May 15, 2004

Hey, Nina's in Paris!

Now, I'm jealous. What a warm familiar place! Maybe it is, as she says, like Madison.

Great Jeremy dialogue.

Blog fiction.

It will be interesting to see if novels can be successfully presented in the form of blogs. Remember when hypertext novels seemed like they might be important? Does anyone care about them now? There must be a lot of blogs that convey made-up stories about the blogger's life, with the blogger being a fictional first-person narrator. I Googled "fiction blog" and came up with a recent article in the Guardian, which included this:
Blogs are now so familiar that print writers are imitating them. An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, the fourth novel by Canadian author Jim Munroe takes the form of a blog roommatefromhell.net written by a woman worried that her Goth flatmate is genuinely demonic. Munroe was tempted to make fun of blogging's stylistic tics. "But I tried to stay away from broader humour to look at how the character, a woman in her early 30s, uses the blog to explore her need to be public and private at the same time."

Appropriately enough, when the novel comes out in the US and Canada in September, Munroe will post the 100 entries that make up the story, one a day, on a real blog. He's also planning to add photos and links to fake sites connected to the story. "There'll also be an Is She or Isn't She? feature, where readers can vote on whether the roommate is, in fact, a demon. Depending on how the vote goes, I'll be writing and posting a bonus story that won't be in the print version."

Munroe's novel shows how blogs have become part of the cultural landscape. Rob Wittig thinks that blog fiction will become similarly popular. "I can easily see blog fiction becoming part of everyday computer-literate life, especially for the twentysomething generation. So much of their social life is being lived in messages already." Others suggest it will take a while for things to develop. The personal diary seems to work well in blog form at the moment, says Paul Ford. "But I don't think we have any way of knowing, just yet, what other sorts of stories are going to work. It's still too new."

So maybe novel-writing will end up where it started: in epistolary form, published in installments.

A sidenote: according to Munroe's website, he's going to be appearing in Madison soon, at "the world's only feminist science fiction convention."

UPDATE: My battery got too low at the café where I was writing that, so I didn't get to say what I had to say. So let me say it now. What I want from blog fiction is not a traditional print writer trying to get in on the blog action by breaking a novel up into a mere 100 entries, even if it includes a poll about what ending you want (like the movie of Clue). (Plus, please don't bore me with the following phrases: "cultural landscape," "computer-literate life," "twentysomething generation.") Good fiction blogging would involve several fictional characters, each with their own blog, linking to each other, discussing various fictional events in their lives, perhaps along with interesting other commentary on real world events. It would have to go on for years, like a comic strip that you read daily, and would contain thousands of entries.

ONE MORE THING: "Munroe was tempted to make fun of blogging's stylistic tics." Translation: Munroe doesn't care enough about blogging to have any usable ideas about how to satirize bloggers.

Standing out in a "noneccentric, nonsarcastic way."

So what did all those elite boy's school kids think of John Kerry when he was 16? From a good long article in the NYT:
"I think hatred is too strong a word ... Loathing is too strong a word. He may have seemed a little calculating to some people, and perhaps to me as well at the time, but he wanted to be liked. He may have just been a little more obvious about it. Not bad training for a politician. He wanted recognition, and in a place like that, anybody who did stand out in a noneccentric, nonsarcastic way, some people might be a little suspicious of."

The trials of being a not rich enough, not Protestant, not Republican, and openly serious about politics.

Small-time anti-Bush politics in Madison.

State Street is teeming with visitors as well as locals this Saturday after graduation. Is there any campaigning going on here in this famous hotbed of political activity? Why, yes. The Boot Bush Guy is back.

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You can buy a button to display proudly on your person.

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And here we see the pro-Kerry effort.

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A weasel seeks shade.

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Biscuits produce Apple.

Well, I guess all those biscuits Gwenyth Paltrow ate while pregnant must have really worked because she supersized that baby: it came out weighing 9 pounds, 11 ounces. And she named the baby Apple, so let the joking begin. I wonder what computer this child will choose when the time comes?

Her husband Chris Martin described the process as "a long labor." Ending with a Caesarean section, one assumes, given that size baby and that size mother. If it's a C-section, say it's a C-section. Don't do what Kate Winslet did. She recently confessed:
I've never talked about this—I've actually gone to great pains to cover it up. But Mia was an emergency C-section. I just said that I had a natural birth because I was so completely traumatized by the fact that I hadn't given birth. I felt like a complete failure. My whole Me, I'd been told I had great childbearing hips. There's this thing amongst women in the world that if you can handle childbirth, you can handle anything. I had never handled childbirth, and I felt like, in some way that I couldn't join that "powerful women's club." So it was an amazing feeling having Joe naturally, vaginally. Fourteen hours with no drugs at all, but then I had to have an epidural because I was so tired. I honestly thought I'd never be able to do it. It was an incredible birth. It laid all the ghosts to rest. It was really triumphant.

"Great childbearing hips" is probably not a compliment ever aimed at Paltrow. It seems unlikely that 9 pounds, 11 ounces exited "vaginally." Bragging about natural childbirth is forgivable, but insufferable. I love the "no drugs for me at all ... until I took the drugs" preening and the whole "my hips ... my vagina" attitude, but it's really awfully lame. And it gave her an "amazing feeling"--"vaginally"--which sounds a little too much like part of your sex life.

Why the triumphalism? One way or the other, that baby is coming out. You will be there, you will endure it, but is there an accomplishment worth mentioning? Do you get an A if you escaped the knife and the drugs, a B if you took the drugs, a B+ if you took drugs only in the end, and a C if you got a C-section? Is that why they call it a C-section? Oh, and you get a D if you had that C-section with general anaesthesia? Competitive, comparative childbirth is unseemly. We go through what we go through, and very little of it reflects any particular virtue on our part. Spare me the preening, the bragging, and the sentimental goo.

ONE MORE THING: Just to state the obvious, to complete the grading scale: who gets an F for her childbearing efforts? Well, you should know by now. Who are the least eligible for the "powerful women club," the ones who really can't "handle childbirth," who really lack "childbearing hips," who really can't "do it"? They are the millions of women who have died in childbirth. See why it's unseemly to be competitive about how well you did?

"Haunted."

I read some of the reader opinions at the link for the novel in the previous post. You always have to wonder, reading those things, whether they are written by friends or relatives of the author (though the book really did sound good as described on the radio).

Ever notice how often a book is called "haunting"? Two out of eight customer reviews at that link called the book "haunting." It seems any time people actually like a book, they are haunted by it. That's rather disturbing. You wouldn't read the book at all if you knew you weren't going to like it. But then you like it and it dogs you in some eerie, scary way.

"Haunt" ought to be a strong word. My favorite use of the word is in the movie Wuthering Heights, when Laurence Olivier says "Haunt me, Cathy!" He doesn't mean he'd like a poignant memory of her to linger. He really means he wants her ghost to haunt him.
...I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form. Drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life. I cannot die without my soul.

That's haunt. I love that movie scene, but let me give you the original Emily Bronte text too:
"Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you - haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!"
The screenplay stayed pretty close to the original. Replacing "Oh, God! it is unutterable!" was the sheer presence of Laurence Olivier. "Dark alone" replaced "abyss," which they couldn't trust people to understand. "I can not live without my life!"--that's great movie-talk, straight out of the original. The second "I cannot live" in the original became "I cannot die" in the screenplay. Interesting! Instead of parallelism and repetition, the movie has Cathy's death create a dilemma: "I cannot live" and "I cannot die." That's quite good. (Quality screenwriting by Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht, and (uncredited) John Huston.)

But I know it's futile to inform the world that they ought to preserve the strength of the word "haunt." The sad thing about taking a strong word and using it as an ordinary word is that as an ordinary word it becomes a cliché, so it really has lost its entire reason for being. A whole category of words that have had their strong meaning sucked out of them by overuse consists of words that express approval: grand, great, magnificent, marvelous, awesome. A subcategory consists of words that originally suggested unreality: fantastic, incredible, unreal, fabulous. Fortunately, there are so many of these words of praise in English, that we can fend off the cliché problem by periodically switching to a new one. I remember when no one used "awesome," then it got started, then it got overused, and then it became generally recognized that it was idiotic to say it, even as a joke. So maybe it will lie fallow for a long time and become reusable. There's no chance of "haunting" going through that process though, because though it is overused, it's certainly not overused the way "awesome" was. It's got to be quite conspicuous before people become embarrassed. On the other hand, since "haunting" is overused by people who seem to want to appear elegant and educated, maybe there is some hope that embarrassment will set in more easily.

A very quiet Saturday.

It's a very quiet Saturday here at the Law School, the day after graduation. It was 49 degrees when I left the house; you have to check the temperature before heading out on a Spring day in Wisconsin. So I drove in, listening to an NPR segment on a novel about a Japanese pearl diver sent to a leper colony. It's a nice clear day, and though I'm in my office now, putting together notes for a talk I need to do next month on federalism and medical marijuana, I plan to walk down State Street soon enough and get some coffee and a sandwich at a café--where I will undoubtedly sent up my mobile office and continue putting my notes together. That really is my idea of getting out of the house on a nice day!

May 14, 2004

Graduating the Law School class that began with 9/11.

The law school class graduating today began just days before the 9/11 attacks. How strange it must have been to go to law school, motivated for reasons individual to one's own life, surrounded by other individuals who had arrived in the same place along various different paths, as yet unknown to you, and then, in the second week of law school, to have 9/11 change everything. How did that unexpected, shattering beginning change the law school experience? I sat on the stage through the graduation ceremony today, as the Dean welcomed the throng of students and their family and friends, followed by an introduction from a University regent, a keynote speaker (the state Secretary of Commerce), and three students speakers, and not one mentioned the unusual beginning that marked law school for this class. It was only the faculty speaker, Jane Schacter, who raised the subject. How very odd--especially that not one student spoke of it.

Someone passed a handwritten note to the Dean, asking that the ceremony include the Pledge of Allegiance (there was, indeed, a flag on the stage). The Dean showed the note to me and at least one other faculty member. It would have been hard to change the program to include something unplanned and hard for this group to say the Pledge--there were many foreign students among us, most notably. But I understand the sentiment. Prof. Schacter's speech concentrated on the important legal services given to the accused and to persons who might suffer abuse by the government. The role serving the public interest through government service is much less often mentioned. The Pledge might have given the ceremony a dimension that really was missing.

Am I criticizing the student speakers for never mentioning 9/11? (It is possible that there was a mention that I missed, and if so, please correct me.) Not really. We have all moved beyond the feelings we had in the fall of 2001, feelings it seemed--to me at least--would never lose their edge. Maybe the lack of any mention of 9/11 should be celebrated: the terrorists didn't "win." They didn't knock the students off the paths they had set out on when they came to law school. It's not for me to know what effect 9/11 had. I only know the student speakers didn't mention it. What did they talk about? Overwhelmingly, they talked about what they always talk about: how much they owe to their family, how much their family helped them, how important family is, how important love is. The most profound moment was when one student asked that we thank the members of our family who are in Heaven, like her grandfather, who had taught her so much. She called for a moment of silence to think about those who had helped them. And then, because she had made herself cry, she called for a second moment of silence. The Dean got her a glass of water.

There is a certain sort of student that my heart goes out to at times like these: the student who got no help from family. Repeatedly, speakers said, "None of us have gotten where we are without the help of someone else." But surely, there are at least a few persons who did have to go it alone, who have no family, who are estranged from their family, or who are actively discouraged by their family. Surely, there are some students who lost the love of their life along the way in law school and students whose family troubles had only a negative effect. Graduation adds feelings of envy and loneliness to the burdens these students bear, and no one ever offers them a world of solace. In fact, they try to deny them the sense of accomplishment they ought to have in knowing that they did it on their own. So a word of congratulations to those unrecognized students.

And good-bye to the class of '04, those with family and those without family, those profoundly changed by 9/11 and those who held fast to their pre-set dreams. Good luck to all the great people who passed through our wonderful school these past three years.

New York to the rest of the country: go soak your head.

Here's Sam Sifton leading off his "Diner's Journal" entry in the NYT:
There are times in this city when the pulse rate quickens and sweat breaks out on the brows of the citizenry and it seems for one horrible moment as if everyone in sight is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It's just you, though.

In another place — in the cool sylvan embrace of Portland, Ore., say, or under the dappled sun of Charleston, S.C. — people so suffering would go home and soak their heads. In New York City, they go to restaurants. Restaurants of a particular sort, that is. New Yorkers are nothing if not precise in their self-medication.

It turns out, there are restaurants in New York that serve comfort food! And people there eat as a way of tending to emotional stress. How very urbane! I must try that sometime. Now, now, now, don't be so sarcastic, I hear the Voice of Sifton chiding me: in New York, comfort food is "a perfect Venn diagram of spice, salt, sweet and nutty." So are you Sam! That was perfectly delightful. I'll keep reading.

The Triplets of Belleville: pure nonsense or French anti-Americanism?

The DVD of The Triplets of Belleville is out already (though the film is still in the theaters), and it arrived in the mail yesterday. So many of the DVDs I order sit on the coffee table unwatched and eventually get shelved, perhaps never to be watched. I'm sure my DVD bookcase has at least 30 that I've never even put in the machine. But The Triplets of Belleville made it straight into the machine and got watched the evening of its arrival. It opens with a sequence that was shockingly crudely animated, but then we see that this is a cartoon on a TV that within the beautifully drawn world of the characters of the rest of the movie. The elegant detail of the line and the subtle color make a profound impression when they replace the bluntly drawn black and white TV cartoon that begins the film. So is the movie basically a dreamworld fantasy of pure nonsense or is it an expression of French anti-Americanism? I have the impression that's a debate people have about the movie. You might gravitate toward the first position if you enjoyed the movie and the second if you don't want to bother to see it or if you saw it and it put you in a bad mood for one reason or another. I find those two positions too boring to take, so let me offer some other things to think about.

1. This is basically a silent movie. There is no sound that functions as narrative. If you turned off the sound entirely, you would only miss the music and the sound effects. The music, like the drawings, are distinctive, and in no way "nonsense," unless all music is nonsense. It doesn't make sense to think of music (excluding lyrics) as nonsense. So the visual and sonic beauty of the film stand apart from anything you might have to say about the narrative. The narrative might be just something to engage you to look at drawings and listen to music for a sustained stretch of time.

2. The boy was a rather horrifying character, who seemed to exist only to ride a bicycle. He was a depressed lump until he got his first tricycle, and the old woman driving him on was perhaps helping him achieve his own heartfelt goal. Even though she seemed cruel, she was a coach. It was a grim life, and the boy's face is nothing but grim, throughout his life, but he was worse off when kidnapped and exploited for his fabulous bicycling ability. The life of the French countryside may be hard, but if you leave it and go to the big city, it will be much worse. Better to go back home and live your limited little life, because the world of commerce is the worst exploitation of all. In this, the film reminds me of the Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio.

3. The three old women were not the only triplets. The French Mafia characters were three-in-one entities. And the core family group--grandmother, boy, and dog--are a set of three. So, consider three-ness. If three-ness is central, the trinity must be contemplated. Consider the possibility of religious allegory.

4. Think about machines. The bicycle is the central machine. (You can have a bicycle triple feature--celebrating three-ness--if you watch this movie and Breaking Away and The Bicycle Thief.) But the movie has a thing about machines. A clock machine determines when the dog is fed, the trains and subways drive right by the window, music is made from a refrigerator and a vacuum cleaner, a weird movie-bicycle-gambling-device is a place of imprisonment and a device for escape, and so forth. The interest in machines (especially since this is a silent movie) reminds me of Chaplin, who not only made Modern Times, which included a big evil work machine that entraps the hero, but also had the uplifting speech at the end of The Great Dictator be mostly about overcoming, not fascism, but machines. If you've read Chaplin's Autobiography, you know he was oddly overconcerned about machines.

5. Think about fire. The grandmother, alone in Belleville, sits under a bridge and lights a little fire, which causes the Triplets to appear and begin to sing. Food is acquired by using an incendiary device, a hand grenade thrown into the water, producing a harvest of frogs. And in the end, the gambling theater is exploded and set afire.

6. Is Belleville Manhattan? It's an island full of skyscrapers with the Statue of Liberty out in front, but the villainous men in suits are quite French. There is much guzzling of red wine, and the buildings are made in part of large wine bottles. There is an America diner that served big hamburgers to very fat people too. I think Belleville is a conglomeration of all things that are feared about cities and overgrown commerce. Belleville is globalization, which mixes Americans with the French, and the solution to the problem is isolationism--as the boy and his grandmother return to the little house to spend the rest of their lives soaking up the joys of poverty outside of the reach of evil commerce and big city excitement.

May 13, 2004

Justices O'Connor and Kennedy have a little something to say about the Iraqi detainees.

Gina Holland writes for AP about a meeting of international law experts that included Justices O'Connor and Kennedy as well as 28 Iraqi judges. The meeting took place last week in the Netherlands. Here's a key passage in the news story that shows the Justices' concern about the treatment of detainees:
The subject of detainee abuse did not come up, the justices said, but the way to handle deposed leader Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi leaders did....The justices did not disclose specifics of what was discussed but said Iraqis alone should determine the appropriate punishment.

"The people of Iraq and certainly the judges there will have to come to grips in time with what to do about the former regime and leaders in it and whether some should be held criminally accountable for past crimes and, if so, where do you draw the line," O'Connor said. "We don't have answers for that," she said, noting other wartorn countries have used such prosecutions as healing experiences.

Added Kennedy: "It's not for us to enter into that debate. There was some difference of opinion, but discussed in a very rational, balanced, reflective way." ... "You have to find small islands, small pockets of stability and reliability and build out from there," Kennedy said. "And it was apparent to us ... that these dedicated jurists represent a reliable source of stability, responsibility, respect for the law." ...

On the issue of Iraqi inmate abuse at the hands of U.S. military personnel, Kennedy said the Iraqi judges "innately knew, instinctively knew how concerned we were. They also knew that we can't really comment because we are actually in the legal system where we have review of military court-martials."

"They also knew we represent a process that is open, that recognizes that human fallibility is the reason we have democracy," he said.

One can only speculate about what effect the abuse of Iraqi detainees might have on the Justices' reasoning about the power of the President with respect to the Guantanamo detainees. The comments of the Justices are typically inscrutable. We are left to "innately ... instinctively" divine what they might be thinking.

Rehnquist to emulate Robert E. Lee.

Chief Justice Rehnquist will appear in an interview on CSpan's Book TV (at 11 EDT on Saturday). He has this to say about not writing a memoir:
"I've always admired Robert E. Lee. He said the reason he didn't write memoirs was he would have to deal harshly with some people whom he liked very well and who had worked with him ... And I feel the same way. You know, bland memoirs are really of no use to anyone, and they certainly don't sell. And critical memoirs, you know, where you really take off and go after some of the people who you've disliked or who have been on other sides - I just don't care to do that."

Yes, that's quite astute. Either write a good memoir or don't write a memoir. And he's right about what makes a good memoir. But there is an additional point, even more important, about how to write a good memoir: you have to put your own vanity aside and deal most pitilessly with yourself. A good reason not to become a judge is that you will have such a stake in the respect for the court as an institution that you can never drop that guard and tell all. [UPDATE: Or even much of anything.] You're committed to a lifetime of playing the role of a sober, respectable, functioning member of a grand institution.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court rules against Gov. Doyle on Indian gambling.

The Capital Times reports:
The state Supreme Court ruled today that provisions of new American Indian gambling agreements are unconstitutional - a decision that will at least temporarily reduce casino activities and create a gaping hole in the state budget.

A spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle said the decision likely will be appealed to the federal courts.

On a 4-3 vote, the state Supreme Court ruled that Doyle exceeded his authority to create a long-term agreement, to create a new resolution approach involving waiver of sovereign immunity, and to authorize additional table games.

Adding keno, roulette, craps and poker was contrary to the state constitution and state criminal law, Justice David Prosser wrote for the majority. Betting on simulcast racing is legal because the state constitution has allowed pari-mutuel betting. Blackjack and slot machines would continue to be allowed under the ruling.

"Appealed to the federal courts"? As opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court? That doesn't make much sense: you can't redo a case in federal court even if there are federal questions. He may mean the U.S. Supreme Court, but if so, it certainly looks like a decision resting on state law grounds.

Getting the oil changed and reading People magazine.

I’m waiting for my car to be serviced, and I check out the new cars. I peer inside one and think, yeah I could enjoy sitting in this space. I look for the price. First, I see $1500 gas guzzler tax. Hmmm…. Oh, here’s the price. Over $75,000. Okay. Well, I wouldn’t have wanted to pay that gas guzzler tax anyway, and now I completely approve of someone else having to pay it. And who the hell do they think they are, driving a gas guzzler?

No Wi-Fi here, so I’m jotting down notes for later blogging. Here’s the new People magazine—all about reality TV. (A typo there led me to think: Yeah, why not have some “realty TV”? And then: I guess we do have whole channels of realty TV.)

Ooh, a picture of baby-Jerry-Seinfeld (Sascha) on page 10.

Page 12: When did Brooke Shields start looking like Joan Cusack?

Page 14: Ben Affleck hugs Jessica Lynch!

Page 20: Gwyneth Paltrow’s bare pregnant belly. Ooh, and she gave up macrobiotics and started eating biscuits for her little biscuit!

Here’s a mini-interview with John Stevens (the American Idol guy, of course—not the Supreme Court Justice): he became good friends with Diana and Jasmine, because the three of them had to do three hours of schooling a day. (Note that the non-school-age contestants have more time to relax/prepare, which could explain Jasmine’s flagging capabilities and should inspire awe for the ever-strengthening force that is Diana.)

Ah … and the pager starts buzzing way too soon. So much for People magazine, and I’m back in my car, listening to the audiobook of “Running With Scissors,” and now I’m back home, blogging.

Blogger profiles.

Okay, I went ahead and filled in the form for a Blogger profile, and I can see that it let me avoid showing some things, but it didn't even ask if I wanted an astrological sign listed. That irks me no end! And if you think you know the astrological sign of people who are irked by astrological signs ... It also rejected my photo url for being too long...

UPDATE: Sorry for having the wrong link before. (To the photograph I couldn't post.)

FURTHER UPDATE: I got rid of the astrological sign by deleting my birthday. Easy solution!

A reality show about a law firm? I want one about a law school!

Gordon is blogging about the new TV show "The Partner." Here's some descriptive material (from a page rendered unreadable, to me at least, by all kinds of animated crap moving around):
[T]he hour-long show ... will be eight to ten episodes in length and, similar to NBC's The Apprentice, feature two competing teams. Unlike Apprentice, however, rather than be divided by gender, the composition of the teams will be determined by the prestige of the contestants' law schools -- with Ivy Leaguers forming one team and graduates of 'less prestigious' schools forming the other.

Each week, the two teams will compete as prosecutors and defenders in mock trial cases that will be presented before a jury of real people which will have been selected by the contestants. After hearing the arguments, the jury will determine the winner of the trial, with the losing team having to appear before a fictitious judge.

So great, I can watch moot court on TV. It's well known, isn't it, that "less prestigious" schools typically win moot court competitions? Does it show whether "prestigious" schools are not really what they're cracked up to be? No, because it all depends on the motivations of particular individuals choose to enter competitions rather than to take advantage of some other option. Note that the cases for the show are all criminal law cases. Aren't those prestigious school grads going into corporate law or some other glossy opportunity?

Gordon asks, "Who decides which law schools are 'prestigious'?" That's easy: U.S. News!

Hey, they need to make a reality show out of law school itself. Get some really tough retro lawprofs to wield intense Socratic method in faux classrooms. You could do exciting issues with discussions of law and social policy (rather than questions of fact about whether a (nonexistent) criminal defendant is guilty). At the end of each episode, the lawprof could do a version of that old routine of giving the student a dime and saying, "Call your mother and tell her you'll never be a lawyer." Yeah, pay phones aren't a dime anymore, but who uses a pay phone now. Have Cranky Old Retro Lawprof hand one student a cell phone.

Watch out for snails.

Really.

UPDATE, February 12, 2009. I'm coming back to this post while adding the "mollusks" tag to things, and I see that the 2 links it contained are dead. Reading one URL, I can see that there were some "giant snails." I guess they were pretty damned big or at least quite numerous. Something amazed me 5 years ago. At least I still have this record of having once been amazed... by a mollusk.

Carrying a purse: a feminist issue?

I found the article discussed in the previous post not because I was reading about the prison abuses, but because I was looking up the subject of feminism and carrying a purse, which I'd just had a conversation about. My cap and gown for tomorrow's graduation ceremony was delivered to me, along with the information that I could put it on after I arrive at the Monona Terrace in a little side room, where I could also leave my purse. No way I'm going to be separated from my purse, even if the room will have an attendant. I'll find some way to carry my things unobtrusively, somewhere within the robe. This led to a conversation about how both of us had for a long time refused to carry a purse and viewed it as a feminist issue. For years, I only bought clothes with pockets and made it a point to keep a thin wallet and only two keys. I used to view clothing manufacturers as anti-feminist because they gave men pockets but denied them to women. Even when they gave us pockets, they were often shallow and slanted-- designed for the elegant placement of a hand, perhaps. The clothing manufacturers were part of the elaborate system designed to oppress women. I'm still a little irked about it! But some time ago, I adopted the feminine practice of carrying a purse. (Note that it's so feminine that it used to be a common slur to say about a man, "He carries a purse.") Along with carrying a purse comes the elaborate mental training of keeping track of your purse. The discipline of purse carrying becomes so lodged in your brain that you have dreams about losing your purse. Women even look out for other women: "Where's your purse?" Of course, in my non-purse-carrying days, I had some scorn for the women who would bark "Where's your purse?" because I viewed them as enforcing the feminine norm, when in fact, they were probably just so used to making sure they didn't lose their purses that they had branched out to worrying about other people losing their purses. So do I still wish for adequate pockets in women's clothes so I could opt out of purse carrying? I don't know. I like to carry my digital camera around now. And now that there are cell phones, the pocket approach is just too bulky. You can't go around with all those things weighing down and bulging out your clothing. Can you?

UPDATE: A reader points to this discussion--quite recent, so, apparently a hot topic--from the other side: Capn Design wants to carry a purse into a place and is stopped by a discriminatory security guard:
When I asked a security guard why I couldn't bring my bag in, he explained that purses are allowed but bags are not. I told him my bag was a purse and he asked if I was a woman. "If being a woman means I can bring my bag in, then yes, I am a woman." That didn't work.

"The military isn’t feminized enough and that includes the females."

Here's a piece from Debra Dickerson from Washington Monthly about the role of women in the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib. We should be seeing many meditations on this subject in the coming days (and years). Those who have liked to think that the world would be more civil if only women had a bigger role to play in public affairs will need to theorize or retheorize. One gambit, whenever women participate in anything that is other than what you were hoping women would do if given power, is to say that somehow these particular women don't really count as real women. Dickerson has personal experience behind her theory:
I spent the first few years of my 12 in the Air Force trying my damndest to be one of the boys. I started smoking, drank like an idiot, cursed like a sailor, always wore fatigues and combat boots, didn’t carry a purse. Even wore a man’s watch. Once, when they took me to a club (in 1981 South Korea) which hosted live sex shows, I refused to punk out and leave until after the first ‘act.’ Longest half hour of my life but I was too bought into my macho new environment, the environment which was oh so much more empowering than the misogynist ghetto I was fleeing from, to back off from any of it. I told myself that keeping up with the men, whatever they were doing, was feminist.

After a few years, though, I rebelled, if only in my personal comportment, and determined to be both female and a GI. ...

Still, I'm pretty skeptical of this idea that when women do the things you've associated with men, it's because those women were still in thrall to men. It's really a twist on the retro notion that the real women are the good women.

"The Pentagon crew hated Colin Powell, and wanted to see him humiliated 10 times more than Saddam."

Shockingly harsh words from Thomas Friedman. If there is one commentator who seems in command of language, it is NYT columnist Thomas Friedman. A line like that is no accident.

"TV Images Driving Public Discourse on War."

AP draws attention to the important subject of how photographs affect public opinion:
CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr, who reported on the alleged abuse at least four times before the pictures came out, said they illustrated a breakdown in military discipline that hadn't been seen in generations. The U.S. military was cast in the unfamiliar public role of bad guys.

The episode should be a lesson for the news media, Starr said.

"It's very clear that potentially terrible abuses were taking place," she said, "and it didn't become a big story until people could see these virtually pornographic images."

The pictures themselves depict human beings seemingly descending to an animal level. In a less lurid way, the public's instinctive response to the pictures and lack response to the words, also reveal the animal side of human nature. Yet, at least the response to the pictures has been disgust, horror, and desire to end the abuse, rather than bloodthirst and sexual excitement. It seems that our animal side is part of what moves us toward the good.

May 12, 2004

"A lot of people are saying that he's a real American idol."

Here's how a Hawaiian newspaper headlines an article about Major General Antonio Taguba, who authored the report on the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners and who lived in Hawaii as a teenager: "Leilehua grad turns out to be 'real American idol.'" That gives some perspective on what a big deal Jasmine Trias and American Idol are to Hawaiians. Here's a typical Hawaiian newspaper article all about how important it is for Hawaiians to vote for Jasmine. People should not marvel over her survival.

American Idol: 60 minutes of results.

Well, the results show tonight is an exercise in prolongation. We see the kids at the EW photo shoot. We see them pretending to love being told a bunch of nonsense by a psychic, including the priceless, "You're a cancer." Thanks! I suppose when they sign on to the show, they agree to everything, but it strikes me that a lot of the contestants are quite religious--church choirs being a common source of training--and that a psychic consultation would offend many religious persons. Here's this inane California-style psychic lady telling them about their past lives. They've repeatedly tagged Diana as an "old soul," and so forth. Well, I'm offended by psychics for any number of reasons.... Right now the height of cheesiness is being reached--or should I say cakiness?--Donna Summer is singing "MacArthur Park" and I don't think that I can take it because it took so long for me to forget about that song. I plugged my ears to disco in the 70s. I didn't even know this song had been discofied. I remember the original version by Richard Harris in the 60s, when it was a weird steaming pile of ... cake ... melting cake. But then there aren't enough songs about cake ... Why are you babbling? Because I'm simulblogging and they are insanely prolonging the reporting of a fact that could be said in two seconds. ... So... What did you think of Clay? Clay seemed a bit off tonight. He's lost his crispy freshness. And what was that thing he was singing? Some sort of song, apparently. He seemed strangely ill at ease. And he was wearing his glasses. Maybe he has some sort of dispute with the producers.... Ah, back from commercial. Diana safe. Fantasia, bottom two. And the other one in the bottom two: La Toya. Jasmine is safe. Note: I predicted this. The audience is booing--essentially booing Jasmine! That's cruel. The state of Hawaii loves that girl. Leave her alone. Ack! Another commercial break. Who will leave? I hope La Toya, because I just find Fantasia more interesting and exciting. And it's La Toya who's leaving. Leaving at number four: the Tamyra position. Good-bye, La Toya! Aw, Paula's crying. Group hug!

Re-yellow-izing

I missed the old gold color. I'd gone to gray, but decided to restore the yellow look (and bring back the old photograph). Actually, this is a slightly different gold color, but I think I like it better. Hope it looks right on your screen. I know all the screens are different.

Not funny.

I'm actually a big fan of Dennis Miller's, but the jokes he told last night about the Abu Graib photographs are just awful. In case you missed the show, here they are:
In preparation for today's hearings, senators spent this morning viewing more pictures of naked, bound Iraqi men--or, as Richard Simmons calls them, screen savers. ...

According to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Congress will see even more cruel and sadistic photos and videos from Abu Graib prison. Here's an example. Brace yourselves. [Image on screen: a marquee reading "Abu Ghraib Prison/Now Appearing/Tonite/Carrot Top" with an image of the comedian Carrot Top.] That's how bad it's gotten. ...

By the way, am I the only one who's having recurring dreams of a short-haired woman with a cigarette hanging from her lips, holding me by a leash? [Image on screen: the famous picture of Lynndie England.]

The first two are especially bad, because they are the sort of stock jokes that rely mostly on invoking the name of celebrity whose name alone is supposed to trigger scoffing laughter. The third joke is offensive, but at least it's daring and in a distinctive style.

Later, interviewing Jim Lehrer, Miller asks "How's the PSB crowd digesting these photos from the prison? What's the word?" Lehrer reports shock and disbelief, followed by the thought that the behavior is part of human nature, given certain conditions. Miller then says:
Yeah, I had trouble digesting it at first, and then, over the weekend, as I ruminated about it, I ... am I imagining this or have things settled down a little in the Iraqi war theater? Is there less RPG fire? Is there less roadside bombings? I'm wondering if it's some odd way ... like in War of the Worlds, when they stumble onto the fact that it's our oxygen that killed the people from another planet or in Day of the Triffids when we found out it's salt water, in some weird way you could not threaten these people with death over there, but it seems to be that the one thing that might quell some of them is embarrassment. Is that an odd take on it, or could it be true? ... I'm thinking that maybe we should start sending over these guys who've hazed in fraternities. You know, you just ... this is how we deal with you: you take one of those planes we combat forest fires with, fill it with bacon grease and start dropping it on Fallujah. There you go! We gotta think outside the box.

I noticed that this Daily News column complaining about the level of humor on Air America got some play today--I saw it linked on Drudge Report--but these examples of Miller's humor (which strongly supports the Bush Administration) are much worse.

The way things look from a ripe old age.

It's Kurt Vonnegut, at 81, ranting, and even if he's wildly off-track most of the time here, he's got a way with words so I'll listen. (Link via Blogdex.) Here's a point about the Constitution:
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

Well, that might be sort of right. I think anyone who wants to do what it takes to get elected President is someone I wouldn't pick if I could look at the whole pool of those who have the capacity to do the job. But I'm also grateful there are some capable and decent people who are willing to do all those crazy things. There was a point watching the Democratic debate last winter, when there were still nine or so candidates, when it crossed my mind: these are all good people who would rise to the occasion if the Presidency were imposed on them. They specifically were not nutty, quite interestingly--even the fringe candidates who had no shot at election.

More from Vonnegut, following up on "[o]nly nut cases want to be president":
But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are.

I sometimes like to think that we were given a choice whether to be born, that there was a beforelife (we like to think there's an afterlife) in which the range of possibilities in a human life were fully explained and we could say yes or no, just like you can look at a rollercoaster and decide if you want to take the ride. So all of us here are the ones who decided to take the ride. I like to speculate about what percentage of beforelife dwellers decide to say yes. I imagine Vonnegut's suggestion is correct: the percentage would be small. The downside risks are too horrible. But we're the brave souls--we're Vonnegut's nuts--who once found the idea of being human so appealing.

Vonnegut quotes Camus--“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide”--and says "All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being." He says, "I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me." Ah, but I can't believe he's sorry he's alive. Not if he has the spirit to rant like that.

Showing and not showing photographs

The web release of the videotape of the beheading of Nick Berg so soon after the release of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse pictures forces us to think about the power of photography. Photographs have a profound effect on the human mind, but do they help us think or distort our thinking? There are some things we cannot accept or cannot take as seriously as we should until we see the photographs. But since photographs have such a strong impact, people who want to shape public opinion will naturally seize the opportunity to bend minds with astonishing and disturbing photographs. Courts face the problem all the time and have a rule of evidence to control the misuse of photographs:
Rule 403. Exclusion of Relevant Evidence on Grounds of Prejudice, Confusion, or Waste of Time

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

The courts tip toward permitting the evidence: the prejudicial effect must "substantially outweigh" the value in proving something the jury is asked to decide, but there is a recognition here that passion can overtake reason. Still, reason without any element of emotion is not possible, and not desirable.

There is no way to sanitize the fight for political advantage out of the release of information, though one hopes for the best from journalists and politicians. But when should we who are taking in all this material call "politics" (or worse) on people who want to show photographs? The video of the slaughter of Nick Berg was released to terrorize and intimidate and revel in revenge. The photographs of Abu Ghraib are released, at least in part, to inform, to draw attention to a problem, and to inspire resolve to take action to solve it. As time wears on and as further photographs are released, less noble motives seem to be in play.

But it may be that those who release the images want to push and push and make sure the public doesn't turn away from the problem. But why then shouldn't people who care about other matters--the death penalty and abortion, for example--compete for attention with gruesome photographs? Why shouldn't people who want to steel our nerves for military action stoke our passions with an endless stream of the many, many pictures of the 9/11 victims that we have never seen?

Mickey Kaus raises the important point that opponents of the war should be the most opposed to the release of the photographs, since they tend to think that in fighting this war, we face not a limited number of hardcore enemies, but large numbers of persons whose minds might be turned in our favor or inflamed into hatred. If the world is full of people sitting in judgment about whether or not to see us as their enemy, then we should want to withhold inflammatory photographs.

Quite aside from that, since it is harmful to a person to make him stand naked and since that harm is magnified if he is also photographed, the display of the photograph is a further harm to the person in the photograph.

Whatever we may think about the initial use of the photographs, the release of repetitive photographs is different. The release of some of the pictures has made us care deeply about the problem and has created a capacity to picture what we hear in verbal descriptions. I thoroughly agree with a point Senator Clinton made in the hearing on Friday: we should have been able all along to fathom the problem, because we had written descriptions. The pictures have made such an impression precisely because, though we seem so often to be creatures of language, we do not really understand without pictures. But now that we have seen some of the pictures, can we not begin to understand the written word?

May 11, 2004

I'm outraged by outrage at outrage.

Here's Sen. James Inhofe, at the hearing about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib:
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment... I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying."

Sen. Lindsey Graham has the right response: "When you are the good guys, you've got to act like the good guys."

American Idol: I hate disco.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about American Idol this week, unlike last week. Maybe I'm sad that all the male singers are gone, but much more basically, I hate disco. I hated it when it took over the airwaves in the 1970s, and I don't usually have it imposed on me anymore, but tonight I was plunged back into the nightmare of disco. I'm vaguely impressed that anyone can sing their way through such unsingable things. And it doesn't help to start off by shouting "Come on!" My view of that is: you come on--let people respond to your performance, not your orders. I'll say one thing nice: Donna Summer was a decent enough celebrity panelist (I like that she didn't preen like all the others). And I'll make one comment about one song that I particularly hate: "It's Raining Men." To me, the image of many human beings falling from raincloud level is one of mass carnage, a horrible bloodbath. Don't lyricists have to think at all about what they are saying? Apparently not, because audiences seem to buy into the fabulous celebratory attitude of it all. How I hate disco!

Who will leave tomorrow night? I'd say La Toya, possibly Fantasia. Fantasia knew that second song was horrible (to her credit). La Toya--they keep reminding us she's boring. I'm sure if the contest were open to all ages, there would be scores of women who could sing that well, but I don't think the show is about picking a mature, technically proficient performer. You've got to inspire the kids with pop style. Jasmine, of course, is the one who deserves to leave, but she cried! It's funny how no one else has ever just up and cried about how bad they were and how harsh the criticism was, but good old Jasmine pulled out the last desperate move and just cried. Between that and the fact that she rules Hawaii, she will survive. (Hmmm... a disco song not sung.) Of course, Diana is the safest of the safe. (And didn't she look like Kate Hudson tonight? Kate Hudson with baby fat.)

UPDATE: One more reason why Jasmine will survive: that dress! I mean that sheet of black rubber she was daringly swathed in.

FURTHER UPDATE: Diana reminds Tonya of Tracy Flick. Prof. Yin's comments about the show seem to reveal that he is a disco fan.

Non-smoking gun.

The Smoking Gun website is often interesting, but how is this one a smoking gun sort of thing? Diane Lane wants fresh-squeezed juice twice a day? Maybe this is meant as some sort of refreshment after the more oppressive scandals and revelations of the past week. The actress's requests have to do with maintaining her physical health and appearance. I don't see anything "cool, confidential, quirky" about this. Lane is a terrific actress who deserves the accommodations she asks for. In fact, these are the sort of accommodations that ought to be routinely provided whenever movie producers have an investment in the beauty and physical stamina of an actor. You're lucky the star wants to keep in shape and is concentrating her drinking efforts on juice.

Once again the New York Times got the Quote of the Day wrong.

Obviously, it should have been:
"Kotex looked like Dr. Scholl's Wart Remover, Tampax looked like Lactaid and Playtex looked like Benadryl."

UPDATE: What's with my across-the-hall colleague blogging on the same NYT article four minutes after I did? There was no discussion of that article or any plan to synchronize in any way. Was it something like this phenomenon?

May 10, 2004

A picture we don't want you to have.

AFP reports this statement by Laura Bush:
"It is really, really sad, I mean, it is sad. I think we -- we agonize as each of those pictures come out and as we see them. It is a picture we don't want the rest of the world to have of us. ... Those photographs don't represent America. They don't represent our troops. And they don't represent the way people in the United States of America think or act ... It is not a fair picture of the United States military."

Photographs make such distinct pictures in the mind that it is difficult for all the other information to compete. We'd like to construct a picture in the minds of everyone who thinks about the United States, a picture of fairness and justice. But it takes a concerted effort over a broad range of activities to create the desired picture in the minds of thinking human beings who are right to be skeptical of self-serving representations. The concrete photographs are crushingly devastating to that other picture we tried to create.

Laura Bush didn't mean to make a statement with a double meaning, but clearly those photographs were pictures our government did not want people to have. I'm struck, when reading the news reports of the President's responses to the crisis, that he seems to have the conception that the main problem is the release of the photographs, rather than the abuse itself.

Congress and the photographs.

Alan Wizbicki has an excellent piece in TNR lambasting the Senate Armed Services Committee members who complained to Secretary Rumsfeld that they had not been adequately informed about the abuses of the Iraqi prisoners. Wizbicki's point is that they had plenty of information before the photographs came out. He nails Senator Warner, who last November was complaining that the Army had punished "Allen West, a lieutenant colonel ... who stag[ed] a mock execution of an Iraqi prisoner":
Warner knew, and in one case, approved, of American interrogation practices that skirted ethical lines. For him to now demand to know why members of Congress were "not properly and adequately informed" about prisoner abuses reeks of hypocrisy. They were informed. A more relevant, and humble, question might be why they waited until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke to do anything about it.

It seems to me that what upset the Senators was not the lack of information about the existence of abuse but the lack of information about the existence of photographs. It is dismaying to realize how much difference the photographs have made to so many people. What shameful human weakness lies in our willingness to tolerate abuse when we don't see it! Are we so bereft of imagination that without photographs we don't really understand what is happening? Are we such creatures of emotion that we feel compelled to take suffering into account when photographs have moved us, but committed to do what seems to need to be done as long as there are no photographs?

Clean your desk ... and reminisce about glue.

If you're thinking of cleaning your desk, maybe this guy will give you some inspiration. How did I find that website? I was drinking a Diet Pepsi, and just as I finished it called to mind an old flavor/smell? What was that mysterious call from the recesses of memory? It was ... it was ... mucilage! Remember those Lepage's Mucilage bottles, the ones with the red nipple-like tops? The were once everywhere, but now you never see them. Replaced by--what?--glue sticks? Computer graphics? I wanted a picture of the thing and found this desk-cleaning site, which had a picture here of a mucilage bottle, but a late-model, plastic version, not the classic one I was looking for. Ah, but here, here's what I wanted to find (thanks to a person who is way more interested in mucilage than I am):


Redbud.

Redbud trees with boy.

Image-85C6365AA22911D8

Redbud trees without boy.

Image-85C657CAA22911D8

Travails of a lawprof blogger.

Well, I don't know what to think about this, but I updated the post of mine he linked (the ping post) just to be on the safe side. But I see he's created a "Law Professor Blog Honor Roll," a bit of a spoof of my colleague Gordon Smith's "Law Student Blog Honor Roll," and since he put this blog on the list, any possible slurs will be overlooked. I've noticed that you get more links when people disapprove of what you're saying, so that if one is really focused on playing the game of blogging (as discussed in the ping post), then one ought to take swipes at people and say outrageous things that people feel compelled to post to disagree with. If you take a swipe at someone and link them, they can see on Technorati that you've linked, and then they might answer, linking you: link achieved! Actually, only one thing bugs me about Notes from the (Legal) Underground's post about my ping post. It's that all the other lawprofs (other than the nice-letter writing Ribstein) on his list all have more exciting distinctions. That and the fact that I still don't know how to ping ... or really even what pinging is.

Lawprofs blogging about grading exams.

I've blogged about proctoring exams (carefully!), but I'm not going to blog about grading exams (though I'm obviously blogging about not blogging about grading exams). Prof. Yin's experience served as a warning to me. Students are very sensitive about the grading process--with good reason. Law school grades have a huge effect on them. So it doesn't really work for a lawprof to make casual comments about how things are going with the grading or to engage in the usual complaints about workload. I won't report, for example, finishing grading, because there is a gap between when I hand them in and when the grades become available to the students, so knowing reporting that I've finished--and I'm not saying I have!--could only stir up anxieties. I hope that saying even this much does not stir up anxieties!

UPDATE: Sua Sponte is taking this a little hard. I'm not "self-censoring" because Prof. Yin got a slight nip over saying "unfortunately" in connection with the fact that he wasn't done grading. I think bloggers generally have to be careful about what they say. Clearly, I want to use my blogs to express myself and reveal something about myself, but I also keep many thoughts and personal facts to myself. One has to be selective. It might seem as though I'm willing to jot down anything that pops into my head, but that really wouldn't work very well! The subject of grading is not a good one. There's too much potential for causing anxiety and not really much of anything original to say.

ANOTHER UPDATE: You know, it's fine for Letters of Marque to say that students ought to be more thick-skinned, but I still don't think it's my role to churn out material to help them develop that thick skin. Partly, I'm concerned about the students--possibly a very small percentage--who have a lot of anxiety that would be stoked by casual comments made on a lawprof blog. You need to remember that there are students worried about surviving in law school, and signs that the lawprof is getting exasperated or inattentive are needlessly painful. But partly, I'm concerned about my own well-being. I'm not all that thick-skinned myself, and I think if I used this blog in a way that upset students, they'd soon be attacking me on their blogs and I wouldn't like if very much. On the other hand, I could get a lot of links that way. But then I'm getting my share of links just by taking this don't-blog-about-grading position.

Who is going to kill Tony Soprano?

I read last night's episode of The Sopranos as foreshadowing Tony Soprano's death at the end of this season, the last season. The real question is who will kill him, and several characters (and entities) have been set on a path that seems to lead to their being the killer.

I tried a poll here, but it behaved badly, causing a big, annoying space that I couldn't eradicate, so I'll just list the potential killers.
Johnny Sack
Janice
Carmela
Christopher
al Qaeda
the FBI

Sorry to end the polling fun ... but some people don't like blog polls anyway. There seems to be a glitch in the revamped Blogger, that is not handling polls well. Too bad. I like them.

This is not what Americans are.

I've been avoiding writing about the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners. It is hard for me to find a way to write about it, but we were talking about it a lot at my house yesterday, as we watched the Sunday news analysis shows. When I start to write something like "it's hard to take the accumulating weight of the photographs," it sounds quite idiotic, as if we are the ones being abused, as if having to look at the photographs is painful when the photographs depict pain of a sort that we are blessedly free of. I keep waiting to see how President Bush will deal with this crisis, which threatens to undermine every positive motive that has been asserted for the invasion. Surely, it isn't enough to say Saddam was much worse; we have to demonstrate a completely different nature altogether for what we are doing to make sense. It isn't enough to prosecute a few assorted evildoers (whether the prosecution is on TV or not), just as it wasn't enough to say after 9/11, as some people other than Bush did, "We need to arrest the people responsible for this and bring them to trial." Something much more comprehensive is needed to root out this abuse. If Bush doesn't find a way to do something comprehensive, he deserves to be replaced. Whatever deficiencies Kerry may have--and I have not been a Kerry supporter--I would like to see him moved into the Presidency to make clear statement of the thing that Bush himself keeps going around saying: this is not what Americans are.

May 9, 2004

The new Blogger.

Wow, Blogger just suddenly redid all sorts of things. Do I dare spring for one of its new templates, after all the effort I've put into tweaking the old Bluebird template into this thing I've got which might perhaps be called Yellowbird? I've long disfavored white letters on dark, but I can't help thinking the photographs would look nice on black. So okay, I think I'm going to spring for it. Don't think you've come to the wrong place. So this is the end of Yellow.

UPDATE: Well, that was a bit harrowing. Now, you can see, I haven't gone to black, I've gone to stark, raving white. And it's not one of the new templates, it's actually one of the old templates, though not the old one I had been using. I tried the exciting new black one, but the sidebar was too wide and just overlapped with my photographs. That had to go. Now, I don't really have a sidebar anymore. And I've lost my whole blogroll, unfortunately. I'll have to figure out how to redo a sidebar. If I could just figure out how to narrow the sidebar so it doesn't encroach on the photographs. I'll have to leave that until tomorrow (or later). Enough tech-y excitement for the night. What hurt the most was ousting the old Sitemeter, but I've restored at least that.

FURTHER UPDATE: In the end, I used one of the new templates, so it does have a sidebar and it doesn't overlap with the photographs. This very plain template is called Tekka, and the fanciest thing about it seems to be an interest in dotted lines. There's that big vertical dotted line over there, and when you point at a link it gets a cute red dotted line underneath.

YET MORE: As Sarah points out, Tekka is one of the old templates. Last night I made it all gray, and in an html feat I'm pretty proud of, because I'm always just feeling my way around and guessing, I narrowed the sidebar to make room for full-size photographs. I considered putting the picture back--note that the new Blogger is pushing people toward including photographs--but that would require doing it in black and white, and it looked too grim.

Mother's Day: walking home after dinner.

The tulips are past their prime:

Image-85C4A353A22911D8

And the week's rains have brought lushness to the residential sidestreets:

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"Suddenly, liking Prince doesn't feel like such a chore."

A nice cover story in Rolling Stone about Prince. Here's a bit that struck me, just Prince talking about the saxophone player:
"I had an epiphany last night ... I was offstage, listening to Michael Phillips take his solo ... I was thinking, 'Wow, listen to those people responding, and all he's doing is playing a saxophone.' They can feel that what he's doing is real. So many shows now, they have pyrotechnics, pre-taped vocals and musical parts, and it's so dead. But here's one man breathing into an instrument, and the whole room feels alive. It made me want to rise up to that level when I came back onstage."

American Idol: why Diana will win.

For one thing, she's been number 1 in the voting for the past four weeks! So Kristin Veitch reports on E! Online, citing info from show insiders. For another thing, there's this:
Monday night's getting-to-know-you special showed the only candidate who can handle herself in interviews is Miss DDG. The others looked like terrified deer in headlights .... Diana seemed a bubbly, well-spoken, 16-year-old southern belle who wants nothing more than to be the next American Idol--while La Toya came across as a tired mother who wants nothing more than to see her children and take a nap. ("It's never going to stop" isn't the best way to garner votes.)

Interesting. The judges have wielded the you're-too-young theme quite a few times. Some of the promoting of Fantasia and La Toya has come in the form of praising their maturity. But in the end, maybe the show's fans really do want someone very fresh, even though it's hard for the youngest contestants to keep up with all the work and to engage with some of the themes that reach back many decades. The younger contestants face an additional burden of having to put in 15 hours a week of schooling. Diana clearly came across as the one with the most personality in those interviews--Veitch is right. She may seem a bit too pageant-y and robotic, but I'm sure the producers can find ways to turn that into an advantage. It will be interesting to see if they pick themes in the next couple weeks that help or hurt her.

Look, $17,000 flip-flops.

This is not some satirical piece about a gift Teresa Heinz Kerry could buy for her husband, it's an actual pair of diamond and gold flip-flops, pictured in a NYT article about how interested people are these days in really expensive luxury goods.



But actually, the store that sells the flip-flops only has one pair like this, and the rest, of which there are only a few, are more in the $3,000 price range. And really, these shoes cost no more than the price of an ad in the NYT. So they don't even need to be sold: they worked to get a write-up in the Times--and they'll keep working, attracting people into the store to look at them. The store never needs to sell them--and it can even retrieve the gold and diamonds in the end. And if someone ever does buy them, it won't be because they are addled by dollar signs, it will be because they are entranced and amused by them sort of like the way people feel about this.



But maybe you aren't amused by Meret Oppenheim's Fur-lined Teacup. And maybe you actually do want some expensive shoes. Surely, you don't want diamond and gold flip-flops! May I suggest the most beautiful shoe currently available:

The "neurodiversity" movement.

"The Disability Movement Turns to Brains," according to the NYT, which includes a link to the Autistic Adults Picture project.
The idea is to show normal-looking people, whose peculiarities stem from their brain wiring - and who deserve compassion rather than exasperation.

Overcoming the human suspicion of oddity will be hard, the more so because the biological basis of many brain disorders can't be easily verified. Usually, all anyone has to go on is behavior.

"It's a tough one," wrote one participant in an online discussion of Asperger's syndrome. "Was that woman," he asked, just "unwilling to think about others' feelings, not caring about whether she's boring me with the minute details of her breakfast wrap?" Or, he asked, was she "really truly incapable of adapting herself to social mores?"

The article includes some interesting debate about the tendency to medicalize too much of human variety by designating syndromes and "hand[ing] out a diagnosis to anyone who walks through the [clinic] door," the effort to control that tendency by including "impairment" as part of each syndrome, and the consequent importance and difficulty of defining "impairment." Medicalizing human difference has its defenders:
For patients, being given a name and a biological basis for their difficulties represents a shift from a "moral diagnosis" that centers on shame, to a medical one, said Dr. Ratey, who is the author of "Shadow Syndromes," which argues that virtually all people have brain differences they need to be aware of to help guide them through life.

The expression "neurologically tolerant society," used in article, is interesting. What are we to make--if we think we are moving toward a neurologically tolerant society--of the emergence of a website that makes fun of "neurotypicals"? (Nice diagnostic test.) "Tragically, as many as 9625 out of every 10,000 individuals may be neurotypical....There is no known cure for Neurotypical Syndrome," says this satiric site. Hmmm.... they need to check their statistics with Dr. Ratey. And I wonder where the neurological aspect of the disability movement goes if it science shows there is endless neurodiversity, with no real normal. I suppose it depends on what the movement seeks: If tolerance is the only goal, then the more pervasive and subtly varied neurodiversity is, the more successful the movement will be. If, however, special accommodations are sought, it is necessary both to define specific syndromes and to do so in a way that constrains the number of people that fall into the group to be favored. I hope that good science prevails over any preexisting goals of a movement.