August 27, 2005

"I think the piece isn't ghastly."

From the Boston Globe:
A Connecticut artist plans to exhibit a sculpture of Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams' severed head at a New York gallery next month.

Daniel Edwards of Moosup, Conn., said the inspiration for the sculpture came to him when it was revealed that the Hall of Famer's head was removed and cryogenically frozen with his torso at Scottsdale's Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

The sculpture shows Williams resting his chin on a baseball.

"I think the piece isn't ghastly," Edwards said.
Art, art, art. Remember it's art. Yet I find myself drawn into thinking not about art but about why they severed the head if they were saving the torso. But at least the sculpture isn't actually made out of Ted Williams' real head. That would be like this.

Another face and some meandering about unreadable words.

Yesterday, we saw the Face on the Barroom Floor. Here's a face I saw today, stenciled on a curb. What does it say?



I'm fascinated by the almost legible. Have you ever imagined there were words somewhere that you could almost read? That's a theme in the movie "Waking Life," by the way. Did you like that movie? Did you like it as much as "Slacker"? I ask, deviating from the theme in a Slackerish way. In "Waking Life," the subject is the way you can't read in a dream. If you try, you won't be able to make out the words.

Maybe if you're getting a bit psychotic — struggling with that brain asymmetry — or using some psychotropic drugs, you'll think you're seeing letters rising up out of textured surfaces like that curb. Don't lose yourself trying to read those nonexistent words.

This subject is making me think of "The Shining," where the little boy keeps trying to read a word on the wall until finally he can and it's very shocking. Good horror idea! There must be many other stories about mysteriously nearly readable writing.

Here's a picture of my ex-husband from long ago. He's reading a book, and you can almost read the title of the book. Why does near legibility make the book seem so important? Why such fascination with things we can't quite see or understand?

Is there a theme of the day on this blog??

"Schizophrenia is the price that homo sapiens pay for language."

Here's the theory:
People with these [psychoses] may hear their inner thoughts as external voices, or believe thoughts have been inserted in their head, suggesting the normal divisions do not exist.

The reason for this, he says, is that their brains do not have the bias, or asymmetry, seen in healthy people.

Brain asymmetry means that areas control certain things, so the left-hand side controls language.

He said: "Asymmetry appears to be less pronounced in people with psychoses."...

Professor Crow suggests there is an "asymmetry gene" on the sex chromosomes, that gives human brains the capacity for language.

He suggests that variation in an "asymmetry gene" in one of these areas could be the factor which determines if someone is going to develop schizophrenia.
It's this brain asymmetry that allowed human beings to develop language, supposedly, and some weakness in the asymmetry that is at the root of schizophrenia. So says Crow anyway.

Why does he locate this "asymmetry gene" on the sex chromosomes? Hmmm.... look out, Professor Crow! Don't forget to say that whatever tendency you find in women is better! Don't be saying we're closer to crazy.

A Madison truck.

From today's photowalk.

A Madison truck

(Front view.)

Anti-marijuana, anti-science.

John Tierney blasts the Drug Enforcement Administration for standing in the way of research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. Currently, there is only one legal source of marijuana — of terrible quality — and the DEA resists authorizing the production of a better grade of marijuana. This makes it look as though the DEA is trying to prevent scientists from proving medicinal benefits.
Phillip Alden, a writer living in Redwood City, Calif., told me that marijuana was a godsend for him in dealing with the effects of AIDS. He said it eased excruciating pains in his fingertips, controlled nausea and enabled him to avoid the wasting syndrome that afflicts AIDS patients who are unable to eat enough food.

But Mr. Alden said only some kinds of marijuana worked - not the weak variety provided by the federal government, which he smoked during a research study.

"It was awful stuff," he said. "They started out with a very low-grade plant, rolled it up with stems and seeds, and then freeze-dried it so that they probably ruined any of the THC crystals. All it did was give me headaches and bronchitis. The bronchitis got so bad I had to drop out of the study."

Mr. Alden was scheduled to testify at this week's hearing, but he told me he had to withdraw because the D.E.A. refused to give him legal immunity if he admitted using marijuana not from the government. It's a shame the judge will be making a decision without hearing him, but I can understand Mr. Alden's hesitancy.

It's one thing to be against marijuana, quite another to be against scientific research.

About Roberts, "states' rights," and that toad.

Adam Cohen begins his NYT editorial this way:
There could be a lot of talk about toads at the confirmation hearings for John Roberts Jr. In one of the few revealing opinions he has written in his brief time on the bench, Judge Roberts voted to reconsider a ruling that said the Endangered Species Act protected the arroyo Southwestern toad from being wiped out by a real estate development. He strongly suggested that Congress could protect only a species whose demise would affect "interstate commerce" - but that toad, he wrote, is a "hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California."

Judge Roberts's opinion, with its wry reference to the possibility that an entire species could be destroyed, disturbed environmentalists.
As if Roberts's humor had to do with the loss of a species! As anyone familiar with the case and with constitutional law knows, Roberts is referring to what is matters in a question about the scope of the Commerce Clause: the fact that federal law attempts to reach to something that is entirely intrastate.

Is humor forbidden because the case is about the environment and the environment demands solemn reverence? In any event, the words Roberts applied to the toad seem rather affectionate. Congress is trying to protect endangered species, and here's one that's having trouble staying within the range of Congress's power because it has chosen such a narrow range for itself. The hapless toad! That is, the poor toad. Had a liberal expressed sympathy in that form, I suspect Cohen would have perceived a big, beautiful heart. Look at how Justice Blackmun is endlessly adored for writing "Poor Joshua," when he saw how federal law failed to protect a child.

Cohen continues his thoughts about the arroyo toad case:
But its implications go far beyond the environment. It suggests that Judge Roberts - who broke with even a majority of the conservative judges on his court - may hold extreme states' rights views, the kind that could sharply limit Congress's power to protect ordinary Americans from discrimination, pollution and unsafe workplaces.
"Extreme states' rights views"? Please. The view of the Commerce Clause reflected in that Roberts opinion is that there is some limit to it, that some things that are entirely intrastate and that are not economic activities at all cannot be regulated by Congress. The alternative view is that the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to regulate anything it wants as long as it doesn't violate any constitutional rights. That alternative view is so common that it rarely gets called "extreme," but backing away from it a little and seeing some limit to congressional power is scarcely extreme. Predicting a "sharp[] limit" to Congress's power over commercial activities like unsafe workplaces is either a deliberate distortion of the recent Commerce Clause cases or an embarrassingly incompetent misreading.

More from Cohen:
Having one more justice who supports weakening Congress could make an enormous difference. Last year, Sandra Day O'Connor, whose place Judge Roberts would take, cast the deciding vote to allow a man in a wheelchair to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act after he was forced to crawl up the steps of a county courthouse. Four justices insisted that his suit was barred by the 11th Amendment, a modest limitation on the power of federal courts that conservatives have distorted into a sweeping "sovereign immunity" shield for states.

But Justice O'Connor voted with the majority that imposed a limit on Congress's commerce power in the cases about the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, Cohen is not talking about a Commerce Clause case here at all, something I doubt many NYT readers will notice. He's talking about a case about the scope of Congress's power to enforce 14th Amendment rights. And the crawling-up-the-steps case, despite its emotion-stirring facts, is about a very particular and limited issue. But go ahead and use it to bolster the myth of Justice O'Connor as a giant bulwark protecting the weak from the strong.

I detest the exaggerated statements about federalism and "states' rights" that typify the NYT coverage of the Supreme Court. You can legitimately take a very broad view of congressional power, interpreting the Commerce Clause so broadly that Congress has an unfettered choice in what to regulate. Justice Breyer does an excellent job of articulating that viewpoint on the Court. No one expects a Bush appointee to go to that end of the spectrum. Roberts will surely have some interest in federalism-based limits on congressional power. I wish the NYT could calm down and take the trouble to explain exactly what these limitations are likely to be.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 27.

It's Day 27 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) Yesterday, I felt deprived of language. Today, at the Stedelijkmuseum, I suddenly encounter a way too much language. This is a video installation with two TVs playing simultaneously and continuously. I've written in the audio portion in comics fashion:

Amsterdam Notebook


August 26, 2005

Things I've resisted talking about.

I was thinking I'd been pretty tough resisting getting sucked into talking about Cindy Sheehan, but then I Googled my blog for her name and got this. Still, in proportion to the press coverage that she's gotten, I'm going to call my bloggage light.

My record is totally clear, however, when it comes to ignoring Pat Robertson.

The face.

Here's the Face on the Barroom Floor:

Teller House 

And here are all 100 photos from Colorado.

Evil kitty?


Another Piano Man update.

From The Independent:
Andreas Grassl, 20, whose identity remained a mystery for four months after he was found on a beach in Sheerness, Kent, left his family in Bavaria last year because he feared revealing that he was gay.

His anguish was recounted yesterday by a former classmate as a picture began to emerge of the recent state of mind of Mr Grassl, who remains in hiding after returning to Germany at the weekend from a hospital in Dartford, where he was treated for an apparent nervous breakdown until he broke his silence on Friday....

"He was a good friend of mine. He had different interests and there was something a bit special about him. His parents didn't really understand him - I don't know if they thought he was gay. Neither his parents nor his two sisters really understood him. He spoke very little about his family. When he was identified it was a big shock, I didn't think he would do something like that. I didn't recognise him immediately [from the picture] because he had put on weight and his skin, which used to be spotty, had cleared up."

"Red hair is smart, sexy comedy."

That's the opinion of Valerie Cherish, channeled by Lisa Kudrow, as told to WaPo fashion theorist Robin Givhan, who writes:
All of ["The Comeback"]'s nuances are reflected in Cherish's most distinctive physical characteristic, her long red hair with its painstakingly organized curls that have been flipped back and away from her face. That hair is gloriously thick and the waves fall with an unnatural precision. The hair appears Breck Girl clean, devoid of the styling products now used to give hair an informal, slightly messy appearance. Hers is hair meant to be tossed in slow motion during the opening montage of "Baywatch."

In constructing the character, Kudrow has said that Cherish's hair color was a calculated decision. In Cherish's mind, "blond is dumb comedy, red hair is smart, sexy comedy." And, presumably, brunette isn't funny at all.
Givhan doesn't mention it, but red hair and comedy are indelibly associated with Lucille Ball. But of course, Cherish is wrong about a lot of things, so Kudrow's analysis of how Cherish thinks must be understood in that light. But I have a feeling Lisa loves Lucy.

Red hair is a touchy topic with me. My natural hair color is red — see it here — but not so red that I couldn't spend my entire childhood insisting that my hair was in fact not red, despite the tendency of strangers to call me "Red" and even "Carrot Top." As an unstably pigmented American, I had to endure both freckles and the early loss of hair color. Anyone fighting the latter problem should know that going lighter makes it less noticeable. If you see me today, you may consider me blonde, but I am incapable of seeing myself as a blonde. Though I spent my entire childhood denying that I had red hair, I now insist that I have it. I know it's a delusion, but the mental imprint is too strong to shake.

Why is red hair so meaningful?

Historic underpants.

In the bedroom of the Thomas House museum (in Central City, Colorado): Thomas House Museum 
I took a picture of a 19th century man's underpants: 

Thomas House Museum

Central City, Colorado.

A gold-mining town, turned gambling town:

Central City.

Central City.

Central City.

The term "the War Between the States."

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts used it in a draft of an article he wrote for President Reagan to be published in a scholarly journal:
A fastidious editor of other people's copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words "Until about the time of the Civil War." Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words "Civil War" and replaced them with "War Between the States."
What significance should we give to this? Do you think it wasn't worth writing an article in the Washington Post about? Or do you think it really reveals something about the mind we're being asked to trust for decades?

If it reveals something, what does it reveal? I note that it is certainly possible for a person in the 1980s to be interested in the federalism revival and the respect for state autonomy that it expresses, without having any enthusiasm for slavery, segregation, and other retrograde practices that the Civil War calls to mind.


If you've mastered yesterday's lesson and learned that you actually do need to wear pants, then let's move on to M-ness. (Via A&L Daily.) Do you have it? Do you want it?
“What needs to happen is that the genders need to move closer together, not necessarily to be like each other but to respect each other . . . not be threatened by each other and achieve proper mutuality.”

M-ness (also known as my-ness) is defined thus: a masculinity that defines the best of traditional manliness (strength, honour, character) with positive traits traditionally associated with females (nurturance, communicativeness, co-operation). A lifestyle that emphasises higher-quality emotional and physical pleasures, male pleasures, that come from knowing oneself and one’s potential.

Confused? Well, according to [author Marian] Salzman, a classic example of M-ness man is Guy Ritchie. He is the alpha male tough guy who married an even tougher woman. But have his masculinity and identity been diminished by Madonna, arguably one of the biggest female icons in the world? No, says Salzman.

If anything they have been enhanced because Ritchie is so comfortable in his own skin. Here lies the essence of M-ness.

Ditto Bill Clinton, believe it or not, who scored M-ness points for apologising publicy for his infidelity (admitting you were wrong is a very feminine trait) and has not been threatened by taking a back seat to Hillary. See also the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, in marrying Maria Shriver, a famous Democrat, showed simultaneous respect for her beliefs and absolute confidence in his own. You could argue that Sir Paul McCartney demonstrates M-ness in his support for the career of his wife, Heather Mills. And might there not have been a touch of M-ness at the heart of Sir Denis Thatcher, whose sense of self was never compromised despite being married to the most macho female in living memory?
Side notes:

"Arguably one of the biggest female icons in the world"? I think you need to cut either "arguably" or "one of" (and drop the "s" on "icons").

"Comfortable in his own skin" — I'm tired of that expression and not just because I hear it so often. It's that I feel compelled to picture someone who somehow feels that his skin is too tight and binding, like an ill-fitting suit of clothes. It's distracting! Really, everyone — other than a serious burn victim — feels comfortable in his own skin. Can we come up with a more accurate cliché?

"You either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing."

The unfortunate dynamics of hunger relief:
Once an emergency is identified, [said Tony Vaux, a former official with Oxfam], the NGOs' public relations machine takes over and "there is a terrible temptation to look around for the very worst stories".

"My concern about this is you either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing. There does not seem to be a middle ground," says Mr Vaux, author of the book The Selfish Altruist.

One problem with dramatic appeals, [Professor William Easterly of New York University] notes, is that they do not give you a big bang for your aid buck.

"The payoff is disappointingly low," he says. Getting the relief effort up and running takes time, and when the food arrives it is often too late - or the crisis has eased on its own, as appears to be the case in Niger.

Emergency aid may relieve the situation - but the same amount spent before children starved in front of the cameras would have saved many more lives.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 26.

It's Day 26 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) I'm in the museum, but passing the time by reading. If you're following the series, you already know, the book I'm reading is "Walden." Why should I feel lonely?

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook


August 25, 2005

"Teen Beat" by Sandy Nelson.

Heard on the 50s channel on XM radio today. Wow! Rock Instrumental Classics. Perfect!

"Men are simply more intelligent than women."

I saw that was a headline in the Times of Oman and had a few outraged thoughts on my way to the link, then was surprised to find an article from London about some British research:
In a paper to be published in a leading research journal, one of Britain’s most outspoken academics will argue that men have larger brains and higher IQs than women, to such an extent that they are better suited to “tasks of high complexity”.

Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, who has caused outrage in the past with claims that white people are more intelligent than blacks and that criminal traits are genetic, will publish the work with Paul Irwing, senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University.

The study, due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology in November, concluded that men not only have larger brains but also higher IQs, on average by about 5 points, than women....

Dr Irwing said that he had initially been reluctant to take part in the study arguing that he would have personally preferred not to have discovered that men had a biological advantage.

“I came from a perspective that I would like to believe that all people, whether men or women, were equal in potential achievement,” he said.
Why does Irwing assume performance on an IQ test is the result of biology as opposed to, say, a stimulating intellectual environment?

UPDATE: Here's the BBC link for the article.

Ferreting out the female fetus.

Doctors in Belgaum, India work around legal restrictions barring them from revealing the sex of a fetus. Expect to pay more to compensate the doctors for the risks they take:
"Those who were charging Rs 200 to Rs 500 are now charging as much as Rs 2,000 for the scan alone. It is done very secretively. The result of the test is not put on paper, nor is it told over the phone, for fear of prosecution," says a doctor who did not want to be named.

"They have also started using sign language to convey the sex to the patient. They are very careful nowadays, as NGOs and journalists are conducting sting operations to catch doctors practising sex determination tests," he adds.'''

It is no coincidence that Belgaum, which has the lowest child sex ratio in the state, ranks second only to Bangalore in terms of the number of centres with ultrasound machines.

The district has a whopping 142 registered ultrasound machines. The tiny taluk of Gokak has 20 machines and Chikkodi 17. The ultrasound business in Belgaum had a humble beginning...

Ultra-sonography, which is a great boon to a pregnant woman as it can detect congenital deformities in foetuses, is misused to detect the sex of the foetus and systematically get rid of the female child.

I wonder what the sign language is. A raised finger when a penis has been detected?

What do you think of the use of sonography to assist a woman who intends to abort a female? Is it worse in a region where women who have female children are treated badly and where the female children themselves are treated badly or worse in the United States?

How often is abortion for sex selection done in our country? Does your response to it here depend on whether females are consistently targeted? If sex selection abortions are aimed at both male and female fetuses, is it more acceptable?

Do you have a different opinion of an American woman who has an abortion because she wants her second child to be the opposite sex from her first child and an American woman who believes males are superior or thinks a female child will prove more loving and tractable?

Design the new BlogAds logo and win $1000.

And tell them I sent you and cause me to win $300. That would be pretty nice.

Milk chocolate.

I love this kind.

Feel free to take the position that some other brand is better, but it will be hard to convince me.

"How easy is it to fool the medical establishment into thinking that you are mentally ill, if you are not?"

We've debated this topic here before — a propos of the Piano Man — with me saying it would be hard to fool them and a commenter insisting Piano Man was a big phony. Consider this, by someone who works with homeless people with mental problems:
The theorist Talcot Parsons, in the 1950s, described what he called the "sick role". He argued that illness is a temporary, medically sanctioned form of deviant behaviour. He went on to suggest that there was a conflict for people labelled "ill" to, on one hand, get better, and on the other, to continue to enjoy the "secondary gains" of attention and exemption from normal duties.

Doctors act as the gatekeepers to the sick role, in that they are the ones who decide whether or not a person enters this role. While society must show compassion to those deemed unwell, it must also make sure that the gains are not so great that everyone wants to join in.

The difficulty for doctors is to identify those that are faking, and those that are genuinely unwell. It's a surprisingly common difficulty, and with mental illness, it's especially tricky because psychiatrists aren't mind readers - diagnosing exactly what is going on inside someone's head relies on them exhibiting certain symptoms.

Mutism, for example, is a symptom in a number of serious mental illnesses, but is also fairly easy for sane people to mimic. However, living a lie isn't easy and the impressive thing is maintaining the charade, because there is something inherent in us that seems to make us want to come clean. It occurs to me that you'd have to be pretty mad to want to stay in a psychiatric hospital in the first place, but perhaps this shows how desperate the Piano Man was. Then again, being ill means you get attention, and when in hospital, shelter and food. If you are actually well, in some ways it's like a trip to Butlins, but with white coats instead of red ones.

There's a fine line between what's classed as malingering and what is accepted as genuine illness. When someone has a breakdown, for example, what they're saying is that they've had enough, that they can't cope any more and that things have got to change in their lives. They enter the sick role, which facilitates the attention and change that is needed. But when does this become manipulative?

What surprises me is that more people don't do it.

Have you ever played sick to take a break from the pressures of life — not just called in sick to a job, but tried to fool people whom you took advantage of for care and support? Have you ever wondered whether you were really sick — physically or mentally — or whether you were indulging yourself and exploiting other people?

Has anyone ever done it to you, or have you ever suspected anyone of doing this? How much would it upset or outrage you if someone who wasn't really that sick, let himself droop into a sickly way of being and let you take care of him? How long would it take you to feel suspicious and stop providing your services?

Or are you the sort of person who suspects people who actually are sick are just faking it to get attention?

Why the fixation on abdomens?

I've got two fashion posts today, so let me go with a third, which is already bulging out in the comments to the shorts post. Haven't we seen enough of the female midsection for a while? The look-at-my-abs style has lasted way longer than was ever justified. I understand a fixation on breasts or legs, by why are we going on for years and years looking at ladies' tummies? It's rather strange, isn't it?

IN THE COMMENTS: More discussion of Barbara Eden than you might have predicted. I'm thinking there are a lot of boomerish men out there who have Jeannie deeply imprinted on their brains.

Men in shorts?

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

That's the short answer about shorts. Men in shorts? No such thing. If you are in shorts, you are not a man. I'll make a small exception for certain sports, or if you are staying at home or in your own yard. But if you're going out in public in a non-sports capacity, put on some pants! This includes the postman!

This outburst was provoked by Prof. Yin, who wrote this, about what a lawprof ought to wear:
The specific question about jeans isn't relevant to me, since I don't own a single pair of jeans. While I do show up in shorts and a T-shirt on the typical summer day (and truth be told, even right now, since I am on pretenure leave and therefore not teaching at all this semester), during the regular school year I tend to wear slacks, a button-down shirt, and a tie.
Well, at least he doesn't teach in shorts. I recently attended a talk led by a male lawprof who wore shorts (with a T-shirt and sandals). He stood up too, putting his boy-clothes on full display.

This isn't just some special, quirky little view of mine, guys. Women are on record on this one. I've posted on this topic before — here. Please don't make me tell you again.

"They make you feel taller and thinner and smarter and cooler, like your whole leg is one spring-loaded force."

Power boots are in. Should we credit Condi?

"The U.S. has orchestrated a document that is organically Iraqi."

Quoting two experts who usually disagree about Iraq, David Brooks takes a positive view of the Iraqi Constitution.
"The Bush administration finally did something right in brokering this constitution," [Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia] exclaimed, then added: "This is the only possible deal that can bring stability. ... I do believe it might save the country."...

Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing up a constitution that would artificially bind three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. "It's not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently," Galbraith says. "Iraq wasn't created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill."...

It's crazy, [Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht] says, to think that you could have an Iraqi constitution in which clerical authorities are not assigned a significant role. Voters supported clerical parties because they are, right now, the natural leaders of society and serve important social functions.

But this doesn't mean we have to start screaming about a 13th-century theocratic state. Understanding the clerics, Gerecht has argued, means understanding two things. First, the Shiite clerical establishment has made a substantial intellectual leap. It now firmly believes in one person one vote, and rejects the Iranian model. On the other hand, these folks don't think like us.

What's important, Gerecht has emphasized, is the democratic process: setting up a system in which the different groups, secular and clerical, will have to bargain with one another, campaign and deal with the real-world consequences of their ideas. This is what's going to moderate them and lead to progress. This constitution does that. Shutting them out would lead to war.

"A remarkable spirit of compromise — and even enlightenment."

Taking a positive view of the Iraqi Constitution:
Americans also shouldn't be too quick to conclude that anything that sounds odd or unfamiliar to liberal ears is evidence of failure. While this constitution does indeed contain general appeals to religion, it is fundamentally a document that empowers legislators, not clerics.

Take the role of Islam, which is designated as "a" (not "the") "basic source of legislation." Some critics see this as evidence of incipient theocracy. But in what Western democracy are laws not generally in accord with the Judeo-Christian moral heritage? In any case, interpretation of that clause will be up to elected representatives.

The Beloit College Mindset List.

It's time, once again, for the Beloit College Mindset List of things about the world today's college freshmen have known — time for us older folk to feel older. On the list:
• They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

• They never had the fun of being thrown into the back of a station wagon with six others.

• "Whatever" isn't part of a question but an expression of sullen rebuke.

• They've grown up in a single superpower world.

• Salman Rushdie has always been watching over his shoulder.

Why does this list leave me feeling it could have been a lot better? It seems as though they just went over some newspapers from 18 years ago and extracted some events. The bigger cultural shifts are harder to see. Aren't there much more interesting differences between the world that preceeded today's freshmen and the world they grew up in?

"He doesn't have a sexist bone in his body."

Said Linda Chavez about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. She's one of the "Women for Roberts," who are trying to prevent what they call "feminists on the left" from dominating what gets said about Roberts and women.

Groups opposing Roberts have made way too much out of his opposition to the "comparable worth" theory, and it's important to counter that. At the same time, the question isn't whether Roberts is "sexist," but how he will resolve various legal issues once he's on the Supreme Court. Interpreting constitutional rights narrowly and limiting the ability of women to seek judicial remedies are things that a judge without "a sexist bone in his body" could easily do. By the same token, I'll bet many of the votes cast in favor of women's rights on the Court over the years came from Justices who were big sexists.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 25.

It's Day 25 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) I'm in the Rijksmuseum.

First, I draw some details from a nice "Temptation of St. Anthony" painting by Teniers — with my word balloons):

Amsterdam Notebook

Next, I record a little drama about the relationship between human beings and artwork... and between Dutch and German:

Amsterdam Notebook


August 24, 2005

Stevens admits what happened in Kelo is unwise.

Justice Stevens does the typical judicial thing of saying that he doesn't like the outcomes of the cases he decided. Re Kelo:
In ... the eminent domain case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's "taking" of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result "entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program" that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that "the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials." But he said that the planned development fit the definition of "public use" that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.
Of course, you understand, that a judge who talks like this — Scalia does it too — is really bragging about how principled he is.

IN THE COMMENTS: A reader chides Linda Greenhouse for writing, in the linked article, "Justice Stevens is the only member of the court to have addressed the issue in a speech" — when in fact, as I noted in the original post, Justice Scalia makes this point in his standard speech. In fact, it's an awfully obvious, clichéd observation for a judge to make. And, as I noted in the original post, it's essentially a brag. It's also a handy defense to critics. What a terrible decision! the critics exclaim. The judge's eternal answer is: I was forced to do what the law requires.

About that "Six Feet Under" finale.

After driving 1000 miles yesterday, I sat down at midnight to watch the "Six Feet Under" finale (available on HBO on Demand). I'm going to watch it again and come up with some more comprehensive comments, but let me go ahead and give you some preliminary observations.

Spoiler alert

1. If Claire was moving to NYC to be an artist, why did she buy a new car? Where was she going to park that thing? It seems to me that the only reason she bought that car was so they could have that artsy montage in the end with her driving the car across the desert. That was nice and all, but I was distracted by the ridiculous impracticality of the car. And what kind of car was that — a Prius? I guess maybe that fits with Claire's political rants, but it's such a dorky car for a cool young person. It's Larry David's car. And even assuming Claire would buy a Prius, why would she buy a blue one? That medium light blue color is THE most suburban-minivan color for a car. That's just an incomprehensible color for Claire to choose. Did she ever wear blue clothing for the entire series? Maybe it was supposed to represent new hope — blue skies ahead — but I so completely detest that color for a car that I can't accept ANYONE choosing it. It's better than teal, but nothing else.

2. Judgments about how great the finale was need to distinguish between the final montage and the portion of the show that proceeded it. The final montage was a nice idea, but basically the same idea George Lucas used at the end "American Graffiti," suddenly telling you the entire future of all the characters. And that ending is one of the big clichés in all of moviedom. There were no freeze frames with text as in "American Graffiti," but the white screens with names and dates were rather similar. It was interesting that all the Fishers who survived to the finale were granted long lives. Ruth and Claire looked fabulous in an extreme way, lying on their deathbeds. Brenda — who was a rather grand character — was given a comical death. And poor Keith had a death less elegant than a "corpse of the week" death from the regular series.

3. How good was the drama that preceded the montage? It was pretty schmaltzy. Nothing bad happened. Lots of reconciliations. Ruth's freak out over the stuffed monkey was impressive, and nicely paired with the okapi scene. The finale matchup between Ruth and Brenda must have pleased those who long for happy endings, but it lacked any edge at all. Claire just getting a job was a rather dull ending for her, and the need to leave Los Angeles seemed to be a concoction to provide some drama for her (and to set up that montage). That ending didn't really grow out of her character. As manifested in the shows of the last few weeks, Claire's problem was substance abuse and emotional instability, not overconnection to Ruth. So the problem resolved in the finale wasn't the problem she had! After all that craziness, she just got sensible (not counting the car thing). Similarly, in the last few episodes David had been having a total breakdown, but then he just — I don't know — ate a bowl of Trix and got better. The raise-a-toast-to-Nate dinner table scene relied heavily on swaying the camera around to let us know something special was happening. Oh, okay, I guess everyone's come to terms with Nate's death. And the Maggie-on-the-telephone scene? Lame! So Ruth just needed to know that Nate was happy on that last night? And that's it for Maggie. All is resolved, all is reconciled, everyone will just slide on uneventfully to their graves. Life is beautiful! Love everybody! Kiss! Kiss! Cry! Cry! Drop dead. Looking at the last episode without counting the final montage, I'd say it was not as good as at least four other episodes this season.

4. Maybe I'll take some of this back when I rewatch the show. I did see it while mentally frazzled from a hard day's drive and at a time of night when I'd usually be asleep.

The notion of a "Living Constitution" — in Iraq.

Before you get twisted out of shape by clauses in the Iraqi Constitution — remember that it's all in the interpretation.

Dahlia Litwick defends the the notion of a "Living Constitution" (in the American context) and mentions the Iraqi Constitution.

Mickey Kaus focuses on the actual text of the new constitution: he notes that it calls Islam "a fundamental source" of law and thinks that the word "a" ought to be seen as more important than the word "fundamental." But nothing binds the interpreters to Kaus's textualism. They might adopt the notion of a "Living Constitution" or something like it.

Whether the Iraqi Constitution invokes Islam as its source of law or not, what is more important is what those who apply the Constitution have to say about it. They could import Islamic law whether it's mentioned in the Constitution or not, and they could interpret that Islamic law in a way that respects the rights of women or not. They could also oppress women without referring to Islam.

Glenn Reynolds has this:
Americans are unusually legalistic and unusually focused on constitutions. But plenty of constitutions have wonderful language on paper (the old Soviet constitution was great that way) and plenty of countries (Britain, for example) manage to get by without written constitutions at all. What matters more is political culture. If the Iraqi people want a free, prosperous country and are willing to work for it, they'll get that. If they don't, or aren't, then they won't.

He's right.

We're #1.

Just so everyone doesn't feel they need to email me, I have seen that the Princeton Review listed the University of Wisconsin-Madison as the #1 party school. What am I supposed to say? We're #1? I guess if you're going to have a reputation as a party school, you might as well rank first.

That reminds me of a thing in George Carlin's "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" — the book I listened to on yesterday's long drive home. He's talking about the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and wondering about whether people on the list care about their high ranking — when there's a new addition to the list, does the guy who drops down to 11 feel bad about it?

Go to the link and do a "search inside the book" for "FBI" and you can read the passage. And speaking of ten, do a "search inside the book" for "Ten Commandments." Carlin considers the fact that there are ten commandments as evidence that people made it up. Carlin is just about as hostile as you can get toward religion, so this is not for everyone, but I found it absolutely brilliant and hilarious.

Enough rambling! Time to drink my breakfast.

"Convex tummies and soft thighs serving as righteous protest."

You see them in their underpants, "grinning from every street corner," reassuring us women of America that advertisers love us just the way we are.

Old photos.

My son John scanned some photos taken in 1980 and 1981 (the year he was born) and posted them on his Flickr page (appropriately labeled so you can see which ones I took and which ones his father Richard took). The pictures show me, Richard, his brothers Steve and Andy, and his mother Jean. Jean died this Sunday. Let's take a glimpse at the family dynamic, in two photos I took in 1980.

Richard with his mother at our dining table:


Steve, acting comical, and seemingly outraging Jean. I think she's outraged not because he's making fun of religion, but because he's making fun of her objet d'art:


A high-minded new ranking.

Paul Caron draws attention to this ranking in Washington Monthly, which attempts to evaluate colleges from the perspective of what they give to society:
The first question we asked was, what does America need from its universities? From this starting point, we came up with three central criteria: Universities should be engines of social mobility, they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth, and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service. We designed our evaluation system accordingly.
This is nicely high-minded of them. But is this helpful? And is the methodology right?

Releasing movies simultaneously to theaters and to DVD.

Th summer movie season was a flop. Why?
Multiples theories for the decline abound: a failure of studio marketing, the rising price of gas, the lure of alternate entertainment, even the prevalence of commercials and pesky cellphones inside once-sacrosanct theaters. But many movie executives and industry experts are beginning to conclude that something more fundamental is at work: Too many Hollywood movies these days, they say, just are not good enough.
The main solution talked about at the link is not, interestingly enough, making better movies. It's releasing movies to theaters and DVD at the same time! There's a recognition that a lot of people prefer to watch at home, so why not take advantage of the high publicity at the time of a movie's release to sell to all these home theater folk who aren't going to go out? Such a move might hurt theater owners, who are already hurting. But I'm in no position to discuss the economics of the movie business, so I want to speculate about how it would change the actual content of the movies.

Would there be more movies designed to appeal to persons over 25? Would there be more movies in smaller settings that look appealing on the television? Maybe people with big home theater set-ups prefer the same sort of movies that make a lot of us feel that we ought to go out and see the film on the big screen.

Simultaneous DVD release doesn't need to be an across-the-board strategy. It could be used for some smaller movies or movies that appeal to the older audience. For example, right now, I'd love to see Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man." I'd buy it immediately if it were available. And I'd go out to see it if it were playing in my city, but it's not. Eventually, it will come around here, but I might not notice. And eventually, it will come out on DVD and I might get around to buying it. If I could order DVDs of films the day I read the reviews in the paper, I'd buy a lot more of them. I'd impulse buy. Now, I have months to cool off. Why do I need that movie? Why not just watch some other supposedly good movie I own but haven't watched yet? I'm a much more skeptical customer when the DVD comes out months after the glowing reviews.

But would there be more art house-type films if the simultaneous release approach were taken? Art house theaters outside of big cities might have a terrible time getting people to show up. If these theaters go out of business, would art house films end up being more or less straight to video films? They might lose prestige. Instead of more of them, we might have less. Why call them films at all anymore? And then, why even have DVDs of them? Why aren't they just shown on premium cable channels and pay-per-view? But maybe if the merger with television took place, the films would get better. Look at how good HBO is now.

It's hard to predict what would happen with the policy shift — or what will happen without it.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 24.

It's Day 24 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) On yesterday's page 23, I was inside the Rijksmuseum and looked closely at two Vermeers. Today, I'm still in the museum, and now I'm noticing the live human beings there. I draw two women, one in front of two Dutch portraits and the other by a mother and child sculpture.

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook

I'm back.

Once again, I drove 1000 miles in one day and lived to tell the tale. Sorry I didn't manage to stay on vacation longer. I'm not a workaholic or anything. It's not even the death in the (sort of) family. I just wasn't in the mood and had the means to dart home and did.

What audiobooks did I listen to? Driving out: Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation." Driving back: George Carlin's "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?"

August 23, 2005

"The Kaboodle is trying to take over the blog."

Joel Achenbach writes about the way comments transform the life of the blogger:
The blog originated in January as a catch basin for mental detritus, for the kind of stuff not good enough for print, but too good to waste on casual conversation or, worse, mere thinking. But this spring I began allowing "comments," and the blog suddenly mutated. America, it turns out, is full of smart, clever, creative people who happen to have no interest in working and whose employers have unwisely given them Internet access. Thus every day, on my blog, these strangers show up, just to shoot the breeze, flirt, kvetch, veer off topic and, most of all, pay zero attention to what I have written.

Let's cut to the chase: The blog ignores me.

I am constantly having to post something new just to make the blog interested in me again. My contribution to the blog is what I call the "Kit." The commenters' part is called the "Kaboodle." Some of the everyday Kaboodlers make references to "our blog," as though they're co-proprietors. It's obvious at this point that the Kaboodle is trying to take over the blog. And it won't stop with me: I can picture the Kaboodle rambling across the countryside, panting heavily, stomping through people's gardens, tinkling on little kids' tricycles, etc.

The general trend in blogs seems to be the diminution of the blogger and the elevation of the commentariat.

Okay, commentariat, it's your turn. But before I go — and I've got a long, long drive ahead of me right now — let me say that I don't intend to decline and I don't agree that I'm blogging what's "not good enough for print." I love the form of writing that blogging unleashes and feel that many of the things I can say this way are better than what I could find a place for in other sorts of writing. Okay. Your turn.

"We perceive no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women."

An important lesbian rights decision from the California Supreme Court.

Where one woman bears the child, but the other woman is part of a couple, planning for the birth and raising the newborn, the woman who did not give birth is considered one of the child's parents and has rights and support obligations when the couple splits up. It did not matter that the nonbirth parent had not adopted the child.

The NYT provides the predictable "traditional values" quote:
"You've essentially begun to undermine and unravel the family," said Mathew D. Staver of Liberty Counsel, a law firm that submitted briefs arguing against the recognition of two same-sex parents.

"If these cases are any indication," Mr. Staver said, "it makes it look like they're tending toward recognition of gay marriage."
I'd like to see a quote from a traditionalist who wasn't the lawyer in this case. Do social conservatives really want to privilege the birth mother's relationship but also cut her off from a source of financial support? Lesbians will have babies, whether you like it or not. Why is it worse to preserve that child's relationships and preserve private sources of funds for raising it? Or do we already know social conservatives are total pushovers for slippery slope arguments about the dreaded gay marriage?

The linked article doesn't talk about how the decision might be used to argue for imposing support obligations on a man who doesn't marry but lives with a woman who is pregnant with someone else's child and who stays with the woman but never adopts the child. That strikes me as a much more likely slope to slip down.

In one of the decisions, the nonbirth mother had donated her egg and signed the sort of form that men sign to cut off their rights when they donate sperm.
Justice Werdegar, dissenting, suggested that treating the donation of sperm differently from the donation of an egg "inappropriately confers rights and imposes disabilities on persons because of their sexual orientation" and so "may well violate equal protection."
Unlike the rest of the three cases the state court decided, this ruling presents a federal question and could go to the United States Supreme Court.

UPDATE: I think if there were gay marriage and gay adoption there would be LESS need for decisions like this, which introduce a new set of problems about nonbiological parents asseting rights or finding themselves bound to obligations. The formalities of marriage and adoption create clarity about the relationship between parents and children. If these formalities are available to gay persons, courts will not feel so much of a pull toward solutions like the one the California court devised.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 23.

It's Day 19 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) Inside the Rijksmuseum, I draw details from two paintings by Vermeer.

"The Milkmaid":

Amsterdam Notebook

"The Love Letter":

Amsterdam Notebook

August 22, 2005

Niche advertising: movies and blogs.

The NYT sees a trend.
For a new film, "The Constant Gardener," Focus Features is intent on building its audience in a different way: by taking aim at readers of niche Web sites and blogs...

James Schamus, a co-president of the studio, says that such sites draw the sort of people most likely to appreciate the film, a conspiracy thriller based on a John le Carré novel about pharmaceutical companies operating in Africa.

"We looked for the places that sophisticated moviegoers seek out to find things that interest them," Mr. Schamus said. "These are the people who are engaged with the world, who are informed about the big conspiracies going on out there."...

[T]he ads for "The Constant Gardener" seem to seek out people who distrust multinational corporations. The banner contains the taglines "The corruption is contagious" and "The conspiracy is global," and links to the film's Web site, where snippets of dialogue about "payoffs, cover-ups, unmarked graves" can be heard in the trailer.

So the conspiracy movie gets advertised on blogs where they think conspiracy-minded readers congregate. It will be interesting to see, over time, which blogs get the most movie advertising. Are conspiracy theory hothead bloggers going to reap in the cash as Hollywood goes for complicated thrillers? I wonder if there's a type of movie that would do well to advertise here.

My ex-mother-in-law just died.

I learned about it by reading my ex-husband's blog:
Her tranquility in mortal crisis was the starkest kind of contrast with her life, a life marred by needless psychological pain, no rest, no peace of mind. If only her passage through life had been as kindly attended as her passage out of it. If she had, for one day as a living person, been able to feel the calm she felt as a dying one.
And now my sons' last grandparent is gone.

"Kindly attended" refers to the hospice care.

The frenzy to save Jamie Gorelick's reputation...

Seems to have backfired. It sure drew my attention to the problem of her serving on the 9/11 Commission. I had barely even thought about her at all until a lot of people started viciously attacking me for quoting an op-ed that supposedly misstated the scope of her role as a government lawyer. The overreaction to what was at most a minor error prompted Captain Ed to marshall the facts against Gorelick: here and here.

UPDATE: Juan Non-Volokh:
Time will tell whether there is anything to the Able Danger story -- and whether or not the "wall" inhibited information [sharing] -- but it is clearer than ever that Jamie Gorelick should not have served on the 9/11 Commission. Whether or not she deserves credit or blame for the "wall" and other Clinton Administration policies, her presence on the commission undermines its credibility, and provides undo fodder for political partisans and conspiracy theorists.

Bringing back the Vietnam protest ethos.

Should Democrats bring back the Vietnam era anti-war imagery, with folksinging gatherings and get-out-now rhetoric? I can understand wanting to express yourself that way if that's what you feel, but you know it didn't win elections back then. There were some intense events, like the Democratic Convention of 1968, but then Nixon got elected.

Armando at DailyKos quotes Hillary Clinton — "She said the United States should remain in Iraq until peace can be maintained by the Iraqi people, saying the mission was part of the 'long struggle against terrorism' by the U.S. 'The threat of terrorism is as close as our daily commute'" — and agonizes:
So Hillary agrees with Cheney while the Republican Hagel is at war with Cheney. And we Democrats are supposed to smile for that? Not this Democrat. Finally, if you believe success in Iraq is "too important" how in God's name can you keep quiet while this unbelievable group of lying idiots bumbles their way to utter disaster?
But Clinton has just figured out what it takes to get elected. Flipping out like this makes it hard for Democratic candidates to position themselves to be trusted to take over from those "lying idiots" who are driving you crazy. If you're big on learning the lessons of Vietnam, there's that one too.

In the 170 comments so far on Armando's post, the name "Nixon" does not appear, interestingly enough. Perhaps Kos readers are too young to remember. But even if Nixon isn't in your personal memories, you must remember the last election, which Kerry lost because he couldn't inspire trust about how he would work toward success in Iraq. All the noisy anti-war types got out in front of him, and he could never manage to find a way to talk to those of us who demand that the President win the war.

But I'm not saying people like Armando should shut up for the good of party politics. I hate party politics myself. People should express what they think about the war. Squelching yourself for years in the hope of helping Hillary isn't worth it. I would just hope that people try to think clearly about the importance of success in Iraq. Don't be blinded by your hatred of Bush. If Kerry had won, we'd still be struggling and making mistakes there. And if Gore had become President in 2000, he would have had to do something about Iraq sooner or later. So express yourself, but face up to the difficulties of the real world. Think hard before going into full Vietnam peacenik mode.

She's a humdinger.


"Are you going to speak to us today?"

"Yes, I think I will," answered the man who'd been silent since April 7, solving the mystery of the Piano Man.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 22.

It's Day 22 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) The first picture today is, like yesterday's, an homage to Mark Beyer — hence the anxiety-infused image. It's meant as an allusion to a series of his called "Fear of Buildings," which I can barely remember now but think ran in RAW Magazine. You may remember from page 2 of these drawings that my hotel room looked out on the Rikjsmuseum. (And it helps to know that the most famous painting on display is "The Night Watch.") The second page shows a museum guide who amused me.

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook


August 21, 2005

Not yet able to see the "Six Feet Under Finale."

But go ahead and talk about it in the comments. I'll catch up with you later in the week. Don't worry about spoilers. I won't read this until I've seen it.

UPDATE: Ooh, it's hard to resist looking at the comments! And what if someone's using this comments section to attack me for some un-SFU-related thing? Anyway, I keep seeing that the finale was great or the greatest final episode ever and so on.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I finally see the show and write up my observations here.

Where am I?

I am somewhere. Where?

Where am I?

Where am I?

Where am I?

Where am I?

Where am I?

Where am I?

The imperfect savage life.

Do you ever romanticize the caveman and think, yes, it might be all right to be a Neanderthal, and you then think of one modern product that you want so much that you can't even seriously contemplate the savage life anymore? For me it's Chapstick.

But what about that three-men-and-a-pie picture?

Underneath Their Robes sifts through the evidence, including that pie picture in the NYT, and concludes that the "Roberts is gay" talk is going nowhere.

My contribution to this talk was always about the NYT making him look gay, and I'm sure people at the Times are aware of this criticism. In that light, what do you make of the selection of that pie picture? I find it nearly impossible to believe they didn't know what they were doing. I'd guess they find it hilarious and perhaps justified by the failure of conservatives to do enough for gay people. And the deniability is intact as ever. It's just three men with a pie... and a mustache... and a glow.

The Times article is well worth reading, though, so don't just get distracted by the picture and the many mysteries that tempt you in. The articles tells what it was like to be a conservative on campus in the early 1970s:
"There was a 'Boy Named Sue' quality to being a libertarian or conservative at Harvard," said Mr. Norquist, referring to the Johnny Cash song and Shel Silverstein poem ("Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,/ My fist got hard and my wits got keen.") Conservatives at Harvard, he suggested, learned to be "tougher than anyone else." Unlike students on the left, he said, they were constantly being challenged.

"There was this cowardice of the center to criticize the left," Mr. Norquist said. "Somebody would make some left-wing comment and no one would challenge it, whereas if you made some right-wing comment, you'd get 20 questions. We grew up and we built tougher, smarter, better advocates on the right than the left did. You see this all the time: The left gets frustrated if somebody asks a second question."

Hmmm.... that's a thesis with a lot of explanatory power.

I was at the University of Michigan in the early 70s, and I can tell you that conservative students were untouchables.

IN THE COMMENTS: Many readers tell of the way conservatives acted and were treated at their colleges.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 21.

It's Day 21 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) This page, perhaps my favorite in the whole set, is strongly influenced by Mark Beyer's thoroughly brilliant comic "Amy & Jordan," which I'd just read.

Amsterdam Notebook


Aren't you supposed to be on vacation?

Why are you blogging? Well, I just love blogging. I made sure to get a hotel with WiFi. And I'm kicking myself that I didn't also make sure they had HBO. What nice hotel doesn't have HBO? Damn! And tonight's the final episode of "Six Feet Under." I'll have to see it when I get home, I suppose. It's not like a football game, where you could find a bar somewhere playing it. Imagine the wacky bar that would play "Six Feet Under." Anyway, I am getting out and about once I've yielded to the morning's blogging temptations. See?

The Audi TT Coupe

Mmmm... pretty! Somewhere out west!