March 11, 2006

House-selling stress.

I'm exiled from my house again. I would have gone out anyway, but today, I had to be out at a specific time, while another set of prospective buyers came through. It's not a normal Saturday out and about, when you've got to leave at a particular time, with everything in extra-tidy form, and then think about how strangers are wandering about in there, saying either nice things or bad, the details of which you will hear later.

Little Buddha.


(Previous post on Ram Bomjan here.)

"Locked in darkness, so solidly entombed in snow that he can't move a finger."

A description of getting caught in an avalanche:
One moment a skier is dancing down a mountain. The next, the snow begins to buckle and break, sending him tumbling at greater than freeway speeds. Battered like a log in surf, his mouth and nose clogging with icy particles, he can snatch only a few ragged breaths. And then he is locked in darkness, so solidly entombed in snow that he can't move a finger. There is a 50 percent chance he will die within 30 minutes.
And it's nearly always the skier's own damned fault.

"So why write a book when you can blog?"

Glenn Reynolds asks. His answer:
For the same reason you might make a movie instead of shooting still pictures. A blog is a collection of isolated points. Readers can connect the dots, but the medium doesn't lend itself to comprehensiveness or to narrative threads. People read a book all the way through in a day or a few days. People read blogs in dribs and drabs as they have time. They miss things, they're distracted, they go on vacation. If you want to paint a big and coherent picture, a book is still better.
Well, I tend to read books in dribs and drabs, and then often set them aside and never go back. A blog is a continuing relationship with a writer, so it actually could end up feeling more complete and coherent than an author's book. But in any case, books are different from blogs, and the form the writing takes is part of what affects the reader's mind. Both are good in their own way.

I was struck by the effect of Richard's book "Only What Is," which arrived in the mail the other day. Richard -- my ex-husband, Richard Lawrence Cohen -- simply had a book manufactured out of 89 blog posts. I still can't get over how differently I saw the writing that I had already read on his blog. Why was that? Was it specific to Richard's writing? He does blog posts that aren't so much about exactly what's happening now, and perhaps he always saw his blogging as the composition of short short stories that he meant to have in a book and was just storing temporarily in his blogspace. A blog can be a notebook for someone who is always really writing a book. The solidity of the very same words when bound into a book amazed me. It gives new meaning to the word impressed.

I'd have a hard time doing what Richard did, collecting favorite posts into something that would work as a book, because the posts are set in a time frame and caught in their links. What, would you turn the links into footnotes? Or would you have to select not your favorite posts but the posts that were the least timely and dependent on links, that is, your least bloggy posts? It might be an interesting exercise to discover what those were.

What Glenn did is different. He derived ideas from his experience with blogging (and other things that are like blogging) and wrote the book as a separate project. Obviously, his blog also works as a way to promote the book now, and it has over time won a large set of readers who will tend to feel motivated to buy the book.

Will the Althouse blog ever produce a book? Who knows? I started a project a while back, but I outgrew it. Things are always tumbling along into the future on a blog. Everything that's a day old seems so over. Writing on a blog is like living in the present. It feels so right.

Wafa Sultan to Muslims: Emulate the Jews.

Here's a piece about the Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan, who gave "an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21" and became "an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die."
She said the world's Muslims, whom she compares unfavorably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence.

Dr. Sultan said the world was not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that the forces of violent, reactionary Islam are destined to lose....

"Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong beliefs."

Perhaps her most provocative words on Al Jazeera were those comparing how the Jews and Muslims have reacted to adversity. Speaking of the Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."

She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."
It's good to know that Dr. Sultan's voice is being heard so widely via the internet.

A biographical detail:
[H]er life changed in 1979 when she was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor as she watched, she said.

"They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!' " she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god."
Many individuals give up the religion they were taught as children. Usually the events that lead to the change of heart are not so dramatic. Yet here, the thing that repelled the believer was intended to lock believers more tightly into the faith. Does frightening people keep or lose believers? The answer lies in Sultan's statement: "Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking." It is by keeping people in the dark that a religion succeeds through fear. Why would the educated persons within the religion want to proceed in that fashion? Isn't the answer quite obvious? Those people seek political power.

Ali Shalal Qaissi, the man in the hood.

The NYT has an article about Ali Shalal Qaissi, the man underneath the black hood in the photograph that came to symbolize the abuses of Abu Ghraib:
Under the government of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Qaissi was a mukhtar, in effect a neighborhood mayor, a role typically given to members of the ruling Baath Party and closely tied to its nebulous security services. After the fall of the government, he managed a parking lot belonging to a mosque in Baghdad.

He was arrested in October 2003, he said, because he loudly complained to the military, human rights organizations and the news media about soldiers' dumping garbage on a local soccer field. But some of his comments suggest that he is at least sympathetic toward insurgents who fight American soldiers.

"Resistance is an international right," he said.

Weeks after complaining about the garbage, he said, he was surrounded by Humvees, hooded, tied up and carted to a nearby base before being transferred to Abu Ghraib. Then the questioning began.

"They blamed me for attacking U.S. forces," he said, "but I said I was handicapped; how could I fire a rifle?" he said, pointing to his hand. "Then he asked me, 'Where is Osama bin Laden?' And I answered, 'Afghanistan.' "

How did he know? "Because I heard it on TV," he replied.

He said it soon became evident that the goal was to coax him to divulge names of people who might be connected to attacks on American forces. His hand, then bandaged, was often the focus of threats and inducements, he said, with interrogators offering to fix it or to squash it at different times. After successive interrogations, he said he was finally given a firm warning: "If you don't speak, next time, we'll send you to a place where even dogs don't live."...

Despite the cruelty he witnessed, Mr. Qaissi said he harbored no animosity toward America or Americans. "I forgive the people who did these things to us," he said. "But I want their help in preventing these sorts of atrocities from continuing."

UPDATE: The NYT notes questions raised by Salon about whether Qaissi really was the man in the hood.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The NYT admits that Qaissi was not the man in the hood in the famous photograph.

Why I haven't blogged about Justice O'Connor's speech.

People keep emailing me the link to this NPR report on a speech that Sandra Day O'Connor gave at Georgetown the other day. I assumed I would blog about this speech yesterday after some of my students brought it up. So let me explain why I didn't blog about it. We don't have the full text of the speech, just Nina Totenberg's summary, and it seems to me that everything in it relates to stories that were current last April, which I blogged about back then quite extensively. In a long post titled "Stirring up hatred against judges," I wrote (in part):
People have been complaining about "activist" judges for years. But here's a Washington Post report on a Senate speech by Senator John Cornyn that speculates that judicial activism might cause violence....

The article connects that remark (which seems to be a rather idiotic sort of talking off the top or your head) with Representative Tom DeLay's recent comment....

DeLay was grousing about the judges in the Schiavo case; Cornyn was complaining about the recent Supreme Court case that barred the death penalty for persons who commit their crimes before they reach the age of 18.

It is really a shame how little people understand of the reasons judges decide cases the way they do. DeLay and Cornyn, like many others, signal to the public to think that the judges are simply out of control and the cases are inexplicable as the serious work of deeply thoughtful persons steeped in the legal tradition. It wouldn't be wise just to assume that judges are unerring oracles of law, but to leap to the opposite conclusion and decide they are frauds is even more foolish. And for a public figure even to hint at violence as a solution is completely unacceptable.
I continue the discussion the next day in "Judicial politics." The next post, "Congress and the judiciary -- with a response from Justice Kennedy," acknowledges that Justice Kennedy had addressed the subject. (He said, when pressed as a House committee hearing that "disagreements over the meaning of the Constitution were 'a very important part of democratic dialogue.'") There's a fourth post on the subject here.

Listening to Totenberg's report, I got the feeling she'd heard a stock speech composed a year ago. It referenced those old Cornyn and DeLay remarks, as Totenberg reports. I agree with O'Connor's points and think Totenberg put together a spiffy report, but it felt like a report from last year, too stale to address. Cornyn and DeLay haven't continued with that idiocy, and a lot of things have happened since then. Why not address those things? Why not say something about how the push-back against Cornyn and DeLay changed their behavior? Maybe she did say some other things that would have seemed fresher. I don't know. I don't have the text to use to find other things that might inspire some blogging. But the text is withheld. Why? Well, one reason for not releasing the text of a speech is because you want to deliver the same speech over and over again.

March 10, 2006

"People with Down syndrome are pure in heart and spirit."

Did you know that there is an especially high demand to adopt children with Down syndrome? There are long waiting lists to get such a child. When I first saw this surprising fact, I thought it was part of the pro-life movement, an expression of opposition to the practice of aborting fetuses found to have Down syndrome, but that's not it:
Most who seek to adopt Down syndrome children have had a family member, friend or acquaintance with the disorder, or work with them in medical or school professions.

"People think they are just great kids, people feel like they are very lovable," said Rachel Crews, a social worker with the Special Additions adoption agency in Stillwell, Kansas.

Changing attitudes toward people with all disabilities and improved medical treatments also are helping unite these children with families, advocates say.

"Society as a whole is much more accepting," said David Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Atlanta, Georgia. "You are much more likely today to see people with disabilities in the media, places of worship, schools.

"Whereas in a prior generation, mothers were told when they had a baby with Down syndrome or another disability, put the child in an institution and forget about them."

That's what happened 34 years ago to a little girl named Martha, whose single mother gave her up for adoption. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome and placed in a group home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

But when Martha turned 4, Robin Steele and her husband met her and fell in love immediately. With one son already, they adopted Martha and have gone on to adopt nine other children -- three of them with Down syndrome.

"We just knew we wanted to make Martha part of our family," Steele said.

Martha's adoption also spurred the Steeles to help connect other families like theirs with families who felt they could not raise children with Down syndrome.

So, 23 years ago, they started the Adoption Awareness Program in conjunction with the Down Syndrome Association of Cincinnati. Steele connects people who want a child with Down syndrome with birth mothers or adoption agencies.

In the first year, she helped find homes for three children with Down syndrome. Now, Steele works with three to five situations a week, she said, and has a waiting list of 150. Waits average six months to a year.

"People with Down syndrome are pure in heart and spirit," said Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City. "They keep you grounded."

Allison said the organization does not monitor trends, but "there are easily more people contacting us interested in adoption than we have ever seen before."
Would you get amniocentesis for the purpose of learning whether your child would have Down syndrome, so you could abort that child? Do you think ill of those who do? What would you do if you had tried to get pregnant and believed in the importance of loving whatever child you were blessed to bear and your husband revealed to you that he would reject a child with Down syndrome? Would you have amniocentesis and abort a child with Down syndrome so you could go forward with another pregnancy that, you hoped, would produce a less flawed child? Would knowing that there are long lists of would-be parents who especially hope to adopt a child with Down syndrome affect your decision? Would it make a difference if those waiting to become adoptive parents had put their names on the list to discourage abortion or if, on the other hand, they simply had a special love for persons with Down syndrome?

Giving the keynote address at the blog summit.

Next Saturday is the WisPolitics/WisOpinion "Blog Summit." It's open to the public, but you do have to register. It's your big chance to go to Waukesha. I'm going to be giving the keynote address, from 1 to 1:20. Here's the rest of the program:
1:25 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. The Legalities of Blogging by Jennifer L. Peterson, attorney, LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn. Short speech and question-and-answer period.

1:45 p.m. to 2:10 p.m. "Why blog? Defining the phenomenon from a citizen bloggers' perspective'' Owen Robinson of Boots & Sabers and Jay Bullock of folkbum's rambles and rants lead a discussion with other citizen bloggers.

2:15 p.m. to 2:40 p.m. Moderated panel discussion: How will history view early blogging? An academic view. Jessica McBride, journalism instructor, radio talk show host and blogger, UW-Milwaukee; John McAdams, blogger and Marquette professor of political science; and Ken Mayer, UW-Madison political scientist.

2:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Moderated panel discussion: Impact of blogging on election 2006. Participants: Ed Garvey of, Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM, state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Brian Fraley, GOP strategist and blogger.
Feel free to give me some advice on what to talk about. If it's a "keynote" address, is it my responsiblity to set the key? Is there a such thing as an "off-keynote" address?

Spring break!

It's almost. One more class. Just a little standing, mootness, and ripeness -- with a dollop of Take Care Clause. It's a warm 39° here in Madison, Wisconsin, not counting the sun warmth factor. What? You don't count the sun warmth factor? You count the wind chill factor though, don't you, you pessimist? Me? I'm in a good mood. I love teaching standing, mootness, a ripeness, and I love Spring Break, and I love having such a cool group of students that for the first time in 20 years not one member of the class requested that I cancel the last class before Spring Break. Dedication!

IN THE COMMENTS: This post is recognized as a variation on the blog tradition of the "open thread," mondegreens break out, and I link to the Laughing Elvis.

Giuliani: "You could spend your whole life wanting to be insulted. Why?"

He was advising people "to be less sensitive" about stereotypes on "The Sopranos." Oh, damn it, this is a TimesSelect piece! (Link.) Actually, Giuliani said that a while ago, but the topic is back, because the show is back. It's gotten to be a rather tedious topic, hasn't it? Or do you take issue with Giuliani and think it's important to remain ever-sensitive to stereotypes? At some point, don't you have to just say that this show is so great that it has license to do whatever it wants?

So then, what do you think will happen this season, the last one? Will you focus on trying to figure out how Tony Soprano will die? Because he must die in the end, right?

Creationism in science class... in England.

It's required:
Pupils in England will be required to discuss creationist theories as part of a new GCSE biology course being introduced in September.

The move has alarmed scientists who fear it could open the door for the promotion of creationist ideas like "intelligent design" and give them scientific respectability at a time when they are being promoted by fundamentalist Christians and Muslims....

The new biology syllabus in England does not require the teaching of creationist views alongside Darwin's theory of evolution, but it opens the way for classroom discussions in science lessons and pupils will be assessed on work they do on this topic.

The schools standards minister, Jacqui Smith, said in a parliamentary answer that pupils were encouraged to explore different views, theories and beliefs in many different subjects, including science.

"Creationism is one of many differing beliefs which pupils might discuss and consider, perhaps when they learn about another aspect of science: 'ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place... and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted'," she said.
I wonder if in the end the religionists will be happy. The science teachers, most of whom won't like having this imposed on them, will be pressing students to use the tools of science to question the assertions made by religion. Won't this teach them not to believe? Students who hold to the belief in creationism will be shredded in any classroom debate that is framed in scientific terms. Smith imagines a sweet atmosphere of mutual understanding, but what is going to cause that to happen?

You can't taste it, you can't smell it, so will you watch food?

So I TiVo'd "Top Chef," the Bravo reality show that supposed to tide over "Project Runway" fans until they can come up with a new season of the wonderful fashion show. "Project Runway" is fun to watch because you're seeing people with real skills make something that you get to see in the end, and it's something -- a garment -- that is mostly about looks. It's true you don't get to feel what it's like to wear it or find out how well it holds up over time, but you basically get to appreciate the main purpose of the thing.

With "Top Chef," they are making food. And yes, it takes real skill to do that. But the thing they are making is to be eaten (and smelled). There is a visual aspect to food, but the guy who won the first week's competition just made an amorphous pile of beige. So, clearly, it's about flavor and the feeling of the food in the mouth. It's tiresome to watch people eat and then try to put into words what they are sensing. It's not as if these eaters are brilliant speakers, whose conversation adequately substitutes for the experience of eating. We can watch their faces, but you pretty much know the mmmm face and the disgust face. It's not that entertaining, repeated 20 times per show. And you know they'll exaggerate their reactions to try to make it more exciting.

Bonus Althouse opinion: I detest the TV talk shows when they have a chef on to cook something in a minute or two, and then the host holds the plate up close to her (or his) face, shovels in some food, and has a fake orgasm about it.

"How do you make a case for trial lawyers to a bunch of 16 year olds?"

Lawprof "Oscar" goes to a local high school and debates about suing fast food restaurants for making people fat (and then stops for doughnuts on the way home).

1,000 kite fliers arrested in Pakistan.

But it's not because of fundamentalist opposition to kite-flying. It's about dangerous string.
Revellers taking part in the Basant festival, which marks the start of the spring in Punjab, spend millions of rupees on day-and-night kite battles and the skies are filled with the brightly coloured toys.

Many people use strings coated with a paste containing glass powder or with iron wool to sever the strings of rival kites. But the cords have also claimed the lives of 10 people, most of them children, police and newspapers said.

Most are killed when the strings fall across roads at head height and slit the throats of people on motorbikes.
Kite battles. Rival kites. Dangerous string.

March 9, 2006

"It's well worth looking around in this world, still, to see what's out there."

The rat squirrel lives!

"American Idol" -- week 8 results.

Great! We get rid of four of these clowns. Melissa is wearing a watermelon-patterned top that makes her breasts look like... watermelons. After a quick recap of the performances this week, they bring out Bo Bice to do his single, "The Real Thing." It's not the song I associate with that phrase, but some new song. He sweats a lot and I mostly ignore him.

There's a promo for the new show "Unanimous." They lock a bunch of people in a vault until they decide unanimously which one of them should receive $1 million. It seems kind of like a jury, needing to reach unanimity. I wonder what the rules are, because it seems too obvious that one person would get himself chosen by promising to divide the money equally among all of them.

Kinnik Skye is told very straightforwardly that she has the least votes among the women. That's a new twist! She gets to redo her losing song, and I get to use the TiVo remote.

They switch over to the guys and tell Will Makar that he's got the least votes of the men. He's a sweet young guy -- only 17 -- but he's got to go. He sings his song a lot better than last night.

Now, they switch to a positive process, identifying the contestants who make the final 12. For a second, it seems that the odd one out is going to be Melissa, but, no, it's Ayla, and so my two picks to leave -- in the female category -- are in fact leaving. Ayla fights not to completely burst out crying. Oh, don't feel sorry for her. She's beautiful, tall, a basketball player, and a straight-A student. She'll be fine.

I only picked one guy to go, Ace, but he makes it. It comes down to Bucky and Gedeon. And Gedeon is eliminated! I'm surprised. He was one of my favorites. Too bad! We see Paris Bennett crying, and Ace is comforting her. Why did "America" do that?

"The rule of law is a cathedral we have to build brick by brick."

Religious imagery from John Roberts, giving his first major speech since becoming Chief Justice. Do you like the building metaphor for law? If you do, do you see any reason why the building should be a cathedral? If you do, do you think the Chief Justice should nevertheless have rejiggered the metaphor to remove the religion? If you do, what building would you suggest?

ADDED: Here's the link to the video of the entire speech, which is brilliant, with terrific delivery, especially for the comic parts, which are many. I locked onto the quote that made the news report, but hearing the whole speech, I find many things I would just as well have blogged about. So please, just go look at the speech!

FURTHER: The comic timing reminds me of Bob Newhart.

What blogs do members of Congress read?

John Hawkins has a list, at least of Republicans. Hey, Congressman Bob Ney reads my blog. Hi, Bob! Do you think Chloe deserved to win "Project Runway"?

You don't have to be litigious to feel entitled to more.

My heart goes out to the kids who got their SAT scores screwed up:
A day after the College Board notified colleges that it had misreported the scores of 4,000 students who took the SAT exam in October, an official of the testing organization disclosed that some of the errors were far larger than initially suggested.

With college counselors and admissions officials scrambling to take a second look at student scores in the final weeks before they mail out acceptances and rejections, Chiara Coletti, the College Board's vice president for public affairs, said that 16 students out of the 495,000 who took the October exam had scores that should have been more than 200 points higher.

"There were no changes at all that were more than 400 points," Ms. Coletti said. She did not say how many students had errors that big. The three-section test has a maximum score of 2400.
Imagine how much anguish was caused to kids getting such incomprehensible scores and how much they were harmed in the admissions process.
The board said yesterday that it had finished notifying high schools and students about discrepancies. It said it would return the fees the affected students had paid to take the exam and to send the results to colleges and scholarship organizations....

"I hardly think a refund of the test fee will make up for that pain," Mr. Poch said, "and in this litigation-driven society, I wonder how long it will take for a class-action suit to emerge."
You don't have to be litigious to feel entitled to more than a return of the fee. Bring on the lawsuit!

UPDATE: The NYT puts up a second article on the controversy:
The scoring errors disclosed this week on thousands of the College Board's SAT tests were made by a company that is one of the largest players in the exploding standardized testing business, handling millions of tests each year.

The mistakes by the company, Pearson Educational Measurement, raised fresh questions about the reliability of the kinds of high-stakes tests that increasingly dominate education at all levels. Neither Pearson, which handles state testing across the country, nor the powerful College Board detected the scoring problems until two students came forward with complaints.

"The story here is not that they made a mistake in the scanning and scoring, but that they seem to have no fail safe to alert them directly and immediately of a mistake," said Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. " To depend on test takers who challenge the scores to learn about system failure is not good."

"The Wisconsin Supreme Court is quite vigorously asserting itself against the other branches of state government."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has excerpts from a speech by 7th Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, complaining about the Wisconsin Supreme Court (where she was once a justice):
In a series of landmark decisions [in the past year], the court:

• Rewrote the rational basis test for evaluating challenges to state statutes under the Wisconsin Constitution, striking down the statutory limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases;

• Eliminated the individual causation requirement for tort liability in lawsuits against manufacturers of lead-paint pigment, expanding "risk contribution" theory, a form of collective industry liability;

• Expanded the scope of the exclusionary rule under the state constitution to require suppression of physical evidence obtained as a result of law enforcement's failure to administer Miranda warnings;

• Declared a common police identification procedure inherently suggestive and the resulting identification evidence generally inadmissible in criminal prosecutions under the state constitution's due process clause;

• Invoked the court's supervisory authority over the state court system to impose a new rule on law enforcement that all juvenile custodial interrogations be electronically recorded....

The terms "modesty" and "restraint"- the watchwords of today's judicial mainstream - seem to be missing from the Wisconsin Supreme Court's current vocabulary. Instead, the court has adopted a more aggressive approach to judging.

March 8, 2006

"Whether you love to hate me or hate to love me, I'm not just good TV..."

I couldn't be more frazzled. But I'm also really excited about the "Project Runway" finale. That quote in the title is from Santino, but he is the first to be eliminated. He didn't show enough of himself. And, in fact, as we saw, he made a strategic decision to rein himself in on this collection. And they blamed him for that.

So it's between Daniel and Chloe. And it's Chloe! She really understands women. I think that cool thing with the pockets that Diana helped her do made the difference.

"American Idol" -- the last 8 guys.

Okay, I'm really, really tired, as you know if you read the last post, but today is one of the great TV nights of the year: "American Idol" and the finale of "Project Runway." So all my worries evaporate as I settle in for a delicious evening of television. I've washed the dust out of my hair. I've poured a big glass of cabernet. I've fired up the laptop for the compulsive if not compulsory blogging. So let's look at the guys. There are 8 left and 2 must go this week.

I've been called on this before and I openly admit it: I prefer the guys. It's not just that they are guys, it's that guys who do the competition are different from the women. It's kind of a very girly thing, to go on "American Idol." It's like studying ballet. For a guy to do it, he's got a lot of motivation, and he needs to take pains to hold onto his masculinity. Personally, I have no problem with a guy being completely unmasculine, but to succeed on the show, winning America's votes, a guy has some special problems. We tend to think a guy who can sing will be off doing something else. Start a rock band, dammit! To have credibility on this show, they need to justify themselves in a way that the women do not.

So Gedeon sings "When a Man Loves a Woman" and asserts that he picked the song because of all the women he's loved, and then he slips and says his mother, his grandmother. Aw, Gedeon, you don't have to convince me that you're not gay. But I feel like they've pressured him to project masculinity, and my heart goes out to him. And the fact is, he did a terrific job singing the song. And no one got to him and told him to stop saying "God bless you" at every compliment. Gedeon must stay!

Chris Daughtry isn't as great as last week. But we love him. He does an ultra-masculine handshake with Ryan when Ryan comes at him. He's a manly contestant. And he's a great singer too. I think he's likely to win the whole competition. But he is a little muted tonight. That's okay. He needs to give everyone else a chance to catch up, to make this interesting.

Kevin Covais, this year's biggest nerd, astounds us by singing "Starry, Starry Night," the song Clay Aiken screwed up. It's a cursed song, but he does it anyway. The sweet purity of the singing breaks our heart. I don't care what the judges say. Vote for our dear, sweet Kevin.

Bucky Covington. We find out he has an identical twin, Rocky. Rocky and Bucky. Damn, that's charming. Funny that the twin thing, which is always big in the auditions, didn't surface with Bucky until just now. Ooh, they bring up Rocky... and it's utterly charming. Can someone explain that extra long, hanging down tooth that Bucky has over on the side? Half the time it makes me feel sorry for him that his family couldn't get him braces, but the other half of the time it seems quirky and cool, like maybe they ought to make little Bucky pop-on teeth for the rest of us to get that look.

William Makar sings "How Sweet It Is," and he's kind of okay, but I hear the original in my head and know how far short he falls. Randy and Simon try to pressure America to oust him. Paula expresses the love.

Taylor Hicks. "You don’t know me but I’m your brother. I was raised here in this living hell. You don’t know my kind in your world. Fairly soon the time will tell." What's that? Some kind of terrorist song? Nah, it's the Doobie Brothers, doobing. Who the hell knows what that crap is all about? He's all up in a high register. And he's wearing a white shirt and a beige corduroy jacket. This just isn't reaching me. After it's all over, he does that Joe Cocker lean back to remind us of why we're supposed to like him. Feh! The judges bend over backwards to signal us to vote for him anyway. They know he's good entertainment, and they want him to stay. I'm fed up with this phony.

Elliott Yasmin. Deaf in one ear... like Brian Wilson. Ah! But he's awful, singing that disgusting Bryan Adams song "Heaven." Ack! Randy and Paula push him. They want to keep him, and they are lying! That's so wrong. I'm glad Simon slams him.

Oh, lord, it's that cheeseball Ace. Yikes! It's embarrassing. He's making me long for Corey, as he does an insane falsetto on a Michael Jackson song. Horrendous! You've got to be kidding me! The judges all lie. Because he's cute.

My picks to leave: Ace and anyone but Gedeon, Kevin, or Chris.

How pressured can I possibly be?

Trying to get my house ready for the first showing today, I was under so much time pressure that when I went out on the deck to shovel off the snow, I didn't put on shoes. I went barefoot!

Now, I'm exiled from my own house while three sets of prospective buyers check out the place. And I'm so frazzled from all the last minute tidying that it seems hard to order a cappucino, carry it to a little table here, and read my email. Really, I've used all my physical energy for the last month getting my house ready to put on the market. Before I decided to sell my house, I wanted to get the whole place in order, but I never had the mental focus to use the physical strength I had. With the economic incentive, I've had all the mental focus I need, but I keep reaching the end of my physical stamina. But today, I had to bring it all together and went way beyond the point where, on other days, I would have stopped and rested. I put the pieces of a king size bed together, single-handedly, including attaching a headboard and moving the mattress back into the room I just had painted. And the painter was just remarking about how heavy that mattress was. And he had another guy helping him move it out of the room. Ah, well, I need to just pause and feel good about getting it all done.

You know, walking around in the snow barefoot isn't so bad. It's kind of fun, really. Didn't the Scots go barefoot in snow? I think they did. Anyway, it made me feel some connection to my Scottish ancestry.

Justice Breyer on the newly reconfigured Supreme Court.

The AP reports:
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said Tuesday the high court has more discussion and debate behind closed doors with its two new members.

Breyer, though, said the court "seems to be running very well" under Chief Justice John Roberts, and he doesn't think the extra discussion is a major change.

"Perhaps it has to do with younger people," Breyer, 67, told reporters at a news conference before he was to speak at the Clinton Library....

Breyer said publicity surrounding the latest confirmations has led to greater public interest in the court's operations. That could help justices demystify what they do, he said.

"We're not the CIA. The Supreme Court isn't and shouldn't be a secret place," Breyer said. "It's an opportunity for us to explain what the court is about."...

Breyer said he didn't know if a flurry of recent unanimous decisions indicates that the newly formed court under Roberts was trying harder to agree.

"The more controversial matters tend to pile up by the end of the year," Breyer said. "Unanimity is often a function of what cases come along. If people see eye to eye, it works very well."

I'll say more later. I've got to run to class!

UPDATE: I have to keep my promise to say more. Basically, I've been hoping Roberts will bring clarity and cohesion to the Court's opinions. Breyer's comments seemed inspiring to me, but on rereading them, I can see that he's being cagey and not really saying much of anything. They're talking more. Okay.... You shouldn't be too secretive.... Yeah, well, then... say something more substantial!

"The institutional vanity and intellectual slovenliness of America's campus-based intelligentsia...."

So begins George Will's column on the Solomon Act case (Rumsfeld v. FAIR):
On Monday Roberts's shredding of the law schools' arguments included a tartness that betrayed impatience with law professors who cannot understand pertinent distinctions.
See what you get when you write a crisp, clear opinion? Columnists portray you as impatient and tart. Damn it, Will! Roberts is writing well. Are you so used to flabby, obfuscatory court opinions that you think they're a way to show that a justice takes the arguments and his job as a judge seriously?

Well, Will would like to think that we professors are just lost in a world of our own, but the truth is that we've put a lot of effort into enforcing standards of nondiscrimination in our law schools, and we don't like to have to sacrifice that for the sake of the military's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy.
Recruiters are obviously not components of law schools; they are outsiders on brief visits for a limited purpose. "Nothing about recruiting," Roberts wrote, "suggests that law schools agree with any speech by recruiters." Besides, "We have held that high school students can appreciate the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits because legally required to do so, pursuant to an equal access policy." Then, Roberts's tartness: "Surely students have not lost that ability by the time they get to law school."

The law schools and faculties earned that sip of the chief justice's vinegar by bringing this case to court. The professors deserved -- no, let us just say they needed -- better legal advice than they were able to give themselves.
Will is being obtuse. People make the best arguments they can, once they've decided to litigate. The decision to litigate is not based solely on the strength of the arguments. It's wrong to bring a completely unfounded claim, but there is a worthy tradition of making difficult new arguments, even when the chances of losing are high, when one believes important principles are at stake, as the law professors did here.

"Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?"

Last week, I mentioned that my colleague Asifa Quraishi was giving a talk on Monday called "A Reconsideration of Presumptions: Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?" So, what's the answer? Here it is in Professor Quraishi's words:
I think yes, Islam is compatible with democracy. It is also compatible with a lot of other methods of government. There's nothing mandating or prohibiting any particular form of rule in the source texts of Islam (Quran and Hadith).
Quraishi, who teaches constitutional law and Islamic law here at the UW Law School, explained how, historically, Islamic law developed, with a "public lawmaking realm [that] was separated from the realm of those who derived law from from interpretation of divine texts." This traditional public lawmaking "could very easily translate to a democratic public legislative (even representative democracy, even federalism if you like that too) system."
The question then becomes what do you do with the law that is derived from divine texts (and this is law, by the way, that a lot of Muslims in the world like, and in fact demand their rights under - much the same way we demand our constitutional rights - and this includes women, often in a very empowering way, but that's another topic) - i.e. the doctrinal corpus of law created by private Muslim jurists (fiqh).

What I was tackling in my presentation was the roadblock in this issue that I think is presented by the western tendency to think that the sovereign state should be the location of all law for all of society. Once we are able to re-think the location of legal authority in a society, that some can exist as valid and authoritative, yet outside the realm of public lawmaking mechanisms, then I think that we will have gotten much further to coming up with a system of government and lawmaking and adjudication for Muslim societies that can be (but doesn't have to be, frankly I don't care what it looks like, that's up to them) "democratic" but in a very different model than western nation-state democracies.

I don't have any specific proposal on how this would look, and how it would work (that's something for me to work on for the next several years). I'm just saying that the western model is not the only one, and then I try to push that point by showing how the merging of nation-state model with Islamic law pressures from the people and political movements has actually resulted in the worst of both worlds - i.e. theocratic-type authorities despite the fact that neither Islamic heritage, nor the western model would have chosen that on their own.
I wish everyone could hear Asifa give this presentation. She's a terrific speaker, and she uses Powerpoint slides, which I normally hate, quite brilliantly. There's a point in the presentation where one circle moves to a different position and everyone feels a great sense of enlightenment.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Feel free to continue into the comments, where some readers take issue with Quraishi, and I relay some of her responses and note that she likened muftis (whom I initially mistakenly call mullahs) to law professors.

March 7, 2006

"American Idol" -- the last 8 women.

We see the last 8 women and hear that 2 will have to go this week. Looking at the group, I predict Melissa and Kinnik will be cut. But then Melissa sings a Heart song, and I heart Melissa. Kinnik, though: phew! That was bad! Off key.

Ayla Brown is just atrocious but the judges are very kind to her, perhaps because she looks fabulous -- really tall! -- and was adorable in the film clip talking about how when she was a kid she believed her dad was Elvis Presley. They don't want her to go.

Paris Bennett was okay, but she seemed to have trouble keeping up with that dumb song "Rhythm of the Night." [CORRECTION: Sorry, the song was actually "Conga," but it's still dumb.] She should be better. I'm still waiting for her to be what she was when we first saw her at the auditions. Lisa Tucker was pretty good. Katharine McPhee: excellent! She sings "Think," you know, the one with "freedom, freedom, freedom!" I love that. She acts all bubbly, and it comes off well.

Mandisa, inviting a fat joke, sings "I'm Every Woman." She kind of blows everyone else away. Wow! It pushes Randy to adopt a new word of strong praise: "Ridiculous!" He's going, "Ridiculous! Ridiculous!" Paula says, "You sang your butt off," and we're seeing shots of Mandisa in tight jeans from the back and thinking "And that's quite a task!" Simon calls her brilliant. And let me just add, I think she looks great! She has a beautiful face, and her abundant body is magnificent. Awesome. Ridiculous.

Kellie Pickler ends the night with a song that's been sung too much on "American Idol" and that I'm inclined to despise, "I'm the Only One." But I'm convinced by this somehow. Simon says, "Kellie, you're what's known as a naughty little minx," which strikes me as one of the funniest comments he's ever come out with. She goes, "What's a minx?" I've been thinking her biggest problem is that she seems too much like Carrie Underwood, who won last year, so I understand where Simon is coming from when he adds, "I kind of prefer you to last year's winner." The reason for the preference is clear, both women seem down home and well-scrubbed, but Kellie seems a little dirty at the same time. You can see that Simon is into that. Ryan refers to the minx comment and Kellie yells out "I'm a mink!" And millions of people laugh at her, and also love her, in the same way we once loved Jessica Simpson, back when she was confused by Chicken of the Sea.

So who will go? Kinnik, for sure. For the other? I think Ayla deserves to go, but they want Melissa to go. But even Paris is at risk.

World's oldest pony.


Sometimes the Althouse blog is challenging, and sometimes it's not.

Is attention deficit a disorder?

From today's Science Times, psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes:
We live in an information age, in a knowledge-based economy.

For those of us who have "attention-surplus disorder" — a term coined by Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist in Boston who has A.D.H.D. — this knowledge-based economy has been a godsend. We thrive.

But attention disorder cases, up to 5 to 15 percent of the population, are at a distinct disadvantage. What once conferred certain advantages in a hunter-gatherer era, in an agrarian age or even in an industrial age is now a potentially horrific character flaw, making people feel stupid or lazy and irresponsible, when in fact neither description is apt.

The term attention-deficit disorder turns out to be a misnomer. Most people who have it actually have remarkably good attention spans as long as they are doing activities that they enjoy or find stimulating. As Martha B. Denckla of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has noted, we should probably be calling the condition something like "intention-inhibition disorder," because it is a condition in which one's best intentions — say, reading 50 pages in a dense textbook or writing a 10-page paper in a timely fashion — go awry.

Essentially, A.D.H.D. is a problem dealing with the menial work of daily life, the tedium involved in many school situations and 9-to-5 jobs.

Another hallmark, impulsivity, or its more positive variant, spontaneity, appears to be a vestige from lower animals forced to survive in the wild. Wild animals cannot survive without an extraordinary ability to react. If predators lurk, they need to act quickly.

This vestige underscores the fact that human genetic variability, the fact that we are not all simply clones of one another, has allowed us to survive as a species for 150,000 years in a variety of contexts and environments.

In essence, attention-deficit disorder is context driven. In many situations of hands-on activities or activities that reward spontaneity, A.D.H.D. is not a disorder....

If it is indeed a context-driven disorder, let's change the contexts in schools to accommodate the needs of children who have it, not just support and accommodate the needs of children with attention-surplus disorder.

For those with attention disorder who wish to be full participants in a knowledge-based world, medications equalize their opportunities. The drugs should and can be used only as needed in the context of dealing with the tedium of school or the drab paperwork of some jobs.
It's frightening to think that the modern world has been organized around what are aberrant capacities (like "attention surplus"), putting those with normal capacities (that were useful when evolved) at such a disadvantage that drugs -- dangerous drugs -- must be used to compensate.

"This is our time," say Roe opponents. But is it?

Now that South Dakota has passed its harsh anti-abortion law, what will happen next?
[O]pponents of abortion have split over South Dakota's approach, a fact that [Governor Michael] Rounds acknowledged in recent weeks as he weighed whether to sign the legislation.

Some, including those who led efforts to pass the ban in South Dakota, said they considered this the ideal time to return the central question of Roe to the Supreme Court. State Representative Roger Hunt, who sponsored the bill in South Dakota, pointed to the appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both conservatives, and what he described as the "strong possibility" of the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in the near future and the naming of a conservative as his successor.

"This is our time," Mr. Hunt said on Monday.

Other national anti-abortion groups, though, have quietly disagreed with the timing, pressing instead to cut down on abortions by creating restrictions that may be more palatable to a wider audience, restrictions like parental and spousal notification laws and clinic regulations. If the Supreme Court upholds Roe, they have argued, the damage for those opposed to abortion rights will be grave.

"As much as this isn't the best strategic thing to do, it's there and it's the law of South Dakota now," said Daniel S. McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, another group. "We'll defend our position now — which is to oppose abortion."

Cristina Minniti, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said no one from her organization was available to be interviewed on the South Dakota law. Instead, she issued a one paragraph statement which stated, in part: "Currently there are at least five votes, a majority, on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade."

Mr. Rounds, who became governor in 2003 after serving in the South Dakota Senate for a decade, declined to speak with reporters after the signing. In an earlier interview, he said that he personally felt uncertain about the timing of a challenge to Roe, but that he was leaning toward signing the bill, in part because he did not wish to divide the people who, like him, oppose abortion.
I think Rounds and others sense that they are making a terrible misstep. The very harshness of this law will remind ordinary people why they have quietly, over the years, accepted the individual's right to make a private decision about whether to continue a pregnancy. More modest efforts at constraining the right may have been tolerated. But this remorseless intrusion on the individual should backfire on abortion opponents. Even if they manage to get the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade -- and I don't think they will -- the political support for abortion rights should make that victory Pyrrhic.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm happy to say there is civil conversation among readers with very different views.

In art, either you're in or you're out.

The arbiter of art, Janson's History of Art. With a new edition, reputations rise and fall. (I like the Heidi Klum-style headline on the article!)
The new edition drops not only Whistler's portrait of his mother but also evicts several other longtime residents, like Domenichino, the Baroque master, and Louis Le Nain, whose work is in the Louvre.

The sculptor Louis-Fran├žois Roubiliac, for example, has been erased with a vengeance; even a portrait by another artist of Roubiliac posing with his work has been dropped. And some full-page reproductions that had become permanent fixtures — like the Metropolitan Museum of Art's van Eyck diptych, "The Crucifixion, the Last Judgment" — have been replaced with others seen to be more representative of an artist's work....

Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University who described himself as a longtime critic of Janson, welcomed many of the changes. "It's clearly a liberal version of a cold-war classic that will pass muster in most of the U.S.," he said.

But he added that it would probably never regain the dominance it once had, simply because the whole idea of a book like it, or other supposedly all-inclusive surveys like "Gardner's Art Through the Ages," first published in 1926, had become outdated.

"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.

[Frima Fox Hofrichter, chairwoman of the history of art and design department at Pratt Institute], who has taught from Janson for many years, counters that teachers and students need a book to use as a starting point and basic guide to what should be considered important. But she said she had also often "taught against" Janson during her career, which leaves her in a strange predicament.

"Now," she said, "I'll have only myself to teach against."
You may think that last quote sounds silly, but I know exactly what Hofrichter means. There is good reason to want a very traditional presentation in the text so you have something to critique in class, some value to add. If the text itself is the critique of the tradition, it makes you passive, stuck with the editor's critique and forced to help students try to understand what the tradition was that this editor was reacting to, which can be confusing and annoying and nowhere near as fascinating as the editor imagines. In this case, however, Hofrichter is one of the new editors! But the old text was falling out of favor, and the publisher needed to revive it.

Dana Reeve.

Ms. Reeve took on an increasingly prominent role after her husband's paralysis in a horse riding accident in 1996. Together, they created the Christopher Reeve Foundation, which drew on his fame as the actor in the "Superman" movies and the inspiration many drew from his struggle to raise and distribute over $55 million in research grants, much of it aimed at speeding the development of stem-cell treatments....

When Ms. Reeve announced her cancer, she said that "now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge. I look to him as the ultimate example of defying the odds with strength, courage and hope in the face of life's adversities."

Rudy Giuliani is the most popular politician in the country.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll.
The Quinnipiac poll asked voters to rate politicians on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher numbers representing more favorable opinions. Giuliani's mean score was 63.5, according to the poll.

Obama got a mean score of 59.9, McCain 59.7 and Rice 57.1.

"Not only do Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain get the best ratings, but their numbers are uniform across the country," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

President George W. Bush's rating was 44.1. Vice President Dick Cheney got a 41. Former President Bill Clinton was at 56.1

Four Democrats who are considered potential presidential candidates in 2008 were also mentioned in the poll's top 10: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards received a 50.8, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner scored 50.7, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton 50.4 and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin 49.
You know you want to talk about the '08 election. Go ahead!

March 6, 2006

"The Apprentice."

The task is to get people in the street to send text messages, as many as possible, but it's also supposed to be a promotion of that new Gillette shaver with 5 blades. But if the game is judged by the number of messages, why should anyone pay any attention to the shaver? I mean, other than to get unusually distracted by the fact that Brent needs a shave? Lenny ("the Russian") figures all of this out, but no one else seems to. It's pointless to think up a "creative" word to text -- like "closer." Just have them text the easiest thing. One letter! Lenny's right. And so hardcore about saying he's right.

The Synergy team gets utterly distracted by the loathsomeness of Brent. What's so loathsome about him? I mean, in addition to the fact that he needs a shave -- and he's otherwise disheveled, which is especially bad since he's also overweight... and everyone else is above-average in looks? Well, he's really pushy, and his way of expressing himself is so annoying that Stacy just has to cut him off, and then he gets all in her face about that. Now, Stacy goes overboard, accusing Brent of being "physically threatening" and saying she can't work with him and they need to oust him right now. Interesting concept, the team firing somebody. How exactly does that work? Well, both Stacy and Brent are lawyers, so presumably there was some legalistic discussion of the concept, but it must have been boring, because we don't get to see it. Bottom line: Synergy wasted time.

Meanwhile, Michael comes up with the Synergy concept: they will all wear bathrobes, and then people in the street will all -- he predicts -- want to know why and will be ready to text message to find out the answer. Hilarious! Somehow they don't realize that everyone on the street will avoid a person in a bathrobe. Well, at least a guy in a bathrobe. Ivanka Trump is the new Carolyn and she's all "Oh, bathrobes?" Some of these folks look especially atrocious in bathrobes. Brent's got the belt up under his man-boobs with his undershirted belly hanging out below and, further down, hairy, scabby legs. They go to Times Square. Who would interact with such a man in Times Square? And then he busts out dancing. In flip-flops. And doing Devo-style "robotics."

Meanwhile, Gold Rush's leader Lee ends up ceding authority to Lenny, who's totally right about getting out early and having no gimmicks. We see little of these folks, and in the world of reality show editing, we know the other team lost. And yes, of course, that's what happens.

The "reward" for Gold Rush is to help three down-and-out guys each get a nice suit of clothes together to help them get back to work. Trump preens over the astounding charitableness of this activity. We cringe.

The Synergy gang gangs up on Brent. Michael, who's surely got to know he's on the line for the boneheaded bathrobe concept, emotes about "the aggressiveness that he took out on our female." Stacy now wobbles and says that Brent didn't "threaten" her. She must realize that to claim to have been threatened by a little verbal confrontation and close physical proximity is to reveal weakness. She's wracking her brains trying to pitch this right so that Brent goes down, and she can't quite figure it out.

In the Boardroom, there's plenty of pressure on Brent, but Trump sniffs out the problems with Pepi (the leader, why didn't he lead?), Stacy (you were threatened?), and Michael (bathrobes?). Trump announces he's going to fire two. Keeping up the suspense. We think, so, Brent and who else? And then he fires Stacy and Pepi! As they are leaving, we see Brent in the elevator. He's smirking devilishly. Ha!

"I was yelling about the sandwiches...."

"... for more than nineteen weeks."

The Solomon Amendment is upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court.

SCOTUSblog reports:
A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday upheld the "Solomon Amendment" that assures military recruiters they may seek to sign up students at the nation's law schools. The Court ruled that the military must be given access even though it violates the law schools' policy against facilitating discrimination against homosexuals. Moreover, the Court declared, law schools could not exclude the military even if they also excluded all other potential employers that declined to hire gays and lesbians.
Chief Justice Roberts writes the opinion. There are no additional opinions. (Alito, of course, does not participate.)

As the unanimity indicates, this outcome was not at all surprising. Here's my post on the reports after the oral argument, at which point it was rather obvious that the government was going to win.

(I dread seeing all the opinion pieces that connect this case to "Brokeback Mountain" not winning the Best Picture Oscar.)

MORE: From the case:
The law schools object to having to treat military recruiters like other recruiters, but that regulation of conduct does not violate the First Amendment. To the extent that the Solomon Amendment incidentally affects expression, the law schools' effort to cast themselves as just like the schoolchildren in Barnette, the parade organizers in Hurley, and the Boy Scouts in Dale plainly overstates the expressive nature of their activity and the impact of the Solomon Amendment on it, while exaggerating the reach of our First Amendment precedents.

YET MORE: I want to express my deepest thanks to Chief Justice Roberts for gathering the Justices onto one clearly written opinion. There is no blather or hedging in the prose. He has obviously taken great pains to put every sentence in plain English. He deals with all the precedents, handling most of the cases in one or two crisp sentences. You may not appreciate how beautiful this thinking and writing is, but I do, and I think generations of law students will.

"Oscar night is no longer about movie stars feting each other in front of an awed audience. It's about viewers deconstructing celebrity...."

Alessandra Stanley on the Oscars show:
Oscar night is no longer about movie stars feting each other in front of an awed audience. It's about viewers deconstructing celebrity — abetted by a cottage industry of stylists, dermatologists, surgeons and trainers who reveal the fakery behind even the most seemingly natural beauties: celebrity with a dehumanized face. And TV commentators fawn and probe on pre-Oscar shows and red-carpet interviews with little to no curiosity about filmmaking or news events but insatiable appetite for details about clothes and personal grooming. (There is something delicious and embarrassingly decadent about the national obsession with the Oscars — an entire country caught eating raw cookie dough while reading "in Touch.")
No, no, what would really be embarrassing would be if we were the "awed audience" they'd like us to be. We're doing exactly what we should be doing, eating the cookie dough of truth.

"Splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat."

Adam Nagourney writes about the difficulty Democrats running for Congress are having finding a coherent theme:
These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.

But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat — and what a winning Democratic formula will be — after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections.

And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994.

Interviews with Democratic challengers in contested districts suggest that the party is far from settling on an overarching theme that will work as well in central Connecticut as it does in central Colorado.

And while Democrats have no shortage of criticism to offer, they have so far not introduced a strategy for governing along the lines of the Republican Party's Contract With America, the 1994 initiative that some Democrats hold up as their model for this year's elections.

"It's certainly worth the effort, but it's damned hard to do," Charles O. Jones, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said of the Democratic effort to emulate the Republicans.

"If you're going to run a national campaign," as the Republicans did in 1994, Dr. Jones said, "it's helpful to have a message, not just 'The other guys don't know what they are doing.' If Democrats are using that strategy, I haven't heard that message yet."...

Democrats pointed out that Republicans did not offer their Contract With America until the final weeks of the 1994 campaign and said that they were planning to offer their own version by summer.
I didn't think much of the Contract With America, and it's fine with me if the parties don't have coherent themes. I felt no dissonance voting for both George Bush and Russ Feingold in 2004. But that's just me. Maybe you like to see these characters more united. I'd rather see smart, good people who think independently. I think it's much harder to convince people that the party needs to take over than that an individual candidate is worthy. And that's very good, it seems to me. In any case, if they've got to coalesce into a theme, I think they are right to wait until they get much closer to the election. We've got 8 months yet.

Where's my NYT?

We've been getting some serious snow these last two days, and the worst part about it is that I can't find my New York Times. The snow shoveling guys might have covered it up, or maybe it just didn't come. Trying to get the day started without the foundation of the paper Times is hard for me. Am I just supposed to read the website? Why does that feel so awkward to me, when I do so much other reading on line? It's a mental quirk of mine. I've had the Times delivered for the entire time I've lived in Wisconsin, over 20 years. Why the NYT? It's not just that I was living in New York before I came here, it's that the NYT delivered out here, and the local papers are completely insubstantial. I've become quite attached to it, in its traditional form.

Oscar afterthoughts.

That was a long night of blogging yesterday! But watching the Oscars without blogging is much more of a slog. And I relied heavily on TiVo, so, really, it was a snap compared to just sitting around watching in real time. I skipped nearly all of the speeches, all of the commercials, all of the walking to the the stage, and (the best part) all of the singing. I also skipped all the pre-shows, so I didn't really get the chance to see as much of the fashions as I would have liked. I also got so preoccupied writing that I didn't check around to see what other folks were writing.

This morning I see that this character, apparently a somewhat popular blogger, spent the entire evening simulblogging my simulblogging. His motivation seems to have been that he had me pegged as a conservative, the sort of person he despises, so he was going to wait around and jump on me for jumping on Hollywood for being liberal. In classic lefty form, he makes plainly sexist remarks without seeming to think it counts against him! And his commenters fail to call him on it. His long post mostly consists of my statements, copied. To this he adds his repeated assertions that I'm boring and boys won't like me because I'm mean and his generic comments that mostly just express antagonism toward a crude right-wing stereotype that has little to do with me (including imputations of racism based on utterly nothing that appears in my post). What a shameful display! He does append a meager apology at the end, when it seems to finally dawn on him that he'd been off in some fantasy world of his own all night, ideating about me. What the very idea of a woman with opinions does to a man's... mind! Oh, and one of our regular commenters, who stooped to a sexist insult against me here yesterday, shows up over there and preens about that insult, without admitting that it was a sexist insult and that he apologized for it here. Apology not accepted!

Anyway, I didn't get much chance to talk about politics, because, even with Jon Stewart hosting, I heard very little politics. I think somebody thought a lot about how to avoid offending ordinary Americans, whom they need to keep going to the movies, when they had a political host and so many heavily political or politicized movies among the nominees. The memo seems to have gone out. Quite rationally, the decision was to focus on the positive, how Hollywood has supported good values, like ending bigotry. The war and President Bush were not mentioned (or if they were, it was rare and I missed it). I think the stars were advised to act serious and elegant. Perhaps they were told to play Old Hollywood. Something caused nearly all the women to wear either black or beige dresses and to pull their hair back into a soft bun. Something caused the presenters to drain the life and playfulness out of their voices. They really do want us to love them, but when we see how they act when they are trying to win our love, we get a sense of what they really think we are like. We're the people in the dark, featureless, mindless. They were trying to fit in with us. A dreary display!

I haven't read the newspaper commentary yet, but I assume there will be a lot of analysis of why "Crash" beat out "Brokeback Mountain." Were the Hollywooders trying to make the America it imagines like them? It's hard to see how group behavior can mean that much. It can't be just a matter of getting tired of the frontrunner, because there were so many other predictable winners last night. What about the possibility that "Crash" is actually a better movie? But maybe the voters really did think it was a good idea to express their social consciousness in the anti-racism mode rather than the anti-homophobia mode, because America's caught up on the proposition that racism is wrong.

March 5, 2006

Simulblogging the Oscars.

7 (Central Time). A slow-moving intro for Jon Stewart, showing Oscar hosts of the past declining to re-host. We see Billy Crystal and Chris Rock shacking up together in a tent, for the first gay joke of the night. The second one comes a minute later when we see Jon Stewart waking up in bed with George Clooney. It's funny, see? Because men having sex with each other is funny... or not... Stewart begins with a reference to "Death to Smoochy," which is what he always does on "The Daily Show" when he interviews a high-quality actor. "The Oscars is the one night of the year when you can see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party" -- that gets a very mild laugh and I think I see suppressed panic on Stewart's face.

7:10. Gay cowboy montage. Pretty funny. A lot like all those parodies of the "Brokeback Mountain" trailer, but they came up with some nice clips.

7:16. Best Supporting Actor... I've seen two of the performances: by William Hurt and Matt Dillon. They give it to George Clooney. "We are a little bit out of touch here in Hollywood. And it's probably a good thing." Blah, blah, we're great, ahead of the rest of this benighted country.

7:25. They waste our time with a clip of Tom Hanks demonstrating how award winners shouldn't waste our time. Ben Stiller comes out in a green suit -- and powerfully sucking in his abs -- to talk about special effects. "King Kong" wins. Jon Stewart thanks Stiller for wearing a unitard. Reese Witherspoon is next, and she's very well trussed into a sparkly beige dress. Hey, I'm just noticing how cool the stage set is. The award she's announcing is animation, and I love seeing the clips, especially for "Howl's Moving Castle." "Wallace and Grommit" wins. The guys that win are wearing giant bow ties. Next out is Naomi Watts, and she too is wearing beige. Her dress has a tattery "destroyed" look. She introduces Dolly Parton who is shockingly, scarily anorexic! She's wearing a white pantsuit, and her breasts are still huge, but beneath them, there is nearly the complete absence of a body.

7:42. Jon Stewart is mocking Scientology. Surely, there is at least one religion we feel utterly free to mock. Now, it's the Wilson brothers. They announce two awards no one cares about. Really, who even gets a chance to see the shorts? At least with the animated ones we get to get a look at some animation. They bring out some "Chicken Little" characters to take over. "Seriously, Mr. Eisner, what's up with ducks and no pants?" Good question!

7:48. Jennifer Aniston comes out in a beautiful black dress and mega-diamonds. She's doing best costumes. She belabors her lines, as if she's a schoolteacher pissed at us for not doing our homework. "Memoirs of a Geisha" wins. Russell Crowe robotically introduces a montage about biopics. "Pierre, we've discovered a new element." "If we win, well, then we'll have what none of us have ever had before: a country of our own." Yeah, there have been some pretty cool biopics over the year. But, generally, the genre is a big drag.

7:57. Will Ferrell and Steve Carell come out in terrible makeup to announce the makeup award. Carell is wearing false eyelashes. "Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy." Ridiculous! "Star Wars" doesn't win. "Narnia" wins, and it looked pretty cool in the clip. Stewart makes his best joke of the night, expressing surprise that "Cinderella Man" didn't win: "Imagine the difficulty in making Russell Crowe look like he got into a fight." He points to a giant Oscar prop and says "Do you think if we all got together and pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?" A political joke. The quickie technical awards recap follows. TiVo time! Ah, don't go too fast, here's Best Supporting Actress, announced by Morgan Freeman, who's wearing an ascot instead of a tie. Rachel Weisz wins. She's wearing a black dress, which nicely supports big, swelling breasts, and she's got tastefully dangly diamond earrings. She says nothing notable.

8:11. Lauren Bacall walks out stiffly. She's wearing a black pantsuit, and she seems short of breath. She's blabbing about film noir. Montage. "I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner."

8:15. A nice "Daily Show" style piece with fake ads for actresses is followed by a flatfooted intro for the documentary awards. An unfortunate juxtaposition. Another Woman in Black: Charlize Theron. (All the women are in beige or black. Did some neutrality order go out?) What will win for feature documentary? Surely, it must be the penguins. Yes, it is. The accepters bring stuffed penguins up and one guy whistles "thank you in Penguin." Another guy makes some comment about tuxedos, "penguin suits." At least, they thought of ideas. Jennifer Lopez is pushing the beige envelope toward a kind of greeny brown. She's even more robotic that Russell Crowe, but she says something about making "human contact." It's an intro to another song. TiVo, save me!

8:32. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Again with the black dress. And the ponderous delivery. Did some memo go out? Be elegant. And this is how it came out. "Geisha" gets set decoration. Samuel Jackson tells us Hollywood is unafraid! Issue films change the world, don't you know? Montage time. "Call me Mr. Tibbs!" "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" A roomful of Hollywood prissily applauds itself. Stewart: "And none of those issues were ever a problem again."

8:44. Salma Hayek busts out the non-neutrality by wearing a brilliant blue dress. She introduces the conductor, and the coolest part of this is not that we get to see where they tucked away the orchestra, but that the conductor has two packets of M&Ms. I'm using red wine to get me through this ordeal, but the maestro is going with the M&Ms, which, presumably, work too. So what wins for o-REE-gi-nal score? "Brokeback Mountain." Yeah, I know this score... from all those trailer parodies. It's supposed to feel serious, but, too me, it feels comic.

8:56. Jake Gyllenhall woodenly reads lines about how important it is to see movies on the big screen. Translation: please help us with our box office problem. We see a montage about spectacle. Which, ironically, we're seeing on our small screens. They end with the shot from "Gone With the Wind" that comes right before the intermission, which reminds me of one of the main reasons to prefer the home screen. You can break up the physical ordeal of sitting through it however you choose. Stewart: "Wow, I can't wait 'til later when we see Oscar's salute to montages." Good one! "Holy crap! We're out of clips. We're literally out of film clips. If you have film clips, send them, please. We have another three hours." Next comes Jessica Alba to botch her lines along with some guy. The lines are about... damn, I don't know. I fast-forwarded. But "King Kong" got it. Oh, it's sound mixing. Dull!

Bring out Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep to give the special award to Robert Altman. Tomlin's face is much larger than Streep's. But Streep's earrings are way longer and her neckline is way plungier. They do a comic routine that's supposed to demonstrate the Altman style by having a lot of talking over each other. Then, the montage. Well, damn, they just wore us out with montages up to the point where Stewart made a too-many-montages joke. Way to treat an honoree. TiVo.

Intro to another song. TiVo. Queen Latifah announces the song award, and the pimp song wins. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The room is jubilant; America, perhaps not so. Stewart tries to come up with a joke. Sound editing is the next award. A big bore, but they do another "Daily Show" fake ads thing. Jennifer Garner! Beige... but she almost trips! "King Kong" wins.

Now, we need to endure Clooney again. "Academy Award winner, George Clooney." But it's the best part: "In Memoriam" -- the dead ones! Biggest applause: Shelley Winters, Anne Bancroft. Getting surprisingly little: Robert Wise, Richard Pryor.

9:37. Will Smith hands out Best Foreign Language Film. He does some impressive fast-talking in some foreign languages. The winner is "Tsotsi," the South African film. Next, Film Editing. The winner is "Crash," which is a good choice. A lot was done with editing in that movie. Next, Best Actor! Hillary Swank presents (in black). As expected, the winner is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's overwhelmed. He's got lots of folks to thank. He loves them. He loves his mom. "She took me to my first play.... Her passions became my passions."

9:54. It's John Travolta, introducing the Cinematography nominees. I only saw one of these: "Batman Begins," which I seriously doubt can win. Again, "Geisha" wins. It's doing well with the lesser awards. Jamie Foxx gets to do Best Actress. Here's our best hope for an emotive acceptance speech. Wow, Charlize Theron has a black dress with a pouf the size of her head on her shoulder. As expected, the winner is Reese Witherspoon. I love her in "Election." She's really cool, a distinctive actress today. That means something. She seems like a good person. "I'm just trying to matter and live a good life."

10:07. Dustin Hoffman is doing the adapted screenplay award. Weird that this one is coming so late. Did writers get upgraded? Unsurprisingly, "Brokeback Mountain" wins. Uma Thurman -- in beige! -- announces original screenplay. "Crash" wins. Tom Hanks announces Director. Unsurprisingly, Ang Lee wins for "Brokeback Mountain" (and I wrote that before the award is announced). Jack and Ennis taught us about "not just the gay mans" but "the greatness of love itself." And, finally, it's good old Jack Nicholson to tells about the best "moption" picture of the year. And the shock of the night...


Nicholson points his fingers up and mouths "Wow!"

Wow, indeed! After all that predictability! I actually saw that one. It was pretty good. What the hell did I say about it. Let's see:
I thought it was quite good, constructed like "Magnolia," with a lot of characters and a script that connects their stories up with coincidences and a common theme. The theme in this case is race. You can tell from the first scene that you are seeing a heightened reality. I haven't read much of the criticism of this film, but if people are complaining that there actually isn't this much racism in real life, they are missing the point. This is a surreal depiction in which racism is concentrated everywhere. Everyone manifests racism, but then also a vulnerable human side. The characters' stories were nicely, complexly interwoven. I liked it -- even when it skewed melodramatic. I liked that you were kept on your toes about which characters to love or hate, to respect or revile.
UPDATE: For my morning after observations, go here.

Audible Althouse #39.

A new podcast for you: getting ready for Oscar night, looking at a snow-covered tree, why I like to simulblog TV shows I don't like, why I'm not one of your "wonderful people in the dark," three posts about pee, leaving religion out of "Walk the Line," Tony Blair's mention of God, and the gender mysteries of Don Knotts.

You don't need an iPod to listen. You can stream it right on your computer here.

UPDATE: The clip is fixed now.

At last, the blook!

Richard Lawrence Cohen, who's been my ex-husband for lo these many years, has had a book manufactured from what he's decided are the best posts on his blog. I've linked to his blog a lot, so you probably know if you like the style or not, and I know some of my commenters have become regular commenters over there, so clearly some of you do.

So how do blog posts look in book form? He observes:
It looks good, and I'm pleased that the posts, placed one after another in a nice typeface on good paper, form a unity that makes them still more meaningful: a literary self-portrait in several forms, covering the course of a year.

In a second post today I'll tell give you some further glimpses, but in this one I just want to offer you the table of contents (which is very long because the book contains 89 posts). Those of you who are familiar with my work can go back to any of the listed posts if you wish, and remind yourselves of what you liked in them. Those of you who haven't read certain posts before -- ones from months ago, perhaps -- can dip into them as previews of the book.

The posts are arranged in chronological order, except for the last one listed. An author's preface introduces the book.

To find a post on this blog, type or cut-and-paste the title into the white search bar at the top of this page. Then click "Search This Blog". Click on the link provided by the search results.
That is, you totally don't have to buy the book to read every single thing in it (other than the preface). Info on buying his book is in the sidebar. It's great that you can sell your blook through the major bookstore sites!

"A unity that makes them still more meaningful"? So he's asserting that his own blog posts are meaningful? Well, the very act of publishing your writing is an assertion that what you've got to say is meaningful. Or do we bloggers seem to be saying only here it is, for whatever it's worth. I'm not saying it means a damn thing. It's just the latest thing that dribbled out of my head.

Nevertheless, when you blook your blog you're definitely asserting that these posts were meaningful and I'm now making them even more meaningful. So what the hell? Why not say it?

"I just feel that filmmakers are much more proactive since the second Bush administration."

Says Steven Spielberg. "I think that everybody is trying to declare their independence and state their case for things that we believe in. No one is really representing us, so we're representing our own feelings, and we're trying to strike back."
Emanuel Levy, professor of critical studies in the UCLA Film School and author of the book "All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards," said he thinks the tremors of a post-9/11 world have just caught up with Hollywood in this year's Academy Award races. Levy said that when society faces a divisive issue, such as the war in Iraq or the response to terrorism, critical movies emerge, but not immediately.

There is an expression in Hollywood that the studios make movies about what people were talking about last year. There is always a lag between idea and premiere. "Munich" took six years to reach the multiplex. "Brokeback Mountain" took eight. "Syriana" is based on a book written during the Clinton administration.
In other words, Spielberg is totally bullshitting. It's not about Bush, it's about Clinton.

Are we really going to watch the Oscars when we haven't seen the films?

Manohla Dargis writes:
TONIGHT, an expected 41 million Americans will tune into the 78th annual Academy Awards to watch a spectacle largely honoring films they have not seen and may never get around to watching....

There are all sorts of reasons why "Munich," along with "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" were nominated for best picture (they're pretty good, for one) and a couple of reasons why we should care. Among the most obvious and discomfiting, however, is that Big Hollywood increasingly finds it difficult to make the kinds of high-profile movies that the industry likes to honor with its most important awards.
Well, I'm going to watch -- with TiVo to leap the longueurs -- because I like simulblogging this sort of thing. See! I simulblogged the Oscars last year. Wasn't that amusing?

The Dargis conclusion:
The crisis now facing Hollywood isn't unique to the movies; the atomization of the culture makes it hard to know what people want, particularly when they belong to a multi-everything society like ours. Still, something will be lost if Hollywood continues to downsize its ambitions and fails to make movies that connect with the mass audience, to make movies that speak to us as a unified whole rather than as a mass of self-interested egos, that give us a sense of collective identity and social cohesion. A nation of iPod-people, each staring at his or her individually downloaded film on the delivery system of his or her choice, seems a poor substitute for the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark.
Yeah, well, that crowd is slurping gallons of soda and popping up to pee every 5 minutes, so spare me the old blather about communion in the dark -- which sounds like something Norma Desmond would say:
And I promise you I'll never desert you again because after 'Salome' we'll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!
Maybe we've about had it with being your wonderful people in the dark, communicants at your bogus church. Maybe this atomization of the culture is a good thing. We can find our affiliative connections over small things through blogging and other internet methods. And these will be much richer, better connections. Since the new movies can be made and distributed cheaply, digitally, real artists can reach out to us with film, and we will be here -- yes, with our iPods -- to listen to them.

Oh, but something will be lost? You're looking for "a unified whole rather than ... a mass of self-interested egos"? Excuse me if I -- ooh, I'm so egotistical! -- opt out of your dream, which reminds me, somehow, of all of my least favorite political schemes.

"Grey Gardens," the musical.

I've already blogged about my great love for the film "Grey Gardens." Here, I respond to the charge that I've phonied up the list of favorite films in my Blogger profile as a way to make myself appear more sexually attractive. And here I describe an at-home triple feature where I inflict it on friends, including the one who made the aforementioned charge.

Now, there's an Off-Broadway musical based on the film. Here's the NYT piece on it, which includes a photograph that should hearten the film's devotees:

That really captures the mood well, doesn't it? From the article:
"Grey Gardens" also developed a following among people, gay men especially, who responded both to the implicit campiness of the film — two faded old biddies, preening and bickering and singing Cole Porter tunes in lah-dee-dah accents — and to the women's eccentricity, originality and uncompromising independence. The two Edies, a cross between the Collyer brothers and Miss Havisham and Estella, are a bizarre version of the American family but ultimately an affectionate and mutually sustaining one. Their admirers include numbers of men who love to watch the film while dressed in drag and reciting the dialogue from memory.
Dressed in drag? Well, presumaby you are wearing the skirt on you head, right? It's the perfect costume for the day.
Even before seeing the musical, some of the diehards are charging sacrilege. Scott Frankel, who was the prime mover behind this production of "Grey Gardens" and wrote the music for it, has been accosted on the street by outraged fans of the film saying "How could you!" Doug Wright, who wrote the book for the musical, said recently: "It's like adapting the Bible. You do feel a certain responsibility."...

... Mr. Frankel called in Mr. Wright, a Yale classmate and the author of both the movie "Quills" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "I Am My Own Wife." Mr. Wright told him he was nuts. "I said I adored the movie, but what you have in mind can't be done," he recalled. "How can you have a two-act musical where nothing happens? It wasn't until they came to me with the tablecloth that I realized there could be a narrative shape."

The tablecloth — a paper one, from Ernie's restaurant on the Upper West Side — was the handiwork of Mr. Frankel and Mr. Korie, who wrote the libretto for "Harvey Milk," among other operas, and who was starting to think about lyrics for the show. It had two boxes drawn on it, one labeled 1941 and the other 1973, depicting the solution the two men had arrived over dinner in the fall of 2003: to create an entire first act set in the past, when Big Edie was in her prime and Little Edie was known in debutante circles as Body Beautiful Beale, and a second set in the actual period of the film.

"We had been playing with the idea of flashbacks, but that just seemed like 'Follies,' " Mr. Frankel recalled. "But then we began thinking about what really happened. What if we saw what life was like at Grey Gardens before it became this hothouse terrarium?"
It will be interesting to see how that works. One of the great charms of the film is the way you discover the past, at surprising little moments, like when the camera shows a beautiful oil portrait of Big Edie, who is laughing about how the cat is "enjoying" itself by pissing behind it.

Do we understand from the musical any more than from the film what brought these women to this condition?
"I kept trying to get a clinical fix on them," Mr. Frankel said, "and my allegiances kept shifting. At first I thought Big Edie was a narcissist who created a sort of bohemian salon for herself at Grey Gardens, and didn't equip her daughter to live an independent, creative life. But then I began to wonder whether Little Edie was ever equipped to deal with the world. Was she mentally compromised? She knows what she should do, and yet she doesn't seem able to make it happen. So maybe Big Edie was in fact providing a safe haven for a daughter who couldn't manage in the world. We kept looking at it as an 'or' proposition, but through talking to Albert we came to see it as an 'and' proposition."
Have you figured it out?

Here's the piece NPR ran this morning, which gives you a chance to hear some of the music. The photo at the NPR page, unlike the photo above, is worrisome for a "Grey Gardens" devotee.

Oh, and apparently, we're about to get a "Grey Gardens" movie too. With Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange!