April 10, 2004

Poor Ingmar Bergman. The BBC reports on a Swedish TV interview:
"I don't watch my own films very often. I become so jittery and ready to cry... and miserable. I think it's awful ... [I've] managed to push the medium to something beyond the normal boundaries, and also myself ... There hasn't been anyone with whom I can discuss my scripts ...Even when the film is done, there is no-one I can show it to who gives his sincere opinion. There is silence."
Is it spring yet? On the way to the café, spring seems to be an iffy proposition.



Here's the café, Dancing Grounds--four blocks from my house.



Walking home, duly caffeinated, I'm thinking it is Spring. Look, that tree is squirming with pleasure!

The right way to think about US News rankings? Gordon Smith discusses this forthcoming article, "What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics," from two Cincinnati lawprofs, Paul L. Caron and Rafeal Gely. Caron and Gely pick up on Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler picking up on Michael Lewis ("Moneyball"):
In many ways, legal education is teeming with more inefficiencies than Beane uncovered in baseball. We argue that changes in the economic conditions of higher education and the legal profession, combined with increasing demands for accountability and transparency, created the market demand for measuring organizational success which U.S. News & World Report met with its annual law school rankings.

As Gordon notes, baseball teams have a pretty specific goal, winning games, and certainty in the knowledge of whether they've reached the goal: they either win or lose. But what is the goal of a law school? Yet claims that our goals are too subtle and amorphous to quantify seem less attractive than usual if we think in terms of accountability and transparency. But who is US News to set the terms of the account? Ah, thanks to Caron and Gely if they can advance the ball (sorry for the wrong sports metaphor ... and for a sports metaphor, period), but I can already hear all the old protestations being raised again. It does seem to me, though, that if there is a game to be played using the rankings, there is something to be said in favor of the upstart schools that find ways to challenge the old established institutions that were hoping to rest on the stability of longstanding reputation.

UPDATE: Paul Caron has a new blog, Tax Prof Blog.
Howard Stern ... Oprah. That picture of Frank Zappa reminds me of Howard Stern, which reminds me that I had to laugh out loud this morning when I heard a TV news report that Howard was saying he's no worse than Oprah. Jeff Jarvis, who is intensely covering the Stern controversy, has a good account of Howard making the comparison. The comparison is more apt than you might think. The difference is one of tone: Stern is having fun and being funny. Oprah is informational and cautionary. Doesn't that make distinguishing them viewpoint discrimination?
In which Althouse has a psychedelic flashback. I don't know about you, but sometimes I've tried to remember, what were the shows I saw at the Fillmore East? I remembered some of the bands, but who really were the others? So I was thrilled to find this site, which is trying to list every act and every show.

So who played with The Mothers of Invention in 1969? The date was Feb. 21/22, and the opening acts were Chicago and The Buddy Miles Express. And I went to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse one night in 1970 and the opening acts were The Steve Miller Band and Miles Davis! When did I see The New Riders of the Purple Sage play with The Grateful Dead? 1970? 1971? I can't tell from this, because there are several such shows. When I saw them there was a third act, which played in the middle, that was just Pig Pen and Jerry Garcia on acoustic guitars. It must have been May 15, 1970, because I remember hearing them make a big deal about the upcoming concert with Crosby, Stills & Nash, which caused us to scoff and shake our heads in dismay. Rock and Roll was over and people like them were destroying it! Or was it this night, when "Phil places two bass notes that are just perfect."

Remember when people were all excited about Delaney & Bonnie? And who were Mason & Elliot that they were headliners? (Oh.) Remember when people were crazy for Ten Years After? Remember The Hello People (they played at my high school once)("It's a Monday Kind of Tuesday"... or was it Wednesday?). Remember Elephant Memory? Or am I mixing them up with Crazy Elephants? And who were Cactus? How could they have topped Edgar Winter and Humble Pie some night in 1971? And there's Elton John, late of American Idol, already headlining in 1971 (with Wishbone Ash and Sea Train).

And there's T. Rex in 1971--was it already T. Rex or was it still Tyrannosaurus Rex? (We played their album Unicorn all the time in 1970.) In 1970, you could have seen The Incredible String Band (I knew people who worshipped them!) along with The Stone Monkey Mime Group (good lord! who were they?). And who were Soft White Underbelly, Grootna, and Blodwyn Pig?

Looking for some answers, I ran across Fuzz Acid & Flowers, which is an amazing compilation of info about "U.S. psych and garage music 1964 - 1972," with "band histories/musical analysis on over 5,400 US acts of the era." Great fun browsing just for the psychedelic names. We remember Strawberry Alarm Clock, but there was also Strawberry Tuesday and Strawberry Window. Was there Orange? Of course: Orange Colored Sky, The Orange Groove, and The Orange Wedge. How about "electric"--was that a popular psychedelic word? Here's the official list:
The Electrical Banana
The Electric Company
Electric Firebirds
The Electric Flag
Electric Hair
Electric Junkyard
Electric Love
Electric Piano Playground
The Electric Prunes
The Electric Screwdriver
Electric Toilet
Electric Tomorrow
Electric Train
Electrified People
The Electro Magnetic Flowerseed
The Electronic Concept Orchestra

And I love the places where the same psychedelic idea struck several groups independently:
Stix and Stoned
Stix and Stones
Stix & Stonz

Okay, enough of that. Go make your own discoveries. I've got admissions files and a law review edit and income tax forms ...

Oh, and that previous entry, which looks psychedelic next to this one--it's a Monday kind of Tuesday/It's a Thursday kind of Saturday--is just about the NYT crossword puzzle. ... In case you're inclined to worry about me! Did you finish the Saturday puzzle?
Cherty? Cherty?? I guess that's why this is a Saturday and not a Thursday.

April 9, 2004

Which side benefited from the insistence that Rice testify? Consider the ratings:
Citing figures from Nielsen Media Research, the networks said Fox News drew an average of 1.921 million total viewers in the period from 9 a.m. to noon ET on Thursday, ahead of CNN's 1.228 million and MSNBC's 470,000.
So Bush supporters, it's fair to say, were far more likely to watch than Bush opponents. Democrats Bob Kerrey and Richard Ben-Veniste grandstanded, using Rice's presence as a way to get attention for their own opinions. But I'm sure this made a terrible impression on most of the people who were actually paying attention. The Democratic partisans who would have enjoyed Kerrey and Ben-Veniste's behavior were apparently not interested in hearing what Rice had to say.
Madison, Good Friday. A street preacher in Library Mall. As I walk by I hear him say, "Boys, you need to control your sexuality. Girls, you too. And about alcohol..." The laundry list of sins to clean up. In the café, where I'm uploading the photograph, the man at the next table is explaining Descartes's proof of the existence of God.

UPDATE: On my way back from the café, I saw the preacher again and from a distance saw that he had drawn a crowd and that they were laughing, mockingly, which seemed to fit the crucifixion imagery. As I got close enough to hear what was being said, it turned out they were asking him serious theology questions: from the question of whether only Christians were saved, they were moving on to why there is evil in the world. So the age-old debates continued on this Good Friday at both ends of State Street.

The political and the nonpolitical blog. Nina is wondering why she doesn't feel like blogging about politics. Brayden King is commenting on a recent Time article about family blogs and weighing in on the big subject of "Domestic blogging and the separate spheres myth." Apt. 11D has a list of things currently excluded from her brain, and she's linking to This Woman's Work, a "mommy blog" that the Time article talks about. Here's a blog called The Mommy Blog. The subject of a blog gender gap is on the table. It's been noted that political blogs, which tend to be the most popular, are much more likely to be written by men, but I don't think it's necessarily a woman thing to turn away from the political right now. Gordon recently noted a lack of interest in writing about politics.

I think it makes a lot of sense, after the primary season, to ignore the Presidential campaign as much as possible. There's no reason for a moderate like me, who might end up voting for either candidate, to follow the campaigns right now. For one thing, it's not fair to Kerry, because I find him a boring speaker and I'm really going to get tired of him if I pay any attention to him. For another thing, I can't think about him seriously until I know what he plans to do in Iraq, and he hasn't said what he will do. (Will, meaning, in the future. How the past might have been different is not going to determine my vote. And don't try my patience by telling me that I can infer what he will do in the future from what he asserts he would have done in the past.) He has no motivation to take a position on Iraq until closer to the election: why should he pin himself down when events are in flux?

The Presidential campaign affects what too many people say about too many things, and that causes me to turn away from a lot of subjects that might otherwise be bloggable. Take yesterday for example. I couldn't bear to watch Bob Kerrey and Richard Ben-Veniste bully Condoleezza Rice. I couldn't watch The Daily Show, formerly my favorite TV show, because Jon Stewart has put partisanship over comedy and has sunk to a smirking hostility toward everyone in the Bush Administration. His take on Condi Rice's testimony last night was to assume everyone believed she couldn't have defended the Bush record and, for a joke, to have her responding to their questions by babbling in Spanish (??). I can also page through The New York Times a lot faster because every political story seems framed to undercut Bush.

One thing I like about blogging is that it lets you see a pattern emerging over time: the blog preserves a record of what has caught my eye from day to day over the months. Part of what I see is my aversion to politics and a search for the things about life that are not politics, but that does tend to bring me back to politics some of the time. Basically, I like miscellaneous commentary that is indirectly personally revealing, because it lets readers see that emerging pattern of things that caught your attention from day to day.

I do, however, avoid revealing personal facts about my family, so this would never be a "mommy blog." My sons are adults, anyway. It's easier to write about really young kids because they don't read what you say and get mad and demand that you quit invading their privacy and embarrassing them. Babies have no idea that pictures of them are being put up for all the world to see.

UPDATE: Whoops! No sooner do I write that than Prof. Yin puts up a picture of his new baby! Very cute! Congratulations!
Feminism, the Quentin Tarantino version. This is from a Q&A in Entertainment Weekly (you probably have to be a subscriber, like me, to read the whole thing):
After seeing ''Reservoir Dogs,'' I never would have pegged you for a feminist. But ''Jackie Brown'' and ''Kill Bill'' are female empowerment fests -- and Jackie and the Bride are certainly two of the most multidimensional women ever to be seen in genre films.

I definitely do have a feminist [sensibility]. I almost feel weird about categorizing it as ''feminist.'' Not because I am demonizing the word, but I think it's more of a femininity, an appreciation for women rather than a label. But I mean, it's not hard to figure it out if you think about it. I was raised by a single mom who came from white-trash beginnings. She created a very nice career for herself as an executive -- a legend in her own time in the HMO field. From the very beginning I never considered that there were boundaries, things a woman can and can't do. I had my mom as an example of someone who came from nothing and she was going out to eat in nice restaurants, paying her own way. She had nice s---, she drove a Cadillac Seville, and she was living the life.
The the. I noticed that when Gordon linked to my prediction for the Apprentice finale, he wrote "The Apprentice finale." I just had to say:

You know, I thought a lot about whether to capitalize the "t" in "the Apprentice finale." If you're capitalizing the "t," it should be "the The Apprentice finale." And now, I feel I have to blog this conversation, and if I blog this conversation, I will officially and conspicuously become a person who blogs too much.

A Person Who Blogs Too Much.
The plot of the Apprentice finale predicted. Here's my theory about why Omarosa was picked to be on Kwame's team and given the role (and I do mean role) of blatantly screwing everything up. As I noted yesterday, it didn't make any sense for Kwame to pick her, especially to also pick Heidi. So what was the set up? (It is all a set up, of course.) Did you notice Kwame saying things like, too bad I can't fire my employees? I was thinking, why can't he? Now, I realize, he couldn't last night because it wasn't the finale. Next week, things will escalate over the two hour period, with Bill's team doing reasonably well and Kwame's team falling to pieces as Omarosa screws up one thing after another and as she gets into amusing catfights with Heidi. The audience will be led, by skillful editing, to believe Kwame is going down and Bill is coasting toward victory. Then, at the last moment (where everything always happens in these competitions), Kwame will say to Omarosa, "You're fired!"--which will seems really exciting and cool. On the basis of that brilliant move, firing Omarosa (which in reality any fool would do), Kwame will be recognized as the true leader and will win the game. The show will tie up with some elegance, because Trump has been firing people all along and Kwame, as the only one who ever did the Trump-like thing and fired someone, will be deemed truly Trumpian enough to lead a Trump company. See? That plays out so neatly. That's got to be it. Time saved: 2 hours. Or now does the finale sound like fun? Well, enjoy it. I've taken a vow...

April 8, 2004

The deep chasm of extreme nothing. The Apprentice revealed its essential emptiness tonight, as Gordon's simulblogging documents. I don't really want to throw good time after bad by talking about it, but basically, the whole thing is bogus. First, I can't believe that when Bill and Kwame got to pick teams that Omarosa wasn't the last one picked. She wasn't even close to last. And Kwame got stuck with both Omarosa and her nemesis Heidi? How did that happen? I can't believe that was just Kwame picking. Then what was the competition? Interviewing?? Some damn golf course thing that seemed to only have to do with moving a lot of boxes (incomprehensible!) and then making sure Jessica Simpson got from the airport to the hotel (a flunky's job!)? And we're left with a "To be continued" cliffhanger about the "missing rock star"??? Cut back and forth to worried faces while playing the chiming music of doom all you want but that is just nothing! Nothing!!

So next week is the finale. The two hour finale. Let me make a public vow: I will not watch it!

UPDATE: Wow, Miss Alli at Television Without Pity totally disagrees with me. She gives the episode an A+ (seemingly largely because she agrees with Trump's choices--why should I care!?). I've never disagreed with TWoP more.
Do you crack jokes about antitrust law? If you can, you should give yourself a lot of credit, because The Daily Show got all geared up to do a segment on the Madison free-drinks antitrust problem (noted here) and they gave up. They didn't know how to make it funny. That's what I heard.
Condoleezza Rice. So I TiVoed Condi Rice's testimony and tried to watch some of it, but I find it impossible and irritating to try to look through the fog of the Presidential campaign, which surrounds everything. I know they can't help it, but I don't have to watch. Averting one's eyes from the Presidential campaign--my policy until after the conventions--is quite hard to do, because it's everywhere.
"Get Me a Table Without Flies, Harry." Speaking of sketchbook travels, this book, by Bill Griffith, had a big influence on me. Unfortunately, it's out of print and Amazon isn't even showing a picture of the cover of the book. Worse, there are only three reviews, all high praise, but two of them didn't figure out how to give a star rating and are counted as zeroes, leaving the book with one and a half stars. Too bad! Oh, forget Amazon--and curse the tendency to always start there--go here. Bill Griffith sells it from his own site--which has lots of great stuff--with the inscription of your choice. Get this book!

Drawn in a café in Paris. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's plane was found in the Mediterranean, as acknowledged here yesterday. Here's a drawing from one of my sketchbook trips, taken a few years ago:

Image-2CC7C10E89A311D8
I'm offended by my juice bottle. I was annoyed when the mango juice sold in the Law School snack bar changed its name from Fantasia (no connection to American Idol) to Naked. When I'm consuming liquid, I don't want to contemplate nakedness. That's just wrong: why are you making me think of bodily fluids? For a year, I refused to buy the drink I had been buying for years. Today, I bought one, and I have a number of additional complaints about the packaging.

1. The full name of the juice is "Naked Superfood Food-Juice/Mighty Mango-go." That's too heavy on the assertion that the drink is also a food (big news) and too un-clever in the idea of jazzing up mango by repeating the "go." "Food food" "go go"--and naked! I'm sorry, I don't even want a drink that exciting.

2. Under the ridiculous name it says, "It's an anti-ox mango-fruit-tango!" First of all, I don't need ox repellent. There are no oxen in these parts. Second, it's not clever enough to combine mango and tango especially since you didn't resist mango and go one line up on your packaging. It's like you brainstormed about "mango," then just used all your ideas. (Hey, how about "Man, go!"). Third, mango is also a fruit, so technically, you should say "It's an anti-ox mango-nonmango fruit-tango!"

3. Then it says "Get Naked! 'cause Life is Sweet Enough!" That's not even positive. You're saying your juice is sour? You're going to make my life worse, apparently, and you're also injecting sex into the subject of some juice you want me to drink. That's not good!

4. On the side, it directs me to "SHAKE & CHUG." Okay, fine to tell me to shake it. It needs shaking. But telling me the attitude I'm supposed to adopt while drinking and dictating a speed? That's an irritating intrusion into my lunchtime demeanor.

5. Elsewhere, it says: "With extra A & C, plus Vitamin E and Selenium, every velvety-smooth mouthful of this tropical treat helps you fight free radicals without swinging a punch." Now, you're mixing incomprehensible science, sexual innuendo, and weird political humor. That's just a mess!

It doesn't seem to taste as good as when they called it Fantasia and the packaging had a mild psychedelic theme. I guess they thought they needed to update it. (Or did Disney threaten to sue them?) Maybe they decided they needed to get men to buy it. I really can't understand, but it seems as though they just had a big jumble of motivations and really just didn't think about anything clearly.

UPDATE--CHRIS OFFERS A CORRECTION: "Fantasia did not change its name to Naked. They are two completely different companies. Naked put Fantasia out of business by making deals with all the stores to sell their product and not sell Fantasia." Yeah, the people who sell it kept asserting it was the same thing, but it really doesn't seem to be. So I guess Naked tasting worse wasn't all my subjective reaction to offensive packaging. I won't keep buying it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader credits Naked with trying for a Dr. Bonner's Soap kind of effect. That old too-much-on-the-label approach to cleverness is very much a late 60s/early 70s sort of ethos, which I find hard to see in Naked, because it replaced my beloved Fantasia, which was had a tastefully psychedelic label. That Dr. Bonner's Soap sort of humor was adopted by Madison Avenue when products got names like Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Now if Naked had called itself Why The Hell Isn't This Fantasia, I would have found it amusing.
The Apprentice backstory. Wow, read this description (found via Gawker) from a guy--Keith Hollihan--who lived beneath the apartment that was rented for more money on the apartment renovation episode of The Apprentice! There are some amazing things, including the graphic suicide of the previous occupant, but one thing stands out because it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire competition.
It turned out that [the new tenant] had actually rented the apartment before it was renovated. She had looked at a few places in the neighborhood, picked the apartment upstairs from us, and made arrangements to move in before learning that it had been pulled off the market for the show. She went ballistic. The landlord told her not to worry, she could still have the apartment at the agreed-upon rent but would have to participate in the episode in order to get it. During the filming, she went through the motions and rented the apartment at a price higher than the one she would actually be paying. The negotiation was a sham. ... Troy’s team won because they had secured the higher rent. Since D actually was paying less than the stated amount, this meant the results were rigged.

I wouldn't be surprised if every episode were rigged in some way.

Imagine if we learned that American Idol didn't actually use the telephoned-in votes every time.
"Despite popular and academic beliefs to the contrary, we have shown that police have varied responses to protest." UW Sociology Prof. Jeremy Freese describes how a sentence like that brings on a "Certain Type Of Moment" when he is "transported back home to the family farm, where I am sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, who dropped out of high school to get married and who has always been suspicious (even while supportive and proud) of this whole 'professoring' gig of her youngest son." Mom takes all the wind out of professor-son's sails:
Then my dear and wonderful mother looks up at me, a little puzzled, and she says, politely: "So they're saying the police don't respond to all situations the same. Like sometimes they make arrests or try to break things up, and sometimes they don't. Seems pretty obvious, don't it? But, they're saying that before they did this research, everybody believed that police responded to every--whatyoucallit--'protest event' in exactly the same way. That's a pretty strange thing for everyone to have believed, if you ask me.

He's trying to collect more sentences like the one boldfaced above and to come up with a name for sentences like that. Jeremy's focused on sociology, but there must be a law school version of the same. Maybe every field has things like that: hard-sought insights that the lay person feels are already quite obvious.

April 7, 2004

The Little Prince. So they've found Antoine de Saint-Exupery's plane in the Mediterranean Sea, where it crashed in 1944, when the brilliant author was only 44 and while he was on a wartime reconnaissance mission. There were no bullet holes in the plane, and no body was found. I believe he merged with the stars.

It's interesting to see that "Le Petit Prince," which I read in French class in high school, was originally written in English! So I guess I should have been saying "The Little Prince" all these years, when I thought I was being true to the source.

Nina contemplates the fact that The Little Prince is third on the all time best seller list after the Bible and Das Kapital. I find that impossible to believe, but okay.... Nina wonders if the same people are reading The Little Prince and the Marx tome:
After the eyestrain of paging through Marx, ‘The Little Prince’ may well offer the perfect antidote.

‘The Little Prince’ is one of those books that makes you think that surely there is a subtext, a Great Meaning of some sort. It’s not hard to imagine a Great Meaning hidden in simple statements about our planet –as seen from the eyes of an interstellar traveler.
I'm guessing Das Kapital is bought a lot more than it's read and when it's read, many words are skipped. The chance of reading every word of The Little Prince is infinitely greater. Many read it over and over.

Speculating about Communists reading The Little Prince reminds me of the discussion in My Dinner With André, when André, totally fixated on the book, starts speculating that Nazis would love the book and goes off on a strange rant. Nothing on the web to link for that, so you'll just have to watch the movie yourself. Oh, but a Little Prince quiz did turn up--a really great Quizilla. As for me:

UPDATE: The link has gone dead but my answers identified me as the fox.
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.... It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.... Men have forgotten this truth... But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . ."
For the annals of self-surgery.
A woman in Mexico cut open her own womb with a knife and delivered a healthy baby boy in her rural home when problems developed during labor, doctors report in a medical journal.

The woman and her son, her ninth child, both survived despite an eight-hour car ride to the nearest hospital and a wait of several hours once she got there, said co-author Dr. Rafael Valle, a Northwestern University obstetrician who learned about the case from a colleague.

"She was asked, 'Why did you do that? Do you know you could have died?' She said, 'Yes, but I wanted to save my baby,'" Valle said Wednesday. He added: "This is heroic to me."

The authors of the report said there are other cases of women attempting the same thing, but none they could find in which the mother and child survived.

The woman, 40, lived in a dirt-floor house with no electricity or running water and had previously lost a baby during childbirth, the authors said.

She was alone when she went into labor, and fearing the same thing would happen when it appeared childbirth was not progressing, she decided to perform the crude C-section. She drank three small glasses of hard liquor first to numb the pain, he said.
Yikes! That reminded me of story told by the great director Werner Herzog--I think it's in the incredibly cool documentary My Best Fiend--about working on the movie Fitzcarraldo. A crew member who was cutting down brush with a chainsaw got bitten by a snake so poisonous it would kill him in seconds. The man instantly used the chainsaw to cut off his own leg, saving his life. I don't trust Herzog not to lie, though, but it's a great story. The C-section one though is in a medical journal ... apparently.
"I remember when rock was young." They probably never play Speedy Gonzales on the radio anymore--it's absurdly politically incorrect by today's standards--but people ought to know that Crocodile Rock completely borrows from Pat Boone's novelty hit. John Stevens is kind of a Pat Boone type, so conceivably that connection led him to choose that song.

And let me point out another the Clay Aiken-Grease/John Stevens-Crocodile Rock similarity: they both conspicuously wore red jackets. And both, previously non-dancers, let loose with some weird dance moves. Judges were equally skeeved by both redheads.

Oh, and what about Speedy Gonzales the cartoon character? Should he be banned?
American Idol mostly drove home for me how great a singer Elton John is, as the contestants bungled or oversang his songs. It was pretty much torture last night. I don't have a good sense of pitch myself, so I didn't suffer as much as someone who really hears pitch well, but I was cringing at all the bad notes. I didn't even like my previous favorite Fantasia, who doesn't seem to care enough about the melody or musicality of a song, and who tries to make up for it by redoing her old trick of adding ten "yeahs" to the end of the song (which I think is most like something Paul McCartney used to do). Jennifer Hudson--oh, great, we said at my house--she's going last so she must be the best. Well, really, I think the show was trying to save Jennifer and LaToya by putting them last and as far away from Fantasia as possible, because they were in the bottom three last week. I suspect the producers think that Fantasia is getting a lot of votes that should be shared with LaToya and Jennifer. Because John Stevens (newly Aikenized) or JPL (looking like the young Elton John) are getting the young-girl-loves-cute-boy vote, which has no potential to shift to the more adult sounding black female singers (even if they are the best). Actually, last night George Huff was the best. He cracks me up, because he has the most mature-sounding voice and then after he's done singing, when he's interacting with people, he gets really childish facial expressions, that are kind of endearing, but that also remind me of Gomer Pyle or a cute baby. Well, at least he's distinctive.

Jennifer, my original favorite, didn't impress me with her bellowing of that Lion King song, though I still want her to stay around and really like her personality. Picking the Elton John song young kids know best was a sly move. But I don't like that kind of cornball singing. It's not poppy. It's not sophisticated. It's devoid of real human feeling. I really find it tedious. But the judges loved it. But then I like John Stevens. He's adorable! And he had nerve to do Crocodile Rock. And the judges, who want to destroy him, seemed to be going all out to make him cry on camera. They know he's getting a lot of votes and they want him out. His performance last night reminded me of the time Clay Aiken sang Grease and the judges pilloried him for it. But Clay gained energy from the adversity. They always tell you to get out of your box--as Television Without Pity's commentator likes to point out--but then they slam you for doing it. Did it take nerve to do the Pat-Boone-singing-Speedy-Gonzales part of the song (the falsetto la-las)? Yeah! I enjoyed it.

So what are Prof. Yin and Prof. Brito saying? Go check them out.

April 6, 2004

"I really think it's time we stopped flying together." David Brooks sustains a column-long metaphor about flying on specialized airlines, the like of which I have not seen since Prince's International Lover:
Good evening. This is your pilot Prince speaking.
U r flying aboard the Seduction 747
And this plane is fully equipped with anything your body desires...
Except Brooks is using his metaphorical device to critique partisan politics. His column caught my eye because he invokes my hometown (Brooks is obsessed with American geography):
The political divisions in this country being what they are, it's not enough that liberals and conservatives have different radio networks, different Web sites and different networks of friends. In order to eliminate all possibility of trans-partisan conversation, I really think it's time we stopped flying together. It's time to set up two different airlines: Liberal Air, with direct flights between Madison, Berkeley, Ann Arbor and the New School for Social Research; and Right Wing Express, which will have planes with no oxygen masks in case of emergencies because anybody who can't handle a little asphyxiation doesn't deserve to live.
Brooks doesn't usually go for humor this broad. Maybe he got a look at the Quizilla test (which I noticed via Prof. Yin): "Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?" I took the test and didn't post it because, though I didn't mind being David Brooks, I couldn't identify with the quiz's description of Brooks:
You are David Brooks! You're exceedingly smart, but your writing is as compelling as wallpaper. You are a thoughtful though hard-line conservative, but lack any of Safire's verbal pyrotechnics. In addition, you dress like you're colorblind. Fall down, juvenile.
So maybe Brooks is trying to spice things up, to be more Dowd-y.

Note to Mithras: I didn't identify with "hard-line conservative."

Sidenote: Safire has "verbal pyrotechnics"?? Don't you mean Dowd? Safire is interested in language, but he's awfully mellow and restrained!

Interior decorating note re "compelling as wallpaper": depends on the wallpaper.
"Welcome Back, Kotter" ... Groucho Marx. Here's a nice thing from the NYT Boldface Names about "Welcome Back, Kotter" and ... Groucho Marx:
... RON PALILLO, perhaps best known for his role as ARNOLD HORSHACK in "Welcome Back, KOTTER," [didn't want to talk about various things and] preferred to recount the time GROUCHO MARX arrived on the set to do a guest appearance in 1975 or '76, not long before his death.

"We were his favorite show," Mr. Palillo recalled. "We didn't know what to say, so we all just went up to him and made the famous HARPO raspberry mouth. It really threw him. He just misted over and couldn't speak. They took him out and he never got to do the guest spot."

Of course, "Welcome Back, Kotter" would have reminded Groucho of the Marx Brothers' vaudeville skit "Fun in Hi Skule." And to see all the Kotter boys do the brilliant Harpo mug would have been incredibly endearing and overwhelming for the old man. How sweet! (Boldface doesn't seem to care for the pathos of this scene, being much more involved in finding ways to show that celebrities on the decline are pathetic.)
Althousercation. I see I was added to the blogroll at NewzillaNotes. I don't know much about that blog, but there's a good post about The O'Franken Factor with David Kay. I see I'm listed right after Altercation. Hey, I should have named my blog Althousercation.
Jerry is to Superman as Darrin is to Samantha. As Tonya notes, Jerry Seinfeld was on The Daily Show last night, basically to get people to go to the American Express website to look at a five minute commercial that you have to go there to see. Tonya has the interchange with Jon Stewart ribbing him about doing a long commercial that you have to go out of your way to find, and that was pretty funny. Jerry showed admirable restraint by not gloating about how he not only can get people to go watch his commercial, he can get Jon Stewart to let him on a show to do an extra long interview just to promote a commercial. Who else has ever gotten to do that? And, amazingly, still looked good doing it. Think of all those actors who can barely pull off promoting a good movie.

Since Superman is in the commercial, Jerry had the opportunity to talk about Superman, which seems to be an endless source of material. I enjoyed the speculation that Superman is really not too bright and that that would be a side effect of having superpowers. Jerry was talking about the next ad, which has him and Superman going on a road trip and getting locked out of the car. Superman offers to rip the hood off the car, and Jerry protests that they had an agreement that it was going to be a no superpowers trip. So he's like Darrin in Bewitched, who made Samantha promise not to use witchcraft to accomplish her various household tasks. Samantha, of course, always entertained us by using her powers at the drop of a hat whenever Darrin's back was turned. So that's my question for Jerry: does Superman use his powers on the sly? (I guess I have to watch an AmEx ad to find out.)

I'm thinking Jerry and Superman would have a whole ethic going, like "the covenant of the keys", and if Superman broke the deal, the whole relationship would implode. There would be no next time (as with Darrin). It would be like:
I don't want the keys back! No, I'm glad the way things turned out. I was clingin' to those keys, man! Like a branch on the banks of a raging river. And now I have let go. And I'm free...to go with the current. To float. And I thank you.

Great writing! Important to recognize though that Seinfeld didn't write that, Larry David did.

Speaking of writing, Tonya's also defending Stone Reader, but I think her defense supports my position--public service ads have some bit of flair, don't they?
Right? I haven't activated the comments function on this blog, mostly because I want to control how things look and also because anyone can communicate with me by email (using the name of this blog followed by @wisc.edu) and I'll post comments that I think are worth reading, but some other blogs have comments. Prof. Yin has comments, and I just discovered that someone said something about me in response to something nice Prof. Yin said about me. The commenter is "Mithras," who has named himself after a god and also has a blog. Check this out:
"...she exhibits a level-headed non-partisanship."

You are kidding, right? I haven't noticed one time that she criticized conservatives for anything or praised liberals for anything.

"The Democrats try to scare me about the Republicans, and the Republicans just want to be loved."

She doesn't curse, is that what qualifies as a thoughtful conservative now?
Well, talk about overheated rhetoric. Oh, and taking things out of context. I was writing about the letters I get from both parties, who both assume I'm already a supporter, and comparing the styles of the pleas for help:
I always find it weird that they assume you're a hardcore supporter, but they must find that the assumption helps make people feel needed and willing to chip in. I even receive membership cards to things I've never joined and letters inquiring why I haven't "renewed" my membership, letters full of wacky self-examination, mulling about what they could have done wrong to turn me away, like some needy old lover. Those last few things are all Republican moves. The Democratic letters are always trying to scare me about things that are about to happen, how I'm about to lose all my rights and so forth. I would have thought the Democrats would be more about love and the Republicans more about fear, but not so, at least when speaking to people they think might have some money to hand over. The Democrats try to scare me about the Republicans, and the Republicans just want to be loved.
The assumption that "Democrats would be more about love and the Republicans more about fear" hardly seems more flattering to the Republicans. And the part Mithras quoted, "the Republicans just want to be loved," goes with the earlier statement that their letters are "full of wacky self-examination, mulling about what they could have done wrong to turn me away, like some needy old lover." I haven't read much of Mithras's blog, but I see from Technorati he's reasonably popular. Well, I don't like his rhetoric from what I've seen (that one comment about me).

"You are kidding, right?" is the sort of line that passes for a witticism in TV screenplays (the actor lays heavy, faux world-weary emphasis on the second word). That thing of adding "right?" at the end of a statement, you can get dependent on that, right?

April 5, 2004

Even women aren't reading the Styles Section. Ridicule Karen Hughes's fringed outfit (worn on Meet the Press) all you want Electablog and Wonkette. I think it's ridiculous too. But it's quite in fashion. And it's not hard to learn this info. It's all over the NYT Styles pages.



Here's Ruth LaFerla:
"It's funny," Nanette Lepore, a New York designer, was musing last week. "Women don't really know why they want something — they just do." Ms. Lepore was trying to puzzle out why little bouclé jackets — and in particular a tweed plaid version with a boxy shape and frayed edges, a knockoff of a Chanel original — should be the surprise hit of the season.... "
Here's Ben Cunningham (click on "Into the Fray"):
Not long ago, frayed edges signaled that a jacket should be sent to a charity sale. Today, such jackets and skirts with clipped and frayed edges are the trend. The styles this spring, shown here in New York and Paris, have had their fringe manicured for wider appeal. The raggedy extreme, from Junya Watanabe, may be seen at the far left. The look's inspiration can be traced back 20 years to avant-garde apanese and Belgian designers. Chanel's fringed versions are elaborately refined.

Try shopping at Barneys. That damn fringe is everywhere. Don't "rag" on Karen Hughes about it!

Today's Bascom Hill display--inopportunely following a weekend when Madisonians thought a lot about false reporting--features life-size silhouettes painted with statistics about sexual assaults:

Political correctness, Spring 2004 version. Yesterday, I was at my favorite café and they were playing very irritating music that made it hard to concentrate on the editing project I was struggling with. As one of the few customers (Sunday morning), I considered asking them to change the music. But I decided not to, because the music was distinctly ethnic, and I was afraid it would be taken the wrong way. This morning, Cheryl came to work wearing a rather insane jacket that was covered with large cartoon characters (I'm talking twenty faces, 5" in diameter).
That's quite a jacket!

I thought I needed to liven things up. But the problem is there are no persons of color.
Just when you're trying to amuse the students, who knows what risks of offense one takes? I think the students should be happy that the teacher is willing to wear something positively absurd in order to cheer them up. Would anyone really think: Hey, that jacket is not inclusive enough!

I pointed out that that faces on the jacket were white (that is chalk white) and orange, so there was color variety, but she clearly felt it was deficient that a more pronounced attempt at diversity had not been made by the lunatic that patched that jacket together. And I'm not disrespecting Cheryl's clothes. I think clothes should be amusing, at least much of the time.

Oh, I forgot I had the digital camera! Missed opportunity! Cheryl did give me permission to blog about her jacket.
Elevator conversation at the Law School:
It's winter again.

I heard it's going to snow.

Where'd you hear that?

NPR. But I don't believe any of their crap.

It's a left wing conspiracy.

Yes, everything is terrible. Part of scheme to get Kerry elected.
Constitutional thrills. For me, apparently, daylight savings means waking up in the middle of the night and seeing that the time is close enough to a reasonable hour to go ahead and get up. The NYT is here, I can check out the overnight activity on my blog. Hmm... someone came here after doing a Yahoo search for "this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing," a phrase Justice Breyer used to refer to God in the Newdow oral argument. This entry of mine is one of only three results for that. I'm surprised more people haven't commented on Breyer's striking locution.

One of the search results is just a reprint of Leon Wieseltier's article in The New Republic, "What America Can Learn From Its Atheists."
Citing United States v. Seeger from 1965, though he might have illustrated his speculation more vividly with the historical precedent of the Cult of the Supreme Being in revolutionary Paris, Breyer proposed that such a faith "in any ordinary person's life fills the same place as belief in God fills in the life of an orthodox religionist," and so "it's reaching out to be inclusive"--so inclusive, in fact, that it may satisfy a non-believer such as Newdow. Breyer suggested that the God in "under God" is "this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." And he posed an extraordinary question to Newdow: "So do you think that God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive, and if it is, then does your objection disappear?"

Oh, yes, life would be so much more vivid if Supreme Court Justice's would stop being so stodgy as to prefer references to their own old cases! Please cite more foreign sources, Justices, because that is way more fun ... and it gets a rise out of Scalia.

Anyway, the only thing extraordinary about Breyer's statement is the idiosyncratic syntax. The idea itself is straight out of ... oh, how tedious ... some old Supreme Court cases. But Wieseltier is jazzed up by the way Newdow did not back down, even though, obviously, since he's trying to win his case, he wouldn't. Breyer was just asking for a response to the utterly predictable argument that generic ceremonial deism doesn't violate the Establishment Clause.
Newdow's objection did not disappear, because it is one of the admirable features of atheism to take God seriously. Newdow's reply was unforgettable: "I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' which is exactly what I think. I deny the existence of God." The sound of those words in that room gave me what I can only call a constitutional thrill. This is freedom.

If only more ideologues could get the opportunity to do Supreme Court arguments, more constitutional thrills could be had by all. According to Wieseltier:
Breyer was advocating the Lockean variety of toleration, according to which it would be based on a convergence of conviction, a consensus about the truth, among the overwhelming majority of the members of a society. The problem with such an arrangement is that the convergence is never complete and the consensus is never perfect. Locke himself instructed that "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God." The universal absolute is never quite universal. And there is another problem. It is that nobody worships a "very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." Such a level of generality, a "generic" God, is religiously senseless.

Except that Breyer wasn't invoking Locke's idea about freeing up the discourse so the individual can search for the true answer. Breyer was talking about an invocation of God that is too bland and generic to warrant judicial intervention. What Wiesentier is calling a "problem" is the central point Breyer's argument makes: no one's version of God is being preferred. And it isn't fair to Locke either, again quite obviously. Is the person who makes the first big step toward freedom and away from repression to be raked over the coals because his step was not big enough? Should we impute a blindspot that existed in 1689 to Locke's intellectual descendants of today? That's just sophistry. The ceremonial deism idea--even though it can be criticized as encouraging the ennervation of serious religion--is valuable because it allows courts to avoid excessive intervention in small matters. That ideologues can pump up small things and make them seem all-important is very old news.

April 4, 2004

Is Stone Reader a good documentary? Tonya is praising the film Stone Reader, so I feel compelled to dissent and say that this is a ridiculous excuse for a documentary, though people who enjoy the pacing of, say, NPR radio may enjoy it. (Sideswipe at NPR: This morning they went on and on about people in India who made clay pottery. Why they kneaded the clay by hand and used a potter's wheel! We listened our way through each supposedly bizarrely primitive step of the pottery process that will be familiar to anyone who ever took a ceramics class.)

Stone Reader is the dragged out search for an author of a book the filmmaker read and loved a long time ago. Tonya writes: "You must see this film if you are a bibliophile." I'd say if you're a bibliophile, just read, don't waste time watching a movie about how long it takes to find an author--with numerous pointless shots of things like raking leaves (you know, time is passing, and the author is still not found) and the filmmaker's son opening his new Harry Potter book and interviews with people who might know where the missing author is that go on and on and then conclude with the news that the interviewee does not know (and, yeah, I know Citizen Kane kind of proceeds in that way--"Rosebud? Never heard of it!"--but this is not Citizen Kane). Read the customer review "10% actual content, 90% padding" at Amazon. And check out the inflated price of the DVD--which I paid. (Sure, it has a lot of special features, but what consolation is that? There's no special feature that gives me two hours of my life back.)

Stone Reader feels like a 2-hour public service announcement about the benefits of reading. Can a good movie be made about reading? What movies are there about reading? I can think of The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride, which use the device of reading a book to enter into a story (which Alice in Wonderland does too). I can think of really only one decent movie that really is (pretty much) about reading: La Lectrice. It's hard enough to do a film about writing, but reading? Reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld--The Pitch--where George and Jerry pitch the idea of the show about nothing:
JERRY: ..Well, as I was saying, I would play myself, and, as a comedian, living in New York, I have a friend, a neighbor, and an ex-girlfriend, which is all true.

GEORGE: Yeah, but nothing happens on the show. You see, it's just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.. You eat, you read, You go shopping.

RUSSELL: You read? You read on the show?
Here's a mean but funny list from NY Press: 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers (via Apt. 11D). At #50, the first entry hit me as hilariously dead-on--for Sophia Coppola:
AN ART BIMBO whose daddy happens to be movie royalty rides in on the tired back of Bill Murray and is proclaimed a new film genius. The genius' film, Lost in Translation, is the most pretentious, overrated movie of last year, about an alienated Yale brat who feels so lonely in her five-star hotel that she strips down to her panties and curls up on the windowsill every half-hour.
Love the drawings, even if they do make Sarah Jessica Parker (number 13) look an awful lot like Coppola. Aw, what's so bad about Parker?
WHEN GIRLS THINK another girl is beautiful, but guys know she isn't, call it the Sarah Jessica Parker syndrome. Parker is a dual monument to millennial American female vanity and inanity. Spoiled and groomed to the point of psychosis, Sarah Jessica Parker is the final dead-end in the American feminine odyssey.
Do girls think Parker is beautiful? It seems to me most actresses who are called beautiful are nowhere near beautiful. It's often a stretch to call them pretty. The fascinating ones are rather weird looking, really, like Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts.
Please, guys. Please read the Styles Section. Once again, the NYT makes an all out bid to get guys to read the Styles Section. This time, it's a giant front page article headlined "The Very Long Legs Of 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

Interesting business angle: GGW is a $100-million a year business. Do they pay the "girls"? "Occasionally we pay if they ask, but 95 percent of the girls just get a tank top."

Interesting legal angle: the founder of GGW, Joe Francis, is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive business practices and is being prosecuted in Florida, charged with "racketeering, obscenity and enticing underage girls to expose themselves and engage in sex acts."

But this is the Styles Section, and the big colorful photo on the front page shows the "girls" having nothing but fun. There's also a nice little picture of Francis posing in front of his swimming pool.