January 24, 2009


... belt. (You have to look closely. I know it's difficult.)

"Now I am going to have to lie here for the next hour, with no trousers on, basted like a Christmas turkey, bloody Enya simpering away in my ear..."

"... while some failed hairdresser rhythmically tickles away at my flabby parts as if petting a consumptive hamster."

Men at spas.

Obama numbers normalize.


"Everybody can't be taken to Everest."

Just my favorite part of my favorite movie, "My Dinner With Andre":


If you go way deep into the reviews of the movie at that Amazon link, above, you will find one written on August 16, 1999 by "a customer," which 125 of 129 people found "helpful." Let it be known that that "customer" is me. I wrote:
This is my favorite movie of all time. Period. You can sit in on the most interesting conversation ever and I've done it many times, every time finding myself thinking of different things, contemplating my own life and wondering about how crazy Andre actually is and how seriously to take his ideas about how human life came to an end a few decades ago, leaving us all robots in search of some twinge of real feeling. But the dvd is so bad I suspected it was a bootleg. When the camera switches from Andre to Wally the color completely changes. It's all grainy as if recorded on bad tape off a badly receiving tv. At one point a little white hair appears and vacillates on the lower screen for oh about 30 minutes. Are they kidding? There needs to be a new edition of this great movie, and those of us who bought this sham of a version should be allowed to trade it in. Here is a film critiquing the falseness of what our modern life has become: fine, but I don't need an object lesson costing me $20. Out of respect for the sublime Louis Malle, put out a new version!

Any news from the great snowball fight?

It started a few minutes ago.

Link to blog posts and photographs!

The death of a robot.

He was only a man.

The beautiful model Mariana Bridi da Costa, her hands and feet amputated to treat necrosis, caused by septicemia...

... has died. This began as a urinary tract infection. Such a common thing!

Unsubtle subtlety you can't get away with on the radio: "If U Seek Amy."

Maybe if you'd written out "you," it could have just been an inside joke. (I doubt it.) But the "U" is the tip that you want the PR.

ADDED: My son Chris notes the poem in James Joyce's "Ulysses":
If you see Kay,
Tell him he may.
See you in tea,
Tell him from me.

I finally got around to watching "Juno" on the DVR.

Loved it. Perfectly entertaining. I just looked up the old trailer, which pretty much shows the entire story (which you'll realize if you've seen the movie)...

... though it tricks you into thinking they'll be waaaaay more Dwight from "The Office."

Tweeting about the movie last night, I was asked "to weigh in on whether it was a pro-life message movie" and said, in 140 characters or less:
I think it was a pro-life movie. Juno instinctively and automatically bypasses abortion. That's unusual and means a lot.
I'm sure much more could be said. You talk first.

If we are to believe the plethysmograph, then men know exactly what they want.

Either women, if they are straight, or men, if they are gay. Meanwhile, women respond to... everything... including apes.

And the men's subjective account of what aroused them matched what the plethysmograph recorded, while the women's subjective account was — if we are to believe the plethysmograph — a pack of lies.
As soon as I asked about rape fantasies, [sex researcher Meredith] Chivers took my pen and wrote "semantics" in the margin of my notes before she said, "The word 'rape' comes with gargantuan amounts of baggage... I walk a fine line, politically and personally, talking frankly about this subject. I would never, never want to deliver the message to anyone that they have the right to take away a woman’s autonomy over her body. I hammer home with my students, 'Arousal is not consent.'"

We spoke, then, about the way sexual fantasies strip away the prospect of repercussions, of physical or psychological harm, and allow for unencumbered excitement, about the way they offer, in this sense, a pure glimpse into desire, without meaning — especially in the case of sexual assault — that the actual experiences are wanted.

"It’s the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought," Chivers said about rape fantasies. "To be all in the midbrain."...

She spoke about helping women bring their subjective sense of lust into agreement with their genital arousal as an approach to aiding those who complain that desire eludes them...

"When you’re writing a book, you're certainly not sitting there thinking, 'And wait till they see the Web site!'"

Well, you'd better! You think about the book cover, don't you?



Blagojevich: "They’re just hanging me. They’re hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor."

Are the impeachment proceedings fair?
Lawmakers say they sought guidance from the impeachment trials of President Bill Clinton in 1999 and Gov. Evan Mecham of Arizona in 1988, and the Senate procedures will be largely modeled on those used in Mr. Clinton’s trial. Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald of the State Supreme Court will preside, though senators, serving as judges and jurors, can choose to vote down rulings they disagree with. Hearsay is allowed. The standard of proof is essentially up to each senator to decide....

Among those scheduled to appear as witnesses for the prosecution next week are state representatives who were members of the impeachment committee.....

“I found it stunning,” said Ann M. Lousin, a law professor at the John Marshall Law School and an expert on the Illinois Constitution. “What are the legislators from the House going to say they know personally?”

Complicating the impeachment trial is the ongoing investigation of federal prosecutors here. At least one federal agent is expected to testify at the trial, but others connected to the criminal accusations are not. One Senate rule bars witnesses from being subpoenaed if federal prosecutors believe it might compromise their case, a fact Mr. Blagojevich complained bitterly about to reporters on Friday.

Though he has filed no request for witnesses, the governor said he wished to call a long list of people who were not permitted to be called by the rules, including Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, an Obama senior adviser; and governors of other states who would testify, he said, to his upstanding behavior.

"Within the high school gossip circle that is New York’s congressional delegation, Kirsten Gillibrand’s nickname is 'Tracy Flick.'"

"'Nobody really likes her.'"

ADDED: The DVD of "Election." The Blu-Ray.

Obama to congressional Republicans: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

Ha ha. Obama is being alpha, and he's deliberately tweaked that other alpha who just loves to hear his name invoked by his enemies. I'm picturing Rush delirious with glee, pacing the cavernous rooms of his mansion, booming out monologues to his kitty cat Pumpkin, as he waits for Monday noon to finally roll around. This will be good.
"There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats," [some Obama official explained.] "We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done."
Rush Limbaugh's position is that he doesn't want things done:
I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, "Well, I hope he succeeds. We've got to give him a chance." Why? They didn't give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search-and-destroy mission had begun. I'm not talking about search-and-destroy, but I've been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed.

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him.... I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it. ...

I'm happy to be the last man standing....Yeah, I'm the true maverick... You know, I want to win. If my party doesn't, I do. If my party has sacrificed the whole concept of victory, sorry, I'm now the Republican in name only, and they are the sellouts.

IN THE COMMENTS: Jason says:
The moment I heard Obama said those things about Limbaugh I went out and subscribed to Limbaugh's 24/7 service (giving him money). And sometimes Limbaugh makes me angry, but now that the government is against him he has to be cool. Like cigarettes or machine guns or heck, even drugs.
AND: Limbaugh responds in writing, kind of screwing up the suspense...
[Obama] is hoping that these Republicans will also publicly denounce me and thus marginalize me.... To make the argument about me instead of his plan makes sense from his perspective. Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule, and it would also simultaneously seriously damage any hope of future tax cuts....

Here is Rule 13 of Alinksy's Rules for Radicals:
"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."

"I am alive" — a literary sentence in the comments to the bookstore thread — tells a harrowing real-life story.

We were in the middle of talking about the emptiness of the emporium, when Zachary Paul Sire wrote:
Off topic, but thought you all should know: I am alive.
Poor Zachary had a ruptured spleen, and in valiant, bloggerly style, blogged it, with photos of himself — in a hospital gown — taken at arm's length. Perhaps the blogosphere is full of photo-essays showing the details of emergency rooms, not to mention accident scenes — wounds and all. (Point to some!)

I once posted "I just wrecked my car!" — and, though I blogged about how, almost immediately, I thought about blogging the accident, I did not get out my camera to get the photos. (Later, at the wrecker's, I got the photos.) So I admire Zachary's presence of mind in taking those photos, especially since he was in pain — though presumably he was also bored and, unlike me at the car crash, not in the presence of victims, police, and EMTs who would have thought ill of me if I'd displayed a hearty bloggerly spirit. (In case you're wondering why my readers didn't seem to give a damn back then, I didn't have commenting turned on.)

Anyway, I love Zachary's intrusion into the late night thread to tell us about his situation. When you go to comment on my blog, you can see that part of the instructions for commenting are: "You can digress, but digress creatively. Amuse us!" So OT was OK. And maybe I should rethink "amuse." Another reason to rethink "amuse" is that people — probably remembering Queen Victoria's most famous quote "We are not amused" — think I'm using the royal "we." I'm not. And actually, neither was Victoria. But speaking of memorable lines... I love "I am alive." It's one of those very short sentences that feel entirely literary.

Is it a famous quote? I Google and see it's at least a video game.

But it has the feeling of something old, something I read long ago. Is it the last line of Daniel DeFoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year"? The e-text is on-line. So:
A dreadful plague in London was
In the year sixty-five,
Which swept an hundred thousand souls
Away; yet I alive!
Yet I alive! I love that.

Is it "Moby Dick"?
The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?—Because one did survive the wreck.

... So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main.
Perhaps you can help me find "I am alive" (and things close to it) in literary — or cinematic or video-game-ic — works of art. Don't talk about statements in the third person. The first-person statement is the interesting thing here. If you are not alive, you are in no position to comment. By the same token, to say anything is to say "I'm alive." What prompts the always-true words "I am alive" is the consciousness that you might not have been able to say it (or anything else). While it is always within our mental grasp to be suddenly intensely impressed by the vivid fact of being alive, we don't — we could! — say it out loud or write it down... in the comments section of someone else's blog.

Or, no, there is a second reason to say "I am alive." You might need to cry out to someone who thinks you are dead. DeFoe tells of a piper, who went door to door for food and drink "and he in return would pipe and sing and talk simply." But times were hard, and he'd nearly starved, "and when anybody asked how he did he would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had promised to call for him next week." One night, he'd finally gotten some drink, and he was lying drunk in a doorway where the people inside "hearing a bell which they always rang before the cart came, had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him, thinking, too, that this poor fellow had been a dead body, as the other was, and laid there by some of the neighbours." A man named John Hayward loaded both bodies onto the cart:
From hence they passed along and took in other dead bodies, till... they almost buried him alive in the cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I do remember, was at Mount Mill; and as the cart usually stopped some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped the fellow awaked and struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies, when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, 'Hey! where am I?' This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but after some pause John Hayward, recovering himself, said, 'Lord, bless us! There's somebody in the cart not quite dead!' So another called to him and said, 'Who are you?' The fellow answered, 'I am the poor piper. Where am I?' 'Where are you?' says Hayward. 'Why, you are in the dead-cart, and we are going to bury you.' 'But I an't dead though, am I?' says the piper, which made them laugh a little though, as John said, they were heartily frighted at first; so they helped the poor fellow down, and he went about his business.
But I an't dead though, am I? It's a terrifying question to have to ask, but, thank God, the answer is always "yes."

January 23, 2009

Despite shrines to Obama, the bookstore was nearly deserted.

Shrine #1:

Bookstore shrine to Obama

Shrine #2:

Bookstore shrine to Obama

Overview of the deserted place:


Where is everyone? It's about 5:30 p.m. here at Borders, and I feel as though I've stayed until after closing time. I used to like to go here to browse alongside myriad strangers and to run into people I knew. Now, there's zero "town square" ambiance.

Here's a title that made me feel good about the way my reading about current politics has, in the past few years, migrated nearly completely on-line:

Bookstore shrine to Obama

"What Obama Means." Spare me. Whatever is in that book can — I will bet you — be skimmed and understood in less than one minute.

IN THE COMMENTS: Zachary Paul Sire said:
Off topic, but thought you all should know: I am alive.

UPDATE: "Media Matters doesn't understand the word 'despite.' Talk about dumb." You are dumb, "Erice." People who actually can read know that "despite" ≠ "because of."

UPDATE, 7/19/11: Borders dies.

You can't ask questions in here! This is the press room!

Ha ha. Funny — or scary — how often "Dr. Strangelove" allusions have been coming up.


I've made a "Dr. Strangelove" tag. There are now 12 movies I've done tags for. I suppose I should have done more along the way. When I first started doing tags, I tried to make them very general, using "movies" over and over, until it's up over 1000 posts (and is the second largest tag here). It becomes useless at that point to anyone but me, because you can only display one page of posts by clicking on the tag, and the lack of specificity makes it rather uninteresting anyway. I'm into specific tags now. I like the way they dig up diverse old stuff. I made "beer" a tag today. That's part of my effort to be specific about food and drink, instead of just "food" and "drinking." And the old "animals" tag is uselessly large. Even "dogs" is large. I've made "poodle"! Another stupidly large tag is "Obama" — closing in on 1000. I've started all sorts of sub-Obama tags like "Obama is like Bush," but it's hard to remember to use them all. There's no need for you to appreciate any of this. I'm mainly amusing myself.

"The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media."

According to Forbes.


"I noticed their list was heavy on bloggers. Perhaps to get hits and links."

IN THE COMMENTS: Palladian says:
Lol. Maureen Dowd? Chris Matthews? Ezra Klein? Oprah?

That's all they've got?

With a couple of notable exceptions, that's a pretty laughable list. But this is Forbes and these are "liberals", so to be expected.

Glenn Greenwald? The world's most effluvious expeller of turgid prose? Well the list is "influential" liberals, not necessarily "talented" liberals.

"The pre-eminent liberal commentator in the American media, his prose is as pungent as his academic credentials are impeccable."

Pungent. Just like a slab of runny French cheese, only not as good on baguettes.

What's good in Miami?

I might go to Miami for a week. There's one specific thing I'll be doing, but what else can I do? Where to stay? Where to eat? Where to photowalk?

How about a separate show: "Comeback Idol"?

Because this is ridiculous.

(And tell me if you're able to watch that Barbara Walters "It's not gonna be me Annie no more!" clip without laughing.)

AND: Speaking of alternate Idols, they could have an "All Stars" edition like "Survivor." Bring back 24 lively contestants from previous seasons. 

If I'd been blogging on September 17, 2002, I'd have blogged "Feces, dead horses, and fleas: evolution of the hostile use of biological agents."

This is an article by Emil Lesho, David Dorsey, and David Bunner, and I know I would have blogged on that date because it's in an old email file. Back in the days before blogging, I'd send out interesting things I found to a few select correspondents. I've so often regretted not blogging in the years before 2004, and I think from time to time I'll pull an old should-have-been-a-blog-post out of the email. This is really interesting:
Scythian archers in 400 BC and Hannibal in 190 BC were probably the first to "weaponize" biological agents. The former did it by dipping their arrowheads in feces or decaying cadavers; the latter, by launching pottery filled with poisonous snakes onto the ships of King Eumenes during the Second Macedonian War. Plague-infected cadavers were hurled into the fortifications of adversaries during medieval battles and during the famous Mongol siege of the Ukrainian city of Kaffa (now Feodosiya) in 1347.

Later, the development of the trebuchet, an enhanced catapult, made it possible to accurately launch several-hundred-pound loads of manure or large piles of bodies that previously had been too heavy. Although some authors believe cadavers were not competent plague vectors, the prevailing scientific establishment of those times lacked the epidemiologic sophistication to realize this. Biological projectiles had some strategic value--if only psychological--because their use persisted into the 20th century during the Russian Revolution, various European conflicts, and the South African Boer wars.
And consider the horrible Dr. Ishii:
Shiro Ishii, a Japanese Army physician who rose to the rank of general, epitomized physician involvement in the biological war effort. Ishii dreamt of "doctors in combat alongside the glorious infantry." "Alongside" implied offensively using biological agents, not caring for the wounded. Dr Ishii is reported to have offered chocolates filled with anthrax bacteria to children in the Chinese town of Nanking (Nanjing).... Authors credit Dr Ishii with having launched perhaps the most gruesome series of biological weapon experiments in history.

As many as 10,000 prisoners died as a result of having been fed, sprayed, injected, or bombed with a long list of biological and chemical agents, including but not limited to plague, glanders, anthrax, dengue, cholera, and tularemia. Prisoners were given seawater intravenously or horse blood in plasma exchange replacements or deliberately frozen to death to ascertain the effect of temperature on the various pathogens. To determine the effects of barotrauma, they were pressurized until, as one eyewitness put it, "their eyes ruptured and bled." At specifically designated research facilities under Ishii's purview, no prisoners were allowed to survive. If they survived the initial series of experiments, they were then "sacrificed" to determine the progress of the iatrogenesis.

Plague fascinated Ishii. He believed it held great strategic potential and so masterminded the flea bomb, a porcelain structure filled with plague-infected fleas and oxygen. Oxygen sustained the fleas during high-altitude releases, whereas porcelain required less heat and force to shatter during detonation, allowing more fleas to survive. The brittleness of porcelain and a secondary charge ensured that the shell turned to dust, leaving no physical evidence of spent munitions. About 15 million fleas were released per attack. Previously classified documents revealed that at least 11 Chinese cities were attacked with plague, anthrax, and paratyphoid.

From 1940 to 1942, as many as 700 Chinese civilians died because of direct attacks. More than 120 deaths resulted from the aerial dissemination of plague-infected fleas over the cities of Ch'u-hsien (Qu Xian) and Ning-po (Ning-hsien). Because of the indiscriminate nature of biological weapons and the limited experience militaries had in using such weapons, aggressors occasionally succumbed to the diseases that they were trying to inflict on their enemy. During a Japanese assault on the Chinese city of Ch'ang-te in 1941, Japanese forces incurred 10,000 casualties and 1,700 deaths as a result of biological agents.

ADDED: I've inserted some paragraphs into the text above. And let me connect those historical tales to the recent news that about al Qaeda and the plague.

Obama says: "I won."

Ha ha. I hope he says that a lot. He needs some catchphrases, and that one is so amusingly reminiscent of Richard Nixon's "I am the President."

"Can you imagine C.L. Sulzberger as a kid?" — asks Jean Shepherd.

Long ago, long before Rush Limbaugh, we had Jean Shepherd on the radio, mocking the editorial voice of The New York Times.

"On the open market virginity is worth a college education, graduate school, a house in the suburbs, and a Porsche."

Know your hymenomics and don't give it away!

"Please, celibacy for the whole year? I'd rather die."

Can't you people tell when Katy Perry is joking?

"Wear protective headgear, walk in pairs and carry umbrellas..."

... because you'll need to defend yourself against the rampaging squirrels.

I'd love to read this Krauthammer piece on the inaugural address...

... but the Townhall.com webpage is an insanely cluttered, flashing, ugly mess. And that's not even counting the pop-ad that wouldn't go away even after repeated clicking on "close" and "x." I'm able to make it a little better if I reduce the print size to the point where it's uncomfortable to read, but then it's uncomfortable to read.

Ugh. I finally found the "print" button to clear away the garbage. Okay:
Fascinating speech. It was so rhetorically flat, so lacking in rhythm and cadence, one almost has to believe he did it on purpose. Best not to dazzle on Opening Day. Otherwise, they'll expect magic all the time.

The most striking characteristic of Barack Obama is not his nimble mind, engaging manner or wide-ranging intellectual curiosity. It's the absence of neediness. He's Bill Clinton, master politician, but without the hunger.
Interesting. I've been wondering why Obama didn't write a better speech. So the theory is, he deliberately wrote a lackluster speech? Hmmm. Didn't want to dazzle on opening day? He's easing into this President thing?

I don't care that much what Obama did for the big inaugural show, but I've been unimpressed with the action since then. In particular, yesterday, I read the headline that he was closing Guantánamo, and I wanted to blog about it, but then I read the article and couldn't really tell that he was. It felt like trickery. He's setting a goal, way out in the future, a year from now, and he has no information about how he's going to deal with the remaining detainees.

But Krauthammer would have me believe that Obama is just so cool — he's not needy, like that psychological mess, that flashing webpage of a man, Bill Clinton:
Obama will take [adulation], but he can leave it too. He is astonishingly self-contained. He gives what he must to advance his goals, his programs, his ambitions. But no more. He has no need to.
But how do we know it's not all as fake as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman string-synching in the icy air? He gives what he must to advance his goals... but what are his goals? To pull off the impression of a presidency? Why did he give the information that he was closing Guantánamo, without any substance about how he'd do it? I don't see that as just enough. I see it as too much and not enough.

Kirsten E. Gillibrand will be the new New York Senator!

The NYT reports.

It had to be a woman. Tough luck, Andy!

ADDED: "Ten Things You Didn't Know About Kirsten Gillibrand." They pretty much all boil down to: She's conservative!

Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman faked it.

Oh, they say they had to because it was so cold.
The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation....
Well, hell, they knew it was going to be January. If these candyass classicists can't play in the cold, they should have hired some musicians who can.


So we were listening to recorded music when the clock hit noon, the constitutional moment for the President to be sworn in! Then, he was sworn in and that might have been fake and there was a second of that too.

IN THE COMMENTS: Gahrie said:
It was real before it was fake, and after all isn't that all that really matters?

... [A]fter the campaign the president ran, can we really be surprised?
Jason said:
This is amazing. Just yesterday I heard the music show on NPR praising the musicians for their amazing skill "people are still talking about it." God I hate them. You think they're giving you useful information and it turns out to be junk
hdhouse said:
between Ma and Perlman they are using about 5million in instruments that do not like cold. unlike Mr. Bush, they "fake it" for a reason.
I'm fine with them keeping their precious objects out of the cold, but let them keep their precious bodies off the stage. And, yeah, they are different from Bush. Bush was President, and as such, he had to perform, whether the circumstances challenged the limits of his capacity or not. They did not have an obligation. They received an invitation do something they knew they couldn't do, and they accepted it knowing it exceeded their capacity and they would fake it.

Paul Zrimsek said:
Folks, give it up for Milli Violinni!
Simon said:
Still, look on the bright side: Obama hadn't been inaugurated yet, so they sneaked it in under the wire before the trickery was over.
LOL. Very funny! I knew those words would come back to bite me. Let it be known that I am on trickery alert.

Leland said:
Fake but accurate.
Bearing said:
It's not that they didn't play in the cold. It's that they faked playing in the cold. That's just cheesy.

We can give the new president his own super-secure Blackberry, but we can't put four musicians in a heated tent with cameras?
And — considering that $170 million was being spent on the big show — project holograms of them outdoors.

Palladian said:
It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

"Well, you can see why that would catch him by surprise..."


IN THE COMMENTS: Quayle said:
"For heaven's sake - I'm just visiting you in the press room! The last thing I want to do is answer a bunch of questions!"
Joe said:
"You can't ask questions in here — it's the press room!"

Said Ali al-Shihri, freed from Guantánamo, sent to Saudi Arabia, is now the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch.

We learn this on the day that President Obama announces that he's closing Guantánamo — by a year from now, following some plan that he either hasn't figured out yet or won't tell us.

Was that announcement a sop to his fans, subject to change as he discovers "new circumstances," like the way Said Ali al-Shihri, freed from Guantánamo, sent to Saudi Arabia, is now the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch?

Hey, don't be too hard on Obama. It's Bush that let al-Shihri go.

January 22, 2009

Caroline's real reason.

How can royalty have such a mundane failing?

Meanwhile, Ted didn't like being portrayed as semi-dead.

Tina Brown says Tuesday was "9/11 in reverse."

"[H]e draped a long arm to gather me in between himself and his even taller vice president and easefully lit up for the camera. I felt safer and calmer than I have for eight years."


"Are Americans really on the ground? Do we perceive ourselves that way? Or — are we really that way, even if we don't feel it?"

Marc Ambinder parses the inaugural address.

"Boohoo, I Bonked an Illiterate Nazi."

Dana Stevens retitles "The Reader" in her comments on the Oscar nominations.

On "Slumdog Millionaire":
Slumdog Millionaire... seems positioned to Hoover up every award in sight by virtue of being the cute, inoffensive crowd pleaser that no one hates (me included—I walked out with a warm glow that only gradually congealed into faint annoyance). Slumdog, and I mean this kindly, is the grandma movie in the lineup, and a lot of Academy members vote the grandma ticket.
This is a movie that begins with a graphic torture scene and contains a plunge into a shit pool and various gruesome maimings and murders. This is what passes for feelgood these days somehow.

"Those wacky Chinese! Giving the death penalty over milk!"

The NYT headline makes it seem as though the Chinese are up to their usual oppressive ways, but perhaps you would give the death penalty here too.

The Oscar nominations.



1. Kate Winslet's performance in "The Reader" is classified as a "leading role," and it is her only nomination. She won Golden Globes for "leading" in "Revolutionary Road" and for "supporting" in "The Reader." The Academy is not buying that, and I'd say rightly so. It's a leading role in "The Reader," and I'm tired of big stars getting their roles categorized as supporting to horn in on the lesser actors with smaller parts.

2. "Revolutionary Road" generally seems snubbed. Leonardo DiCaprio didn't get a nomination. (Though Michael Shannon got a supporting nomination.) And there is no Best Picture or Director nomination.

3. I've seen 4 of the Best Picture nominees: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Milk," "The Reader," and "Slumdog Millionaire." I haven't seen "Frost/Nixon," and frankly, I don't want to. I can see in the trailer the way Nixon's own words have been edited and ham-acted into something they were not. I'd give the Oscar to "Slumdog Millionaire." "Milk" would be fine too.

4. Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor"? I know nothing about that one. I guess he must have been good. I'll try to check it out before saying I think Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke should win Best Actor. I think Rourke will win because he suffered so much making that movie.

5. Melissa Leo in "Frozen River"? Again, I know nothing about that one. And I haven't seen Angelina Jolie in "The Changeling." (Oddly, I've never seen Angelina Jolie in anything! I guess I just done share her taste in films.) I guess the plan is to give Best Actress to Kate Winslet. Wonder if there will be a backlash.

6. I've seen all the Supporting Actress films. Personally, I love Penélope Cruz. What an amusing performance!

7. I've seen 3 of the Supporting Actor films. I love Robert Downey Jr., but I haven't seen "Tropic Thunder." (I will.) I saw "Iron Man." And I haven't seen "Revolutionary Road" yet, because it hasn't hit town. I've seen "Milk," "Doubt," and "The Dark Knight," and if it were between those 3, I'd pick Josh Brolin in "Milk." That was one of the most effective performances I've ever seen. And I went into the film not knowing he'd been singled out as especially good, so, for me, he came out of nowhere and killed.

8. I see both Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt got nominated. Congratulations to the happy couple. Life's not fair, but they seem to be decent people making good decisions. No need to hate them.

So maybe Chief Justice Roberts was instinctively editing and "improving" the wording of the constitutional oath.

Steven Pinker has the theory:
How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage...? ... [A simple] explanation is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling.

Language pedants [may believe in a] prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence....

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing....

In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” On Tuesday his inner copy editor overrode any instincts toward strict constructionism and unilaterally amended the Constitution by moving the adverb “faithfully” away from the verb.
I clicked there from Jim Lindgren's post. Pinker's op-ed mentions Lindgren and Lindgren's famous attack on the Texas Law Review Manual on Style — which was, when Jim attacked — just begging for the mockery he inflicted on it.

It's nice to note that the Framers of the Constitution didn't fall for the "split verb" urban legend. And it's funny to think about these 2 old law review editors face-to-face over an editing issue. Both Obama and Roberts served on Harvard Law Review and must have engaged in endless discussions of various points of editing. But let's remember that Barack Obama was the president of the Harvard Law Review — that is, the editor-in-chief — while John Roberts was the managing editor. For those of you who know law reviews, that means a lot. The managing editor is typically the person with the most intense interest in the details of grammar and usage. It would be cool if we could know that when Barack Obama paused after John Roberts moved the "faithfully" that he was thinking: I can see what you're up to, you old managing editor, and I know you are wrong.


Apologies to all the great managing editors I have known whose knowledge of grammar and usage extends to the myths and urban legends that plague those earnest people who are trying too hard to get things right — hypercorrecting — and getting things wrong.

"Let's listen to Crack Emcee's playlist and then come back and discuss."

Amba lays down the challenge — to Crack Emcee. The question is which rapper could have filled the poetry slot at the inauguration.
Presumably if they had chosen a rapper, he'd have written something suitable for the occasion. The best of them are poets.
Anyone can respond. Please, don't bother to say it's just a terrible idea and no rapper could have done it properly. If that's your objection, it's noted in advance. This is a serious question addressed to readers who think there is someone who could have done it brilliantly. Don't just give names. Provide links and make arguments. Project what sort of lyrics would have been written for the occasion.

The top 10 American dogs vs. the top 10 New York City dogs.

Labrador Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Beagle, Boxer, Dachshund, Bulldog, Poodle and Shi Tzu.
New York City:
Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Dachshund, French Bulldog, Yorkshire Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Havanese, Shi Tzu (tied for eighth) and the Bulldog.
See the way NYC shuns the German shepherd and the beagle. See the greater appreciation for the poodle in NYC? Should I get a poodle? Should Barack Obama get a poodle? Do these lists help answer those questions?

And by the way, are the names of dog breeds supposed to be capitalized? I see the reason to capitalize French and Yorkshire and King Charles, but why are we capitalizing "Poodle"?

"How was I going to photograph one man, in a suit, for many years to come?"

Photographing George Bush.


The Anchoress writes:
[T]he second photographer ... describes the "cult of personality" he saw developing around W after 9/11, and says he found it "shocking" to see in America. Because this is about Bush, we do not know what he thinks about the Mega-cult and magic thinking surrounding Obama.
There are hugely important differences. Bush fought his way into office as a normal politician, a decent guy, not any sort of hero or god. Then, he was the man who happened to be President when dramatic events events occurred, and the people looked to him to do what was needed. Any glorification of him was a consequence of those events and not through a conscious campaign to inspire a cult of personality. (There is an exception or two. I'm thinking of "Mission Accomplished.") When the love subsided, he and his people did little — too little — to pump us up again. Bush soldiered on accepting the hatred and — apparently — doing what he thought was right, with the solace that history would — ultimately — respect him.

By contrast, the entire plan to bring Obama into office depended on the glorification of the man, whose actual experience was so bizarrely limited that it took some nerve to claim to be ready. Magic was required. The cult grew up not as he held power and needed to respond to a crisis. The cult was the campaign to bring him into power. It depended on our projecting all sorts of hopes and dreams onto him, and he knew it. Inside, he may have felt embarrassed by the whole enterprise, but he'd figured out that it could work, and he was right. Now, I think this worked because he really is a solid, normal person who remained grounded in the middle of all this craziness. And I like to think that, now that he's President, with his steely nerve, his intelligence, and his groundedness, he'll do the job that must be done. The trickery is over.

January 21, 2009

"Former French president Jacques Chirac was rushed to hospital after being mauled by his own 'clinically depressed' pet dog."

The insane, vicious dog that attacked the 76-year-old ex-Prez was a Maltese poodle. What makes a dog "clinically depressed" as opposed to just an asshole? A fluffy little asshole?


This is not that dog.

This is an utterly charming, calm, sweet-tempered, all-poodle poodle.

Caroline Kennedy withdraws??

She could have had the job if she'd wanted it, but Teddy's health has turned her against it? That doesn't seem believable.

UPDATE: ?????

Watch Biden make a gaffe about a gaffe right in front of Obama...

... who seems to be cursing to himself.

ADDED: I see Obama retook the oath out of "an abundance of caution."

Some practical advice about loneliness.

The White House — the YouTube site.

Created today. There's a nice crisp video of the inauguration address, including the botched oath. And there's this haphazard montage from the Lincoln Memorial concert:

Hillary confirmed.

Only Vitter and DeMint vote no.

AND: McCain helped.

Did Obama sound like Bush?

(Via The Anchoress.)

"I was like, 'Oh my God, dear Lord, no.' Luckily I was a lousy shot."

During rehearsal, one actor fires a loaded gun at point-blank range at the head of another actor. But he mostly misses and the other actor, an 81-year-old man, says the worse part of it was the noise.

How are mistakes like this made?

Obama "is not a messiah and does not act or speak like one. He's a traditionalist in many ways."

Let's hope so.
Mulling over the address yesterday, I felt in retrospect that the restraint and classical tropes of the speech were deliberate and wise. From the moment he gave his election night victory speech, Obama has been signaling great caution in the face of immense challenges. The tone is humble. We know he can rally vast crowds to heights of emotion; which is why his decision to calm those feelings and to engage his opponents and to warn of impending challenges is all the more impressive. He's a man, it seems to me, who knows the difference between bravado and strength, between an adolescent "decider" and a mature president, between an insecure brittleness masquerading as power, and the genuine authority a real president commands. He presides. He can set a direction and a mood, but he invites the rest of us to move the ball forward: in a constitutional democracy, we are always the ones we've been waiting for.
That's Andrew Sullivan, in case you couldn't tell. I agree with some of this but think it's fatuous to say that the President presides. Deal with it: He decides. We are always the ones we've been waiting for is poetic fluff. You were just saying the time for poetry is over and then you waded right back into it.

The Supreme Court makes Saucier discretionary.

Adopting a flexible approach, the Court achieves unanimity. I predicted that the court would overrule Saucier here.

It's a seemingly technical question of the order in which a court ought to decide whether there is a violation of a constitutional right and whether a state official ought reasonably to have known that. Saucier required that courts first ask whether there is a rights violation, but it's often more straightforward to say, whether there was a rights violation or not, the state official couldn't reasonably have known it.

Answering the latter question resolves the legal dispute — the rights claimant loses — but it deprives us of a statement about what the law is. On the other hand, if you say what the law is, and it doesn't affect the outcome of the lawsuit — because you've said there's a right but the rights claimant still loses — it violates the principle of avoiding unnecessary interpretations of constitutional law.

Justice Alito writes for the Court:
[Saucier] departs from the general rule of constitutional avoidance and runs counter to the “older, wiser judicial counsel ‘not to pass on questions of constitutionality . . . unless such adjudication is unavoidable.’” Scott, 550 U. S., at 388 (BREYER, J., concurring) (quoting Spector Motor Service, Inc. v. McLaughlin, 323 U. S. 101, 105 (1944)); see Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring) (“The Court will not pass upon a constitutional question although properly presented by the record, if there is also present some other ground upon which the case may be disposed of”).
One might have thought that would lead to the decision to reject the Saucier ordering of the questions and put the question of the scope of the right second in all cases. But this is one of those pro-flexibility decisions. Let the trial judge, in his or her wisdom, put the questions in the order that works best. And not one Justice felt moved to concur to say that a more strictly principled rule should be imposed.

About that inaugural ball dress...

I hated it. I'm just seeing the pictures this morning, and I can't even conceive of why she put herself inside that sheaf of fabric. (Yes, I mean sheaf. It certainly was not a sheath.) But I don't want to talk about it. You can read what The Anchoress says.


Was I supposed to watch inaugural ball crap on TV? I didn't exactly forget, but I was tired of watching simmering crowds. Show me few seconds of choice video and leave me alone. Here, Katharine Q. Seelye followed the evening festivities:
All night they’ve been leaning back and forth in lieu of dancing, and stepping on Mrs. Obama’s dress; he’s been saying he wants to dance with “the one that brung me,” and he tells the crowds that his wife is doing everything he does except backwards and in heels. The difference is that for the last few balls, they have actually looked exhausted.
So he's dragging himself through these things for the benefit of the folks who worked hard for him. And he's stepping on that bulky, drapey dress. Shouldn't that have been the #1 consideration? Michelle Obama needed a dress she could dance in — that her husband would look elegant and capable moving around. So were they leaning back and forth in lieu of dancing because they were exhausted or because the puddle of fabric at the floor had him stepping on it even when the dance had zero foot work?


Ah, well, the party's over. Get to work, now. Step on it. And try not to step in it.

Any praise for "Praise Song for the Day," the inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander?

In TNR Adam Kirsch says:
Alexander was an inevitable choice to be Obama's laureate. Like Obama, Alexander is an establishment figure-a professor at Yale, a Pulitzer Prize finalist--who is very conscious of the ways she does not fit the usual establishment image--she is a black woman in a field once dominated by white men. Like him, too, she has challenged the establishment by joining it, rather than fighting it....

But poetry is a matter of having your own words, not of having words for others; and the weakness of Alexander's work is precisely its consciousness of obligation. Her poetic superego leads her to affirm piously, rather than question or challenge. This weakness is precisely what made her a perfect, an all too perfect, choice for inaugural poet....

[I]t was no surprise to hear Alexander begin her poem today with a cliché ("Each day we go about our business"), before going on to tell the nation "I know there's something better down the road"; and pose the knotty question, "What if the mightiest word is ‘love'?"; and conclude with a classic instance of elegant variation: "on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp." The poem's argument was as hard to remember as its language; it dissolved at once into the circumambient solemnity. Alexander has reminded us... that the poet's place is not on the platform but in the crowd, that she should speak not for the people but to them.
So the whole idea of an inaugural poem is bad because a poet must be a rebel artist? Or was it just the combination of the inaugural platform and the choice of a poet by paper credentials and diversity factors that have nothing to do with whether the person can transport the throng with spoken word?

Yesterday, live-blogging since 6:04 a.m., I abruptly shut the television off after a few lines of the poem. I'd put up with a lot of talking heads blathering, crowds of people standing or walking around, dignitaries getting in and out of cars, but I couldn't put up with that.
12:28: "Someone is stitching up a hem"... someone is inflicting poetry on us.
That was it for me. In the comments, Amba said:
I really wish they had had the balls to choose a rapper to deliver the inaugural poem. It took me a long time to get used to it, but now I think rap is where the living poetry's gone. (Only 2 decades late, me. LOL.) Of course a lot of it's bad or gross, but some of it is really, really good, forceful and inventive. I don't know rappers well enough to say who it should have been, but imagine -- it could've been memorable.
I agreed. This — not something from Yale — is the poetry real people — in crowds — listen to today. It would have been exciting, surprising. It would have thrilled us or at least amused us with humorous rhymes. We did get the Reverend Joseph Lowery inserting a little, very simple, rap-like poetry into his benediction:
when black will not be asked to get in back
when brown can stick around
when yellow will be mellow
when the red man can get ahead, man
and when white will embrace what is right
But those weren't startling rhymes. We were just startled to hear them in a prayer.

Now, Rush Limbaugh thought Lowery and Alexander were the highlight of the inauguration. Surely, Lowery's poem-within-a-prayer was the most memorable thing we heard yesterday, but how could that thudding poem have delighted him?
ALEXANDER: Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other's eyes, or not, about to speak, or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

RUSH: Boom box? Boom box at a presidential inauguration? Snerdley, this is not torture. This is not torture. This is hilarious. Somebody, somewhere, thought this was exceptional. You have to understand, somebody thought that this was brilliant. It's a code. I don't understand it. [ADDED: At this point Rush adopts Alexander's serious- academic reading style.] Today there's a street outside. On that street are cars. And in those cars are people with music on their iPods. And they listen. And the children in the back of the car, who are also on the road, may or may not be in their child safety seats, in which case the driver will be arrested and the child taken away. When the car gets to its destination, it may run out of gas. If it runs out of gas, it's obviously a gas guzzler, and if it's a gas guzzler, then we need to harness the energy of the sun and punish the SOB driving the gas guzzler. If the car gets to its destination with plenty of gas left in the tank, we give it a bonus of additional markers at Walmart for the day after Christmas, which is how today was planned. And after we go to Walmart and pick up some of the lead paint that is made with our children in mind, imported from China, we will then have a meeting with the Iranians, who will love us, and they will get in their car, will also be on their road, and their road shall never end until they have nuclear weapons. I'm sorry. If I can do it, it isn't art. Here. We got another bite.

ALEXANDER: A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin." We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider. We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side. I know there's something better down the road."

RUSH: And when we get to the end of the road, with the person driving the guzzler, with the perhaps or not perhaps child safety seats in the back, we will then know the answer to the question, which came first, the chicken or the egg? And why did the egg cross the road to see something better down the road. But could the egg have crossed the road without the chicken? These are depth questions. And only President Obama has the answers. Cookie, get me more of this. Two sound bites from Elizabeth Alexander are simply not enough. Get me more.
Ha ha. That was the funniest thing I heard all day yesterday. Don't you think more than half of the people listening to Alexander read her poem started thinking: Why did the chicken cross the road?

January 20, 2009

It's been an all-Obama, all-inauguration day on the blog so far, but I suddenly realize...

"American Idol" is on tonight! Come on! Relax! Unwind! Pour yourself a big glass of cabernet or whatever and hang out with me again. Let's talk about frivolous nonsense. Fulfill your Americanness on this most American day with "American Idol."

ADDED: Well, obviously, after all the simulblogging earlier in the day — not to mention first-day-of-class law-school teaching — I don't have the oomph to go through AI point by point. So let me just say: 1. I like that theatrical "Bohemian Rhapsody" guy and I'm sick of their bellyaching about theatrical boys, 2. They made that one girl keep doing that laugh to generate all that footage of her laughing, 3. I'm sick of the people that are given extra credit for being good to members of their own families, and 4. Kara is a pseudo-Paula who helps us see what makes Paula a brilliant, comic TV persona.

Joseph Lowery's benediction.

I missed the benediction during the live-blog, so let me video-blog it now:

1:00: The first thing I notice is that this man is very old. I see that he was born in 1921, and he's been through a lot. I see him as representing a long history and feel inclined to give him the maximum latitude to express whatever it is he feels in his heart.

3:08: "Help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate, on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold onto the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family."

4:40: Here's the black/get back/brown/stick around/yellow/mellow part of the prayer that I heard Rush Limbaugh riffing about. Rush didn't like the airing of old grievances when obviously black people are not being held back today and so forth, but I'd say, this was a light-hearted reference to the wrongs of the past, by a man who could have fulminated about the long civil rights struggle, but chose instead to speak almost entirely of love and unity.

Really, I think it's mean-spirited to complain about anything here. It was done very well.

The Caucus live-blogged the media reaction:
Juan Williams, a Fox News contributor [said] “He is the real deal. There are other people who might say that they were there with Dr. King, and suffered the indignities, but Joe Lowery really did... There are some times in your life that you just think, ‘What a country. How can that be? I never thought that would happen.’ But there it was, and I just thank God that Joe Lowery was able, in that moment, to talk about the power of the silent tears.”

Roy Edroso enjoys that "Rightbloggers Not Really Enjoying the Inauguration."

A good link fest.

Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton snubbed each other — in the crypt...

... of the Capitol.

"Na Na Na Na/Na Na Na Na/Hey Hey Hey/Good-bye."

"The helicopter is swinging out over the Mall ... Surely the Bushes can’t hear the crowd below, but the chant is one that sports fans jeer to the opposing team...."


IN THE COMMENTS: fivewheels said:
Actually, the "Na na hey hey" thing is perfectly appropriate. Large portions of the left and right have always seen politics from the perspective of a sports fan; that's what partisanship is. It's not serious, it's trivial. It's mindless us/them b.s.

If they believed anything they said, that Bush is a war criminal and worse than Hitler blah blah blah, it would be unconscionable to just let him fly to Crawford for a dignified retirement. That's truly a morally reprehensible response if you believe anything close to what Doyle et al say they believe. Apprehend him, try him, hang him.

But they're not serious. They're just rooting for the "D" (and others for the "R") and ramping the hyperbole up to 11 without ever bothering to check what the actual people are saying or doing. Because they're not thoughtful enough to do more.

Still, it would be nicer if people would just wave their pennants and Obama foam #1 fingers.

Chief Justice John Roberts botched the oath of office.

Barack Obama handled the situation with graceful aplomb. From my live-blogging:
The Chief Justice in fact screwed up the oath. The Constitution requires:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Roberts left out the word "faithfully." (He also said "President to the United States.") Obama saw the mistake and stopped himself to give Roberts a chance to fix it. Roberts redid the line, remembering to throw in "faithfully," but putting it in the wrong place — after "President of the United States" — and, this time, Obama went along with the wording. Close enough, I guess he figured. I wonder what Barack Obama was thinking. Maybe: Some textualist you turned out to be!
Let no one think Barack Obama made the mistake.

ADDED: I've relistened. Roberts puts "faithfully" after "President of the United States" the first time as well as the second. He did not leave it out.

AND: The conspiracy theory will rage on forever, I think.

New comments post for the inauguration.

Talk about the address, etc.

IN THE COMMENTS: amba said:
I really wish they had had the balls to choose a rapper to deliver the inaugural poem. It took me a long time to get used to it, but now I think rap is where the living poetry's gone. (Only 2 decades late, me. LOL.) Of course a lot of it's bad or gross, but some of it is really, really good, forceful and inventive. I don't know rappers well enough to say who it should have been, but imagine -- it could've been memorable.
I agree. The real vigor of poetry is rap. It has a powerful hold on people. That means something. How cool it would have been if Obama had dared to go there. But, no, we had to have a decorous, "diverse" woman. Too predictable.

AND: Simon — charming but grudging — said:
You're President enough, Barack.

The sun rises on the Obama presidency... in Washington... here, from my outpost in Madison, Wisconsin, I'm live-blogging.

1:01: This ends the live-blogging of the inauguration. Thanks for hanging out with me this morning. Thanks for experiencing this Great Moment in History here on the blog.

1:00: I listened again to the oath. In fact, Roberts puts "faithfully" after "President of the United States" the first time as well as the second. And I've set up a separate post to discuss the great Oath Botch of 2009.

12:53: The Obamas walk the Bushes to the helicopter. There are warm gestures and embraces. I wish the address itself had shown similar respect to Mr. Bush.

12:37: The Chief Justice in fact screwed up the oath. The Constitution requires:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Roberts left out the word "faithfully." (He also said "President to the United States.") Obama saw the mistake and stopped himself to give Roberts a chance to fix it. Roberts redid the line, remembering to throw in "faithfully," but putting it in the wrong place — after "President of the United States" — and, this time, Obama went along with the wording. Close enough, I guess he figured. I wonder what Barack Obama was thinking. Maybe: Some textualist you turned out to be!

12:28: "Someone is stitching up a hem"... someone is inflicting poetry on us.

12:26: To my ear, the address wasn't particularly interesting or inspiring. It listed problems, promised solutions, and then went on about an icy stormy journey to freedom. Eh. Anyway, my big question is: Who screwed up the oath, Roberts or Obama? Did Roberts get the words wrong, then compound the error by trying to correct Obama when Obama had it right?

12:25: Here's a new post to talk about the address — which had a lot of storm imagery.

12:18: To the world he says: "We are ready to lead once more." That's an unbecoming attack on George Bush.

12:14: "We will harness the sun" = first comically grandiose statement of the new Prez.

12:11: The inaugural address begins on a strikingly sour note. We have so many problems. In the election we chose hope over "fear" — rather harsh toward John McCain. And now it's time to "put aside childish things." That is a Biblical reference, but in context, he seems to be calling the previous administration childish. Or is he referring to the partisan squabbles, in which case it's most properly a swipe at his own party?

12:05: "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear..." Obama inverts some words, and there's some incongruous flubbing of the oath around the placement of the word "faithfully."

12:03: Sasha is fidgeting. Me too. CNN does a closeup on a black man's face in the crowd. He almost has a tear in his eye. You know they were trying their best to get a black face with a nice photogenic tear.

12:02: Wolf Blitzer whispers over the music: "Barack Obama is now the President of the United States."

12:01: Ahem!

11:59: In fulfillment of the Constitution, the new President must be sworn in at noon. But first, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma must saw out some notes written by John Williams. Get on with it guys. I want the oath in the right minute.

11:57: Justice John Paul Stevens administers the oath of office to Joe Biden.

11:55: Aretha Franklin, in a historically fabulous gray hat with a giant, jeweled bow, belts out "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Bells chime.

11:49: Rick Warren is called to give the invocation. I hear a boo from the crowd. Warren's prayer tells us that God is One and that Martin Luther King Jr. "shouting in Heaven" because an African-American has been elected President. Warren asks for forgiveness and guidance. He asks that all join together for a more just nation and a peaceful world. He commits Obama and his family to God's care. And now, as "Jesus taught us to pray": the Lord's Prayer. (So I was wrong at 7:29.)

11:47: Dianne Feinstein: "the renewed call to greatness."

11:43: "Barack H. Obama" is announced to the crowd. A chant breaks out: "O-ba-ma O-ba-ma..."

11:39: Barack Obama, looking a bit as though he's in a trance, with a blissful smile on his face. The weight of the world is about to be laid on his shoulders. Who can imagine how that feels?

11:36: "Hail to the Chief" plays for President George Bush — for the last time.

11:33: George Bush looks happy.

11:26: On CNN, there's a lot of talk about the way Jill Biden told Oprah that Joe Biden was given his choice of Vice President or Secretary of State. So, Mr. Gaffe is married to his soul mate!

11:24: It's Malia and Sasha! Malia has a beautiful, very adult-looking royal blue coat with a black scarf. Sasha is wearing a hot pink coat with a bright orange scarf and an orange layer underneath. I love the way the 2 girls have completely different styles — Malia, ladylike, and Sasha, girlish. I picture a million little girls gravitating toward one style or the other. How many little girls who love pink will be adding bright orange accents now? How many will move on to the sophistication of dark blue and black?

11:19: The official announcer mispronounces "Rosalyn" — in a loud booming voice. George H.W. Bush says "It's cold out here."

11:14: The former Presidents arrive. George H.W. Bush walks haltingly. Jimmy and Rosalyn look pretty sprightly. Bill and Hillary! Hillary's got a royal blue coat — similar to her 1993 inaugural outfit — sans the conspicuous hat.

11:06: They really need some fashion commentators. There are all these fabulous clothes, and the journalists are fumbling, asking the women journalists to say something — as if ovaries pump information about fabrics and designers. Duh... it's yellow. On one channel, someone was saying he'd consulted "the makeup ladies" and they said Michelle's dress was "brocade" so they were going with that. Embarrassing, inane, and sexist. Get an expert.

11:02: The Supreme Court Justices file out onto the stands. Chief Justice John Roberts is squinting in the sunlight. There's a hot mike somewhere, and we hear Justice Scalia comment: "I never saw so many people." Breyer's wearing wraparound earmuffs. Sandra Day O'Connor is there too. Clarence Thomas looks happy. Think he voted for Obama?

10:51: Motorcade!

10:48: Oh! Dick Cheney is in a wheelchair. I'm sure he'll walk again. It'll look like this:

10:42: Ted Kennedy! He looks good — in a big black fedora and a baby blue scarf. He's one of various people we've seen gradually filling up the VIP section of the stands. 10:08: "A lot of white people. A lot of Asians. This is really a diverse crowd." The wisdom of Wolf Blitzer. But, hey, cool — isn't it? — that "a lot of white people" ends up as a comment on diversity. Still, silly to think that anyone could imagine that Obama's fan base is mainly black people. Hello? There aren't enough black people to make it to the presidency on your popularity with black people. 9:54: A choir is singing. A red carpet is laid down. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama emerge from The Beast. They encounter the Bushes. Michelle has a ribboned box. Has she brought a cake? I hope she brought an assortment! 9:50: Barack and Michelle emerge from the church. The blessings of God are upon them — as they crawl back into The Beast. The next stop is the White House, for coffee with George and Laura. David Gergen intones that — in their manner of handing off the White House — the Bushes have been "classy." The Beast pulls up to the portico. 9:31: CNN news flash: Barack Obama is a human being and the laws of nature have not been repealed. Don't count on 100% magic. 9:15: On Wisconsin Public Radio just now, they were getting some man-on-the-street opinion in Madison. One woman enthused that it was the greatest day in her life, and some guy said today is the "epitome" of his whole life. Then, they told us, not everyone is caught up in all this bubbly good feeling and interviewed a young man who groused that he wasn't convinced we are really going to get change. Yes, this is Madison, Wisconsin, where the people who are pissy about the inauguration are the big lefties. Welcome to my world! 8:48: It's Barack Obama! The camera has been aimed at a green canvas enclosure for so long and then suddenly: It's him! And Michelle, in a glittery sunshine yellow coated dress. They're on their way to church. Episcopal Church. They get into a car that we're told is called "The Beast." 8:38: What would all this feel like if it were the inauguration of John McCain? Of course, some people would be happy, but it would look somber, if not profoundly depressing, on television. 8:32: In the comments, Paul Zrimsek says: "I don't know why no one's been commenting on this, but apparently Obama plans to leave the Office of the President-elect vacant after he's inaugurated! Can democracy survive with a power vacuum at such a high level?" 8:28: In the comments, Palladian is contrasting the media coverage of this inauguration and the last one. Sample comment: "Enjoy the lefties farting red, white and blue flowers while it lasts. As soon as the the correct candidate loses again, the flags will furl and the bile will flow once again in this Dark Empire." 8:21: An experiment with biological/chemical weapon goes gruesomely awry for al Qaeda. Yes, laugh all you want and speculate about whether this will make al Qaeda fans think maybe God's not on their side, but this is a glimpse of what they mean to do to us. George Bush did whatever he did to protect us from those devils, and some people fail to appreciate it when nothing happens. To make this properly part of this inauguration live-blog, do I need to add some message to Obama? I think the message is too obvious to need stating. 8:01: Speaking of change: I've rearranged the entries in this post, in reverse chronological order. Suddenly, after all these years of live-blogging, the scrolling down to get to the new stuff is annoying me. Please enjoy and don't be confused by the new format. 7:57: On CNN, Bow Wow says "It's beautiful" and "We can make the world a better place" and "I'm living in history — something I can tell my kids." 7:41: "Breaking News: Crowds Arrive Early." That just rolled onto the screen with silly urgency. But the silliness factor is high with the "Fox and Friends" people. One of them just said, to incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: "You've got big high heels to fill" and "You will be the first administration in HD." See? Those 2 things make his job hard. He's replacing a woman — Dana Perino — and the camera is going to show his every pimple and wrinkle. I hadn't focused — not even with low definition — on the new press secretary. It's funny that with all the earnest diversity of the new administration, the man chosen as the President's face to the media looks like the guy central casting would send over if you asked for a typical white man. Is it okay to use the phrase "typical white man"? 7:29: "Warren Invocation: Will he use Jesus' name?" That's the topic of discussion on Fox News. I had the sound off, so I don't know what they were saying, but I'll give my answer. He will not. He will be generous and inclusive and use his own trademark theme: that God has a purpose for us all and that it is for us to discern God's purpose for us and fulfill it. Here are some religion and the inauguration questions from me: Do you think God has a purpose for Barack Obama? If so, is it because you think Obama is a special gift to America and the world or because you — like Rick Warren — think that God has a purpose for each of us? Do you think Barack Obama tries to understand God's purpose for him and to fulfill it? Do you think George Bush did? Do you want the President to think like that? Do you think it violates the Establishment Clause? 7:14: "My hope for him is my hope for the country. If he fails, the country fails. He knows and he says, 'Not me, but you. Not us, but all of us.' " I heard that a few moments ago on NPR's Morning edition. The quote is from Ella Mae Johnson, a 105-years-old black woman who's attending the inauguration. I noticed the kind inclusiveness of all her words. She said: "I have experienced some of the terrible things that happened to groups, to us and to others. There are people who believe because you were different, you were less than." 7:09: I'm doing the time stamps in Washington time, which is not my usual style, as a tribute to our beautiful young President. I'm switching around amongst the cable news channels. They're all doing continuous coverage of the inauguration — with shots of various glowing buildings in the dawn light — required rephrasing: the dawn's early light — and smiling people — waving a flag is the way to get a closeup on CNN. 7:06 Eastern Time: Everything is fresh and new — except the wars, the economic disaster, and so forth — and let's hope — buzzword: hope — it's going to be good.

January 19, 2009

Here's the post where you can say good-bye to George Bush.

The sun has set on the last night of the Bush presidency. Now, tired old George can retreat to Texas and not be kicked around anymore. He can wait for that history he's always talking about to do its curative work. Someday, they'll say he wasn't so bad, but, my, how he was hated. Not by everyone, though. Many of us stood by him, beginning on September 11th, when he found out that he would not be permitted to spend his time in the White House trying to distinguish himself as a purveyor of compassionate conservative. Many of us would not abandon the man who needed our support, who was, perhaps, overwhelmed by the task that was thrust upon him. And now, the work is over, so I think it would be appropriate to say thank you to George Bush, who is — to say what Barack Obama said of him — a good man.

Red states, blue states — the United States!

"The curvaceous slopes of California."

There's a phrase. Who coined it?

CORRECTION: It's "curvaceous slopes" not "curvaceous curves." Sorry.

Racism over, black people say.

Or something.

"Ooh, you're young and virile and you've got a beautiful wife and kids. You're the first African-American president."

Chris Rock demonstrates the (purported) impossibility of making a joke about Barack Obama.

Bush pardon watch.

It's now or never.

10 possibilities, with pros and cons and the odds estimated by Politico:

"So lower your expectations, and enjoy the Rourke."

Adam Bonin thinks "The Wrestler" is "a thuddingly obvious melodrama," but he's recommending it anyway.

"The Reader" is a law movie.

Around last Christmas, I got into a bit of a dispute with Eugene Volokh over the movie "The Reader." I had written about the way the actress Kate Winslet took offense at the use of the term "statutory rape" to describe the sexual relationship between her character — the 35-year-old Hanna Schmitz — and the 15-year-old Michael Berg. I'd acknowledged that you'd have to "check the statute books" to know if the term "statutory rape" technically applied, but Eugene Volokh nevertheless said:
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....

As to the legal question, in the country where the movie is apparently set — Germany — sex between an adult and a 15-year-old is now generally not statutory rape: The age of consent there is 14. I don't know what it was in Germany in the late 1940s, but I can say that in many American states it was 14 until the 1990s (the latest to change, I believe, was Hawaii, around 2000)....

Now none of this tells us what the age of consent should be, or how seriously the law should take sexual relationships between adults and people slightly under the age of consent. But it does suggest that we can't just conclusively assume that a fictional relationship in a movie, set in a different time and place, can be treated as "statutory rape" simply because today all American states would treat it as such, though today many Western countries would not treat it as such, and until recently some American states wouldn't treat it as such.
At the time, I wrote that I thought that Winslet's interviewer had probably used the term "to just mean sex with a person who is too young" and that "Winslet seemed obtusely unreflective":
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.
This was all without seeing the movie. Then, when I saw the movie, I was floored to see that there was a central question in the movie about the relationship between the law as written and the morality of right and wrong. This question was not about the sexual relationship, but about what Germans did under the Nazi regime. How are we to understand the guilt of those who did what was legal under the law of the time?

I've been meaning to write about this for weeks, but I realized I needed to go back and see the movie a second time so I could write down some quotes, especially the quotes of the law professor — for, yes, there is a law professor in the movie, and he makes some sharp points about law and morality. Let me tell you about this part of the movie. (Spoilers ahead.)

It's 1966, and Michael Berg is now a student at the University of Heidelberg Law School. A crowded lecture room empties out, and the next class has only 6 students. This much less popular class deals with "the question of German guilt." The teacher, Professor Rohl (played by Bruno Ganz) lectures: "Societies think they operate by morality, but they don't, they operate by law." Even though "people who kill tend to be aware that it's wrong," he says, society will not convict them of murder unless the prosecution can prove the elements of the crime as written in the law of the time. This being so, he says, individual Germans cannot be considered guilty solely because they worked at Auschwitz.

The students are required to attend the trial of a group of women — former Nazi prison guards — who failed to open a locked door during a fire, causing the death of 300 women and children prisoners. One of the defendants is Hanna Schmitz. In class, one student is disgusted by the law professor's legalistic attitude: "You keep telling us to think like lawyers but they are guilty... What is there to understand?" This student sees all the Germans of that generation as guilty — "everyone knew" — and the trial as "a diversion" that is only taking place because one woman survived the fire (along with her daughter) and wrote a book. What would he do? He'd like to shoot that woman that Berg is always staring at:. "I'd shoot her myself. I'd shoot them all." Clearly, he would be guilty of murder under the current law if he were to do that, but his point is that the law is morally obtuse. There is far too much guilt to take any satisfaction in isolating a few individuals for prosecution.

When we next see the trial, Hanna is asked why she did not unlock the door when she knew the people inside were burning to death. The judge pushes her to admit that she was afraid she'd be charged with a crime. He's thinking in legal terms and assumes that she too must have thought that way. It makes sense: If she'd been thinking in moral terms, wouldn't she have opened the door? But Hanna's answer is that she was a prison guard and if she'd opened the doors, the prisoners would escape: There would be "chaos." That's not great moral reasoning, but her mode of reasoning is morality, not law.

Later, Hanna withholds exculpatory evidence. She is illiterate, but she won't admit it, even though she is accused of writing a report that will damn her. She even lies and says that she did write it. There's a complex morass of guilt. She did serve as a guard and could have unlocked the door, but did what, at the time, she thought was right. Now, she declines to present the defense that could help her within the legal system, and she even violates the law, committing perjury, perhaps because, like that rebellious law student, she's now aware of a profound moral guilt that exists beyond law.

I say "perhaps," because it also seems that she is motivated by her shame about her illiteracy. Now, this is a bit of a problem with the movie. You can very easily come away from the movie thinking: She's responsible for 300 deaths but what she's really ashamed of is not being able to read? Ridiculous! Excuse me if I don't feel sorry for the Nazi.

You can deal with this problem by seeing illiteracy as a symbol of the failure of all Germans to "read" their own history. There is also much talk of "secrets" — the secrets of literature and of history, and illiteracy is specifically her secret. In prison, Hanna learns to read, and even though she isn't reading German history — she's reading "The Lady With the Little Dog," "War and Peace," and "The Odyssey" — the learning is presented as symbolic of what Germans need to do. As an old woman, Hanna tells Michael Berg 3 things: she's learned to read, what she feels isn't important, and people should learn from her example.

After her death, Michael goes to New York to visit the daughter of the woman who wrote the book about the fire. This woman does not want to learn anything from him. The prisoners did not go to the camps "to learn," she says — the camps were "not therapy." "Go to the theater, to literature, if you want to learn. Nothing comes out of the camps." But she accepts a memento from the camp, and putting it next to a photograph of her dead family, she reveals that she has never forgotten. As she said to Michael, "Illiteracy is not a Jewish problem."

But I'm going beyond the scope of what I mostly wanted to say, which is that "The Reader" is — among other things — a law movie — really, a jurisprudence movie — exploring the difference between law and morality, between what is written and what is good.

I should end by returning to the subject of statutory rape. The term "statutory" in the name of the crime draws special attention to the way crimes are defined in statutes, and whether something is a prosecutable crime depends on what is written in the statute. But there are larger ideas of what is wrong, and these matter — even more. There are sexual things adults do to the young that are wrong regardless of the details in the statutes.

Finally, having seen the movie a second time, I no longer believe that Hanna takes advantage of the 15-year-old boy. Closely watching the sequence before she suddenly — naked — embraces him from behind, I can see that the boy arrives at his desire to have sex with her first, and she is able to see what he wants before she, sympathetically, offers herself to him. So, on second viewing, the legal and the moral question became, for me, more starkly separate.

I have no idea whether the filmmakers intended the exploration of the difference between law and morality to extend to this issue, but the issue is there nonetheless, and it's one more reason to recommend "The Reader" as a law movie.