November 4, 2006

Touring the suite.

I give you a look at the scene of the interviews.

"You don't think my fat ass makes my fat ass look fat, do ya?"

Are you watching the new Roseanne Barr special on HBO?

UPDATE: Now, she's saying, "Bush blows! Bush f**king blows. I hate Bush. I hate Bush. I hate Bush," etc., with a big cheer from the audience. She says she's glad everyone agrees now, because they didn't use to.

"Hair barred from internationals."

Another incomprehensible -- to me! -- headline.

The rule against photographing the Prime Minister's profile.

Some high level vanity from Poland:
Polish press photographers were briefly barred from taking pictures of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left, from the side. The rule was published by the Polish government’s press office, the newspaper Nowy Dziennik reported. There was simply no need to photograph Mr. Kaczynski’s profile, a government spokesman, Jan Dziedziczak, said, rejecting assumptions that full-face pictures might be better at hiding the prime minister’s double chin. Photographers at a news conference called by the prime minister on Thursday were forced to obey the pronouncement, and outrage quickly followed. The rule was rescinded yesterday, reportedly on the order of Mr. Kaczynski.


I normally resist the routine pedantry of pointing out the misusage of the word "literally." But this one's a lulu:
Anyone who had been diligently paying down a mortgage and others who had just sat back and watched their home appreciate in value were able to refinance and take out the difference between the value of the home and what was still owed, known as equity. Not only did they remove the increased equity in the home as cash, most people were paying lower monthly payments.

“People have literally picked up their house at the foundations and shook it upside down like a piggy bank,” said Ed Smith, chief executive of the Plaza Financial Group, a mortgage brokerage firm in La Mesa, Calif., near San Diego.


I don't know about you, but I'm in Detroit. But for $8, I'm able to get WiFi, so I'm happy enough. Time to catch up on all the email and to see what's bloggable.

Making the economy an issue.

The NYT reports:
Republicans seized on a drop in the unemployment rate to assert on Friday that tax cuts were invigorating the economy, highlighting just four days before the election an issue that party strategists are counting on to offset bad news about the war.
It's a last-minute issue, but it should have been a big issue all along.

Christopher Hitchens on botched-joke-o-gate.

(Or whatever it's called.) In the WSJ:
Regrettable though it might be for the United States military to become an untouchable "third rail" in American politics, there can be little sympathy for someone who keeps on brushing against that rail just to see what will happen. One could have assumed that Sen. John Kerry, who has reason enough to wake up whimpering and biting his knuckles when he reflects on past embarrassments, had learned this lesson. He's almost spoiled for choice in the matter--from the cringe-making "reporting for duty" to the sickly discovery that he had been part of a "band of brothers" rather than a bunch of killers, to the phantom "Christmas in Cambodia."

Yet of all the days that he might want to have back and do over again, last week's clumsy appearance in Pasadena must be the most whimper-inducing of all.

The senator's labored defense of himself is so lame that it has to be true.
Oh, why is Hitchens being so charitable to Kerry?!

Anyway, read the whole thing. He talks of the email he's gotten from soldiers in Iraq:
Many of my respondents agreed that his words may not have meant or intended quite what they first seemed to mean, but they also felt that the klutziness was Freudian, so to speak, in that the senator's patrician contempt for grunts and dogfaces was bound to come out sooner or later.

One thing I already knew is confirmed--there is a very great deal of class resentment in these United States. Another thing I wasn't so sure of is also confirmed--James Webb in Virginia is right to stress the huge rage felt by those of Scots-Irish provenance who feel that they have born the heat and burden of the day in America's wars, and been rewarded with disdain.
Those of Scots-Irish provenance.

Anyway, Hitchens has a proposal to deal with the race-class problem he perceives:
Sen. Kerry and his party should publicly demand that the U.S. military be allowed to recruit openly on elite campuses. And the supposed reason for the ban on ROTC--the continuing refusal of the armed services to admit known homosexuals--should be dispelled at a stroke by a presidential order rescinding the Clintonian nonsense of "don't ask/don't tell."

Washington, Day 2.

Hi, kids. Sorry for the light blogging yesterday. I was -- in my role as chair of the Appointments Committee -- conducting interviews from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Once again, I'm up early, alone in the cavernous suite at the Marriott Wardman Park, and later to be joined by five committee members and a stream of lawprof candidates. We rearranged the furniture yesterday so there are five armchairs and a sofa around a coffee table. We've got a nice high-backed, striped chair for the candidate and mostly dark blue, nondescript chairs for the committee. Today, we only go until 12:30. My colleagues arrive in 15 minutes, but I'll see if I can get some substantive posts up before then so you can have something to mull over and chat about.

(I've got some photographs of the set-up here, but I'll have to show you the pictures later, because I've forgotten the cord that connects the camera to the computer.)

November 3, 2006

"Can I ask you what your favorite commandment is?

"Really? That's my least favorite commandment!"

Part 2:

(Via Metafilter.)

"Ms. Forsman, can I ask you a personal question? Were you a moot court finalist?"

That's something Justice Stevens actually said during oral argument yesterday. When the lawyer, Franny Forsman, said "no," he commented [referring to a moot court he attended at her law school a while back]: "It was an awfully good moot court."

Presumably, that means: You do realize that you are bound to lose, don't you?

From a cavernous hotel suite.

I'm in Washington, and I'm missing my New York Times. Say what you will about the New York Times -- as I did myself yesterday -- I still want the it on my doorstep in the morning. But, at least this is Washington, so I can get a real newspaper. I hear the papers flopping onto the floor outside the hotel room doors. Ah! The Washington Post! In person. That will be nice. But, no. What the hell? It's the damned USA Today! If I want colors and little boxes, I'll stay on the web, where the colors and boxes are lit up.

Our first interview is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., which is 6:30 a.m. Central Time. But my patterns are such that I'm up with more than two hours to spare, and I'm the one who doesn't have to go anywhere. I'm in the big suite that everyone else needs to rush over to. It's dead calm now, but it will be full of energy soon enough. Maybe you're one of the individuals slotted for a 20 minute session here later today or tomorrow, and you're picturing this place, trying to think what the interviewing will be like and whether this is the path to your future home and these are your new colleagues.

November 2, 2006

Are you tiresome enough to say that listening to audiobooks is not reading?

Stephen King on audiobooks. (That link may require an Entertainment Weekly subscription.)
Some critics — the always tiresome Harold Bloom among them — claim that listening to audiobooks isn't reading. I couldn't disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading....

The book purists argue for the sanctity of the page and the perfect communion of reader and writer, with no intermediary. They say that if there's something you don't understand in a book, you can always go back and read it again (these seem to be people so technologically challenged they've never heard of rewind, or can't find the back button on their CD players). Bloom has said that ''Deep reading really demands the inner ear...that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.'' Here is a man who has clearly never listened to a campfire story....

There's this, too: Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice. (Listen to a Tom Clancy novel on CD, and you will never, ever read another. You'll never be able to look at another one without gibbering.) I can't remember ever reading a piece of work and wondering how it would look up on the silver screen, but I always wonder how it will sound. Because, all apologies to Mr. Bloom, the spoken word is the acid test. They don't call it storytelling for nothing.
King lists a Top Ten and lavishes praise on the number 1 choice: Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," read by Ron Silver. I don't need any more convincing. I'm going right over to to buy it. And I'm going to check out Stephen King's new book, even though he doesn't mention it. It's gotten high critical praise, you know. I'm buying it. (It's read by Mare Winningham.)

I love audiobooks, and not just because sometimes I want to rest my eyes and sometimes I want or need to walk somewhere. I love the meaning and feeling the reader gives to the book. If you're wondering which audiobooks I've been listening to lately, here's my current set of books, my reading list, if I can say that:
"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson

"Don't Get Too Comfortable," David Rakoff

"Napoleon," Paul Johnson

"A Spot of Bother," Mark Haddon

Kerry's comments aren't a scandal, let alone a three-day scandal... But the startling deterioration of the NYT is a scandal... "

"... maybe," says Mickey Kaus.
With a week to go before a close election, the New York Times continues to move beyond Democratic cocooning (though it does some of that too) in the direction of flat-out misrepresentation.
Yes, I'm getting a bad feeling from the New York Times this week. The whole front page seems designed to orchestrate a sense of destiny and entitlement about the election.

Of course, it's not just the NYT. Anyway, if the Democrats don't win, everyone's going to wake up on Wednesday and wonder how that could have happened. I remember sitting down to watch the election returns in '04, entirely resigned to watching the news of the Kerry victory accumulate through the evening. At one point, I muted the TV to talk on the phone for about an hour and hardly noticed as the real outcome started registering.

"It's an attack on my character, and it's very embarrassing, and an insult."

Said Al Argibay, a corrections officer, who got escorted out of his gym for grunting. He joined a no-grunting gym. End of story! The fact that you're a corrections officer -- "after serving your community as a corrections officer, the last thing I want is to be escorted out of the gym by the local authorities" -- doesn't matter. The fact that a no-grunting policy seems absurd... doesn't matter. You joined the no-grunting group. You have to play by the rules you agreed to and that the other members paid to benefit from. I'll bet in your corrections officer role you enforce some rules against people who find those rules absurd and whose objections you find laughably irrelevant.

Mustaches. What are they supposed to mean these days?

A big NYT Style article on mustaches (which if you don't know already, you can probably guess I loathe):
ARE mustaches cool? Uncool? Or so painfully uncool they are actually kind of hip? It’s possible they are all three at once, depending on who is wearing one and who is taking notice. One thing is for sure: No other style of male grooming sends so many potent — and often mixed — signals.
So, achieve complexity through facial hair stranded on the one part of your face where it's most likely to collect filth and annoy women? Don't you want your image to resonate with these great hip icons of today:

Is Kerry obsolete yet?

Anything anyone makes says something about the person who made it, I said in the previous post. And that includes John Kerry's dreadful "stuck in Iraq" line. He said what he said, and it means something that he said it, whether it was what he originally meant to say or whether it was a slip up from something else. The mistakes you happen to make mean something, perhaps more than the stuff you plan out in advance or have composed for you. They way people take your statement and spin it says something about them. I, for example, have expressed my belief that Kerry meant what he originally said, and you ought to judge me for that.

We see something about Kerry in what he said after he heard how badly his original remark was received. His choice to go on the attack rather than to apologize strongly and clearly and his willingness to hog the public stage so close to the election say a lot about him. His "botched joke" explanation also means something, as does my own assertion that it was an outrageous lie. You can sharpen your thinking skills on all of that material -- though thinking about the actual candidates right now is probably a better use of your time.

Well, you can sharpen your thinking skills figuring out why your own attention is drawn to one thing and not another. When it's important to think about who should get your vote, why are you -- why are so many of us -- distracted by the Kerry story? Is it that we really want to get past next Tuesday and all these congressional races and talk about what really excites us, the next presidential election? Or is the fall of John Kerry an event of historic grandeur that commands us to stop and stare?

Let's see what Rich Lowry has to say:
Kerry embodies the old saw about the Bourbons, "They learned nothing and forgot nothing." He hasn't forgotten the Swift Boat attacks on him from 2004, but also has learned nothing of use from them - except the mistaken lesson that he should respond venomously to any and all criticisms.

Hence, his initial rant in response to the controversy, personally insulting Tony Snow ("a stuffed shirt") and Rush Limbaugh ("doughy") and lambasting his critics generally as "crazy" chicken-hawks.

Markos Moulitsas, the leader of the left-wing blogosphere from his perch at Daily Kos, pronounced himself much pleased: "Kerry responded perfectly."...
That's so wrong it's funny, but my judgment of Kos is that he was using his power to try to get people to think what he thought it would be useful to think. But, of course, he was wrong to think that.
Now, it is entirely plausible that Kerry was trying to make a joke about President Bush, for two reasons. One, typically of the humorless Kerry, it wouldn't have been funny. Two, typically of the arrogant Kerry, it would have reversed the usual convention, wherein politicians tell jokes at their own expense in their opening remarks. (Someone needs to take Kerry aside and tell him, "It's the hauteur, stupid.")

But Kerry's statement was also plausibly interpreted by people of good faith as a slam against the military. After all, he never mentioned the name Bush. And the fact that a lot of the Left believes exactly what Kerry seemed to be saying - that members of the military are cannon-fodder and boobs gulled into signing up because they have no other options in life.
Lowry's bottom line is a warning that the attitude Kerry "seemed to be" expressing really does represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party and that voters shouldn't fall for the moderate Democratic candidates because they are a device to leverage that Party into the majority. But what if you would like to see the Democratic Party renewed? I'd like to see a more moderate Democratic Party that is committed to national security. The only way for that to happen is if these attractive, new candidates win. They may have been put forward as a device to gain majority power, but once there, are they going to let themselves be treated as mere devices? Won't they hold great power from the center? Why wouldn't that work out quite well and hasten the obsolescence of guys like Kerry?

Fiction and politics.

In the Virginia Senate race, George Allen wanted us to see his opponent Jim Webb as some sort of deviant because of some images and characters he'd put in his novels. This inspires Victor Davis Hanson to muse about fiction and politics:
In this age of global, instant and technologically sophisticated communications, we are often left bewildered over what is true and what is made up. Cute postmodern sophistries asserting that ''there are no facts'' only make our confusion worse.

When Reuters published doctored photos from the recent war in Lebanon, unknowingly or not, they were disseminating computer-enhanced graphic art. That dark smoky sky over Beirut was not real photography. Recent journalistic exposés of the Iraqi war, such as Bob Woodward's State of Denial, might have been mistaken for histories. They aren't, since their footnotes reference the reader to anonymous sources that can't be verified.

And the problem isn't just that we are led to believe a film or book must be ''true'' when it is sometimes not. It's also that we often deliberately want to make something real that was never intended to be. Fury arose recently over the fictionalized docudrama ''The Path to 9/11.'' The charge was that it was not an accurate rendition of history, even though ABC issued multiple warnings of its fictionalized nature across our television screens.

And now we are supposed to believe that an imaginary story - and that is what a novel is - must be an accurate moral litmus test of its creator?
Hanson raises the question only to drop it. And he frames the question to make it more likely that we'll drop it too.

I wouldn't ask whether a novel is "an accurate moral litmus test" of its author, but whether it is useful evidence relevant to a question we want to think about. In the case of a political candidate who has written a novel, it might give us something to take into account even though it's not a specific and accurate test.

George Allen had an idea about the way to use his opponent's novels, but it wasn't a very good idea. The material wasn't strong enough to persuade us to think ill of Webb. In fact, it improved my opinion of Webb to learn that he'd written respectable novels and to see that he was an intelligent and thoughtful person who'd taken the time to think through his military experiences in the artist's mode. It also made me notice his military experience. And Allen ended up looking bad for extracting the sexy parts and making arguments that those passages did not support.

But we might imagine another case where a political candidate wrote novels that were quite bad and revealed shallow thinking and morbid obsessions and the opponent made crisp, fair arguments that helped us think about what kind of a person the author is.

We need to become adept at dealing with different kinds of materials, none of which are entirely true. Even an undoctored photograph frames a shot and represents the photographer's decision about what to include and exclude. Even a fully professional history or journalistic report structures the presentation and imposes editorial choice. We have wake up and think actively about how the creator of any image or text is trying to influence us, whether it's presented as fact, fiction, or something in between. And anything anyone makes says something about the person who made it. The trick is to get good at evaluating what it means and to become equally sensitive at detecting the distortions and manipulations of those who try to tell you how to evaluate it.

November 1, 2006

Madison, Washington, Madison, Washington, Madison.

I'm usually pretty solidly situated in Madison. But tomorrow, I must fly to Washington, D.C., for the American Association of Law Schools recruitment conference. I'm the chair of the Appointments Committee here at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and I've got a lot of interviewing to do on Friday and Saturday. If you're interviewing with us, let me say, I'm looking forward to meeting you. If you're participating in the conference: good luck. I know how stressful it is for you and hope you keep your spirits up. It's a wonderful thing to be a law professor, and not a day goes by when I don't think consciously about how lucky I am to be here. May you all find a happy place.

I'll be traveling back soon enough, but then returning to Washington on Election Day to do that CNN thing I talked about here. I've been thinking a lot about what it will be like crowded into a lounge -- on camera -- with two dozen bloggers all watching the election returns. These folks -- from what I can tell from reading the blogs -- are deeply invested in the elections. Do I really want to see them -- in the flesh -- reacting to each new dose of news? Watching election returns in a party setting is conventional -- not that I've ever done it -- but it's quite abnormal to put people from across the political spectrum together. What will that be like? And all these people who are good at tapping out words from a distance... do they really know how to interact in a complex group setting? All I know is that I'm going to be observing and writing about them. I think I'll be the least outcome-oriented person there -- and also the oldest -- so I'm picturing myself as the ultra-cool observer of the scene.

But then I'll come back home and re-ensconce myself in Madison. The election will be over, and whatever is going to happen will have happened, and there will be job candidates to entertain and escort around Madison, as the semester slides to a close.

Worshipping the living goddess: Is it a violation of human rights?

An inquiry in Nepal.

A Kumari is typically chosen at the age of five to six years old, and is deemed ineligible after she starts menstruating around the age of 12 or 13....

Incumbents are cut off from normal life, and have limited contact with their families. They are not allowed to attend regular schools....

Similar "goddesses" are also installed and worshipped in other small Newari towns in the Kathmandu Valley.

"Genghis Khan/He could not keep/All his men/Supplied with sheep."

Robert Christgau, utterly seduced by Maria Muldaur singing Bob Dylan songs, says: "I got a whole new idea of what those sheep are for."

Uh, yeah, but officially the lyrics to "You Ain't Going Nowhere" are:
Genghis Khan
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
Christgau's smitten. Touting Muldaur's sexiness, Christgau is pretty insulting to the Byrds -- "anything but sensual" -- and Linda Ronstadt -- "an ambitious ingenue at best."

(And if those "You Ain't Going Nowhere" lyrics made you think of John Kerry... should I be mean and say (Christgauchely): you're anything but sensual?)

Anyway, I've loved Maria Muldaur since the 60s, when I had all the Jim Kweskin Jug Band records, played them constantly, and made my friends care about them. On the clip at the first link, you can hear Maria singing "I'm a Woman," from back in those days.

Christgau's review is too much about how Maria found so much sex in Bob Dylan's lyrics, as if Maria and only Maria knows the true depth of sexuality. It makes him seem a little silly, but she still sounds great.

Jim Doyle vs. Mark Green.

Wispolitics compares the two candidates for governor on a point by point basis. I haven't decided who I'll vote for yet. Feel free to try to prod me one way or the other based on this comparison.

Suing Borat, in Germany, on behalf of the gypsies.

Now there's this:
The state prosecutor's office in the northern city of Hamburg said the European Center for Antiziganism Research had brought the complaint accusing [Sacha Baron] Cohen of slander, inciting violence against the Sinti and Roma gypsy groups and violating Germany's anti-discrimination law.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" premiered last week in London and is due to hit German cinemas Thursday.

Twentieth Century Fox of Germany, the film's distributor here, pulled television commercials and Internet advertising that featured tongue-in-cheek talks of running over "gypsies" with a Hummer military vehicle after complaints by the group.

The organization noted in a statement last month that violent crimes by right-wing extremists had risen this year by 20 percent and called it "irresponsible" to tolerate the racist jokes made in the film.

So the notion has to be: you can't lampoon racism with a racist comic character. Or is it just that the character can't be too funny and perversely lovable?

"It cannot be gainsaid..."

I don't know about you, but when I'm reading a judicial opinion and run into the phrase "It cannot be gainsaid..." I feel a sense of revulsion... almost dread. Why is the judge (or clerk) writing like this? Why the sudden desire to sound like a fusty old gasbag? I start mistrusting everything.

The one I just ran into is in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, a 1958 opinion written by Justice Brennan: "It cannot be gainsaid that there is a strong federal policy against allowing state rules to disrupt the judge-jury relationship in the federal courts." What purpose do the first five words of that sentence serve (other than to annoy me)?

Supreme Court justices have only used the word 113 times in the entire history of the Court, but more than 70% of these were since 1950. It was only used 18 times before 1900. (There are also 59 occurrences of "gainsay.") I mention these details because they bear out my suspicion that this is sheer pretension, a modern person's idea of how to sound like you came from the 19th century. I'm irked that the modern Justices ever affect a 19th century tone, and I'm further irked that they lack an ear for it.

IN THE COMMENTS: Other irksome expressions that judges need to stop using: "it is beyond peradventure," "it is beyond cavil," and "obloquy."

"So Kerry's ridiculous elitism, burbling out of him as if he lives, as I suspect, entirely on a diet of lentils and club soda..."

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass lets the Kerry mockery rip.

"Please stop it. Stop talking."

Please stop it. Stop talking. Pleeeassee. Stop. Please. Stop. He will not stop!

ADDED: Here's the full 9:24 minutes -- if you really want more.

"We’re going to be in a kind of bog of mixtures of constitutional law, unclear Oregon state law... et cetera."

Justice Breyer fretted yesterday in the course of the oral argument in a case about the constitutional restrictions on punitive damages. The Oregon Supreme Court accepted $79.5 million awarded to one person, the widow of a man who smoked a lot of Marlboros and died of lung cancer. Her compensatory damages were only $871,000. Philip Morris argued that the court has essentially allowed one plaintiff's case to become “a one-way class action in which Philip Morris was exposed to global punishment by the jury without any of the protections of a class action.” But is that what the Oregon court did?
Finding the Oregon Supreme Court’s opinion insufficiently clear on this basic point, the justices would be unable to use the case as a vehicle for taking their consideration of punitive damages to the next level.

"What’s worrying me... is that we’re going to be in a kind of bog of mixtures of constitutional law, unclear Oregon state law, not certain exactly what was meant by whom in the context of the trial, et cetera."

And Justice David H. Souter, referring to the Oregon Supreme Court, asked Mr. Peck: “Isn’t perhaps the better course to send this back to them and say, ‘We don’t know what you mean?’ And let them tell us clearly.”...

“You don’t think that would confuse the jury if they are first told that they may consider the extent of harm suffered by others, and then the next instruction seems to say they can’t?” Justice Ginsburg asked Mr. Frey.

“The concept may be abstract,” Mr. Frey replied, insisting that there was a “difference between considering and punishing” that a proper jury instruction would have made “quite clear to the jury.”
So, it seems, this case could fizzle. But it has the potential to quite significant.
The United States Supreme Court has been deeply split on the punitive damages question, with three justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, rejecting the idea that the Constitution’s guarantee of due process places a limit on what states can permit juries to award.

With the departure of William H. Rehnquist, the former chief justice, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, both of whom supported due process limits on punitive damages, the known margin of support for the court’s precedents fell to 4 to 3, with the views of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. unknown.

ADDED: Dahlia Lithwick looks at the argument. Nugget:
Robert Peck represents Mayola Williams, and he achieves the distinction of eliciting the following admission from Chief Justice John Roberts: "I thought our cases clearly establish that you can consider the harm to others in assessing the reprehensible nature of the conduct." Roberts adds that the case law also prohibits punishment of the defendant for harms to others. In other words, he seems to be saying, the proposed instruction is confused because our precedent is confused. In which case, why not send it back for the Oregon Supreme Court to fix?

It's the Roberts Court's New Minimalism: We screw up the law, then ship it out to the lower courts to correct it.

Well, why not get the law straight now that you've gone to all the trouble to hear the case?

Trying the 92-year-old academic for writing about the history of the headscarf.

The country is, unsurprisingly, Turkey, and the story of the headscarf -- as told by Muazzez Ilmiye Cig -- is sexy enough to insult the people:
Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, ... a 92-year-old academic who specializes in Sumerian culture and history, went on trial on charges that she “insulted the people” and incited hatred in a book last summer in which she wrote that the head scarf was first used in religious rites by women who worked in Sumerian temples to initiate young men in sex, in order to differentiate them from women who worked as priests. Ms. Cig, who has translated about 3,000 stone tablets and published a number of books and papers, faces a prison sentence of up to three years if convicted of all charges.
Here's an article from last February quoting her, as an expert on the Sumerian language, explaining the oldest love poem:
"They did not have sexual taboos in love," she said. "Instead, they believed that only love and passion could bring them fertility, and therefore praised pleasures."

In the agriculture-based Sumerian community, she said, lovemaking between the king and the priestess would have been seen as a way to ensure the fertility of their crops, and therefore the community's welfare, for another year.

Ms. Cig said she worked with Professor Samuel Noah Kramer in 1951, and that he had identified the tablet, among 74,000 others, during years of studies in the Istanbul museum. Their translation of this tablet also shed light on the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, she said, because some phrases are similar to poems sung during Sumerian weddings and fertility feasts. "This filled the missing link between religious texts of the different periods," she said...

As she held the transcription of the poem, Ms. Cig smiled. "After all these years, very little has changed," she said. "There's still jealousy, unfaithfulness and sexuality in affairs of love as in the times of Sumerians. I just wished whoever has written the poem could see how popular the tablet has now become."
Having written all that, I Googled for an update and see she was acquitted today!
In a trial that lasted less than an hour, Cig rejected the charges saying: "I am a woman of science. ... I never insulted anyone," private NTV television reported.

The court ruled in her favor on grounds that her actions did not constitute a crime....

The trial against Cig was initiated by an Islamic-oriented lawyer...

"We're going to design it around the feng shui and the energy of this particular spot."

How a skater built the world's largest ramp in his backyard. (Thrilling video (with commercial). Article.)

October 31, 2006

Halloween... DIY.

Homemade costumes are absolutely dominant once again this year in Madison, Wisconsin. No one thus far has turned up in a store-bought packaged costume. I just had a group of girls who were the characters from the game Candyland. Before that were two boys. One was "a blue screen" -- do you know what that is? yeah! The other was Gordon Freeman -- "a research scientist." I'll have to look that up.


The John Kerry "stuck in Iraq" story is dominating the news today. It's rather unfair to the Democrats who are actually running in the election. I'd love to hear the behind-the-scenes cursing he so richly deserves. (And let me add that Kerry is outrageously lying when he says he wasn't referring to the troops. This is only prolonging his time in the spotlight, when he should get out of the way and let actual candidates speak.)

"If my dad married a man, who would be my mom?"

Here's an ad supporting the anti-same-sex marriage amendment.

I suspect it will be quite effective for some people. My question is whether it's actively unfair. Queerty is especially offended by this ad because "it exploits children to spread a political message and then it portrays said children as easily confounded ninnies."

"We have acquired this responsibility..."

Christopher Hitchens on Iraq:
[T]he many disappointments and crimes and blunders... do not relieve us of a responsibility that is either insufficiently stressed or else passed over entirely: What is to become, in the event of a withdrawal, of the many Arab and Kurdish Iraqis who do want to live in a secular and democratic and federal country? We have acquired this responsibility not since 2003, or in the sideshow debate over prewar propaganda, but over decades of intervention in Iraq's affairs, starting with the 1968 Baathist coup endorsed by the CIA, stretching through Jimmy Carter's unforgivable permission for Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, continuing through the decades of genocide in Kurdistan and the uneasy compromise that ended the Kuwait war, and extending through 12 years of sanctions and half-measures, including the "no-fly" zones and the Iraq Liberation Act, which passed the Senate without a dissenting vote. It is not a responsibility from which we can walk away when, or if, it seems to suit us.

Why the antagonism toward Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

She won the "Least Favorite Justice" poll with 40 percent of the vote. I understand that who linked had a lot to do with whether a liberal or a conservative won. Clarence Thomas would have won if more liberal blogs had linked to the poll, and the question would be why Thomas and not Scalia. So the question is, out of the liberal choices, was was Ginsburg such a clear "least favorite"? David Lat asks:
[W]hy not Justice Souter, who "betrayed" the conservatives who put him on the Court? Or Justice Stevens, another Republican appointee who didn't turn out as expected -- and who refuses to step down from the Court, despite his advancing age? Or Justice Kennedy, the fickle swing voter, who could give the conservatives real control, if only he fell into line?
It's damned hard to think of a reason other than sexism.

IN THE COMMENTS: The strongest argument that it's not sexism seems to be that Ginsburg is easy to recognize as one of the liberals. So if you want to vote against a liberal, you know you're achieving that by picking her. If you try to go for one the men... they look too much alike... you might goof up.

Which Supreme Court Justice went on a nude cruise?

The Chief Justice has launched an investigation to get to the... uh... to figure out exactly which Justice that San Francisco Chronicle travel article was referring to.
[Spuds Hilton, the author of the article] said in an interview that while he has no clue as to the identity of the alleged nude judge, "the whole idea of sailing the seven seas naked makes the mind race. When you hear that a member of the highest court in a country the size of Canada may be lounging by the pool buck-naked, daiquiri in hand, you know that people will be interested.

"The owner of the travel company said that nudity is the great equalizer," Mr. Hilton added. "I guess that makes sense -- no power suits, no uniforms, no $600 pumps and, apparently, no judge's robes."
Here in the U.S., the justices are always blabbing about "judicial modesty," but who know what kinds of vacations they take?

Anyway, a naked cruise? It's just so perfectly awful, combining the horrors described in two of my favorite essays, "Naked," by David Sedaris and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," by David Foster Wallace. And then add Supreme Court Justices for a truly dreadful, nightmare vacation.

“All they want is sweets... They’re not scaring you, or singing to you, or charming you — they’re just grabbing it and going to the next house..."

Halloween's not making sense to the British.
“Trick or treat? I don’t know about you, but my answer to this question, if I’m honest, would be unprintable in a family newspaper,” the critic A. N. Wilson wrote recently in The Daily Mail. “Let’s say it’s stronger than ‘push off.’ Yet the little beggars will soon be round, banging and ringing at our doors with this irritating refrain.”

Mr. Wilson blamed “the kitsch hotchpotch known as American Gothic.”

Hugh O’Donnell, a professor of language and popular culture at Glasgow Caledonian University, said in an interview that “the main complaint is that it’s just fun without any meaning behind it.”

“It’s no longer got any relationship to anything — not the old Celtic idea of the living and the dead, or the Christian tradition of Allhallows Eve,” said Mr. O’Donnell....

Mr. O’Donnell said that when he was a boy in Scotland, he and his friends regularly went door to door, playing out an old Celtic tradition.

“It was called guising,” he explained. “You put an old sheet over your head and went to all the houses in the village, and you always had to do something, like sing a song or tell a joke.” The children did not receive candy then — just apples and, maybe, peanuts, he said....
I was going to laugh at them for being cranky and dense, but O'Donnell changed my mind. In a place where there was once a more mysterious and entrancing tradition, it's got to feel empty and sad to be subjected to a thin tradition from another place.

Inborn morality.

Does this idea bother you?
Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, ... propose[s] that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously....

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying “that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine.” Dr. Hauser argues that the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.
If this idea bothers you, is it because you want to be proud of your own morality or because it undermines religion? But maybe your need to feel proud of your morality and your sense that God is involved in the process of making you moral are just more things that evolution wired into your brain.

IN THE COMMENTS: This passage from the writings of St. Paul is found relevant and discussed;
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

Romans 2:14-15 (New International Version)

"Michigan is ground zero in the national debate on the meaning of equal opportunity."

A ballot initiative in Michigan:
The ballot initiative, Proposition 2, which would amend Michigan’s Constitution to bar public institutions from considering race or sex in public education, employment or contracting, has drawn wide opposition from the state’s civic establishment, including business and labor, the Democratic governor and her Republican challenger. But polls show voters are split, with significant numbers undecided or refusing to say where they stand....
If larger numbers than usual are resisting expressing opinion here, I suspect these are people who support the initiative but fear being considered racist.
For the University of Michigan, the proposition would require broader changes than the Supreme Court did; it ruled in [Jennifer] Gratz’s case and a companion case that while the consideration of race as part of the law school’s admissions policy was constitutional, a formula giving extra points to minority undergraduate applicants was not....

“The entire elite establishment is all lined up on the other side of this issue,” Ms. Gratz said, “but the mainstream, normal, everyday people who go to work every day think their husbands, their wives, their kids, should be treated equally by our government, and should not be judged on race or sex.”

"The Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

Hardcore rhetoric from George Bush.

Dick Cheney is somewhat more elegant about it: "It's my belief that [the insurgents are] very sensitive of the fact that we've got an election scheduled... [They believe] they can break the will of the American people," and "that's what they're trying to do."

Josh Marshall reads
the linked article and comments: "Get ready for the fangs and knives... The desperation will be ferocious. Imagine everything from the last six years rolled into one toxic week. An electoral gauntlet of hacking knives and fire. But, then, where did one party rule ever end serenely?"

A gauntlet of hacking knives and fire? That's one crazy image. Like something out of "Edward Scissorhands" or maybe "Yellow Submarine" -- remember The Dreadful Flying Glove?

Ah, but wait. Only conservative usage writers insist on the gauntlet/gantlet distinction, and since Marshall's no conservative, he's allowed to stir up distracting glove imagery as he makes his point that the President is getting really, really desperate.

Everyone knows Bush speaks inelegantly. Is he charged up as the election nears? I hope so. He should be. Imagine what people like Marshall would say if he seemed ennervated and resigned. And it's not as if we aren't going to see Democrats reveal their sharp edges this week. Fangs, knives, fiery gloves, what have you. And it's not as if Democrats aren't going drop their guard and let a blunt phrase slip out.

UPDATE: If you listened to the audio at that last link, there's more commentary here, here, and here. It really is amazing how politically inept John Kerry is.

October 30, 2006

"E-lection Nite Blog Party."

So what do you think of this?
[CNN] plans to host more than two dozen bloggers from across the political spectrum — including sites like RedState and Daily Kos — at a Washington Internet lounge where they can monitor the election returns on a slew of flat-screen televisions. (Each blogger will get his or her own monitor, which can be tuned to any channel.) There will be free wireless access — and plenty of food and beverages, natch.

CNN Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton have been assigned to cover the gathering and provide regular updates on the air about the topics that are generating the most chatter.

"Bloggers are leading the conversation," said David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief. "You could argue that most of the political dialogue in this country is happening online, so if you don't incorporate that into your coverage, you're missing a major element."

Subscribers to CNN Pipeline, the network's broadband service, will be able to monitor the happenings at the blog party through one of the online channels, which will be dedicated exclusively to footage from the event.
Would you like to have your humble blogger blog the election returns not from my personal TV lounge but from CNN's Washington Internet lounge in some sort of a party atmosphere with two dozen other bloggers (each of whose party mood is going to depend on what shows up on that a slew of flat-screen televisions)?

Early sunset.

Dusk sky

"Karl Rove, somewhere inside that massive brain of his..."

"... has figured out the political landscape more clearly than the entire collection of conventional-wisdom pundits and pollsters in the entire city of Washington."

Obsessing about Rove:
Is Rove just acting cocky as a way of lifting GOP morale, or does he really believe it? And, if the latter, is he deluding himself, or does he once again know something that Democrats do not?
We're in this crazy period where we're analyzing what happened in the election that hasn't happened yet, and part of the craziness is the gripping fear that Karl actually knows.

Making fun of Bush for saying "the Google"...

... while using the term "internet blogs." Time for NPR to catch some mockery from this weblogger on the internet web.

If Democrats win the House with candidates who seem more like Republicans...

... what will happen to the party?
Democratic officials said they did not set out with the intention of finding moderates to run. Instead, as they searched for candidates with the greatest possibility of winning against Republicans, they said, they wound up with a number who reflected more moderate views....

Collectively, the group could tilt the balance of power within the party, which has been struggling to define itself in recent elections. The candidates cover the spectrum on political issues; some are fiscally conservative and moderate or liberal on social issues, some are the reverse. They could influence negotiations with Republicans on a variety of issues, including Social Security and stem cell research....

The centrist movement was embodied by former President Bill Clinton, who rose to prominence through the Democratic Leadership Council, which embraced a so-called third way of politics and eschewed what it saw as outdated liberalism.

Yet since Mr. Clinton left office, Democrats have seemed to drift back in the direction of their liberal identity, nominating two presidential contenders who were seen as less committed to the moderate cause.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I'd like to see the Democratic Party become centrist. If they win because they found moderates to run in key districts, I think they'll have a special obligation to please people like me. I'm going to hold them to the bargain.

UPDATE: The liberal bloggers' response to the linked article is pretty funny. TAPPED whines that the NYT isn't helping them enough. Matthew Yglesias is similiarly irked. The NYT was supposed to be on our side! How embarrassing. First, you try to blow the credibility of the newspaper that really does usually help you. Second, you show your disrespect for professional journalism. Third, you reveal how far to the left you are if the NYT isn't liberal enough for you. Absurd!

"Go ahead, put marks on me. That's what I want. Go ahead."

More news in the Duke lacrosse team rape case.

Is blackface humor acceptable?

Some people think so.

October 29, 2006

Mid-fall, UW Law School.

I never seem to get any good shots of the Law School. But I kind of like this one from yesterday, with one bare tree and one showy one.

Bascom Mall

"What Tennesseans will get will be a Jesus-loving..."

Jesus-loving! I've never heard a candidate promise to be Jesus-loving. Wow! That's just not the way people talk in politics. But calm down. It was the Democrat, Harold Ford... on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace (who seemed to have a smirk on his face). Let's get the whole quote:
What Tennesseans will get will be a Jesus-loving, gun-supporting believer that families should come first, that taxes should be lower and America should be strong. When Tennesseans send us to the Senate, that's what they'll get in my votes and that's what they'll get in the kind of leadership that we have not had in the Senate over the last six years.

I know there's going to be an effort to scare people, but you cannot scare people to be inspired. You cannot scare people to do good and important things. I say to the national Republican Party, that message has run out of gas here in Tennessee. We know we are better than that as a country, and Tennesseans are ready to vote for something better and stronger and more positive than that.
Speaking of scaring people, I'm still laughing about the "TV Funhouse" cartoon on SNL last night. It spoofed the scary Republican ads. In one, kids are trick-or-treating, and at the door is a pregnant woman; we see her belly burst open -- in the style of the movie "Alien" -- and out pops Hillary Clinton, who croaks: "Here kids, have some condoms and abortion pills."

But, anyway, back to Harold Ford, that "Jesus-loving" response came after Wallace asked a great question:
Congressman, as we've said, you vote pretty conservative for a Democrat, but the fact is that if you win and if you're part of a Democratic takeover of the Senate, that means that ... Harry Reid, ... becomes the Senate majority leader, Ted Kennedy becomes a committee chair, so does Joe Biden. Doesn't a Ford victory as part of a Democratic takeover, doesn't that end up helping liberals?
I'm not surprised he flipped into Jesus! guns! mode.

UPDATE: More religion from Ford here: "Republicans fear the Lord; he said Democrats fear AND love the Lord." Via Instapundit, who thinks Ford needs a good night's sleep. I feel a little sorry for Ford -- and for other Democrats -- not because they don't get enough sleep, but because it seems unfair that religion works as well as it does for Republicans. But you can't turn things around by just proclaiming that it's not right. And bragging about your own religious piety is not a good way to impress religious people... and it's really off-putting to people who are wary of religion in politics.

The right to silently protest a speaker.

On Friday, I wrote about the UW-Oshkosh police throwing students out of a lecture for standing and turning their backs to a speaker -- who happened to be UW's own 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Kevin Barrett. I also raised this question with the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights, and UW polisci prof Donald Downs -- president of the group -- wrote this (and wanted me to copy it here):
The key point is to balance the rights of the protesters with the rights of the speaker and the audience. Protesters have a right to make their views known, but they must not infringe the rights of the speaker and the audiences. So the following questions are relevant:

1) Were the protesteros actually disrupting others' views?

2) If so, HOW LONG did they obstruct the view? A symbolic gesture to turn the back that prevented people in the audience from seeing the speaker is fine, so long as the act is short and does not block views for a meaningful period of time (a couple of minutes, max, it would seem to me);

3) how did the police react? Did they make an attempt to talk with the protesters, and did the protesters make any attempt to make it clear that they were not trying to disrupt the audience's view? This is a factual call about which we lack evidence;

4) how have similar speech actions been treated by authorities in the past? This is Ann's key question. Ann's question has validity because in my entire time at Madison, I have never witnessed a conservative group attempting to disrupt a speaker, only leftist groups opposed to the speaker. In no case has the leftist group ever been punished or even spoken to by the administration. In some cases, it was evident who was doing the disruption, as in the Ward Connerly disruption in 1998. But we still need to know the facts in the case at hand. What we want in these encounters is even-handedness (viewpoint neutrality) on the part of authorities, plain and simple.

Street scene with smashed head.

Street scene with smashed head

Did you get trashed last night at Freakfest?

New morning light.

I'm enjoying the new infusion of light into the morning. This was yesterday, when midday looked like late afternoon:

Bascom Mall

''The military was forced to pay a human cost for the country's caution..."

"... and then paid again with its prestige when some labeled the inevitable results of such limited activity 'military incompetence.' '' said Jim Webb, the Virginia Senate candidate.

But he didn't say that recently. That's a quote from a fascinating February 28, 1988 article that I found in the NYT archive. (You'll need TimesSelect for access.) Webb was Secretary of the Navy at the time.

I was looking for some more detail about what he'd said about women in the military and found it:
But Webb shattered his welcome at Annapolis in 1979 with a scathing article for Washingtonian magazine. Entitled ''Women Can't Fight,'' it was a traditionalist's diatribe against the admission three years earlier of women into the academy. The piece took a tone that could only offend women; he called Bancroft Hall, the school's single, mammoth dormitory, housing 300 women and 4,000 men, ''a horny woman's dream.''

''There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat,'' he wrote. ''And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation.''

Webb's second novel, ''A Sense of Honor,'' set at Annapolis, stirred up more turmoil. It decried the Naval Academy's emasculation and defended the old style of masculine indoctrination and hazing that Webb and his classmates had known....

Webb's views on women came up in his confirmation hearings for the reserve affairs position, and, during his tenure as secretary, the Navy has been harshly criticized by Pentagon review boards for pervasive patterns of sexual harassment and discrimination.
But perhaps more significant than that is his thinking about the use of military force:
["Fields of Fire"] is so intensely personal that one can't help but turn to it for an exegesis of its author. What emerges is a portrait of a man who views all military missions through the prism of Vietnam.

Without question, this is the case when Webb considers the Persian Gulf. For him, the frigates and destroyers in the Gulf sometimes resemble the tanks and foot soldiers that slogged into ambush in rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. ''It is something that I think about all the time in the Persian Gulf,'' he said recently, ''where we are dangled around like a target before the next step.''...

The problem he recalled from Vietnam was that American forces were not given free rein to fight a war. ''The military was forced to pay a human cost for the country's caution,'' said Webb, ''and then paid again with its prestige when some labeled the inevitable results of such limited activity 'military incompetence.' '' Once again, in the Gulf, more than geopolitical interest was at stake. It was the prestige of the military. It was also youthful lives and limbs.

''I have really been struggling with this,'' Webb said one evening last fall. He was nursing a beer in a darkened Virginia restaurant near the Pentagon. ''The danger,'' he said, ''is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.'' When the first oil tanker under escort hit a mine in July, Webb escalated his activities. In a set of memorandums to then Defense Secretary Weinberger, Webb called into question some of the fundamental premises of the Reagan Administration's Gulf policy....

Vietnam was not the only historical analogy he saw. He was also troubled by the parallels to Beirut - where he had worked as a journalist in October 1983, winning an Emmy award for ''The MacNeil/Lehrer Report'' on his coverage of the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks there.

''In Vietnam, the problem was not setting clear enough goals, so that we could shape our policy in the early years, and know where we were going,'' said Webb. ''In Beirut, it was injecting a military force and then paralyzing it. You just couldn't change anything because the debate was so strong at the top.''
The danger is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.

Webb is clearly a very smart guy with a lot of nerve and many years of experience thinking about the right questions.

"It's an alternative food source."

..."And not because it doesn't taste great."

..."Again, sustenance, that's the key."

"We wanted to see a capacity for growth and change in Mr. Lieberman."

The NYT endorses Ned Lamont.

"People just assume you’re a Democrat, and turn and look at you and say, 'Can you believe what this nut in the White House is doing?'"

"And then you can say, 'I voted for him twice,' or you can nod and move along."

Here's an article about how people have trouble talking or even thinking about politics without getting mad at anybody on the other side.
Jim Coffman, 40, a Democrat in Chicago, said he and his wife have not pursued a friendship with another couple whose three children are the same ages as theirs after seeing photographs of President Bush on the other couple’s refrigerator. He said they have discussed with other friends “being so amazed that we could have so much in common, and yet be so diametrically opposed” when it comes to politics.
Photographs of President Bush on the refrigerator? Well, I'd wonder about anybody who had a picture of any politician on the refrigerator....

But, anyway, it's a long American tradition to fight about politics and to view people on the other side as depraved. I think the greatest danger is that the people who are passionate about politics make a lot of other people not want to talk or even think about politics at all. Saying anything might make people not like you. That's enough to make most people avoid the subject... or to play the chameleon and seem to have whatever political opinions the other people have. Maybe you don't even know what you really think.

And why not worry about all the other things that will make people cross you off their list? Maybe the cute animal picture on your refrigerator will cause that otherwise compatible couple to deem you unworthy. You're probably wearing the wrong shoes and listening to the wrong music. And remember that time I made an allusion to a movie and you said you hated it? There are so many pitfalls!

"Small crowds of hostile attendees briefly chanted and taunted police..."

But other than that, Madison's "Freakfest" seems to have gone well:
By 2:05 a.m. post-daylight saving time on Sunday, State Street was clear of Halloween revelers, and police didn't need to use riot gear or pepper spray to do it. Soon after the staged event was over, and again when the bars closed an hour or so later, people for the most part simply left....

There were hints throughout the night that the event might end well, with the crowd never building to the maximum 80,000 attendees.

For most of the night it was still possible to walk comfortably on State Street without getting poked by pitchfork-wielding devils or whacked by the sticks of the guys dressed as the Duke University lacrosse team....

"I think everyone just wants to see no trouble this year," said [Jesse] Holst, who was wearing camouflage plants and a referee's shirt. He said he was a civil war referee.