March 4, 2006

"I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."

Says Sheik Reda Shata, the imam of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge:
Day after day, he must find ways to reconcile Muslim tradition with American life. Little in his rural Egyptian upbringing or years of Islamic scholarship prepared him for the challenge of leading a mosque in America....

"America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility," said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. "I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."...

Mr. Shata settles dowries, confronts wife abusers, brokers business deals and tries to arrange marriages. He approaches each problem with an almost scientific certainty that it can be solved. "I try to be more of a doctor than a judge," said Mr. Shata. "A judge sentences. A doctor tries to remedy."...

It is a woman's right, Mr. Shata believes, to remove her hijab if she feels threatened. Muslims can take jobs serving alcohol and pork, he says, but only if other work cannot be found. Oral sex is acceptable, but only between married couples. Mortgages, he says, are necessary to move forward in America.

"Islam is supposed to make a person's life easier, not harder," Mr. Shata explained.
Much more at the link.

"All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders."

Henry M. Morris, dead at 87:
Dr. Morris was a hydraulic engineer and taught at several universities before developing his critique of evolution and a history of Earth that spans 4.5 billion years in the 1961 work "The Genesis Flood." The book, written with the theologian John C. Whitcomb, was the first to take a scholarly approach to proving the Old Testament creation story, and it argued that Noah's flood, rather than eons of erosion, sculptured the earth.

Considered the handbook of creationism, "The Genesis Flood" is in its 44th printing, having sold 250,000 copies in English.

"It was a groundbreaking work in that he basically, in this culture, in this day and age, showed that there were scientific answers to be able to defend the Christian faith and uphold the Bible's account," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a group based in Kentucky. Mr. Ham said that picking up a copy of the book in Brisbane, Australia, while a graduate student in 1974 was a transformational moment in his own life.

"The grass-roots movement you see across America right now, with the school board battles, with the students questioning evolution in colleges, all of that is really in a big part due to the work of Dr. Henry Morris," Mr. Ham said. "All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders."

Sounds like one hell of a book... and one hell of a flood.

Tony Blair mentions God.

Tony Blair says God and history will judge whether he was right to go to war in Iraq, according to the transcript of a television interview to be broadcast Saturday.

In a rare reference to his Christian religious faith, Blair told broadcaster Michael Parkinson he had struggled with his conscience over the decision.

When asked about sending troops to Iraq, he said: "That decision has to be taken and has to be lived with, and in the end there is a judgment that -- well, I think if you have faith about these things then you realize that judgment is made by other people," he said.

Asked to explain what he meant, Blair replied: "If you believe in God, it's made by God as well."

Parkinson asked Blair if he prayed to God when he decided to go to war in Iraq.

Blair replied: "Well, I don't want to get into something like that."

Pressed on the subject he answered: "Of course you struggle with your own conscience about it because people's lives are affected and it's one of these situations that I suppose very few people ever find themselves in.

"In the end you do what you think is the right thing."
That is a very minor reference to God, dragged out of him by the reporter.

The BBC analyzes the press response:
His submission to the judgement of God goes against years of warnings from advisers, says the Independent - not to mix politics and religion.

The Daily Mirror sees his TV interview with Michael Parkinson as "remarkable".

"The Judgement Day is some way off," it says, "but the judgement of the British people is critical of a bloody invasion as the death toll mounts."
The real issue here is whether we were right to go to war and, more importantly, how best to deal with the current state of things. Worrying about Blair's slight reference to religious belief shows either an aversion to religion or the usual pointless grasping for political arguments.

Should Christian "gay prevention" groups be penalized for practicing therapy without a license?

The AP reports:
In a report released Thursday in Miami Beach, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute ... said some Christian-based gay prevention and treatment groups have used the First Amendment protection of religion to avoid sanctions by state health officials seeking to enforce regulations on counselors who offer therapy without a license.

Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said officials need to ensure that those offering such therapies are licensed -- as opposed to simply being clergy -- and that clients and their parents should be informed about the programs' long-term success rates.

''Many of these programs are crossing the line as to what is approved under freedom of expression,'' Foreman said in an interview with reporters. ''This deserves attention. It deserves to be regulated.''
Much as I dislike these conversion efforts, I don't think having the government force them to fit a psychotherapy model is a good idea. Religious counseling operates in its own way and has for an awfully long time. Portraying psychotherapy as the only correct model is oppressive and not even very scientific. Have these professional psychotherapists proven the effectiveness of their approach?

The real controversy is over whether anyone should attempt to prevent homosexuality. Obviously, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute has a strong position on that. It is also a very persuasive position, and they have plenty of power to convince others that they are right about it. In this light, it is especially sad to see this turn toward government regulation to suppress the speech the oppose.

Because Hollywood is anti-religion, because character conflicts make better film stories, or because the outlaw persona is so cool?

Why did they leave religion out of "Walk the Line"?
"That dimension of Cash's life, which was present all the way through, was absent," said theRev. C. Clifton Black, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who criticized the film for that reason in a review for the magazine The Christian Century. "I was stunned."...

"He was a really committed Christian all his life," said Patrick Carr, who co-wrote Mr. Cash's 1997 autobiography. (The film was partly adapted from that book, but Mr. Carr was not part of the deal.) Mr. Cash even saw his drug addiction as his metaphorical years in the wilderness. "As he was going further into addiction, he knew he was traveling away from God; that's how he thought about it," Mr. Carr said. "He was feeling that he was completely separated from God, and that was the worst thing."

At the nadir of his addiction, Mr. Cash went to Nickajack Cave in Tennessee, crawled in as far as he could and essentially lay down to die. When he did, he had the sensation that "I was going to die at God's time, not mine," he wrote in his autobiography. When he walked out, he told his mother that God had prevented him from killing himself.
The cave scene isn't in the film.
Mr. Black and others have suggested that the role of religion in Mr. Cash's life was minimized because Hollywood generally shies away from such subject matter. But the issue could have just as much to do with the practical limits on making a satisfying film. "I wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter and the birth of rock 'n' roll," said James Mangold, who directed "Walk the Line" and wrote it with Gill Dennis. So, he explained, he tried to use Mr. Cash's love for Ms. Carter as a symbol for various forms of redemption.

"June was a figure of redemption," Mr. Mangold said, "beautiful in the way that God's light is beautiful."

Certainly, the movie presents an image of Johnny Cash that would appeal to a secular, urban audience: that of an outlaw who struggled to control his worst impulses.
Biopics choose the story to tell, and it's never the whole person. It's kind of like the way TV reality shows take the available footage on a contestant, decide which story would be most interesting to tell, and edit accordingly. A struggle that takes place inside a person's head is not very cinematic. You have to show him interacting with another person (unless you're going to depict dreams and hallucinations or just have him talking to himself or behaving expressively). And yet, I know that I avoided this biopic and others because I imagine scenes with the two actors just yelling at each other in a way that isn't going to contain any interesting ideas. You drink to much. I know, but I can't help it.

It's hard to make a movie. You can always say that another movie could have been made -- and critics often do. But with a biopic, people get the feeling that the choice of which story to tell matters in a special way, because this will be the movie about that person. So you can see why religionists feel aggrieved about the omissions in "Walk the Line."


I didn't see many movies this year, but I did see one that made me think it conspicuously omitted religion. Here's the old post.

March 3, 2006

"People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It."

Oddest book title of the year. Odder than "Rhino Horn Stockpile Management: Minimum Standards and Best Practices from East and Southern Africa."

That rhino horn title describes something real people are actually doing. "People Who Don't Know They're Dead," however, appears to be an insanely hostile self-help book -- that is to say, a book intended to help that will only make matters worse. Oh, no, wait. Here it is on Amazon:
In People Who Don't Know They're Dead, Gary Leon Hill tells a family story of how his Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth, Wally's sister, came to counsel dead spirits who took up residence in bodies that didn't belong to them. And in the telling, Hill elucidates much of what we know, or think we know, about life, death, consciousness, and the meaning of the universe.

When people die by accident, in violence, or maybe they're drunk, stoned, or angry, they get freeze-framed. Even if they die naturally but have no clue what to expect, they might not notice they're dead. It's frustrating to see and not be seen. It's frustrating to not know what you're supposed to do next. It's especially frustrating to be in someone else's body and think it's your own. That's if you're dead. If you're alive and that spirit has attached itself to you, well that's a whole other set of frustrations.

Hill has woven this fascinating story with the history and theory of what happens at death, with particular emphasis on the last 40 years and the work of various groundbreaking thinkers whose work helps inform our idea of what it is to live and to die.
Well, that's just nutty, but not in the way I imagined. I was thinking of a writer who viewed his fellow human beings as the equivalent of zombies, with no real mental life worth respecting.


I'm so not interested in the Oscars this year, but I guess I'll watch -- with TiVo to speed things up -- to see what Jon Stewart has to say.
"He's an outsider looking in at the system, which is always problematic with a show like that because it's the ultimate insiders show," Oscar show writer Bruce Vilanch told CNN....

"You never want to do badly, but you also don't want to paralyze yourself thinking about doing badly," Stewart told CNN. "Show business, you don't get into for the health plan. You get into it for the opportunities and the fun to try different stuff."
Are you going to watch out of excitement over who will win? Check out the predictions. It seems awfully predictable. Frankly, I don't even care who wins. I'm going to watch as a very distanced observer, and I'm going to blog.

National news: student pees in wastebasket!

Is this news? Well, if it is, can we give this poor teacher a little support? She made a judgment call that the student was trying to goof off, he behaved like a jerk, and now she must lose 10 days' pay? Disgusting!

IN THE COMMENTS: My readers and I seem to be on different sides on this one.

"Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression..."

Writes Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books:
... its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.

So in a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended. That principle is of particular importance in a nation that strives for racial and ethnic fairness. If weak or unpopular minorities wish to be protected from economic or legal discrimination by law — if they wish laws enacted that prohibit discrimination against them in employment, for instance — then they must be willing to tolerate whatever insults or ridicule people who oppose such legislation wish to offer to their fellow voters, because only a community that permits such insult as part of public debate may legitimately adopt such laws. If we expect bigots to accept the verdict of the majority once the majority has spoken, then we must permit them to express their bigotry in the process whose verdict we ask them to accept.
Yes, of course: free speech is part of the mechanism of democracy, and ridicule is an especially important form of political speech.

At the genocide museum in Suleimaniya, Kurdistan.

Michael Totten reports:
When you enter the museum you will walk through a long and winding hallway. The walls are covered with mirror shards. Each represents one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds murdered in the genocidal Anfal campaign. A river of twinkling lights lines the ceiling. Each represents one of the five thousand villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein....

The hardest thing to see was the cell used to hold children before they were murdered. My translator Alan read some of the messages carved into the wall.

“I was ten years old. But they changed my age to 18 for execution.”

“Dear Mom and Dad. I am going to be executed by the Baath. I will not see you again.”


Here's a WaPo article on the sophisticated software companies are using to track public opinion as it is expressed on the internet:
To capture the chatter, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a giant in the industry, uses software that collects hundreds of thousands of comments a day. The technology can scan for specific companies, products, brands, people -- anything searchable. It can slice data into a range of categories to quantify the number of times a subject was discussed online, the individuals who mentioned it and the communities where it appeared.
Examples of knowledge acquired by this amazing new technology? People are going to be wanting more snacks in the future, and they prefer "American Idol" to the Olympics.

Or do you find this technology ominous?

Talk Left speculates that the government is using these techniques too. Is that bad? Is ascertaining the drift of the on-line conversation be any more threatening than than taking political polls? This process of aggregating large numbers of statements to read the general opinion is quite different from monitoring an individual. But in any case, the individuals generating the statements are writing in a completely open public space. We can't say the government is invading our privacy when we are inviting the entire world to read us. Yet maybe something terrible is happening, and we blithe bloggers will live to regret it.

March 2, 2006

"American Idol" -- results.

42 million votes. It's like a presidential election! Oh, but if you could multiple vote in a presidential election, there'd be a billion votes, right?

They launch into a group sing of that horrible song "Love the One You're With." There's something abusive about pressuring young people to put their all into these lyrics, but they do. I pause to write this and see they are all doing that legs-apart crouch. Ugh! They are also all scrunching their eyes closed in faux bliss and curling their upper lips noseward in manufactured sass. Except there's Bucky, wiggling himself into an S shape. I think he's just trying to keep up.

Oh, the pain! This song was insufferably cheesy when Steven Stills tried to foist it on us in 1970. How can it even exist today?

Wow! Mandisa's dressed in a bare black top, showing off her rippling arm flesh and letting us see exactly how amazingly wide her hips are at the point where they merge with tree-trunk thighs. I'm impressed! She gives real meaning to the term pear-shaped. Yet this is the right fashion choice. You can't wear a muu-muu and read as young. Go with the jeans and the cute top and whatever it is you have under it.

They bring out last season's winner, Carrie Underwood. She sings a song called "Jesus Take the Wheel." I take it this song is already a hit, but, of course, I have never encountered it. I think there's something ineffably weird about "American Idol" promoting religious faith. They're trying to ape something that once was sincere in the American country tradition. It seems wrong to drag Jesus into that strained effort.

Brenna is the first to go. America, it turns out, is good at getting it right. Here's where TiVo comes in handy. I fast forward through her reprise of "Last Dance." The other "girl" to go is Heather Cox (not Kinnik Sky). Fast forward.

Now, the "guys." The bottom three are Sway, David Radford, and Kevin Corvais. And David -- the faux Sinatra -- goes first. America's smart, no? And the other guy to go is... Sway. Aw, that's sad!

UPDATE: If you're looking for the results for the newest show, click on the banner at the top of the page and scroll down to the most recent "American Idol -- results."

Thanks, TV Land!

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a nice obituary for Don Knotts, which included this:
His favorite episodes [of "The Andy Griffith Show"], he said, were "The Pickle Story," where Aunt Bee makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.
I was moved to program the TiVo to record some old episodes to see good old Don Knotts again. Based on the schedule, the episodes of the show that TiVo picked up were "The Rehabilitation of Otis" and "The Lucky Letter" -- both on the TV Land network. But the episodes they actually ran were "The Pickle Story" and "Barney and the Choir." That's awfully nice of them!

Laura Bush "chatted with a giant, colorful lion named Bhoombah who believes he is a descendant of one of India's many former kings."

She was visiting the set of "Galli Galli Sim Sim," the Indian "Sesame Street":
At the show's set -- designed to look like a middle-class Indian neighborhood -- Mrs. Bush and Indian social activist Nafisa Ali met [a 5-year-old inquisitive girl named] Chamki at a phone booth that doubles as cybercafe. Then they stopped outside a house to greet Bhoombah, who asked in his gruff voice how the first lady was doing.

"I'm doing great," replied Mrs. Bush....
Sorry I don't have a film clip! I don't know if there are cybercafes on the American "Sesame Street," but it's certainly not set in a middle-class neighborhood.

"A Reconsideration of Presumptions: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?"

That's the title of a talk to be given by UW lawprof Asifa Quraishi, on Monday, March 6th, at 12:00 noon, in Lubar Commons (at the UW Law School). Sponsored by the Middle Eastern Law Students Association.
This presentation will explore some of the issues involved in "reconciling" Islam with democracy, while highlighting some of the similarities (and the differences) between Islamic and Western legal systems.
Highly recommended!

"You either give up your cheap trips to Majorca, or you give up astronomy."

Astronomer freaks out about contrails.

"And I'll do a little live blogging with Arianna Huffington, if you know what I mean..."

"... What do I mean?" -- Steve Colbert, on last night's "Colbert Report."

"Why do I need to see her in Spandex? It has nothing to do with the quality of her mind."

Oh, spare me. We see the male politicians jogging about in their shorts all the time!

The NYT does "Project Runway."

The NYT has a big article on "Project Runway":
During Fashion Week in New York a catwalk show by four "Project Runway" designers was such a hot ticket that more than one industry pro seemed miffed at having to miss the presentation because it clashed with the Ralph Lauren show. "What was Ralph thinking?" asked an editor from Interview magazine.

Such is the power of the show that even the lifeless host, Heidi Klum, who was once described by a former modeling agent as having "the personality of a German sausage," has become a celebrity, right down to her signature kiss-off, "auf wiedersehen" (because, as we know, German is the language of high fashion)....

Just as "American Idol" aspirants are forced to cover tunes in wildly varying genres — a hillbilly trying his hand at Donna Summer — "Project Runway" contestants also have to be able to juggle everything from designing high-concept lingerie (Mr. Rice's take was based on lederhosen) to an outfit for an Olympic figure skater (Mr. Rice ruffled feathers with a frothy confection likened to a Thanksgiving turkey).

These kids have to be able to cut it. And pattern-make it. Then stitch it.

And especially dish it. At the heart of the show's appeal is the campy dramedy that ensues when already brittle personalities, possessed of the ego and drive that drew them to the fashion world in the first place, are thrown together on a deadline. Viewers are transfixed not only by watching the contestants cut up their favorite outfits to make a dress, but also by watching them fashion their personas.
Nice article, though it mostly describes the show for people who don't watch it or who still don't get why America loves reality TV. I'd like to have more of the story I can't get to on my own: the details of what individual fashion industry people think of the show. Let's hear their jealous critiques!

"I can always make a pretty butt even prettier."

Says the buttock-augmenting plastic surgeon.
Last year 2,361 Americans had buttock augmentation surgery, almost four times as many as in 2002, the first year that the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery kept statistics on the procedure. The operation typically costs about $20,000....

Some women over 50 get the surgery to bulk up deflating derrières, while younger patients say they want larger buttocks to complement prominent busts. "I always got compliments for my front but never for my back," said Natalie Del Rio, 18, a high school student in Miami who had the procedure last month with Dr. Mendieta. "Now my mom says I look like a Coca-Cola bottle."
Presumably, the mother put up the money for all of this. What kind of a culture does this girl live in that she fretted that no one was talking about her ass?

Go to the link to read about the elaborate procedure that involves relocating two pounds of your own fat and that requires you to wear a "surgical girdle" and to avoid sitting down for weeks. All of this is supposed to make you more sexually attractive, but you have to be extremely pleasure-denying to go through with it. Well, what's the point of sex without irony?

And then there's the whole question of what the ideal ass is:
Two Mexican plastic surgeons, Dr. Ramón Cuenca-Guerra and Dr. Jorge Quezada, examined 132 patients and more than 1,000 photos and concluded that a beautiful bottom has four features: slight hollows on each side, a curved fold where the buttocks meet the thighs, a V-shape crease that looks like cleavage at the top and two dimples in the lower back. Dr. [Constantino] Mendieta also examined hundreds of photos but came to a different conclusion: that the overall shape of the buttocks is most important. He proposed that female buttocks come in four basic configurations: square, round, V-shape and A-shape.
Yes, it sounds ridiculous, the doctor who collects $20,000 for injecting a small bucket of fat into your ass had damned well better have done a lot of hard thinking about what shape he's after. And you'd better think it through carefully before going through the ordeal.


The NYT has a little piece about Blurb, which formats blogs into books. But it's way too expensive for a blogger to use commercially to produce a book to sell to readers. It's really offered as a way to make an archive of your blog as a keepsake or a gift. A 300-page book costs $80, with only a small discount if you order multiples, and the shipping costs are also high.

Do readers really want to go back and read the old material on a blog? If they do, the archives are right there. I suppose it would be an interesting exercise to go back and find the posts that seem more enduring. To gather those posts together, out of the their original context, would make a completely different impression. Who knows if it would be good or not? Much of the fun of blogging lies in its transience. Like life itself.

"Project Runway"/my house project -- it's almost over.

Did you watch "Project Runway" last night? I did, but very late -- via TiVo -- and I was way too tired to absorb all the subtleties. Yesterday was another Trash Eve, and, though I'm down to the end of the amazing 20-years of junk, I still had to work to the limit of my (pathetic) physical capacity to get bags, recyclables, and large items out to the curb. This house project is the most difficult physical task I've ever undertaken. It's just absurd. But once started, it has to be done. And there is so much to do. I've had to put time into it every day, with Trash Eve day being the peak time of each week, the chance to move things out of the house.

And then there was another "American Idol" to get through -- 90 minutes of the damned thing, plus the necessary blogging. That was a slog of a different kind. So, I could barely watch "Project Runway," and I certainly couldn't blog about it. Anything you'd like to say about it? I'm going to have to watch it again to actually absorb it, but I'll just say:

• Santino became some sort of a tragic figure, but I can't remember exactly why, other than that he was a terribly ugly little boy. That one photograph! Yeeeshhh! I'm influenced here by how Jay McCarroll (on "Project Jay") psychoanalyzed Santino, and maybe the "Project Runway" editors themselves adopted Jay's characterization of Santino. We see Santino with his friend's family. The cute little daughter seems to love him a lot, so he can't be a monster, right? He tells us that whole monster thing he was doing is a big overcompensation for the poor little Santino inside.

• Oh, and Santino said he's read all the blogs about him! Did you read my blog, Santino?

• Chloe has seven sisters, and we see her at her family home, the walls of which are festooned with drawings and photos of the eight daughters. We learn that the family began in Laos, where they all endured a year -- or was it more? -- in family prison. In classic immigrant fashion, she doesn't dwell on the sufferings. She states the facts and moves on. Those facts speak for themselves. (Contrast the way Santino told his story -- American style, including the internal psychology, with pleas to feel for him.)

• Daniel is the one with the perfectly comfortable middle class American life with perfect parents. Notably, they are perfectly fine with the fact that he's gay. I guess we're not supposed to root for him!

• We see some of the designs they have done for Fashion Week, and this is edited to make us think Santino has the jump on the others. He's got a muddily colored billowy dress with a lot of ruffles over the abdominal area, which for some reason Tim gushes over. Chloe is made to feel all nervous because she does not work by sketching. So what? She has her methods that got her this far. Why view them as defective now? Daniel has some tightly constructed black-and-white jacket and another piece with elaborate folds in the back, but for some reason, we're supposed to think he hasn't gotten very far.

• Obviously, the editors are trying to manufacture suspense and direct our expectations. I should be better at predicting what this means about who will win. Am I supposed to think Santino is getting the "winner's edit"? I forget how that works. Don't they misdirect too?

• They spring a new task on them. They must make one more piece, which none of them is hot to do. It throws them back into the style of working that they had to put up with before they made it to the final three. It's so demeaning, but we need to wrest some good TV out of them. The best part is that it provides an opportunity to bring back all the old contestants. They file in. Did you have one that you loved the most and felt especially happy to see? For me, it's Daniel Franco. He's adorable!

• Santino, Chloe, and Daniel V. must each pick one of the eliminated contestants to work with on the final task. Daniel goes first, and I predict that he will pick Nick, and he does. Too obvious! Wouldn't you pick Nick if you went first? He's got skills, and he's a nice person. Santino is next and, as I predict, he picks Andrae. He uses his Tim Gunn voice to express his desire for Andrae. Now, Chloe must pick, and she really should pick Kara, because it's just bad that Kara has been overlooked up to this point, but Chloe goes with Diana, the sweet geek -- who left the show early on. It's nice to have her back. Santino was very mean to her, saying, behind her back, that he hated her voice. She's seen the show now and knows he said it. And we know from the reunion show that she was hurt.

• So now Diana's back, with her newly empowered voice, which I hope irritates the hell out of Santino and throws him off during the final task. Or will he actually become a good person somehow and redeem himself?

Well, I remembered more of the show than I thought I did. It's funny how writing draws things out of the recesses of the mind. What did I miss? What did I get wrong?

It's pouring snow now, here in Madison, Wisconsin. Not enough to cancel class again. It will take another 20 years before it snows that way again. My trash is looking better out there layered in white.

March 1, 2006

"American Idol" -- the guys.

Gray-haired Taylor Hicks seems forced and played out. He shrugs and smirks in his mannered way.

Elliot Yamin sings a meandering and complex jazzy song that everyone seems to like. He's so unattractive, but we feel a certain bond nonetheless.

Ace Young. Is he sensitive or phony? I'm not sure what to make of him. He seems to be losing it.

Gedeon McKinney sings one of the the greatest of all songs: "A Change Is Gonna Come." It bursts with feeling, and even though he seems fundamentally cheesy whenever he's not singing, the singing was great.

Kevin Covais bops along to "I Heard I Through the Grapevine," but the tone of his voice is so measly compared to Marvin's. I just heard the Marvin Gaye version on the radio yesterday. I hope you haven't forgotten how deeply dimensional it is. How strangely raspy Marvin sang and still made it all come out sublimely melodic. It was beautiful. But we love the sweet young lad Kevin and wish him no harm.

Jose "Sway" Penala croons something nice.

Will Makar gushes about the profound experience of meeting Justin Guarini, and then he sings Kenny Rogers's "Lady." This is just too bizarre!

Bucky Covington. He gets all Bo tonight. The judges seem to find him authentic, and I guess he is. A lot of time is spent on his food preferences. He's a southern boy who just wants some nice biscuits, and L.A. is proving too much for the man. All that calamari and the tuna roll.

David Radford does an eerie Sinatra imitation. "The Way You Look Tonight." This can't work! He blinks his eyes ultra-slow. Creepy! (He means it to be seductive.)

Chris Daughtry. They love him. Simon: "This was the only performance that stands up in the real world."

UPDATE: Begging to Differ has a lot of "AI" analysis, nicely done. And don't miss Kim Cosmopolitan.

Books about one abstraction, in this case "cunning," and the infinite complexities of Tammy Faye.

An essay about a book on the subject of "cunning." (Via A&L Daily.) The book is by a lawprof, Don Herzog.
As Herzog says, the cunning learn how to mimic the virtuous. And the clever mimic the dull ("Do you suppose you fellows could teach me a bit about this game of poker you're playing?") That creates layers of ambiguous identities, like the mirrored personalities of double agents. Groucho Marx, as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup, offers reassurance: "Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot." To what extent, Herzog asks, does Tammy Faye Bakker's elaborately contrived make-up define her? Would she still be Tammy if her face were unadorned?
I haven't read the book. But I have seen "Duck Soup"! And I've seen "The Eyes of Tammy Faye." I wonder how deeply Herzog delved into the infinite complexities of Tammy Faye. Don't take that woman lightly. She means something!

The argument in the Anna Nicole Smith case.

Dahlia Lithwick tells us about the oral argument in the Anna Nicole Smith case. The legal issue in the case is awfully boring, and Smith, for her part, never does anything interesting in the courtroom, but Litwick does what she can to liven it up, making it seem as though the Justices, in pursuing the lawyers with questions, are rushing to the aid of the beautiful lady. It's still boring. The most amusing thing is something Scalia said that probably could be said somewhere in just about any oral argument: "Do you want to stand on that position or do you have a lesser position? One that might cause you to win?"

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Gay marriage will be on the ballot this fall in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:
The state Assembly voted 62-31 Tuesday to let voters decide whether to write a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions into the state constitution. But before the last lawmaker's vote was taken, supporters and opponents of the proposal were already looking past that action toward a costly campaign to win voters' support in November's popular referendum.

Opponents of the Republican-sponsored ban said they want Wisconsin to be the first state in the country to reject a proposed amendment, while supporters see the state as another chance to prove that upholding traditional marriage isn't just a Bible Belt issue.

With two years of preparation behind them, both sides promised a campaign that could run as high as several million dollars, include hundreds or even thousands of volunteers, and employ everything from the pulpit to Web sites and television ads.

"Wisconsin is significant because it's not a southern conservative state. It's not a state, I don't think, where the so-called religious right is considered to normally be a strong factor," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the pro-amendment Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "It's important because it's illustrative of the fact that defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman has very broad appeal throughout the American population."

Tim O'Brien of the Human Rights Campaign, also in Washington, D.C., also saw Wisconsin as important to his gay rights group's efforts to oppose the constitutional bans that have swept many states.

"When you look at the national landscape right now, Wisconsin is a place in which we believe that we have a great chance of succeeding," said O'Brien, a former state resident who's working with state groups to defeat the ban. "I think that Wisconsin is just leaps and bounds ahead of any other state that has had this occur."
Things will be exciting here over the next few months, it seems. Gay rights groups should place special importance on defeating the anti-gay marriage amendment here in Wisconsin, because they think they can win here and maybe turn the tide on this issue nationally. The anti-gay marriage forces will need to respond strongly, and that may not play well among the general populace of this state. The amendment is broadly worded:
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.
The second sentence goes beyond what is needed to satisfy traditionalists and takes a gratuitous swipe at benefits currently enjoyed by real families here in the state. I find it hard to believe that the decent, often religious citizens who think gay marriage is wrong will feel very good about the threat of depriving real individuals of insurance benefits. [ADDED: I'm referring to health insurance!] We will see these individuals in the TV ads, and the other side will be reduced to arguing that the language of the amendment doesn't really mean that. Trust us, they will say. Trust the courts to interpret the language of the amendment so that it won't mean the bad thing the gay rights groups are saying it will mean. You hypocrites! The argument for the amendment was that we can't trust the courts not to find rights for gay people in the unamended state constitution.

The exacting new Chief Justice.

Here's Linda Greenhouse's account of the oral argument in Randall v. Sorrell, the Vermont campaign spending case. She highlights the incisive style of the new Chief Justice:
The chief justice challenged the attorney general's assertion that money was a corrupting influence on Vermont's political system, the state's main rationale for its law. "How many prosecutions for political corruption have you brought?" he asked the state official.

"Not any," Mr. Sorrell replied.

"Do you think corruption in Vermont is a serious problem?"

"It is," the attorney general replied, noting that polls showed that most state residents thought corporations and wealthy individuals exerted an undue influence in the state.

The chief justice persisted. "Would you describe your state as clean or corrupt?" he asked.

"We have got a problem in Vermont," Mr. Sorrell repeated.

The chief justice pressed further. If voters think "someone has been bought," he said, "I assume they act accordingly" at the next election and throw the incumbent out.

He also challenged a line from the attorney general's 50-page brief, an assertion that donations from special-interest groups "often determine what positions candidates and officials take on issues." Could the attorney general provide an example of such an issue, Chief Justice Roberts asked. Mr. Sorrell could not, eventually conceding that "influence" would have been a better word than "determine."
Everyone is on notice to take extreme care with language usage when writing a brief for the Supreme Court. You might be forced to expend a large chunk of your time at oral argument defending a single word choice buried on page 50. And if you assert that X causes Y, you'd better have some concrete examples to back that up. I love John Roberts's insistence on the highest standards at oral argument.

February 28, 2006

"American Idol" -- a tasteless display.

Tonight's a bit of a horror, isn't it? The judges are very hard on the "girls," and this is a relief for me, so I don't have to supply all the negativity.

Katharine McPhee starts us off, and she's bad, but she's been so good in the past, so this is not auspicious. I'm blanking out on the next few performers. If I try to call them to mind, I'm just going to feel really bad.

Well, that last one was Brenna Gethers, who does "Last Dance," the song that doomed Ryan Starr in Season 1. And compared to Brenna, we feel an intense flow of nostalgic love for Ryan.

Next up is Paris Bennett, so good in the auditions. And she's wearing a jumper -- a jumper, people -- so I'm ready to love her. But now she's saying "I got favor" and pointing toward Heaven. And then I see that it's not a jumper. It's a camisole over a white shirt. Well, so, I'll have to be a little critical. She could have warded of my criticism by wearing a jumper. She's singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" -- in a pretentious, overblown way that exasperates us. Paula implies that she's lost her youth. Randy tells her to act 16. Be "the hot young one for me," he says, which sounds a tad icky. Simon says don't turn the show into "I'm 17 and I can sound 50." Ryan asks her why she picked that song, and she says it's her great grandmother's favorite song, which is so ridiculous, so over-the-top ridiculous, given that they all just said she was overly old, that we see her as a girl again and love her.

Kellie Pickler sings "Something to Talk About," which is exactly the kind of song I abhor, but she's cute. We're supposed to like cute? Simon tells us America likes cute. And the truth is that when they show the recaps in the end, she's the one that comes across the best.

We end with the very dramatic Mandisa. Well, she went last, so she must be good. To me, it's bombastic and forgettable.

I've got to say, I absolutely hated the music on the show tonight. Was there any taste? I think not.

"This is a national problem. It’s not just a Harvard problem."

Here's Camille Paglia talking about the Larry Summers affair on Open Source Radio:
The humanities have destroyed themselves over the past 30 years… Through an obsession with European jargon and a shallow politicization of discourse, the humanities have imploded… There’s hardly a campus you can name where the most exciting things that are happening on campus are coming from the humanities departments… I think the entire profession is in withdrawal at the moment. This is a national problem. It’s not just a Harvard problem.
Amusingly, Open Source did a general search for a creative commons photo of Camille Paglia and ended up using one that I took. I've appeared on Open Source Radio more than once -- here and here -- but this was just a coincidence. It's also funny because Paglia actually got mad at me for taking her picture (because I accidentally set off the flash). Here's my old post about Paglia's appearance in Madison.

"We like the sound of her voice, she uses really good phrases."

Said about me. "She's obviously a professional speaker and lecturer, and it was a cool way to use these words but not make it too forced."

Anna Nicole Smith goes to the Supreme Court.

First, the great picture:

Now, for the substance of the WaPo's report:
The justices are dealing with a technical question: When may federal courts hear claims that involve state probate proceedings? Smith lost in Texas state courts, which found that E. Pierce Marshall was the sole heir to his father's estate....

"Most people will do a double take," said Edward Morrison, a former Supreme Court clerk who specializes in bankruptcy law at Columbia University. "It raises the novelty level and makes a technical issue somewhat more entertaining."
What, you aren't entertained by diversity jurisdiction? Hey, I teach this subject, and, much as I would inject enthusiasm into the topic in class, I admit it's pretty technical. Law aside, I just can't help wanting Anna Nicole to get the money.

UPDATE: Here's a report on the oral argument:
A U.S. bankruptcy judge in California initially awarded Smith $474 million, but that was later reduced to about $90 million. A federal appeals court eventually tossed out the entire award, saying the bankruptcy judge should never have heard the case.

Several justices expressed sharp skepticism that only the Texas state court could settle the dispute over the estate.

"That's not the way our system works," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "I've never heard a state probate court say you cannot bring a claim in another court."

The justices Tuesday seemed especially interested in several details of the dispute: whether documents were tampered with, whether Smith was kept from her husband's bedside as he was dying, and the amount of money she would receive if she were to win the case.

"'I just want some money from this guy.' That's all she's saying," Justice David Souter said. "Just give me the money I would have had."
I love when the justices paraphrase the argument in blunt terms! Anyway, they're only deciding the jurisdiction question, so these intimations about the substantive merits of the case don't mean much. It sounds as though she's going to win on the jurisdiction point, which is about whether a limitation that the Court has read into the diversity jurisdiction statute applies ought also to apply in a bankruptcy jurisdiction case.

What do women want?/What should women want?

Blogging about "The Apprentice" last night, I happened to write, "The Synergy folk are pushing manicures and massages -- you know, what women want." That prompted a commenter to ask:
Since you opened the door to this line of questioning, Ann, would you please tell us what women really DO want? And I don't mean at Sam's. Has anyone ever figured this out?
Today, John Tierney begins his column with the famous question. (TimesSelect link.)
Freud confessed that his "thirty years of research into the feminine soul" left him unable to answer one great question: "What does a woman want?" Modern feminists have been arguing for decades over a variation of it: What should a woman want?
What women should want is very different from what we do want, but what we do want is inevitably shaped by what we've come to think we should want, which is affected by what we're hearing we should want. Try disaggregating what you do want from what you think you should want, after first disaggregating what you think you should want from what other people seem to be saying you should want. It's damned hard! And it's not necessarily the way to happiness, but then, if you do manage to do all that, your skills at assessing your own happiness will be quite different from the skills of other people reporting to sociologists about whether they are happy.

Anyway, Tierney's column is really about a sociological study about what makes women happy in a marriage. So we're already dealing with the subset of women who have decided they want to be married, which probably means a greater concentration of individuals who are looking to another person to make them happy. But perhaps not. Do people marry because they want to be happy? There are many other reasons to marry!
[A]n equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.
Is it that women enjoy having a mate who outclasses them in earning power? Or is it just that it's better to have more money, and if I'm making X, I'd prefer to add 2X to my total than X? Where's the study of the men? Maybe the men making X also prefer a mate who brings in 2X?

Studies like this always seem hopelessly flawed to me. I never trust assertions married people make about how happy they are. When people are trying to make a marriage work, they try to keep their spirits up and believe in the enterprise. When the marriage is ending, they start realizing that they haven't been happy for a long time.

And then there's the way pundits latch onto these studies and run with them -- usually motivated by their own pre-existing policy preferences.

Of course, I don't have an answer to the question "What do women want?" other than to critique the tendency to ask the question in the first place. Frankly, I find it hard enough to discern what I want.

"I lived 13 years in New York, I see a lot of big cases on TV. I think the judges is fair."

Says Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian man who the U.S. detained and then deported after 9/11. He's settling his lawsuit --for $300,000 -- only because he is ill he said. His preference? "I wish I come to New York, to stay in the court face to face with these people."

I suppose most people who settle cases say things like this, but I was touched by this man's expression of respect for American courts.
The government had argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed without testimony because the extraordinary circumstances of the terror attacks justified extraordinary measures to confine noncitizens who fell under suspicion, and because top officials need governmental immunity to combat future threats to national security without fear of being sued.

The federal judge, John Gleeson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, disagreed, writing in his decision last September, "Our nation's unique and complex law enforcement and security challenges in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do not warrant the elimination of remedies for the constitutional violations alleged here."

Blogs "have nothing to do with scholarship."

The National Law Journal has an article on lawprofs blogs:
An increasing number of law professors are using blogs... to break free from traditional modes of legal scholarship. With an immediacy and ability to reach millions of readers, blogs are proving an attractive vehicle among legal scholars for spouting and sharing ideas.

But they are also raising concerns that they may lead to a dumbing down of the profession.

"They have nothing to do with scholarship," said Katherine Litvak, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Wow! Why feature that quote at the beginning and then have nothing to back it up? I'm sure Litvak must have made a more detailed statement, but here she is just hung out to dry with the absolutism of the word "nothing." And she's supposedly accusing us of "dumbing down... the profession"? Though Litvak pops up again later in the article, she's never given a chance to explain that overwrought pronouncement. She does slam law reviews as "fundamentally corrupt," however. That's interesting. She's not given a chance to explain that either.

Anyway, if you bother to keep reading after that offputting beginning, there's material on the upcoming conference "Bloggership: How Blogs Are Transforming Legal Scholarship," which will take place at Harvard this spring. I'll be at that conference, and I'm quoted in the article too, complaining about law reviews. The fact is, whatever you want to say about blogs, law reviews are a big problem:
Not only does the slow publishing cycle of law reviews trouble Althouse and others, but critics also point to the lengthy and heavily footnoted format of the articles, which make them difficult to read -- if in fact anyone actually is reading them.

"I don't need a think tank, I need advocacy," said Stanley Bernstein, senior partner with 45-attorney Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz, a securities litigation firm in New York.

Bernstein, who himself was an editor of the Journal of International Law and Politics at New York University School of Law, said that in his 25 years of practice, he has rarely used law review articles.

"By the time you need to use them, they are generally a year or two out of date," he said.

A prevailing concern about law reviews is that law students who have just two years of course work compose the editorial staff of typical law review journals and, so goes the criticism, often make selection decisions based upon the status of the professor's school, not the value of the work.

Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, called the law review industry "incestuous." He added, "It's the marketplace of prestige. It's what you have to do to show off to law students."
Blogs at least offer an alternative to traditional legal scholarship, which everyone seems to agree has big problems. Of course, blogs have their own set of problems. Neither form is ideal. Blogging is much more fun, of course, and that alone has got to piss off the folks who are working in the traditional, ponderously long and pretentious mode. Instead of lashing out at us, though, why not take a lesson from us and write better, faster, pithier law review articles?

ADDED: Stephen Bainbridge is blogging the same NLJ article, which contains the factoid: "Among the top 20 schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, there are 59 bloggers."
It's interesting that top 20 schools seem to dominate the blogosphere. Does that credential give the potential blogger a leg up? Or is it just that the kind of people who land jobs at top 20 schools are also the kind who would find blogging attractive? I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's both.
Shouldn't we first count the numbers of lawprof bloggers in the second 20 and the third 20 before we make assumptions about who's doing the most blogging? Also, just counting the numbers of bloggers is not very accurate. For example, Chicago has a high blogger count because it runs a group blog with a long list of faculty names. I'd like to see a weighted count -- if you're going to get into counting -- that reflects the actual amount of blogging that is going on. But then if you did that, you'd probably want to count the blogging that is specifically about law, as opposed to, say, "American Idol."

And speaking of U.S. News, wouldn't it be funny if it used faculty blogging as a factor? There would be all these blogs by lawprofs trying to move their school up the rankings. Oh, but maybe it already is a factor, affecting the "repuation" scores that are based on surveys of academics, lawyers, and judges. The question is which way blogs affect the school's reputation. That too would not be based on the sheer number of blogging lawprofs. Wisconsin, that's that school where they watch "American Idol" all the time.

UPDATE: Jim Lindgren expands on my point about how to count the significance of blogging at different school. He concludes that Chicago's significance "does not yet reach the influence in the blogosphere of UCLA, Tennessee, San Diego, GW, George Mason, or Wisconsin, among others."

February 27, 2006

"The Apprentice" is back again already.

Are you going to watch? Funny that they don't give you time to miss it, the way "American Idol" does. It seems the last season just ended, and last season was the one with two versions, the Donald and the Martha. "American Idol" actually did do something like that once, when it ran the "juniors" show, which was even more of a horrendous distortion of the original than Martha's show was.

Anyway, the new "Apprentice" has moved to Monday, which is a great place to stick it, since we're all watching "American Idol" on all those other days.

Donald is implying that he knows that the last season was too tame:
"We've got great new characters," he said, touting the addition of some foreign-born "Apprentice" applicants this time, including Lenny from Russia and Sean from Britain.

Then there's the inclusion of a couple of other characters, who had a certain in with the star. Ivanka Trump, Donald's daughter, will fill in for Mr. Trump's sometimes acerbic aide-de-camp, Carolyn Kepcher, for five episodes; and his son Don replaces the other assistant, the gently curmudgeonly George Ross, for two episodes.
No Carolyn?! Nooooo! Donald's daughter??? Right after we suffered through Martha's catatonic daughter! I am going to be hypercritical of the deserves-no-sympathy Ivanka. Ivanka must deliver or be rudely skewered!
[Trump] acknowledged, that the third edition of "The Apprentice," which concluded last spring, contained a cast "full of marshmallows," a result, he said, of his not taking a stronger hand in casting. For the fourth go-round, last fall, and the fifth, starting tonight, he said he had been extremely hands-on with casting....

He would not reveal how his consulting efforts turned out, only that "nobody's going to believe it."
Okay, this better be good. Now, go watch it, everyone. I will. Look for a quick update to this pose.

UPDATE: The contestants have to walk up the steps into his plane -- the plane that says TRUMP on the outside. They meet Trump, who mainly says I wanted you to meet me here so you can see how expensive my plane is as you begin your journey on this show which is all about how you can become rich and have a plane like this.

Then they get out of the plane and line up next to it, in extreme wind, where they must quickly summarize their bios, while their hair whips them in the face. Trump selects team leaders: the guy who says he's in Mensa (Tarek) and the girl who went to Harvard Business School (Allie). (What's with Mensa? People are proud to be in the top 2% of IQs, but not too proud to join an organization about just that?) The Harvard Business School girl is, in my mind, distinguished by the fact that she's the only person who chose to use her hand to grip her hair and keep it from whipping her in the face. Well, that's management!

The two who suddenly find out they are the leaders now need to pick their teams. Were they listening, in all that wind, to the bios of the other contestants? Neither leader remembers anyone's name, so they're both, I'll take the gentleman in the pink tie.... The fat guy is chosen last, and we see him interviewing about how he was always chosen last in high school. Oh, the team choosing ordeal! It's designed to dredge up all your old high school nightmares.

The fat guy, Brent, destroys our sympathy for him by pushing the team name "Killer Instinct." His team rebuffs him and chooses the dorky all-purpose business word "Synergy." The other team, someone Brentishly, calls itself "Gold Rush."

The task is dripping with product placement: Goodyear (the blimp) and Sam's Club (they have to promote it). We see the Gold Rush contestants laying into typical Sam's Club customers. Lots of high pressure sales talk. In interviews, they rave about what high energy go-getters they are. Lee wore a suit! What a creative idea -- we're told. What a way to command respect. The Synergy folk are pushing manicures and massages -- you know, what women want. Even though the teams aren't all-male and all-female this season, there's a masculine vibe to Gold Rush, and a feminine vibe to Synergy.

We get mercifully quickly to The Boardroom. The teams do almost exactly the same, but Gold Rush loses. We see the team conspiring to oust Summer, who does seem like a bit of an idiot. But Lee doesn't like this ganging up. He wants to blame Tarek, the team leader. And he's right. The team had no idea. All they had was a gift bag, but it was a gift bag with no gifts in it. The gift was the bag.

The firing scene unfolds brilliantly. We start by not wanting Summer to lose, because of the way the team plotted against her. But Carolyn pins her on the question: what did you do for the team? And then, when Trump is focusing on Tarek, getting ready to fire him for having no idea, Summer starts annoyingly butting in. So he fires her for being such an idiot as to keep interrupting when he's getting ready to fire someone else. Lots of big laughs here! She tries to spin her idiocy as truthfulness. And so, truthfulness is the joke of the night.

In the cab confession, Summer says she is happier with herself than she's ever been.

The gender mysteries of Don Knotts.

Virginia Heffernan has a nice piece about the late Don Knotts:
He was wonderfully unthreatening to other male comics, all of whom could think of themselves as one step closer to leading men than Mr. Knotts was. It's hard to think of an actor, in fact, who got more helping hands than Mr. Knotts in his early days. Male actors were forever offering him parts, trying to get him to join their acts. Sharing the stage with this skinny, spazzy guy could only make them look more commanding....

In the nervous man, he reveled in the discomfort that most comics tend to pass off as indignation or savoir-faire. As Barney, he satirized swagger and self-importance. Finally, on "Three's Company" in the late 70's and 80's, he sent up the comedian's hypersexuality, which is often his pride. Mr. Knotts, over and over, was willing to play the desperate, pathetic low-man-on-every-pole. He did it so well — never forsaking his persona and trying to seize the lead, as nearly all major comedians do these days — that his talent for abasement became a source, paradoxically, of great authority. By revealing but never indulging these pretenses, he enlightened everyone he worked with, and his audiences.
I like the way the man's extreme sexual unattractiveness opened up a portal for him. Not only did he receive opportunities from other men (who believed that he couldn't be more loved than them) but he accessed wisdom (about the ridiculousness of men who believe too much in their own masculine greatness). Come on! Someone needs to do a Gender Studies seminar on Don Knotts.

Trying to build the World Trade Center memorial.

It's been difficult raising the money for the World Trade Center Memorial. For one thing, the amount is $500 million. And there have been so many other disasters recently to claim the attention of donors. Don't those who are suffering in the aftermath of the tsunami, Katrina, the Pakistani earthquake, and the Philippine mudslide seem much more important than building two extravagant 176 foot square pools in lower Manhattan? And then there is the opposition by some of the victims' survivors:
Some family members argue that the site will be a target for new terrorist attacks, and that its underground location makes it difficult to escape in an emergency. "We know from 1993, and from 2001, that the terrorists love that site, and it will be a very attractive target again," said Debra Burlingame, a memorial foundation board member, whose brother, Charles F. Burlingame, was the captain of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

"I believe in the memorial and I support the memorial process, but right now I wouldn't go into the memorial," said Monica Iken, another memorial foundation board member, whose husband, Michael, died in the south tower. "Even if you have enough egress and exit points, it's so far below ground. If there is an emergency, most people will just run back the way they came in."
It's such a complex, expensive, and emotional enterprise. But I think Governor Pataki summed it up well: "The debates are over. Now it's time to build. It is a moral obligation."

February 26, 2006

Audible Althouse #38.

Religion, chaos, iconoclasm, originalism, the Golden Mosque, what God wants, and "if it feels good do it."

Here. Live-stream here.

"The actor embodies his subject right down to the hesitant flare of his nostrils."

Nostril acting, praised!

(Nostrils and acting, an ongoing topic on a blog called Althouse.)

Listening to Supreme Court arguments.

A reader emails:
A few weeks back you mentioned in passing that audio of Supreme Court arguments are available at In the context you seemed to imply that they would be of interest mainly to lawyers.

I went and downloaded one anyway. I picked one pretty much at random and listened to the pros and cons of whether executing a 17 years old was cruel and unusual.

I was hooked.

I have since listened to 10-12 cases including Kelo, the cases involving detainees in Cuba and SC, Grokster, Lessig on copyright, Barnett on medical marijuana and a few more. They are fascinating. I thought that they would be full of Latin and complex legal stuff but for the most part they are not. Even a layman like me can understand most of them.

For example, I was rabidly against the decision in Kelo (expropriation in New London) and still am. But now at least I understand the other side of the argument which I did not before. I can even see why it was decided the way it was.

I like the strict 30 minute per side format with each side having to give their best shot with no bloviating. I like the justices questioning each side and seeing what they are thinking. I've probably learned more about how the Supremes work than all the civics courses and books have taught me. It is so much more alive than just reading the transcripts.

The purpose of this note is twofold. First, to thank you for bringing this to my attention. Second, I think you should blog about it. There are probably others out there who might enjoy and profit from this.

If this question is too nosy please just ignore it. I have wondered whether you are a lawyer (in the sense of actually being admitted to the bar). I know that you are a law professor but does one need to be a lawyer to be a law professor? For example, I teach engineering but am not an engineer. I do not mean anything by the question, you certainly come across as knowlegable on the law. Just curiosity.
Great points. I think all sorts of people can benefit from listening to these arguments. People tend to react to the outcomes of cases, following their political preferences, and tend to assume that the Justices must just be voting politically. That's pretty much the way the press presents it. The arguments nicely demonstrate the legal dimension of the cases and can, as you say, make you appreciate the reasons that a case you don't like came out the way it did. And it is inspiring to hear a group of smart, intensely concentrating human beings discussing a difficult problem in such a precise and calm way.

To answer that question at the end: It's possible to be a law professor without going to law school, but I should think that any law professor that went to law school would have also taken the step of passing the bar, though perhaps not. In any case, I went to NYU School of Law and was admitted to the bar in New York, where I practiced law for two years (at Sullivan and Cromwell). I've been officially "retired from the practice of law" for many years.

ADDED: The reader is John R. Henry.

Karl Pilkington!

There's a little article about this hilarious man in today's NYT:
Karl Pilkington has debated the merits of eating a kangaroo's penis for breakfast, envisioned a wristwatch that counts down the time left in a person's life and proposed a new population control system in which elderly women give birth at the moment of their deaths. He has mused on topics ranging from caveman "bear pants" to dishwashers on Mars, and reported "news stories" about the triumphs of chimpanzees as bricklayers and television talk show hosts. In so doing, Mr. Pilkington, a 33-year-old unemployed radio producer from Manchester, England, has become the object of a global Internet cult, a Guinness world record-holder and the unlikely harbinger of a technological revolution.

Mr. Pilkington is the breakout star of "The Ricky Gervais Show," a podcast presided over by Mr. Gervais, the British comedian behind "The Office" and "Extras," and his co-writer and co-director, Stephen Merchant. In its brief, 12-episode run this winter, the program, available on the Web site of The Guardian (, has racked up nearly three million free downloads, the most ever for a podcast, according to the Guinness book. While these numbers reflect the international popularity of Mr. Gervais, the program's title is a bit misleading. The show is almost entirely devoted to the esoteric ramblings of Mr. Pilkington, whom Mr. Gervais has called both "the funniest man in Britain" and "that little bald-headed Manc idiot."
Of course, you've listened to these podcasts, haven't you? If not... you're so lucky! You have so much fun ahead of you. Gervais alone is great, but Gervais talking to Pilkington -- sublime!

I love the way the two are so completely dumb and smart at the same time. Like, in the 12th podcast, when they start talking about Wittgenstein's remark that if a lion could speak, we wouldn't be able to understand him. Gervais restates Wittgenstein's point so crisply that it's clear how smart Gervais is, and Pilkington starts down a thoroughly Pilkingtonesque line of thinking: it would depend on the lion, maybe you could understand a lion in the London zoo, better than a worm at least, what could a worm tell you, even if it is English, etc. It's so purely stupid, yet you'd have to be quite brilliant to be capable of saying it.


Somewhat related: I talk about that Wittgenstein quote, Koko the Gorilla, and Mardi Gras.

Business management lessons from the Larry Summers affair.

Patrick D. Healy writes:
If the board says it wants you to "shake things up" and "bring change," don't believe them....

Don't say you've changed or have high-powered surrogates say it for you....

Recognize the smartest person in the room rather than act like the smartest person in the room....

Troublesome friends may need to be sacrificed....

Don't give foes a martyr to rally around....
Details at the link.

Why do all those members of Congress agree to go on "The Colbert Report"...

... where they are subjected to all manner of foolery?
At a time when surveys show younger voters turning away from the mainstream media in favor of blogs and late-night television, politicians and their strategists recognize that "The Colbert Report" is a powerful way to reach a swath of Generation Y.
Yeah, it's because of blogs... (Or were you just trying to get me to link to this?)
"We really don't have a broadcast medium anymore; we have sort of a narrowcast," said Chaka Fattah, Democrat of Pennsylvania, another Colbert guest. "So you've got to look for opportunities."

Mr. Moran said 40 percent of his Northern Virginia district was composed of highly mobile, transient voters in their 20's and 30's. "They're very difficult to develop a relationship with," he said. "Now they see me on the Colbert show, they think at least he likes the same show we like."

Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, sees the youthful hand of hip Congressional aides at work. "The younger staffs of these folks are convincing their bosses that if you really want to be president of the United States some day, you've got to get in with the crowd on Comedy Central," he said.

Thus did David All, the 26-year-old press secretary to the 50-year-old Representative Kingston, persuade his boss, who is also the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, to be Mr. Colbert's guinea pig, his first guest. Mr. All then sent an e-mail message to other House Republican aides urging their bosses to do the same, and arranged for a showing of Mr. Kingston's Colbert clip at a recent weekend Republican retreat.

"We're all about the new media," Mr. All said, adding, "It's good that Republicans can be humorous."

But so far only one other Republican representative, John L. Mica of Florida, has appeared, only to suffer as Mr. Colbert poked fun of his less than elegant hairpiece. Some Democrats say that the dearth of Republicans proves that Republicans have no sense of humor, while others say that no Republican in his right mind would agree to appear on such a blatantly liberal outlet....

Mr. Colbert's victims — er, guests — report that the interviews can last as long as two hours, all boiled down to a few minutes on air. Most, with the notable exception of Mr. Frank, said they would do it again. Mr. Moran said he thought Mr. Colbert "let me off kind of light," and Mr. Pascrell said that while the interview was "like going through water torture," he had "no complaints."
There's the real danger, that loss of control, as Colbert goes on and on, trying to produce something that will be really funny in the edit. It's the same with real reporters too, though. They talk and talk and talk to you, and then they use one sentence that might be entirely different from everything else you said. Later you read the paper, see the quote, and suspect that that's the thing they were hoping all along that you would say and that's what all the questions were designed to elicit. So you've got to keep your wits about you through the whole interview. But anyone who's going to be a member of Congress has got to know how to do that.

Should Republicans stay off the show because Colbert is obviously a liberal (playing the role of a conservative fool)? I think all the members of Congress are in danger of coming off badly. They key consideration shouldn't be whether a given representative is Democratic or Republican, but whether he's sharp enough to understand the situation and poised and good natured enough to let the humor flow around him.

It's not really a matter of who has the better sense of humor. The representative has to be a good straight man. Being good natured and relaxed is much more useful in this situation than being a good humorist yourself. Thus, Barney Frank seemed utterly humorless on the show, though, I think, when he has the floor, he can be pretty funny. But he did badly on the show, because he got pissed off.

"The split mirrors the rift among gay-rights advocates over the question of same-sex marriage."

What do anti-abortion advocates want right now, as they look to their next go-round in the Supreme Court?
Some, like Daniel McConchie of Americans United for Life, which did not take part in [South Dakota's effort to pass a law banning nearly all abortions], said they would have preferred to reduce abortions by continuing to press for restrictions like waiting periods, parental and spousal notification laws, and the prohibition of certain types of abortion — quieter measures that draw less attention and strike a less head-on blow to Roe.

"There is tension," Mr. McConchie said, between those who agree with him about abortion but not about strategy. "A lot of those people — what we tend to think of as the purists — in essence think that people who would push a more incremental approach are sellouts. I understand that type of zeal, but there is a severe penalty you can end up paying."

Those who pressed for the chance to overturn Roe said they had seen hints already that the new Supreme Court, with two recent appointments by President Bush, might be open to reconsidering Roe. One such hint, they said, came just last week, when the court announced it would review a challenge to a federal law prohibiting an abortion procedure, what these opponents call partial-birth abortion.

"It's the right thing," said Leslee Unruh, leader of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. "It's like Martin Luther King's approach — it's never the wrong time to do what's right. South Dakota is in a unique position to do something for the 800 children aborted every year."

But these opponents are also counting on the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens and the appointment by President Bush of another justice amenable to overturning Roe — all uncertain calculations, Mr. McConchie said. Think of what damage may be done, he said, if the court hears the case, but reaffirms Roe. And, should their forces devote money to this strategy, he asked, over all other efforts?
This problem is inherent in political activity that operates through the courts. Many different individuals and groups can move themselves into a position where they can file a case, which they then can structure and control. You may care about the issue that will be decided, but they will determine the strategies and arguments. It will be those who work most quickly, not those who gather the most political support, who have the most effect.

IN THE COMMENTS: Palladian writes:
By the way, does anyone else find the name "National Abstinence Clearinghouse" to be as absurd and hilarious as I do? I imagine getting a sweepstakes mailing from them with a picture of Pope Benedict on the envelope telling me that I may already be a sinner.

"Many do not realize that the schedule of the flaneur, it can be very demanding..."

"... what with the strolling of the boulevards, and the sipping of the Camparis and the cappuccinos, and the reading of the gossip rags."

Did you see that Manolo has a Normblog profile?