December 24, 2005

Blue Christmas.

The view from my window, tonight at nightfall:

Christmas Eve

It seems that every year, there's something that gets us started singing "Blue Christmas." Like last year, it was another photograph: here.
Now we're listening to various versions of "Blue Christmas" -- first Elvis (the best), then Ringo, then the Beach Boys (the second best), Jon Bon Jovi, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson (nicely zippy), Fats Domino, Low, Leon Redbone, the Platters, Chris Isaak, Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Harry Connick Jr., Sheryl Crow (the worst!), Booker T. & the MGs, John Holt (reggae does not fit this song), Tammy Wynette... I note that most artists try to sing the song like Elvis -- it's pretty much homage to Elvis for Ringo, Bon Jovi, and many others. Too many people make a big point of slowing the song way down (which is, apparently, a way of life for Low). Ah, now we're back to Elvis, with a different version, from the 1968 TV special. The greatness of Elvis really came through in that little exercise.

You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white/But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas.

Bush at 50% approval.

The Rasmussen poll has Bush at a 50% approval rating, up 6 points since last Sunday. (Via Instapundit.) Well, I guess Americans approve of spying on the enemy a lot more than some folks seem to have figured. Or maybe it's just holiday mellowness.

Christmas Eve morning.

[ADDED: Welcome crossword Googlers. The answer is Theodore Roosevelt. [MORE: or Bob Saget.] Please hang out and read more of the Althouse blog. Since you're smart enough to do the Saturday puzzle, you might really like it!]

It's Christmas Eve and Saturday. I get the feeling it will be a slow day in the blogosphere, don't you? It certainly feels slow from here, because my laptop is malfunctioning, and I'm using an old desktop, an iMac, which I remember thinking was so wonderful when I first unpacked it. Now, the curved screen seems insanely bulbous, and I'm hyperconscious of the high-pitched sound it emits. But I wrote the first two months of my blog on this -- with a dial-up connection -- and it was perfectly nice back then.

Yesterday, when I wasn't struggling to think up new ways to nudge my laptop back to life, I was checking my blog to see if I posted on Christmas last year (the blog's first Christmas). It turns out I did. But I was sensitive about the fact that I was doing it: here ("Blogging on Christmas?") and here ("She stops Christmas to blog"). Let's check the Christmas Eve blogging from last year. Ah! It's my favorite Christmas picture of me (and my sister Dell... and that guy):

Christmas 1953

I should dig up and scan some other Christmas nostalgia from the 1950s. Yeah, I know a couple that might make you laugh.

Anyway, is there anything in the news to blog about? I just paged through the NYT and found nothing that called out to me. Well, the crossword called out. Damn, it's hard today. I mean, even for a Saturday, it's hard -- especially in the southeast corner!

December 23, 2005

Computer troubles, Martha's "Apprentice" gossip.

Sorry I haven't posted more today. My laptop has been acting up. I've turned the thing off and on about 50 times today trying to get it to work. It's an iBook G4, and the 3 times I got it going, it froze up. All the other times, it would just hang up on a blank blue screen. I've been looking at that blue screen trying to think up new strategies for getting past it for a long part of today. It's not all I did today. I did an NPR interview about Alito over at the WPR studio, and I got some shopping and wrapping done. But generally, it's been frustrating here! (I'm writing this on an old, annoying computer.)

And, yes, I know the NY Post had a gossip piece about Martha's "Apprentice."

A former contestant who was in the green room and overheard the child's remark told PAGE SIX: "Jennifer Koppelman Hutt [Charles' daughter, who works with Alexis] and her little girl were making small talk with the cast before the show. Someone asked the little girl, 'So, who do you think is going to win?' The little girl confidently replied, 'Bethenny is going to win, Martha didn't like Dawna's fashion show.' "

The shocked mother quickly whisked the tot out of the room as word rapidly spread throughout the stunned studio.

The former contestant who was there tells us, "They quickly sequestered the castmates. It was very strange. They put us all in separate rooms. The producer announced to the audience, 'We have last-minutes changes in the script. We want to keep the suspense up to the very last minute.' "

I think the grownups probably got the little girl to say that to create excitement about what was a very dull contest that Dawna was obviously going to win. That is, the girl didn't spill the answer, causing Martha to change the outcome. The girl was used as a device to inject some tension into the situation. It didn't work too well, though apparently some people who were there got jazzed up about it. It did not reach through to the TV audience.

"Everybody says I'm an asshole, and they're right, I am."

Says Kos -- Markos Moulitsas Zuniga -- in a big feature story in Washington Monthly.
Talking with Moulitsas, like reading his blog, is a singularly withering experience. He speaks in twenty-minute chunks, so you don't need to ask questions so much as provision buckets to catch the flood. When I nodded to agree with a point he made, he looked mildly disappointed; his conversation tends to circle back over itself, probing, seeking resistance. Moulitsas is not a naturally commanding presence—he's 5'6, slender, with a high-pitched voice and a rounded face that puts you vaguely in mind of an animated frog....

Moulitsas is touchy, far too self-assured, and easily provoked. But he's more interesting in person than he is on his blog, more thoughtful and funny and even a little bit more capable of self-criticism. He laughs, he makes fun of himself, he says absurd things and then takes them back, and then thinks again and doesn't—he actually enjoys himself. He told me a long story about egging on a blogger named Chris Bowers, who posts at, the same site where Moulitsas got his start. “I keep telling him, Chris, you've got to be an asshole, you're too soft for politics, the only way is to be an asshole, and you know what?” Moulitsas grins triumphantly. “He did. He's a lot tougher now.”
So that's the secret to getting the big traffic numbers in political blogging, then? Be an asshole? What fascinates me here is the revelation that Kos is "more interesting in person than he is on his blog." There's the other Kos blog, the blog that might have been: the funny, quirky, revealing personal blog that is capable of self-doubt, capable of standing outside the political forces it talks about. But doing politics requires focus and self-editing -- on a blog or anywhere else. If you feel an aversion to politics.... well, you should.

"One of those Hollywood fictions that seem to befuddle those who miss the nuance in the words 'inspired by real events.'"

There's a phrase. It's from the NYT review of the film "Munich." Yes, you dare to carp at a prestige film that distorts historical events? You befuddled, unnuanced fool.

"You were a warrior in the war on terrier."

Said by Andrea Mitchell, hosting "Hardball" last night, to her other guest just after tangling with Judge Richard Posner, who was on the show, by telephone, to talk about the Bush administration's warrantless interception of telephone calls. It's quite surprising, by the way, to find a federal judge going on a TV news analysis show to talk about a legal issue. I note that he did not take a position, but tried to explain the arguments.

He had to keep saying things like "I said it's arguable" as Mitchell kept trying to pin him down before moving back to the other guest. Posner, though he was on the phone, was very forceful in denying Mitchell the ability to use the host's standard strategy of capsulizing the guest's position in order to move a two-sided debate forward. Mitchell must have felt the need to be more tolerant toward Posner than to the usual guest, but she obviously needed to give some time to her other guest. She kept a smile on her face as she tried to make the requisite move, but then she said, "You were a warrior in the war on terrier."

December 22, 2005

Audible Althouse, #27.

Here it is, my first podcast recorded in the daytime, and, more importantly, my first podcast recorded with the new Blue Snowball Microphone. It's 46 minutes. Remember you don't need an iPod to listen. You can stream the podcast right on your computer. Just go over and click that "POD" button! [ADDED: Or just click here.]

Topics: how much I detest the movie "Contact," the extent of the character development in "Annie Hall," whether women -- as in "King Kong" -- are sexually attracted to apes, why folks just can't get used to the notion that we evolved from apes, how Egyptologists argue about whether two men in a 5000 year old painting are gay, what the cowboy from The Village People has to say about "Brokeback Mountain," how rotten the finale to Martha Stewart's "Apprentice" was, how FOXNews has infected our holiday greetings, a proposal to take note of the War on Advent, my place in the Divided Kingdom of Kostria-Wingery, and my chance to become the Conservative Blogress Diva.

"Cold northern reaches," indeed.

I'm just now seeing this. (Via Sundries.) Look more closely. And don't you think this is all the more reason why I need to be your Conservative Blogress Diva?

Conservative Blogress Diva.

GayPatriot is looking to choose the "Conservative Blogress Diva," and I'm one of the nominees. How would a diva say go over there and vote for me? It's not a question of who's the most conservative, you know. It's a question of who would make the best diva. Think about it!


Yay! You know who you are!

Miss America, nostalgia-style.

Good idea.
[Country Music Television], in partnership with the Miss America Organization, has jettisoned a casual-wear competition that was added in recent years, as well as a multiple-choice civics quiz that had pitted five finalists against one another on a "Jeopardy"-style set pumped with an ominous soundtrack seemingly borrowed from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."...

[V]iewers will see what CMT intends as a more genteel, glamorous competition...

In place of the stiff blue jeans and halter tops that made some onstage segments last year seem like a debutante's bad idea of casual Friday, CMT will emphasize evening wear, with sashes bearing state names - little seen in recent years - again draped prominently across the contestants' long gowns throughout the night so viewers can better chart their progress. Also returning in January - for the first time since 1974 - will be Miss Congeniality, an honor bestowed on one of the 52 contestants (representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands) by her peers.

And instead of reducing the talent competition to a montage of edited highlights of the final 10 contestants engaged in baton-twirling, jazz-dancing and furious classical piano playing - as ABC did in recent years - CMT will present full-length performances of the final five contestants. ...

Though the decline in interest in such pageants parallels the dramatic changes in women's lives and careers in recent decades, [Paul Villadolid, vice president of programming and development at CMT] nonetheless saw relevance. The women in their 20's who compete to become Miss America - nearly all of them college-bound and most from small towns - are not unlike those who form the foundation of the CMT audience.
This is a nice demonstration of the value of cable TV over the big networks.

What does it take to get a restraining order?

Do the judges apply any judgment at all?
Lawyers for David Letterman have gone to court in New Mexico to quash a restraining order obtained by a Santa Fe woman who said he had used code words to indicate he wanted to marry her and train her to be a co-host, The Associated Press reported. The temporary restraining order was granted to Colleen Nestler, who alleged that Mr. Letterman had forced her to go bankrupt and inflicted "mental cruelty" and "sleep deprivation" on her since 1994. She asked that Mr. Letterman, who tapes his "Late Show" in New York, stay at least three yards from her and not "think of me, and release me from his mental harassment and hammering." In a motion filed on Mr. Letterman's behalf, Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque lawyer, wrote, "Celebrities deserve protection of their reputation and legal rights when the occasional fan becomes dangerous or deluded." Saying that the restraining order is without merit, Mr. Letterman's lawyers asked District Court Judge Daniel Sanchez to quash it. A hearing on the request for a permanent restraining order was set for Jan. 12.

Gotta dance.


"When this old world starts getting me down..."

"And people are just too much for me to face..." The Drifters sang some pretty words, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, back in simpler times.
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feelin' tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let's go up on the roof (up on the roof)

At night the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me

I keep a-tellin' you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I've found a paradise that's trouble proof (up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two
Up on the roof (up on the roof)
Up on the roo-oo-oof (up on the roof)
Oh, come on, baby (up on the roof)
Oh, come on, honey (up on the roof)

Everything is all right (up on the roof)
Oh no, it's not. These days:
A man and woman who shared an intimate moment on a secluded, dark rooftop one August night last year have learned that they were secretly watched, an intrusion made possible by increased police surveillance of protest rallies and other events and also by advanced technology intended to fight terrorists.

That night, police officers tracked bicycle riders moving through the streets of the Lower East Side from a custom-built, $9.8 million helicopter equipped with optical equipment able to display a license plate 1,000 feet away.

With the night vision of the helicopter's camera, and permission to make videotapes, an officer also recorded nearly four minutes of the couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse.

"When you watch the tape, it makes you feel kind of ill," said Jeffrey Rosner, 51, one of the two people. "I had no idea they were filming me - who would ever have an idea like that?"....

High above Second Avenue, they seemed to be shielded from view by a wall of shrubs and the nearly total darkness. The police camera, however, included special thermal-imaging equipment that yielded distinct, if ghostly, images.

And won't it happen, soon enough, that the thermal-imaging will allow them to shoot an image through the roof? Or are they already doing that? Maybe you ought to move the bed down to the first floor.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm told this story has been in the news before and reminded that the bigger story is the one that accompanies it: "New York Police Covertly Join In at Protest Rallies." Well, you know, I blog about what catches my eye as I flip through the day's NYT, so this choice of topic says something embarrassing about me, I suppose.

The Village People cowboy has his say about "Brokeback Mountain."

Well, of course, "Brokeback Mountain" means it's time for Randy Jones, the cowboy from The Village People to resurface and do some press. Who better to inform us about whether or not gay cowboys are just a Hollywood concoction?
“There they were, a couple of men, alone together in isolated frontier country, for weeks or sometimes months at a time...

“The thought must have passed through their minds, even if they didn’t act on it, because men are sexy animals. If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be so much homosexual sex in prison.”...

Mr Jones ... said that Brokeback Mountain was encouraging “red [Republican] state” gays to come out of the closet. He added that the advice he gave to the actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, when they questioned him about the love scenes, was to “keep their hats and boots on in bed. The boots are for traction.”
It sounds as though he knows a tad more what he's talking about than Annie Proulx, the author of the New Yorker short story the movie is based on. (Note to Althouse critics: I read the short story!)

I see the NYT "boldface" reporter talked to Jones a few days ago (TimesSelect link):
This film is described as trail-blazing and pioneering in its depiction of gay cowboys. Does that make you feel underappreciated? we asked.

''I'm a little ----.'' Whoa there, partner. Let's just say miffed.

''They're not even cowboys,'' Mr. Jones said. ''They're sheep herders. If you can't tell the difference between sheep and cows, how can you tell the difference between men and women?''

A good question. But in fairness, we asked him about his own qualifications. For one, he is happily married to WILL GREGA, a recording artist. For another, he said he grew up working in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. Thus, our next question. They wear chaps in the tobacco fields?

''Jeans,'' he said. ''The chaps I left to THE BIKER DUDE.''

Ah. What historical figures do you consider your major influences?

''I was raised on all those 50's Warner Brothers cowboy shows. 'Sugarfoot.' 'Maverick.' 'Cheyenne' with CLINT WALKER. It seems like every week they had his shirt ripped off, and he was either tied to something or another cowboy.''

So who, of HEATH LEDGER or JAKE GYLLENHAAL, best personifies the gay cowboy? Mr. Jones admitted he had not in fact seen the movie yet. But.

''I've got some pictures I've pulled off line of Heath Ledger.''

Yeah, we've heard about those.

Mr. Jones has just finished his role as GOD in ''Sodom: The Musical'' and is moving on to ''I Wanna Be Rosie,'' at La MaMa E.T.C.

''I play all of the men in ROSEMARY CLOONEY's life. Her father, her uncle, her nephew GEORGE CLOONEY, her psychiatrist, JOSÉ FERRER, BING CROSBY, NELSON RIDDLE.''

Mr. Jones also has a film coming out next spring about a country club that is built over the graves of Civil War soldiers, whose spirits are angered when the grounds crew uses extra-strength fertilizer. It is called ''Lawn of the Dead.''
Okay, I never really paid any attention to him before, but I've got to say, I love Randy Jones. He sounds really smart and funny and has an excellent attitude!

"Sodom: The Musical"? Here's a review (from the Village Voice):
Randy Jones ... plays God as a beleaguered office manager, Brian Munn's Abraham, his sycophantic subordinate—or, as he dubs himself in one interminable tune, "God's Li'l Bitch." The white-tracksuit-clad God doesn't want his Sodomites being such sodomites—even though they're cast quite clearly in his own image—and he will smite the land unless Abraham comes up with one good man there.

What follows are songs about sins: The writing team of Kevin Laub and Adam Cohen follows a formula of defining each of the Ten Commandments Greek chorus–style, then demonstrating with a peppy tune how it's violated. Lyricist Laub has his moments, celebrating a sexual paradise where penicillin is doled out "like government cheese," but Cohen's score, trying too hard to satisfy the Broadway musical idiom, is uninspired. Sodom fails the karaoke test: You will never hear these tunes at Pieces or the Duplex.
And here's an interview with Annie Proulx, in which she evades questions about how she got the idea for the shepherds-in-love story.


"The whole business becomes more vile and insufferable — and in new and worse ways — every 12 months."

Christopher Hitchens takes on Christmas:
It was at Thanksgiving this year that, making my way through an airport, I was confronted by the leering and antlered visage of what to my disordered senses appeared to be a bloody great moose. Only as reason regained her throne did I realize that the reindeer—that plague species—were back.
It goes on from there. Very amusing. Of course, he takes on FOXNews with its absurd "War on Christmas" theme. You know, I've come to see the "War on Christmas" fanatics as having a much worse effect on the spirit of the season than the bland folk who say "Happy Holidays." Personally, I like to say "Merry Christmas," but yesterday, when some shopkeepers said "Happy Holidays" to me and I said "Merry Christmas," I had the disgusting feeling that we had just engaged in a political argument! If those "War on Christmas" fanatics hadn't made such a big deal out of the seasonal greetings, I wouldn't have noticed anything. As I left the shop, I imagined the people talking about me: I guess she's some big FOXNews right-winger.

Photos of the Year.

40 from Reuters. (Via Metafilter.) Somehow, both Madonna and Courtney Love found a place among the many sad pictures of war and flooding. And then there's the young girl's tongue with the eclipsed sun casting a bright crescent on it. I remember once years ago walking out on Bascom Hill during a partial solar eclipse and seeing all the sunlight shining through the tree leaves making strange crescents all over the sidewalk. Quite amazing. So I like the idea of marking the solar eclipse by photographing the curved light on the stuck-out tongue of a girl who is gazing at the sun itself. The routine photograph show either the sun or the faces of people staring through various protective devices.

December 21, 2005

Martha's "Apprentice" -- the finale.

Did you watch that? Martha was terrible! Was she just pissed off that her show got cancelled? She didn't even try! She deserves to be fired, as she already was. Scripted. Zombie-like. She did the least possible to say: Okay, who cares anyway? Dawna you get the job. (As if there was ever any doubt.) Martha put absolutely no oomph into the process. She made it utterly dull! Martha, I want my money back!! Chez Althouse, we were talking about what a genius the Donald is. What a TV personality! How much tension and excitement he creates. Martha could hardly be bothered to go through the motions. And then all that pimping of her new magazine! Horrible! Plus, she looked obese and was wearing an atrocious black and orange costume. What was that? Was she spitting in the face of the network? Well, good riddance. Go back to your daytime slot. "The Apprentice" belongs to the Donald. No imposters accepted!

UPDATE: Here's my theory on the atrocious black and orange outfit Martha wore. I think there must have been some idea of doing the live finale set with a Christmas theme. It's just a few days before Christmas, and Martha is known for her extensive Christmas decorating ideas. Maybe the network refused to give her the money to do things nicely, so she got irked and dressed in the Halloween colors.

"The only way it would work would be if I played Doc."

I'd like to see this work out:
Michael J. Fox is heading Back To The Future for a fourth time-traveling movie. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, admits he's in negotiations for a final film in the series - but only if they make his character as old as he is in real life. The former Spin City star wants to take over Christopher Lloyd's eccentric scientist character, Doc, in the sequel. He tells movie website, "The only way it would work would be if I played Doc. I'm 44-years-old now and I'm not interested in running around on skateboards! I think after 1, 2 and 3 we all kind of felt we had done it. And I think if they did it again now they would do it with a younger cast and just do a different realisation of it, which would be fun."
Chez Althouse, we love Michael J. Fox and the "Back to the Future" movies. Though, I must say that I can't stand any recent Robert Zemeckis movies. That is, I hated "Contact" and have avoided everything else. You know, I don't even like to write out the words "I hated 'Contact'" because it makes me have to think about it again. Ugh!!

Running out of time.

With little more than a hour to meet a deadline on a little piece I'm writing, the FedEx guy shows up with that Blue Snowball Microphone I've been waiting for. I can't resist screwing in the little tripod stand, plugging in the USB cord, and firing up Quicktime Pro to test it out. I justify the digression from my writing project by reading what I've written out loud to do my little sound test. I edit a bit as I go. Then -- atwitter with the hope that this is that device that can catapult my podcasting to a whole new level -- I play it back. Is it good? Well, I'll just do an extra little podcast tonight to demonstrate the power of the Snowball! But for now, I must get back to this writing.

Bonus revelation: I have yet to do any Christmas shopping! Me and deadlines -- we have a very close relationship.

Where police beat up couples for walking together in the park.

Two policewomen have been suspended in the northern Indian city of Meerut for slapping and punching couples who were dating in a public park....

Police chief Rajiv Ranjan said ... the police action was part of a drive undertaken at periodic intervals - often at the behest of the parents of young women - to "cleanse" parks and other public places of people indulging in acts of public obscenity.


Nice photo, by Andy Goldsworthy: "Torn crack in leaves / Laid on a sheet of ice wedged between two trunks of a Hawthorn that had once been a single tree until struck by lightning.”

"A noticeably calmer Saddam Hussein sat quietly in his defendant's chair."

At the resumption of his trial, Saddam Hussein has adopted a new demeanor -- for whatever reason. Tranquilizers? Resignation? New legal strategy? Re-analysis of the political effect of acting obstreperous? The reason he's trying to project: Religion?

UPDATE: Ah, he's chosen to play the victim.

The powerful district court decision in the Intelligent Design case.

Here's the NYT report on yesterday's decision in the Intelligent Design case. An excerpt:
Judge [John E. Jones III], a Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that intelligent design was not science, and that in order to claim that it is, its proponents admit they must change the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations....

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," Judge Jones wrote. "However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."...

Judge Jones's decision is legally binding only for school districts in the middle district of Pennsylvania. It is unlikely to be appealed because the school board members who supported intelligent design were unseated in elections in November and replaced with a slate that opposes the intelligent design policy and said it would abide by the judge's decision.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said at a news conference in Harrisburg that the judge's decision should serve as a deterrent to other school boards and teachers considering teaching intelligent design....

Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who helped to argue the case, said, "We sincerely hope that other school districts who may have been thinking about intelligent design will pause, they will read Judge Jones's erudite opinion and they will look at what happened in the Dover community in this battle, pitting neighbor against neighbor."
What a powerful district court opinion! It will remain unreviewed, the final word at the end of a cautionary tale for all school boards who contemplate adopting Intelligent Design in the future.
Eugenie Scott, executive director, National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group in Oakland, Calif., that promotes teaching evolution, said in an interview, "I predict that another school board down the line will try to bring intelligent design into the curriculum like the Dover group did, and they'll be a lot smarter about concealing their religious intent."
It's hard to see how they will ever hide this intent. If there is any controversy at all -- and could there not be? -- opponents will bring up the Dover case and make much of the fact that a federal judge has equated Intelligent Design with religion. It simply won't be possible to adopt Intelligent Design without talking a lot about religion now. The next school board may be "smarter" about what it needs to do to achieve its end, but if it's that smart, it should also perceive the world of trouble that lies ahead. If the judge's decision doesn't faze them, the political losses of the school board that voted yes certainly should. Proponents of teaching Intelligent Design in science classes will have a hard time admitting it, but this one district court opinion just killed their movement.

"Some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

A federal judge has resigned from his position on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court:
[U.S. District Judge James] Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants. FISA court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had been briefed on the spying program by the administration, raised the same concern in 2004 and insisted that the Justice Department certify in writing that it was not occurring.

"They just don't know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants -- to kind of cleanse the information," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants. "What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

Robertson is considered a liberal judge who has often ruled against the Bush administration's assertions of broad powers in the terrorism fight, most notably in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Robertson held in that case that the Pentagon's military commissions for prosecuting terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were illegal and stacked against the detainees.

Some FISA judges said they were saddened by the news of Robertson's resignation and want to hear more about the president's program.

"I guess that's a decision he's made and I respect him," said Judge George P. Kazen, another FISA judge. "But it's just too quick for me to say I've got it all figured out."
The resignation seems to speak loudly, but what does it say? The resignation letter itself gives no reason. An anonymous source offers some context. The judge may see the process that he participates in as tainted and feel that he can therefore no longer be part of it. The judge may simply object to the procedure and feel that the resignation is an effective way to express that objection. That objection may be political opposition to the President, purely legal opinion, or some mix of the two. To the extent that it is legal opinion, it may not be an opinion that most judges, handling a fully briefed and argued case, would agree with. The one judge we see making a statement to the press without asking for anonymity says that it's too soon to have figured out such a complicated legal question. That sounds about right to me.

December 20, 2005

Character development in the movie "Annie Hall."

John -- my son John Althouse Cohen -- opines:
Annie Hall likes to get high when they have sex and Woody Allen -- or Alvy Singer -- doesn't like that. That's the most character development there is in the movie.

Are women sexually interested in apes?

Over on Huffington Post, LA Weekly writer Joshuah Bearman looks at the "bestiality" subtext to the movie "King Kong" and says:
[The] subtext turns out to be biologically based: I just read about a new study which shows that human women are aroused by watching monkeys having sex. Medical fact! The paper was in Biological Psychology, and the methodology went right to the source by measuring something called Vaginal Pulse Amplitude. There were male subjects too, but the primate porn did not get a single rise out of their apparatuses. I know -- you'd figure the dudes would be the deviants getting a little thrill from the bonobo boots-knocking. Turns out it's the fairer sex that's biologically amenable to a little monkey love.
Maybe Joshuah's especially interested in the topic of women and beasts because he's BearMan. But really, interesting study isn't it? Strange to think of the folks who dream up these studies and carry them out. Anyway, I think Joshuah and the scientists are reading too much into this study. Female sexuality is complicated and different from male sexuality. Why just test the subjects with pornography? I'll bet pictures of all sorts of things would produce a response on the vaginometer but would leave the penisometer unaffected.

Blogger glitch.

Lately, I've been having the problem of a comments page not opening. You end up on a "page not found" page. I'm always able to solve the problem by republishing the post, but I don't always notice that it's happening. Sometimes someone emails me or comments in another thread to let me know, and I appreciate that. Sometimes I'll go a long time just wondering things like: how come no one's commenting on the "Heaven" post? -- and then, eventually, it will dawn on me that it's that glitch again. So, if you were thinking of commenting before and couldn't, so to speak, get into Heaven, please try again.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep.

Manicurists to the King. Apparently gay. And respected enough to have a lovely tomb, with artwork that shows them embracing, some 5000 years ago.
Archaeologists were taken aback. It was extremely rare in ancient Egypt for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. The usual practice was for such mortuary temples to be the resting place of one prominent man, his wife and children.

And it was most unusual for a couple of the same sex to be depicted locked in an embrace. In other scenes, they are also shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the favored form of kissing in ancient Egypt.
But wait. There's an alternate theory: they were conjoined twins.
"The gay-couple idea is essentially derived from imposing modern preoccupations on ancient materials and not attending to the cultural context."

That blouse brings out your eye color.

Really! Science Times says your clothes can affect your eye color.

"A federal judge ruled Tuesday that 'intelligent design' cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district."

Just reported:
The Dover Area School Board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include "intelligent design," the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday.

Predictable. Correct.

UPDATE: Here's the opinion. It's lengthy. Basically, the judge, following precedent, asks whether a reasonable observer would perceive a government endorsement of religion. He also, more briefly, applies the Lemon test. Here are some key points:
As a reasonable observer, whether adult or child, would be aware of this social context in which the ID Policy arose, and such context will help to reveal the meaning of Defendants’ actions, it is necessary to trace the history of the IDM. ...

Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses....

Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the “Wedge Document.” The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (hereinafter “CRSC”), represents from an institutional standpoint, the IDM’s goals and objectives... The Wedge Document states in its “Five Year Strategic Plan Summary” that the IDM’s goal is to replace science as currently practiced with “theistic and Christian science.” As posited in the Wedge Document, the IDM’s “Governing Goals” are to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies” and “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”...

The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates... that the systemic change from “creation” to “intelligent design” occurred sometime in 1987, after the Supreme Court’s important Edwards decision. This compelling evidence strongly supports Plaintiffs’ assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled. ...

[T]he disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere....

ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community....

[A]lthough Defendants have unceasingly attempted in vain to distance themselves from their own actions and statements, which culminated in repetitious, untruthful testimony, such a strategy constitutes additional strong evidence of improper purpose under the first prong of the Lemon test. As exhaustively detailed herein, the thought leaders on the Board made it their considered purpose to inject some form of creationism into the science classrooms, and by the dint of their personalities and persistence they were able to pull the majority of the Board along in their collective wake. ...

[T]he Court likewise concludes that the ID Policy is violative of Plaintiffs’ rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution....

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. ...

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom. Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
I love that last part about who's the real activist here. And note the passage I've highlighted in red. I think that translates into: You call yourself religious? You hypocrite! You lied and cheated your way through this case!

ADDED: I'd like to retitle this post: School Board in the Hands of an Angry Judge. He is really angry, isn't he?

MORE: The judge called it ironic that persons who claim to be religious would lie and deceive. But isn't it also ironic that a judge enforcing the Establishment Clause would throw in an opinion about what obligations religion imposes?

"'Heaven' is a corny show. But heaven itself is corny."

Virginia Heffernan writes about Barbara Walters' TV show about Heaven.
The program says nearly 90 percent of Americans believe heaven exists; most of them, presumably, think they have a shot at it. It's a nice idea. As Mr. Albom, the best-selling author of "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," says, the idea alone can make life on earth better, sprinkling a little stardust on the drudgery and meaninglessness of daily life.

Mr. Albom goes on to describe the dysphoria of being ordinary: "If you're not a celebrity, you can start to feel like you don't matter."

So that's it. The implication is clear. In the American creed - the one articulated on network news programs like this one - heaven is a place where we all get to be celebrities. At last.
Why pick on Americans? Well, we're the ones who support the existence of TV networks that put on shows like this? I wonder, if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a look at this show, would he put it in his spiritual or his triteness category? That's a big problem with religion, isn't it? It's supposed to be the most serious thing going, but it's also always threatening to be the most ridiculous. And when it's religion on television, the chances of it coming out ridiculous are unusually high.

"Terrorists don't need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them."

The problem with Google Earth.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bans Western music.

No more Western music on radio and TV in Iran. Inappropriately, the CNN report begins in a way that seems to invite us to joke that Ahmadinejad has a pretty good idea:
Songs such as George Michael's "Careless Whisper," Eric Clapton's "Rush" and the Eagles' "Hotel California" have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.

But the official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban Western music.
Very sad. I hope this inspires people to push back. Music is important, and taking people's music away should strongly impress them that the government is repressive beyond reason. If only Western music were better, the impression might be stronger. Unfortunately, I can understand the feeling that the music of the outsiders is eroding your culture. I've felt, as a traveler, that the music of my own culture was eroding the culture of the foreign place I wanted to experience.

Ahmadinejad's newest effort in cultural repression extends beyond music:
The latest media ban also includes censorship of content of films.

"Supervision of content from films, TV series and their voice-overs is emphasized in order to support spiritual cinema and to eliminate triteness and violence," the council said in a statement on its Web site explaining its October ruling.

The council has also issued a ban on foreign movies that promote "arrogant powers," an apparent reference to the United States.
I have to assume the people in Iran are sharp enough to see the irony in his referring to the United States as an "arrogant power."

Quite aside from this exclusion of Western influence, there's this notion of eliminating triteness from TV and movies. Well, I'm rather opposed to triteness myself, but you know if you try to make a law against triteness, triteness itself becomes a political protest. (Remember Mu Mu?) I love the idea that playing "Careless Whisper" and acting like an idiot on television are now subversive acts. The government, purveying seriousness, can now be affronted with silliness. Now there is risk and passion in foolery.


Does anyone have any advice about what a blogger can do about those blog-looking things that just steal a blogger's material in its entirety to create a site with a sidebar full of links? I unwittingly discovered a way to detect these things: when you link to one of your own old posts, the thing will show up in Technorati as another blog linking to you. But I can't think of what to do once I've found it. And, no, I'm not going to link to one.

December 19, 2005

Bush's approval rating is back up to 47%.

See? He just needs to keep talking to us, answering his critics. Standing by silent, hoping people will notice what you've done, unfortunately, doesn't work.

Someone's in the cocoon.

Says Mickey Kaus, here and here, talking about Frank Rich's opinion on how Middle America will respond to "Brokeback Mountain." (And thanks to Mickey for appreciating my sarcasm!)

UPDATE: Three Years of Hell has some excellent, and nicely bloggish, comments about the movie -- and he's actually seen it. He makes it sound -- gasp! -- boring. That's the worst condemnation, really -- in my book anyway. That reminds me: Chris saw "Syriana" and said it was one of the most boring movies he's ever seen.

IN THE COMMENTS: Some talk about who this movie is being marketed to. I give my answer -- and it's not gay men.

How good does the President feel?

I didn't see the President's press conference. I'm just reading, but it seems to me that he's awfully relaxed, joking like this, when he's under fire about not complying with FISA restrictions:
THE PRESIDENT: You asked a multiple-part question.

Q Yes, I did.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for violating the multiple-part question rule.

Q I didn't know there was a law on that. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: There's not a law. It's an executive order. (Laughter.) In this case, not monitored by the Congress -- (laughter) -- nor is there any administrative oversight. (Laughter.)

UPDATE: I'm watching the C-Span replay of the press conference now, and I'm even more impressed by the strength of Bush's confidence. This man is happy. But I had to laugh out loud at this revealing flub:
Q: [W]hat would you say is the biggest mistake you've made during your presidency, and what have you learned from it?

THE PRESIDENT: Answering Dickerson's question. No, I -- the last time those questions were asked, I really felt like it was an attempt for me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And it wasn't a mistake to go into Iraq. It was the right decision to make.

I think that, John, there's going to be a lot of analysis done on the decisions on the ground in Iraq. For example, I'm fully aware that some have said it was a mistake not to put enough troops there immediately, I, I, I, uh... or more troops.
I know he can say that he's only restating the criticism, and it doesn't necessarily mean that he agrees that there weren't enough troops, but he looked as though he regretted saying that. I've touched up the text from the transcript -- after the boldface -- to give more of a sense of how he signaled regret.

The new blue books.

I just picked up one of my two stacks of exams, and I see we have snazzy new blue books. Before, you knew they were the blue books, because they were, like, blue, and they were books. Now each one says BLUE BOOK in giant block letters. I know, already. Are they trying to cheer us up with a brand new attitude toward taking and grading exams? There's also a tagline across the top:
Just let your thoughts run wild ... as you apply the Erie doctrine. Or is that advice addressed to me? I am kind of using my imagination by writing a blog post about the front of the blue book, but no one needs prodding to think of new ways to avoid the task of grading, and being imaginative while grading would be evil.

And what's with trademarking the phrase "use your imagination"? As if all the other blue book manufacturing companies would want to horn in on the idea of printing bad advice on the cover.

All right. All right. I'll concede that there are some law school exam questions where some controlled use of imagination would be appropriate -- for the student. Never for the teacher.

Insanely crude...

Anti-Alito video. (Via WaPo.) That video interfered with the rationality channel of my brain! What was the part where a guy had a chicken bone sticking out from his armless shoulder and a dog was jumping to bite at it? What case was that about?

About those wiretaps and the constitutional separation of powers.

Condolezza Rice defends Bush's authorization of warrantless interception of telephone calls coming into the country from terrorists sources:
In Sunday talk show appearances, Ms. Rice said the program was intended to eliminate the "seam" between American intelligence operations overseas and law enforcement agencies at home.

"One of the most compelling outcomes of the 9/11 commission was that a seam had developed," Ms. Rice said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Our intelligence agencies looked out; our law enforcement agencies looked in. And people could - terrorists could - exploit the seam between them."...

Ms. Rice also said Mr. Bush decided to skirt the normal process of obtaining court-approved search warrants for the surveillance because it was too cumbersome for fast-paced counterterrorism investigations....

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency must obtain search warrants from a special court before conducting electronic surveillance of people suspected to be terrorists or spies. Ms. Rice said the administration believed that it needed greater agility in investigating terrorism suspects than was possible through that process.

"These are stateless networks of people who communicate, and communicate in much more fluid ways," she said.
Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of controversy about whether these justifications are sufficient. You can say the President ought to have had specific authorization from Congress for what he did, and you might imagine a court sorting through the problem, looking at the legislation that does exist and examining whether the President did things that go beyond that legislation and, if he did, whether he has freestanding executive powers to support his actions. However, what is needed now is for Congress to examine the problem and take a position in response. And, indeed, Congress will do that, with hearings beginning soon:
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was not certain whether the eavesdropping program was legal. He said he expected to hold hearings on it early next year.

On CNN on Sunday, Mr. Specter struck a cautious tone. "Let's not jump to too many conclusions," he said. "Let's look at it analytically. Let's have oversight hearings, and let's find out exactly what went on."

"Whether it was legal, I think, is a matter that has to be examined," Mr. Specter said. "When you deal with issues as to legality, what advice the president got from the attorney general and others in the Department of Justice, that's a matter within the traditional purview of the Judiciary Committee."
Members of Congress were briefed about the program in the past and did not see fit to take a position about it one way or the other. They were content to let the President act and but feel pressured to do something now that the program is no longer secret. Let's see what they do.

We have a developing conflict between Congress and the Presidency. Congress can decide if it stands in opposition to intercepting these phone calls without a warrant. There is no need for courts to become involved in any asserted separation of powers problem until Congress takes a position. The legal question whether separation of powers has been violated at this point is complicated and interesting, but there is no reason for any court to answer it, when Congress is able to go on record about whether it wants the President to be able to do these things or not.

So, I look forward to the hearings, which I hope will cover the question of who blew the secret and why.

UPDATE: In a press conference today, President Bush defends what the NYT refers to as his "U.S. Spy Program."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Orin Kerr has a long post that tries to begin to untangle the difficult legal threads of constitutional and statutory law. He concludes that "the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." I think that at the very least fair-minded observers should see that the problem is complex. Cries that the program is blatantly unconstitutional (or obviously constitutional) should be recognized as unhelpful.

The President's speech.

Here's the text of the speech President Bush made last night. Lately, he's been quite talkative, hasn't he? I like his new approach of speaking up frequently, because his critics will never observe a quiet spell. Even though I'm on line much of the day and read the news much too much, I never notice when these speeches are coming on. I only see afterwards. I think the assumption is that people are sitting around watching prime time television. Anyway, looking at the text of the speech this morning, I see that much of it is restatement of things he's already said, in the usual clear, short sentences. Maybe not everyone believes what he says, but he's always so easy to understand (when it's one of those written-out speeches). The main justification for doing another Iraq speech was last week's election:
Three days ago, more than 10 million Iraqis went to the polls -- including many Sunni Iraqis who had boycotted national elections last January. Iraqis of every background are recognizing that democracy is the future of the country they love -- and they want their voices heard. One Iraqi, after dipping his finger in the purple ink as he cast his ballot, stuck his finger in the air and said: "This is a thorn in the eyes of the terrorists." Another voter was asked, "Are you Sunni or Shia?" And he responded, "I am Iraqi."
He also repeats the themes of his other recent speeches: his critics are defeatists who are hurting the war effort for their own partisan interests:
Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts. For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq.

It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done. We would abandon our Iraqi friends and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. We would undermine the morale of our troops by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed. We would cause the tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve, and tighten their repressive grip. We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before. To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor, and I will not allow it.
He tries to draw a line -- and it's an important line -- between those who think the decision to go to war was wrong and those who say we should give up in the middle of the war:
I ... want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country -- victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I don't expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.
Nicely put.

December 18, 2005

Audible Althouse, #26.

Here's the new podcast. Questions raised: Why do I -- a conlawprof! -- withhold the answer to whatever the conlaw question of the day is? Why do I -- a lawprof! -- dare to talk about movies that I haven't even seen? Does King Kong belong to the nostril-flaring school of acting? Is "Brokeback Mountain" political? Why pay any attention to "The Apprentice"? If Althouse doesn't stick to the subject of law, is she nuts? If Althouse riffs about nostrils, is she high? (38 minutes.)

Another dark day in Madison.

At some point the days will start to lengthen, but for now, we're still plunging into the darkness. I spent most of the morning immersed in the Sunday NYT, then I went out to buy a lightbulb -- a special trip for a particular halogen model, which I desperately needed to restore full light to my half-lit bathroom. It's bad enough that the light outdoors is inadequate. The indoor lighting deficiency was annoying enough to overcome my current aversion to shopping and to propel me toward Menards, where a nice employee pointed out the crucial bulb and got me out of there in 5 minutes. I relocated with notebook, books, and crossword -- ah, a diagramless second puzzle! -- at a café over on Monroe Street. I'd left my computer at home, because I didn't want to struggle with the temptation that is WiFi. I chose a high table in a cluttered corner and spent two hours scribbling notes about a book I'm reviewing and taking little breaks to work on the puzzle or to read a few pages of that short story.


The civilian death toll.

This graph compares the numbers of civilians who have died in various recent conflicts. The contrasting numbers for the Iraq War and the politically motivated killings under Saddam Hussein, whom the war ousted from power, are very stark. The contrasting numbers for the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan civil war are much more extreme. There are numbers too for the conflicts where the United States has not intervened -- Rwanda, Darfur. We can only speculate what the total number would have been if there were two bars on the graph for each of those conflicts, one for the civil war and one for the intervention. By the same token, we cannot know what the length of the bar for Iraq and Afghanistan would be if there had been no intervention and therefore no second bar splitting up the total number.

Bono must share Time Magazine's Person of the Year honor with...

... no, not you, Bob Geldof...

Bill and Melinda Gates!

Can you be awash in charitable benevolence and still incredibly jealous?

How political is that "gay cowboy movie"?

"Brokeback Mountain," the high-class film everyone thinks must be called the "gay cowboy movie," is doing extremely well in the few theaters where it has opened -- in NYC, LA, and San Francisco. The question is whether Middle America is in the mood for this sort of thing. Here's how Frank Rich analyzes it (TimesSelect link):
The culture is seeking out this movie not just because it is a powerful, four-hankie account of a doomed love affair and is beautifully acted by everyone, starting with the riveting Heath Ledger. The X factor is that the film delivers a story previously untold by A-list Hollywood. It's a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base.
Got that? We're sick of this damned President, so we want to see cowboys make love. I don't like the constitutional amendment and related political pandering, but I can't imagine how being tired of all that would make me more likely to go see a big outdoorsy melodrama with the selling point that the lovers are both men. In fact, the notion that to go to this movie is a political statement makes me less likely to go see it. The movie purports to be high art, not some tedious demonstration of good politics.

A serious movie about a gay love relationship may very well make a more effective political argument than a movie that presents itself as political argument. But writers must write, and they will spell out the political argument that the movie only implies, thus making it harder for the film's unarticulated, inherent argument to influence people. But the political baggage is not accumulating as fast as it might have. Rich notes:
As far as I can tell, the only blowhard in the country to turn up on television to declare culture war on "Brokeback Mountain" also has an affiliation with the American Family Association. By contrast, as Salon reported last week, other family-values ayatollahs have made a conscious decision to ignore the movie, lest they drum up ticket sales by turning it into a SpongeBob SquarePants cause célèbre. Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America imagined that the film might just go away if he and his peers stayed mum. Audiences "don't want to see two guys going at it," he told Salon. "It's that simple."

Oh, no! Those social conservatives are supposed to be backward louts! Have they learned the elite technique of restraint? Damn! They were supposed to be ayatollahs. How am I going to crank out these columns now?

Only now am I realizing that I'm writing about a TimesSelect article. Too bad it will be hard for you to read the whole thing. Well, elsewhere in the freely accessible parts of today's NYT there are other insights into the "gay cowboy movie." (Really, the guys are shepherds, but there's no shepherd movie genre, no iconic character The Shepherd to play off of by changing some key element.)

First, there's Manola Darhgas:
Less than two weeks after its release, "Brokeback Mountain" is already on the verge of being embalmed in importance. A lightning rod for attention even before it opened, the film has earned plaudits from critics' groups along with predictable sneers, and provoked argument over its gay bona fides. That "Brokeback" is a landmark is a matter of empiricism; its merits as a work of art are a matter of taste. What has gone missing is that this is also that rare American film that seamlessly breaches the divide between the political and the personal, the past and the present. Here, against the backdrop of the great American West, that mythic territory of rugged individualism and the Marlboro Man, is a quietly devastating look at masculinity and its discontents.

Then, there's this piece by Guy Trebay in the Styles section:
But to gay men trying to forge lives in a world where the shape of masculinity is narrow, and where the "liberated" antics of the homosexual minstrels so often depicted on television can seem far off, the emotional privation and brutal violence of "Brokeback Mountain" seems like documentary.

"That could have been my life," Derrick Glover said one bitter cold afternoon last week, referring to the film, which he had seen at a special screening a week before in Jackson, Wyo. A 33-year-old rancher, Mr. Glover comes from a family that has worked the land around Lusk for generations. His father still runs 300 head of cattle....

"They always define it as coming out of the closet, but I don't consider myself to be out of the closet," Mr. Glover explained. There is a reason for that, he said. "Where I live, you can't really go out and be yourself. You couldn't go out together, two guys, as a couple and ever be accepted. It wasn't accepted in the past, it's still not, and I don't think it ever will be."
This is really the most interesting of the three articles I'm linking in this post. Trebay goes to Wyoming, where the story in the movie takes place and where Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, and interviews some gay men about what life is like for them:
The experience was "extremely, extremely lonely," [rancher Ben] Clark said, leaving him feeling so isolated that he more than once contemplated suicide. "I could not accept being gay because of the stereotypes that were drilled into me," he explained. "Gay men are emotionally weak. They are not real men. They are like women."

Like Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in the film, Mr. Clark dated women for a time, bowing to the pressure to be "normal" although, unlike them, he never married and led a double life. There's a joke out here about how one goes about finding a gay man on the frontier. The punch line is deadpan: "Look for the wife and kids."

Fortunately, Mr. Clark said, "I never did get married, because I never wanted to hurt a woman like that."

I've made fun of the Oscar ads for the movie, because of the way they emphasize the relationship between the men and their wives. This ad campaign is laughable for intentionally hiding the nature of the central love story. Nevertheless, the story of the wives interests me greatly. And the political argument inherent in this part of the story is, I think, especially strong. Those who would try to prevent or inhibit men from forming lifetime bonds with each other ought to give more thought to what happens to the women they marry. Those who think a man should struggle against his sexual orientation and find a way to form the classic marriage relationship with a woman ought to think about what they are advocating for the woman: a lifetime relationship with a man who has only feigned sexual attraction to her.

IN THE COMMENTS: Lots of interesting discussion. I especially like the part where Palladian says: "Geez, all you straight people can think about is sex, sex, sex. Here we are having a conversation about love and art and all you can think to add is some base, puerile and off-putting remarks about genitalia 'fitting' together, as if it were some sort of dirty Lego set."

Police say it was "fairly average behaviour" from "an organised group of idiots."

Attack of the bad Santas!
About 40 men in ill-fitting Father Christmas costumes ran around Auckland vandalising or stealing property, and throwing bottles, police say....

Alex Dyer, a spokesman for the group, said Santarchy was a worldwide movement designed to protest the commercialisation of Christmas.
Are they protesting, or are they just trying to get away with a crime spree?
"With a number of people dressed in the same outfit, it was difficult for any witnesses to confirm the identity of who was doing what," Sergeant Rogers told Reuters news agency.