince song from the '80s, but I think what happens with these things is that something becomes iconic, so that it's not the song so much anymore but everything it's come to symbolize. Like for example, the way life is just a party and you wouldn't even care if it was Judgment Day, people were running everywhere, and, of course, the sky was all purple. Somehow that sums up how, looking back, you feel about the 80s.

So what are we to make of "Stayin' Alive" upsetting "I Will Survive"? Our idea of the 70s, up until recently, entailed a woman summoning up her inner powers, and now the decade feels more like a man just struggling to get by. As with "1999," we've got destruction all around -- "Feel the city breakin' and ev'rybody shakin'" -- and the singer's way to deal with it is to party: "Got the wings of heaven on my shoes/I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose."

And actually, "Vogue" tells the same story. There's "heartache" and "the pain of life" "everywhere," and the solution: "It's called a dance floor."

So there's your formula for popular music: acknowledge that the pain of the real world and present dancing -- to this very song -- as the solution. People love that.

UPDATE: Looking at the WKTU website now, I can see the lists were specifically of dance songs. The Daily News didn't specify that, but I guess if you're in NY you know the station's format. Side note: I can remember listening to top 100 lists on a NY station in the mid-70s. Number 1 was always "In the Still of the Night."

June 3, 2005

"We didn't know how people were so into a stinky plant, a monster, a beast."

The WaPo notices us:
The rare, big and extremely stinky flower that caused a sensation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when it last bloomed in 2001 could become the world's largest flower when it blooms again next week.

The titan arum stood at 6 feet, 4 inches Thursday in a UW-Madison greenhouse, on pace to rival the world record for cultivated flowers when it blooms and releases its trademark roadkill scent in the coming days....

In 2001, Big Bucky's bloom drew some 20,000 visitors who waited in long lines to see the spectacle...

"We didn't know how people were so into a stinky plant, a monster, a beast," said Mohammad Fayyaz, director of UW-Madison's Botany Garden and Greenhouses....

"If we break the record," he said, "it's great for the country, the state and the city of Madison."

This is so exciting! Right next to the Law School, too. I can tell when it's about to bloom, because then line backs up right under my office window. What a privilege!

What's better, a group blog or an individual blog?

Gordon Smith has a lot of interesting things to say comparing group blogs and individual blogs. Is one sort of blog better than the other? It seems that there are a lot of variables that make some group blogs better and some individual blogs better. But what are all these variables? Gordon gets the subject going. Some pairs or sets of bloggers make each other better because they generate more posts, with more regularity, and because they play off each other or balance each other in some way. But sometimes a blogger you like adds a co-blogger to plump things up and only dilutes the quality of the blog. One blog I used to read every day added a co-blogger, and I found myself reading less and less over time, so that now I check in maybe twice a month.

Some blogs have so many people it's just irritating. HuffPo is the egregious example here. What a mess! Some political hacks churn out whole columns, some comedians jot down some notes that are kind of funny if you imagine the way they'd say it out loud, and some slightly well-known people repeat very conventional observations with no style at all. No one seems capable of keeping a solo blog, but if there were a few people in there who could, I wouldn't know, because I'm not going to slog through all the bad. And I find the environment there so un-charming that it doesn't put me in the mood to find the good.

I like running an individual blog, though I did temporarily group-blog last fall when Megan McArdle, Michael Totten, and I took over Instapundit (scroll down). When I did that, I still kept this blog going, and I was very aware of the different feelings I had writing in the two places. Over here, the whole blog is my self-expression. I don't have to stop and think about whether my saying something is good for the group. But operating within a group is good in different ways. It occurred to me as I wrote that that it's like the difference between living single and living in a family. There are benefits and limitations in both, but once you've made your choice, it's going to change what kind of a person you are.

Gordon wonders whether some individual bloggers -- he names me and two others -- could make some big, popular megablog, and he thinks it probably wouldn't work. The whole would be less than the sum of the parts. I guess that's a compliment! Are there people you want to read solo whom you'd like less if they were matched up with some appropriate co-bloggers? (And who would be appropriate for me?) And are there group blogs that you read that are written by individuals you'd shun if they set up a separate site?

A side note: the group blogs Gordon especially likes -- Marginal Revolution, Crooked Timber, and Volokh Conspiracy -- all put the blogger's name at the beginning of the post. I wish all group and partnership blogs would follow this pattern. Too many times have I read a post thinking it was one blogger only to realize it was one of the others, and on some blogs I only like one of the bloggers, and that little extra trouble of scrolling down to see the name and then back up to start reading is a disincentive to go over there at all. I know this is a default in the software, but changing it is important!

Cedar Point.

Last month, when I was planning my drive out to Ithaca and back, lots of readers advised me to take a quick detour from I-90 and go to the roller coaster paradise at Cedar Point. I didn't. But Rick Lee did and has the pictures to prove it.

Oscar teaches the Germans a lesson...

At the University of Boogie.

That was hips.

I love the way this BBC article about how fat hips protect women from heart attacks is headlined "Curvier women 'will live longer'" and illustrated by an above-the-waist photo of Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Via Memeorandum.)

UPDATE: And what's with the euphemism "curvy"? This is an article about fat hips. Really, even "hips" is a euphemism. You know where that fat is when the measurement at hip level is 40+ inches. But this whole thing is pseudo-science-y! The chemistry cited in the article has to do with the fat tissue, so there shouldn't be any magic to the inches. Picture a very short, small-boned women. I'm sure she'd have the relevant fat tissue at well under 40 inches. And why would it be all or nothing? Get it up to 40 or there's no point at all in maintaining that fat ass!

ANOTHER UPDATE: And check out this picture Jeremy took in Poland. I think that poster says "Americans are fat."

A new way to get famous.

Reading aloud by the side of the street in Beijing.

The shrine...

Of Hollywood Beauty.

Pro-choice inclinations and relentless practicality.

Rebecca Mead has a piece in The New Yorker about Laura Bush that is written in that labored style that makes you assume she really must have a point that matters. I'll leave you to find the point, if you want. I just wanted to break out this one sentence:
Barbara Bush’s pro-choice inclinations, consistent with the relentless practicality displayed by her heel height and sensible hairdo, was taken to be a much more significant indicator of her husband’s true position on abortion than anything he might have said to pro-life voters.
Okay, obviously, the subject and the verb don't agree. You'd have thought The New Yorker, with all its pretensions about writing style, would never let a mistake like that through.

But let's move on.

What's practical -- let alone "relentlessly practical" -- about the big, teased, rigidly-in-place, bubble hairstyle? I see relentlessly practical hairstyles on women every day. Long, parted, naturally straight hair is relentlessly practical. Very short, Beatle-cut, thin hair is relentlessly practical. All-one-length, naturally curly hair is relentlessly practical. A slicked-back ponytail is relentlessly practical. You try getting your hair into a Barbara Bush/Ann Richards teased bubble without professional help!

I can't address the subject of Barbara Bush's shoes, as I have no mental picture to draw from, but what exactly is it about sensible shoes and hair that is supposed to suggest a pro-choice position on abortion? If the article weren't so hostile to George W. Bush overall, I would suspect the writer of having the old-fashioned sort of anti-feminist attitude that relied on the argument that feminists are feminists because they can't attract men or don't want to! So what's the point? An idle slam against Barbara Bush?

But the larger point here is that a Republican President who must say things to please his anti-abortion constituents does well to have a wife who signals to abortion rights supporters that they really don't need to worry that he'll take their rights away. The husband and wife conjoin into a mystical entity that works some political magic.

"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is."

So says Steven Pinker.

June 2, 2005

It's Chris's birthday!

He's 22. Let me take a picture of you:

Dinner at Harvest

We go out for a nice little dinner at Harvest. Take a picture of me:

Dinner at Harvest

Now, I'm back home and he's out celebrating with friends.

But here's a birthday toast to you:

Dinner at Harvest

Happy birthday!

Dinner at Harvest

NOTE: I swapped the fourth picture for a different one.

Snowflake babies and Nobel sperm.

Two articles in today's NYT caught my eye.

There's this front-page article about "snowflake babies," grown from embryos produced by fertility clinics:
People on this part of the political spectrum have begun calling the process "embryo adoption," echoing the phrase that Snowflakes uses instead of "embryo donation." The Health and Human Services Department has termed the process embryo adoption in certain grants. Bills that would formally call it "embryo adoption" have begun to filter into statehouses in California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, states that, not coincidentally, are at the forefront of legalizing and encouraging embryonic stem cell research.

The adoption terminology irritates the fertility industry, abortion rights advocates and supporters of embryonic stem cell research, who believe that the language suggests - erroneously, they maintain - that an embryo has the same status as a child.

But for some conservative Christians, that is precisely the point.

The children are sometimes dressed in T-shirts that say "snowflake baby" and used in political displays.

The second article is a review of a book about "the rise and fall of the Repository for Germinal Choice, the sperm bank that opened in 1980 and purported to offer top-echelon sperm -'dazzling, backflipping, 175 IQ sperm' - courtesy of Nobel Prize winners." The "genetically ambitious" pregnancy-seeking clients of this place were quite different from the embryo-adopters.

So, what do you think? Is it good or bad for women to use their capacity to produce children in either of these ways? At least in the case of a woman who needs to employ modern technology to become pregnant, what is wrong with acting out your religious beliefs by adopting an embryo that would otherwise be destroyed or experimented upon, and what is wrong with seeking out the best possible sperm? Do we worry that the child will be mistreated, that the parents will think of their child in the wrong way? Do we worry that the women in question will have the wrong religious beliefs or the wrong ideas about what good sperm is?

UPDATE: I'm thinking that there are a lot of people who believe in "choice" when it comes to abortion rights who don't really endorse choice when the woman produces a child, because this woman exercising choice then has a real child under her control, and we may worry about the consequences. If you have that split view of choice, you reveal your mistrust in women. Then there's the split view of the other way: you oppose abortion but you approve of broad autonomy in letting women use various methodologies of reproduction and in acting out their religious, political, social, and intellectual goals through their children.

Tom Cruise is an actor.

Why are people fretting about Tom Cruise? I've seen the clip of his expansive, physical expression on "Oprah" and the "Access Hollywood" thing, and both look entirely like his big "Help me help you" scene in "Jerry Maguire." The man is an actor who happens to be especially good with comic physical demonstrations and not so good at the realistic depiction of genuine human emotion.

Traveling through western landscapes.

Tonya has pictures from her rafting trip on the San Juan River in Utah -- including petroglyphs and Anasazi ruins. And I quote this though it threatens to set up a theme of the day on this blog:
One unusual thing about camping in remote areas is that there is an excessive amount of discussion about bodily functions -- when to go, where to go, how long you can avoid going, etc.
Much as I'd like to take in these sights and even knowing how much fun Tonya had, I can't see going camping. And camping with boating seems even worse, because you've got all that sun exposure. But that's just me. I love the Western landscapes. Taking them in, however, I have some strong preferences. Transportation: car. Where to sleep: hotel. Place to tend to physical needs: women-only bathroom.

UPDATE: I will note that I would be willing to go on the kind of rafting trip Tonya describes if I were paid enough. Putting a price on things like this is an Althouse tradition. I'm assuming a week-long raft trip, well-run, well-supplied, with people I enjoyed and through a landscape I wanted to see. I would do it for $1,000 -- the equivalent of "Star Wars" and an egg salad sandwich in Althouse valuation.

The "highly-charged," "gendered" bathroom.

It's a serious area of feminist studies, to the surprise of Boston Globe Columnist Alex Beam:
When I first saw the ''Call for Papers -- Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets" posted on an academic website, my beeswax detector went off. There can't really be two professors planning to publish a book working from ''the premise that public toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division" . . . can there?

Here is some more rhetoric from the book proposal: ''Indeed, public toilets are among the very few openly segregated spaces in contemporary Western culture, and the physical differences between 'gentlemen' and 'ladies' remains central to (and is further naturalized by) their design. As such, they provide a fertile ground for critical work interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology can be formed in public space and inscribed through design."

I think this is an excellent subject for scholarship, actually, but I will strenuously object if it leads to political action in the form of trying to abolish separate bathrooms for women.

June 1, 2005

What's for dinner?

Crabcakes and tuna. Cosmopolitans and metropolitans. And lotsa conversation that I cannot relate.




Let's deliquesce and get squibbery!

Over at Throwing Things, they are very serious -- and funny! -- about the big National Spelling Bee, which can be followed at the website, and, tomorrow, on ESPN. I've set the TiVo. I love the spelling bee!

Is a routine political compromise a crime?

Gordon Smith writes about a Wisconsin statute that makes "logrolling" a felony.


Here's a list getting a lot of links today: Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The first three, sure, but after that, it's more, huh? What's really the game here? The first three seem to be there so we can slam the other things -- "The Second Sex," "The Feminine Mystique" -- by putting them in their company.

But people love lists. People will read lists. There's something so readable about them. In 1977, "The Book of Lists" was a huge best seller. I happen to have a copy here. Let me show you my favorite page:

A page from

UPDATE: The first page of "The Book of Lists" is a set of seven lists of "The Most Hated and Feared Persons in History" for the years 1970-1976. Hitler comes in Number 1 for all the years except 1972 and 1973, when Nixon comes in first! In fact, 1972 was a good year for Hitler, when he made it all the way down to fourth place. Idi Amin and Mao Tse-tung were, along with Nixon, more hated and feared. Satan was in fifth place that year. Amusingly, by 1976, Nixon is off the five-person list altogether, and Jimmy Carter is on, tied for fourth place with Count Dracula. The list was based on asking "3,500 international visitors" to the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum in London "which persons -- past or present -- they hated the most."

Possibly the worst sentence I've ever read in the NYT.

I was going to say something about the content of today's Tom Friedman column, but I've decided to say something about the form. Check out this sentence:
Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?
What we "urgently need" is an editor. Talk about "badly deformed or mutated"!

"The boys seem to have a headstart on this 'blog' thing."

Take a look at The Cotillion, a gathering place for conservative women bloggers.

May 31, 2005

One way of reading.

Yesterday, I bought five books -- a diverse array. I've been reading them in a sequence, four to twenty pages in one book and then in the next, from Book 1 to Book 5, then starting with Book 1 again. I just noticed I'm following the reading method I use for my pile of exams. I didn't really mean to replicate the exam-reading experience.

Is dyslexia a hearing problem?

A new study suggests that dyslexia originates in difficulty distinguishing the spoken word from surrounding noise, a problem that then carries over into reading.

"Maybe I am already dead. But I will continue to believe that I am alive."

That's an example of the rather cool blogging style of 82-year-old King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.

"I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat."

That's a funny way to put it, isn't it? As if we'd stopped talking about Watergate long ago and the memory of it had gone all fuzzy. W. Mark Felt is 91, and his family thinks he ought to have the experience of hearing what people say when they find out he was the historical mystery man. He says he's not proud of it himself, so maybe he wanted to avoid hearing criticism, but his family seems to have assured him he'd be celebrated and seems to have wanted to share the experience with him.

UPDATE: Anyone else having that Joe-Klein-wrote-"Primary Colors" feeling? The hidden identity was fascinating, the actual identity quite boring.

In the comments: I see I'm being sentimental in assuming the family is motivated by a desire to share a celebratory experience.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Amba finds comparisons to "Jaws" and "The Little Prince."

RLUIPA and the Establishment Clause.

The Supreme Court has held that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which requires states to accommodate prisoners by relieving burdens on their free exercise of religion, does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Justice Ginsburg writes the opinion, for a unanimous Court. She notes that the law "alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise," that it does not "elevate accommodation of religious observances over an institution’s need to maintain order and safety," and that it does not prefer one religion over another religion.

It's important to see that the Court was looking at the statute in general, not at a specific application of the statute. If the statute in general violated the Establishment Clause, then "all manner of religious accommodations would fall":
Congressional permission for members of the military to wear religious apparel while in uniform would fail, as would accommodations Ohio itself makes. Ohio could not, as it now does, accommodate “traditionally recognized” religions: The State provides inmates with chaplains “but not with publicists or political consultants,” and allows “prisoners to assemble for worship, but not for political rallies.”
It remains to be seen what will happen in particular cases, where prisons assert that they have a "compelling interest" in discipline or some other such matter, and the prisoner claims a "substantial burden" on religion. The Court assumes courts will keep prisoners from having much success using the Act:
We have no cause to believe that RLUIPA would not be applied in an appropriately balanced way, with particular sensitivity to security concerns. While the Act adopts a “compelling governmental interest” standard, see supra, at 5, “[c]ontext matters” in the application of that standard.
Shouldn’t we worry that applying the statute in the context of prisons will lead courts to broaden what is a "compelling interest" and reduce the protection given to the right against race discrimination? The Court’s citation at this point is University of Michigan affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger. That is, the Court has already made “compelling interest” susceptible to “context” in the race discrimination area. It seems that where the courts respect the government activities in question, they will regard more interests as compelling.

In this case, the Court signals that prison discipline deserves plenty of respect:
Lawmakers supporting RLUIPA were mindful of the urgency of discipline, order, safety, and security in penal institutions. See, e.g., 139 Cong. Rec. 26190 (1993) (remarks of Senator Hatch). They anticipated that courts would apply the Act’s standard with “due deference to the experience and expertise of prison and jail administrators in establishing necessary regulations and procedures to maintain good order, security and discipline, consistent with consideration of costs and limited resources.” Joint Statement S7775 (quoting S. Rep. No. 103—111, p. 10 (1993)).
What of the argument that the statute privileges religion over nonreligion? It says to prisoners, if you package your requests as religious needs -- a special meal, a special book -- you'll get better treatment. The Court dealt with this problem in footnotes 10 and 11, coming up with basically three answers:

1. The benefits to be gained are not that enticing:
While some accommodations of religious observance, notably the opportunity to assemble in worship services, might attract joiners seeking a break in their closely guarded day, we doubt that all accommodations would be perceived as “benefits.” For example, congressional hearings on RLUIPA revealed that one state corrections system served as its kosher diet “a fruit, a vegetable, a granola bar, and a liquid nutritional supplement–each and every meal.”
2. The state already gives special treatment to requests based on religion -- it “provides chaplains, allows inmates to possess religious items, and permits assembly for worship” -- and we wouldn’t want to make that unconstitutional.

3. The state’s needs will come in for good-enough deference as courts define “compelling interest” fairly broadly.

Justice Thomas concurs, applying his federalism theory of the Establishment Clause, which is that the clause only forbids the federal government from interfering with established religions in the states. But in this case, the state doesn't have an established religion, the state is resisting accommodating religion.
This provision does not prohibit or interfere with state establishments, since no State has established (or constitutionally could establish, given an incorporated Clause) a religion. Nor does the provision require a State to establish a religion: It does not force a State to coerce religious observance or payment of taxes supporting clergy, or require a State to prefer one religious sect over another. It is a law respecting religion, but not one respecting an establishment of religion.
It's important to note the questions the Court did not reach. It did not consider whether Congress had the power to pass RLUIPA using either the Commerce Power or the Spending Power and whether it violates the Tenth Amendment. It only decided that the act, taken on its face, didn't violate the Establishment Clause. As noted, it remains possible to challenge the act under the Establishment Clause as it is applied in particular cases.

Great ad.

Check out how the new blogad over there links to my post about Camille Paglia's reading here in Madison.

UPDATE: The Blogads blog blogs about how terribly bloggy -- and postmodern! -- it is that Camille's ad is cool and links to me, blogging about her, while advertising on my blog:
There's some post-modern intertextual polymorphic joy (not forgetting that Paglia hates post-modernism) in the fact that Paglia's publisher bought an ad on Anne Althouse's blog quoting an Althouse post that quoted Paglia saying: "Once you’re 'swept up in the blogosphere,' you become self-referential."

But don't forget "Ann" is the cool, new way to spell "Anne."

The difference between men and women -- at the spa level.

Here's an article about the business of spas: how do you get men to go?

Well, put some chunky, dark brown furniture in the waiting room. And describe the treatments in car-mechanic terms like "tune-up." Don't talk about pampering and caressing them. Talk about fixing them for practical purposes. And help them with the whole nude thing:
Televisions were installed in the locker rooms, to distract them from the awkwardness they feel in socializing when naked. Women, in contrast, were happy to read a magazine or chat in the nude.

"We are not interested in ideas."

Stanley Fish designs a writing class that banishes ideas, opinion, content. Why would you want to do that?
"We don't do content in this class. By that I mean - yours, mine or anyone else's. We don't have an anthology of readings. We don't discuss current events. We don't exchange views on hot-button issues. We don't tell each other what we think about anything - except about how prepositions or participles or relative pronouns function." The reason we don't do any of these things is that once ideas or themes are allowed in, the focus is shifted from the forms that make the organization of content possible to this or that piece of content, usually some recycled set of pros and cons about abortion, assisted suicide, affirmative action, welfare reform, the death penalty, free speech and so forth. At that moment, the task of understanding and mastering linguistic forms will have been replaced by the dubious pleasure of reproducing the well-worn and terminally dull arguments one hears or sees on every radio and TV talk show.

As a teacher of Constitution Law, I'm quite interested in this. I want to teach the students the methods of interpretation, and the hot topics seem to spice things up. (Right now I'm grading the exam that I designed to test the students' interpretive skills, but I made the topic the death penalty.) But perhaps these lively topics are a distraction and a limitation.

I'm sure Fish knows that, years ago, there was an artificial language section on the Law School Admission Test. When I first considered applying to law school, I did some of the practice exams, and I loved doing this section. By the time I finally got around to taking the LSAT, that section had been abolished, I think because somebody decided it was too threatening, perhaps in some unfair way.

Hmmm... I wonder if statistics showed men doing much better than women on this test. Go back to John Tierney's column, the one I railed about in the previous post. His example is Scrabble, a game men excel at in competition -- it seems -- because they take to memorizing strings of letters and play in a manner that disconnects from the meaning of words.

"If the theory's right..."

NYT's John Tierney is still promoting the theory that men are by nature more competitive than women. Harvard president Lawrence Summers got slammed for speculating about genetic difference as an explanation for a pattern of more success for men and women. Tierney's game is to find a woman scientist to state the theory:
[T]he evolutionary roots of [competitiveness in males] seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.

"Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy," she said, "because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don't get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They're just as competitive with themselves - they want to do a good job just as much as men do - but men want to be more competitive with others."

Evolutionary psychologists see two kinds of payoffs that traditionally went (and often still go) to victorious men. Women have long been drawn to men at the top of a hierarchy (a clan leader, Donald Trump) who have the resources to support children.

And when women pursued what's called a short-term reproductive strategy - a quick fling - then presumably evolution favored the woman who was attracted to a man with good genes, as manifest either in his looks or in some display of prowess. If the theory's right and the unconscious urges persist in women, you can begin to understand why some women wait in hotel lobbies looking for rock stars.
Tierney is responding to the criticism his earlier column on the subject touched off. I wrote about that column myself, saying:
The usual strategy for talking about sex differences.

A modern convention: To write or talk about how women and men are different, make sure you portray whatever attribute you ascribe to women as better.

And wouldn't you know, the female expert Tierney finds to say the theory in today's column has written a book called:
"The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World."
Yes, yes, women are better than men. On a genetic level. A woman scientist says so.

Sorry, I'm not buying this sugar-coated stereotyping. It will hurt women!

May 30, 2005

Memorial Day.

WAC with flag

(An enlargement from the "Salute" set of drawings in the previous post.)

WAC Life.

Both my parents served in the Army in WWII, and one of my personal treasures is War Department Pamphlet 35-3 May 1945: "WAC Life." This is not an entirely appropriate Memorial Day post, but let me offer you three scans from the book.

"Good Soldiering":

Good Soldiering

"Stay Feminine":

WAC Life.

"The Salute":

WAC Life.

(Click to enlarge. The text is readable.)

UPDATE: At my Flickr page, I can see that many more people have clicked on the "Stay Feminine" picture than the other two. Sissy Willis writes about that one. She transcribes this part of the text from my scan and adds boldface:
Keep your hair neat, your make-up fresh, your uniforms tidy. Use deodorant frequently. Check to see whether you have unpleasant breath. Above all, act and think like a person who expects to be liked and admired. Maintaining your feminine appeal will buck up your morale tremendously. When you're happy about life in general, you'll be happy about your life in the Army.

I am stunned, reading this pamphlet, at how clearly and concisely and cogently the Army advised its recruits. "Act and think like a person who expects to be liked and admired" -- that's just brilliant, isn't it?

Maybe we should be teaching our kids that and bolstering our own morale with that idea. Do you fritter away your mental energy worrying about whether people like and respect you? Quit worrying and agonizing and whining. You just need to act and think like a person who expects to be liked and admired.

Is it good for young children to believe they are cute?

This is a belief parents inspire in their kids, some more than others. A lot more.

UPDATE: Oh, good, they're gone.

Lefty lawprofs.

Lawprof Scott Gerber complains about "The Radicalization of American Legal Education." Does it hurt law students if lawprofs lean way left of the general American populace? And should "does it hurt law students" be the question? It's the first question I think of, but it's followed very quickly by the question whether it hurts their future clients and then by the question whether it hurts the country more generally.

I'm not really sure what the great harm is. There is a natural tendency, I think, for people on the left to congregate in academia. Not because they're smarter. They're just less likely to feel at home doing the more lucrative things you can do if you are good at intellectual work. Professors have always differed from nonprofessors, and students and society have always dealt with these differences and figured out how to take what is useful from their education and to reject what is not.

That's not to say things couldn't be better. It's easy to imagine idealized law schools, places full of vigorous debate. But if I enjoyed living in a dream world, I'd probably be a lefty myself.

Altoids, Sharpies, and Purell.

And the question is: What's in the bag the President's personal assistant carries around?

The assistant -- more or less a butler -- is Blake Gottesman, who dated Jenna Bush years ago. George Bush is quoted in the article as saying his daughters liked guys who are "polite" and "not afraid of the old man, which is good."

The tempting marketplace.

Obesity researchers are using mapmakers to graphically demonstrate that kids walk home from school past lots of places that sell the kind of food that makes them fat. Wouldn't it be better if there were only fruit stands?
Michele and Gene Burgese, who own Red's Hoagies across from Southwark, said they are happy to stock more fruit but doubt it will sell.

"Kids are kids," Michele Burgese said. "I don't think we ever sold an apple or banana to a kid," her husband said.

The only hope is to only sell fruit. Damn that free choice! People buy what they want. But if you smell fried chicken and doughnuts when you're walking down the street and hungry, you're going to want something lusciously fatty. I know what a fruit stand smells like. It doesn't make you feel like eating fruit. It makes you think I really should eat more fruit.

The hungry body feels powerfully drawn to foods that will pack on weight. This is the result of evolution in a world of scarce food, where people survived because strong instincts enabled them to zero in on the foods that would keep them going. We're not going to dawdle around this berry bush. We need to get something with fat and full of nourishment. Human organisms with an intense love of fruit died out in prehistoric famines.

The urge to eat fat is entirely healthy and normal. What is abnormal is that food is available everywhere. This is also a wonderful thing. Now, we're left to overcome our own healthy instincts because they've got a bad effect in our new, comfortable environment.

How can we possibly do that? Well, why are we not just saints in all aspects of our lives?

UPDATE: In the comments, there's a lot of discussion about whether it's better -- in fatness/slimness terms -- to live in the city or the suburbs.

May 29, 2005

How offensive does something need to be before you see what is offensive?

Yesterday, I wrote with some enthusiasm about a podcasting project given high-profile publicity in the NYT. Singled out for praise was the commentary by Jason Rosenfeld, a Marymount professor of art history, about a Marc Chagall painting. In an update to my post, I transcribed part of the Rosenfeld commentary that was elided in the NYT quote:
That was the problem with Russia, is that it was full of orthodox religiosity and Christianity. That's why, you know, Lenin (a great Jew), Marx (a great Jew), had it right... Or was Lenin Jewish? ... I don't think he was, but we'll claim him, because he was a good egg... is because they wanted to get rid of religion, you know, religion was the opiate of the masses to Marx, who was a self-hating Jew, I guess, essentially. But my point about this painting is ...
Having originally written that I thought these podcasts would lead people to laugh in front of paintings, in the update, I said "You may find us screaming or groaning in front of those paintings." In a second update, I wrote:
Podcasts undoubtedly have their share of idiotic and contemptible statements. But you can't Google for them or see them in Technorati or link to them and critique them. I happened to transcribe one just now, but that's not much different from transcribing something I heard someone say down at the coffeeshop.

Thus, podcasting is not like blogging. It lacks the inherent structural safeguards that make the blogosphere work in service to the truth.
To my surprise, one of the Marymount professors quoted in the article, David Gilbert -- or someone pretending to be him -- has posted in my comments section. In a mindbogglingly obtuse effort at defending Rosenfeld, he writes (with my boldfacing):
It's interesting to read how others are receiving our project. We are neither comics, nor professional audio engineers--just a group of students and professors who love art and love podcasting. One of the things we love about podcasting is that it's raw, and it offers real human voices, foibles and all. When Prof. Rosenfeld allowed us to record his banter about Chagall, he graciously permitted us to preserve the hesitations, self-corrections, and even mistakes that are inherent in situated human discourse (or if you like, "everyday talk"). As far as the passage you quote, Ann, I think there are several bon mots in that interview that are more representative of what works about it. And as far as it's facual accuracy, what exactly was innacurate about what Prof. Rosenfeld said about Lenin? Lenin's maternal grandfather was Jewish, but Lenin did not identify as a Jew and was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a niggling issue, I realize, which is exactly why I don't understand some of the reactions in this thread. Nevertheless, we'd love to host any audio guides to MoMA that any of your readers produce, and we'd be thrilled to find that some of you could do a better job.
Gilbert, trying to find a reason why I objected to Rosenfeld's statement, can only think that I am concerned with the extent to which Lenin was Jewish! It doesn't even occur to him that my objection is that Rosenfeld called Lenin "good" twice and enthusiastically embraced him (while slamming Christianity).

And I love the way Gilbert tries to put me down for not getting podcasting. We're all just talking off the top of our heads here. Oh, but you are professors, and Rosenfeld was talking with a student in this podcast. I talk off the top of my head with students a lot myself, but if I say something awful, I'm ashamed of myself.

But it's one thing for Rosenfeld to have said something awful on the podcast. It's quite another for Gilbert to show up on my blog -- where he's not podcasting, I might add -- to defend the statement and not even to see what was offensive about it.

Is Lenin so popular in your neck of academia that you don't even notice that reasonable people think embracing him is odious?

UPDATE: Gilbert participates in the comments, and so does Jim Lindgren. And I have a few more things to say. Do click on the comments.

The pacifist sermon.

"My rector's sermons tend to be merely vapid, digressive, undisciplined, and soporific, but today's was the biggest pile of horseshit I've heard in a long time."

UDATE: An emailer writes: "When an Episcopal postulant for ordination feels that way, you know it was bad." He also recommends this analysis by Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Turner writes:
The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ's death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us.

From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclu­sive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included – for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.

Dark sky.

Here at my upstairs study table, I'm watching a storm gather.

Watching a storm gather.

Curious Althouse readers wonder what's in the vial??

How easy it is to be original!

RLC muses about how the internet puts so much writing so close at hand that it makes everybody seem like a plagiarist. You write something, and it can be Googled, and then you can find out how it's all been said before. He fends off despair with various justifications, then one of his commenters takes a bunch of phrases from the post, Googles them, and demonstrates that, in fact, almost nothing has been said before, even the most ordinary-seeming phrases. Quite surprisingly, it seems that by writing a phrase longer than three words, you've likely written something original (which is why you can find real plagiarists so easily on the Internet).

Test it out:
"puts so much writing so close at hand" -- Google finds nothing.

"so much writing so close at hand" -- nothing.

"so much writing so close" -- nothing.

"writing so close" -- 51 hits. Not much really for three common words.

"by writing a phrase longer than three words" -- nothing.

"a phrase longer than three words" -- nothing!

"longer than three words" -- 343.

"He fends off despair" -- nothing!

"then you can find out how it's all been said before" -- nothing!

"find out how it's all been said before" -- nothing!

"how it's all been said before" -- only 5.

Don't you find this amazing? (Only 15 hits, for that, by the way -- nearly all from repetitions of the same joke.)

UPDATE: Googling to check the originality of seemingly ordinary phrases can prove addicting. I just Googled the title to this post -- 26 hits -- and discovered it in a translation of Turgenev's "A Sportsman's Sketches":
'Well, suddenly it seemed to me that I was in love with Linchen, and for six whole months this impression remained. I talked to her, it’s true, very little—it was more that I looked at her; but I used to read various touching passages aloud to her, to press her hand on the sly, and to dream beside her in the evenings, gazing persistently at the moon, or else simply up aloft. Besides, she made such delicious coffee! One asks oneself—what more could one desire? Only one thing troubled me: at the very moments of ineffable bliss, as it’s called, I always had a sort of sinking in the pit of the stomach, and a cold shudder ran down my back. At last I could not stand such happiness, and ran away. Two whole years after that I was abroad: I went to Italy, stood before the Transfiguration in Rome, and before the Venus in Florence, and suddenly fell into exaggerated raptures, as though an attack of delirium had come upon me; in the evenings I wrote verses, began a diary; in fact, there too I behaved just like everyone else. And just mark how easy it is to be original! I take no interest, for instance, in painting and sculpture.... But simply saying so aloud... no, it was impossible! I must needs take a cicerone, and run to gaze at the frescoes.’...
What a moment of ineffable bliss! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must needs take a cicerone.

"What, exactly, do you think cowboys represent, other than the triumph of alpha males?"

I liked the very cranky interview Larry McMurtry gave to the NYT Magazine's Deborah Solomon, who asked that question. He answers:
Cowboys are a symbol of a freer time, when people could go all the way from Canada to Mexico without seeing a fence. They stand for good ol' American values, like self-reliance.

Solomon: Maybe some American values, but you can't say that cowboys were ever interested in spreading democracy.

McMurtry: No, they were interested in spreading fascism.
I've never read a Larry McMurtry book. I've never even watched the DVD of "The Last Picture Show" that I bought years ago, after long before that missing the movie when it played in theaters. But he seems like an awfully funny guy.

"World War I people are getting scarce."

"Nothing can be done about that."

"The attorney ... was brilliant, impassioned and sarcastic..."

"... moving and moved. He played the entire scale of emotions with confident precision."

If you're keeping a list of movies about law, be sure to include "Divorce Italian Style." There are only a couple courtroom scenes, but law frames the entire movie, about a man who only needs a divorce, but because the law does not provide that escape, plots to murder his wife in a way that will count as the "heat of passion," punishable by only a short sentence. To do this, he's got to cause her to have an affair and then catch her in the act.

I remember seeing this movie many years ago on a small black and white TV and thinking it was funny but not well photographed. The new Criterion Collection DVD amazed me. The photography is actually quite beautiful, very dark and detailed. Just the thing to get lost entirely on a television from the 1960s.

Even though lately I've grown tired of watching actors act, I loved watching Marcello Mastroianni and Daniela Rocca. Mastroianni is a ridiculous baron, in love with his 16-year-old cousin and tired of his wife, played by Rocca. Why is it funny that he wants to murder her? See the movie. It's funny. The two actors make it funny. I particularly like the way Mastroianni's FeFe endears himself to us even though Rocca's Rosalia has done nothing remotely hateful. What's wrong with her? Just her incredibly annoying desire for love!

Rocca is perfect. She's not ugly or a big nag. She does have a mustache and a monobrow, but the main thing is how irritatingly she begs for love. She not only insists that her husband tell her he loves her every night, but she's ravenous for information about how much he loves her. Since he doesn't love her at all, he's quite put upon. And Mastroianni's a genius at looking put upon.

There's one scene where she brings him coffee, then insists on sipping from his cup. Why not pour her own cup? That's FeFe's weary question. But Rosalia imagines she's doing something sexy and charming.

A really cool thing about the movie is that at one point everyone in town -- a small, claustrophobic place in Sicily -- goes to see the movie "La Dolce Vita." "La Dolce Vita" came out in 1961, one year before "Divorce Italian Style." We see the whole population of the small town watching Anita Ekberg on the big screen, and we never see Marcello Mastroianni as he appears in Roman form in "La Dolce Vita." We just see the Sicilian Marcello Mastroianni, in the audience, trying to work out his miserable little murder scheme.