February 25, 2006

"Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain."

The Sex Pistols decline to show up for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Frame. "Were (sic) not your monkey and so what?" Entirely fitting. And shouldn't The Sex Pistols be entirely fitting?

Goodbye to Don Knotts.

Everyone loved the brilliant comic actor Don Knotts. He was 81.

As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.

His favorite episodes, he said, were "The Pickle Story," where Aunt Bea makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.

"I can't sing. It makes me sad that I can't sing or dance well enough to be in a musical, but I'm just not talented in that way," he lamented. "It's one of my weaknesses."
More here:
In Knotts' hands, Fife was a fully realized stooge, a hick-town Don Quixote who imagined himself braver, more sophisticated and more competent than he actually was. His utter lack of self-control led him into desperate jams that usually culminated with Fife at the end of his rope, bug-eyed and panting with anxiety. Sheriff Taylor allowed his deputy to carry just one bullet, which he was obliged to keep separate from his service revolver due to past trigger mishaps.

Asked how he developed his most famous character, Knotts replied in a 2000 interview: "Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid. You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they're thinking, if they're happy or sad. That's what I tried to do with Barney. It's very identifiable."...

[T]he actor did not recall his childhood fondly.

"I felt like a loser," he recalled in a 1976 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I was unhappy, I think, most of the time. We were terribly poor and I hated my size."
Thanks for making us happy, so many times!

UPDATE: The NYT runs a correction: it's "Aunt Bee, not Bea."

Upstairs and downstairs, at the Madison Borders.

I was just wandering around Borders today, sipping a large latte, glancing at the occasional book. I was certainly not looking to buy any books, because, in fact, I was taking a break from my house clearing project which, in the last few days, has been mostly about getting rid of books.

Upstairs, three perfectly vibrant young boys, aged perhaps 5 to 9, were sprawled out in the middle of the aisle next to the children's books section. They were completely excited about a book called "The Visual Dictionary of Special Military Forces," which was full of pictures of military weaponry:
"I want that gun."

"That's only for the military."

"Is that a machine gun?"

"It's a submachine gun."

"I love them!"
I've never seen kids in a bookstore reading a book so enthusiastically. Later, I saw the boys leaving with their father, and one of them was clutching a big illustrated "Star Wars" book.

Downstairs, there's a stooped, grizzled man at the information desk looking for books on American Communism. The clerk says the computer search system is "very literal," so unless those words are in the title of the book, it's going to be difficult.

Did you find everything you were looking for?

"Project Jay" -- what's really going on here?

I finally got around to watching "Project Jay," the reality show that follows around Jay McCarroll, the Season 1 winner of the reality show "Project Runway." I was surprised to see that he played a little role on "The Comeback," that fiction show about a reality show that follows around Valerie Cherish, the star of the fictional fiction show "I'm It." He played the designer whose red dress Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) accidentally wears backwards to the Emmys.

Well, so, how real is "Project Jay" anyway? We see him getting a call from "Project Runway's" Heidi Klum asking him to make her a red dress to wear to the Emmys, and this sets off a flurry of activity with him rushing around trying to complete an assigned task that isn't really what he wants to do -- just like on "Project Runway." The task takes him out to Los Angeles, where he seeks out Kara Saun (from Season 1) to help him and where Heidi inflicts extra surprises on him to create tension: he didn't have her correct measurements (and expresses on-camera amazement at the immensity of her breasts), so he must remake the dress (with some weird old guy sent in to do the actual work), and then she rejects it anyway (making him cry). I smell phony, phony, phony.

And how about the scene where he just happens to be shopping at Mood (the fabric store incessantly featured on "Project Runway") and -- ooh, look! -- there's Austin Scarlett! (Another Season 1 contestant, in case you don't know.) Austin just happens to have a fashion show soon! What a coincidence! Then Jay goes to Austin's show, and Wendy is there. (If you don't know why that's ridiculous.... just get the Season 1 DVDs and get up to speed, please.)

Okay, all of this is just too absurdly set up! And how about the beginning, where he's back in rural Pennsylvania living with his parents and whining about how isolated he is? But the cameras are there making a reality show about him! Are we supposed to be idiots, or is this a spoof of a reality show?

Well, maybe the tip off is "The Comeback." We're supposed to laugh and enjoy our inside knowledge of the phoniness of reality shows. It's deliberately over-the-top phony, right?

I found this interview with Jay, which kind of hints at the real situation. He has some sort of contractual dispute with the "Project Runway" people, where I think maybe they all hate each other but still want to use each other. He refused the two main prizes he won, and, in the interview, says he can't talk about it but "use your imagination." Apparently, they wanted to own too much of him. I'll bet the Season 2 contracts lock the contestants into the deal beforehand.
TIME OUT NEW YORK: Who do you think will win the new season?

JM: I would love Santino to win. He’s edgy and I’m sick of this one-trick-pony thing that the judges keep telling him. That’s his style. That’s why Calvin Klein makes f**king tunics and why Betsey Johnson makes f**king floral chiffons. Mixing shit up is what he does. He’s arrogant as f**k and people will put him in his place along the way but, once again, he’s covering up for his insecurity. Look at him! He is a gigantic weirdo, six foot five, voice like the devil, looks like Lurch. Would I want to see more of Chloe? Probably not. Would I want to see more of Daniel V.? Probably not.

TONY: Will it be weird for you when there’s another winner?

JM: Let it move on. I’m trying to distance myself from the show and to establish Jay McCarroll. Am I supposed to be more thankful for the process? I feel like I’ve given so much. You saw ten weeks of me. I showed you my family, my collection, my thought process, I cried, I laughed. And I didn’t receive a penny.
Some very hard feelings there. We also learn that "Project Jay" was originally an 8 episode series, but that it got edited down to that one hour we saw. Okay, so I no longer think it was some "Comeback"-like spoof of a reality show. I think it was a crazy manifestation of contractual hostilities and commercial exploitation.

Oh, the things that can entertain us these days!

"I didn't feel my inner peace, I didn't feel my aura."

The WaPo is giving out its own Olympic medals. Example:
Best Johnny Weir Quotes

Gold: "I never felt comfortable in this building. I didn't feel my inner peace, I didn't feel my aura. Inside I was black" (after finishing a disappointing fifth in men's figure skating).

Silver: "I could very likely wake up and feel horrible, like Nick Nolte's mug shot" (before skating his long program).

Bronze: "I dragged myself out of bed, had my Starbucks, put on my self-tanner and went from there" (after winning the national title last month).
Oh, and I love this one:
Things We Still Don't Understand

Gold: Curling rules.

Silver: New figure-skating scoring system.

Bronze: The Lenovo ThinkPad commercial.
Yeah, what's with that commercial? And, with all that time NBC spent on skating, they should have figured out a perfectly brilliant way to teach the new scoring system and make us care about it.

More about that Federalist Society conference.

Rick Garnett was also at the "Rehnquist Legacy" conference on Thursday. Here's his post about it over on Prawfsblog. My post is here. Sorry for not mentioning Rick in my post! His talk, a personal reflection from the perspective of a former law clerk, got compressed into my point #1. This compression should not be taken to mean that I didn't enjoy meeting Rick. (I did!)

Rick writes:
No one asked Justice Scalia -- after his address in which he re-affirmed his view that original-meaning textualism is the best approach to constitutional interpretation -- about Professor Randy Barnett's charge that the Justice is a "faint-hearted originalist."
Doesn't Scalia call himself a "faint-hearted originalist"? I don't have my notes from the time Scalia gave a speech at the University of Wisconsin Law School, but I think he owned up to the term. I'll check the notes later.

Anyway, I'm not surprised that no one asked Scalia a challenging question. The Federalist Society provides a well-cushioned cocoon for him. Yet he does just great when confronted with a questioner who really hotly opposes him. You should have heard him tangle with some of my colleagues. It was quite cool. I prefer an event with more friction!

I mean, I see the point of The Federalist Society. It's a very effective political organization that supports and encourages young conservatives in the law. I appreciate the way it emboldens conservative students to express their opinions in the classroom. (When I went to law school, the classroom discussion was boringly one-sided.) But, intellectually, originalism, unchallenged, is tiresome.

That doesn't mean it's wrong. Maybe judges should work hard and selflessly at a job made boring by intellectual abstemiousness. But if they are going to talk about it to a nicely nodding group, well, for me, it's a strange environment.

"Suppose people picked hotels based on how intelligent they expected the other guests to be."

They'd be acting like someone who chooses to go to Harvard as an undergraduate, writes John Tierney -- TimesSelect link -- in his column about Lawrence Summers:
In most industries, a company would cater to customers paying $41,000 per year, but Harvard has been able to take its undergraduates for granted. (It was a radical innovation when Summers called attention to surveys measuring students' dissatisfaction.) Harvard has long known that the best students will keep coming, not for its classes but simply for its reputation. Smart students want to go where the other smart students go.
Tierney puts his finger on the real complaint against Summers:
He dared to suggest that professors teach survey courses geared to undergraduates' needs — an onerous idea to academics accustomed to teaching whatever's in their latest book....

Senior professors can shunt off the more tedious jobs, like teaching freshmen or grading papers, to low-caste graduate students or visiting lecturers. Or they just neglect the jobs that don't appeal to them....

You might expect the Harvard history department to devote a course or two to the American Revolution or the Constitution, but those topics are too mundane. Instead, there's a course on the diaries of ordinary citizens during the Revolution, and another, "American Revolutions," that considers the American and Haitian Revolutions as "a continuous sequence of radical challenges to established authority."

Summers had some allies in his reform efforts, especially in the professional schools. The professors in the business, law and medical schools know their schools' reputations depend on properly training students for jobs in the outside world. The opposition to Summers was concentrated among the college professors who aren't accustomed to being judged by anyone except fellow academics.
Interesting. I had a reporter call me for comments the other day when Summers resigned. But I really hadn't followed the Summers story, other than the very conspicuous controversy over what he said last year about women and science. I never went to Harvard, so I'm normally content to let the old institution -- which the NYT can't stop talking about -- stew in its own juices. The reporter had to prod me with questions about how professors behave, how perhaps they disregard the interests of students and seek only to teach highly specialized courses focused on their own scholarly interests and narrow perspectives. I found myself saying, repeatedly, but I'm in the law school. You couldn't run a law school like that!

February 24, 2006

Religion, free speech, books, quotes.

Andrew Sullivan has some nice photos from a rally in D.C. in support of Denmark and free speech. I like the H.L. Mencken quote on one of the placards: "The most curious social convention is that religious opinions should be respected." Checking that quote on the web, I found this website. Ooh, Mencken said a lot of crusty things about religion.

That reminds me. I spent some time hanging around at Half Price Books today while they counted up the value of the 15 or so shopping bags full of books and CDs and tapes that I lugged in. ($209!) Mostly, I just read the NYT and did the crossword, but then I finished all that and took to wandering about picking up books almost at random and reading a sentence or two, forming opinions about the quality of writers as quickly as possible. (One sentence from Jay McInerney's "Model Behavior" made me decide he was excruciatingly awful.)

One of the books I picked up was the Bhagavad Gita. I opened it at random -- this would be a good opportunity for God to communicate with me if He were so inclined -- and I get diet advice:
Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one's existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
Wow! Just like Dr. Atkins.

Sorry, no profundities here. Just go about your business. Have a cheeseburger or a porkburger or whatever juicy, fatty thing pleases your heart.

Twins rights.

Schools often have the policy of breaking up twins (and triplets, etc.), putting them in different classrooms. The schools think separating them will do them good, encouraging independence, but the other way to look at it is that their special bond is such that the separation causes a special anxiety. If there is some good and some bad in keeping them together and in separating them, who should make the final call, schools or parents? Should there be legislation to the parents the right to make this decision?
Many of [the] parents cite new research that challenges old assumptions. When Heather Beauchamp, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Potsdam, reviewed literature on twins three years ago, she found that opinions regarding the advantages of separating them were based on perception rather than data, of which there has been very little.

Since her review, two studies — one in the Netherlands and another, a joint project of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London and the University of Wisconsin, that compared 878 pairs of twins from ages 5 to 7 — found that twins separated early were observed to be more anxious and emotionally distressed than those who remained in the same class....

Nancy Segal, director of the Twins Studies Center at California State University, Fullerton, has been a proponent of this new research, writing letters on behalf of parents fighting for legislation on classroom choice.

"In our culture we appreciate uniqueness," Dr. Segal said, "and people wrongly equate twin closeness with a lack of individuality." The insistence on separating twins, she added, flies in the face of what psychologists know about friendship.

"There's research that suggests that when friends are in the same class, they're more exploratory, they cling to the teacher less," she said. "So if we're worried about individuality, why do we let best friends go to school together?"

Psychologists and educators on the other side of the debate maintain that multiples can present themselves as a de facto clique, upsetting the social dynamic of a classroom. It is not uncommon, for instance, for identical twins at a young age to speak in their own private language. It is also not unusual for one twin to act as an ambassador for the pair.

"What we find a lot with twins," said Sandra Bridges, principal of Public School 234 in Manhattan, which has 10 sets of twins, "is that one is generally more verbally dominant; one will do the talking for the other."

Some see the wish of mothers and fathers to keep twins together as an extension of the trend toward parental micromanagement. "They can, in essence, be trophy children," said Bonnie Maslin, a psychologist in Manhattan. "And parents of trophy children are unusually focused on outcomes and the belief that they can control them."

"A huge part of education is not just developing individual difference but learning to be part of a group," Dr. Maslin added.
Lots of conflicting interests here! More in the article too. Parents can ask for too much, and trumping the teachers' judgment with legislation may be overkill. Why don't schools just become more sensitive to the other side of the argument and listen to the parents' requests, consult with them, and then exercise enlightened discretion?

Arakawa... and that unitard!

Despite spending most of the day separated from my beloved internet, I stayed off all the news sites and even blogs and my own comments sections because I did not want to have the results of the women's skating competition ruined for me. But then I was so worn out from a long day, which included 3+ hours of driving and 5 hours in the immune enclave of The Federalist Society, that I kept nodding off during the skating and just wishing it would end already. Once I saw Sasha Cohen fall on her ass, I crashed and slept through the night. This morning, I watched Cohen and the rest on TiVo.

Congratulations to Shizuka Arakawa, who did what's gotten really hard to do under the new system of scoring: not fall on her ass.

When Sasha Cohen finished skating, one of the announcers said something like, "Other girls skate to 'Romeo and Juliet,' Sasha is Juliet." And a million people must have made wisecracks along the lines of: you remember the part in the play when Juliet falls on her ass.

The announcers say some of the most awkward things. For example, when Kimmie Meissner was skating, they started raving about how long her arms were and said, "Other skaters would give their eye teeth for those long arms." So I'm picturing young women with missing teeth and ultra-long arms. You don't want that!

But let's discuss the costumes! It was one thing for Irina Slutskaya to fall on her ass and not win -- or even equal the on-ass-falling Cohen, but quite another for the pantie end of her garish red and black skating dress to ride all the way up into the crack of her ass until it looked like a thong. And she still had to spin with one big leg clutched in the straight upright position and skate backward with the skirt fluttering up and the ass coming straight at us at high speed.

I praised Slutskaya for wearing a unitard for her short program, but, as we discussed in the comments, it was not a pretty enough unitard. The lower end of it flared out into mannish pantlegs, losing the leotard effect, and the top was too enclosed. A commenter apty compared the outfit to a wetsuit.

But last night, one of the skaters had an exemplary unitard. Sorry, I've forgotten her name, and I'd like to find a picture. It was black leotard with some nice red swirly, glittery decoration, with a lot of illusion fabric used to make it look very naked at the top and all down one side of the torso. This is the unitard that must lead us into the future of ladies' skating fashion!

ADDED: The photo of the unitard that will lead us:

February 23, 2006

"American Idol" -- the results.

How they fill out a whole hour is a big TV mystery. They're eliminating two girls and two guys.

First, it's Becky who must go. Here's what I said about her performance:
I find her intolerably phony. But she's doing "Because the Night." That's something. Let's listen. Yikes! She's doing Patti Smith, cornball style. She's gesticulating in a way that says: you must find me sexy. Patti would never do that!
She's still pretty. They ask her to sing her (losing!) song again, and she takes the mike and does a damned pageant speech about the opportunity "American Idol" has provided... blah blah. She sings. I block it out. Who cares? She lost! She was bad! She's still young and pretty. You'd be an idiot to feel sorry for Becky. Extra question: what's with wearing jeans under a knee-length dress?

Now, cut a guy. I'm hoping it's someone other than Bobby, just to make things interesting. But it is Bobby. And it should be. He talks a lot, all about how cool it was for him to make it to the final 24.

Now, they cut Stevie Scott, who really was weak last night. I like her, but, what the hell? She was never going to win.

And, now, they cut Patrick! Oh, he wasn't bad. That hurts a little. But let this be a warning: quit singing "Come to My Window."


Are you like me: afraid to click on anything, lest you read who won in women's skating? I guess this is your big chance to muck up the comments, because I'm afraid to look. Won't some mean bastard reveal the outcome? So you might as well go in there and denounce me about all manner of things. Because I'm not looking at anything until it's over!

At the Rehnquist conference.

I'm back from Milwaukee. I got there on time, despite some bad traffic and the fact that the ramp listed on my Mapquest instructions was closed and I didn't have street map in the car. Travel tip: don't do that.

Here are some notes on the Federalist Society-sponsored conference, "The Legacy of the Rehnquist Court."

1. There was plenty of talk about what a smart person, what a good person, what an interesting person, what a tennis-playing person, what a family-loving person, what a geography-loving person, what a time-limit-enforcing person, etc., etc., Chief Justice Rehnquist was. He exercised "remarkable command over the courtroom," per Solicitor General Paul Clement.

2. Solicitors General pretty much have to speak well of the Court, don't they? I love being a law professor.

3. Rehnquist "never lost his characteristics as a Wisconsinite." (Clement again.) Evidence: He liked the Badgers, he kept the courtroom open even when it snowed, and he rigidly enforced the time limits on oral argument.

4. If you want to read the key Rehnquist opinion of all time -- according to former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger -- it's the dissent in Fry.

5. According to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, "the best opinion of the modern era" is Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion in Morrison v. Olson, and he wasn't just saying that because he was a party and only Scalia sided with him.

6. Dellinger recounts that a few days after the 9/11 attacks he was asked how it would change the way the Court would balance security and liberty, and he said the Court would tilt the balance more toward liberty security [what a slip!!], but it would nevertheless retain the judicial role in saying where the balance was.

7. Lawprof John O. McGinnis said the most important federalism case of the Rehnquist era was the school vouchers case.

8. I didn't take many notes while I was on the dais. Sorry! C-Span recorded the panels though, so maybe you can watch it sometime.

9. When Justice Scalia rose to give his speech after lunch, he got an instant and long standing ovation. He got another standing ovation when he finished. (By the way, a lot of free lunches were served!)

10. Scalia honored his "former leader" for achieving three important things: producing majority opinions (fewer than 10% of the cases lack a majority opinion), preserving the public's esteem for the Court (I'm impressed!), and seeing that all the Justices remained friends with each other (during the entire period, every Justice was always friends with every other Justice).

11. Per Scalia, we shouldn't refer to the eras of the Court by the names of the Chief Justices. It would be better to use the names of the Presidents, but then he wondered if John Roberts would be pleased to have the current Court called the Bush Court. I try to hear if he's really saying that he's sad that there's no Scalia Court.

12. Scalia sets out to refute the accusation that the Court is a "conservative activist" court. He says that if you calculate the average annual number of statutes invalidated by the Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist Courts, you'd find the numbers are, respectively, 1.44, 1.76, and 2.16; but that the Rehnquist Court was much less likely to strike down state laws. He says that state law is a more important reflection of democratic will than federal law. But that sounds conservative to me, for two reasons: 1. the preference for state law, and 2. the likelihood that many of these were cases where the Court decided against constitutional rights claims.

13. His best argument was that what really makes the Court look activist is that Congress is activist. He marvels at Congress's "sheer inventiveness" in thinking up new ways to test the limits of its power: it's "a legislative Thomas Edison." Cases that reveal this: Plaut, Boerne, Printz. He says that any Court would have to respond to these affronts to constitutional law.

13. A better test of activism is how often the Court overrules a case, he says, because it's here that the Court is never forced to act. And the Burger and Warren Courts overruled cases about twice as often as the Rehnquist Court.

14. Accusations of activism, he says, are a "thinly veiled" way of saying you don't like the outcome.

15. He thinks the notion that the Constitution's meaning evolves doesn't work because it's too undefinable -- unlike originalism, which is neutral, he says (in what I judge to be his least believable assertion). He likes that originalism is catching on across the whole spectrum of the Court and says: "Bad originalism is better than no originalism at all."

16. He gets stuck trying to remember the name of that Commerce Clause case last term or even what it was about. The audience cues him: Raich, medical marijuana. Strange to forget that.

17. He mispronounces the word "desuetude." He mispronounces it the same way I did for a long time: de-SUE-i-tude. It's a lawyerish thing -- isn't it? -- to fixate on "sue."

18. Thanks to the Federalist Society (and the Bradley Foundation) for hosting a nice event.


Today is the Federalist Society conference, "The Legacy of the Rehnquist Court." I'm on the second panel, but I certainly don't want to miss the Solicitors General roundtable on the structural Constitution, which starts at 9. It's a bit of a drive to Milwaukee, so blogging will be light for now. Whether I'll have a chance to blog from the conference, I'm not sure. But I'll take notes and have something to say about it all at some point.

February 22, 2006

"Why the cutthroat thing?

Says Daniel Franco to Santino on the "Project Runway" reunion show. Santino: "It's just straight shit talking. There's a part of this competition that's like a basketball game. It's like: you suck... It didn't come from an evil place... I doesn't matter." Did Santino justify himself enough? Did he verbosely excuse enough bad behavior?

Anyway, great show. I mean, it was a relaxing interlude in the competition, but it was nice. I especially liked the montage of Andrae's expressiveness. And of all the singing, especially about Daniel -- he's straight! -- Franco, with the suggestion that he'll come back again for Season 3. Yeah, he should! We never quite get enough of DF.

"American Idol" -- the guys!

Oh, yeah, I am here, ready to blog the guys. Sorry, I had to talk on the telephone. Now, to the TiVo. Patrick Hall. "Come to My Window." Relaxed and elegant, I think. But Randy accuses him of being nervous, and he concedes it. Paula says something incoherent. Then we see a shot of a man and a woman in the audience. I assume these are his parents. But, oh my lord, the woman has the largest artificially inflated lips I have ever seen! I rewind and pause. I'm looking at them now. I'm shocked and appalled.... and yet, I cannot look away! David Radford. He's trying to be Frank Sinatra. And he's 17. "A Crazy Little Thing Called Love." He's a kid, acting the role of an adult. Is there something wrong with that? It's a crazy little thing. But I'm sympathetic. Is there some other way to become a man? Randy thinks it's phony and terrible: "This is like some kind of act." Paula feels the womanly feeling. We like him! Simon sees it as "a bit of a joke," but he thinks "the audience at home" -- my translation: women! -- will like him. Woozy and southern, it's Bucky Covington. We here in Wisconsin kinda like your first name. Ooh! He's the new Bo! He sings Skynyrd. But it's so cheesy and gutteral. I don't see how a guy can do this out in the bright lights, without a band all around him. Randy: "Cool." Paula: "You're growing. It's like a whole journey for you." Simon: "I like the fact that you're just very raw... Having said that..." Ryan: "This is a real guy right here." Will Makar. He's 16. I love this boy. Don't hurt him! He's singing a Jackson 5 song, "I Want You Back." Great song! Very karaoke. You feel the intense voice of Michael Jackson that is missing here. Randy: "I was like, yeah, all right." Paula: "You remind me of Bobby Brady. It was Bobby Brady." Simon: "Okay. The reality check.... Unfortunately, vocally, it was completely and utterly average." Can we accept a bald contestant? It's Sway (Jose Penala). He's singing the Earth, Wind and Fire song that his parents fell in love to. We see his parents grooving. It's all falsetto, horrifyingly so, then mellow, and I almost want to like him. Randy: "Dude!" Paula: "Amazing!" They like the falsetto. Simon: "We're really on a different page tonight. I thought it was a really pimpy..." Paula screams. Chris Daughtrey. He's bald too. They use the fire background for him, which is always bad luck. "Wanted, Dead or Alive." He belts it with a nice raspiness. Paula gives him a standing O. Randy: "Great recording voice." Paula: "I've been wowed by you from day one." Simon: "Now, I'm hearing somebody with potential." Ryan: "Simon's starting to go to the happy place." Kevin Corvais. He's 16. And nerdy. Really, really nerdy. Maybe this is what Karl Maulden looked like when he was a boy. Singing, he looks 5. We see his mother. I know exactly how she feels: an intense, deep joy. "I guess I'm down to my last cry." Randy: "You're such an honest, real kid." Paula: "You know how I feel about you: squish." His response: a Gomer smile and a readjustment of his glasses. Simon: "I apologize America. Kevin, I like you, but..." Gedeon McKinney. He announces the song, "Shout," in a weirdly theatrical way. "Come on now. Don't forget to say you will." Hey, he's great, with great pop feeling. "You've been good, better than I've been to myself." The way he sings that, I interpret the lyric in a way that I never did before. Randy: "Good.... I was absolutely entertained." Paula: "I totally was thrown for a loop." Simon: "It was as if I was watching the warm-up for the Chippendales." Elliot Yamin. I'm sorry. Beard without a mustache? No, no, no, no, no. Is that belt buckle an audio cassette? He admits he's karaoke, doing the Stevie Wonder song that the karaoke kids back home request. But he's clean and good. Still, he's the least attractive of the guys. And that's including Kevin! Randy: "Another hot one." Paula: "Effortless. You just have fun." Simon: "Potentially, you are the best male voalist we've ever had." Bobby Bennett. He's singing "Copa Cabana." No, it's not possible. No. Look away! Ace Young. He's singing "Father Figure." He likes George Michael. Apparently, this man sees something sacred in my eyes! I will be your father figure ≈ I will be your Constantine. Randy: "Star. And can sing." Paula: "All of the girls, and a lot of my guy friends too..." Simon: "Really, really good." And for last, they've saved Taylor Hicks. He's singing "Levon." Beautiful! "He calls his child Jesus, because he likes the name." Paula: "Everything just exudes from you." Paula's all passionate, professing her love. Randy chimes in: "There's never been anyone on the show in five years like you." Simon: "I said in the beginning.. that I didn't think you should make the finals. I was wrong." Can I go back to the lyrics? "Alvin Tostig has a son today." What's with that name? Tostig? My grandmother's maiden name was Tausig, so I always heard Tausig. But Tausig/Tostig -- it's such a specific name, in a song where Jesus is highlighted as a good name. What's with that? I've been wondering for decades! But back to generalities: The guys!

Mutual mosque destruction.

After the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra:
Shiite militia members flooded the streets of Baghdad, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at Sunni mosques as Iraqi Army soldiers — called out to stop the violence — stood helpless nearby. By the day's end, mobs had struck 27 Sunni mosques in the capital, killing three imams and kidnapping a fourth, Interior Ministry officials said.

In the southern Shiite city of Basra, Shiite militia members destroyed at least two Sunni mosques, killing an imam, and launched an attack on the headquarters of Iraq's best-known Sunni Arab political party. In Samarra, thousands of people crowded the courtyard of the Golden Mosque, some weeping and kissing the stones, others angrily chanting "Our blood and souls we sacrifice for you imams!"

The violence of one religious sect against another: is there a lower manifestation of the human mind?


By Christopher Althouse Cohen:

Russ and Richard

"When it's a pool day, we ask people to put in five bucks. So if you wasn't there, or you didn't put five bucks in, sorry."

The 8 meat packing workers who pooled their money for a lottery ticket won $365 million.
At least three of the winners Wednesday are immigrants.

Quang Dao, 56, who like Dung Tran, 34, came to the U.S. from Vietnam about 16 years ago, said he was looking for freedom when he headed for America.

"After I hit the lottery, it also changed my family's life in Vietnam," he said.

Alain Maboussou, a 26-year-old who fled his war-torn homeland in Central Africa, said he planned to earn a degree in accounting now.

"It's too early for me to retire, but I did four days ago. I'm going to be working for myself now," Maboussou said. He said of his three-month-old daughter, Katherine, "she's going to be happy for the rest of her life."
Nice! And be careful!

A powerful implicit argument against the death penalty.

A judge orders anesthesia for an execution by lethal injection, but anesthesiologists decline to participate.
[The judge] then said officials could go forward later in the day with a lethal dose of the sedative alone — administered by a licensed medical professional stationed within the execution chamber rather than by the usual "unseen hand" delivering the fatal drugs from another room.

But just two hours before the new, 7:30 p.m. time for the execution, a deputy attorney general told court officials that it had been called off.

San Quentin spokesman Crittendon said the state "was not able to find any medical professionals willing to inject medication intravenously, ending the life of a human being."
The doctors' behavior makes a powerful implicit argument against the death penalty.

Slutskaya wore pants!

And Sasha Cohen?

As they say on "Project Runway,"
"too much tootie." Quit aiming that thing at me.

Seriously, I love the Slutskaya unitard approach. It creates an unbroken line and feels coherent with the winter setting, unlike naked-looking legs. And with those flesh-tone tights, you've always got that contrasting strip of fabric across the crotch -- like a sanitary napkin! And it is repeatedly displayed, and we can't help staring at it! Why is that not considered grossly vulgar? The unbroken black line of the great Irina Slutskaya speaks of grace and taste.

How will blogging affect legal scholarship?

For the better! That's what I've been saying. Here's an article in the Wall Street Journal on the subject:
[A]ccording to Daniel Solove of the George Washington University Law School, professors shoulder much of the blame for the plodding prose of many law review articles. "We academics," he recently blogged, "like to dress up our ideas to make them sound more elaborate, complex, and obtuse." When it comes to article length, tenure committees often don't help matters, says a junior professor at a law school in California. "It's a self-perpetuating process," he explains. "Senior faculty had to produce massive articles in their own bids for tenure, so now we're expected to do the same thing."
Yeah, I wrote a law review article saying this -- "Who's to Blame for Law Reviews?" That was over 10 years ago. I really thought we could switch over to a livelier essay form, but somehow that didn't happen. The damned things just got more bloated. Law reviews let lawprofs get away with writing what are (essentially) unpublishable books. Law reviews are our own vast vanity press!
The focus of much current scholarship -- theoretical work with no real application for judges, practitioners, or policymakers -- has reduced the audience for it outside the legal academy.
Even in the academy, lawprofs rarely read these things, unless they're trying to help out a colleague. And even then, I think they skim.

But I think blogging is a powerful force that can change things, certainly more that my old, heartfelt essay. We blogging lawprofs have a demonstrable readership, and we interact with each other and with the mainstream press about legal issues. This is all in plain view. That has to provide some motivation to the lawrevs to adapt.
Twenty years ago, little outside of the occasional book or magazine article deflected attention from law reviews. Today, legal blogs are siphoning away the attention of law professors and lawyers on issues of the day. Blogs such as The Volokh Conspiracy, Opinio Juris, and SCOTUSBlog attract tens of thousands of readers and feature informed discussion on everything from constitutional theory to law-related television shows. Blogs now occupy so many professors, in fact, that at the American Association of Law Schools annual conference, a panel was held to debate the influence of blogs in the legal academic community.
Oh my! Imagine something so important that there was a panel on it at the AALS meeting! The mind boggles!

The Court will consider the "partial-birth" abortion law.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case about the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which makes it a crime to kill when the "entire fetal head" or "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel" is outside of the womb, except when the woman's life is at risk. There is no exception made where the procedure is needed to preserve the woman's health, but Congress made findings that "partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother" and that "there is no credible medical evidence that partial-birth abortions are safe or are safer than other abortion procedures."

The doctors challenging the law disagree with that second finding and say that the alternative method involves breaking up the fetus inside the woman, creating bone fragments that can puncture the uterus. That is, Congress is forcing some women, who need a late-term abortion to preserve their health, to destroy the fetus with a method that is at least as brutal to the fetus and more harmful to the woman.
Ever since Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, in 1973, the court has required exceptions for health as well as life in any regulation of abortion. But the vote in the [Court's earlier "partial-birth" abortion] case, Stenberg v. Carhart, was 5 to 4, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the majority. It is highly likely, therefore, that her successor, Justice Alito, will be in the position to cast the deciding vote. The dissenters in the Nebraska case were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy, along with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who has since been replaced by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

After the court's announcement, groups on both sides of the abortion debate tried to attach some significance to the decision to accept the case. In fact, it would have been highly unusual for the court to turn down the appeal. A lower court's invalidation of a federal statute has an almost automatic claim on the justices' attention, even those justices who may view the decision as correct or those who may not necessarily agree in this instance with the administration's description of the case as "extraordinarily important."
The difference between this case and Carhart, other than the change in the Court's personnel and the fact that this is a federal, not a state law, is that Congress made those findings. In that light, this becomes a case about how much the Court ought to defer to a legislature when it acts in an area of individual constitutional rights and makes assertions about facts in order to define away those rights. I do not think that is territory the Court should cede to the legislative branch. It is the Court's duty to say what rights are, and if rights are to be rights, a legislature seeking to work its will should not also have the power to structure the factual setting to make it look as though rights it wants to preclude do not exist.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature is about to ban all abortions unless the woman's life is in danger:
"I'm convinced that the timing is right for this," said State Representative Roger Hunt, a Republican who has sponsored the bill, noting the appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the court.

"The strong possibility of a third appointee sometime soon makes this all very real and very viable," Mr. Hunt added, a reference to conjecture that Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, might soon retire. "I think it will all culminate at the right time."



February 21, 2006

"American Idol" -- the first 12 ladies.

Now we can finally vote, and we see the females, two of whom will be eliminated this week.

Mandisa sings Heart's "Never." I thought it was tasteless and ugly, but Randy and Paula rave. Simon? Oh, he's raving too. What nonsense! They are lavishing praise on her, it seems, to suck up to all the many plus size "American Idol" fans.

Kellie Pickler: "I don't really have a love life." But she's going to do this song -- "How Far," a sexual song -- for her dad. Kind of icky. But we're reminded again that her dad is in prison, and she is a woman of sorrow. It's atrocious, and she's doing that "American Idol" pose I so detest, planting her feet wide apart and doing shallow knee bends. It's so crotchy -- but sexless! They tell her she has the likeability factor. "You're a nice girl," Simon says.

Becky O'Donohue, she's the girl with the miming twin. I detest her. Much as I feel for her muted twin, I find her intolerably phony. But she's doing "Because the Night." That's something. Let's listen. Yikes! She's doing Patti Smith, cornball style. She's gesticulating in a way that says: you must find me sexy. Patti would never do that! I'm horribly nauseated! Simon: "Visually, you are a 10, but..."

Ayla Brown, the beautiful basketballer. She motivates herself by thinking about how Simon called her "robotic" and "empty." She's singing some cheesy song in a horribly cheesy style. Oh, it's something like "Reflection." It's harsh and abominable. She puts that pop-groan into it, but I'm not embarrassed for her, because she's so pretty and so tall. When she's done, she says, "I just feel so complete," as if she'd just had sex with herself. Appalling! But will the judges complain? Again with the praise. Is there no relenting? Simon calls her a "hard worker" with "a limit." But he credits her with "some emotion." Disgusting overpraise!

Paris Bennett: she's one of the very best from the auditions, and she's going to sing "Midnight Train to Georgia." Great! But the song seems to be in the wrong key, and the singing is so unmusical compared to the audition. Judges? Randy: "Whoa!" Paula: "You're my idol!" Simon: "It's a performance everyone's going to remember."

Stevie Scott, a special favorite of mine. She's the one who's studied opera. And quite aside from that, I'm getting a nice "Joan of Arcadia" vibe from her. She's singing an opera song, "From Where You Are." Ooh! She does the Kelly Clarkson stomach grab! She's breathy and sweet. Randy: "Dude, I found myself daydreaming." Paula: "Very intimate." Simon: "You completely and utterly messed that up... It was like being at some Sunday lunch and some child gets up to sing." Whoops! Afterwards, she apologies and indicates she can do what they want. Crash! And now she's desperately acting sexy with Ryan. Noooooooo!

Brenna Gethers, the biggest ham. Ooh, she's squirming her body up against Ryan Seacrest! You don't want to see that. Aw, but she's singing "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." She has five different voices, and she specializes in sticking out her ass and slapping it. Simon: "That was horrible, completely and utterly..." The problem is the safe song, when she's supposed to be a wild cat.

Heather Cox is singing some damned "American Idol" song. Apparently, she wants to pull the stars down from the sky. Despite her lovely chest, she's horribly unmusical and off-key. Please, make her go away. Randy only calls her boring. Paula says it's not great. Simon only calls it "forgettable," but then redeems himself with an honest word: "horrible."

Melissa McGhee. She's weak and dull. "When the Lights Go Down." This is so ugly that I have to ignore it. Somehow, Paula thinks it was a "shining moment."

Lisa Tucker. She's adorably 16. I love her. The audience is screaming. She sings in a beautifully mature style -- "I'm changing" -- that makes all the other girls seem lightweight and ordinary. Lisa!

Kinnik Sky. "Get Here," a song I associate with Justin Guarini. She has a heavy, overbearing voice. Paula: "Sharp notes? A few. So what!" Simon sneers, "Very cabaret."

Only one more. They usually save the best one for last, and it's the one I remember as the best from the auditions:

Katharine McPhee! She sings "Since I Fell For You," which she imagines was originally sung by Barbra Streisand. "I get the blues most every night." Randy: "Wow, wow." Paula: "Fantastic. I think you're going to go all the way." Simon: "There were four very, very good vocalists tonight, and you were the best."

Just[ices] say yes to hallucinogenic tea.

The Supreme Court is back from a long break today, with Samuel Alito on the bench for the first time. There's a new opinion, in the hallucinogenic tea case:
Justices, in their first religious freedom decision under Chief Justice John Roberts, moved decisively to keep the government out of a church's religious practice. Federal drug agents should have been barred from confiscating the hoasca tea of the Brazil-based church, Roberts wrote in the decision.

The tea, which contains an illegal drug known as DMT, is considered sacred to members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, which has a blend of Christian beliefs and South American traditions. Members believe they can understand God only by drinking the tea, which is consumed twice a month at four-hour ceremonies.

I'll read the case and have more later. Here is my earlier post on the oral argument in the case:
A religious group wants to use a drug -- hoasca -- and argues that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act entitles it to an exemption from the Controlled Sustances Act. Under RFRA, the federal government must have a compelling state interest to impose a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. The government claims an interest in preventing the drug from being diverted into other uses:
"Your approach is totally categorical,'' Roberts told government lawyer Edwin Kneedler during a one-hour argument session in Washington. If a religious group used only one drop of the drug a year, : "your position would still be the same,'' Roberts said....

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the 1990 decision, pointed to an exception Congress made for peyote in American Indian religious ceremonies.

"It's a demonstration you can make exceptions without the sky falling,'' Scalia said.

Justice John Paul Stevens followed up by asking whether the use of peyote indicated that "maybe it's not all that compelling.''

Of the nine justices, Anthony Kennedy offered the strongest support for the government's position.

"It seems to me at the very least there should be a presumption that there is a compelling interest,'' Kennedy told Nancy Hollander, the church's lawyer....

Several justices, including Scalia and Roberts, questioned Hollander's contention that hoasca is exempted under the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which aims to bar trade in illicit drugs. The U.S. is among more than 160 signatories to that treaty.

Both Scalia and Roberts, however, said Congress has the authority to override a treaty through domestic law.

"Isn't it well established that statutes trump treaties?'' Scalia asked.
Interesting! I suppose people will compare this to last term's medical marijuana case, Raich, in which the Court (including Scalia) was quite deferential to the claim that the government needs to be able to pervasively regulate a drug. But Raich was about the scope of Congress's power as against the power of the states. Today's case is about two different federal statutes, one coming after the other and capable of limiting it. The question isn't how much constitutional power Congress has, but what Congress actually did in its two statutes. If it didn't want to cut special exemptions to religious groups, it shouldn't have passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. If it didn't want RFRA to apply to drugs, it could have written an exception into it. But in fact, RFRA was enacted in response to a Supreme Court case that was about the failure to give special treatment to the religious use of a drug, so it's especially apt that it should apply here.
Today's opinion is unanimous (with, Alito, of course, not participating). It's written by the new Chief Justice, so I'm especially interested in reading it. I so devoutly hope to find his opinions sublimely crisp.

UPDATE: I’ve read the case, which is called Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal. The government said it has a compelling interest in the uniform application of the federal law, but Roberts slapped that down:
The Government’s argument echoes the classic rejoinder of bureaucrats throughout history: If I make an exception for you, I’ll have to make one for everybody, so no exceptions. But RFRA operates by mandating consideration, under the compelling interest test, of exceptions to “rule[s] of general applicability.” Congress determined that the legislated test “is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.”…

We do not doubt that there may be instances in which a need for uniformity precludes the recognition of exceptions to generally applicable laws under RFRA. But it would have been surprising to find that this was such a case, given the longstanding exemption from the Controlled Substances Act for religious use of peyote, and the fact that the very reason Congress enacted RFRA was to respond to a decision denying a claimed right to sacramental use of a controlled substance.
There was also an argument that the government has a compelling interest in complying with the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which, the Court held, did in fact cover hoasca. But the government failed to present any evidence of what detriment would occur if this small group were given an exemption.

The Court tweaks the government for relying so heavily on interests represented by the Controlled Substances Act:
Congress had a reason for enacting RFRA, too. Congress recognized that “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise,” and legislated the compelling interest test as the means for the courts to “strik[e] sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests.”

We have no cause to pretend that the task assigned by Congress to the courts under RFRA is an easy one. Indeed, the very sort of difficulties highlighted by the Government here were cited by this Court in deciding that the approach later mandated by Congress under RFRA was not required as a matter of constitutional law under the Free Exercise Clause. But Congress has determined that courts should strike sensible balances, pursuant to a compelling interest test that requires the Government to address the particular practice at issue.
I must say that I find this case quite amusing! Congress catered to religious interest groups by passing RFRA and thereby disagreeing with the way the Smith Court had read exemptions out of the Constitution's Free Exercise Clause. The Court had tried to constrain the judicial role, but Congress then forced that role on the courts with a statute. And now the Court is taking the statute seriously. They are deferring to Congress by accepting the old activist role of making case-by-case accommodations. How deliciously ironic.

Don't think so hard. That decision is too difficult.

The more complex a decision is, the less you should think about it:
Snap judgments about people and places can be remarkably accurate, and there is no substitute for simple logic and reflection in determining questions like which alarm clock or cellphone is the best value.

But many more important decisions — choosing the right apartment, the optimal house, the best vacation — turn on such a bewildering swarm of facts that people often throw up their hands and put the whole thing temporarily out of mind. And new research suggests that this may be a rewarding strategy.
Ah, good! I've noticed how little I've weighed all the details of my decision to sell my house and move to a condo I happened to drop in and take a look at one day when I was 15 minutes early for meeting my friend at a café.
In a series of experiments reported last week in the journal Science, a team of Dutch psychologists found that people struggling to make complex decisions did best when they were distracted and were not able to think consciously about the choice at all...

Psychologists have known for years that people process an enormous amount of information unconsciously — for example, when they hear their names pop up in a conversation across the room that they were not consciously listening to. But the new report suggests that people take this wealth of under-the-radar information, combine it with deliberately studied facts and impressions and then make astute judgments that they would not otherwise form.

In the study, the research team, led by Ap Dijksterhuis of the University of Amsterdam, had 80 students choose among four cars based on a list of attributes for each, like age, gasoline mileage, transmission and handling. After presenting the attributes in quick succession, the researchers instructed some students to think carefully about the decision for four minutes and distracted others by asking them to solve anagrams.

When the list of characteristics was four items, students were more likely to pick the best functioning vehicles if they reasoned through the decision, rather than if they were distracted. But with 12 attributes, the distracted anagram solvers tended to make wiser choices, the study found.

The unconscious brain has a far greater capacity for information than conscious working memory, the authors write, and it may be less susceptible to certain biases....

The researchers developed a "complexity score" for 40 products and assets based on how many of each item's attributes people took into account. Cars, computers and apartments were at the top, dresses and shirts in the middle and oven mitts and umbrellas at the bottom.

Using that scale, the psychologists surveyed students who had recently bought some of those items and found that the more the buyers thought about their purchases of simple objects, the more satisfied they were. But the opposite was the case for complex purchases, where the more time spent in conscious deliberation, the less satisfied the students were.
This reminds me of the quote used to start my review of Kenji Yoshino's book "Covering": "Don't think so hard. Life is not that simple."

What does this say about judicial decisionmaking? Judges take in a lot of information. They make a decision and must put their reasons in a piece of writing that we sometimes casually call the "decision," but we know they can't transcribe their actual decision. You can try to reconstruct how you made a complex decision, but you can't really even know the answer yourself. That's one of the reasons it's so endlessly fascinating to read judicial opinions. You know the real reasons exist at some deeper level, no matter how forthright the judge is.

And you can ask me why I'm moving and why I'm moving there? And I'll give you an elaborate answer. But it's not the answer, really. Is it?

Good federalism?

States respond to the Supreme Court's eminent domain case, which left them a lot of leeway in seizing private property, by limiting the power of eminent domain as a matter of state law:
The reaction from the states was swift and heated. Within weeks of the court's decision, Texas, Alabama and Delaware passed bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins limiting the right of local governments to seize property and turn it over to private developers. Since then, lawmakers in three dozen other states have proposed similar restrictions and more are on the way, according to experts who track the issue.
Isn't this federalism at its best? People express outrage over the Court's narrow definition of a right, and the state legislatures supply the missing protection for the individual through state statutory law. But there's a bit of a political dysfunction. The state legislatures can appease their constituents and reap the political gains without paying to price of sacrificing their own power. The city governments must bear the burden:
The National League of Cities, which supports the use of eminent domain as what it calls a necessary tool of urban development, has identified the issue as the most crucial facing local governments this year. The league has called upon mayors and other local officials to lobby Congress and state legislators to try to stop the avalanche of bills to limit the power of government to take private property for presumed public good....

More neutral observers expressed concern that state officials, in their zeal to protect homeowners and small businesses, would handcuff local governments that are trying to revitalize dying cities and fill in blighted areas with projects that produce tax revenues and jobs.

"It's fair to say that many states are on the verge of seriously overreacting to the Kelo decision," said John D. Echeverria, executive director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute and an authority on land-use policy. "The danger is that some legislators are going to attempt to destroy what is a significant and sometimes painful but essential government power. The extremist position is a prescription for economic decline for many metropolitan areas around the county."
Should the constituents of the entire state determine the scope of a government power that is most significant in the cities? The majority within a city is going to have a different outlook. Presumably, when a city wants to undertake a project, the people in the city support it, so we shouldn't expect that circumscribed majority to be as enthusiastic about protecting property rights. And a city in need of development will probably have greater concentrations of liberal voters, who are less enthusiastic about property rights than the citizens of whole states.

Emailing the professor.

The NYT has a big front-page article about students emailing their professors!
One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.

Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I'm a freshman, I'm not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!"

At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

"The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding," said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. " 'I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,' with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative."

He added: "It's a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round."
Hmmm... I don't receive much student email. Email is like a phone call, but less intrusive. Students almost never telephone, but they might use email in a casual way, like the telephone call that they wouldn't make. But what does this mean in practice? I get a few emails a semester from students apologizing for missing class. Occasionally, someone wants to know what the next assignment is. It's not a big deal at all. And I've rarely noticed an over-familiar or presumptuous tone, and this is even with me being a conspicuous blogger, endlessly displaying an appearance of personal availability!

"They're pursuing freedom, but it results in less freedom."

The WaPo has a long piece on blogging in China, where the government bans discussing politics and where Microsoft has shown its willingness to delete blogs that violate this ban, lest the government block MSN Spaces altogether:
When Zhao Jing moved his blog to Microsoft's popular MSN Spaces site last summer, some users worried the Chinese government would block the entire service. The censors had blacklisted the last site where the young journalist had posted his spirited political essays, and he seemed unwilling to tone down his writing at the new address.

But Zhao, better known by the pen name Anti, told fellow bloggers not to worry. If the government objected to his blog, he predicted, Microsoft would "sell me out" and delete it rather than risk being blocked from computer screens across China....

[Fang Xingdong, the author of a book that attacked Microsoft's market dominance as a threat to national security and chairman of Bokee, China's largest blog service provider] expressed concern about Zhao. "I understand his views, but I don't agree with his methods," he said. "If you use blogging as a political tool, you could destroy the development of blogging in China. When people like Anti come out, there's a lot of pressure on us. They're pursuing freedom, but it results in less freedom."
This is a complex problem, interweaving government power, individual expression, and business competition. Blogging is open to everyone, so it will inevitably produce speakers like Zhao, who push beyond the edges of the speech that is permitted. Business-oriented persons like Fang want to make the whole enterprise work, but they may also have a wise perspective on the development of free speech. Nevertheless, they cannot hope to control all the Zhaos of the world. And what about Microsoft? Would it be better to be excluded altogether, like Blogger? Even if it deletes whichever blogs the government identifies as offending its repressive standards, there will always be many new blogs springing up within the service. It is inherent in blogging that there will be a very large number of voices. Isn't it better to find a way to create the place where blogging can happen? Or is Microsoft's unfair competition with the Chinese blogging services the greater concern?

"History is like a constantly changing tree."

Said British historian David Irving, as he faced sentencing in Austria for Holocaust denial. He also said, "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz." That's not the same as saying my statements were incorrect. And these were the remarks of a man coerced by the threat of 10 years in prison. He got 3.
Irving's trial comes amid new -- and fierce -- debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered violent protests worldwide.
The hypocrisy about free speech is overwhelming. Even if you decide to go the repressive way of punishing some speech because it wounds some and stimulates others to violence, you should at least have a neutral rule defining the proscribed speech.

So "History is like a constantly changing tree"? What does that mean? It sounds like the coded statement of a man who is standing by his version of the truth and acknowledging that other truth, that the victors write the history books.

I wonder how the history books would read on the cartoons story if, by some crazy chance, fascistic Islamists win World War IV.

February 20, 2006

Balanced accidental discoveries.

Every time I mean to watch the Olympics, like tonight, when I was going to watch the ice dancing finals, I mindlessly click on some news site that reveals who won the medals.

But I was cleaning the basement today and I found an old suitcase and, before putting it in the pile of things to be thrown out, I checked inside and found a pair of magenta high-heeled sandals that I'd spent a decade believing and regretting that I'd given away.

"Gay unions, what is that about?"

Says Boy George. "I haven't been invited to any ceremonies, and I wouldn't go anyway. The idea that gay people have to mimic what obviously doesn't work for straight people any more ... I think is a bit tragic. I am looking-forward to gay divorces."

He's got his point of view:
He dislikes George Michael, and wishes Will Young "would go back in the closet. He is a common or garden homosexual, he is NOT a queer."

George has very distinct ideas about whether people are the proper kind of gay. George Michael is the wrong kind, according to George, for being caught in a California loo and thus enforcing the reputation that gays are "rampant". He remains furious that Elton John performed with homophobic Eminem in 2002 at the MTV awards.
ADDED: Are George's opinions offensive? I think it's just fine for him to have a bohemian outlook and to cast all conventional persons outside of his preferred group. But do gay people have a special obligation to unconventional? The answer should be no, and I don't see that he's saying yes. But, then, I've always liked Boy George and naturally tend to construe his remarks in a positive light.

Religion, like a parasitic worm.

Edward Rothstein writes:
An ant climbs a blade of grass, over and over, seemingly without purpose, seeking neither nourishment nor home. It persists in its futile climb, explains Daniel C. Dennett at the opening of his new book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" (Viking), because its brain has been taken over by a parasite, a lancet fluke, which, over the course of evolution, has found this to be a particularly efficient way to get into the stomach of a grazing sheep or cow where it can flourish and reproduce. The ant is controlled by the worm, which, equally unconscious of purpose, maneuvers the ant into place.

Mr. Dennett, anticipating the outrage his comparison will make, suggests that this how religion works. People will sacrifice their interests, their health, their reason, their family, all in service to an idea "that has lodged in their brains." That idea, he argues, is like a virus or a worm, and it inspires bizarre forms of behavior in order to propagate itself. Islam, he points out, means "submission," and submission is what religious believers practice. In Mr. Dennett's view, they do so despite all evidence, and in thrall to biological and social forces they barely comprehend.

Now that is iconoclasm — a wholehearted attempt to destroy a respected icon. "I believe that it is very important to break this spell," Mr. Dennett writes, as he tries to undermine the claims and authority of religious belief. Attacks on religion, of course, have been a staple of Western secular society since the Enlightenment, though often carried out with far less finesse (and far less emphasis on biology) than Mr. Dennett does; he refers to "the widespread presumption by social scientists that religion is some kind of lunacy."
If reason cannot work, is iconoclasm necessary? You could leave people to their lunacy, decide it's not lunacy, or persist with reason even where it is futile. Read how Rothstein tries to answer these questions and to connect them to the current cartoon craziness. I found his essay quite unsatisfying, despite the exciting beginning. Here are the last two paragraphs:
What other possibilities [than iconoclasm] are there? At a recent conference at Columbia University, "Religion and Liberalism," organized by Andrew Delbanco and the American Studies Program, there were some fascinating attempts to try to imagine something other than iconoclasm in the relationship between secular politics and religion once eighth-century tactics are left behind. Speakers, including E. J. Dionne Jr., Mark Lilla, Alan Wolfe, Todd Gitlin, Mary Gordon, Susannah Heschel and Elisabeth Sifton, distanced themselves from the kind of attack on religion that Mr. Dennett proposes, while trying, too, to pry religion away from its contemporary association with conservative politics and fundamentalism. For some it seemed an attempt to "save" religion for liberalism, while still keeping a safe distance.

The issues, though, remain intractable and unrelenting. But it may be that the United States has already offered one kind of an answer, creating a society in which faith and reason continually cohabit in uneasy proximity, and iconoclasm is as commonplace as belief.
Well, what did E. J. Dionne Jr., Mark Lilla, Alan Wolfe, Todd Gitlin, Mary Gordon, Susannah Heschel and Elisabeth Sifton come up with? I haven't a clue, other than that they don't like conservatives.

Religion and free speech.

UW polisci profs Donald Downs and Kenneth Mayer have an editorial in the Badger Herald, which has come under criticism for publishing that cartoon of Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb:
Allowing offense to be the basis of reprisal or censorship ... simply gives groups or individuals the power to suppress the speech of anyone with whom they happen to disagree. In our liberal democracy, no group — however virtuous or religious — may claim an exemption from criticism or scrutiny, nor may any religion demand that secular society adhere to its own definitions of heresy or blasphemy. When such policies are attempted, they lead to bullying, favoritism based on power and the end of meaningful freedom of speech and thought. The inevitable result is that certain issues and ideas become off limits to any discussion at all based on a subjective and always-moving standard of who might take offense.
I've noticed that a lot of the criticism of the Herald has accused it of racism. But mocking a religion is very different from mocking a race. A religion is a set of ideas. The belief in religion may be deep and sensitive, and it may be arrived at through a path that is not reason and is therefore not amenable to ordinary argument and debate, but it is nevertheless a matter of ideas. You cannot immunize ideas from criticism and still have free speech. In fact, it is most important to be able to criticize the ideas people take most seriously and cling to most intransigently.

Too cold for the "Polar Plunge."

The kids raised money for the Special Olympics by promising to jump in Lake Mendota. Then it turned out to be -17 on the day they'd promised to do it.
According to Paul Taylor, a University of Wisconsin freshman, officials had the right idea when they cancelled the Polar Plunge, but he added he was disappointed.

“I was not that surprised because I expected the Polar Plunge to be cancelled,” Taylor said. “It sucks because the reason we get interested is not only to raise money for the Special Olympics, but for the plunge itself.”...

Carrie Norquist, a third-year UW pharmacy student, said she figured the Polar Plunge would be cancelled. But despite the cold temperatures, Norquist said she, like many others, was prepared to take the plunge.

“I was ready to do it,” Norquist said. “I was surprised because a lot of people were ready to plunge.”

If it feels good, do it.

Here's a NYT op-ed by Harriet Brown, writing from Madison, Wisconsin. It's about those recent reports showing there's not much point in trying to eat less fat. She cites a study that shows benefits from enjoying whatever it is you eat:
In the 1970's, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.

The researchers concluded that food that's unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the "second brain" — the gut — and the brain in your head.
Perhaps doing what you enjoy -- not just with respect to food but everything -- is the key to all sorts of physical benefits. We can get so abstemious and puritanical about our bodies. Food, exercise, sex -- we make all these things into health prescriptions. But what if the benefits only flow when you are doing what you really enjoy? Then the health secret would be to ignore all the nannies who chide you to follow instructions and open your mind to its own information about what you love. It may not be that easy to do, because you've been infected by years of advice about what you should like, what is considered good. How will I know what I love? How will I know that it's not just what I think I'm supposed to love?

Am I the nanny now? Maybe you think I'm just giving you one more instruction, and it sounds like that most horrifying parental order: You'll do it and you'll like it. If we have have to like it too, won't it only be harder? Well, yes, it will be harder. It's much easier to follow the rules. Since it's harder, you can feel virtuous as you follow the old hippie advice: If it feels good, do it.

"Illegal pornography ... much of it like today's Calvin Klein underwear ads ."

An obituary for Joel Dorius:
[H]is life [as an English professor at Smith College], in Northampton, Mass., crashed on Sept. 2, 1960, when three state troopers, a local police officer and a United States postal inspector raided the home of a colleague, Newton Arvin, 60, and found boxes of "beefcake" magazines and pictures of men — illegal pornography then, but much of it like today's Calvin Klein underwear ads — and diaries detailing 20 years of his closeted gay life.

Under interrogation, Mr. Arvin — a professor of American literature at Smith, winner of the 1951 National Book Award for his biography of Herman Melville, a friend of the critics Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Crowley and a former lover of Truman Capote — named names, including those of Mr. Dorius and Edward Spofford, both untenured Smith professors. Their homes were raided, too — Mr. Dorius was away at the time — and more materials deemed pornographic were found.

The raids were part of a crackdown on obscenity in the mails by President Eisenhower's postmaster general, Arthur E. Summerfield, whose ban on "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was overturned by the courts. The authorities raided warehouses, seized publications and then went after people on the mailing lists....

All three, and four other men named by Mr. Arvin, were charged with possessing pornography, and Mr. Arvin was charged with being lewd and lascivious. Under pressure by the prosecution, Mr. Arvin testified against the others and received a one-year suspended sentence. He suffered a breakdown, committed himself to a mental hospital and died in 1963.

Mr. Dorius and Mr. Spofford, under a quirk of Massachusetts law, accepted the court's guilty verdict, without presentation of evidence, to preserve their right to appeal. In 1963, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned the convictions of all three professors, ruling that search warrants for the raids were unconstitutional because they had failed to define obscene materials.
Dorius lost his job at Smith, which, just four years ago, made the small gesture of naming a small scholarship after him and Spofford. Dorius, died at age 87, without an apology from the college.

Inexplicable pleasure trip.

The last couple days were the coldest we've had in Madison, Wisconsin in years. It was a good weekend to cocoon at home. It is utterly beyond me why Nina would see it as a good time for an impulsive pleasure trip to Quebec City, but she did, and she's got the photographs to prove it.

February 19, 2006

Audible Althouse #37.

The new podcast is here. Snow and lightning in Madison, Dick Cheney shooting a man, oral surgery, sleep patterns and the interval between first and second sleep, old records, the Maharishi's plan for world peace, and the ongoing violence over those cartoons.

(Stream it live here.)

Hey, congratulations!

You know who you are!

What am I going to do with all these records?

I've got stacks of things like this from my parents' house:


ADDED: A taste of the liner notes:
Ray Coniff has developed a completely new and refreshing sound in the field of popular music. His sparkling rhythmic treatments, with a vocal chorus used as a section of the orchestra singing syllables rather than words, were one of the freshest new ideas in popular music since the early Forties.

Yes, enough of your damned words. Give me syllables!

Millions of dancers and big-band fans all over the world have been wild about Harry ever since he started blowing his magic horn. This album of exciting new tunes shows why. The swinging danceable beat is there. The Music Makers' characteristic precision and power are there. And, thoughout the album, there is the joy of music making that keeps the sound of Harry's band always fresh and new.

"Fresh" and "new" were big buzzwords back then, apparently. And if you're still wondering Harry the $#@* who?, you have to scour the fine print to find the last name of the man -- Harry James -- who had the insouciance to pose for the album cover in a short-sleeved shirt. Were those hairy arms supposed to serve as a mnemonic device?

Meanwhile, Ray Coniff not only put his last name on the cover, he kept his photograph to a small black and white shot on the back. We get a picture of a nice lady -- sort of an Austin Scarlett look alike -- miming the concept "memories" and modestly swathing her probably not hairy arms in super-fuzzy lavender mohair.

"To resolve problems through negotiation is a very childish approach."

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has a plan to save the world:
Physically isolated from all but a handful of attendants, Maharishi contemplates the lessons of the Vedas, the vast Sanskrit canon compiled some 3,500 years ago. From it, he evolves solutions for today's troubled world:
•Tear down major structures — the White House and the United Nations among them — and rebuild them according to Vedic architectural plans that harmonize construction with nature.

•Send meditation groups to world hot spots as psychic shock troops whose combined positive energy will dispel negativity, reduce crime, ease conflict and promote world peace.

•And his latest project: a $10 trillion plan to eradicate poverty.

A prominently displayed advertisement has run daily since mid-December in the International Herald Tribune seeking investors of a minimum $60,000 for a World Peace Bond, promising a 10 to 15 percent annual return.

His idea is to buy 5 billion acres in 100 developing countries for labor-intensive farming, providing employment and income for the world's poorest people by feeding the First-World market for organic food.

The ads so far have failed to produce any takers. "We don't expect anything so soon. Because the project is big, people have to examine it from their different angles," said project director Benny Feldman, a Mexican economist.

Governments can't do it, Maharishi believes. Neither can they bring peace: "To resolve problems through negotiation is a very childish approach."

A few hundred meditators on either side of a conflict is all that's needed to create an aura of peace.
So, away with childish approaches. Get that $10 trillion and run with it. After examining it from different angles, of course. We First-Worlders await the tasty fruits and veggies.

"Every guy I work with is now shouting at me that Snowboard Cross is the best event of the entire Olympics."

Writes Kim Cosmopolitan after she opines, "Snowboard cross is a back yard dirtbike race on snow -- fun for the kiddies involved, but not so much deserving of medals and primetime television coverage."
Any Olympic event in which (1) the most relevant statistic is which lane the competitors are starting in (lots of commentary to the effect of "oooh, no wins for the black line tonight, it must be running slower than red or blue!"); (2) the most relevant strategic point is "he who gets the early lead wins because he's less likely to be squashed and nudged off the track by others behind him"; and (3) the sole means of overcoming the significance of (1) and (2) seems to be positioning oneself in the one spot on the track (amusingly, the one spot without direct camera coverage) from which one can try to launch a slingshotlike attack on the leader is just not worthy of being an Olympic event.
Ha, ha. I like watching the snowboard cross. It's entertaining! And what's with Kim vs. the men here? Why should women care more than men do about seriousness in sports?

More gender politics: it's about whether you have sons or daughters.

You've heard the idea that Democrats are the Mommy Party and Republicans are the Daddy Party. And you know they say that women tend to be liberal and men conservative, the "gender gap." Here's the theory that leaning left or right has something to do with whether you have daughters or sons:
In Germany, two-thirds of people who switched their political affiliation in the year after having a son moved to the more conservative party. The ratio was flipped for those who had a daughter.

In Britain, the two left of center parties, Labor and the Liberal Democrats, do much better — 11 percentage points — among voters with three girls and no boys than among voters with three boys and no girls....

In small ways, having a daughter seems to make men think a little bit more like women when it comes to economic considerations like health care — and to make women focus even more on those issues. Democrats pushed for the Family and Medical Leave Act over Republican objections, for example, and more voters agree with Democratic positions on health care.

"You see a different set of experiences" when you have a daughter, said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. "You tend to see more of a role for government and more of a need for a safety net."

But the findings cut both ways. Boys aren't neutral. They seem to make some parents more conservative. In the United States, just 31 percent of parents with only boys call themselves Democrats, while 37 percent with only girls do, according to the General Social Survey, a large poll.

One reason, Mr. Oswald said, might be that men work longer hours and earn more money than women, giving the parents of boys reason to want lower taxes. Men also tend to prefer that individuals make decisions, a view that fits with Republican beliefs, while women prefer community solutions.
One more reason to say Althouse is right wing: I have sons.

That's not insomnia, that's the natural sleep pattern breaking through!

I love to run across a surprising fact that I hadn't known before:
Until the modern age, most households had two distinct intervals of slumber, known as "first" and "second" sleep, bridged by an hour or more of quiet wakefulness. Usually, people would retire between 9 and 10 o'clock only to stir past midnight to smoke a pipe, brew a tub of ale or even converse with a neighbor.

Others remained in bed to pray or make love. This time after the first sleep was praised as uniquely suited for sexual intimacy; rested couples have "more enjoyment" and "do it better," as one 16th-century French doctor wrote. Often, people might simply have lain in bed ruminating on the meaning of a fresh dream, thereby permitting the conscious mind a window onto the human psyche that remains shuttered for those in the modern day too quick to awake and arise.
Why was I not informed of this earlier? Not only is this supremely interesting, but is it also useful. I often wake up after an interval of "first sleep," but I've never thought of it as anything but a problem, a form of insomnia to be combatted by getting back to sleep as soon as possible. I'm fascinated by the idea of valuing this wakeful interlude by engaging in activities that, for one reason or another, are done especially well in an hour between two sleeps.

A. Roger Ekirch, the author of the linked article, theorizes that the older pattern of sleeping is the natural one, and our modern "consolidated sleep" is an artificial byproduct of artificial lighting. What we are perceiving as a sleep problem is really this natural form of sleeping breaking through.

This is simply amazing news. It might just change my way of living. I have been thinking that it's just terrible to go to bed as early as 9 only to wake up and see that it's midnight. I've thought that it's important to stay up late enough that you won't just be taking what turns out to be merely a nap, a sleep snack that spoils my appetite for a full meal of sleep. Now, I'm going to think, it's time for first sleep. On waking at midnight, instead of thinking, oh, no, there's no way I can start the day this early if I can't get back to sleep. I'm going to think it's a valuable opportunity, use the time, and feel confident about the arrival of the wholly natural and not at all weird second sleep.