December 27, 2008

Winter fog... cemetery...

Winter cemetery

Winter cemetery

Winter cemetery

Winter cemetery

The suddenly warm temperature on top of deep snow raised a lush fog. Last night, driving on a narrow road next to the lake, I said, "This is what death looks like in the movies. Driving into nothing." All the familiar landmarks had become invisible, and I felt lost even when I knew exactly where I was.

The fog remained, but it was easier to see things in the morning. I remembered the photographs I'd taken in the graveyards last December -- here and here -- so I went back to that place to see what the fog was doing to it this year -- and to do some things to it myself with the fisheye lens.

As I drove into the cemetery, just by chance, on the radio's "Sinatra" channel, Van Morrison was singing "That's Life." I can't find the Van Morrison version, but here's Frank Sinatra. Lyrics (by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon):
I said that's life, and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin' on a dream
But I don't let it, let it get me down,
'Cause this fine ol' world it keeps spinning around...

That's life and I can't deny it
Many times I thought of cutting out
But my heart won't buy it
But if there's nothing shakin' come this here July
I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die
What a crazy song! It's all life affirming and then, impetuously, suicidal.

IN THE COMMENTS: Original George says:
Keep On the Sunny Side...
William says:
I like the Jewish custom of leaving a pebble by the tombstone -- a pittance of memory by the eternity of death. Even if you could find them, a few bright flowers on a day like today would be overwhelmed by the bleakness of nature. Sad that the Irish custom of taking a whizz on the most elaborate tombstone has fallen into disuse. A few yellow streaks against the mausoleum of some forgotten notable reminds us of the transience of life and the abiding value of malice and envy in human affairs.
Sir Archy -- our favorite ghost! -- says:
I know, Madam, that Entertainments of the Nature of a Turn through a Graveyard, such as you have taken, are apt to raise dark & dismal Thoughts in tim'rous Minds and gloomy Imaginations; but, for my own Part, because of my Sanguine Nature, I do not know what 'tis to be Melancholy; and can, therefore, take a View of Nature in her deep and solemn Scenes, with the same Pleasure as in her most gay and delightful ones, especially when contemplating such Pictures as you have made upon this Occasion.
Dark & dismal Thoughts in tim'rous Minds and gloomy Imaginations... I have these sometimes. But I must say that this morning, I wasn't the slightest bit spooked by the thought of all the dead bodies as I stalked about looking for the oldest headstones and the most gnarled trees. The winter cemetery is more evocative of death than the green one, which I have also photographed, but in winter, I work more efficiently. I'm not here for meditation. I'm here for art. I concentrate on that and on not stepping in snowbanks higher than my boots.

George says:
You can get van morrison's version at amazon as an mp3 or on the album 'The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3', on rhapsody, and on itunes...
Ah, yes. Good point. Done, with iTunes. Now, I'm listening to it on infinite repeat as I write this.

"I'm told by Academy members that David Fincher would have a better shot at Best Director... if only he wasn't considered such a jerk...."

Ha ha. Oscar time again. Have you seen "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" yet? We have not, but will very soon. Yesterday, we saw "The Reader." I did that long post the other day -- "Kate Winslet is 'so offended' by the use of the term 'statutory rape' to describe what she does in 'The Reader'" -- and got into an exchange with Eugene Volokh about that, so that became the movie I most wanted to see. (For now, I'll just note that the Kate Winslet character, a 36-year-old woman blatantly takes advantage of the 15-year-old virgin as the story is presented in the film. More on that later.)

What movies are you seeing? Did you see "Slumdog Millionaire"?
I'm told by Academy members that David Fincher would have a better shot at Best Director for Benjamin Button if only he wasn't considered such a jerk (yes, that factors in unless a pic is the absolute frontrunner), so Slumdog's Danny Boyle is the favorite.
Oh, why give out prizes for art anyway? If you're at the level of handing out prizes, why not stiff the jerks? Even for decisions that matter, like voting for President, we stiff the jerks, don't you think? The nicer person wins. Why pretend otherwise?

Icicle update #4.


It's 46° here in Madison, Wisconsin, and for 24 hours, what was deep snow has been melting into thick fog. I'm no longer looking out my window as if from an ice cage.

December 26, 2008

Shopping for music recordings... why are all the shoppers male?


I followed my 2 sons into B-Side Records, which was full of shoppers. I counted 15, all men. When did music shopping become such a heavily male activity?

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people -- whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra."

The United States is so creative.

"Merry Christmas, we're screwed."

"I never wanted to be the guy people looked at. I felt I could only be myself when I was alone, that I turned into some kind of novelty."

"The only way I could get through that time was to drink. I poisoned myself with alcohol for years but I've never been into drugs in the way it was sometimes made out."

Oh, the exquisite pain of being Johnny Depp -- a pain endured in the company of Kate Moss and the guys in Oasis. "I've never been into drugs in the way it was sometimes made out"... makes you wonder about all the ways of being into drugs.

And how can you not want to be the guy people looked at yet still become an actor? Actually, I think it's easy to penetrate that conundrum. He wanted to be an actor to hide inside characters that were invented by someone else. He could be in the world without having to be himself. Ah, yes:
"I was a million percent in love with Edward Scissorhands," Depp says of his 1990 film persona. "I remember looking in the mirror on the last day of shooting ... and thinking how sad I was to be saying goodbye to Edward."

Here he is attempting to talk about it, back in 1991 (when everyone, it seems, looked and acted completely different:

What do we think of a 30-something woman lurking in a school bathroom stall to eavesdrop on the conversations of schoolgirls?

She holds herself out as a loving mother who only wants to select the best middle school for her daughter.
"It gives you a glimpse behind the scenes," [Aimée] Margolis explained of her sub rosa research. "At the tour everybody’s ready for you, everybody has a happy face. They say what they want to say, and you hear what they want you to hear."
So she thinks this is the way to get the poop on the school.

Now, the NYT has promoted her method of spying, and I think it needs to be denounced as creepy, lest we have no end of adults hiding in kids' bathrooms.

And, of course, this would never have been perceived as cute if Mother Aimée had been Daddy Arnie, squatting in the boys' room.

Icicle update #3.



I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas. Do you like the day after Christmas? You can play with your presents and do whatever you want. Or do you focus more on the tasks of cleaning up, exchanging the bad gifts, and thinking that you have to go a whole year before there is another Christmas?

The day after Christmas.
Bah! free polls

By the way, did you know that Wikipedia has an entry for "Is the glass half empty or half full?"?

It's a charming example of that the utterly flat, doggedly factual Wikipediprose:
Is the glass half empty or half full? is a common expression, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for optimism (half full) or pessimism (half empty); or as a general litmus test to simply determine if an individual is an optimist or a pessimist. The purpose of the question is to demonstrate that the situation may be seen in different ways depending on one's point of view and that there may be opportunity in the situation as well as trouble.

This idiom is used to explain how people perceive on events and objects. Perception is unique to every individual and is simply an interpretation of reality.
There are 8 links in that passage, which, in a concession to the shortness of life, I am not going to insert.

There's also a photograph of a half-full glass -- oh! I gave myself away! -- and then this, which I love:
See also
"Silver lining," it turns out, has a much richer history than the old 4 ounces of water in an 8 ounce glass, going back to 1634: "Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud/Turn forth her silver lining on the night."

December 25, 2008

"Santa, baby...."

Eartha Kitt, died on Christmas... in 2008, at the age of 81. She was famous for singing that song about Santa Claus. But she was also famous as Cat Woman on TV's "Batman" ...

... "She may be evil, but she is attractive"....

... and for telling Lyndon Johnson that he should end the Vietnam War. And, as I've said before, I'll never forget the monkey fur dress she wore in the 60s.

I need to post this picture...


... because I don't like seeing the "Harold Pinter's dead" post at the top anymore... though I'd be happy to keep talking about the movie "Synecdoche, New York," which I thought was pretty good. It was loaded with ideas and images -- for example, buying a house that is on fire and that stays on fire while you live in for years, until you die.* Much more could have been done with all of this. It could have been sharpened up and made more visually vivid, but it had only a $12 million budget, so it's actually astounding that they got as much out of it as they did.

I'd like to make a list of movies about theater, which would include this movie and my all-time favorite movie, "My Dinner With Andre." There's also "Vanya on 42d Street." I don't want all the movies about the life of actors, like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Stage Door" and "All About Eve." (Put them on a separate list.) I want movies in which playwrights or theater directors delve into the meaning of theater. I'd add the Woody Allen movie "Melinda and Melinda," which we watched a few days ago. 2 playwrights -- one comic, one dramatic -- take the same story and spin out their scenarios.

* [SPOILER ALERT] ... of smoke inhalation.

I think that was the third footnote in the nearly 5 year history of this blog. I have been avoiding footnotes like mad. But why? And why, if my abstention has been so important, did I deviate here?

"Harold Pinter's dead... No, wait, he won the Nobel Prize."

That's a line in the movie "Synecdoche, New York," which we saw at the Sundance theater last night:
[In] Schenectady, the working-class city near Albany where Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a theater director, lives with his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and their young daughter Olive (Amy Goldstein). Caden, who's had a critical success staging Death of a Salesman with young actors in the middle-age roles, is himself a premature old man; he hears mortality gargling at him everywhere. In the first scene, he wakes to a radio talk-show report about how the coming of autumn is a harbinger of death; from then on, Caden's life is one long fall. Reading the newspaper, Caden sees a headline about a playwright. "Harold Pinter's dead," he muses aloud. "No, wait, he won the Nobel Prize." He glances at the TV and sees his own animated form as part of a cartoon show, accompanied by the sing-song lyrics: "Then he died / Maybe someone cried / But not his ex-bride."
Today, I open the newspaper and see that Harold Pinter has died. He died yesterday, perhaps at the very moment when we heard the death-obsessed character in the movie say "Harold Pinter's dead." The movie is, in fact, all about death -- and life, too.... for contrast -- as Philip Seymour Hoffman shuffles through scene after scene, depressed, headed toward death, but working feverishly on his seemingly never-ending play -- his play and his life -- life being a big play and all the men and women merely players.
Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said on Thursday.

Mr. Pinter learned he had cancer of the esophagus in 2002. In 2005, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm but delivered an acceptance speech from a wheelchair in a recorded video.
Here's the video.
An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.

His political views were implicit in much of his work. Though his plays deal with the slipperiness of memory and human character, they are also almost always about the struggle for power.
I wrote a post at the time: "The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them." I don't like that, but I will pass over it on this occasion. Back to art:
Mr. Pinter said he thought of theater as essentially exploratory. “Even old Sophocles didn’t know what was going to happen next,” he said. “He had to find his way through unknown territory. At the same time, theater has always been a critical act, looking in a broad sense at the society in which we live and attempting to reflect and dramatize these findings. We’re not talking about the moon.”

Speaking about his intuitive sense of writing, he said, “I find at the end of the journey, which of course is never ending, that I have found things out.”
Which of course is never ending... which of course is....

Christmas dawn icicle update #2.



An Althouse blog Christmas tradition: the 1953 Santa Claus.

Christmas 1953

Here we are, probably at Wanamaker's in Wilmington -- or was it Newark? -- Delaware. I will be 3 in January, and my sister is 6. I don't think either of us is buying that beard, but my doubt is tinged with trepidation, perhaps because the right jolly old elf has got me in his grip...

Santa's hand of doom

... Meanwhile, I seem to have a lollipop.

Icicle update ... Christmas dawn.


Christmas in airports.

Last Christmas, my scheduled flight to Austin -- where both my sons lived -- got canceled, the rescheduled flight got canceled, and it became impossible to book a flight that would get me to Austin in time for Christmas. It was 5 p.m., 2 days before Christmas, when that happened, and I decided I needed to throw my bags in the car and drive the whole way -- 1200 miles. I made a thermos of coffee and, drinking a cup, tried to think how far I could get that night and whether I could be sure to get to Austin by the end of the next day, Christmas Eve. But it was icy in Wisconsin. They were saying don't drive anywhere unless you have to, and I pictured myself struggling over Route 151 around Dubuque, where it seems so lonely at night, even in summer, and kicking myself for having this stupid, grandiose idea of The Heroic Cross-Country Drive to Save Christmas, so I dumped out the thermos, unpacked my bag, and nursed a humble feeling of resignation toward spending Christmas alone for the first time in my life.

I blogged it only tangentially, here, last Christmas Day:
Merry Christmas.

I hope you have a happy Christmas, if you're celebrating Christmas. Is anyone here not celebrating Christmas today? If so, is it because you never celebrate Christmas or is this year different for some reason? Are you experiencing Christmas woes? For Christmas solace, congregate here.
I was "not celebrating Christmas today," because by then, I'd rescheduled Christmas for January 25th, when I did go to Austin.

But now it's Christmas 2008 -- 2008, the year with 2 Christmases -- and I'm happily in Madison and not alone -- though I am the only one awake, which makes for good blogging time. And I see that many people are stranded in airports:
Tom Waltz, his wife, Kristina, and their two daughters played a Christmas Eve game of Crazy Eights in a corner at O'Hare International Airport, trying to forget the past four days of flight delays and cancellations that spoiled their holiday plans.

The family from Vancouver, Wash., tried to fly out of Portland, Ore., on Saturday, but a blast of snow and ice kept them from getting a flight for two days. On Wednesday evening, they hunkered down for their second night at O'Hare, awaiting a Christmas Day flight to Miami, where they hoped to catch a Caribbean cruise on Saturday.

"It stinks," said 11-year-old Samantha Waltz. "We're playing cards to get our mind off of things."
Aw, Samantha, some day you'll think fondly of the time your family was all together and you played Crazy Eights on the carpet in an airport. It's a nontraditional Christmas celebration, but then, so is a Caribbean cruise. And maybe this family doesn't even celebrate Christmas. I guess missing one's cruise pretty much sucks too -- or stinks, as the nice kids say.

Merry Christmas to all, wherever you are, whatever religion or nonreligion you are. Are you reading this blog while stranded in some airport? I acknowledge your disappointment. The time in airports is also part of life, though it's one of those parts we wish away. Perhaps the happiest moment of your life will be spent in an airport. Perhaps the happiest moment of your life will be spent in an airport because you were delayed. On Christmas.

December 24, 2008

Madison, Christmas Eve, snow...

As you can see, State Street is nearly entirely bereft of Christmas decorations...


... though an occasional lamppost has a big snowflake on it, as I noted here (prompting HeatherRadish to quip, "The symbol Madison chose to display for the holidays is a flake? Sweet Barack Obama's waffle, that's funny"). The snow itself is a nice, natural winter decoration, but I think there should be evergreens and strings of electric lights twirled around each lamppost.

Bikes are deeply embedded in snow...


... as is this sign memorializing a Vietnam War protest that once took place on this very spot...


... and this yard sign memorializing last month's election...


Another day at the Comic Book Café.

Photo 69

Where you can write thought balloons for me or express your own thoughts... balloonly.

Is that the devil's icicle?

I wonder, as I look out my window and see that... pitchfork.


Christmas, secularism, and how Reason Magazine owes me a photo credit.

Reason's Hit and Run blog uses my photograph of a Freedom From Religion sign as it links to an article by Jacob Sullum about secularism and Christmas. How do I know it's my photograph of the sign? Look at my original 2005 blog post that includes the photo. Yes, anyone might have photographed that sign -- in the Wisconsin Capitol -- that year or some other year, or an identical sign somewhere else some other year, but look closely the reflections. It's obviously a cropped version my photograph.

Anyway, here's Sullum's article:
[I]t's remarkable how many people at this time of year will insist with a straight face that they are celebrating a secular winter holiday season, when the reason for the season—the birth of the Christian Savior, whom his followers believe to be the Son of God—is about as religious as things get....
So Jesus's birthday was actually December 25th? Which came first, Christmas on December 25th or the tradition of celebration at the time of the solstice? It's way dark this time of year, and we need some encouragement one way or another.
I'm not sure this sort of thing rises to the level of a constitutional complaint, but maybe we'd all get along better if the majority did not pretend that everyone can comfortably celebrate Christmas. The other day, as we were preparing for the first night of Chanukah, we had a visitor who remarked that she had always thought of Christmas as a secular holiday. My wife, a rabbi, explained to her why that view is problematic. Upon leaving, our visitor wished me a happy Chanukah and a merry Christmas.
The majority doesn't "pretend that everyone can comfortably celebrate Christmas"! The majority of Americans may be Christian, but even within this majority, many prefer for the shared public forum to be secular. And most of those who want to see more Christmas displays and to hear more wishes of "Merry Christmas" are not expecting nonbelievers to celebrate the religious holiday. They may also think -- as many nonChristians also think -- that it can be happy and heartwarming to see the signs of other people's religion -- at least in a free country where no one is trying to make you do anything other than passively witness what other people choose to do.

I've always loved this short blog post that my ex-husband, Richard Lawrence Cohen, published 4 years ago on Christmas Eve:
Merry _________

As a Jew, a liberal, a lover of the Constitution, and a loather of Fox News, I wish to declare that the word “Christmas” does not faze, throw, offend, upset, or disconcert me in the slightest.

When I was in a 90% Jewish public elementary school in the Bronx, we learned Christmas carols at this time of year. The songs were pretty, and it was a way of finding out about another culture, one that was all around us and well worth finding out about.

On the shopping street of our 90% Jewish neighborhood, the lampposts and subway girders were strung with lights, Santas, and snowmen, to attract customers.

If anyone had suggested establishing Christianity as the official religion of our country, we would have been outraged. But the fact that we lived in a predominantly Christian country was no outrage.

Many Sunday mornings I woke to the ringing of bells from the Catholic church across the parkway. It sounded nicer than the El going by every five minutes. And I took Driver’s Ed at a Catholic girls’ school, Mother Cabrini High—which is another story.
Yesterday, I was doing some Christmas shopping down on State Street here in Madison -- a city with various religions and quasi- and non-religions. There were hardly any shoppers, and I thought that was pretty sad -- and way too desolate 2 days before Christmas. I wondered if the place was deserted because of the lack of stimulating decorations. There are huge piles of snow everywhere, and the decoration the city has chosen to display is the large snowflake. There's just a big white snowflake affixed to each lamppost. [ADDED: Actually, only a few lampposts have these snowflakes.]

And then, in one store, where I bought 5 gift items, the shopkeeper put everything in separate boxes, nicely folded inside colored tissue, and gave me a hug. I said "Merry Christmas," and this seemed to flummox him. He said: "Happy... Happy!"

Oh, the conflicts!

Kate Winslet is "so offended" by the use of the term "statutory rape" to describe what she does in "The Reader."

Even though we see her having sex with a 15-year-old boy.
Q: Do you ever have any trepidations about approaching controversial material like abortion in "Revolutionary Road" or statutory rape?

Winslet: I'm so sorry, "statutory rape"? I've got to tell you, I'm so offended by that. No, I really am. I genuinely am. To me, that is absolutely not this story at all. That boy knows exactly what he's doing. For a start, Hanna Schmitz thinks that he's seventeen, not fifteen, you know? She's not doing anything wrong.
Check the statute books before acting on Kate's legal advice.
They enter that relationship on absolutely equal footing. Statutory rape – really please, don't use that phrase. I do genuinely find it offensive actually. This is a beautiful and very genuine love story and that is always how I saw it.... She wasn't cruel to him. She didn't force him into anything at all.
Don't all statutory rapists say this sort of thing? It's more of an argument for abolishing the crime of statutory rape. Do you think 36-year-old women should be free to seduce 15-year-old boys?
There's nothing I believe to be remotely inappropriate or salacious about that relationship.
Defamer adds this:
Salacious? Well, we've never seen a teenager's ball hair lit so romantically in a film, but then, we haven't yet caught up on our Criterion editions of the Bel Ami catalog.
I'm just going to assume I know what those last 3 words refer to. I'm afraid to Google them!

(By the way, the actor playing the role was only 17 when most of the scenes were filmed. They did some last minute filming of the naked parts "literally days" after he turned 18.)

Winslet should have talked about how complex the story is and how difficult it was for her to understand how the character could believe what she was doing was simply beautiful and loving when there was so much else that she should have seen. Winslet is there to promote the movie and to promote herself as an actress, so why would she simplify the moral context of the movie?

One answer is that she is genuinely afraid that the movie will be ruined if people get the impression that to see the movie is to see teen pornography. If what the character does in the movie is a crime, and if the scenes involve graphic nudity, then it seems criminal or at least morally wrong to go to see it.

ADDED: Eugene Volokh links here and says:
Ann Althouse discussed Kate Winslet's rejection of the term "statutory rape" for the relationship in The Reader (Winslet's new movie) between a woman in her mid-30s and a 15-year-old boy. As best I can tell, Althouse does take the view that the behavior is indeed properly labeled "statutory rape," both legally and morally.
No, I say for legal advice, check the relevant statute. It depends on the statute applicable at the time and not, as Winslet seems to think, whether it was a loving, consensual relationship. But the interviewer was really using the term "statutory rape" to just mean sex with a person who is too young, and that was what Winslet seemed obtusely unreflective about.

I'm critical of Winslet for being simple-minded, probably to promote the movie -- so people won't think it would be wrong to view the movie (since we know to steer clear of child pornography). A great actress, like Winslet, ought to want to explore the moral complexities of her character's situation. It doesn't much matter whether her character is committing a crime. Characters in movies often commit crimes, but the actors should know when they are playing characters who are engaging in behavior that many people consider to be morally wrong and that is often criminalized because it is considered wrong. If her idea is I thought I was playing a lovely person that's just dumb.
I will say that my intuition is that 15-year-old boys are unlikely to suffer lasting emotional harm from affairs with 30-something-year-old women, any more than from any first sexual relationship, whether at 15 or 16, and whether with a 35-year-old or another 15-year-old.
It wouldn't be much of a movie if the relationship didn't have a profound impact. I think the story is about how deeply it hurt him. Do you have a teenage son? How would you feel if a 36-year-old woman seduced him? How would you feel if she not only gave him his first sexual experience, but captured his romantic imagination for years, keeping him from developing in relation to girls his age?

Now, Winslet herself at the age of 15 began a relationship with a 28-year-old man, and this relationship continued for 5 years, so you can see that she has some motivation to idealize this sort of thing. Do you have a teenage daughter? Picture a 28-year-old man seducing your 15-year-old daughter. Although, Winslet's parents accepted the relationship, I think most Americans hate this sort of thing.

Where to draw the lines of criminal law is a distinct, but not entirely separate, matter. But, again, this is a work of art, and what matters most is the artist's understanding of the human mind.

IN THE COMMENTS: Linus wrote:
... I find it a little strange that so many men (including Professor Volokh, whom I admire) think that it's unlikely the boy would be damaged, simply because when they were 15, they had fantasies about scoring with an older woman. Man, when I was 15, I was an idiot. I thought I wanted a whole bunch of stuff that, I know now, would've scarred me for life if it would've actually happened.

I mean, when you are asking the question "is this a good idea?", is it really persuasive to answer with "well, my 15-year-old self would approve"?

Rick Warren loves everyone -- as his religion requires.

But he must also tell you -- again, as his religion requires -- that any sex outside of a marriage -- which must be defined as between a man and a woman -- is sinful.

It's the familiar love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin attitude, and heterosexual fornicators are sinning too. He doesn't acknowledge the problem that if gay persons can't marry, they can never have sex without sin. Some people like to say that gay persons can still marry someone of the opposite sex, but -- within this traditional religious way of thinking -- can that be done without sin? Wouldn't Warren have to say that it is a sin to marry someone that you do not fully love in the way that traditional marriage represents?

My Worst Blog Post of the Year.

Jim Manzi at The Corner comes up with the idea of Worst Blog Post of the Year:
I think that progress requires shining a spotlight on our errors, rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. As such, I’m starting what I intend to be an annual tradition of identifying what I believe to my worst single blog post of the year.
Now, obviously, this could be used as a device to actually brag. I'm reminded of something Obama said after a debate in which the candidates we asked to confess to their "greatest weakness":
“Because I’m like, an ordinary person, I thought that they meant what’s your biggest weakness? So I said, ‘Well, I don’t handle paper that well. You know, my desk is a mess. I need somebody to help me file and stuff all the time.’ So the other two they say uh, they say well my biggest weakness is ‘I’m just too passionate about helping poor people. I am just too impatient to bring about change in America.

“If I had gone last I would have known what the game was. I could have said, ‘Well you know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don’t want to be helped. It’s terrible.’”
So what does Manzi come up with? It's this post in which he links to a piece about how well-organized the Hillary Clinton campaign supposedly is, and he's impressed by what we now know was wrong, but he voiced doubt at the time about the accuracy of the report. Aw, come on. That's a little sometimes they don't want to be helped to my ear. That's as bad as you got all year and you're innovating an annual feature to 'fess up?

Now, I'm not so sure I want to participate in this little game. Unlike Obama, I don't have to go first. I can see how the opportunity can be used simply to identify a time when I wrote about something bad that someone else wrote and I didn't call bullshit on it. But what the hell? I'll confess. This is my worst blog post of the year. I saw something that wasn't there, impulsively called attention to it -- I was really quite excited about it -- then immediately had to update to say what I thought I saw wasn't there, but couldn't resist going on about how it could have been there in a much less conspicuous way which, of course, I would not have been able to see.

December 23, 2008

We spend $20 billion a year on drug and alcohol treatment programs -- without demanding much of any evidence that they work.

"[V]ery few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that they are effective.... And the field has no standard guidelines. Each program has its own philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one knows which approach is best for which patient, because these programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate. Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse programs, does not publish data on its participants’ success rate."


By the way, I saw that movie "Rachel Getting Married," which begins with the main character graduating from a drug treatment program. (Here's the trailer.) I hated it. I felt like I was watching the actors doing improv scenes in preparation for a movie to be made later. Maybe you like that kind of thing. Did you like "Festen" ("Celebration")? I didn't. (Yikes, I'd forgotten all about Dogme 95. Scary flashback!)

But RGM wasn't just the actor-fest of a movie about a big dysfunctional family celebration. It also had music. Little bands playing in the next room while the actors emoted over here. Singers coming up to microphones and sometimes permitted to sing a whole song, perhaps to entertain us or perhaps to make us feel like the main character who's rather alienated from the whole affair. Overheard in the lobby after the movie: "It was like being at a bad wedding. If I want to go to bad weddings, I'll go to bad weddings."

There are way too many wedding movies and weddings in movies. I think it's because there's an assumption that women love weddings and if there's a wedding in the movie, women will want to see it. Not this woman.

Also, I complained before about how they always put actresses in bathtubs in movies. And sure enough, they get Rachel Rachel's sister into the bathtub. Want to see Anne Hathaway taking a bath? Yes? Sucker!

IN THE COMMENTS: Chip Ahoy says:
Is this post about spending $20 billion with uncertain results or is it about weddings in movies or actresses in bathtubs? Sometimes I get confused. Because, if it's about weddings, well, weddings make me hurl. I dread going to them. Except for one thing I found delightful. There's a blog I've become fond of, to me interesting, chiefly food-related but not entirely, written by Lucy, an expat living in Southern France. She describes a French wedding that held my interest all the way through.

She writes about weddings at other times too, but I especially like this one....

fivewheels says:
"there's an assumption that women love weddings and if there's a wedding in the movie, women will want to see it."

Sadly, it's not an assumption, Ann, it's a fact. American women are so Pavlovianly wedding-obsessed that any movie with "wedding" or "bride" in the title will make a mint, even if they're horrible.

Wedding Crashers? Huge hit. Wedding Singer? Hit. My Best Friend's Wedding? Hit. My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Biggest indie movie ever. Crappy movies that made over $100 million? -- American Wedding, The Wedding Planner. The entire indie revolution was started by? Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The alternative explanation, of course, is that all of these enormously successful movies are wonderful examples of cinema. Right.
I've managed to avoid all those movies, except "Four Weddings and a Funeral" -- which I saw because I had reason to think it would be good and it was.

CNN poll finds that 23% of Americans think Dick Cheney is the worst Vice President of all time.

I'd say this is great news for Cheney. Only 23%. Because it's not as though most Americans have a whole list of ex-Vice Presidents to call to mind at a moment's notice. Most everyone knows Cheney. And then who? Were they tested on the depth of their knowledge? Maybe they remembered Al Gore, and also George H.W. Bush. And yet only 23% put Cheney last. I'd say that's a big pat on the back for Dick.

"He has this voice he does when talking to girls. It took me a while to start noticing it, but it’s high and nonthreatening and almost squeaky..."

"... like he’s being a cute little boy... It’s pretty strange. But, it works. Nothing else was ever over the top, but that’s what was so sneaky. All of a sudden he was at my house every night, and I didn’t even remember how he got there..... He’s not a bad dude, but he just doesn’t know how not to have this over-the-top magical romance which eventually leaves girls completely broken. He’s like a love monster. I think this type of guy is more dangerous than the typical one-night-stander because there is so much more emotion and attachment involved that is ultimately more destructive."

A possibly ridiculous essay about "l'Homme Fatale," which is getting some attention.

Obama in shorts ... and no shirt.

Everyone is talking about this photograph. O is on vacation at the beach, so he does not violate my "Men in Shorts" rules. Now, let's talk about that torso...

There was a time when everyone tsked about the mere mention of Hillary Clinton's cleavage, but now there's an all-out discussion of the prez-elect's manboobs. Is that wrong?

IN THE COMMENTS: Simon said:
Compare and contrast. Creating a heroically manly image is cult of personality 101.
Famous Putin picture at the link.

ONE MORE THING: "Do not forget Sarkozy!" Our commenter Chip Ahoy made this:

Everybody's talking about 10,000 hours.

"That's the amount of time that author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes for a talented person to master a cognitively complex skill -- like becoming a world-class pianist or an Olympic athlete -- in his new book, 'Outliers: The Story of Success.'"

"10,000 Hours" would have been a better title for "Outliers" -- don't you think? -- if that's the catchy Blink/Tipping Point take-away idea. But no, Gladwell wanted to say not only that successful people worked a long time to master their craft, but also that they got lucky. Good luck with the luck part. But you can work 10,000, so get to it.

The linked article is about how Hollywood is big on the 10,000 idea:
Will Smith... described a small movie he'd seen as featuring thespians who "I could tell . . . weren't world-class actors with 10,000 hours of experience."
Wouldn't it be bizarre if there was a resurgence in the belief in hard work? I hate to see Gladwell get lucky with one of his ideas again, and you know damned well it's not just hard work. If this 10,000 hours idea catches hold, it will also be luck. And you know what his good luck is? It's our bad luck! Long, hard work is the perfect idea for times of dire economic hardship.


Law students, here's a formula: 3 x 365 x 10 = 10,950. Law school is 3 years long, so with 10 hours of study a day, you'll have your 10,000 hours. Can you picture me in class, when a discussion question seems tough, asking the students if they are staying on track, studying 10 hours a day, working toward their 10,000 hour mark?

But really, the idea of 10,000 is spiffy, even as it represents a long slog. It might be helpful to think in these terms. Load 10,000 hours into yourself and you're setting yourself up for whatever good luck may come your way.

Jeremy Piven "is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

Said David Mamet on the occasion of Piven's quitting his part in "Speed the Plow" supposedly because he discovered that he has a high level of mercury in his body.

December 22, 2008

Cockroach Christmas.

Our favorite insect, blogging cockroach, skittered through the Red Clock Café a few minutes ago:
hi professor
sorry i haven t been around much
tommy s computer was broken
tommy is the boy whose computer i use
anyway computer trouble was only for starters
grand mere showed up from france
you know mom here at the house is french
well the very formidable grand mere blew in
complaining about everything americain
but grand mere took a spill in this fancy
cambridge food store that tries its best
so much to be french that julia child used
to shop there anyway grand mere is in hospital
and won t be out until christmas quel dommage

then we ve had snow snow snow and 2 out of 3
of tommy s christmas concerts were cancelled
that make money for his school quel dommage
which is actually a choir school where they sing
in latin if you want for weddings and funerals
quis a misericordia

well this is the first year everybody didn t
go to france for christmas er noel
so i was looking forward to grand mere s
french christmas cooking because if she s
anything like mom she s real sloppy
which is the first thing i look for in a cook

usually it s real quiet here during christmas
and i have a chance to meditate
on my having the transmigrated soul
of a composer and music professor
which is a little odd to be able to
remember but maybe i didn t get my
dose of the soup of forgetfulness
which proves that the cosmic cook
was probably a little too neat in my case

i have to admit that being a cockroach near harvard u
is pretty good comeuppance for a reborn
asshole prof at a 3rd rate state u
maybe it was 2nd rate but don t make me
a worm next time for bragging
you know i only wanted to get by last time
and what better way than cooking up
academic crap music that was only trendy
at 3rd rate state u s where the deans thought
they were being so avant garde
while they really were wearing no clothes
and no one would tell them
but at least i could hit on grad students
with nice legs
they had to have nice legs
and we got to the no clothes part asap
but now look at me
i ve got lots of legs these days

anyway i use this time to contemplate
how i got here and have resolved to be
a better sentient being if even an insect this time
because i now have an inkling of how
you can blow it if you re a jerk or even
if you re wasting your talents on useless crap
which i now think is a sure path to
invertebratedom in the next life

but this is all so hard to figure out and
it doesn t help that i only have 960 brain cells
although you would be surprised that
consciousness has less to do with the
hardware than you might imagine
so think about that the next time
you squash a cockroach
merry christmas

IN THE COMMENTS: Sir Archy -- our "Ghost of a Gentleman dead these 260 Years and more" -- stops by, with a response on the subject of reincarnation:
I may tell you that upon my Death I had expect'd to be sent to Heaven, or, Hell, or, perhaps, to have been Transmigrat'd into some other sentient Being, as the Hindoos teach and you have experienc'd. You may imagine my Mortification at finding myself remaining a disembody'd Spirit all these Years. I should have been happy even to have been plac'd in the Body of a miserable Cockroach, such as yourself. I endeavour'd, as much as any Sinner, to live a virtuous Life, and have thus always regarded my disembody'd Existence a most unfair Sentence; but, our Situations shew how hard 'tis to comprehend the Will of GOD, or, as some would have it, the Workings of the Universe. In this, the teachings of my Calvinistick Religion would seem to be vindicated; yet, as a Ghost, I may tell you that the Doctrines of neither Geneva, nor, Rome, nor, Benares, nor even, Lahsa are adequate to the Matter....
But this post is already long, so I must send you inside to read the rest.

"We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling."

Wrote Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë in a letter published today by the New York Times on the subject of the impending possible appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate.

Except it wasn't Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë.
We French have been consistently admiring of the American Constitution, but it seems that recently both Republicans and Democrats are drifting away from a truly democratic model. The Kennedy era is long gone, and I guess that New York has plenty of more qualified candidates to fill the shoes of Hillary Clinton. Can we speak of American decline?
Now, why did the Times fall for this? The correction says they didn't follow their own procedures, but why didn't they follow their own procedures? Were they just a little too delighted that he was saying what they hoped to hear? American decline. The French think America is in decline...

Hey, remember that time Sarah Palin thought she was talking on the phone with Nicolas Sarkozy? The NYT presented that mistake as "one of the last straws" that convinced McCain advisors that Palin didn't have what it takes:
Ms. Palin appeared to believe that she was talking to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, even though the prankster had a flamboyant French accent and spoke to her in a more personal way than would be protocol in such a call. At one point, he told Ms. Palin that she would make a good president some day. “Maybe in eight years,” she replied.
Fake French -- it's so obvious. Except when it isn't.

At the Comic Book Café...

Photo 43

... you can say what you want.

AND: Thanks to Ron for doing captions....

"She hails her own cabs!"

"This is what passes for a common touch these days?"

"We, the miners of Waldo and Althouse in Oregon Territory, being in convention assembled..."

"... for the purpose of making rules to regulate our rights as miners, do hereby on the first day of April, 1852, ordain and adopt the following rules and regulations to govern this camp":
That 50 cubic yards shall constitute a claim on the bed of the creek extending to high water on each side.

That 40 feet shall constitute a bank or bar claim on the face extending back to the hill or mountain.

That all claims not worked when workable, after five days, be forfeited or jumpable.

That all disputes arising from mining claims shall be settled by arbitration, and the decision shall be final.

"Life Without Bubbles."

It's a Paul Krugman column. I was worried Michael Jackson's chimpanzee had died. (Bonus art link.) (On the economy -- sorry -- I've got nothing to cheer you up with.)

One of the great lessons of the blogosphere: never Palmieri on an Yglesias.

"Maybe it’s just me, but this post is kind of creepy." That's the first of nearly 500 comments on a post at Matt Yglesias's blog -- a post that is not written by Matt Yglegias. Here's the post:
A Special Note Re: Third Way

This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.
If "the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own," then what the hell is this? Lady, you are on Matt's blog! How did you get there? Did you just barge in like some burglar in the night? Do you know the first thing about blogging and a blogger's relationship with his readers?

I'd never heard of "Third Way" until I read this post. Now, I think it sucks. Not because of something Matt once wrote about it -- which I hadn't noticed -- but because of this completely creepy intrusion into Matt's space. Why didn't Palmieri email Matt and ask him to quote a statement from the Center for American Progress Action Fund? Maybe she did and he refused. But either way, the invasion of a man's blog is unjustified, wrong, and also stupid. It's stupid, because even if you don't mind pushing around a respected blogger, you're doing it where everyone can see.

Let me quote some more of the comments:
"Why did Matt leave The Atlantic? This ‘bullshit’ post reveals the limits how independent-minded one can be when associated with this website. (Not to say CAP doesn’t do a lot of good - it does) I think this really is a big deal - Matt needs to decide if he is a independent thinker or an activist. This post shows how hard it is to be both. Did he even approve this post - on his blog?"

"Think of all the posts that didn’t merit a ghostly materialization of the CEO! Perhaps CAP really does support all those other views of Matt’s. The CAP Action Fund hates turkey."

"Next post from Jennifer Palmieri: Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia."

"VERY CREEPY. that being said, matt said he left the atlantic because he wanted some skin in the game. well, i think perhaps his indy days gave him some impolitic ticks that now coming back to bite him now that he’s part of The Movement."

"Fuck off Palmieri. If we were interested in what you thought, we’d read it on your own blog. Jeez."

"Sadly, after his workplace retreat in the Pine Barrens, Matt was never heard from again…"

"Dear Jennifer, Nice boneheaded move. Dear Matthew, You left The Atlantic for this? Take your fucking balls—er, blog—back man, and perhaps you won’t suffer a loss of readers. This is just embarrassing."

"Jennifer, fabulous job. In one short post, you managed to focus attention on Matt’s original post, convince folks Third Way is nothing but a bunch of lame frauds, alienate loyal readers, cast a pall on CAP’s credibility, and possibly shoot your job prospects in both feet. Heckuva job."
And Kos has posted on it too:
The Center for American Progress should not make a habit of doing this.

And for the record, the editors on the site can say whatever they want about whoever and I won't get all creepy and Big Brother on them.

p.s. And yes, the Third Way is a bunch of assholes who make the DLC look downright palatable.
Kos points us to the original Yglesias post:
I’m getting sort of tired of the endless discussion of whether Barack Obama is a wholesome liberal or an evil centrist, but I have to say something about one aspect of this story:
“Barack Obama has never made any bones about it: He is a moderate,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate public policy think tank. “People who ignored that did so at their peril.”
Third Way is a neat organization — I used to work across the hall from them. And they do a lot of clever messaging stuff that a lot of candidates find very useful. But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There are a variety of issues that they have nothing whatsoever to say on, and what policy ideas they do have are laughable in comparison to the scale of the problems they allegedly address. Which is fine, because Third Way isn’t really a “public policy think tank” at all, it’s a messaging and political tactics outfit. But Barack Obama’s policy proposals aren’t like that. At all. Nor do personnel on his policy teams — including the more ideologically moderate members — stand for anything that’s remotely as weak a brew as the stuff Third Way puts out. And yet, Third Way loves Barack Obama and says he’s a moderate just like them. Which is great. But everyone needs to see that these things are moving in two directions simultaneously. At the very same time Obama is disappointing progressive supporters on a number of fronts, he’s also bringing moderates on board for things that are way more ambitious than anything they were endorsing two or three years ago.
The irony is: I'm the sort of person who actually likes the sort of thing Matt would call "hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit." I voted for Barack Obama because I was betting that he really is a pragmatic moderate. And now Palmieri has made me hate the Third Way.

We have now learned one of the great lessons in the history of blogging: Never Palmieri on an Yglesias.

UPDATE: Yglesias now has several posts since Jennifer Palmieri dropped that turd on his blog. One obliquely refers to the stink:
As we’ve clarified, speaking as ever purely for myself and not as an institutional position of CAP/AF, Third Way’s First 100 Days agenda strikes me as pretty weak tea. For starter’s here’s their retirement security agenda [blah blah blah].
Sample comment:
“As we’ve clarified …” We?
More sympathetically:
What’s going on here is pretty obvious: Matt doesn’t like that Third Way demanded the editorial wrist-slap that appeared on his blog, but doesn’t want to directly criticize his boss. So, having covered CAP’s ass with the previous post, he is now going to make a project of picking on Third Way with special relish. What is it people want Matt to address here, exactly?
AND: Julian Sanchez says it well:
It’s like they made a list of the dozen ways they could’ve handled some minor internecine friction—including just ignoring it—and asked: “Which of these is really guaranteed to blow up in our face in the most self-defeating way possible?”...

So congratulations, Third Way, a whole lot of people who’d never heard of you now know exactly one thing about you: You’re thin-skinned whiners.

AND: Yglesias finally gets around to addressing the question directly, not that he says anything interesting.

Grande Conservative Blogresss Diva 2009.

GayPatriot emails:
[W]e define a conservative blogress as a smart blogress who has earned the respect of gay men by expressing herself with eloquence and without kowtowing to the politically correct mavens of popular cultural and politics.
I don't think you have to be a gay man to vote, though. I'm one of the nominees along with 14 others, so choose wisely. This year, I'm not going to try to get a lot of people to vote for me. In fact, I think what I'll do is go to each blog and pick one representative sentence from the top few posts and quote it here. You could read these sentences, click to see who wrote it, and then go to the Gaypatriot poll and vote for that blogress -- that is don't vote for me.

"Yeah, those of us who call ourselves Christians say 'we believe.' But it’s one thing to 'believe' and quite another to 'surrender.' Believing is the easier of the two. But surrender is what makes us holy."

"I, of course, like to keep both sides equally pissed off, so I may ... eat a ham and cheese sandwich to warn the Islamo-Fascists not to mess with me. I may also, however, burn an American flag at the same time."

"Young people, immigrant, youth ......... by G-d these dhimmis turn themselves inside out to rephrase, retool, and obfuscate the truth. Muslims riot. Not immigrants, yoots, or 'young people.' Oh, the idiocy."

"The trash collectors serving my area sent a notice of the pickup schedule for 'holiday trees', so I mailed them a nasty letter. When did we become a nation of Grinches?"

"Just as is the Law of Gravity immutable, so is the Law of Giving. Of course, what we get back in return for our gift doesn’t always come in the form we expect, but this just proves that the Cosmos, in addition to having a set of Laws, also has a Sense of Humor. This can be quite hard on the humorless."

"What's actually romantic isn't committing to somebody because you see how lovable, sexy, and charming they can be, but because you find out how annoying, insufferable, and lacking in some basic table manner they are, and it's still not enough to chase you away."

"As we Jews face a bleak future with Islamic extremism and violence on the rise, we also face an enemy within, just as the Jews and their Maccabees fought in their own community back in the day. The Hellenists were Jews who wanted to forsake Judaism for the secularism of the Greeks. Today, those same Jews are the ones who've forsaken Judaism for liberalism. They're the ones who voted for Barack Obama, the ones who continue to pander and 'outreach' to our avowed enemies in the Islamic community. I've written about so many of them on this site over the years, and their names need not be mentioned on this holiday. We know who they are. And their views must be crushed, just as the Maccabees crushed Jewish Hellenism."

"No matter what anyone’s feelings are right now for Bush after the auto bailout he announced Friday, there’s no denying that this is as shoddy a piece of 'journalism' as can be found on the pages of the NYT, as they ignore the significant contributions of Christopher Dodd, Barney Frank, PEBO (President-elect Barack Obama), Franklin Raines, and other prominent Democrats/Democrat-friendly industry fat cats to the mortgage/lending industry collapse."

"Amy Winehouse appears to be winning her battle against drugs as she looked the picture of health during a winter break in the sun."

"I can't think of another evangelical leader who would have the gumption to call attacks upon him 'incendiary hate speech.' White evangelicals are by definition incapable of being oppressed, according to the liberal definition. They are the haters; hatred is justified. They are not inclusive; exclusion is justified. [Rick] Warren challenges that idea. After years of acquaintance with his liberal critics, Warren is not afraid to shame them with their own language."

"If your primal instinct isn’t to scoop up that puppy, cuddle him, and whisper to him don’t be angry, puppy, and then swallow him whole, then I don’t think we have much to talk about anymore. We’ve grown apart."

"As another GSA official who facilitated the convenient change in policy regarding exulted to the Obama campaign after the domain was granted, 'Rock and roll!'"

"I've been around a long time. I've been incarnating in this realm for so many aeons I call both gods and demons 'Sonny.' Yet even I don't know the answer to such questions. And I can't ever know, for to know while incarnate would mean I'm not subject to any human limitations."

"Oh, and A Christmas Story? One of the few things Arnie and I disagree on. I simply cannot bear it: all those bratty, bullying, yelling little boys running around getting in trouble instead of just behaving (just like that Hope and Glory movie about the English boy during the Blitz: son, there's a war on -- can't you be quiet instead of playing in other people's rubble? There is nothing fun about this situation. God.); that wimpy whiny mother, and that horrible horrible father with the goddamn lamp who I spend the running time daydreaming about murdering in his sleep. Would the lamp fit down his throat? Just the foot, maybe? Hard to say..."

IN THE COMMENTS: Meade proposes a new contest:

"Mocha Grande Bitchin' Hot Rightwing Liberated Blogress Goddess Babe Who Will Cruelly Kick Your Ass To The Curb And Leave You Hooked Down On Your Knees Begging For Just One More Hit Of Blog Oh Please Oh Please Oh Please 2009 To Infinity"
Anyone else free polls

December 21, 2008

Blue Santa.


Remember "Blue Christmas"?

Time has passed in the Red Clock Café...

... and the ineffable experience of redness has given way to purpletude:

Photo 38

"Is that James Dean gazing downwardly at a pastry case that looks like a jukebox?"

Says EDH, in the comments over here.
Play G-72 for me Jimmy, will ya, just for old time sake.

Or just get me a bear claw, if it ain't.
He's looking at this photograph...


... and I see what he means. Like David Hemmings in "Blowup," I enlarge the phantom image and tweak it as much as I can:


Yes, I think the ghost of James Dean walked in Madison last Friday. He had his collar turned up against the cold.

At the Red Clock Café....

Photo 39

... Jac is reading "Conversations on Consciousness" and says the phrase "the ineffable experience of redness."

At the Sweeping Changes Café...


... you can make plans for the new year...

Arrangement in White and Black.