June 23, 2007

Nothing could be more pink...

Nothing could be more pink...

... I think.

But ...


... still...

ADDED: Looking at this picture, I can't get over the feeling that a cake decorator made it out of sugary icing.

And in the mind of the plant...

And in the mind of the plant...

... there is no good will toward you.

The soul of a plant...

The soul of a plant...

... so twisted and wrong.

What really goes on in the heart...

What really goes on in the heart...

... of a flower?

Writing under a pseudonym.

I've been thinking about pseudonymous writing lately.

There's the AutoAdmit case where two Yale law students are suing various pseudonymous individuals -- presumably law students -- who wrote outrageous things about them on an unmoderated website. The plaintiffs -- who are themselves using pseudonyms to hide their identity -- seek money damages from the pseudonymous writers, but they can also punish them -- even without prevailing on their claims -- simply by unmasking their true identity, which could make it difficult for them to pursue their legal careers.

Many bloggers use pseudonyms. There was that doctor who was defending himself in a malpractice suit and blogging about it on the side, calling himself "Flea." Are you Flea? Dr. Robert P. Lindeman was asked on cross-examination. He had to say yes, and, at that point, he had to settle the case. The jury would have hated him if they'd heard all the cocky things he thought the pseudonym freed him to write.

I've always blogged under my own name, though I sometimes ponder the question whether the "Ann Althouse" of the blog is the Ann Althouse of my real life. (We could digress into the subject of when life on the blog becomes one's real life and life in the physical world becomes the act. There is the mask one wears to live in Madison, Wisconsin and to function in the role of a law professor. The blog persona is different -- and I have even argued that my "front page" blog persona is different from my comments page persona! -- and it may be more genuine.)

I've written about
my colleague who writes under a pseudonym:
Oscar wants to be free to use naughty words and otherwise break out of the professorial mode. But my experience is that even though students know who I am and can and do read this blog, they seem to accept this as a separate mode of mine and don't use it as a basis for talking to me in a newly confidential way. In the law school, the student-professor relationship is very well established. It really doesn't break down, even when students read your personal journal.
Or so I like to think! Maybe not. I'm sure some of my commenters -- writing under a pseudonym, of course -- will tell me that students do not keep this separate. How many of my pseudonymous commenters are, in fact, my students? Yesterday, I had a problem with a commenter who came here to speak insultingly to me -- "You look ugly, stop embarrassing us already!" -- and then asserted that he was a student at my law school. That crossed a line:
A law student might find it interesting to participate here and get outside of the conventional environment. But as soon as you identify yourself as a law student, that can't happen. And I'm not willing to assume my lawprof mentor style with someone who wants the freedom to talk to me in a way that he could not do if he were identified. I'm not going to have a conversation like that. If you want to talk to me as a law student or alumnus, do that, and act like one. But don't come here and insult me and leave me feeling like I have to respond in a tolerant, supportive way.
Remember the old problem of authors adopting a pseudonym so they could lard their book's Amazon page with fulsome praise? And, of course, there's the journalist or blogger who adopts a pseudonym to participate in his comments section as if he were a fan of himself.

I used to think it would be an artistic thing to do to be various personas writing within one's own comments section or writing and linking on various other blogs. The model I had in mind was Plato's dialogues. Why not design a set of fictional characters and write in dialogue form? Though I've written about doing that before, I've never done it. Years ago, it seemed purely creative to me. Today, it's so obviously against the culture that has grown up within blogging that it would require a very different sort of decision to go that route. One could do something like that by clearly revealing that the pseudonyms are your fictional characters. That would be like a novelist writing in the first person. No one thinks that is a fraud.

By contrast, there are these writers who purport to be memoirists who make things up. But they don't have a problem with pseudonymity. They have a problem blurring the line between truth and fiction. A fascinating pseudonym problem occurs when a writer uses a false identity to make a work of fiction more interesting and saleable.

There was a trial this week in a civil suit for fraud against Laura Albert, who made up the name "JT LeRoy" to write a novel -- "Sarah" -- about West Virginia lowlifes:
Ms. Albert, 41, was found by the jury in Federal District Court to have strayed beyond the normal limits of pseudonymous invention, in part by signing a movie contract using her nom de plume...

Long before this somewhat narrow legal matter reached the courts, the broader story of JT LeRoy, with its agitprop allure and celebrity aroma, played out on the larger and much more garish canvas of the press. After “Sarah” thrust the writer into stardom in 2000, JT LeRoy became the damaged darling of the art house set, a street waif and supposed son of a truck stop prostitute who, usually by way of telephone or e-mail (he was “famously reclusive”), befriended the likes of Courtney Love and Winona Ryder — at least until his startling existence as a fiction was revealed.

All the while, of course, it was Ms. Albert, a mother and otherwise obscure novelist from Brooklyn Heights, who was spinning gritty fantasies of drug addiction and Appalachian misery for the rich and famous names at the other end of the keyboard or the line. She gave interviews in a twangy accent to Terry Gross on NPR and sometimes paid her former boyfriend’s half-sister to appear in disguise as JT LeRoy in the rarefied air of literary readings or the international film festival at Cannes.

It was deceptions like these that Antidote’s lawyers said constituted her fraud. Yet even though the company’s lawyers assailed her in court as a trickster and wily master of self-promotion, they — and their client, Mr. Levy-Hinte — admitted a grudging admiration for her writing talents, and for her performance.

They also evinced a quiet sympathy for Ms. Albert, for it was soon apparent that the eight-day trial would include testimony about her rather gruesome history — a litany of adolescent trauma that included sexual abuse, institutionalization and 13 years of telephone therapy in which she spoke to her psychiatrist in the adopted persona of a teenage boy. That boy, whom she took to calling Jeremy or Jeremiah, was a sort of early incarnation of the full-blown alter ego that would eventually evolve into JT LeRoy.
Hmmm... the whole trial worked as a publicity stunt. It subtly transformed Albert into a sympathetic victim.
Among the various battles waged at the trial — art versus commerce, truth versus fiction, reality versus the imagination — it was perhaps the battle over JT LeRoy’s purpose in the world that was most in dispute. Before his identity (or, rather, nonidentity) was revealed last year in a series of newspaper articles, the production team at Antidote considered him that rare commodity in today’s biography-obsessed entertainment world: a gifted writer with a titillating past that only enhanced the value of the work. After the revelation, the company took the position that Ms. Albert had used the JT LeRoy “brand” — the same that had attracted them — as a celebrity magnet to draw attention to her books.

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.
So she has to pay back the option money, but the trial works to nullify the problem of the fake identity and to allow Albert to step into the spotlight as a writer who can openly take credit for her book. Presumably, it's a good book. Now, by the ordeal of trial, she has become a saleable character. She can now seek absolution in the Church of Oprah. Tell us all about how you needed JT LeRoy as respirator.

I half-suspect the lawsuit was a collusive enterprise, designed to advance the movie project and accomplish the disclosure of the author's identity with panache. You start off as an author with a boring background, so you make up a fictional identity, and then the process of owning up to your deception makes you interesting in your own right. If you'd just issued a press release, we'd have had contempt for you. But this ordeal of trial makes us care.

Where is the real fraud?

"The doddering American Film Institute has finally updated its list of the best 100 films..."

"... (i.e., best big-studio fiction blockbusters made with white marquee stars and male directors in the good ol' days of Kabuki pomposity like Ben Hur)," writes New York magazine:
For New Yorkers, the Los Angeles–based list is predictably awful, but still worse than the last: Do The Right Thing's token inclusion at pitiful No. 94 stings worse than its omission in 1997 and many of the city's great filmmakers are still missing (Cassavetes, for starters). We never expected to see some of our personal faves (David Edelstein respects no list without Larry Cohen's Q, for instance), but we began fuming when we noticed that mainstream picks like Sweet Smell of Success and Scarlett Street didn't even make the 400-film ballot. Then we noticed Mean Streets was off the list and grew angrier. Our pique peaked when we noticed that Toy Story had been added — and Woody Allen's Manhattan had not.
I love the New York perspective that it's all a big struggle between the two giant coastal cities. It's so Woody Allenish. And the Woody Allen film they put on the list -- "Annie Hall" -- is itself about the struggle between the two cities. One character is deeply, neurotically bonded to New York (and a basket case on his trip to L.A. ) and the other blooms in L.A. By contrast, "Manhattan" fixates on Manhattan. Nowhere else matters.

The AFI's list is obviously not the 100 best films, but a collection of best films fiitting various categories that seem significant enough to include. Although a few directors -- Hitchcock, Scorsese, Chaplin -- are given more than one slot, it's pretty obvious that there is a second level category that the AFI deemed worthy of one slot. Thus, we have one, but only one D.W. Griffith film on the list (and it's not "Birth of a Nation"), and one but only one Woody Allen film. It's not a question, then, of whether "Manhattan" is better than "Ben-Hur," but only which Woody Allen film should get the Woody Allen slot.


This is my second post on the AFI list, and in the first, I said I'd tell you the films on the list I haven't seen, so let me do that now:
30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
45. "Shane," 1953.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
100. "Ben-Hur," 1959.
Four of those movies I've had in my DVD collection for years and keep meaning to watch. I'm not able to admit that I never want to watch them. Three of them have made it into the DVD player. Two of those I tried to watch, maybe for an hour, then paused. I still half think -- months or years later -- that I'm going to finish. The third is the DVD I chose to test out my HDTV when I first set it up. I watched 5 minutes and thought -- brilliant! -- why have I gone all these years without seeing this movie?

One of those movies -- "Sunrise" -- is something I would have seen long ago if it were around and playing in the revival houses back in the 1970s when I did most of my catching up with movies that were made before my time. It's not on DVD either. So my failure to see that says nothing about my preferences.

The rest of them... it just doesn't matter. I've had enough Fred and Ginger in various clips of their dancing and don't need to sit through "Swing Time." And a few of those movies I actively snubbed when they first ran, and I don't feel any more warmly toward them because they made this list.

As for "Shane," well, I used to love the old TV show "Shane," with David Carradine. That's the original for me personally.

"Bees have the only perfect society on earth... They have no crime, they have no drugs, they have no rape. A little rape, but it's not that bad."

Jerry Seinfeld tells a joke and has to apologize: "I don't find anything funny about rape. I was only referring to the insect world. I'm sorry if anyone got upset." You can't have any controversy interfering with your big, commercial movie. But is it possible that his movie about bees -- "Bee Movie" -- refers only to the bee community? Presumably, he's using bees to say funny thing about the human condition. But I do believe him when he says "sorry if anyone got upset."

June 22, 2007

The pink...



... rose.


Take a wild guess who's doing all the emailing.

Here's the current top 2 on the NYT most emailed list:
1. Study Says Eldest Children Have Higher I.Q.s
2. Research Finds Firstborns Gain the Higher I.Q.

Don't you just know every firstborn is emailing it to his younger siblings with some smirky message?

Friday pop quiz: Explain this.

(Via Attaturk. Context.)






Bark bark bark.

"I fear the best I can do is to say that I'm rather sorry to have engaged her at all."

So says the MSM writer about the blogger. TNR writer Christopher Orr is nonplussed to find me arguing with his criticism of me. I respond in the comments section over there and say, among other things:
Ha! You'd prefer to slam people and have them silently take it, right? Bloggers don't do that. The comfy old days of MSM are gone. Thanks for admitting that you can't handle the new situation where the people you attack have a way of fighting back.
I repeat: Ha!

"It’s abusive, a walking rejection of all our freedoms.”

One use of freedom is to choose -- for yourself alone -- not to be free. Is it not an abuse of freedom to reject the freedom to choose submission?
David Sexton, a columnist for The Evening Standard, wrote recently that the niqab was an affront and that Britain had been “too deferential.”

“It says that all men are such brutes that if exposed to any more normally clothed women, they cannot be trusted to behave — and that all women who dress any more scantily like that are indecent,” Mr. Sexton wrote. “It’s abusive, a walking rejection of all our freedoms.”
So women are supposed to dress in a way that doesn't express the wrong thing about men? What if some other woman wanted to walk around in a T-shirt with the words "All men are rapists" on it? Sexton has homed in on the least valid reason to outlaw the niqab: that it expresses an opinion that offends you.

"Jayson Blair and the resurrected corpse of Spiro Agnew would be a great diavlog."

Former NYT reporter Judith Miller goes on BloggingheadsTV to talk about this article about female suicide bombers, and gets a tirade of abuse from the commenters:
Oh my god! Where do hack NYTimes reporters go to die, figuratively speaking of course! Why it's Blogging Heads TV!!!! Will we be seeing Rick Bragg and Howell Raines here next?

Oh God. Bloggingheads has stooped pretty low in the past, but really - Judith Miller? A dishonest hack and a proud purveyor of pre-war propaganda, one of the chief vehicles for the lies the Bush administration used to sell its phony war? Why is she being given a platform here? Could Bob not find anyone more intellectually dishonest - the festering corpse of Richard Nixon, perhaps?...

Why bother watching this? How would it be possible to guess when she's lying and when she isn't? There ought to be some minimal standards for who appears on bloggingheads.

Next up on Bloggingheads - Jayson Blair and Steven Glass...

Jayson Blair and the resurrected corpse of Spiro Agnew would be a great diavlog.
Etc. etc.

ADDED: Since I've been savaged by commenters at bhTV, I may have a distorted perspective, but I hate to see Miller treated this way. For one thing, she's talking about an interesting important subject, and it would be nice if people could pay attention to it. For another, I think her experience there will deter others from going on the show. You already have to face an interlocutor who will argue with you, perhaps intensely, in an hour-long session that will not be edited. But you also see that a strange horde of pseudonymous commenters is waiting to shred you.

"It wasn't that God didn't bless the union. To put if off on God I didn't feel was valid."

The Vatican has reversed the annulment of the marriage of Sheila Rauch Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy (the oldest son of Bobby Kennedy):
"When you try to defend your marriage, the army that comes after you is pretty brutal," Rauch Kennedy said yesterday from her Cambridge home. "You're accused of being a vindictive ex-wife, an alcoholic bigot, an idiot."
Isn't there some reason to see it as vindictive, though?
"In the eyes of the Catholic Church [Kennedy and Rauch Kennedy] are still married and therefore he cannot remarry and maintain good status as a Catholic," said Michelle Dillon, a University of New Hampshire professor who has written extensively about Catholicism. "It means he's stigmatized. . . . But he's not alone. Like the other divorced people in the pews or the people who use contraception or are same-sex couples, he's in a state of sin."

Rauch Kennedy, who is Episcopalian but took required classes with Kennedy to be married in a Catholic church, said she fought the annulment "almost entirely because we had two children."
If you yourself believe divorce is acceptable and the other person needs an annulment in order to go on in life without being in what his religion counts as a state of sin, wouldn't it be better to be generous about it? Wouldn't that be more Episcopalian?

"Shuffling phalanxes of men and women with bright orange, yellow and red Bozo feet."

Robin Givhan would like everyone to stop wearing Crocs outside of the sports milieu. There are two big fashion issues here.

1. Comfort:
[T]his is a culture quick to justify wearing virtually anything in the name of comfort -- pajama bottoms as pants, sneakers as business footwear, leggings in lieu of trousers, Uggs with miniskirts -- Crocs now rival flip-flops as the most annoyingly omnipresent style of summer footwear.
I think the Uggs and flip-flops thing went beyond comfort. Women were wearing Uggs with bare legs in the summer. Those things are for keeping your feet really warm in the winter. It was absurd. And flip-flops are only comfortable if you aren't walking very far. I see people practically hobbling along in flip-flops, suffering pain in a place -- between the toes -- where there's absolutely no reason ever to feel pain.

2. Adults dressing like children:
[A]ll those adults walking around in Crocs... look like overgrown children. They are like the workday Peter Pans who carry backpacks in the city. Not grown-up leather backpacks, but the kind made of nylon with water bottles stuck inside a web of bungee cords and a canister of Bear Be Gone hanging off the side.
Now would be a good time to remind adults not to wear shorts (outside of the sports milieu). You look like an oversized child.

Ah, what's the use?

Optical illusion....

... of the sidewalk kind.

June 21, 2007

"Democrats always know how to implode, how to be ambiguous, how to waver, how not to be authentic."

Says Ralph Nader, who's toying with the idea of running for President. And he's got this to say about Hillary Clinton:
She is a political coward. She goes around pandering to powerful interest groups on the one hand and flattering general audiences on the other. She doesn't even have the minimal political fortitude of her husband.
Well, now, give the woman some credit. She did really push the envelope with that short film she released the other day -- you know that psychodrama in which she reduced the former President to the role of First Gentleman by taking away his onion rings (≈ sex life) and forcing him to accept carrot sticks (≈ pared down phallus).

"Citizen Kane," "The Godfather," "Casablanca," "Raging Bull," "Singin' in the Rain," "Gone With the Wind"...

The new AFI top 100 American movies list is out. I've seen all but 9. How about you? I'll reveal the 9 I've managed to miss later, but I will see if you can guess. I'd be surprised if anyone (other than my sons) can guess more than 2. I have already blogged about the fact that I haven't seen one of these movies.

ADDED: Only 11 of the films (by my count) are centered on a female character:
6. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
10. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939.
16. "Sunset Blvd.," 1950.
28. "All About Eve," 1950.
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937.
35. "Annie Hall," 1977.
40. "The Sound of Music," 1965.
44. "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.
47. "A Streetcar Named Desire," 1951.
63. "Cabaret," 1972.
83. "Titanic," 1997.
91. "Sophie's Choice," 1982.

UPDATE: I list the movies I haven't seen here. And it's actually 11.

Think of a vegetable, lonely at home....

Let's think more deeply about the meaning of carrots.

We've been talking a lot about carrots and onions, and I've had to interact with various on-line politicos who may hate me for political reasons but may also suffer from a kind of art-deafness. Why are they so into politics? I'm not. I'm an outsider to their game. I went to art school. Sometimes I think it's like talking about color to someone who's color blind or melody to someone who's tone deaf. They encounter someone with a more artistic take on the political landscape, and they can only think to say "you're crazy." What can I do to help?

Well, the artist Evan Izer has been reading my posts, and he sent me these photographs of some of his artworks (and gave me permission to display them here).

1. "Sliced."

2. "Double-Ended."

3. "Cake."

4. "Frozen Box."

Think about it. Let me know if it helps.

Fresh as a ...

Unfresh daisies

Should we say "single-gender education"?

Mark Liberman -- who saw that term in a headline -- wonders why someone would want to avoid the standard phrase "same-sex education." [ADDED: I meant to write "single-sex education," and I can see that my slip shows a problem with the term.] Is it a matter of embracing the word "gender" to express the belief that differences between male and female are produced by culture, not biology? Or is it prudery about about the word "sex"?

Liberman informs us that the word "sex" goes back to 1382 -- "Of alle thingis hauynge sowle of ony flehs, two thow shalt brynge into the ark, that maal sex and femaal lyuen with thee" -- but the first use of it to refer to "genital pleasure" is in this D.H. Lawrence poem, "Pansies":
If you want to have sex, you've got to trust
At the core of your heart, the other creature.
I think it's mostly prudery, unless they're going to let the kids decide on their own gender identification, which I think would be a good idea. You have one school that teaches in a way they think works best with most boys and the other that -- like most schools these days -- does things that tend to work with girls. Then, each child, with a parent's help, looks carefully at the different teaching styles and picks the one that suits him or her best.

This reminds me of my old proposal for a law school dedicated to the traditional Socratic method in all the classes. Presumably, that's a male style of education -- not to say that all male law students would like it or thrive in it or that no female students would want to attend. But wouldn't it be good to have that option? Would you take it?

"Meretricious prose whose pretense at arch sophistication has become a schlock art form, the written equivalent of a Leroy Neiman nude."

Although that particular phrase comes damned close to being the thing it purports to criticize, the article from whence it comes -- "The worst celebrity profile ever written?" -- is hilarious.
Consider his opening paragraph. Facing a full-page, full-length "classy" cheesecake picture of an unclothed Angelina with a wispy silvery sheet clutched between her thighs, we find this piece of ... prose:
This is a 9/11 story. Granted it's also a celebrity profile—well, a profile of Angelina Jolie—and so calling it a 9/11 story may sound like a stretch. But that's the point. It's a 9/11 story because it's a celebrity profile—because celebrities and their perceived power are a big part of the strange story of how America responded to the attacks upon it. And no celebrity plays a bigger role in that strange story than Angelina Jolie.
So, it's a 9/11 story. That's heavy, dude. And it's a 9/11 story because, um, because, well, celebrities—which were a totally unknown phenomenon before 9/11, as everyone knows—are a 9/11 phenomenon, and Angelia Jolie is a celebrity. A stunning concatenation of insights!
You have to take into account that it's Esquire magazine. It might make sense to write like that within that context. It has a long literary tradition -- they used to publish Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker -- and they've got some concept of preserving it, I think. It plays out in weird ways sometimes.

Personal notes: 1. I used to have a job -- back in the 1970s -- that included -- among other things -- reading Esquire magazine. 2. I've never seen Angelina Jolie in a movie, never even vaguely contemplated going to one of her movies.

"Get away, Onions."

Am I the only one that thinks of that as a famous catchphrase? Remember "The Adventures of Philo Kvetch," with the character Onions Oregano?

Anyway, there's been some talk about onions around here lately. A quirky post about a Clinton campaign video touched off a giant blog swarm and what I think was my highest traffic day ever. Based on an earlier blog swarm last September, I now know that what sets the left blogosphere into intense, concerted action is calling attention to Bill Clinton's old sexual problems. I wonder why.

The most pathetic member of the swarm was Christopher Orr, who blogs at The Plank, which is part of the New Republic's website. He seems to have gotten his ideas not from trying to read my post but from consuming the tripe of lefty bloggers who went into a tizzy trying to protect Mrs. Clinton:
Althouse's reading of the scene inspired a fair number of incredulous posts from other bloggers ...
"Other bloggers"? Don't you have the responsibility to say that the "incredulity" was entirely from left-o-sphere bloggers? This wasn't neutral. And it was phony incredulity. Really, are you that gullible or are you part of the effort to protect Mrs. Clinton?

He goes on to make some embarrassing blunders, but I don't want to bog down this post explaining them. I've written three comments over there -- demanding two apologies. And then Andrew Sullivan dips his toe in the controversy by linking to Orr's post. Brilliant.

Do you think I'm dissuaded from writing any more about the Clenis?

ADDED: "Ann Althouse is getting heat for her sexual interpretation of Bill & Hillary's Sopranos scene." That's the style of link I like, from WaPo's Howard Kurtz.

AND: I just want to emphasize that I stand by my original sexual interpretation. You've got a married couple talking about two foods, one of which is obviously a hole, and the other of which is so clearly phallic that this Google search gets over 70,000 hits.

The man wants the hole-shaped item, and the woman forbids it. She insists that he confine himself to the phallic item, which has been sliced down to puny, thin stick form. The man looks at it sadly, and the woman tells him it's for his own good. If you don't see sexual imagery there, you exist on a very narrow band of human imagination. I don't see how you are competent to watch film. Christopher Orr appears to be a film critic, too!

When Clinton sadly bites into the carrot stick of his own castration, it makes a crunch noise -- ouch! -- and it's that noise that causes the ominous looking man at the bar ("Johnny Sack") to turn and look at him. He then walks by and gives him a glare. What does that glare mean in the Clinton video? I think it means: "What kind of man are you?"

UPDATE: Christopher Orr tries to respond to my criticism of his attack on me. I respond in his comments this way:
1. You miss the whole point of the part about suing, which was an allusion to another controversy we'd been discussing on my blog, and not anything about me thinking I could sue. You write "after complaining that the blogger wrote 'sexual things' about her, she theorized that he had a small penis and would therefore prefer phallic calamari to vagina-like onion rings." You omit that the blogger calls himself "Instaputz." I wrote: "By the way a 'putz' is a little penis, so he might want to order the fried calamari instead of the onion rings." So you deceptively laundered out the whole quality of the joke and made me look as if I were just sour and vindictive. Incredible!

2. I write what I think, including what I think about the sexual connotations of a wife denying her husband circular food items and confining him to a bowl of pared-down cylindars. I am aware that my writing is popular, and I realize that things like that bring readers, which I enjoy, but I admitted that that one line was a taunt intended to poke other bloggers to respond. So what? Blogging is something of a game sometimes. I have fun with it, you know? And in that aspect of blogging, the Site Meter keeps score, and it's part of the fun to watch the score. I never say that I think the traffic was only a result of that line, so, again, you miss the point.

3. I defend myself from attacks. Not always, but to the extent that I choose. There were some high-traffic bloggers saying vicious things about me. I hit back, totally justified, and in a mostly humorous way -- as with the calamari wisecrack.

Finally, you say "I fear the best I can do is to say that I'm rather sorry to have engaged her at all." Ha! You'd prefer to slam people and have them silently take it, right? Bloggers don't do that. The comfy old days of MSM are gone. Thanks for admitting that you can't handle the new situation where the people you attack have a way of fighting back.

June 20, 2007

For some, onion rings. Others do better with the calamari.

At first, I think it's amusing:

Eating the fried calamari at Vespaio

But the photograph shows, I'm suspicious... even, contemptuous:

Eating the fried calamari at Vespaio

I seem game enough:

Eating the fried calamari at Vespaio

Later, I'll say it was just wonderful, but the photograph shows, I was forcing myself, and I really couldn't stand it:

Eating the fried calamari at Vespaio

Ah, a nice, refreshing, troll-diluting...

... Instapundit link for the onion-rings-are-vaginas controversy here. (Note the effect on Site Meter... and I'll suppress the urge to do another Freudian interpretation.)
IF ONION RINGS STAND IN FOR VAGINAS, then to what symbolic use can we put an Awesome Blossom?
The "Awesome Blossom" link goes to a cool blog called Televisionary, which I never noticed before, although the name calls out to me. (I'm blogrolling it right now.) The post there is all about product placement on TV shows. Key passage:
[S]etting nearly an entire episode of The Office in a Chili's restaurant and talking about the various dishes they offer ("I wanted one of those skillets of cheese," says Michael; and in a later episode: "May we have an Awesome Blossom, please, extra awesome.") was more than a little excessive to say the least (as was a shot of a Chili's employee explaining their corporate policy not to overserve drinks to customers). Another glaring example was the iPod in the Christmas episode, which was featured as the gift that everyone at Dunder-Mifflin wanted to steal (The Office is available for download through iTunes). At other times, the series has referenced Sbarros, Red Lobster, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Mac computers, Hooters, Mailboxes Etc., Country Crock Spread, and Starbucks. Which, when you add them all up, is a rather halting trend for the show.
So, not about vaginas, per se, but Glenn asks a good question about those giant fried onion things. (Leave it to a law professor to ask good questions.) What are the Awesome Blossoms in the crazy world of sexual symbolism? (And doesn't Country Crock Spread sound dirty? Well, so does everything, now. Dunder-Mifflin, indeed.)

UPDATE: And the Instapundit link is overwhelmed by a Crooks and Liars link, by the darling John Amato, who also linked to his pal, the socially awkward TRex. Remember, I had my encounter with TRex and John Amato at the CNN party on election night, and John Amato was a sweet, warm guy. I enjoyed meeting him. I don't begrudge him defending the Democrats' last President. But he's soooooo far above the grouchy little prick TRex. Thanks, John, for sending me all this traffic, and I still love you.

Scalia: "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"

At a recent conference:
Senior judges from North America and Europe were in the midst of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, when a Canadian judge's passing remark - "Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra 'What would Jack Bauer do?' " - got the legal bulldog in Judge Scalia barking....

"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."...

[T]he U.S. Supreme Court judge stressed that he was not speaking about putting together pristine prosecutions, but rather, about allowing agents the freedom to thwart immediate attacks.

"I don't care about holding people. I really don't," Judge Scalia said.

Even if a real terrorist who suffered mistreatment is released because of complaints of abuse, Judge Scalia said, the interruption to the terrorist's plot would have ensured "in Los Angeles everyone is safe." During a break from the panel, Judge Scalia specifically mentioned the segment in Season 2 when Jack Bauer finally figures out how to break the die-hard terrorist intent on nuking L.A. The real genius, the judge said, is that this is primarily done with mental leverage. "There's a great scene where he told a guy that he was going to have his family killed," Judge Scalia said. "They had it on closed circuit television - and it was all staged. ... They really didn't kill the family."
(Via WSJ blog.)

If schools stop sending info to U.S. News, can we make it stop ranking us?

Here's an article about how some colleges are dropping out of the U.S. News rankings:
[T]he Annapolis Group, a loose association of liberal arts colleges... released a statement that said a majority of the 80 presidents attending had “expressed their intent not to participate in the annual U.S. News survey.”...

Brian Kelly, the editor of U.S. News, ... said more than 50 percent of the presidents, provosts and admission deans who were sent the annual survey of colleges’ reputations continued to fill it out. “We think the vast majority of presidents and academics are still supporting the survey,” he said....

Many presidents who favor no longer participating in the U.S. News rankings said they expected the magazine to be able to continue to produce its annual rankings because much of the data on things like admission and graduation rates are publicly available. Colleges report most of that data to the federal Department of Education.
Link via my colleague Bill Whitford, who emailed our faculty discussion list. I quote his comment with permission:
When will the law schools show similar courage? Perhaps it is not possible for law schools to frustrate U.S. News with a non-cooperation strategy. But there is widespread agreement that the rankings have not been good for legal education, yet we (i.e., legal educators as a group) continue not to do anything about it. Obviously this is not a problem for any one school to tackle by itself; it requires collective action.
But it doesn't look as though we could end the U.S. News rankings, only undermine the parts of it that rely on our participation. My school has always done especially well on the "academic reputation" factor, so I tend to worry about this. Wouldn't the hard numbers dominate even more, thus benefiting the schools that, for example, premise admissions on LSAT scores instead of the individual's entire profile? On the other hand, I tend to think academic reputation is a very unreliable thing. Most people who fill out the U.S. News survey -- I filled it out this year -- know almost nothing or nothing about most of the schools. And their ideas about the reputations of various schools are unavoidably infected with knowing where the schools are listed in the damned U.S. News rankings.

ADDED: Bill emails (and gives permission to publish):
My concern is that there is no collective effort (by legal academia) to delegitimize the U.S. New rankings. Instead law schools all play the game, trying to manipulate their individual ranking, with harmful consequences to legal education generally.
I think schools have been complaining all along, but also trying to take advantage. Even if you could get everyone to act collectively and say they wouldn't participate by sending info anymore, they would still do things to compete in the statistics that U.S. News procures from other sources. The game would go on, and we'd get burned if we didn't pay attention to it (not that it should trump all other concerns).
The list of deleterious consequences is long, but I'll start with the shift from need to "merit" (meaning high LSAT scores) in the distribution of financial aid, which has happened at virtually all law schools. Another is the publication, at considerable expense, of glossy puff literature designed to raise the reputation of the school and its faculty with other legal academics and judges -- something we academics get all the time in our faculty mailboxes.
Yeah, the schools are contributing to global warming with all that printing and mailing. Let's rank the schools in the order of harm to the environment done by the "law porn" they keep sending out.
There is a question of how to act effectively. Perhaps refusing to participate in the academic reputation surveys is not the right tactic. That can be debated. But doing nothing, which is what is happening, is not the right response either. We need a discussion first on the need to do something -- and here I think there is a substantial majority of legal academics coming to the view that the rankings have had negative effects on legal education -- and second on how to act collectively in an effective way.
I feel like we've been having this discussion for 20 years. The only thing new is this tactic of not participating. If it's a bad tactic, best avoided, then nothing significant is new. Life goes on, with imperfect data and endless complaining about it. I don't think much of the collective action idea, because I don't trust the law schools not to do what they can to compete for status (or criticize other schools for competing).
I note that the U.S. News rankings have given applicants some useful information to inform their school choice. That is a good effect. But the overall effect of the rankings has been to reduce of the quality of legal education generally (as measured by the standards I prefer). I would like to find some way to continue the information function with the accompanying deleterious consequences.
This is the usual idea of creating alternate rankings, but everyone who'd be involved in this new system self-interested and will argue for whatever helps their school. At least U.S. News is a neutral arbiter.

Let's take a closer look at Bill's carrot and Hillary's onion ring.

Let's talk about the onion-ring shaped vortex I started yesterday. All I did was a little casual Freudian interpretation of a Hillary Clinton campaign video. It was a short film, premised on the much-interpreted final scene of "The Sopranos," with Bill and Hillary Clinton seated at a table in a diner, sitting in for Tony and Carmela Soprano. Acting!

Maybe you just sit there pleasantly and think: Isn't it clever for Hillary to use the "Sopranos" scene as a device for informing us about her new campaign song and to include some cute business where she alludes to her concern about health care by having a nice bowl of carrots instead of the onion rings they had on "The Sopranos"? If so, aren't you the good little voter, accepting the message Senator Clinton hoped to insert in your receptacle of a brain? The famously controlled former First Lady is pleased there are people like you.

Me, I'm not so obedient. Even though I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and may very well vote for Hillary, I don't accept these things at face value. What's more I love a ripe opportunity for interpretation, including comic interpretation with sexual, Freudian content. What are you going to say: "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"? You simply cannot say that when Bill Clinton is in the picture. In the whole history of the world, if there is one person for whom a cigar was not just a cigar, it's Bill Clinton.

So here's the passage -- ooh, a passage! -- that got people so excited:
Bill says "No onion rings?" and Hillary responds "I'm looking out for ya." Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's "looking out" all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves. What does she have for him? Carrot sticks! The one closest to the camera has a rather disgusting greasy sheen to it. Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive "O" consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols! When we hear him say "No onion rings?," the camera is on her, and Bill is off-screen, but at the bottom of the screen we see the carrot/phallus he's holding toward her. Oh, yes, I know that Hillary supplying carrots is supposed to remind that Hillary will provide us with health care, that she's "looking out for" us, but come on, they're carrots! Everyone knows carrots are phallic symbols. But they're cut up into little carrot sticks, you say? Just listen to yourself! I'm not going to point out everything.
See that phrase "I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion"? That's an awfully cheap trick, a way to prod bloggers to write about the post. But nobody with any decent readership is dumb enough to say Althouse is crazy to think everyone will agree with that. Right?

I'm saying outright: Come on, everybody, into the vortex. And in they hop. It's an anti-Althousiana fest. I love it!

According to Memeorandum, my onion-rings-are-vagina-symbols story ranks second only to Mayor Bloomberg's leaving the Republican Party. (I'll try to do a free-form Freudian riff on Bloomberg later, perhaps: The O in GOP traumatized him. Ever notice that GOP could be pronounced "go pee"? (I doubt if any blogger who reads that can continue to view me as a "wingnut."))

So let's survey the onion-ring subgenre of anti-Althousiana:

First, let's see what TRex has to say. Surely, a guy who named himself after the biggest, most ferocious dinosaur will have a useful perspective on sexual imagery in film. He begins with the least creative approach found in the anti-Althousianan literature: assertions that Professor Althouse is crazy. I think the poor man knows this is a cliché, because he desperately grasps for colorful ways to say it. He comes up with "a few balloon animals shy of a birthday party" and "on the short bus to Woof-Woof Land." This is mainly padding though. Let's get to the specifics. He quotes me, then says:
Uhhhhhh, hold up, wait a minute. This blogger strongly disagrees and I’m sure if you gave me a couple minutes, I could run out in the yard and round up a couple dozen more, at least.
Ah, ha ha ha ha ha! Good lord, is it really this easy? Now, I'm laughing, but starting to feel a little sad. I don't think TRex is the dumbest guy in the world, yet he wrote something that I had assumed no one was dumb enough to say.

His post is padded with comments from my blog, but his main substance is this:
Apparently in the Mind of Ann Althouse absolutely anything (even something as innocuous as a humble onion ring) gets larded down with layers of psycho-sexual significance when it’s submerged in the warm, sticky tide of sexual charisma that surrounds our former president like a fog.
No, when I saw the onion rings in the final scene of "The Sopranos," I, like many other people, thought they represented communion wafers. The context counts. Here the context was Bill Clinton and the wife he has notoriously cheated on for years. He's saying he wants onion rings, and she's imposing carrots on him. That cries out for psycho-sexual interpretation. It's not the intent of the film's auteur -- unless he's a traitor to Clinton -- but it's imagery that they should have noticed as they were writing the script. TRex seems to want to let them off the hook by acting like associating Bill Clinton with sex is a weird little problem of mine. I don't think so!

Hillary wants to take advantage of Bill in her campaign. Fine. I understand the motivation. But she's got to figure out how to overcome the negatives. Whenever we see them together, we think about their relationship and what he did to it. There is complexity there. She can't expect us to just put that aside. She may be able to compartmentalize as she pursues her goal, but why would we?

TRex brings up last year's biggest anti-Althousiana topic: my interpretion of a photograph of Bill Clinton with a group of bloggers who'd just had lunch with him. That lunch was, ostensibly, an effort to help the Hillary Clinton campaign by using Bill's clout to influence bloggers to think well of her. In the photograph, the woman posed in front of Bill had the effect -- I argued -- of reminding us of Monica Lewinsky. This illustrated the problem of Hillary attempting to use Bill in the campaign.

Here's what TRex says about that now:
Looks like we now have conclusive proof that the whole Unpleasantness from last fall was just a spasm of Althouse’s mania to compulsively eroticize anything and anyone (apparently up to and including innocent foodstuffs) that is unlucky enough to be photographed with Big Dog. I wonder if [the woman in the photograph] realizes now that she could have been wearing a blouse made of prepared vegetables and the reaction would have been exactly the same.
Of course, a "blouse made of prepared vegetables" (why "prepared"?) would have been outrageously suggestive. But what the hell? TRex is intent on denying that Bill Clinton's reputation has a big sexual dent in it. And, by the way, vegetables are not that innocent. Don't you know that they dream of responding to you? Why else are they covered with dew?

Second, let's look at Glenn Kenny, who's the Premiere film critic I got into a bit of a dispute with last week. He makes a show of refraining from attacking me and noting that he gets the song reference, then taking up the idea that it was elitist to use "The Sopranos," shows us what film references the Clintons might make if they were really elitist. Let's move on.

Third, we have Scott Lemieux, whose is probably the biggest hack in the anti-Althousiana genre. He writes about me frequently, even though he can't think of much beyond the usual clichés about how I'm crazy, stupid, drunk, and so forth. It's sad. This is his new effort:
I really hope that she wasn't kidding with the "no blogger will disagree" bit.
Why does he hope I wasn't kidding? I assume that's a mistake. He seems to be somewhat less dim than TRex, even though his writing is duller. But TRex only seems un-dull because he reaches for those phrases like "short bus to Woof-Woof Land" that are typical of second-rate comic writing. Back to Scott:
A consuming obsession with Bill Clinton's sex life is merely banal among American conservatives, and with Althouse more than well-established in any case, but the assumption that it's universal is special.
Oh, lord, that man is boring! This may be the first time I've ever linked to him, even though he writes about me all the time. Someone in his comments says:
It would seem that you have your own obsession with Ann Althouse. I have visited her blog and don't see the reciprocity. I suspect that you have the perfect relationship; you follow every move she makes and she simply isn't aware or doesn't care.
Yeah, well, poor little Scott -- who's actually a political science professor -- will have to satisfy himself alone again for a good long while, because I really don't care. He's too boring! Or should I say merely banal among anti-Althousian scribblers.

Fourth, Instaputz displays a picture of me and then says sexual things about me. If I were a Yale law student, I'd sue him, and I could even leverage my way into federal court with a copyright claim. (I have a Creative Commons license on my photographs in Flickr, but he omits the required attribution and, in any event, it's obvious that I didn't take this picture so the license isn't mine to give.) By the way a "putz" is a little penis, so he might want to order the fried calamari instead of the onion rings.

Fifth, Roy at Alicublog is in the vortex, even though, as usual, he's got nothing interesting to say. My post made him "think of Matt Taibbi, a progressive who is famously embarrassed by the 'silly' American Left." He goes on:
I say that for all the "guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats" Taibbi notices on the left, I see an equal number, at least, of Althousean clowns on the right, as this blog documents.
Yeesh. He's got that Greenwaldian verbosity. Translation: My post is silly. Too bad that with all those words, he can't come up with a single substantive point. Another inconsequential contribution to anti-Althousiana. How embarrassing for little Roy.

Okay, I'll stop. For now.

ADDED: Okay, there's more now: here. Don't miss the added part at the bottom. Well, let me excerpt it:
I just want to emphasize that I stand by my original sexual interpretation. You've got a married couple talking about two foods, one of which is obviously a hole, and the other of which is so clearly phallic that this Google search gets over 70,000 hits.

The man wants the hole-shaped item, and the woman forbids it. She insists that he confine himself to the phallic item, which has been sliced down to puny, thin stick form. The man looks at it sadly, and the woman tells him it's for his own good. If you don't see sexual imagery there, you exist on a very narrow band of human imagination....

When Clinton sadly bites into the carrot stick of his own castration, it makes a crunch noise -- ouch! -- and it's that noise that causes the ominous looking man at the bar ("Johnny Sack") to turn and look at him. He then walks by and gives him a glare. What does that glare mean in the Clinton video? I think it means: "What kind of man are you?"

June 19, 2007

"It's hard to find anyone who teaches at Harvard who shaves."

Said longtime Harvard lawprof Arthur Miller, talking about his decision to move to NYU.

La la...

Flower stalks

It's a lovely day here in Madison.

The new Hillary Clinton video is a take on the last scene of "The Sopranos."

It's clever, the way the video uses the jukebox business from the last "Sopranos" episode to remind us of Hillary's theme song contest. In case you care, I'll just tell you that the winner is "You and I," sung by Celine Dion, and if for some reason, you actually want to listen to that song, click here.

So what do we think of this video? The NYT political blogger Kate Phillips proclaims it "the best campaign spot we’ve seen this season." I don't think so. It was amusing seeing a cameo from Johnny Sack, but I've got some problems.

1. Not everyone gets HBO, so you've got a cultural reference that's a bit elitist. And some people wait for the DVDs, and they rankle at spoilers. But maybe everyone's supposed to have heard about the ending by now. Still, it might rub you the wrong way, to assume familiarity with "The Sopranos." And lots of Americans don't even approve of watching a show that is permeated with violence, obscene language, graphic sex, and the subjugation of women.

2. Do we really want to think of Bill and Hillary sitting in for Tony and Carmela? Tony is a monstrous criminal and Carmela willfully blinds herself to his horrible flaws so that she can keep living in a highly desirable house. Are these good associations for Hillary?

3. Bill is a much better actor than Hillary, and this heightens the sense that she's a pale substitute for the old President we can no longer have.

4. Bill says "No onion rings?" and Hillary responds "I'm looking out for ya." Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's "looking out" all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves. What does she have for him? Carrot sticks! The one closest to the camera has a rather disgusting greasy sheen to it. Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive "O" consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols! When we hear him say "No onion rings?," the camera is on her, and Bill is off-screen, but at the bottom of the screen we see the carrot/phallus he's holding toward her. Oh, yes, I know that Hillary supplying carrots is supposed to remind that Hillary will provide us with health care, that she's "looking out for" us, but come on, they're carrots! Everyone knows carrots are phallic symbols. But they're cut up into little carrot sticks, you say? Just listen to yourself! I'm not going to point out everything.

ADDED: 5. The scene, as derived from "The Sopranos," is designed to create anxiety that an assassination is about to take place. Having Johnny Sack walk by and glare at her preserves that feeling of threat. It's supposed to work because with "The Sopranos," we were waiting to find out how the series would end, but here we are waiting to learn the outcome of the song contest, but it's pushing the envelope for the campaign to suggest an act of violence toward the candidate.

UPDATE: This post has spawned a whole subgenre of anti-Althousiana. I discuss that here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I have another post on the subject here. Excerpt:
A quirky post about a Clinton campaign video touched off a giant blog swarm and what I think was my highest traffic day ever. Based on an earlier blog swarm last September, I now know that what sets the left blogosphere into intense, concerted action is calling attention to Bill Clinton's old sexual problems. I wonder why....

I just want to emphasize that I stand by my original sexual interpretation. You've got a married couple talking about two foods, one of which is obviously a hole, and the other of which is so clearly phallic that this Google search gets over 70,000 hits.

The man wants the hole-shaped item, and the woman forbids it. She insists that he confine himself to the phallic item, which has been sliced down to puny, thin stick form. The man looks at it sadly, and the woman tells him it's for his own good. If you don't see sexual imagery there, you exist on a very narrow band of human imagination....

When Clinton sadly bites into the carrot stick of his own castration, it makes a crunch noise -- ouch! -- and it's that noise that causes the ominous looking man at the bar ("Johnny Sack") to turn and look at him. He then walks by and gives him a glare. What does that glare mean in the Clinton video? I think it means: "What kind of man are you?"

Frankenstein at the Frankenstein veto hearings.

Photo by Joseph W. Jackson III, from the Wisconsin State Journal, which reports:
In the last state budget, Gov. Jim Doyle lined out all but a few dozen unrelated words from among more than 750 words of text. The new sentence he created -- signed instantly into law -- allowed him to increase a state aid program by hundreds of millions of dollars more than the Legislature approved.

That's just one example of how this ridiculous power has allowed governors past and present to undermine the role of legislators to legislate.
We'll see if the legislature can get it together to ban this monstrosity.

"This was an inside job," says Michael Moore of the pirating of his film "Sicko."

Someone with access to the master uploaded the movie to YouTube, but who? Yesterday, I speculated that Moore himself was behind the link. I'm not the only one, because Moore was asked about this and denied it. He turned the suspicion on competitors: "Who do you think benefits from that?"
The Weinstein Co. is distributing the $9 million documentary through Lionsgate but handling all marketing and other costs not related to theatrical distribution. A Weinstein Co. source said that the company has hired several firms that specialize in dealing with piracy and is taking "a very aggressive approach to protecting the film."

"Every DVD screener that comes from the Weinstein Co. is watermarked and traceable," Weinstein Co. general counsel Peter Hurwitz said. "We are actively investigating who illegally uploaded 'Sicko' to the Internet, and we will take appropriate action against that person(s)."
Good! I hope they find the culprit so I can be cured of my suspicion.

Wake up.


Indoor children.

The WaPo frets about how kids are too indoorsy these days:
Concerns about long-term consequences -- affecting emotional well-being, physical health, learning abilities, environmental consciousness -- have spawned a national movement to "leave no child inside." In recent months, it has been the focus of Capitol Hill hearings, state legislative action, grass-roots projects, a U.S. Forest Service initiative to get more children into the woods and a national effort to promote a "green hour" in each day.

Tomorrow 40 civic leaders -- representing several governors, three big-city mayors, Walt Disney Co., Sesame Workshop, DuPont, the gaming industry and others -- will launch a campaign to raise $20 million that will ultimately fund 20 initiatives across the country to encourage children to do what once seemed second nature: go outdoors.
Back in the old days, it was just your mom saying get out of the house. Now, it's the whole government. The government wants me to get out of the house? That would have made me even less likely to leave the house. The real question is what would make a kid love to go outside. Don't we want kids to go outside because we believe it is good? If we're right about that -- are we? -- why don't the kids think it's good?

ADDED: The most interesting tidbit in the article is that there are a lot of kids these days who do things with their thumbs that the rest of us do with out index fingers (like ringing a doorbell and "dialing" a phone). Playing video games and text messaging has apparently rewired their brains, making their thumbs dominant.

If you don't like the garish peasants we chose to illustrate the article on opposition to immigration reform, you're prejudiced.

I should have written about this on Sunday, but it annoyed me too much. Let me force myself. This is an attempt by the NYT public editor -- Clark Hoyt -- to respond to criticism about the pictures chosen to illustrate an article about opposition to the immigration bill. (My contribution to the criticism is here.)

Hoyt notes the criticism:
[P]hoto editors looked at pictures to illustrate [Julia] Preston’s story and chose a color photo of another outspoken opponent of the immigration bill, Monique Thibodeaux, for the front page. For inside the paper, they picked a picture of two congressmen and two leaders of Grassfire.org, all in business suits, and a photo of [William] Murphy, smiling, with a gap where his tooth used to be, sitting beside an American flag on steps outside his house.

The blogosphere went wild. Two radio talk show hosts in Southern California reproduced the photo of Murphy on their Web site under a headline that said, “You are not a redneck!” They accused The Times of portraying anyone against the immigration bill as “riff-raff like this guy below.” The words “redneck” and “riff-raff” never appeared in Preston’s article in The Times.

At The Times, the reader call-in line was overwhelmed. And, at last count by my assistant, Michael McElroy, the public editor had received 1,267 e-mail messages, many with the theme, as one put it, that “I’m against the proposed Senate bill on immigration, and I have all of my teeth.” E-mailers called Murphy a “toothless freak” and worse — and these were the people who agreed with him about immigration.
Does Hoyt think the Times should be ashamed? No, you should be ashamed!
“I think it is discriminatory to say all toothless people who represent controversial positions shouldn’t be used,” [said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography.] “This is a very big country that has a variety of styles and types.”...

I think all those people who have been complaining about Murphy’s photo owe him an apology. They assumed that, because he was missing a tooth, he was missing a brain. They also assumed that editors at The Times shared their prejudices and were attempting to ridicule opponents of the immigration bill.
Yeah, how dare we assume?

What is the point of the public editor column if he's not going to do anything more than repeat whatever defense the editors serve up and blame the critics for daring to criticize? Go read the whole column, and you'll see the drivel I've edited out -- how Murphy is actually a decent human being with feelings. What tripe!

This doesn't address the criticism at all. Whether Murphy and Thibodaux are smart, competent individuals or not, the NYT deserves criticism for using them to obtain the images that would make the the opponents of the bill look like small-minded rustics. It looks -- to a lot of readers -- as though the Times used the photographs in order to stir up the prejudices and assumptions of the readers. When we call you on that, you respond that we're prejudiced and we're making assumptions and pretend you had nothing of the sort in mind. It's not prejudiced to notice when a newspaper is counting on prejudice.

The public editor ought to have gone into depth about how newspapers can manipulate opinion through the use of images and what the proper ethical standards are and analyzed whether the NYT violated those standards. Instead we get the photo editor's shallow defense and a lot of padding about how the guy in the photograph lost his eye and his tooth and how he has friends and family who love him anyway. Ridiculous.

June 18, 2007

"Harnessing irrational law firm egotism" for the public good.

David Lat has an op-ed in today's NYT, about the giant bonuses law firms are giving to Supreme Court clerks: $250,000, on top of a salary of nearly $200,000.
In recent years, the practice of law at the nation’s largest firms has become much more of a business and much less of a profession. Firms have been squeezing more billable hours out of their associates, abandoning less lucrative practice areas and showing the door to partners who don’t bring in enough business — measures that would have been unheard of in the profession’s more genteel days.

So this bizarre competition among prestige-hungry law firms to collect the most young legal rock stars actually represents a healthy check, however modest, on this profit-maximizing behavior. By harnessing irrational law firm egotism to serve the rest of the profession, enormous clerkship bonuses achieve an impressive, increasingly difficult feat: getting top law firms to contribute to something other than their own bottom line.
You can make up all kinds of theories about why some ridiculous behavior is actually for the good. I'll have to think about this one some more. It may seem hard to care if law firms compete with each other self-destructively, but try.

Is Michael Moore's next movie going to be an attack on copyright?

Watch this -- where he approves of the supposedly unauthorized release of his movie "Sicko" onto the internet. [CORRECTION: That interview with Moore probably predates the current distribution of the film.]
I don't agree with the copyright laws, and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it....

I make these movies and TV shows because I want things to change and so the more people that get to see them, the better....

You share things with people. I think information and art and ideas should be shared.
Something mischievous about the way he gestures and touches his hat at the end made me suspect suspect that he's behind the release of the movie. And isn't the movie a big political ad, arguing for nationalized heath care insurance? Normally, all you want for an ad is eyes, not money. That makes it particularly easy for him to knock copyright law. We'll see where this goes.

ADDED: Even if the linked clip -- to an interview with Moore (not to the movie!) -- was made before the current apparent pirating of the film, I still suspect that Moore intended for the movie to go out the way it did, for the reasons stated above. One more thing: the problem of the supposedly unauthorized film's release onto the internet is garnering publicity, which I know I'm contributing to. And it will get even more if and when Moore comes out and tells us he did it on purpose. A key question I have is: Did Moore finance his own movie? If yes, it makes it more likely that he's choosing to give it away, in pursuit of publicity and political effect.

Another lawsuit threatens free speech on the internet.

We've been talking about the lawsuit brought by two Yale law students who are suing various individuals over some nasty talk about them at the AutoAdmit. NPR will have an "All Things Considered" story on the subject today. I gave a 20 minute interview to the reporter and will be interested to see which part of it they use. Perhaps none. I'm going to guess that the story will be very supportive of the students and will underplay free speech concerns.

Now, we have a fine opportunity to see how people think about free speech on the internet when the politics are turned around. Seeing the Forest for the Trees tells us:
Lee Kaplan writes at David Horowitz's far-right, anti-Muslim FrontPageMag.com. A college student set up the blog Lee Kaplan Watch to expose what the guy is writing. He was sued by Kaplan in small claims court for "business interference," and Kaplan won $7500.
The Yale law students are thinking big, going to federal court (relying on a very minor copyright claim to leverage a complicated collection of state law claims) and seeking over $200,000. Kaplan took the opposite approach: He sued in small claims court. He won $7500, because he only sued for $7500 -- the most you can ask for in small claims court in California.

The blogger -- Yaman Salahi -- writes:
My speech has been punished by a ruling with no opinion explaining why or advising me what not to do in the future. My credibility has been tarnished by a trial with incredibly low standards for admissible evidence and a messy, inconsistent court procedure. And, for me, worst of all: I will never know what element of Kaplan's claim, if any, the judge agreed with, though Kaplan will certainly continue to claim that all of them were accepted, though he knows well that this is not the case.
So, thinking small looks like an effective way to squelch speech. Many people who write on the internet don't have much money, and $7500 (plus legal fees) is a lot to pay for writing something. Worse, if the court's opinion doesn't explain what you did wrong, how can you keep writing? You have to worry about the next small claims lawsuit.

Note: I have not looked into the underlying facts of this case or the practices and procedures of the court. It's quite possible that the blogger really did libel Lee Kaplan or commit some other tort and that the court proceeded fairly. I simply want to call this case to your attention to consider alongside the AutoAdmit case.

Seeing the Forest concludes:
This is a freedom of speech and right-to-blog issue. We must do something to reverse this because it will become a convenient way for right-wingers to harass all of us.
Oh, how short-sighted we are! Are you going to become a free-speech champion when the plaintiff is a right-winger and a big fan of tort law when the plaintiffs' claims resonate with feminist ideology? That's not the way law works.

UPDATE: You can listen to the NPR story on AutoAdmit here. None of my quotes were used. Here's the AutoAdmit discussion thread which has the guys listening to the story in real time, expressing their annoyance at the intervening news stories -- "Stupid Daniel Schorr talking about stupid George Bush!/How in f*ck did he ever get on the radio? He sounds like he had a stroke" --- and opining "Althouse got slighted." After the show: "Hands down fairest coverage this board has ever received. i love npr." "I like how they suggested GTO getting offerpwn3d would be some consolation to the Ps." GTO is Anthony Ciolli (the site's "educational director") had a job offer rescinded after the controversy hit the media.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Salahi has a thoughtful essay on his predicament here.

June 17, 2007

Father's Day.

I can't call my father, so let me just honor him by showing you this drawing of him, done some time in the 1940s:

Portrait of Richard Althouse

"Normally it is customary around here to denounce fellow bloggers for Untoward Noticing of The Greenwald..."

But Cassandra approves of that thing I did the other day. And I just want to thank her for sending me over to watch "United States of Whatever." I don't usually laugh before 8 in the morning.

Women are so very competent, so why do we stare at the screw-ups?

Naomi Wolf ponders the complexities of why we care what happens to Paris Hilton. Why, she asks, when real women manifest "high levels of competence, idealism and all-around effectiveness," do we obsess over pop culture screw-ups? Wolf considers one possibility, in the most interesting paragraph of her essay, and then embraces her preferred answer, that women these days are doing so well handling all their responsibilites that we "sometimes we get tired of our own competence" and want the "escapism" of fantasizing about the alternative of "letting it all go to pieces and having someone else clean up the mess."

But let's look at the paragraph where she allows herself to says something that doesn't fit quite so neatly into her praise for the wonderful, hypercompetent women of today:
On some deep level, there's a generalized feeling that women's vulnerability equals the guarantee of receiving a reliable supply of their love and care. There's an anxiety that if women become too strong, too independent, we won't be able to count on them to nurture and they won't need love. Because men, children and (not to put too fine a point upon it) the whole edifice of human civilization depend on women's willingness to nurture, it's scary to take a step into the unknown -- to see if women will continue to love if they're really free to choose whether to do so. (We will, of course, but it will take a generation or so of proof for everyone to calm down about it.)
Oh, no! A scary thought! Wolf immediately inserts a parenthetical denying that the liberation of women could actually upset something significant. And don't think she's the one who's scared by the cause and effect she was able to envision.

your problem: Calm down. Surely, you don't want to be among the retrograde characters who are going to take "a generation or so of proof." What's with these people not instinctively seeing how good progress simply must be? They actually need to see and observe the consequences of social change before they can join me and all the other good people who know that this will all work out for the best?

But let's think about these deep feelings. What if many of the most competent, strong, and independent women choose to not to form families? What if the ability to do everything for yourself gives rise a preference for remaining free of all of the extra burden of taking care of the needs of others? What if ambition to excel in public life causes many women to embrace the simplicity and freedom of an independent private life? These are perfectly rational questions, not mere hysteria or antifeminism. Wolf tries to package the questions away into the matter of whether women will "continue to love," which is a crude simplication. Oh, yes, Naomi, love, love, love. We'll always want to love.

And then it's back to the boosterism: Women are soooooo competent.


Of course, there's a much easier way to explain our obsession with celebrity screw-ups. Why do we stare at a car wreck instead of constantly marveling at all the cars that proceed expeditiously along the highway without incident? What's with all this news from a war zone when there so many peace zones? Why does the newspaper have an obituary page instead of running notices telling us that people are not dead yet?