March 3, 2007

A few crisp words from Justice Thomas.

Businessweek has a big interview with Justice Clarence Thomas about his time at college. Here he talks about what he wishes he'd done differently:
There were things that I would enjoy, that I would take in, things that I rejected....

Simple things, like different classes. Maybe I would have taken classes like Russian history or more science, maybe, more math courses. I would have taken more history courses, more philosophy courses. Maybe I would have gone to more events, some plays. I rejected all that. I would have been more open to some of the offerings that were different from the life I had become accustomed to. If you're intellectually alive—which you are at that time—you want to explore.
Here he talks about affirmative action:
Why do you think some people are so eager to cast you as a beneficiary of affirmative action?

That was the creation of the politicians, the people with a lot of mouth and nothing to say and your industry. They had a story and everything had to fit into their story. It discounts other people's achievements. Ask Ted how many all-nighters he pulled. It discounts those. It's so discouraging to see the fraudulent renditions of very complicated and different lives of people who were struggling in a new world for them. Everything becomes affirmative action. There wasn't some grand plan. I just showed up.
He says that his college, Holy Cross, "never once required us to be anything other than ourselves and good people," and in answer to the question, "Doesn't every college want that?" he says:
Oh no. I think there are different points of views that are not acceptable. I go around this country and the poor kids who want to dissent from a prevailing point of view have no room. There's no room for them.

Because of political correctness?

Oh yeah. Come on, that's obvious. You don't even have to ask. That's obvious. Otherwise, there are people who have set notions of what blacks should think. But I rejected that years ago. I rejected that back when I was considered radical.

Is it harder to be an African American heading to college these days?

I don't know. I'm not going to dissect these schools now. I'm just glad I went when I went, before everybody had all the answers and theories about blacks. I'm sure it was hard to make your own way but maybe it worked better that way. Maybe it made us better, stronger people.
He has this to say about why he is controversial:
People have a model of what they think a black person should think. A white person is free to think whatever they want to think. But a black person has to think a certain way. Holy Cross has never ever done that. We did it to each other but we were just kids.
Interesting interview. I like his crisp form of speech.

A free permalink for today's NYT column.

I don't know why, but the NYT now has my column for today on the free side of the TimesSelect wall. Here's the permalink for it. The subject is the difficulty of teaching about race when law schools are too eager to respond to students who feel offended.

Futurism, intentional and found.

Here we are in the Futurism room of the Museum of Modern Art:


I love that there's a woman in a yellow coat here, and I love her spatial relationshiop to the man and to the Futurist painting and sculpture. (The sculpture is Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913).)

Then there's this, a woman in big polka dots hustles past a Leger painting:

Found futurism

Fernand Leger is not a Futurist, but my Sony camera is futuristic enough to correct for motion, and in grabbing and stilling the moving image of the woman, it gave a speeding forward look to the Leger painting, "Three Women," in the background. Found Futurism!

"Clowns in dreadlocks escorting the casket draped in rhinestone-studded satin."

Losers in gaudy, ragamuffin clothes, camera hogs and hangers-on.

Poor Anna Nicole, a trashy life, and a sleazy death, and in the end a horrible, tasteless funeral. All of it awful, but somehow fitting.

Is the commentary on bad taste in bad taste?
The casket remained closed - draped with a satin, feather-fringed quilt.

Rhinestones spelled out her signature and the trademark smiley face she used when giving autographs.

Even though the coffin was closed, no one was left in any doubt what Anna Nicole was wearing - what would have been an eye-catching, Oscar-worthy gown: pink and white, embroidered with a heart across the bodice - and revealed in all its glory on "Entertainment Tonight." And a tiara.

Are they just making stuff up?

"Is it necessary for the government to present evidence that it is not humanly possible for someone not to recall an event?"

So asked the jury in the Libby case, seeking a clarification from the judge about the meaning of reasonable doubt. They've been deliberating since February 22. Can anyone pick apart that question and tell what it means?

The question suggests that the jurors might be stumped about whether than can convict even though a juror keeps saying something like: But, of course, it's possible to forget anything. This would be an argument against convicting based on the evidence that demonstrated the importance of what Libby contends he forgot.

This question might mean that they are arguing about how high the standard of reasonable doubt really is. But there is also concern about the kind of proof that is required. Is it enough to simply show that the thing allegedly forgotten was extremely memorable, so that the jurors have to make an inference that he is therefore lying? Someone may be demanding that there should be evidence about the mechanism of forgetting.

I would think that the correct answer about the quantity and quality of the evidence needed would tend to make a jury that would ask the question that way likely to convict. Do you agree?

We want our sexist comic characters to be more charming.

Andrew Dice Clay is back with a reality show on VH-1:
The VH1 reality show “Dice Undisputed” — about his attempt at a career comeback, co-starring his two sons, his shrill fiancĂ©e and his motley entourage — is intended to shove him back in our faces, right where he apparently belongs. But we must again resist his advances. Let’s say it one more time: He’s charmless and unfunny.
I've said what I had to say about him back here:
The first time I saw Andrew Dice Clay, I took him to be a brilliant critic of masculinity. Then everybody just got mad at him and made him go away.
Looks like they're about to make him go away again. Since he played a lout, you can't feel sorry for him. If only he could warm us with a smidge of lovableness, like that big sexist bastard Borat.

"I hope the pink drawers are ready too?"

Wagner's underpants!

I hate to do this. But I'm going to write a post defending myself against the idiotic charge...

... that I'm failing to denounce Ann Coulter for using the word "faggot" with reference to John Edwards. I have never promoted Ann Coulter on this blog. I just checked all the old references to her. In over 8,000 posts in 3 years, I see her name in only 10 posts, and half of these just have her name in some block quote from someone else. I've never approved of the kind of shots she takes, though I have said I think she imagines herself to be some sort of comedian:
You know, when we first noticed Coulter doing various political shows -- I think it was back in the mid-90s -- we were always saying "Why is that woman laughing?," "She's always laughing," "There's that woman again who's always laughing," etc. No matter what she said, she'd be laughing, as though every damned thing that happened in politics was hilarious to her and everything comment she made completely cracked her up. You might not think what she is saying is funny, but I think she's motivated by comic energy, and the people who like her are picking up on the fun.
And I've responded to a comparison of me to her:
One of the things that I observe, by the way, is how this attitude I take -- whatever it is -- drives the left blogosphere up the wall. I wonder why it takes so little? And why this special obsession with me? Some blogger wrote about me -- I linked to him yesterday... he's not getting another -- "She makes Ann Coulter look like Cicero." Ann Coulter makes outrageous statements intended to taunt people into attacking her. That's her game. I make some throwaway, half-humorous remark in the middle of a comments thread and touch off multi-blog fireworks that go on for days. What's that all about?
I briefly note an instance where she was prevented from speaking -- which reflects my longstanding interest in free speech. And I quote her joke about the nomination of Harriet Miers: "I eagerly await the announcement of President Bush's real nominee to the Supreme Court." Which is a good joke that expressed how I felt about the nomination. And here, also a propos of Miers, I mention that she laughed at a joke on "Real Time With Bill Maher."

So if you think I have some obligation to disassociate myself from her, you are just damned wrong on the facts. And if you think I have ever supported homophobia on this blog, I challenge you to prove it. You can't. And if you think I hate John Edwards, why don't you see if you can figure out who I voted for in the 2004 primary?

Meanwhile, what chumps you people are to take the bait and promote her again! Or is there some other story that would be big today if this nonsense weren't eclipsing it?

ADDED: There's the eclipse.

MSM finally tries to get the Kaplan story straight.

Megan Twohey -- in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- is -- I think -- the first mainstream reporter to really get somewhere reporting the other side of the Wisconsin Law School story that has gotten so much press lately. She quotes me quoting Professor Kaplan at Friday's faculty meeting:
"The law school is my home," Leonard Kaplan told law school colleagues at a weekly meeting, which was recorded by Ann Althouse, a fellow professor. "I'm going to fight to make it stay my home."

While not offering a detailed explanation, Kaplan said: "I didn't say what was attributed to me. But I think I know why it was misinterpreted."

Kaplan said he was crafting a written statement to be released later that "was compassionate but a response from a lawyer."
Twohey refers to the "tumultuous" meeting at the law school on Thursday (which she witnessed and we talked about here yesterday) and reports that "other students" who were in the class said his words were "misconstrued and taken out of context." The quotes that have appeared in the press and that have gotten so many people exercised were -- according to Twohey -- compiled by a student who was not in the class but who spoke with two students who were. There is no indication whether those two students wrote verbatim quotes down while they were in class, and no one seems to have an audio recording, but the student who wrote the inflammatory email did put quotes around words:
[Name deleted] told the standing-room-only crowd Thursday that the allegations she made in her e-mail were "not well informed," but insisted that what Kaplan said was hurtful and damaging....

The offended students said they were upset with the way their complaint had been handled. They said that Kaplan, in a private meeting, had apologized for hurting their feelings but stood by his statements.

Kaplan did not attend the forum. He said in a statement that was read by another professor that he did not want to draw attention from the educational purpose of the forum - an apparent reference to some speakers who had been invited to talk to the group about Hmong culture.

Davis, the dean, did attend the forum, and he praised Kaplan's accusers for the way they had handled their concerns and promised to provide cultural awareness programming next month.
I hope that phrase "cultural awareness programming" means that there will be programs and not that we are about to be programmed -- like a computer or a brainwashing victim.
Althouse said Friday that Davis should have "demonstrated a concern for finding out what was true."

"What happened to the truth?" she said. "It seems to me that before you design remedies for problems, you should find out what the problem is. I don't think it's the interest of people who care about race to see this minefield where your quotes are taken out of context."
A law school, especially, should set the example of what it means to care scrupulously about the truth, to follow due process when a person's reputation is on the line, and to show that remedies should be tailored to real problems, not based on one-sided accusations. These are principles fundamental to law. We are a law school. What are we teaching? You may well have some questions about what Kaplan taught his class. But our actions these past two weeks have taught something to our students and to the rest of the world. That is what I am questioning.

Twohey, unlike some of the other reporters who splashed this story into the news, does some digging for the truth:
[Names deleted], students who were in Kaplan's class, said Friday that [name deleted's] e-mail misquoted Kaplan.

"I think the comments were taken out of context," said [name deleted], a Latino undergraduate in the class.

They said the focus of the class was how American law can sometimes conflict with the values of different cultures, and that Kaplan was using the Hmong experience in Wisconsin as an example. They said Kaplan did touch on issues of rape, dowries and crime within the Hmong community, but had been misquoted in [name deleted's] e-mail.
Misquoted. That is an important word.
"If anything, he was critiquing what a bad job Wisconsin was doing in providing job opportunities to the Hmong, that that's why they end up in gangs," said [name deleted], who is Vietnamese.

[Name deleted], who is white, said Kaplan talked about Hmong women thriving because they had skills such as needlework.

"He was saying that Hmong men aren't thriving as much because they don't have skills that have transferred as well," she said.

The students said they could see how [names deleted] could have been offended by the comments, and [name deleted] acknowledging that Kaplan had used Hmong stereotypes that made him feel uncomfortable at times.

But the students insisted Kaplan did not strike them as racist or bigoted. They said they were upset by the fallout from the incident.

"I think this is really out of control," [name deleted] said.
On the subject of why Kaplan has not comprehensively refuted the accusations, Twohey quotes Professor Downs:
Donald Downs, a political science professor who is a friend of Kaplan's, said Friday that Kaplan had an attorney who had advised him not to talk about the incident publicly because of the potential for a harassment lawsuit.

"He's all lawyered up," Downs said.

Downs, who heads the university's committee for academic freedom and rights, said some professors have come away from the controversy fearful of discussing race in class.
This is also a point I make in my NYT column today:
Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they'll be rethinking this idea -- heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s -- that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses.
One of the many ironies of this story is that both Kaplan's style of teaching and the Dean's student-appeasing efforts at climate-control come from the same well-meaning liberal idea that law schools ought to take account of race.

I'm on that committee with Downs and a number of other UW professors. It's called CAFAR (Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights). (The same group supported that 9/11 conspiracy theorist last fall and was critical of the "Think. Respect" program. Downs wrote this book about free speech on campus.) Twohey notes that CAFAR has a statement on the Kaplan affair, and I will publish that statement in full when it's through with the final edit (which will be very soon).

NOTE: I've deleted the student names that originally appeared here. I didn't like using the students' names, and only had them because they were in the newspaper article I was commenting on. Obviously, the names are still available in the linked newspaper articles.

March 2, 2007

"A Word Too Far."

This is the fifth and last of my NYT columns. (TimesSelect link.) It discusses this incident at Duke University Law School along with the incident at my law school which I wrote about earlier today. Excerpt:
Ironically, you have to care enough about engaging energetically with issues of race to run into this sort of trouble. It’s so much easier to skip the subject altogether, to embrace a theory of colorblindness or to scoop out gobs of politically correct pabulum. It’s only when you challenge the students and confront them with something that can be experienced as ugly — even if you’re only trying to highlight your law firm’s illustrious fight against racism — that you create the risk that someone may take offense.

ADDED: Here's a free permalink.

"We're all scared."

Says Joe Klein, talking about writers and making me feel like quoting him, because I'm sitting here this afternoon writing... and scared.

"Gloves come off: Mitt has 'choice' words for Giuliani."

Mitts come off: Glove has 'choice' words for Giuliani.

The Daily News reports:
"He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay marriage and anti-gun," Romney said in an interview to air Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network, home to televangelist Pat Robertson. "That's a tough combination in a Republican primary."
Oh, come on. From that headline, I thought he'd said something surprisingly nasty. But it was just absolutely the most conventional thing everyone says about Giuliani. The funny thing is, everyone knows this about Giuliani, and yet he's the big frontrunner. Explain that.

Last night at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Here's what happened at my law school last night, at an event I avoided:
An emotionally charged group of hundreds of students, faculty and community members met Thursday night to address a University of Wisconsin professor’s statements about the Hmong community.

Law professor Leonard Kaplan made several statements during his Feb. 15 class that offended a group of students, who were coined the “Magnificent Seven” by those in attendance at the forum.

According to an e-mail sent to several law and Hmong students, Kaplan spoke for 10 minutes using “racist and inappropriate” remarks, allegedly saying, “Hmong men have no talent other than to kill,” and “all second-generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity,” among other comments.
Kaplan's version of the story has never been presented, strangely enough. The quotes are obviously cruelly torn from the teaching context. It is irrational to think that a law professor would assert things like this as a matter of belief. Kaplan isn't a racist, but anyone ought to know that a real racist who is clever enough to be a law professor would express himself subtly, not by bursting out with racist comments (unless he's lost his mind).

I don't know what the actual quotes were, and the repetition of the purported quotations from the email is giving them the aura of reality. Even if they are true, however, anyone who thinks about how teaching works ought to be able to imagine how there might be some pedagogical context in which those words would be said by the professor, perhaps phrasing a hypothetical or characterizing the thoughts of another person. Obviously, it would help to have an accurate report to counterweight the email (which I don't think was intended to go out to the press).
Jane Hamilton-Merritt, an author and Nobel Peace Prize nominee known for her writings on Hmong culture, flew in from Connecticut for the forum.

Originally aimed at addressing cultural acceptance of Hmong people, the discussion shifted focus almost entirely to Kaplan’s controversial comments.
As you can see, some people here at the law school believed this event would not focus on what happened in the classroom. You can detect a plan for healing, closure, and positivity.
“No matter what we all think is offensive, we’re not going to leave here with anyone ‘winning,’” said UW law student [name deleted], who was in Kaplan’s lecture. “I think the reality is the remarks, … if you agree or not, have been very damaging to the particular students and an entire population.”
[Name deleted] thus acknowledged the effect on the students, something that could conceivably be done without needing to get the facts straight or understanding why Kaplan said whatever it is he did. I imagine that [name deleted] believed this was a path toward closure.
With the initial goal of the meeting to be generally about Hmong cultural ignorance, [UW law professor Jane] Larson said Kaplan felt being in the room himself would change the nature of the discussion....

UW undergraduate [name deleted] said he regretted Kaplan did not take the opportunity to explain his comments.
But with such a large group assembled and some students very upset, how could you realistically expect them all to sit passively for Hamilton-Merritt's healthful lesson?
“We fully support all research with the marketplace of ideas, but we believe [what Kaplan said] extends far beyond the bounds of academic freedom,” [name deleted] said. “We respectfully request a public repeal and apology, and a (diversity) committee dedicated to faculty and staff.”

[Name deleted] then turned to Law School Dean Ken Davis personally, breaking the meeting’s procedural rules, before being cut off by the forum’s moderator.
What?! Procedural rules failed to keep the meeting on track? Who could have predicted that a student would try to refocus things on a matter of pressing, passionate concern? Wouldn't you have thought that someone who was "nominated for a Nobel Prize" and who flew in from the east coast would inspire awed silence?
Davis told the large crowd he hopes to continue the education of his faculty and staff.

“Sometimes we stumble, but we try to learn and try to move forward,” Davis said. “Within the Law School community, this will not be the end to learn about the wonderful community within our state.”
"Continue the education of his faculty and staff"? So it's reeducation time for all of us -- even though whatever it was that Kaplan said seems to be a complete anomaly and says nothing about the rest of us? Personally, I would never choose to approach a racial theme in class by stirring things up with exaggerated statements, and I find it hard to understand why Kaplan did whatever he did. As you know from my recent column, I support traditional law school teaching, but there are some people here who go for innovation. Innovation could lead a teacher to do things that distress the students and unleash difficult emotions. I would suppose that it would be the deepest concern about racism that would take a professor down this path.
Law student [named deleted] said he was hoping for more of an open forum where both sides were represented, adding several students may plan a “counter-forum.” He said he thinks Kaplan’s comments were conveyed as “bold and obviously untrue” and should be a part of the law education process.

“Every law professor offends their students — that’s their style,” [name deleted] said. “The last thing I’d want is to have professors treading on thin ice because they’re afraid of offending people.”
Don't you love the voice of reason?
Several students from Kaplan’s class gave their accounts of the incident in question.
[Name deleted], who was in class when Kaplan made his comments about the Hmong community, said she was outraged and upset she didn’t immediately respond to the comments in class.

“When I heard these comments, I was disturbed, shocked and angry at Kaplan and at myself for not speaking up, and at my classmates,” [name deleted] said.
The law professors want you to speak in class. The presentation is usually designed to create an occasion for speaking. Why not go in the next day and speak up? Kaplan's class is ongoing. There are endless opportunities. Did you ever get the impression that Kaplan was trying to close down discussion as opposed to stimulating it? When does a teacher stimulate discussion so much that instead of speaking in class, you choose to go outside of the class?
[Name deleted], who was in Kaplan’s class and first circulated mass e-mails to gather support, said she has been inundated with e-mails from both hate and support mail from around the country.
This is a classic example of the behavior of email. I can see how a student might feel too confused or intimidated to speak in class and might then send out an email as a way to process what happened and get ready perhaps to go back to class and engage with the teacher in a good way. But once something this inflammatory is in email, it escapes. It goes viral. It takes on a life of its own:
[Name deleted], who is in the class but did not attend lecture Feb. 15, met with Kaplan regarding the comments.

“We all genuinely believe that he is sorry we are hurt,” [name deleted] said. “What came as a shock, an injury and an insult was the fact he believed his statements to be true. He was not willing to repeal his statements.”
"The fact he believed his statements to be true"? And how did you come to be in possession of that "fact"?

ADDED: Today's Badger Herald also has this letter from Gerald Cox. CORRECTION: I think these are in fact 3 separate responses to a column on the subject by Gerald Cox (which would explain why the paragraphs don't fit together too well!):
I was in the class, this is all being taken out of context. If anything he was supporting Hmongs and criticizing Wisconsin failure in incorporating them into Northern WI society. Look at all the talk this has stirred! If anything he’s remarks helped bring light to a situation. He is not a racist and his remarks were not racist.

I’ve had Kaplan for a few courses and he is not a racist, and these remarks were completely taken out of context. The initial email describing Kaplan’s comments removed the context and intentionally led readers to conclude that Kaplan believes all Hmong are criminals and gangters which is obviously not something Kaplan believes. I feel bad that the student was offended but this student should publicly apologize to Kaplan for clearly misrepresenting his beliefs, the context of the discussion, and ignoring the fact that his effort to integrate cultural differences into the legal process class was designed to argue that the law should be more sensitive to cultural differences.

Especially as a professor, he should not be using terrible, ridiculous, ignorant stereotypes to prove his little point because you know what, to some, it is a terrible, ridiculous, and ignorant way of making a point. That’s not to say Kaplan’s a racist, but just because he isn’t a racist doesn’t mean he didn’t make ignorant, racist remarks. People make mistakes, he made a mistake, he should apologize, the Hmong student should not have to apologize for being offended (that suggestion just has no merit) and everybody should just learn and move on.
Cultural difference is quite the petard.

MORE: Here's the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's coverage of last night's event. Excerpt:
The students, who would not elaborate on what Kaplan had said, said in the beginning that their main goal was for faculty and students to be educated about the Hmong community and culture. But two of the students later broke down in tears as they talked angrily about the way Kaplan and the administration had responded to their concerns, with one student telling the crowd, "You have alienated us."

The fallout began when law student [name deleted], a Hmong who grew up in Eau Claire, circulated an e-mail among a dozen classmates accusing Kaplan of making "racist" comments during a class that focused on the intersection of culture and the law. [Name deleted] was not in class that day; she compiled the remarks from others.
So this is how the quotes came to be quoted. Did no one record the class?
Kaplan, who has refused the students' request to apologize publicly, did not show up at the forum even though he was expected to.
Expected to by whom? The faculty knew he wasn't going to be there.
For his part, law school Dean Kenneth Davis, who has overseen the fallout of the incident, which has not involved disciplinary action of Kaplan, would not comment, saying only that he was committed to moving forward with efforts to improve cultural understanding among faculty and students.

So it was no surprise when, toward the end of the forum, a woman in the audience drew applause when she complained:

"I'm left not knowing what happened. But I'm supposed to engage in a dialogue about it? . . . I'm left hanging."
The idea of the meeting really was that there was some way to go forward without needing to know what happened. But people care about the truth. I understand the impulse to say: Whatever happened, happened. Let's emphasize the positive and talk about the good things we can do in the future. But the human mind doesn't work that way. We want to understand the world we're in as we think about what to do about it.
[Name deleted] said Thursday night that her e-mail "wasn't well-informed" but "the remarks have had a damaging impact."
Ah! The tragedy of the viral email.
The students who were in Kaplan's class said they met with him to voice their anger and that he dismissed their opinions. They said that he apologized for hurting their feelings, but he stood by the comments he made in class.
Whatever they were!
However, law students were still upset by his remarks.
Whatever they were!
[Name deleted], a law student who is not in Kaplan's class, said she had been part of the discussions with the administration and was upset by the outcome. "Every corner we've turned, we've been dismissed by the faculty and our peers at the law school," she said.

She also said: "We feel so intensely alone. We have not gone to class. We have worked eight hours a day. We don't sleep very well. I want everyone to know you have alienated us."

[Name deleted], who was not in the class but was part of the discussion with Kaplan, broke down in tears while talking about the meeting. She said that she told Kaplan, "I know these things you said about Hmong people aren't true."
This is a terrible tragedy. I'm sure these students really are suffering, and I'm sure Kaplan, who was teaching about cultural difference, cares about this suffering. Contemplate whether his silence is benevolent forbearance.

NOTE: I've deleted the student names that originally appeared here. I didn't like using the students' names, and only had them because they were in the newspaper article I was commenting on. Obviously, the names are still available in the linked newspaper articles.

"Do you think that a majority of Democrats in Congress would like to see us lose in Iraq for political reasons? Yes... 84%."

Right Wing News polls the right blogosphere with button-pushing questions and gets answers a passionate lefty would predict.

March 1, 2007

"She's the only woman we got, practically."

Says Mickey Kaus -- talking about me -- with Bob Wright, in this segment of the new Bloggingheads. Gah! Am I talking about myself too much today? I really don't think it's all about me, but it's just one of those days. And, actually, I'm not talking just about me. I talked about retro sexuality, dirty words, and the scrotum-y look of Bill O'Reilly's neck or whatever the hell that first post was about. It's not all about me, but it is about me and some rather low things. And so Bob has this obsession with why more women don't like Bloggingheads, and how he had to ask me what's causing that -- hence Mickey's wisecrack -- and then how my answer was pretty much about my own opinion -- as a woman -- rather than more broadly stereotypical ideas of what women want. (Bob's very into gender difference.) Bob thinks I was "scathing," in that I called Bloggingheads "grim" and "remorseless." Whoops! He heard me. That was a rather harsh thing for a woman to say. Then there's this:
Bob: I think we should encourage Ann Althouse to come up with what would... Just turn her loose. She should do her dream Bloggingheads that women are going to like, and she should decide who she wants to do it with, and if they are game, we will get a camera to them, whether they are in the North Pole or North Korea. Wherever. Unless it's North Korea. We can't do that. We will get a camera to them. Mickey: The Bob Wright estrogen challenge. Bob: Yeah. Yeah. Mickey: That's good. Although I have a feeling... Ann Althouse is a pretty argumentative person, so the... Bob: She'll pick a fight. Oh, she and Eric Alterman. Mickey: I think that she's got to provide a sort of nurturing... Bob: The Althouse-Alterman thing, the Alt-Alt thing, is out of control...
Well, they left the thought unformed, but you can see what they both were thinking. I'm not really a good representative of the female mind, because I'm not feminine enough! They both essentially said that. Especially Mickey. But Bob did make an offer that I should accept. I need to come up with a Bloggingheads partner who would do the kind of diavlog that women would like, which, of course, I'll take to mean I get to do one that would be what I would like. Suggestions?

Bad hair day.

This last 24 hours was a monumental bad hair day! I go in to my usual place for a retouch, and somehow, sitting down in the chair and looking into the mirror unleashes my impulse to reconnect with my identity as a redhead. For a woman of a certain age, like me, it's easier to be blonde, but no matter how light my hair gets, I still believe I'm a redhead -- even when I'm looking in the mirror. It has deep personal meaning! Here's my original hair color, photographed long ago.

Ann in the 1960s

(Let that chair tell the story of how long ago it was.) 

So, suddenly, I'm all let's make it red! But for elaborate chemical reasons that aren't worth explaining, the attempt at red came out the horrid color of an old penny. It was shockingly homely, plain, drab, dowdy, frumpy... aarrggghhh! I can't begin to tell you. It was a nightmare.

The hairdresser went into emergency mode. It would have been insanely embarrassing to show up at work like that. The restoration effort had numerous stages and took three more hours.

At work, no one seemed to notice. I guess the recovery effort was a success. In the end, I think it was an improvement over what it was when I sat down in the chair, but in the middle, it was horrifying, my friends. I'm glad you didn't get a chance to see me like that.

Dirty words.

Lefty blogs have way more of them than righty blogs. (Via Instapundit.) Do you care? It's obviously more the lefty style to talk dirty. It really doesn't mean anything to me. Just a matter of taste. What I do care about is clear, interesting writing. People who use lots of dirty words are often deficient in that respect. But that's also true of plenty of people who don't.

Retro sexuality.

With "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both," Laura Sessions Stepp steps over the line and irks some critics who don't want to hear that casual sex may hurt a young woman's heart.

"I need a fix every now and again - and not just of the turkey wobble neck."

Andrew Sullivan confesses to a strange fascination with Bill O'Reilly.

But shouldn't it be turkey wattle neck?

And if you realized the word was "wattle" and not "wobble," would it change the direction of you ideation, so that maybe it would not have to end up -- yikes! -- here.

Oh, no. The Urban Dictionary indicates that the respelling only makes things worse. Wow. That's new to me. Oh, no. Ooh. Sorry to start off the morning so low.

February 28, 2007

Blind item.

What is lamer than fearfulness from people with tenure?

Low fat foods and vitamin supplements.

Bad for you! A new study suggests. I suspected as much.
Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?

I'm free!

Did you notice? I didn't say one word about it.

Look, over here!

Righties into the vortex!
Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, writes in a New York Times opinion piece

Exhibit "A" in the case against the NYT and liberalism.
It's an amusing day, chez Althouse.

What's that movie?

I idly turned on the television in my bedroom as I was getting ready for work this morning. It was some black and white melodrama with a woman screaming about how she didn't want her baby, she was only 26, she still had her figure, and she wanted to have fun. Told she needed to get a job, she was all: "I don't want no dirty job."

I loved the dialogue.

Then, we see the little girl, trying to show her mother her report card, calling out for friends who never arrive, going up the stairs to her shabby apartment. I found this fascinating for some reason and decided it must be a great film to get my attention over what should be just a cliché: a lonely little girl. But I loved this low-dialogue exposition of loneliness. The girl leaves the door open, gets a lone glass from a high shelf, pours a glass of milk. A kitty cat wanders in, the girl gets a bowl from another shelf, pours some milk for the cat, watches the cat, pets the cat. I'm telling you: fascinating!

Next, she's older. Who's that actress playing her now? She's going on about how the boys only want to go out with her because of what she lets them do with her. At regular intervals she says things like "I'm going to Hollywood!"

Who is that actress?

I go downstairs and turn on the TV that displays the show titles and see the movie is "The Goddess," and the actress is Kim Stanley. I'd order the DVD right now if it were on DVD, but it's only on VHS. I scroll through the listings on the channel -- it's Turner Classic Movies -- to see if they're going to repeat it. There is an unbelievably high-quality set of movies being shown there in the next few days, but I'm not seeing a repeat of "The Goddess."

Have any of you seen that movie? Talk about it!

So let's see what's going on with TCM. Oh, it's the "31 Days of Oscar" schedule, and today they're in Best Screenplay. Who wrote the screenplay for "The Goddess"? Paddy Chayefsky!

Very good.

Another lefty into the vortex.

Richards1052 just doesn't understand. He writes because he has "a burning passion to say something to the world" -- a specific message about politics -- and he can only imagine that I must be an idiot to write and let politics be one of my subjects if I don't burn with a political mission.

Why do you blog? > To live freely in writing.
Words to perplex a vortex victim.

Eric Alterman contemplates whether he has "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism."

I inspired his reverie, not because I accused him of having a tendency toward fascism. I just quoted something he happened to say while rambling along in a Bloggingheads conversation:
"I think it would be valuable if we had... uh... I mean, there's some sense where blogs correct themselves if you read enough of them, but I still I think it would be good if we had some sort of, you know, blogging -- you know -- council, where we could condemn people. Sort of... responsible body. You could still blog if you want. Nobody's going to stop you. But we're going to... everybody's gonna know that you're not to be trusted... unless you can sort of apologize or answer for yourself."
I thought it was revealing, and I used the quote (cut down a bit) in my NYT column yesterday. (Free here.) On the blog, I said I was "put off by the mindset he revealed" -- that desire to "blacklist" -- and in the NYT, I called it the "impulse to control." Alterman is right to read my quoting and characterization as a very harsh accusation. I wouldn't call it "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," as he does. If I was going to use the inflammatory word "fascism," I wouldn't say "the typical liberal tendency toward fascism," which makes no sense to me. At the very least, I'd replace "liberal" with "left-wing" or "illiberal." The idea of fascism does come up in the comments. In the second comment, Jeff says: "The leftist will to power (and more importantly, control) rears its ugly head." A little further down, Mike just says: "Fascism - Oppressive or dictatorial control." And John takes a hard (but humorous) swipe:
Alterman is one of those pathetic little mediocrities who in another time and place would be a very dangerous person. Put him Weimar Germany, revolutionary France or early Soviet Russia and he would be full fledged rhetorical thug pushing the brown shirted masses to smash windows and heads. As it is, he is just fascist little prick whom you hope will disappear like a rash if properly ignored. I almost hope he would start such a council just so I can start blogging and get on the blacklist.
Later, Mike comes back with:
I don't think Eric Alterman is a fascist (though he is many other disagreeable things) but I find it amusing that it is his ilk who are prone to hurl that term, yet it is they who are the control freaks.
So Alterman is right to feel provoked and, really, embarrassed to have shown so much of an urge to repress and control. His own words were telling. It's not my habit to type out spoken word, and I don't monitor Bloggingheads episodes for stray quotes to use to make people look bad. That quote jumped out at me and demanded transcription. And I think Eric knows he was saying something bad. The pattern of the stammer, with the double "you know," is telling. Let's work our way through Eric's reverie.
1) It was a conversation. I was just sort of musing.
Right! That's why it's so interesting. The things people say when they let their guard down...
But still, it's fair game.
Damn right.
2) I do actually believe what I said. Ever since the beginning of blogging-time, I have worried -- in public and on blogging panels -- about the loss of the media's gatekeeper function. Now, I believe I literally wrote the book on this topic -- and it's about to go out of print for the second time, so if you don't own it, hassle Cornell University Press -- and I am as aware as anyone on earth, I believe, of the dangers of the misuse of that function. Almost all of my books deal with this tension in one way or another. But the fact is, the function is absolutely necessary. A democracy of hundreds of millions of people is functionally impossible for reasons it requires an entire book to explain. Particularly when the media profess to strive toward objectivity, punditry/gatekeepers play a crucial role. My problem with the punditocracy has never been that they are pundits, but that they are so incompetent at the job they do.
There you have it. Controlling speech seems to be his mission in life. What's he really saying here? He writes books, and he's obsessed with speech, but he's none too articulate. The "function" of "gatekeeping" is "absolutely necessary." And, speaking of functions, something is "functionally impossible." On a quick read, I thought he was saying that gatekeeping -- that function -- is functionally impossible. But no, what is functionally impossible is democracy. But you'll have to read his book to understand why. Here we see even more of the urge to control. You can't have your democracy, and there are a lot of complex reasons why you can't, as elite, intellectual study shows. I own the truth. I write the books. If you can get your hands on the hard-to-find book and spend some good long time with it, you might come to understand what I already know. I am the gatekeeper of this information explaining why you can't have democracy. Trust me. Notice that phrase "media's gatekeeper function." The media deliver information, but Alterman characterizes that as gatekeeping. The emphasis is on what they don't let out. Not having read his book, I'm not sure what he's driving at in point #1. I get the sense it's that voters are dependent on the media filtering the information well, and bloggers ought to improve that filtering, not bypass it. You don't want too much information, because it might be bad.
3) If bloggers are going to perform this function -- that is, helping busy and usually uninformed people make sense of the world -- we are going to have to employ some sort of standard with which to judge their reliability. If they are pathological liars, psychopaths, religious or ideological extremists who cannot be trusted to tell the truth, well then, it'd be useful to have them branded as such -- in order to keep them from further infecting the body politic with even more lies, ideological obsessions, and intellectual corruptions. True, the mainstream media do not do a great job of this themselves anymore, but many people inside it do try. In many cases, their brands and relationship to their peers depend on it.
Speech as disease! Some speakers are sick, and they may cause infection! He would justify quarantines. This man does not believe in free speech. He will not put his faith in the marketplace of ideas and the remedy of more speech.
4) Bloggers tend to argue that this problem will sort itself out over time.
That's scarcely some eccentric blogger thought. It's the core idea of American free speech.
I worry about the "over time" part. I also worry about all the damage that can be done in the interim.
This is the mindset of a censor. Of course, you mean well. You're here to save us from ourselves.
And so I raised it on and offered up a notion in response. Maybe it's a bad idea. It's not as if I gave it any thought before I said it.
Well, you did write those books. This is your area of expertise, isn't it? It's just that you let the words tumble out this time, and it showed more ugliness that you would have liked. If only you could control things more, control freak.
But I'm not convinced it is [a bad idea]. Or at least, I've yet to see a better one. After all, it's a panel of bloggers; it's the judgment of one's peers and it would enjoy no power whatever, save the influence it amasses by virtue of the quality of its judgments. Just what is so threatening about that?
I'm not threatened by your panel. I simply loathe your censorious frame of mind, your fear of speech as sickness, your urge to control and purify, and your belief in the beneficence of panels. I thank God that I live in a country where the institution you dream of would not be allowed to "enjoy power." So now, instead of quivering in fear about what my supposed "peers" would like to do to me, I'll have another cup of coffee and a nice little giggle over the way you finally expressed some faith in the marketplace of ideas -- when it came time to talk about why your damned panel should be trusted. I love a little irony in the morning.

February 27, 2007

Who are you calling unserious?!

I laughed so hard I nearly had a nervous breakdown, watching this new Bloggingheads with Jonathan Chait and Jonah Goldberg, where, unbeknowst to Chait, his camera goes into crazy demo mode. It's especially hilarious when Jonah calls some policy "unserious," and Jonathan is all about oh it really is serious, while his head is going through absurd permutations, rotating on a cube, dividing up into multiple moving squares and reuniting. It was a screwup, but a truly glorious one.

"Primal Code for Brand Romney."

The Boston Globe snags 77 PowerPoint slides of inside analysis of Mitt Romney's strategy:
Dated Dec. 11, the blueprint is wide-ranging and analyzes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of Romney and his two main Republican rivals, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York. The plan, which top Romney strategist Alex Castellanos helped to draft, charts a course for Romney to emerge as the nominee, but acknowledges that the "electorate is not where it needs to be for us to succeed."

[A] page titled "Primal Code for Brand Romney" said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis. Romney should position himself as "the anti-Kerry," the presentation says....

McCain is described as a war hero and maverick with a compelling narrative and a reputation for wit, authenticity, and straight talk. But he's also seen as "too Washington," "too close to [Democratic] Left," an "uncertain, erratic, unreliable leader in uncertain times." "Does he fit The Big Chair?" the document asks. The plan calls McCain, 70, a "mature brand" and raises questions about whether he could handle the rigors of leading the free world.

Giuliani is called an outside-the-Beltway rock star and truth teller who earned the nation's trust for his leadership of New York City's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he is described as a one-dimensional Lone Ranger whose social views -- he supports abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples -- could destroy the "GOP brand." "We can't disqualify Dems like Hillary on social issues ever again" if Giuliani is the nominee, the document states.

The plan also touches on what it calls Giuliani's ethical issues, including his relationship with Bernard Kerik , former New York police commissioner who withdrew from consideration to become US homeland security secretary amid allegations of improprieties. It raises Giuliani's "personal political liabilities," an apparent reference to his three marriages and bitter public divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover....

The case for Romney, according to the plan, is this: "Mitt Romney, tested, intelligent, get-it-done, turnaround CEO Governor and strong leader from outside Washington, is a better candidate than McCain & Giuliani to ensure that America's strength is maintained so we can meet a new generation of global challenges."

Did you know about my vortex?

Jason Joyce writes in [the] Isthmus:
Sucked into the Althouse vortex

Boy, left-wing bloggers really hate Ann Althouse.

I arrived at work Tuesday morning to find a voice mail from Roxanne Cooper, director of marketing for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, informing me that Althouse, a UW-Madison law professor and nationally prominent blogger, had name-checked Isthmus in a New York Times op-ed piece. The left-wing blogosphere was hustling to check the veracity of her claims.

The piece, "A License to Blog" (paid subscription required)[free Int'l Herald Tribune link: here], mentions our paper in the first paragraph:
Unlike a lot of other political bloggers, I started blogging with a distinct lack of interest in politics. My first post about a presidential campaign, back in January 2004, the first month of my blog, was purely an accident. I was reading The Isthmus [sic, it's just Isthmus, Ann], our free alternative newspaper here in Madison, Wisc., when I ran across a chart comparing the Democratic candidates for president.

Because I had the longtime habit, inherited from my grandfather, of reading out loud whatever little things in the newspaper happened to catch my attention, I said: "Hmm. Little known fact: at 59, Wesley Clark has only 5% body fat."

My son Christopher, who was used to finding himself on the receiving end of this habit, came back with: "Should it be: 'Wesley Clark is 5% body fat?'"
Evidently, there's a pack of bloggers hoping to catch Althouse on any slip-up, particularly when the Times has given her space. Cooper was calling to see if Althouse was accurately representing our article. Shortly thereafter, Duncan Black of Eschaton ( checked in by e-mail with the same request.
Ha ha ha! What possible use were they hoping to make of it if I got Clark's body fat wrong or whatever?

[The] Isthmus put up a PDF of the old article, which wasn't on line before and thus was not linked in the original blog post, written on my second day of blogging.

Jason reflects on my vortex:
Personally, I have no opinion of Althouse's blog and rarely read it..., but this morning's experience proves that her adventures in online writing have brought her a measure of fame and notoriety normally reserved for talk show hosts and professional pundits.
Yes, it's an endless source of amusement for me that my off-handed commentary here gets people going. I have no political agenda. I'm barely even interested in politics.

I'm just out here in Madison, Wisconsin, doing my thing, since January 14, 2004, saying what comes to mind... creating a vortex....

"In Left Blogistan, where Ann is often derided and mocked as a conservative partisan, there will surely be howls today."

Howls Eric Muller.

ADDED: This is another post about today's NYT column, which is up now -- free -- on the International Herald Tribune site: here. It's funny to see Eric fall into the vortex.

AND: Eric has vortex envy.

I respond to letters about two NYT columns (on abortion and law school).

The NYT today has three letters on my Feb. 24 column, "Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion." And, check it out, the first one is from Floyd Abrams:
Ann Althouse’s apologia for the so obviously politically crafted shifts in position on abortion by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney is undeserved.... Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have a similar problem, one not to their credit. Running as Republicans in liberal Northeastern areas, both sought to reassure pro-choice voters that they had nothing to fear from their election. Now, both seek to appease pro-life Republicans elsewhere in the country by assuring them that their views are truly conservative, that they will appoint “strict constructionist” (read anti-Roe v. Wade) judges and the like. Neither candidate deserves what Ms. Althouse refers to as “decent sympathy” for their expression of complex views, since there is nothing complex about waffling. Who knows, after all, what views either of these politicians ever actually had or has now? All we do know is how far both are prepared to go to be elected.
I certainly concede these political realities. I simply defend their statements in spite of that. Of course, politicians are political. Deal with it! But abortion is a difficult issue and those who craft complex positions deserve some sympathy. Otherwise, you're left with those who stay at the crisp extremes. Basically, I like the sort of liberal(ish) Republican that can succeed in a blue state, and the point of the column is to show that their convoluted statements are not as ridiculous as they appear on first read. The second letter is from Nancy N. Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and she mainly (and unsurprisingly) stakes out the position in favor of abortion rights (which, remember, I support). But let me focus on the last part:
Unless a woman can make her own decisions about her life, she isn’t in control of her future. Allowing states to take away women’s fundamental human rights is not a “part of our freedom,” as Ann Althouse writes, but rather the tyranny she fears.
This refers to my discussion of Giuliani's garbled sounding comment about "how it’s 'part of our freedom' for the legislatures in the various states to make their own decisions about law." I say:
If Roe were overruled, [state] legislatures would decide how to regulate abortion. And decentralized legislation really is fairly called “part of our freedom” because the Constitution’s framers saw the balance of power between the national government and the states as a safeguard against tyranny.
All I'm doing there is explaining the sense of what Giuliani said. It isn't my preference to return the question of abortion to the states, and I don't think it's Giuliani's. But if Roe were overturned, the question would go back to the states, and there is a question what that would be like. What would happen? In thinking about this eventuality, it is helpful to remember that the federalism has long been considered a structural safeguard that has something to do with individual liberty. As I have written here before, there is plenty of reason to be suspicious of how well that kind of safeguard could work, but my point remains: It was not incoherent or bizarre for Giuliani to connect federalism and freedom. The third letter comes from a reader who is pro-life, Richard H. Escobales Jr. He says he "appreciated" my column, but: "I find that the muddled positions of Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney on this critically important issue do not inspire confidence." So, he kind of didn't appreciate my column. And there was a letter yesterday, by David W. Massey, about my Feb. 20 column -- "'A Skullful of Mush'" -- which recommended a revival of Socratic teaching in law school:
There is an underlying premise in Ann Althouse’s plea for traditional law school instruction (“ ‘A Skull Full of Mush,’ ” column, Feb. 20), and that is that law school graduates, drilled in the case method, will leave knowing “how to think like lawyers.” My law school experience long ago taught me to challenge pious premises. If law school teaches students properly, it can only begin to prepare them to confront the unexpected in advising clients, working with other lawyers and arriving at acceptable results. Last year, while celebrating a college reunion, I wandered back to the law school, and in the same classroom where the Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. of my acquaintance practiced his particular brand of intimidation, I observed a different approach: where the professor respectfully listened to volunteers and didn’t dictate to his class how they should think, because he knew that there wasn’t one way for lawyers to do so.
There's a paradox here. Did he learn from the method or not? He admits he did, even as he admires another method. Yet I'm not so sure he learned how to read all that well, because he's seeing something in my column that was not there: an endorsement of the use of intimidation, disrespect, and dictatorial indoctrination. I emphasized that I didn't know any law professors who were the Kingsfield type, so that it was rather nonsensical for us to worry about acting like that fictional character, who the "Paper Chase" author, John Jay Osborn Jr. admitted was an exaggeration. I said that we lawprofs ought to have some respect for our own tradition and concluded:
The students who come into our law schools are adults who have decided that they are ready to spend a tremendous amount of time and money preparing to enter a profession. We show the greatest respect for their individual autonomy if we deny ourselves the comfort of trying to make them happy and teach them what they came to learn: how to think like lawyers.
Note that I didn't say we should try to make them unhappy, only that we default in our central responsibility if we structure class around the idea of trying to make them happy. Actually, I think they are more likely to end up happy if the class teaches them what they need to know. What I was rejecting was a class that is too much about students "telling their stories." I am willing to bet that most students don't want to spend too much of their time listening to the stories other law students have to tell. As for taking volunteers instead of calling on people, I have to confess that I've usually done that in my 20+ years of teaching. But I think it is self-indulgent -- it's much easier! -- and it invariably leaves too few students doing too much of the talking. When you call on students, you find that they really are all quite capable of speaking and responding well to questions, and it is important to demonstrate this and to provide them all with this experience.

About that "scalping"... and other blogospheric collective activities.

After this post of mine questioning Lindsay Beyerstein's assertion that there is a right-wing term "scalping" -- meaning "pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye" -- and that it is exclusively the practice of the right wing, Andrew Sullivan says:
I hadn't heard this term before...

Marcotte is the alleged victim in [the case Beyerstein writes about]. But isn't the left just as guilty in hounding campaigns? Or are they too disorganized? Personally, I'm all for making life difficult for bloggers who have whored themselves out as paid propagandists for campaigns. But it's always best just to expose ugliness and dishonesty, not punish it.
Did Sullivan call writers who work for politicians whores? No. He said "whored." It's a verb, not a noun. (Remember that time on "Survivor" when Candice told Jonathan he was "trying to...weasel your way in...somehow," and Jonathan accused her of calling him a weasel, and she was all it's a verb, not a noun. She got voted off right after that, but still.) It is whoring, and it is propaganda. Let's call things what they are. Sullivan isn't saying it's morally wrong to sell your writing skills for the purpose of promoting a political agenda, just that it's a good idea to make life difficult for bloggers who move into that line of work.

And here's Ross Douthat:
Like Ann Althouse and Andrew, I must have missed the memo on this term - though it's certainly a real enough phenomenon, and "scalping" is a good a word as any. But Beyerstein's suggestion that it's the exclusive preserve of right-wingers - like most suggestions that some dirty trick is the exclusive preserve of right-wingers - is just silly.
He cites the case of Ben Domenech.
But re-reading Beyerstein, it's possible that her "unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action" line wasn't meant to suggest that left-wingers don't scalp, but that they do other things as well, whereas right-wingers don't.
That is the better reading of what Beyerstein wrote. (Which was: "Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it 'scalping'...")
This is an overgeneralization, obviously, but it gets a lot closer to an interesting truth about the blogosphere, which is that the lefty blogs have become way better at doing political things - raising money, raising issues, and influencing elections at the grass/netroots level - than most of the right-wing blogs. The conservative 'sphere became adept at picking apart the MSM in the first couple years of the blogosphere, but it hasn't really adapted to the Kos/MyDD era - and its anti-MSM shtick has grown pretty stale since events in Iraq started proving Big Media right, and the warbloggers wrong.
I don't like the implication that there is a flow of things and that it goes in the direction of increasing agglomeration. Why isn't greater independence and individualism among bloggers a good thing?

Douthat points to this post by Daniel Larison:
Why have the big lefty blogs evolved into online “communities” that sponsor political activism that actually has a remote chance of influencing elections? Because the people on the left are very big into a) political activism and b) collective expressions of that political activism. They also tend to be generally outraged about the state of the world, which lends itself to blogging, while there is nothing more uninteresting than Hewittian, “Gee, I sure do support the President a lot” posts and the old chestnuts of “why aren’t they reporting the good news from Iraq?”
Well, general outrage about the state of the world is pretty uninteresting too. But what question are we asking here, how to write and interesting blog or how to be an effective political activist? Larison is really talking about the latter:
Consider that the big example of Hewittian activism today is an attempt to enforce party discipline against wayward backbenchers over a…non-binding resolution. This is not really grassroots activism, but the use of a megaphone to try to whip the Republican caucus in the media. It is furthermore the ego trip of some big name bloggers and pundits who want to display their servile attachment to the President. What is different between Kos and Hewitt? Kos actually wants to win elections and the Kossacks spend a fair amount of time thinking, however poorly, about how to do that. They haven’t had that many successes, obviously, but they actually want to expand the reach of the Democratic Party rather than retreat into the bunker with the last five true believers. Will the Kossacks become a pathetic White House-defending gang should the Dems win in ‘08? You better believe it. Nonetheless, the model of their blogs will continue to make them politically relevant in a way that the celebrity-blogging on the right never can be.
Well, I prefer what Larison seems to mean by "celebrity-blogging." And I'm quite happy to see that bloggers have trouble succeeding in their collective activities.

AND: Let me speculate that this old post by Kevin Drum is the source of the "scalping" terminology.

Was Washington Irving gay?

Richard Brookhiser examines a new biography of the writer:
[H]e was a restless man. He traveled constantly, never married and did not buy a home of his own until his 50s. "His smile is one of the sweetest I know," wrote a woman friend, "but he can look very, very sad." Was he gay? [Andrew] Burstein examines the question without prurience or presentism and concludes that he doesn't quite know. There are no deeply intimate relationships between men and women in Irving's fiction; what he lost in realism, though, he made up in myth.
The book is called "The Original Knickerbocker." From the Publisher's Weekly blurb at that Amazon link:
... Burstein thinks it more likely the writer was simply a bachelor, a respectable role in his time and place.
What do you think of this practice of examining external facts of the life of a person long dead in an effort to determine his sexual orientation? Are we engaging in "presentism" and failing to understand what was done in other times and places if we assume that unmarried men who have no apparent intimate relationships with women had a homosexual orientation (whether acted upon or not)?

200 years for possessing 20 photographs.

A prison sentence that the Supreme Court declined to review.
The case, Berger v. Arizona, No. 06-349, has drawn considerable attention in criminal law circles as providing a possible occasion for the justices to take a fresh look at a subject they have treated only sparingly. While fully engaged in reconsidering the respective roles of judges and juries in criminal sentencing, the court has been extremely reluctant to strike down particular sentences as excessive.

Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and an authority on sentencing, also noted the difference in the court’s treatment of punitive damages and criminal sentencing.

In an interview on Monday, recalling that the court last week vacated an award of punitive damages against Philip Morris, Professor Berman said, “For a host of good reasons, the justices think they have a role in regulating extreme corporate punishment, but I fear the court doesn’t embrace a role in regulating extreme individual punishment.”
Here's Berman, blogging about the Philip Morris case and before the Berman cert. denial:
[I]t remains to be seen if the five Justices who are prepared to constitutionally second-guess certain instances of harsh corporate punishment might also be willing to sometimes constitutionally second-guess certain instances of harsh individual punishment.
I guess now we've seen.

February 26, 2007

"A License to Blog?"

It's my Tuesday column, over at the NYT, on TimesSelect. This one has some personal anecdote, and there are some good words about you blog commenters!

ADDED: You can read the column, free, at the International Herald Tribune: here]

Is he 107 because he stopped having sex when he was 30?

Chan Chi's wife died in the Japanese invasion. Imagine going 77 years without sex. Few would do it on the hope it would make life last longer. And who even believes that it could? But it's touching to think of a man who lost his wife and remained faithful to her.

"It held me like two angels' hands."

Said Helen Mirren to Oprah Winfrey on Oprah's post-Oscar show today as she was displaying and explaining the inner structure of the Lacroix gown she wore last night. The camera closeup of the inside of the bodice revealed a delicate structure, the brassiere built into the dress. The audience burst with laughter and applause. Why aren't all our clothes so constructed? Don't you want angel hands for your breasts?

A moment later Mirren makes a gesture with her hand, and I can see that she has some crappy tattoo between her thumb and forefinger. Oh, no! She's so elegant... and then, that!

Oprah asks her if Queen Elizabeth has seen "The Queen." I read a press report -- can't find it at the moment -- that said the Queen is a big Mirren fan but won't watch "The Queen" because it would be too disturbing. Mirren, answering Oprah's question, says "I'm sure she has, because who could resist? Really." She laughs a lot.

"I loved being that woman, and that took me by surprise."

Speaking of morality...

Let's have some standards!


As you indulge your taste for ice cream and lottery tickets, we're not asking for much:


Could you please just refrain from burning down our little store? Show some respect. This is America, and we're proud of it...


Or are we making fun of it? The flag is in such poor condition, I couldn't tell if it was perhaps a satire. But it didn't seem like a satirical kind of a place:


In Ithaca, New York.

I'm glad someone was taking notes.

Simon blogs the hell out of the Federalist Society's Law and Morality conference.

How the Edwards campaign blundered into hiring those bloggers.

Based on this Salon essay by Lindsay Beyerstein -- who declined their invitation to blog for them -- I'd say they were fooled by their own smug belief that they really get it.
As we walked, Bob downloaded his vision: The whole Edwards campaign was going to be a decentralized grass-roots operation.

"Elizabeth Edwards gets it," he said with unabashed admiration....

Bob assured me that my controversial posts weren't a problem as far as the campaign was concerned. They were familiar with my work....

"That's you, that's not John Edwards," he said.

Bob was confident that people would understand the difference....
Beyerstein refused the job, in part because she thought it would interfere with what she could say on her own blog. She recommends Amanda Marcotte: "Marcotte was the best writer in the feminist blogosphere. If they wanted a high-profile feminist blogger, Amanda was the best." But she warns "Bob" that Marcotte has said lots of nasty things -- "A-list polemicists are popular because they say things you don't hear on television" -- and has enemies who will try to attack her.

I love this part:
What Bob didn't seem to realize is that the right-wing blogosphere was going to try to get Edwards' bloggers fired no matter what. Unlike the liberal netroots, the right-wing blogosphere is capable of exactly one kind of collective political action. They call it "scalping" -- they pick a target and harass that person and his or her employer until the person either jumps or is pushed out of the public eye. Whoever blogged for Edwards was signing up for a lot of bad hair days, and it wasn't going to be me.
Ha, ha. Only the right. Sure. I have the personal experience of lefties trying to do exactly that to me -- including on Beyerstein's blog, though I think Beyerstein actually stepped in at one point and told her commenters that their idea of trying to get UW to fire me was not a good one.

Beyerstein distinguishes two types of political bloggers:
There is a breed of blogger that has proven useful working in an official capacity for political campaigns -- the party activist/consultant/blogger hybrid, someone like Matt Stoller of MyDD. Ideally, but not always, that kind of blogger puts his or her own blog on hold while being paid by a campaign, perhaps returning to it once the race is run. And the content of a party activist's blog is heavy on poll numbers, policy discussions and electoral minutiae. An opposition researcher might unearth something allegedly "intemperate" from the archives and use it against the candidate, but that risk is less than with the other style of blogger, an independent polemicist like Amanda.
And this is a really good point:
I think the candidates who benefit the most from the netroots are the ones who can inspire bloggers to do their work for free. They create unpaid, unofficial surrogates....

The Edwards campaign wants decentralized people-powered politics. Ironically, by hiring well-known bloggers to manage a destination Web site, it was actually centralizing and micromanaging.

ADDED: I've never seen the term "scalping" used like this. It's some kind of right-wing blogging lingo? Can somebody prove that? I've heard of "swarming," but not "scalping."

Uncracked: wisecrack that was begging to be cracked.

I was TiVo-blogging the Oscars last night after my long trip home, and there was all this material about Al Gore's movie about global warming, and I kept throwing in comments and photographs about the giant load of snow that fell on Madison in the two-and-a-half days I was out of town. It never even occurred to me to connect the two subjects. Now, I think it's dumb to believe that what happens on any particular day proves anything about climate change -- as I've noted here -- but I'm not above the occasional wisecrack that pretends to believe such a thing -- or at least I wasn't back in 2004 when it snowed in May. But I can't take credit for resisting an easy source of humor. I really didn't put 2 + 2 together. Too frazzled by the weather or too dazzled by the celebs.

February 25, 2007

Simulblogging the Oscars!

I've got to get home first. The flight to Madison is boarding, so let me get going. Start without me!

ADDED #1: Hey, I made it home. No flight delays, but you should have seen how buried my car was. Well, you will see, because I took pictures. Anyway, I can see you're way ahead of me talking about this. 29 comments as I start. But the TiVo is running, and I've seen the really charming Errol Morris film that kicked things off. A sweet, self-effacing attitude. And now, here's Ellen DeGeneres, continuing the sweet, charming, self-effacing tone. She's wearing a dark red velvet tuxedo -- with white shoes -- and looks very sharp. Her first joke makes me laugh. She has a nice joke about Americans not voting for Jennifer Hudson (on "American Idol") and then how they did vote for Al Gore. For no apparent reason, a gospel choir comes out and Ellen dances and plays tambourine. Now, for the first award, for Art Direction, and it's Nicole Kidman, looking very Barbie-like, all plastic-y and shiny. She's wearing an impossibly tall, thin red dress, with a knot at the side of the neck. The award goes to "Pan's Labyrinth."

ADDED #2: They didn't start with a supporting acting award. Good! Now, there's a comedy song, and I'm using it as a chance to try to catch up with you guys. On to the next award: makeup! Again, with the "Pan's Labyrinth." The makeup did look pretty cool. Ooh, now it's Abigail Breslin and Jaden Smith. Kids. They're short, so they do the nominees for shorts. Sorry, it's another fast-forward opportunity.

ADDED #3: Wow, you guys are up to 43 comments. I'm desperately trying to catch up with you. Ooh, it's Rachel Weisz. She looks just great in a strapless beige dress that has a nice jeweled swirl across the chest. I like her dark red lipstick and piece-y dark brown hair. She's doing the Supporting Actor award. Aw, Eddie Murphy looks like he really wants to win. It's Alan Arkin. My favorite. I love this guy. He puts the Oscar down on the floor so he can pull out his speech. The film -- "Little Miss Sunshine" -- can help us in our "fragmented times." It's a choice not to act out the speech. Surely, he could have memorized it. Maybe he was acting the part of a guy reading a speech.

ADDED #4: Melissa Etheridge performs the song from "An Inconvenient Truth," and then out come Leonardo DiCaprio and Vice President Al Gore. Al looks happy (and carries his great weight well). Leo asks him if he's got anything he'd like to announce. He says he's "just here for the movies." He thanks Leo for being "such a great ally" in his anti-global-warming efforts. Leo's all "thank you, sir," and the camera -- pretty randomly -- goes to Jerry Seinfeld, who's caught looking like this:

Jerry Seinfeld reacts to Al Gore at the Oscars

Cameron Diaz, who also has piece-y dark brown hair, gives the award for animation to "Happy Feet," and she's unbearable cutesy and phony. Nice clip show about movies about writers. At the end, we see Jack Nicholson -- who was featured in the clips for both "The Shining" and "As Good As It Gets" -- and he's shaved totally bald. (A tribute to Britney Spears?)

ADDED #5: "The Departed" wins Best Original Screenplay. Hey, you guys are up to 75 comments. I'm still not reading them, because I'm trying to catch up. I'm sure it's all clever and stuff. There's a great commercial for American Express -- must be a Jerry Seinfeld thing, explaining the "random" shot noted above. And a beautiful ad for iPhone... of lots of hellos from movies. (No need to convince me to buy one of those things when they are available, so the commercial seems to just be about getting me more excited about it.) They're doing the costumes award now. "Marie Antoinette" wins. Tom Cruise presents the Jean Hersholt "humanitarian" award to Sherry Lansing. We're in the depressing "dead" center of the show now, so let me regale you with pix of my car, as I encountered it after my long trip home. It was in this deep:

Car buried in snow

And here's how it looked after digging just enough of a space to back it out:

Car buried in snow

How did I get it dug out? Am I the kind of person who keeps a shovel in the trunk? No, but as I was walking to the car, dreading seeing how locked in it was, I ran across a woman with a shovel, and she loaned it to me. Then, carrying a shovel, I attracted a man who helped me because he needed a shovel and a second man who had his own shovel. These two guys dug out the snow while I scraped the windows and lights. (I do keep a scraper!) And I was out in no time. And don't just say: Guys! Because there was also that woman with the shovel. I asked her, "Do you work here?" And she said no, she just drove over with a shovel because a friend called her up, and she trusted me to return the shovel to a spot in the snow that we agreed on. I left that trust with Guy #1 and I'm sure he kept it.

ADDED #6: Speaking of movies, I got my little movie up at last in the previous post. You can hear me and my long-time ex-husband RLC talking about things seen in a record store window. Whoa! You guys are up to 119 comments! Okay, I've gotta rush. Visual Effects. Doesn't Naomi Watts look lovely in that yellow-gold, strapless dress with a thick black band under the breasts? "Pirates of the Caribbean" wins. Now, we see Catherine Deneuve for... what the hell is this? Ah! There's Sacha Baron Cohen in the audience. He's so adorable! "Best Foreign Language Film. "The Lives of Others." Oooh! It's George Clooney. He's handsome! Best Supporting Actress!!! Jennifer Hudson!!!!! She says: "Look what God can do!"

ADDED #7: It's Jerry Seinfeld. He's doing the Documentary award. Oh, so they showed him before when Al was on stage because later he was going to present the award for which Al is nominated. Seems too fix-y to me. And Al wins the Oscar!!!!! Closeup of the oh-so-pleased Steven Spielberg. Why did they make the film? Because of the problem of global warming??? Oh, no: "We were moved to act by this man." So says the director, reaching over to touch the hem of Al Gore's garment. He's gasping with awe. It's kinda embarrassing. He pumps the Oscar weirdly twice in Al's direction and he says "We share this with you." The camera goes to Larry David, clapping righteously. Now, Gore speaks: global warming is "not a political issue, it's a moral issue." I like Al. He makes his wooden squareness hip and cool.

ADDED #8: Kirsten Dunst is wearing a beautiful, witty dress. It's gray and has a see-through section at the top with a collar that seems to belong on a prim blouse. It's intelligent. And the dress makes me love Kirsten! The award is Original Screenplay, and it goes to "Little Miss Sunshine." Now, we see Jennifer Hudson sing a song, which must be fun for her, having already won the Oscar. I try to imagine how Simon Cowell would detect deficiency. Beyonce joins her, and -- isn't it true? -- Beyonce is the better singer. Does Beyonce feel she needs to prove her superiority?

ADDED #9: There's a Michael Mann montage about "America." We're racist war mongers, you know. Then the elegant Thelma Schoonmaker wins the editing award for "The Departed." Now, we see Jodie Foster, dragging excess yards of slate-blue fabric along with her. But she's introducing my favorite segment, In Memoriam. I'll impolitely name the ones that had the most effect on me: Don Knotts, Sven Nykvist, Robert Altman.

ADDED #10: Phillip Seymour Hoffman arrives to give the Best Actress award. It's no surprise that the wonderful Helen Mirren wins. I love the array of actresses as the award is announced. They all do a perfect performance of the thought: Indeed, Helen Mirren is grand! I love the way Mirren "salutes" Elizabeth Windsor.

ADDED #11: It's Reese Witherspoon, here to give the award for Best Actor. She's got major hair extensions and a simple black strapless gown. Oh, don't you want Peter O'Toole to win? Yikes, what is that incredibly smarmy look Jada Pinkett Smith gives Will? Does she hate him + is a terrible actress? And it goes, as expected, to Forest Whitaker. The look on Peter O'Toole's face says: And now, it's impossible. He's very old. Whitaker raves -- touchingly -- about how acting is the belief that we can connect to others and create a new reality.

ADDED #12: Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg gang up to deliver the long-awaited Oscar to Martin Scorsese, and the Oscar really does go to Marty. Li'l Marty hugs C, L, and S. He stammers and just thanks a lot of people. "So many people over the years have been wishin' this thing for me."

ADDED #13: Damn! I never caught up! I've been struggling and fast-forwarding, but I never could make it. I hope you accept my belated scribblings! Well, Best Picture now. Presenting: Diane Keaton (swathed in black) and Jack Nicholson (gloriously bald). I'm just thinking about how nobody made a political statement tonight. They kept it clean and elegant. And the winner is... "The Departed." Excellent!

ADDED #14: I turn off the lights and collect my bags to trudge upstairs after a long day. I peer out the front door and see the people came to shovel my walks as I was watching the Oscars. I'd parked my car in the street and stalked through foot high snow when I got home tonight. So I put on my big down coat and went outside to pull my car into the driveway. Let me leave you with one last shot of my car at the airport. Actually, this one is so abstract, I'm not positive it is my car:

Car buried in snow

But what about all that snow?

Flight alert just received via airport WiFi:
NW 247 February 25 ON TIME departs DTW at 7:26 pm arrives MSN 7:41 pm Gate 4
Okay. I'm taking your word for it! Departing Ithaca at 4 pm and hoping not to spend the night in Detroit.

I could have stayed another day in Ithaca. Northwest has some kind of "winter waiver" that lets you change your flight without a penalty. But I have class on Monday, and you don't wuss out about snow when the flights are listed as on time. But there is so much snow!

No snow yet here in Ithaca, where we had fun last night at "cabaret" -- the law school show. Today, we brunched at Mahogony Grill and had some laughs talking about any number of things including the topic "Is America ready for a Satanist President?"

I contemplate whether that's a good topic for my Tuesday NYT column:

Mahogony Grill

We talk about writing, and I go on at some length about that David Foster Wallace essay about Tracy Austin in "Consider the Lobster." John points this out, right above my head:

Magnolia Grill

I say if I was crazy, I'd freak out right now. I'd think I was doomed... or at least destined for a serious encounter with alcohol.

Afterwards, we take a stroll in Ithaca, and someone makes fun of me for half-remembering things. You called Madeline's Marguerite's, and you called the Mahogony Grill the Magnolia Grill, and now you're calling the Commons the Concourse.

We stop to look at a lot of old album covers:

Picture disc

I surreptitiously do some YouTubing... but I'm having some mystifying "file format" problems, so I'll have to add that later.


[Click here if you have trouble playing it in that window.]

UPDATE: I'm now in Detroit and the flight is scheduled to leave on time. I hope to get home soon. Perhaps my car is buried under two feet of snow, but I'm feeling optimistic.

AND: You have the picture above that John took of me. Here's one that I took from the other side of the table:

Mahogony Grill

And John's father Richard Lawrence Cohen was there too. Here's RLC's blog. It's his voice that you mainly hear along with mine on the video clip above, talking about, among other things, the song "Little Boxes."

IN THE COMMENTS: "Of course, it's Badfinger," says Sippican Cottage, who notes a recent comment on a February 7th post that brought up Badfinger and linked to the very picture we're talking about in the video clip. I don't remember clicking on that, and I'm surprised I had a mental image of Badfinger, but rather pleased with myself for having exactly the nugget of information requested on a particular occasion.