February 14, 2004

I started watching The Apprentice again. I couldn't help it, kind of, because it was on the TiVo and I kept hearing how good the new episode was. Plus, Isaac Mizrahi was on. I love him. It was pretty hilarious when Jessie was talking to him like he was in kindergarten and especially that she wouldn't stop even after he joked that she was talking to him as if he didn't quite speak English (maybe she assumed that as a fashion designer, he must be European). She didn't even stop when he switched from laughing at her to scowling at her. He's such a thoroughly good-natured, affectionate person--watch his regular show and see!--that if he's reduced to scowling, it's got to be really bad.

So Jessie deserved to leave, based on the competition. What is interesting about the show is that your final performance in the boardroom counts as a separate competition, but the players don't seem to have caught on to that yet. They seem to be trying to preserve relationships for the next stage of the competition. Thus, Jessie went noncompetitive right when she had a chance to cause Omarosa to lose, because Omarosa slipped up at that stage. It was certainly better TV to fire Jessie and keep Omarosa around. The last shreds of comedy had already been wrung out of Jessie, but Omarosa has so much more to give.

Why couldn't Omarosa get Isaac Mizrahi's name straight? She kept calling him Isaac Mizarahi. I'm thinking the word "misery" got lodged in her head when she heard "Mizrahi," because she also refered to the Elizabeth Glazer Fund (the charity they were raising money for) as the Elizabeth Glacier Fund.

Prof. Yin is discussing the new episode too. He admits to not being the target audience for the celebrities in question: Russell Simmons is "some hip hop guy" to him. I'll admit to never having heard of Tiki Barber or "Third Watch." I don't care about hip hop stars, myself, except that I enjoy seeing various houses of the stars on "MTV Cribs"--and Russell Simmons was very appealing showing his house, which has a meditation room, on "Cribs."

Anyway, The Apprentice is amazingly well photographed and edited. It is almost worth watching solely for the views of New York City. Add the characters and their cross-sniping, and it really does demand to be watched.
A mystifying trick. Go to Jeremy Freese's Weblog and click on the "ok it's here."
That is truly uncanny. I don't even want to think about it now!

UPDATE: Oh, I get it now (because John explained it to me).
Hey, this blog is one month old today. Feel free to click on the archive and read some old posts to see what things were like around here in the old days.
"Municipal anarchy" in San Francisco. Stealing the gay marriage spotlight from Massachusetts, San Francisco is issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Dean E. Murphy writes in the NYT:
Most legal scholars agreed that the new licenses altered to replace "bride" and "groom" with "first applicant" and "second applicant" held only symbolic value because California law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Even city officials advised the newly married couples "to seek legal advice" about their status.
Should we worry about chaos and lawlessness? Or is this another example of how American federalism works, leaving some matters to be determined by local conditions and preferences? Yes, I know, we usually think of federalism in terms of states, but California is such a large state, much larger than the entire collection of states at the time the Constitution was founded. Is it wrong for a city to take the lead?

You may think it's wrong for a city to put its own policy above state law, but the question of what state law is remains in play.
Though city officials acknowledge that the state's family law does not allow for same-sex marriages, they assert that guarantees of equality in the state Constitution take precedence, which could set up a legal battle on lines similar to the one being waged in Massachusetts.
Surely, the spectacle of 500 people going through a ceremony in the beautiful rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall will affect how people think about the legal issues here. Judges are not immune to that. It is undeniable that the demonstrations of the Civil Rights Era affected the minds that thought about the rights at stake. There were people then who saw chaos breaking out, but that interpretation has been overwhelmed by the force of history.
Why all the prim clothes? Ruth La Ferla marvels in the NYT about all the fashion designers rejecting sexy, revealing clothing.
Have some brightest minds of American fashion, including Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Peter Som and Patrick Robinson of Perry Ellis, failed to recognize that they dress a country addled by sex? It is a land where nudity enters the living room via cable television, where Super Bowl viewers are treated to glimpses of celebrities flashing bosoms and grabbing crotches … Janet Jackson [blah, blah] … Paris Hilton ….
La Ferla thinks it’s just the new way of being avant garde, of “thumbing one’s nose at the status quo.” Or possibly, the designers are just catching up to consumers who are already tired of the excessively sexy clothes of the last few years. One mother, whose daughter has taken up wearing vintage clothes, says:
"It used to be you stopped them at the door, screaming, 'You're not going to wear that to school, are you?' Now my daughters talk down about the girls who show too much."
But I'll bet they are just laying the groundwork for saying "All that prim swaddling looks so old now" next year. The trick in fashion is to get you not to notice how bad something is now so that in the future they can sell something else that looks pretty bad by contrasting it to that thing from the previous year. Ah, but that's all too negative! Have fun! It's just material, and you've got to wear something.
More Human Behavior on Amazon.com. So Amazon tries to control abuse by reviewers by having people rate the reviewers, but then it ranks the reviewers and the reviewers game the reviewer ranking system.
[T]he site's discussion boards are full of carping about how people are trying to play that system, too. Many prolific reviewers speculate that Harriet Klausner, 55, who has long reigned as No. 1, cannot possible read all the books she reviews.
(And the NYT "cannot possible" proofread all the text it sees fit to print.)

Klausner, according to the Times, accuses "the No. 2 reviewer of getting people to vote for him and against her in a 'desperate attempt to be No. 1.'"
How many of those anonymous Amazon.com reviews are authors praising their own books? The Canada Amazon site let the truth slip out.
But even with reviewer privacy restored, many people say Amazon's pages have turned into what one writer called "a rhetorical war," where friends and family members are regularly corralled to write glowing reviews and each negative one is scrutinized for the digital fingerprints of known enemies.

One well-known writer admitted privately — and gleefully — to anonymously criticizing a more prominent novelist who he felt had unfairly reaped critical praise for years. She regularly posts responses, or at least he thinks it is her, but the elegant rebuttals of his reviews are also written from behind a pseudonym.
Well, what did you expect? These people are writers.

February 13, 2004

"A Matronly Aesthetic With a Subversive Twist." That's the headline from a fashion article in the NYT written by Cathy Horyn. Here are some random phrases from the article:
a vision in crepey Wheatena lace with a lynx cape thrown over her shoulders and a red velvet ribbon sagging gloriously at her bosom

the revelation in Helmut Newton's memoir that even a woman of Margaret Thatcher's girth and rectitude could be a turn-on

no distinction, morally or philosophically, between Lady Thatcher and Pamela Anderson

a subversive treat lurking in the Iron Lady's silk blouses

the disarming simplicity of a wrap dress in mushroom-brown jersey with floppy mink hat and soft ringlet curls
Fashion is a bit insane.
Does your reputation have a reputation? I was at one of those endless bureaucratic meetings yesterday, and the topic of the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings came up. The usual things were said, including assertions about how relatively well the law school does on the "peer assessment score." Someone maintained that score doesn't show what your reputation really is, but only what people think of your reputation. I'm not sure whether I think:

1. That's intriguingly metaphysical!
2. Amazing that someone thought of something different to say about the U.S. News ranking!
3. I am really so very tired of hearing critiques and justifications about the U.S. News ranking.
"This is so grammatically correct that it's stylistically incorrect." That's a comment from my son John about this:
"One of the things that have most impressed me reading a file is..."
He adds:
It reminded me of an example that my linguistics prof showed the class. It was something like this: "The dog the girl the boy saw chased ran away." It's possible to logically explain that the sentence is grammatically impeccable. But it's still an obviously unacceptable sentence. This example was a minor revelation for me.
Eight posts before 8:30. Yikes, what's got into me? It's bad when Friday the 13th falls on Friday.
Speaking of Chekhov, I see he also said:
If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry.

That would solve some problems.
Speaking of Mickey Kaus, have you been watching the Dennis Miller Show? I think Miller is really figuring out how to do that show right. Having Kaus as a regular panelist this week is just one of the good things about the show. John McWhorter has been a good panelist too.
Kerry, Chekhov, Crisis. Mickey Kaus writes:
It's not, I admit, a completely implausible theory [that Kerry's lack of achievement in the Senate reflects "the natural temperament of a leader, a loner in charge"]--although it's competing with the more powerful "good in a crisis, bad the rest of the time" explanation for Kerry's erratic leadership performance. Kerry could have become a leader in the U.S. Senate, after all. Nobody was stopping him, and he was there for 19 years...
That chimed for me with this quote from Anton Chekhov (which happened to be hidden in the NYT crossword puzzle just the other day):
Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.
I don't understand The White Stripes. What's with the red and white "Say Yes to Michigan" T-shirt? Don't you know school colors and rivalries?

I can do without seeing extra people wearing red and white. Why not black and pink? It's slightly interesting but also lame to try to get attention by being about a color... or two colors. I realize that's probably the point, but isn't it even tired to be making points about one's own lameness by now?
Why Norah Jones? I was sitting in the cafe at Border's yesterday, and not surprisingly, they were playing the new Norah Jones CD. It's excellent music to play while people are trying to read, because it just couldn't be less irritating. But, really, what's the big deal about her? Are people hypnotized somehow? This music is so soft and so slow that it makes me wonder what is happening to people.

There is a way that music can be fascinatingly slow. I'm thinking of that really slow Portishead song that was popular years ago and "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead. But when I hear Norah Jones, knowing how incredibly popular she is, I worry a bit that the world is falling asleep. Yet, she's perfectly pleasant and I'm glad Border's is playing that and not something distractingly peppy, which is often the case.
Go Cliff. I don't know about you, but I'm following the Buick Invitational. My nephew, Cliff Kresge, is two under par after the first round.
Most unbelievable line in a recommendation letter. Puffing for a student who received a B, a prof writes, "C's are hard to come by in my class." He gives ordinary students D's?!
Chasing the Frontrunner in the Wisconsin Primary. So we watched a film last night about campaigning for the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin, John Kennedy chasing after Hubert Humphrey.

"Rolling hills and nice fields." That's HHH's description of Wisconsin as he travels the backroads by car. He's right!

February 12, 2004

Red meat and supermajorities. Nina goes on record disagreeing with my prediction that the U.S. Constitution will not be amended to restrict gay marriage and dismisses the prediction business as "astrology."

The reason my prediction isn't just your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine prediction is explained well here:
Sanford Levinson, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, said it is extremely hard to amend the Constitution. If the ban on gay marriage passes the House and Senate, he said, opponents could stop it by getting the support of one house of the legislature in just 13 states.

Levinson said Bush's support was "a free pass" because he probably knows how difficult it would be to get through Congress, let alone through 38 states.

"The idea is for Bush to throw red meat to the Republican right, secure in the knowledge that this is not going to go anywhere," he said. "If it did go anywhere, it would tear the Republican Party apart."
"[O]ne house of the legislature in just 13 states"--think about it. That's the 3/4 supermajority requirement of Article V of the Constitution. It's no mean feat to get through Congress with an amendment either: Article V imposes a 2/3 supermajority requirement on both Houses of Congress.

So even if a large majority of Americans love the idea of adding this blot to the Constitution--and I don't think they will--it still won't happen, because it is just too hard to amend the Constitution. Things might be done with statutes or state constitutions, but the U.S. Constitution is different. It just won't happen. So people on all sides of this debate need to think clearly about what they mean to achieve through this exercise. Personally, I think it is a shame that this hot debate is becoming so prominent during the Presidential election year, because it detracts attention from the issues that have much more to do with the Presidency, such as the war against terrorism.

February 11, 2004

The Lighter Version of My Supposedly Dark Moods. So I asked that "What to Rent" website for something "a lot different" from my usual taste and backed off from the wine-drinking-film-festival mood. Here's what I got:
A Clockwork Orange (sure, I love it; have the DVD)
8 1/2 (love it; have the DVD)
Satyricon
All About My Mother (have the DVD, loved the first 10 minutes, plan to finish some day)
Trainspotting (saw it; it was worth seeing)
Taxi Driver (love it; have the DVD)
Talk to Her (saw it; it was worth seeing)
Full Metal Jacket (have the DVD; excellent film, especially in parts)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (haven't seen it)
Apocalypse Now (have the DVD, but have actually never watched it, even though I've seen the documentary about making it)
This group, which was supposed to be "a lot different" from what I would come up with on my own, is more to my taste than the recommendations that were supposed to be my usual taste. I find it pretty funny that this little device thinks "Taxi Driver" and "Full Metal Jacket" are suitable for my lighter moods!
How many puns will we have to endure now?
Kerried Away
Wisonsin's Date With Destiny. That's how R.W. Apple in today's NYT refers to next week's primary. Isn't it all already over? Do ordinary people keep paying attention when the outcome is so obvious? It feels like the media are pushing the it's-a-two-man-race-now line to keep the story alive. Do the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, have a strategy to work together in stages, preserving the two-man-race as long as the press is willing to perceive a two-man-race, and, when that loses all momentum, to reactivate the publicity by announcing that Edwards is Kerry's choice for VP? I imagine they have a plan to roll out this process in stages to get the maximum time in the spotlight. I'd believe otherwise if I saw either of the two of them attack the other. But, failing that, I'm seeing it as over.

So here's Apple talking about Wisconsin (Wonkette takes note of this here):
The question awaiting an answer as the candidates began arriving in Wisconsin this week was this: Why should this state prove any different?

"Our tradition of supporting mavericks," answered Linda Honold, the state party chairwoman. "We're kind of quirky. We like people who stand up for what they believe in despite adversity, which could lead a lot of people to support one of the three underdogs."

In a kind of honor roll of mavericks, Ms. Honold mentioned ... [blah, blah] ... Proxmire... [blah, blah] ... Feingold ....

"We haven't had the presidential candidates here for a long time," Ms. Honold said. "People may want to speak with a distinctive voice."

But John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University in Milwaukee, expressed skepticism about the idea that Wisconsin is unique. Professor McAdams said he had "a lot of trouble" with the idea that it would vote any differently than Iowa or New Hampshire.

"Frankly, in my view, this state is a lot less distinctive than people would like to think it is or than it once was," he said.
There's a big difference between thinking you're special and being special. We do like to think at least Madison is special, though!
I really love she. Nicholas Fonseca at Entertainment Weekly is opining about all eight of the contestants on last night's American Idol. (Here's the link, but it probably won't work if you're not a paid subscriber. Yeah, I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly!) Here's what he has to say about Jennifer Hudson, my sentimental favorite (even though I think Fantasia Barrino gave the best performance last night):
I worry that Jen might get lost in the mix, which is a shame because I've had my eye on her since the very first episodes, when they kept showing a glimpse of she and her teammates practicing choreography in their hotel room and she later asked Simon why he didn't like her spacesuit, er, outfit. Love, love, loved her performance of ''Imagine'' last night, and love, love, love that she reminds me of Angie Stone. That is NEVER a bad thing, Jennifer -- and just between us, I voted for you last night.
"A glimpse of she"?

Here's what Shack at Television Without Pity says about Jennifer:
Jennifer Hudson tries to belt out "Imagine," which is certainly interesting and creative, but ends up illustrating that certain songs are meant to be sung in a certain way. Oh, and apparently she tends toward crying a lot.
He's right that there was some failure of judgment singing "Imagine" like that. Maybe she's too emotional to hold up to all the pressure, but I think emotion is a good thing in a singer. Good luck!
Codifying bigotry. Eugene Volokh thinks it's odd to say, as Dahlia Lithwick does:
The reality is even more compelling: A Defense of Marriage Amendment would enshrine, for the first time, language of intolerance and exclusion in a document that was intended to set forth basic rights. Does President Bush really want to be remembered as the guy who first used the Constitution to codify bigotry?
I agree with Professor Volokh that those proposing the amendment can defend their personal motivation by saying they are trying to preserve the political choice at the state level and prevent judges from pre-empting that political process, but I also think that in the end Americans will not accept changing the Constitution in a way the runs against individual rights.

Somewhere along the line the process will grind to a halt as Americans will resist putting something in the Constitution that restricts a particular group. Americans just don't do that. We've only added rights for groups, never taken them away. We took away a sort of liberty once, in Prohibition, but we put it back. I simply cannot believe that Americans will think an expression of negativity toward a particular group belongs in the Constitution.

I don't think the people who support the amendment are themselves bigots. They are struggling with what is a difficult issue right now. Their efforts pressing for an amendment have some political value as part of the dialogue about how the issue should be resolved. But they do risk looking like bigots, as Lithwick writes, and they should think through the effect it will have on them politically. They will not be able to control what is said about them and are bound to hear it said that they are being hateful toward an oppressed group. That will not look good. And the explanation about why it isn't actually hateful is just too complicated!

UPDATE: In response to an email from a student, let me add that I don't mean to deny that there is bigotry in some quarters against gay people. My point is that the relatively educated and thoughtful persons who are leading the political effort here do not deserve to be called bigots. I also don't think it's politically wise for those who favor gay marriage to resort to name calling. I recommend reaching out to the other side and using reason, not further stoking the hostilities, which empowers the mindless sector of your opponents.
Inappropriate carrots. I bought a bag of those pre-peeled tiny carrots, because, really, I've finally faced the fact that, if it's a vegetable in my refrigerator and it needs to be washed or peeled, it's going to rot. Anyway, the brand name turns out to be "Bunny-Luv," which is okay, but the picture on the bag is of a Bugs-Bunny-In-Drag type female rabbit, with big lipstick-orange lips and long eyelashes. She's holding a giant carrot in her two paws and eyeing it coquettishly. That's just wrong.
"Janet jackson's bear breast at Superbowl halftime." Okay, that's officially the funniest and most pathetic thing anyone ever Googled on the way to this website.

The word "bear"--in case you're interested--appeared here in a quote not about Jackson but bin Laden: "He couldn't bear it and walked off."
The Black Bag With 30 Admissions Files in It. The other object (see previous post) in my life that represents a momentous task is a black bag, sitting on my stairstep at home, with thirty admissions files in it. (So why am I blogging? Shouldn't I be dealing with these things? Well, I spent the morning prepping my conlaw class, which starts soon.)

I see Instapundit wrote yesterday, after linking to a discussion of college admissions:
I think it's somewhat better at law schools (I don't have firsthand experience, as I've never sat on the Admissions committee) but even there it's heavily numbers-driven. If your numbers are high enough, or low enough, the decision is pretty much made -- the rest of the application doesn't matter that much unless you're in an intermediate zone that can be fairly narrow.
Of course, some lower cutoff point will be established that will be almost entirely a matter of combining the LSAT score and the college GPA. We're given a calculation of those two numbers that produces a single number called the "FYP" or "first year predicted" average. But a school can make the group it considers in detail as large as it wants, and it should make it large if it wants to get an interesting, diverse, motivated class. I am forced, in fact, to rely on factors other than the FYP, because I'm given a group of 30 at one time to consider relative to each other, and within this group, they all have the same FYP. In fact, last week I had a group that not only had the same FYP, but had a FYP produced by a relatively high LSAT in comparison to the GPA. This week, it's the reverse: they all have the same FYP, but the GPA is high relative to the LSAT. Other times, I've gotten a group where the LSAT and the GPA were at about the same level.

I like doing this work because it's interesting to find out about so many people and to try to figure things out from what is in the file. As a teacher, you look out on a class full of students and you see them all in their student role. But if you've done the admissions work, you know how varied and how impressive their backgrounds are. Selecting applicants to admit, you have a creative role in producing the mix of people that will be here in the next few years. You're constantly engaged in making the institution what it is. Having done it, you feel a tremendous amount of respect for the people who do become students. You don't think, these must be the people who had the best numbers we could get. You know these are people we found who we believed would add to the law school and benefit from being here.

You do also want people who are capable of doing the work on approximately the same level, and the numbers say something about that. And you ought to worry a bit about the non-numerical factors because it may be that the most privileged applicants are the ones with the most ability to assemble a file that makes the soft factors appear impressive. It's a bit like having a great lawyer presenting the case. Like a good juror, I try to see what the story of each person really is. One of the things that have most impressed me reading a file is when a person with a truly compelling story to tell tells it simply, without puffing it into the-saga-of-my-personal-development, as if no one had ever said to him, "This will look fantastic on a law school application!" On the other hand, I don't hold it against a young person who attempts to turn, say, the death of a grandparent into the-saga-of-my-personal-development. I just look for what else is in the file. It's important to remember that most of the applicants are young people, many of whom don't have all that much to tell beyond their academic accomplishments. These are fine people too, and they too deserve the respect of the law schools.
The Dreaded FedEx Envelope. I'm publishing an article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review about constitutional rights and the role of the states. It's called "Vanguard States, Laggard States: Federalism and Constitutional Rights." I'm interested in the way the states are sometimes viewed as generators of good policy solutions (policy scientists in the "laboratories of democracy," to use Justice Brandeis's image) and sometimes viewed as violators of rights. So do we leave them alone or supervise and control them? Or do courts somehow finetune doctrine to maximize the good by leaving the "vanguard states" alone and intruding on the "laggard states"? And exactly how could that be done accurately? The article uses Hibbs, the Family and Medical Leave Act case from last summer, as a springboard.

Today, the first edit has returned to me via FedEx. I always fear opening that FedEx envelope, because who knows what the editors might have done to the article? What an effort one must make not to prickle at every change!

Actually, I haven't seen a FedExed edit in a long time. I had thought everyone had switched to email attachments for things like this. I had sent them the article in digital form to work on, and they have printed it out with a digitalized mark up and, nicely, a clean version. So why not just email me two attachments? But it's nice to get the manuscripts, perhaps: they look formal and official in a way--and traditional, which is my theory about why they are using the old IBM Selectric type font. How strange that font looks today! You used to see it all the time, and now, it seems to speak from another era, like that 60s psychedelic lettering or the old wooden type style font that seems to belong on "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters.

The IBM Selectric font--Courier--gives me a creepy feeling of working in a law office in the 1980s. I remember when I first came to the University of Wisconsin Law School in the Fall of 1984. Only a couple lawprofs had computers at that time. Boy, were they proud of them. I remember one highly respected prof revealing his IBM 256 with a sweep of the arm and saying, without sarcasm, "See, this is what an endowed chair brings!" Anyway, I was just thrilled to have an IBM Selectric in my office. I remember preparing for those early classes that fall and then in the last few minutes before class typing up a few lines of class notes on 4x6 index cards and just loving the crisp feel of that typewriter keyboard and the clean type it produced. It even sounded great.

February 10, 2004

That Film Selection Website Again. Nina's peeved about the sleep question on the film selection site:
Let me just say that any survey that seeks to determine my viewing preferences based on an answer (among others) to the question “how long does it take you to fall asleep?” is suspect. If I say 5 hours (and this has been known to happen, though not too often), does that make me sensitive, anxious, brooding, neurotic, prone to picking films from the “film noir” genre? If I say 0 minutes does it mean I need action, thrill, violence, because otherwise I’m likely to zonk out?
The site analyzed me as having the anxious/brooding taste--it suggested Raging Bull and Magnolia. I answered the sleep question: 5 minutes.

Anyway, I went back to the site and did the "mood assessment" for tonight and got:
Requiem for a Dream
The Virgin Suicides
Pi (hated this one by the way)
The Deer Hunter (jeez, I think the website ought to be worried about me at this point!)
Amadeus (apparently as light-hearted as I'm going to get)
Donnie Darko
In the Bedroom

Now I'm going to take my dark, brooding mood and watch "American Idol" with it. (Go Jennifer!)

UPDATE: Jennifer was good, but I'm thinking Diana and Fantasia are going to make it.
Pelosi is staking her entire political career on me. So the mail today brings a letter from Nancy Pelosi that reads:

Do you really want to be told the truth?

I believe you do.

In fact, as the Democratic Leader in the U.S. House, I'm staking my entire political career on that belief.
More Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The last of the four Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan shows is a year and a half after the first three, which occurred on three consecutive weeks. (First show described here.) You'd think the fourth show would look quite different, that the culture would have radically changed, in this year and a half. In fact, The Beatles music was very different. The first three shows featured "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," and this September 1965 show had "I Feel Fine," "I'm Down," "Act Naturally," "Ticket to Ride," "Yesterday," and "Help," clearly a later Beatle period.

My favorite Beatle moment: After Paul sings "Yesterday," John says, "Ah, thank you Paul. That was just like him."

Perhaps the other performers have advanced a bit, but not much. There's no vaudeville throwback like Tessie O'Shea now, but there's Cilla Black in a gigantic wig, singing "Out of My Head," to a tame big band arrangement. Here's Soupy Sales singing "Hey! Do the Mouse! Do it all through the house." He leaps into the audience doing his new mouse dance: make mouse ears with open hands and stick out your upper teeth and gnaw. He gets all up in people's faces, and mostly they pull back and make an effort to conceal their horror. Barely one in a hundred responds with the appropriate mouse gestures. There's another magician: Fantasio, a serene man in a tuxedo, pulls doves out of scarves while mellow music plays. There's another lame comedy duo (Allen & Rossi).

Ed's still the same. After The Beatles' first set he shushes the audience and says "Now be quiet. Now whom do you listen to when you're buying a carpet?" He introduces Steve Rossi saying "I've asked Steve to sing a very charming song: 'Try to Remember.'" He says to The Beatles, "I'd just like to congratulate the four of you on the way you've handled yourselves."

I must say the commercials have picked up since the earlier Beatles shows. Now we have lots of actors enjoying the products, and even a comic attempt (new All detergent introduced like a movie Coming Attraction). We see the ridiculous George Fenneman (who reminds me of Ryan Seacrest!) riding a strange water-land vehicle to rescue folks at a picnic who are simply unwilling to eat hamburgers in the absence of iced tea. And here's that great classic headache commercial. A woman is happily cooking dinner, when her husband, a man in a suit, comes in the door. She says to him, "Hi, darling, hurry and get ready for dinner. PTA meeting tonight." He completely snaps into a scary, mean guy: "Ellen, please. Don't rush me. I just got home!" The voiceover intones: "Control yourself. Sure you have a headache. You're tense, irritable. But don't take it out on her." Anacin solves the whole problem; apparently, it's a powerfully psychoactive drug. The voiceover assures us: "You're in control again." (Older readers will remember another ad of this type, where the woman cooking is the one who snaps; she says "Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!")

In the end, Ed tells us about next week: it will be the first color show, with Milton Berle, Eddie Fisher, and Polly Bergen. "And for you youngsters, we'll have the youthful singing trio of Dino, Desi, and Billy." How well I remember when those three ruled the teen magazines (16 and Tiger Beat). Poor Dino--Dean Martin's adorable son--died flying a jet for the National Guard in 1987. One always reads that Dean Martin never recovered. Desi, of course, was the offspring of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Billy was just the other guy. The performance by Dino, Desi, and Billy on that first color Ed Sullivan Show is available on this great DVD.
Goat, Tiger, Abstention, Restraint. I don't have much to say today for some reason. I woke up far too early this morning--at 4--and listened to "Life of Pi," my sleep aid, for a while, until CD 1 ended. It didn't put me back to sleep, so I just got up too early. Too sad about the goat to sleep, perhaps! I've listened to the part about the sloths many times, and I know the tiger and goat part now, but what is in the middle? I could take all year to just have heard all the sentences on CD 1 (out of 9), and I'll be getting them all out of order. I guess I need to move to CD 2 for sleeping and put CD 1 in my car. The book seems great, by the way, from what I've heard!

So I spent the morning prepping my Federal Jurisdiction class--aka Fedjur--and now that it's over I can decompress. We talked a lot about sovereign immunity and a little about abstention. Abstention is my favorite Fedjur topic, which seems a bit absurd. What is so thrilling about not doing things (in this case, federal courts not exercising jurisdiction)? It's exciting to me because of the way themes about federalism and judicial restraint are presented, which might not work as an explanation to anyone outside of the field of federal jurisdiction as a basis for excitement.

February 9, 2004

What to Rent. Fill out a form and this site generates movie rental advice. If you've seen the film you click a button that generates another option. Here's my list of recommended films and how far I had to go to get to one I hadn't seen:
Being John Malkovich
Punch Drunk Love
Raging Bull
Magnolia
The Man Who Wasn't There
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Cradle Will Rock
Hmmm.... seems reasonable. This site would inspire more confidence if they spelled "Scorsese" correctly in the survey (and avoided the expression "When you lay down at night to go to sleep...."--though I note that Ratso Rizzo memorably says "I wanna lay down" in "Midnight Cowboy," so maybe that's movie talk).
Overheard at the hair salon. There's a magazine rack in the waiting area at the hair salon that's mostly stocked with specialized hairdo magazines, but has a few general interest magazines. The old Newsweek issue with a cover photo of the captured Saddam Hussein ("We Got Him!") happens to be there.

A woman picks it up and quips, "I want this hairstyle."
Disgust, Pea Soup, Kebabs, and Barbecue. Tonya emails some detail about the cheating on the Disgust Test, discussed below.
[A]lthough I admitted to cheating on the psychobabble test re disgust, I did not cheat to achieve a score that underreported the extent to which I am disgusted by stuff. I should have said that I very quickly understood that the test was probing the extent to which our levels of disgust are somehow correlated to the risks of infectious disease. So, I answered in a way that kind of knowingly subverted that premise. For example, the test showed 3 bowls with liquids -- the liquid in one bowl was blue, in another it was a yellowish color, in the third it was a yellowish color with some red colored (blood??) swirls. Well, of course I knew what they were getting at here. But I indicated that I found them all to be equally disgusting (in the mid- to low- range on their scale) even though I knew that the blood-tinged bowl was supposed to be the most disgusting. That yellowish bowl reminded me of the split-pea soup that I get at LuLus. And even the one with the red swirls reminded me of the soup because they serve it with some spices on top. Like you, I did not find the crowded subway car to be the least bit disgusting. The people seemed clean and they were minding their own business. What's disgusting about that?
Strangely, this makes me want to go get some soup at LuLu's!

That link is so Madison, by the way. The Isthmus, our local free tabloid, right after the 9/11 attacks, interviews the owners of the local Arabic restaurant, asking them:
How do you feel about the recent terrorist attacks? ...

Has your business been affected by anti-Arab sentiments? ...

Which of your dishes should your customers eat to nourish world peace?

The answer to that second question reveals Essence of Madison:
[I]t’s been business as usual. We love this city, and we’re proud to be part of it. We have a lot of wonderful non-Arab friends, and they’ve been coming in just to say we’ve been on their minds. Still, as American citizens, it feels strange to get so much reassurance. So many people asking if we’re okay! After a while you start wondering — hmmm, am I really okay?
As to what to eat for world peace, the answer is: kebabs! Because it's basically barbecue. Barbecue is the world peace answer: "it brings people together."
"Lost in Translation." I finally got around to watching the DVD that arrived last week, after thinking about going to see the film in the theater for months and never actually going to see it. I don't see what the huge fuss over this film is. I loved the photography of various Japanese locations, especially the neon-lit streets, including the neon lights reflected in the car window with the actor's face on the other side of the glass, like Keir Dullea in his space mask in "2001. The part in the middle where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson go out to various spots reminded me of the stock section in late 1960s/early 1970s films where the characters take drugs and then go running about doing various things. (The part of "Easy Rider" where they take LSD in New Orleans is the most memorable example of this sort of thing, which tended to be the most boring part of those movies.)

But I didn't think the characters were too interesting--even as an example of flat, bland people. Why is it in movies, when you're supposed to think of a character as highly intelligent, instead of having them say highly intelligent things, they just inform us about some paper credentials, like their IQ or their GPA or their SAT score? Does the Scarlett Johansson character ever say anything particularly intelligent in the entire film? Maybe not, but we're informed that she went to Yale and majored in Philosophy. Then she smirks at someone else who is made to be as completely stupid as possible (the airheaded actress). We're supposed to think highly of a character by contrast to a bunch of idiots. That's a lame set-up. Show me a film where even the minor characters do interesting things that make sense in their own ways.

UPDATE: I movie I saw recently on DVD that met this request (lots of characters doing interesting things that make some kind sense in their own weird ways) is "Amores Perros."
So is this a blawg or not? If a lawprof writes a blog, is it only a blawg if she (or he) writes about law? That's kind of abstract for me, so let me say something about law, so you won't have to wonder too much about whether this counts as a blawg and not merely a blog--as if you care. ("Blawg" to me just sounds like someone saying "blog" in a mock-fancy accent--like "po-tah-toes.")

I'm preparing my conlaw class this morning, and it's all about the abstract and the law. Why is it that judges are so concerned about having real, concrete cases and refusing to decide questions in the abstract? Do they really seem like the sort of people who are unusually concerned about the realities of the world and reticent about thinking abstractly? Or are they just worried that they really are way too abstract and separated from the realities of the world and need to insist that the litigants drag sufficient reality into their abstracted worlds to tamp down the levels of anxiety they would otherwise feel about carrying out their roles?

As a lawprof, I hope the students find the questions about concrete cases compelling enough, and also as a lawprof, I've got to worry that my function is way too abstract and separated from the realities of the world as well. Thus, the concerns of the judges mesh well with the concerns of the teachers. Accordingly, they decide real cases and we embrace the case method of teaching, depending on their concrete cases to drag sufficient reality into our abstracted worlds.

February 8, 2004

Did Bush catch Kerry in a lie? Meet the Press transcript:
Russert: This is what John Kerry had to say last year. He said that his colleagues are appalled at the quote "President's lack of knowledge. They've managed him the same way they've managed Ronald Reagan. They send him out to the press for one event a day. They put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or move a truck, and all of a sudden he's the Marlboro Man. I know this guy. He was two years behind me at Yale. I knew him, and he's still the same guy.”I know this guy. He was two years behind me at Yale. I knew him, and he's still the same guy.” Did you know him at Yale?

President Bush: No.
Bush laughing on Meet the Press. Russert held up the Time Magazine cover "Love Him! Hate Him!" (showing Bush's face with one lipstick kiss mark and one black eye). Bush, off camera, totally laughed: "Heh, heh." Back on camera, he was still laughing.

Fake laugh? I used my BBC Fake Smile-honed skills to try to figure out if it was a fake laugh, even replaying it a few times with Tivo. A key aspect of the real smile takes place in the forehead. Hmmm... if they botox, they'll falsify their own smiles. But Bush isn't botoxed, because he crinkles his forehead in all directions sometimes. I'd probably guess fake laugh on this one, even though he seemed good-natured, based on the BBC approach to laugh analysis. But that doesn't mean he's a fake: why should a normal person actually feel relaxed and jovial while Russert is in action, especially when he's waving a picture like that in your face?
"To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes." On this topic of disgust and shock (here, here, here, and here), let me share a passage from the obituary, written by Rick Lyman, for Akira Kurosawa, which is one of the most influential things I've read in my life. This is in the NYT archive from 1998, so I can't link it.
Though he often diverted the conversation when asked about his approach to filmmaking, Mr. Kurosawa frequently described his attitude toward art in similar terms. "To be an artist," he once said, "means never to avert one's eyes."

Mr. Kurosawa also once described a trip he made with his brother, Heigo, through the ruins of Tokyo after a massive earthquake in 1923. More than 140,000 people died in the fires that followed the quake. But as the pair moved through the ruins, Mr. Kurosawa said, his brother insisted that the young Akira look closely at the charred corpses.

"If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened," Akira remembered Heigo telling him. "If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of."
The Lameness of BBC Science. So Tonya took the Disgust Questionnaire and says she cheated. (That's disgusting!) I think she means she put herself down as less disgusted than she was, on the theory that it's bad to be too squeamish. I had trouble taking that test because I was only looking at a photograph, and I've trained myself to look boldly at any photograph. Also, the test proceeded on the theory that disgust ought to be tied to the potential for actually catching a disease. In that view, one ought to be disgusted by other people constantly! They thought a rational person ought to be disgusted by a crowded subway car. But rational persons also need to live in society, and thinking about crowds in terms of disease is pretty maladaptive I'd say. So I fault the BBC's disgust test for being completely unidimensional.

Tonya also links to another of the BBC's tests. Not the one that's ranking number 1 on Blogdex at the moment ("Spot the Fake Smile," which is quite good), but the Interactive Lonely Hearts Ad. She writes:
[A]lthough I didn't cheat on this one, I strategically selected words that I (mistakenly) thought would be important qualities to a man reading a personals ad. As for what men want -- apparently I am clueless.
I fault this test too, because it is based on the sort of sociobiology that speculates about evolution, and posits that men seek to reproduce their genes, so they want fertile young women to have quick sexual encounters with. There are two problems (at least!) with that as a basis for the BBC's test. The first is that they are relying, unidimensionally again, on this (speculative) field of science. The second is that they are assuming that what men instinctively do will also run through their minds as they process reading material. The test assumes that the personals ad that says "I'm young and eager for quick sex" will win the interest of the man that wants a young woman for quick sex.

Is there no complexity to the mental processes of the BBC's man? Might he not think, I want a kind, loyal friend, only later to be overcome by his instinctive feelings? It seems obvious that people consciously analyze things in advance, such as when reading an ad written by an unseen stranger, and make choices that do not match their real desires (even assuming the sociobiologists got the real desires right). Obviously, many women say "I want a considerate man with a good sense of humor," but when it comes time to pick someone, they actually want someone in good physical condition with solid career prospects.

In fact, this disjunct is inherent in the sociobiologists' theory itself, because they assume a man still wants what was naturally selected for in human evolution, even though that same man consciously wants very much to avoid procreation, especially in uncommitted relationships.

UPDATE: Tonya tells me that the "cheating" in question was figuring out what the testmakers were driving at and letting that influence the reported level of disgust. That reminds me of a career choice test I took in school in eighth grade. I already knew what I wanted to do, so I answered the questions that would make me the sort of person who would do that (in my case, picking every answer that was about caring for other people as opposed to anything else that might be interesting or compelling or fun to do).
Synesthesia and Acrostics. I love the acrostic puzzles in the NYT Magazine. They appear every other week, and it's always nice when it's an on week. The interplay between the clues and the developing quote and the name of the author and the title of the work is mesmerizing. Today's quote, describing synesthesia, made me want to read the author's work (link is a spoiler for the puzzle).

Synesthesia is a longterm interest of mine. Here's a cool book about it. When I was a kid, I understood a sort of singing to be the sound of a pickle. The sound was not what is normally called a sour note, though pickles are sour, but a quality I can still remember. I can't tell you what that sound is, because there is no word in the language for it. I thought the word was pickle, but was soon enough informed otherwise.

Though the use of the word sour for both sound and taste seems synesthetic, there is general agreement about the two uses of the word sour. You don't expose yourself to ridicule for calling singing sour the way you do for calling it "like a pickle." There's a difference between a word that has come to have two meanings, perhaps originating in metaphor, understood to be used as a metaphor, and a real perception that a sound actually has a taste or a color, which invites mockery. Perhaps the metaphor was invented invented by synesthetes, disguising their power of perception, repackaging their sensory power as a writing gift.

As a child, I let myself be governed by the desire to avoid embarrassment. Perhaps if I had embraced synesthesia, instead of tossing it aside like a magazine for boys only, I could have been a musician or at least I could have loved music in a deeper way than is open to me now.

Synesthesia is a cool name for a blog, and, discovering this blog while Googling "synesthesia," I was interested to see that this guy is reading "The Feeling of What Happens," which is one of Antonio Damasio's books. I like Damasio.