August 14, 2004

Fall movie preview.

The big Fall movie preview issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in the mail today, and on the cover is my personal favorite actor, Johnny Depp. Not only is he clean shaven now, but he's got his hair combed back quite elegantly and he's wearing a suit. He looks quite like my father in the pencil drawing that I keep on the mantel. I'm having a bit of trouble getting past the cover! Hmm… the cover folds out and there are sixteen small pictures of various Fall movie stars. One of them is Maggie Gyllenhall, who looks uncannily like my own mother as a young girl. Okay, I'm finished with the cover. On to the magazine. Here's what caught my eye:

1. "Seinfeld" is coming out on DVD with "deleted scenes, blooper reels, an alternate version of the pilot, and cast commentaries."

2. Ereka Vetrini, Omarosa's nemesis from "The Apprentice," will be Tony Danza's sidekick on the new "Tony Danza Show." It's a talk show. Yeah, Ereka can talk.

3. Jamie Foxx, playing the role of Ray Charles in the biopic "Ray, " "wore prosthetics (modeled on Charles' actual eyes) to simulate the singer's blindness." He asserts that this was needed to avoid "cheating" as he moved around. It would be unaesthetic without prosthetics. But acting is faking it in all sorts of ways. Among the great actors who played blind sans eye prosthetics are: Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis and Gabrielle Anwar and Patty Duke and Virginia Cherrill. The movies seem to prefer blind women to blind men, but I note the great Mr. Muckle in my all-time favorite comedy "It's a Gift." And the guy in "Butterflies Are Free." Ah! The best performance by a male actor as a blind character was Al Pacino. Hmm… and there was good old Gabrielle Anwar as his love interest. What has become of of Gabrielle anyway? Oh, and another fine performance by a male as a blind character was Gene Hackman. It seems blind men are funny and blind women are dramatic. You can think about why, and think about whether Foxx's film will be a hit. He sure looks like Ray Charles in the photograph. He's also, according to EW, a fine pianist--he went to college on a piano scholarship. So he'll be doing all the piano playing as Ray. Nice fact to know: Ray Charles, who died in June, was able to witness the final cut of the film.

4. John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix play firefighters in "Ladder 49," which is supposed to be better than "Backdraft," which real firefighters hate (because it's unrealistic). The filmmakers want you to think "Black Hawk Down."

5. They remade "Alfie," with Jude Law as Michael Caine. I've never bothered to watch the Michael Caine one, so why should I care? Well, Law is much cuter than Caine.

6. So what's the Christian Bale diet? "I just didn't eat." He got down to 120 pounds (he's 6'2"). He also only slept 2 hours a night. What role required all that? Some paranoid guy in "The Machinist." He's bulked back up for "Batman."

7. New Alexander Payne movie. "Sideways." I loved "Election" and "After Schmidt" was pretty good. Good lord, this new film is set in a wine-tasting milieu!

8. "The Grudge"—they've hired the director of the original Japanese film ("Ju-on") to do the Hollywood version. Takashi Shimizu. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, who looks just like Gwyneth Paltrow in this picture.

9. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet together at last! "Finding Neverland." A biopic of J.M. Barrie. I hope it's good, because this is one I'd like to see.

10. Kevin Spacey directs himself in a biopic of Bobby Darin. "Beyond the Sea." How could that possibly be good? Spacey is eight years older than Darin was when he died. And who is interested in the life of Bobby Darin? That's just crazy! It seems the only reason for this is that Spacey has always looked a bit like Bobby Darin. What's next for Kevin? A biopic of Lee Harvey Oswald?

11. It's biopic year for the Oscar-craving actors as Leonardo DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes (with Martin Scorsese directing) in "The Aviator." There really is some fascination in seeing Cate Blanchett impersonate Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale impersonate Ava Gardner.

12. Jim Carey as Lemony Snickett. He rides a Segway. Okay.

13. "Proof," "Closer" … I guess I'm supposed to care about these Oscar-y productions. I'll wait for the reviews. And even if they are good, I'll probably resist, because I still remember getting hoodwinked into seeing "The Hours." Prestige movies for women: leave me alone!

14. Then there's the question: What Don Cheadle movies can I see in December? There's "Hotel Rwanda," in which Cheadle plays the role of Paul Rusesabagina, who saved the lives of 1200 Tutsis in 1994 (a great story). And there's "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," a political thriller that also stars Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

15. They're making a film of "Get Smart," with perfect casting: Steve Carell.

16. A current film I'd buy right now if it were on DVD: "Los Angeles Plays Itself." It's a documentary about L.A. as it appears in the movies.

17. Ah! Finally, a decent DVD of "Purple Rain." Make sure you get the 20th Anniversary version. Don't buy this one.

Shady grove.

A walk this morning in the UW Arboretum ...



called to mind an old favorite album cover ...



and made me imagine Impressionist figures running around in nineteenth century white dresses like these ...



but there was no one around.

August 13, 2004

Instructions for a Peavey Rage 158.

John bought a new practice amp for his guitar. It came with "IMPORTANT SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS," a list of 16 separate items, the first four of which are especially important:
1. Read these instructions.

2. Keep these instructions.

3. Heed all warnings.

4. Follow all instructions.

After the 16 items, there's this extra: "SAVE THESE INSTRUCTIONS!"

Okay, silly instructions. I guess they assume a guitar player is an idiot. But it's a nice little practice amp, at a good price. The clean tone is especially appreciated. And it has a nice modern/vintage toggle switch, valuable if you like a 60s-style sound, and not always the maximum distortion.

Answer revealed: the Republican Presidential candidate I voted for.

Here's the final count in the blogpoll asking which Republican Presidential candidate I voted for. I had said that I've been voting in presidential elections since 1972 and have only once voted for the Republican candidate. Seventy-seven people voted and the clear favorite was Reagan:
Ronald Reagan--48.1%--37

Bob Dole--18.2%--14

Gerald Ford--13%--10

George H.W. Bush--13%--10

Richard Nixon--7.8%--6

Now what was the thinking there? Why did Reagan come out on top by such a wide margin? Reagan ran twice, and I could only have voted for him one of those times, so the fact that he's the only one who ran twice in the stated time period should not have caused you to pick him. I guess there was a trend of Democrats switching over to Reagan, and just on sheer numbers, the chances of a Democrat voting for Reagan in 1984 are high, given the abysmal numbers for Mondale. But, in fact, I voted for Mondale. Up until Bill Clinton, I had never voted for the winner in a Presidential election. So now, you have enough information to reach the correct answer: Gerald Ford! Why on earth did I vote for Ford—especially when I voted for every other loser up until Clinton? It means that I voted against Carter when he won and for him when he lost! Who does that?

I was all set to vote for Carter in 1976. I had voted for Carter in the New York primary, and actually set out on Election Day in November intending to vote for Carter. I was walking to the poll with another person with whom I'd been talking about the election throughout the campaign. Both of us had been struck by a statement Carter made the day before the election. Carter was asked what he would do if he lost, and he answered that he would just go back to his peanut farm. That statement undermined my support for Carter overnight, strangely enough. He seemed thin and weak to me after that. Here was this man who'd only been the governor of Georgia, and he thought he could be President, yet he had no other vision of a role in the world for himself than to stay in Georgia and be a peanut farmer. Peanut farm, Presidency—what's the difference? We sat down on a bench on the way to the polling place and talked about it and both decided to vote for Ford! What was there in Ford's favor? He was already President so there was no issue of elevating an inadequate man to the Presidency. He may have been inadequate, but he was already President. And I found something reassuring in the fact that he, uniquely, had not sought the Presidency.

But let me say something about Nixon. I didn't support him in 1972, the first year I voted, or in 1968 (when I was a senior in high school), but I absolutely loved Nixon in 1960, the first election I was old enough to have an opinion about. I was nine. I wore a huge Nixon button to school in those days, and all the kids I knew loved Nixon. I vividly remember a schoolmate observing, "If kids could vote, it would be a landslide for Nixon." As I noted above, I have voted for every loser from the time I started voting until Clinton came along. But if you go back to 1960, the first year I started having an opinion, I supported every loser except Clinton. Not only did I support Nixon in 1960, but I supported Goldwater in 1964, and then Humphrey in 1968. My record of supporting losers, in fact, is so extraordinary—remember I supported Carter when he lost, but opposed him when he won—that my support ought to be dreaded as the kiss of death.

Here's a new poll to test your understanding of my political predilections. I was walking on State Street today, when a young man with a clipboard asked me to sign a petition to get Ralph Nader on the ballot. I'm in Wisconsin, which is an important swing state, as you probably know.


The view from Madison: base ten! lasers!

I've been mesmerized by my laptop screen for a long time, and was slightly irritated that a group of four men decided to set up at the table right next to mine (considering that the place is nearly empty). But I kept my concentration up, not even eavesdropping on these guys, until I heard the words "base ten." Now I'm entirely distracted by these men, all with French accents, talking about math. Ah, they are leaving! So soon? But I've been here for over two hours. I really do need to leave. It's a beautiful day here in Madison, where it's sunny and 67 degrees. And here's a cool thing about Madison:
[The dome of the new Overture Center] which stands four stories above the lobby at the corner of State Street and North Fairchild Street, was lighted about 9 p.m. for a 15 minute demonstration of the building's lighting system.

Three rings of computer-controlled light-emitting diode strips lining the rotunda glowed, faded and pulsed through nearly every shade of the rainbow up into the glass dome. ...

During the demonstration, the lights also went through a sequence in which strips of red, white and blue chased each other around the rings.

Check out the picture at the link.

Hurricane Charley and the presidential campaign.

Hurricane Charley looks big, and I am hoping for the best the people of Florida who live in its path--some of whom are close family members of mine. So forgive me if I look ahead to the time after the hurricane and think about the effect of this attack of the natural world on the state that is the most important state in the presidential campaign. It seems to me that Bush, as President and brother of the state's governor, is in a position to take advantage of this event. I wonder what is being planned, even now, and how the Kerry campaign hopes to horn in on the action. I'm putting it bluntly, of course, and I'm sure part of the plan is about how to be very careful not to seem like you're just taking personal advantage of the disaster.

Andrew Sullivan picked a bad time to take a vacation.

I'd really like to read what he has to say about McGreevey and the new California Supreme Court case. He's a hardcore vacationer, apparently. And when did the little donkey head get added next to his heading "The Daily Dish"? Did he really put that there?

Reacting to the usual email from georgewbush.com

Every morning I get email from Patrick Ruffini who runs the official Bush website. I didn't sign up for this email, but I get it because they linked to me a while back. I've written pro-Kerry things too (and anti-Bush and anti-Kerry things), but the Kerry site has never linked to me and, not that I feel neglected, they never email me anything. I could say the Bush people are spamming me, and the Kerry people are behaving better by not taking advantage of a free way to reach me (me, a swing voter). But every day, Ruffini sends me things. Does that make the Bush side more web-savvy? Well, they are more blog-savvy, as indicated by today's email sign-off: "As always, don’t forget to send any posts you’d like to bring to our attention." It's blog-savvy, because it shows an understanding of the blogger's appetite for links. It means: Say something nice about us and we'll link to you. We will give you traffic!

Okay, so let's see what else Mr. Ruffini would like me to know today. First:
Today, the nation turns its attention to the Olympics. There’s a new ad out today that highlights the triumph of freedom and democracy around the world, with 120 democracies participating in the Olympics, including 2 new free nations, Iraq and Afghanistan. Watch it at: http://www.georgewbush.com

This is going to be a little hard, because I'm sitting in a café at the moment and I don't want to annoy anyone. But okay, I'll look. I think it's kind of cool to make an Olympics ad, but kind of rotten to appropriate the Olympics, as if you are the official presidential candidate of the Olympics. Sodas and various commercial products have to pay extra to link themselves to the Olympics (perhaps only if they say "Olympics" or use the logo). The ad, which shows swimmers getting read to dive, then diving, then swimming, is very short, and displays the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan at one point under the swimmers. The email calls the ad "Victory," but the ad leaves it to the viewer to link up the idea of athletic competition and two newly free nations to two victories at war and victory for Bush in the election. It's a simple little commercial that makes its point, mostly subliminally, and also seems to admit that they know were going to be watching the Olympics and not listening to them very much in the next two weeks.

Second, Ruffini alerts me to this:
Morning Reads focuses on John Kerry’s “more sensitive” war on terror. Only John Kerry could want our troops to fight a “sensitive” war, yet vote against giving them body armor.

I guess the "more sensitive" war on terrorism is going to be right up there with "I voted for the war ... before I voted against it" in the Kerry-quotes most useful to the opposition. You can say this is taken out of context--"The Daily Show" riffed on this last night--but Kerry is a terrible candidate if he doesn't know how to stop himself from dropping in little word sequences that we be extracted, triumphantly, from his public remarks. Even if you wanted to keep his comments in their context, it would be difficult, because he doesn't give good sound bites. But his opponents are combing over his statements, looking for the worst, just as his people are doing to Bush's statements. As Jon Stewart, a big Kerry supporter, said on "The Daily Show" last night: "Is he trying to lose?"

UPDATE: "Subliminably."

FURTHER UPDATE: NYT, Aug. 19: "The United States Olympic Committee has asked the Bush campaign to stop using the Olympic name in commercials. Federal law grants the U.S.O.C. exclusive rights to the name."

Good-bye to Julia Child.

Have a nice meaty meal with lots of butter and a half bottle of red wine tonight in honor of the monumental Julia.

Best take on the McGreevey resignation.

From the front page of the NYT:
"What it reminds me of is Richard Nixon, the Checkers speech or some of the stuff during Watergate," said Steven Cohen, a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

But he saw already the contrast in the words spoken by the governor and at least some of the reasons for the sudden announcement: "The gender of the person he had the relationship with is irrelevant," he said. "The problem is putting a lover on the payroll in some fashion."

Being impressed that McGreevey came out as gay is like saying "ooh, I love puppies" to Nixon's Checkers speech. I'll stipulate that gay people are as lovable as puppies, but I think it's more appropriate, under the circumstances, to be unimpressed, because he's employing the hard-won positive feeling toward gay people for plain, old political purposes. I'm resigning because I'm gay is no more believable than I'm resigning because I want to spend more time with my family. It's a way to try to hold on to some dignity on your way out. Except that McGreevey is also trying to hold onto his office until November and thus to retain the office for his party.

UPDATE: A question you might find relevant in deciding how sympathetic to feel towards McGreevey is when did he marry his second wife? Answer: late 2000. Are we really to believe he took the "bonds of matrimony" so seriously, that as a gay man, marrying a woman when he was 43 years old, living in the United States in the year 2000, he was planning to refrain from extramarital sex? Either McGreevey wronged his second wife grievously by withholding the crucial information that he is gay or the two of them had an understanding, in which case the bit about violating the bonds of marriage is hogwash! The only other possibility is that he was still deceiving himself at age 43, which is incredibly hard to believe. Yesterday's speech was a shameful, self-serving travesty! "At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world ..." Oh, please!

ANOTHER UPDATE: I see that E.J. Graff in TNR Online is saying "Oh, please" too. He also says "Gays and lesbians should leave this guy dangling on his self-constructed gallows" and is irked that McGreevey is diverting attention from the California Supreme Court's case yesterday.

August 12, 2004

Flaunting a smoking ban.

According to the NY Post: " VANITY Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter continues to flaunt Mayor Bloomberg's smoking ban in his corner office at Conde Nast." How do you flaunt a smoking ban? I've got this fabulous smoking ban. You are not going to believe how stringently I am going to enforce this thing!

Go Iraq!

Olympians in Playboy.

Back in the early days of the women's movement, encouraging young women to take up sports had absolutely no connection to producing the kind of women who would pose nude in Playboy. But the Olympian women of today are posing in Playboy. (Oh, the link is work safe. The only picture in this NYT article is of a high jumper, Amy Acuff, at her sport.)
[F]emale athletes are showing off their bodies in nonsports magazines and making no apologies for it.

That is unlike four years ago, before the Sydney Games, when the swimmer Jenny Thompson's photograph appeared in Sports Illustrated - with only her fists covering her breasts - and generated controversy. At the time, Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, told reporters, "Any exposure in a sports magazine that minimizes athletic achievement and skill and emphasizes the female athlete as a sex object is insulting and degrading."

I don't read much about sports, but it seems to me that kind of austere talk is not used so much anymore. I think there is a lessening of feminist sensibility generally, and I think it's a bad thing that people are witlessly saying things like this again, but I think we can safely proceed without the overdone worrying about "objectification" that used to be much more common. And if anyone wants to accuse me of being hypocritical, I'll defend myself.

Giuliani at the Republican Convention.

The NYT has a front-page story on the role Rudolph Giuliani will play at the Republican Convention. Giuliani has had his differences with Republicans in the past, and the article speculates that he has career aspirations that are leading him to offer himself up to the Party to be used to lure swing voters. Let me remind readers that I am a swing voter, in case you've lost track. Key passage in the article:
Many Republicans are hoping that by speaking out forcefully for Mr. Bush, Mr. Giuliani can sway swing voters who may not like some of Mr. Bush's policies but are nevertheless comforted by the idea of leaders who have steered the nation through the Sept. 11 attack and its aftermath.

Aptly put. I didn't vote for Bush, and in fact, I've been voting in presidential elections since 1972 and have only once voted for the Republican candidate (see if you can guess via the blogpoll below). Every other vote was for the Democrat. I did not like Bush in any way, until September 11th. No matter what he's done since then, there has always been a part of me that wants to stick with him, because he was the guy who was there when we were suffering so much, as the Times quote above notes. Giuliani is the one person who most takes us back to those days and stirs up those old feelings that have worn thin in the past three years. Giuliani is going to give a prime time speech at the convention that, in his words, "is largely on the theme of terrorism and how the president's leadership has gotten us through the worst attack in the country and made us stronger." Here's another Giuliani quote from the article:
"One of the reasons the world is safer now is that we are going out and trying to find our enemies and demobilizing them," he said. "I was sitting there in Congress the night Bush announced the Bush doctrine. And I remember leaving that night feeling better that the president of the United States had reversed 20 or 30 years playing defense" against potential enemies, he said.

This is powerful stuff. It is the material that affects me. I know the Democratic Convention had its own 9/11 memorial segment. They had Glenn Close emote over a sentimental description. It felt stagey and did not call up the real emotion of the day, which doesn't, in any event, connect to any memories involving John Kerry or any other Democrats. We will have to see, but I am expecting the Giuliani speech at the Republican Convention to have a very powerful effect.

Here's the blogpoll:



UPDATE: Answer revealed here.

August 11, 2004

Venice

is where Nina's blogging from now--with lots of cool photos.

Should John Kerry sue the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?

Kenneth Baer, a former senior speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, writes in TNR Online that John Kerry should sue the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. When I saw the suggestion, four reasons not to sue sprang to mind immediately. Baer, I was interested to see, deals with all of them. Here are the four reasons:

1. Kerry is a public figure, so under New York Times v. Sullivan, he would need to prove that the SBVT knew the libelous statements were false and proceeded with "reckless disregard." Here, Baer asserts that we already know that there are falsehoods. I'll set out Baer's points in some detail, with my comments in bracketed italics:
One member of the group has already called his participation in the ad a "terrible mistake;" that same veteran and another one in the ad actually defended Kerry from similar charges in his 1996 Senate race; another gave Kerry exemplary ratings as an officer; and none of them have ever initiated official proceedings to challenge the Navy's decision to award Kerry these medals. ...

[One could believe the facts in the ad and still regret making it. And one might easily choose to defend a candidate whose politics you like from an attack based on true assertions. Of course, Kerry knows whether they are telling the truth. We don't.]


Medical Officer Lewis Letson states that: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury." Letson offers no proof for his assertion, just details about the dates and places surrounding the injury that are readily available. More damning is that according to official Navy records, Kerry was treated by another medical officer; Letson was not the medical professional who signed Kerry's "sick call sheet."

[The potentially libelous statement is that Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart. We don't know whether that statement is true or false. But if it's true that Kerry is lying about that, then there is no libel, even if Letson didn't treat Kerry and knowingly lied when he claimed to have treated Kerry. You might have actual malice about that statement, but the problem is that Kerry isn't injured or brought into contempt by the statement that a particular person treated him. It's just not libelous. It would not be enough to prove that Letson was lying about treating Kerry. Letson could still defend by showing that Kerry was lying about his first Purple Heart.]

Gunner's Mate Van O'Dell says that: "John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star. I know, I was there, I saw what happened." O'Dell did not serve on Kerry's boat, but was on another boat in his division. O'Dell claims to have witnessed the entire incident in which Kerry won his Bronze Star. Yet, his account does not show up in any official Naval documents--from the spot reports filed immediately after the incident that detail damage to two boats, including Kerry's, and Kerry's injury report to the eyewitness accounts of Jim Rassmann, the man who Kerry pulled out of the river. Either O'Dell is right, and Rassmann, Kerry, and the US Navy are wrong--or O'Dell has a big legal problem on his hands.

[Same problem! Let's assume that O'Dell did not personally see what happened and he's knowingly lying about that. How is that statement libelous? O'Dell's seeing or not seeing the incident is not a matter that harms Kerry. It is only the fact asserted about what Kerry did that hurts Kerry's reputation and is thus capable of being libelous. If O'Dell is repeating something he heard someone else describe, and he thinks it's true, it might be that the New York Times standard is not met. But surely, if O'Dell can prove that the Bronze Star incident really is as O'Dell describes, he will have established the truth defense with respect to the statement that harms Kerry's reputation.]
2. Kerry will look litigious, a negative quality which will be exacerbated by the fact that he has a trial lawyer as a running mate. Baer concedes this is a "risk," but opines that it's a risk worth taking.

3. The election will be over by the time the case gets anywhere near a judgment. Here, Baer thinks it's worth it anyway in order to "send a message that there will be serious repercussions for anyone who wants to fund or appear in an ad that is patently false." That's the usual upside of litigiousness. Demonstrating your willingness to sue is intimidating. It even intimidates people who are telling the truth. I think in a political campaign, voters want to see issues addressed in public debate that takes place before the election, not squirreled away in a long court proceeding where the truth is learned too late to help them decide how to vote.

4. Kerry will be subjected to discovery requirements, with the court likely to require him to produce all sorts of records of his military service, including his medical records, which he has not thus far been inclined to release. Baer is thinking of discovery from another angle:
Discovery procedures could lift the curtain of anonymity on those funding these ads, potentially compelling them to disclose their financial and political interests and connections. In addition, a lawsuit will have an equally chilling effect on the political consultants who make these ads. Even the largest political ad-makers can't afford costly litigation; from a financial perspective, getting involved with groups like SBVT would be too big a risk no matter a consultant's politics.
Well, that's just admitting that you're using discovery for a purpose other than getting proof of the issues in the case. In other words, you want to abuse the process of discovery! You're admitting you want to intimidate with litigation! In fact, Baer's main idea is to use litigation to overwhelm and intimidate one's opponents, whom he compares to military enemies.

But, quite aside from all of that, is Baer's intense little article helpful to Kerry? I doubt very much that Kerry will want to sue: there are plenty of pragmatic reasons not to. But if voters are made to think Kerry should be suing, because characters like Baer are itching for it, voters may conclude that the reason Kerry isn't suing is that the charges are true.

UPDATE: Here is the Annenberg FactCheck.org analysis of the SBVT ad. The analysis picks carefully through the story of the vet who at one point said he'd made a "terrible mistake" and explains the full basis for Kerry's Silver Star award, with a link to the official citation. This vet (Elliot) seems, in the FactCheck analysis, to be someone who is sadly torn between two positions perhaps because many different people have attempted to enlist his help over the years. O'Dell, according to FactCheck, was "a few yards away" from the events that led to the Bronze Star, and the man Kerry is said to have saved, Jim Rassmann, contradicts O'Dell.

It's not surprising that O'Dell's story did not make it into the record, but I have to say that it seems scurrilous to feature O'Dell in the ad, when his is only one version of a story, and the official record does not back him up. The same is the case for Elliot. I don't know who's telling the truth, but it is deceptive to have an ad with only one version of the story told. Challenging someone's war record is an ugly thing to do, as I've said before, and one ought to have very solid proof that you are right before going down this road. I also think Kerry has some responsibility for motivating an attack in this form by allowing himself to be portrayed as a war hero at the Convention, rather than concentrating on more current issues. But given all the awards, it is appropriate to refer to him as a war hero.

It was overdone at the Convention, but that doesn't justify a scurrilous response. The ad oversold the material that was available, and that really was unfair. FactCheck's conclusion is: "At this point, 35 years later and half a world away, we see no way to resolve which of these versions of reality is closer to the truth." That sounds about right to me, and that's the right criticism of the ad. I will also note, to reclaim this update as it relates to the Baer article, that it is also a reason why Kerry should not sue and should not be faulted for not suing.

UPDATE: Beldar has a lot of good analysis of the Baer piece.

Most money wasted on a product recently ... possibly ever.

That would be the $230 I spent on a Roomba Pro-Elite Robotic FloorVac. I blogged a while back about impulsively buying this seemingly nifty device and about the trouble I had with it (primarily because long hair would coil around the brush axle, which you need extract annoying little screws to remove). I parked it under a sofa back in April and forgot about it until I suddenly felt the need to move the furniture around and saw the thing on the floor. So, I picked it up, and the rubber tread, slightly stuck to the carpet, tore and peeled away from one of the wheels. Ever the optimist, I think: good thing tomorrow is trash day, and now I can throw away this thing I never liked but had been keeping around because I'd paid so much money for it.

Bonus information: I suddenly felt the need to move the furniture because my iBook is in the repair shop, so I'm blogging from my desktop iMac over here next to the east wall of the big room, and given the position of the high-backed sofa, I'd been having to lift my arm too high to remote control the TiVo, something I seem to need to do while blogging quotes from "Hardball," "The Daily Show," etc.

John and Teresa.

Right after the Democratic convention, I wrote:
Teresa Heinz Kerry is going to be a problem---not because she's "opinionated," the characteristic she pointedly defended in her convention speech, and not merely because she is interested in being the feisty, outspoken kind of First Lady, projecting her personality into the public sphere. She is going to be a problem because of that personality-projecting combined with a lack of real interest in helping her husband. I have no way to know what she really thinks of him, but time and again, I get the impression that she can barely tolerate him and doesn't even particularly care about supporting him.

Now we read:
Democrat presidential hopeful John Kerry and his wife got into a heated argument after a campaign rally in Arizona Sunday night -- a heated argument so hot they spent the night in different rooms!

I'd be quite interested in a movie that was a fictionalized account of this. I guess it would be a lot like "Primary Colors." I'm picturing all kinds of people trying to keep Teresa in line, trying to convince her to just keep it together until the election, and all the colorful things a wife might scream at a husband in this position like, "I don't even want you to be President!" But if things like that are really happening, I really do feel sorry for John Kerry. It is so difficult to make it through the campaign, but what a horrible struggle it would be if at the same time your marriage hits the rocks and you can't even engage with that problem as a personal problem, but you must think first about the ways in which your spouse is threatening to undermine the hard work of your campaign! And I feel sorry for her too, if these things are happening, because how horrible it would be if you were struggling at the end of your marriage and you could see that the main thing your spouse cared about was keeping you quiet so he could achieve his career goal. Would you freak out and tip over into vengeance and threaten to tell the whole world what a terrible husband he is? Ah, well, that's just my fictionalized, screenplay version. One imagines fiery scenes. I hope things go well for them.

UPDATE: In light of the above, I suspect this photo from yesterday is miscaptioned. Vertigo, really?

How "Six Feet Under" is "American Beauty 2."

Dale Peck explains how Alan Ball continued the characters from his "American Beauty" screenplay to his "Six Feet Under" series:
[T]he project that followed American Beauty, the HBO series Six Feet Under, is essentially a character-by-character recreation of the movie’s key players. Its family is composed of figures culled from the three households in American Beauty: Allison Janney’s automaton housewife reappears in Frances Conroy’s Ruth Fisher; Kevin Spacey’s selfishly distant father shows up in Richard Jenkin’s Nathaniel Fisher; Wes Bentley’s drifter ’n’ dreamer has grown up to become Peter Krause’s Nate Fisher Jr.; Thora Birch’s ironic-but-wants-to-be-earnest teenager is the mirror image of Lauren Ambrose’s Claire Fisher; and the two Jims have moved into the main house in the form of Michael C. Hall’s David Fisher. Mr. Ball’s beloved plastic bag is back, too, this time filled by an endless series of corpses (there’s more than a little poignancy to this, since the bag that was Ball’s inspiration for his movie was blowing next to the World Trade Center).

Brilliant observation! Now this raises the question of what Ball is really saying about homosexuality in "Six Feet Under," considering the role it played in "American Beauty" (read the article for a reminder of the way homosexuality was treated in AB). Peck analyzes the kidnapping episode of "Six Feet Under" (which many fans of the show hated--and I discussed here). Here's just a part of Peck's great analysis:
Throughout this needless exercise in sadism, the cast and crew of Six Feet Under do their job well. ... But not even Michael C. Hall’s bravura performance—certainly the best of his four years on the show—can distract us from the inexplicable cruelty of what is actually happening. Desire is punished, and the punishment is eroticized, and the erotic, as it always does, seeks its final release in death. This is where gay desire seems always to lead in Alan Ball’s stories: to the innocuous invisibility of "partners" and the two Jims, or to the invisibility of annihilation; somewhere you get the feeling that the two states are indistinguishable.

Kerry and the Cambridgians.

Cambridge doesn’t like Kerry much, Rachel Donadio reports in the August 2 issue of the New York Observer. Her source is New Republic editor (and Cambridge resident) Martin Peretz:
On Sunday evening, at a reception for Harvard alumni in U.S. government held in the airy main lobby of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Robert Boorstin, the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress, summed up Cambridge’s enthusiasm for Mr. Kerry with a noncommittal "Eh!" as he turned his hands palms up in a gesture that drove home the point. "He’s not like Teddy Kennedy," said Mr. Boorstin, eyeing the bar. ….

[T]he Cambridge smart set’s affections for Mr. Kerry are surprisingly lukewarm, not unlike those of so many Democratic constituencies who dated other candidates before marrying Mr. Kerry. Of course, Mr. Kerry is a Yale man, and so perhaps the situation is different in New Haven. As Mr. Peretz put it, "This sounds very parochial, but there’s not the intrinsic Cambridge interest in Kerry the way there was for Kennedy and Gore, simply because there’s no Harvard connection." Still, it’s strange that for all the years he spent as a Massachusetts career politician, this year’s Democratic contender never seems to have forged particularly close ties with the Cambridge intelligentsia.

Unlike Mr. Gore, whose enthusiasm for the environment made him the darling of Cambridge scientists, "such enthusiasm as there is for Kerry is not because of any prior deep commitment that Kerry had to any issue that people identified with intellectually or politically or morally," said Mr. Peretz. "I think that Al—I’m prejudiced about him—that Al was never threatened by meeting with people who were smarter than him. He pursued those contacts to enhance himself. I don’t know that Kerry has ever really done that." …

New grist for the is-Kerry-dumb mill.
"Canterbridgians are a very peculiar, narcissistic lot. But everybody is for him," Mr. Peretz said. "And if one raises a friendly word, however modest, about Bush, one is sent into the dunce corner: ‘How could you?’, etc."

"We’re a little bit spoiled in Cambridge," said firebrand Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, speaking by phone from his home on Martha’s Vineyard. "People my age remember Bobby Kennedy and John Kennedy. Everyone remembers Clinton, and whether you love or hate him, he was the most charismatic guy in the room. Kerry is not the most charismatic guy in the room. He may be the tallest guy in the room. He used to be the best-looking guy in the room."

No way! What room was that? Okay, Dershowitz was there, but who else?

Burger King and me.

That last post reminded me that I've never mentioned that I worked for a year in a famous ad agency, J. Walter Thompson. This was in 1977-1978, right before I went to law school. I had a boring job, but it's kind of fun to remember the excitement that surrounded ad campaigns for important clients. I especially remember how important Burger King was. There was a separate part of the office space that you entered through the sort of doors that would be on a BK restaurant. When the campaign was unveiled, everyone in the office was invited to the posh screening room to watch the first commercial. The commercial looked impossibly beautifully photographed as it appeared on the finest movie screen. Those layers of onion and tomato and lettuce were so perfectly detailed. The little boy riding on the back of a truck was so impossibly adorable as he sang the most wonderful jingle of all time:
Who's got the best darn burger in the whole wide world? Burger King and me!

Ad icons, ad slogans: vote!

Thanks to Throwing Things for pointing to Advertising Week's vote for all-time best ad icon and best all-time ad slogan. I voted for Mr. Peanut for best icon, because I've been a Mr. Peanut fan for a long time. I feel that Mr. Peanut embodies a poignant eternal human optimism. He's just a peanut, yet he's very high class, and being high class, with charming innocence, has to do with a top hat, spats, and a monocle. I considered voting for Mr. Clean or the Jolly Green Giant, because these two guys are quite impressive. Indeed, one family member, when he was very young, pictured God as the Jolly Green Giant.

For best slogan, well, I can see I don't like slogans anywhere near as much as I like icons. A lot of these slogans just make me mad, not barking mad, but irritated. I mute commercials or skip them, so all the recent ones, I haven't heard. For example, I've never heard "Wassup?!" and clearly that's got to be one that's all in the delivery. I considered voting for "You deserve a break today," because it successfully reconfigured attitudes about going out to eat in a restaurant: it was no longer a luxury, an indulgence, for a special occasion, but something you deserved, not because it was your birthday or your anniversary, but on any day, today, just for getting through the ordinary tasks of the day.

They don't have my all time favorite, which was a mystery to me throughout childhood: "Modess, because" (accompanied by a picture of a woman in a beautiful dress). Another old one that is fun to remember is Dupont's "Better living through chemistry." I like that one because of nostalgia for a time when people didn't think of "chemicals" as bad. Look out, there are chemicals in the food!

Speaking of food, I impulsively voted for "Where's the beef?"

And speaking of "Where's the beef?" what about political slogans? Clearly, these have been censored out of the survey. Too divisive? Too hard to include enough to be fair?

Cigarette advertising is censored out of the survey too, even though it is clearly a huge success (shame?) of the advertising industry. What about Joe Camel? What about the Marlboro man? What about "Come to Marlboro country"? Or "Take a puff, it's springtime!"

Does anyone remember feminism?

I note this exchange that took place yesterday on "Hardball" between California Democratic Representative Ellen Tauscher and Chris Matthews, about the First Lady's recent campaign speech dealing with stem cell research:
MATTHEWS: Do you think Mrs. Bush was misused by the White House handlers, sent out there basically as almost a suicide bomber, to take the heat for a very difficult position?

TAUSCHER (with patronizing smile): Look, she's allowed to speak her mind, as every other American is and whether she was speaking of her own position or whether she was actually reading off the notes from the White House, I can't tell you, but I will tell you this. I think that she's a nice lady, that she's a strong person, and that she's been a great mom, and I think that that's really all I have to say about that. I think we need to leave this to the scientists.
Yeah, Laura, get back in the kitchen! Don't worry your pretty little head about this. It's for the scientists.

New Bush ad: "Solemn Duty."

Put on your short-sleeve workshirt, Mr. President. A nice minty green sweater for the newly red-headed First Lady. Got to go with the classic pearl choker and earrings, absolutely solidly iconic pearls for the First Lady. Let's seat them in America's living room, which looks pretty much like a display of living room accoutrements at Pottery Barn, right? Cue the tinkling piano music. Speak in a soothing voice about how much parents love their children and about a terrorist attack at the same time. Sway the camera down for a closeup of the President's and the First Lady's hands for a nice subliminal feeling of caring and hard work and competence. Now back up to the faces. Don't you feel better now?

Highlights of Maureen Dowd's interview on "The Daily Show"

1. She compared President Bush to Luke Skywalker who has "the good light father" who is "his own father who believed in internationalism, getting along with the allies, and leaving the end of the Iraq war where it was" and Dick Cheney who is "the dark father, Darth Vader" (whoops of approval from the audience) "who believes in bullying and unilateralism and not leaving the Iraq war where it was." I haven't seen "Star Wars" in decades, but did Darth Vader believe in unilateralism? The Empire is the other side, so ... ack! I don't know. I'm not a "Star Wars" person, but if you are, feel free to quibble with Dowd on this. (Or go take Prof. Yin's "Star Wars" quiz.)

2. Alternate description of Dick Cheney: "He's barking mad."

3. The NYT columnists have offices next to each other, which they find amusing to call "Murderers Row."

4. William Safire has a private phone that doesn't go through the switchboard, for his secret sources. Jon Stewart says it's probably for phone sex and imitates Safire calling: "1-800-DANGLINGPARTICIPLE."

5. A prompt from Stewart about Safire and grammar gets Dowd to say that she once asked him if it's right to say "war on terror" when you can't really have a war against a tactic, which doesn't seem like a grammar question or a word usage question, per se. Safire said, "Yes, you can," which Dowd thinks is pretty funny because he answered not as "a word person" but as a "conservative." I think the better usage point here is that it should be "war on terrorism," because the war is on the activity, not the result of the activity. We're not fighting against fear. But I think "war on terror" has won out because it's shorter. And there's probaby a fancy name like "metonymy" for the rhetorical device. (What do you say, rhetoric fans? Is it metonymy?)

6. "Tom Friedman is a lovely guy and when he gets very frustrated about what's going on in the Middle East, he'll come into my office, and on a very rare occasion, and go 'Let's go get a daiquiri." Stewart finds this extremely funny and says, "Makes it sound like he's a temp." Does being a temp and getting a dacquiri have the same connotation that preferring daiquiris used to have in the 1970s when Johnny Carson made daiquiri jokes?

August 10, 2004

"What if he's right?"

Erstwhile Bush-loather Tod Junod faces a question that has been nagging at him. The article appears in the September Esquire, which I had grabbed from the rack at the beauty salon today, meaning to scan for info about facial hair on male models and celebrities. Waiting out the drying of "Cajun Shrimp"-colored nail polish, I finally tore myself away from a description of what it feels like to be bitten on the head by a leopard and read the Junod article. It's a good enough read, though the two main points are: 1. Take me seriously because I hated Bush, and 2. Terrorism is really very important. There's a lot of riffing along the lines of comparing Bush to Lincoln but claiming not to be comparing Bush to Lincoln. There is some snappy, Esquire-y writing, which is fun to read despite the sometimes annoying pseudo-hip tone that mixes breeziness with heavy-handed moralism. I did like this part:
The [Civil War] was, from first to last, portrayed as his [Lincoln's] war, and after he won landslide reelection, he made a vow not only to stay the course but to prosecute it to the brink of catastrophe and beyond: "Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.' "

Today, of course, those words, along with Lincoln's appeal to the better angels of our nature, are chiseled into the wall of his memorial, on the Mall in Washington. And yet if George Bush were to speak anything like them today, we would accuse him of pandering to his evangelical base. We would accuse him of invoking divine authority for a war of his choosing, and Maureen Dowd would find a way to read his text in light of the cancellation of some Buffy spin-off.

That exasperating Cingular phone.

When I lost my cellphone a couple weeks of weeks ago, being the optimist that I am, I saw it as an oppportunity to get a cooler phone. I went over to my Cingular store and picked out a Motorola V400, paying an extra $50 to get the phone with a camera. I usually carry my good digital camera with me, but the phone camera is so small, it would be quite handy. But how do you get the photos into the computer? Is there a USB port? No, I'm told. You just email your photos to yourself. It's all set up for email.

But it's not all set up. In fact, it's nearly impossible to set up. I spent several hours looking for something in the manual, in the brochure I was given, and on Cingular's website, looking for a clue and trying to find a path to the answer through trial and error. Finally, I called Cingular. The first person I got, a bored-sounding woman who made me feel like I was imposing on her, reset some things at her end and, after forty minutes, got me to the point where the phone could at least connect to the internet. Back on my own, I spend another frustrating hour before I call again, this time choosing a different number from the option menu and getting a friendly, patient man with a Southern accent. I spend two hours on the phone with him! We go through multiple screens and he gives me all sorts of new codes to enter (on the phone key pad, which is hard to do).
How could anyone possibly figure out how to do this on their own?

They couldn't.

You must be doing this all day?

Yes.

Why didn't they at least tell me I'd have to call to get it to work?

I don't know.

They must not want to discourage people from buying the phone, but then isn't everyone just annoyed with the phone? They must think people will just give up and not use email ...

[No answer.]
Do they just think people want a camera to send a picture to someone else's phone? Hi, here's what I look like right now! What kind of a way is this to run a business? What a monumental waste of time that was!

At one point the tech guy proved that something worked by sending me a music file. Go ahead open it. What song did he send? "The Star-Spangled Banner."


Clinton versus an amorphous, colluding, racist "them."

Bill Clinton did a leisurely, double-length interview on "The Daily Show" last night. It was mostly quite dull, as Clinton pattered out what felt like prepared commentary, with the assistance of prompting questions from host Jon Stewart, who refrained from his usual interrupting and challenging and joking. The Clinton-tome was laid out on the desk and eventually attracted the usual banter. (It's long, you see.) The most interesting subject, though, was the Swift Boat Veterans' ad. Stewart had mocked the ad in an earlier segment of the show, and Clinton's first comment to Stewart was "I'm glad to be here. I'm glad you did that riff on the military attack on Kerry, too."
STEWART: That was a rough one, wasn't it?

CLINTON: Yeah, but you know, they did the same thing to McCain in 2000.

STEWART: Same group, am I right?

CLINTON: Same group.

STEWART: Nice kids.

CLINTON: Yeah. In support of the same crowd, I might point out.

STEWART: Who .... had nothing to do with it.

CLINTON: They also ... had a calling campaign in the primary in South Carolina in 2000 talking about how John McCain had a black baby, and they didn't want the white voters to forget it. ...
The "they" referred to throughout this discussion is never named, and gets mushy as things proceed. "They" gets melded with the "crowd" in a way that makes it very hard to tell who's who, and makes everyone seem to be acting in concert, when in fact, the election laws require them to keep their activities separate. Were the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans involved in the South Carolina smear tactics?
STEWART: Do you believe that politics has gotten so dirty ... that these kinds of tactics become so prevalent, that this is the reason half the country doesn't vote or this is the reason that we don't get the officials that we deserve?

CLINTON: No, I think people do it because they think it works.
Interesting example of assuming that a different question was asked. Stewart asked Clinton about the effect of "dirty" tactics on voters, not why people use the tactics. This is one of the places in the interview where I get the feeling Clinton and Stewart had a prepared sequence of questions, and I'm guessing that Stewart, as a result of Clinton's longwindedness, skipped a question, but Clinton stuck with the script. Clinton continues:
And as soon as it doesn't work, they'll stop doing it. I think Senator McCain, whom I admire very much, made a big mistake not bashing the Bush campaign over the attacks on his service. They implied that he betrayed the country as a POW, and he made a huge mistake for not bashing 'em for that calling operation saying he had adopted a black baby. It was blatantly racist. And they'll do this stuff as long as they think it works. They're running this ad against Kerry's military record 'cause they think it's not good for them. I mean Kerry, went to Vietnam, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney were big hawks, were like me: we didn't go. All three of us could have gone and we didn't. And Kerry did. So it's not good for them, so they're trying to put a chink in his armor.
Again, an interesting glitch that makes the remarks seem scripted: the first "it's not good for them" doesn't really fit. He reuses the phrase later, where it makes sense. And why did Clinton say "big hawks"? Did he mean chickens? Chicken hawks? And note how the racist tactics in South Carolina have become the most prominent activity of the "they," who are now "running the ad against Kerry"! For the second time, he makes it seem as though the Swift Boat Veterans have something to do with racism. That's wildly unfair. Clinton continues:
But it's wrong, and if they really disapproved of it, they would have said they disapproved of it, and there's a reason they didn't say they disapproved of it. ... Look what they did to Max Cleland, in Georgia. ... They beat him with it, and until we stop them, they'll keep doing it.
My elisions don't contain any substantive attack on the anti-Kerry ad. They are only a repetition that dirty tactics are used because they work and a long elaboration of the Max Cleland story. Stewart ventures that both sides must resort to various tactics, and asks why there isn't some control on the truth of political ads. Clinton responds:
To be fair, for about the last three elections, starting in '92, actually, the newspapers began to evaluate the truth and accuracy and fairness of the ads. And they do it more often. And this ad that you've featured here has actually been subjected to quite a bit of criticism. So we are getting better at it, but when someone comes after you, you have to go back at them.
That flowed by very glibly, and I was glad I had it TiVoed so I could go back and see where the seams were. So newspapers have been "evaluat[ing] the truth and accuracy and fairness" of political ads? And the anti-Kerry ad has "been subjected to quite a bit of criticism"? That doesn't say that newspapers have evaluated this ad and found a problem with truth or accuracy or fairness. Newspapers have been evaluating some ads, but have they evaluated this one? And this ad has been criticized, but for what reason? Obviously, it's been criticized for daring to impugn Kerry's war record, when at least Kerry, unlike some others, went to war--Clinton himself just criticized it on that ground. But is it untrue?

Clinton just stressed how important it is to bash back really hard. If he's fighting as hard as he can, why was there not one word in all that long flow of words citing factual errors in the ad? Clinton pointed out at some length (another elision in my transcript) that McCain's baby was in fact not black but Bangladeshi (something that hardly matters) but he did not mention one detail in the Kerry ad. Why did Clinton choose to whip up a smooth froth of amorphous, colluding, racist "them," old material about McCain and Cleland, and exquisitely hypocritical protestations about the dirty tactics? May I assume that Clinton, with his express intent to bash back hard, would have made a substantive attack on the ad if he'd had the material?

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that the "them" in Clinton's remarks ≈ "a vast right-wing conspiracy."

Also, the failure of the Kerry campaign to respond substantively to the Swift Boat Veterans seems to be a permanent strategy. The attack on the SB Vets is stooping pretty low, fishing for stray chat-room remarks, as noted by Drudge today, linking this AP article.
"President Bush should immediately condemn this sleazy book written by a virulent anti-Catholic bigot. It says something about the smear campaign against John Kerry that it has stooped to enlist a hatemonger," said campaign spokesman Chad Clanton.
So now you 're a "virulent anti-Catholic bigot" if you call the Pope "senile" and make some harsh remarks about the sexual abuse of children? Outrageous!

Instapundit, linking to Matt Welch, is discussing the extent to which Kerry's failure to respond substantively constitutes proof of the truth of the allegations.

August 9, 2004

Blogad woes.

How long must my Blogads continue to refer to a topic I've blogged about in the past but don't want to mention now lest my blog forever bear a heading that makes this look like a one-issue blog? I don't think Blogads has a way to know whether the blogwriter is for or against a particular matter mentioned in the blog. I could just as well be against X as for it! If I were against it, it would be quite offensive and aggravating, but it still bugs me, because it's been there so long. What can I write about that would trigger a new ad? I've mentioned Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. Dave Matthews. (I'm using Tonya's technique for communicating with Blogads.) I've mentioned Sean Penn today. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. Sean Penn. And Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp. And how about that new Tom Cruise movie? I haven't gone to the movies in a while, but I have a lot of respect for Michael Mann, the director of Cruise's new movie "Collateral," which is getting good reviews. And I have a special place in my heart for Tom Cruise, who revealed his inner nerd on the Letterman show last week when he laughed so hard a booger flew out of his nose. (Fun to rewatch on TiVo!) "Collateral" is kind of a boring name for a movie. I remember when I was a teenager, encountering the word "collateral" for the first time and trying very hard to figure out the meaning from the context, which was "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream":
Now, I didn't mean to be nosy
But I went into a bank
To get some bail for Arab
And all the boys back in the tank
They asked me for some collateral
And I pulled down my pants
They threw me in the alley
When up comes this girl from France
Who invited me to her house
I went, but she had a friend
Who knocked me out
And robbed my boots
And I was on the street again

I've always liked Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. So now can I please have some different ads, Blogads? Please?

UPDATE: This seems to have worked!

Facial hair.

Check out this picture and this picture of Johnny Depp. What do you think of the facial hair? Better without? It's a raging question around here. Note the detail of his facial hair: the mustache and beard (both skimpy) are not connected.

You might say, well, Johnny Depp is just so pretty that mussing himself up a bit is a good move. So look at Sean Penn, who's using the same disconnected skimpy look. Penn is distinctly not pretty, so looking at him helps judge this facial hair style because we're not influenced by the overall facial beauty.

(I tried to do a blogpoll, but I couldn't get it to work! Any clues? I've got the javascript but Blogger tells me the "tag is not allowed.")

UPDATE: I think, with JF's help, I've found out how to get the blogpoll to work, so now you can vote. (The trick is just to ignore the error message.)



More about the Dave Matthews concert.

The previous post is the main thing I wanted to say about the Dave Matthews Band concert, and this post is a bunch of miscellaneous items based on the big show last night:

1. Dave's harping on peeing in his "register to vote" pitch--see previous post--was quite appropriate for this crowd, because a shocking amount of beer was being drunk by the 40,000 fans crammed onto the big hill that overlooks the stage.

2. When you're sitting on the hill, in the crowd, there are no pathways out to aisles, and the slope is very steep, so getting out to where you can take care of your liquid-related physical needs is quite a challenge.

3. You'd think, in light of the difficulty, that one would buy just one drink and then try to make it through the whole concert, but many of the young men in attendance seemed to see the main problem to be getting back to the concession stands to buy more beer. Now, the beer cups were huge, maybe 32 ounces, so even one was a lot. But, these young men were buying two cups, approximately half a gallon, and carrying them down the steep hill, balancing them on the lawn.

4. What did these men, having drunk so much, do when they had to pee? How did they get up through the crowd, up the steep incline to the bathrooms?

5. Alarming thing I overheard said to the man next to me: "Hey, I don't know you, man, but I'm just trying to look out for you. The people behind you are trying to pee on you."

6. And I don't even want to talk about vomit. I only saw one large pool of vomit.

7. I'll talk about soda. I just bought a Diet Coke. It's a long drive back home after the concert. An hour and a half, not counting the possibly very long time it takes to get out of the parking lot. I want to make the 20 ounce soda last a long time, so I'm dismayed that the young woman who took my $4 also twists off the top and throws it right into the trash. Can't I have my cap? I ask like the Alpine Valley neophyte that I am. No! It's a rule. Why? Because people put stuff in the caps and throw them at the stage. What do they put in the caps? What's the worst thing you might put in a soda cap?

8. I say "parking lot," but it is really fields of grass, where people with flags wave you in and assign you to your spot. There are many, many cars, and lots of people tailgating, with circles of lawn chairs and barbecues and shockingly large piles of empty beer cans. And empty beer bottles, which you can enjoy driving you car tires over as you try to get out later that night, driving around stumbling drunks and cars and trucks driven by those stumbling drunks.

9. And how about the concert? The band put on a good show. I'm not a big fan like Tonya, but I liked the music. However, the physical discomforts far overshadowed the pleasures of the music.

10. Any annoying fans in the crowd worth mentioning?

There was the tall man standing right in front of me in the early part of the evening, who was dressed like a three-year-old (baseball cap, striped polo shirt, shorts, sneakers) and whose ass, which I was forced to look at, twitched, one buttock at a time: his minimal but grotesque way of dancing.

There was the extremely drunk, extremely rubbery young man who danced wildly right in front of us later on in the evening. He groped several women, asked scores of people if they had any pot, and tried to befriend everyone around him by imploring them to dance and party. A favorite move was to turn his back on the stage, stretch out his arms and shout, with a strange, unintended reference to The Who: "Wasted! You're all wasted!" And later: "40,000 people--all wasted!"

There was the young woman who suddenly moved from somewhere out in the crowd to a spot right in front of us and began sobbing uncontrollably. Was she having a bad drug experience? Did she just break up with her boyfriend? Asked "Are you all right?" She said yes and returned to her sobbing. Since she understood the question and responded, I was inclined to think she broke up with her boyfriend.

Then there was the pretty young blond woman who, late in the Dave Matthews set, leaned over to me and said, "You know, you can dance." She went on quite a bit about dancing, noting that Tonya was dancing, and then she grabbed our hands and tried very hard to start a group dance with us. She really wanted to hold hands and dance.
11. Anything else? Back in the stands there was a makeshift "oxygen bar." For $2, you could sit on the floor and lie back against a beanbag cushion with one of those oxygen hoses strapped under your nose and breath some oxygen, like a hospital patient, for one minute.

12. And speaking of beanbag, out in the parking lot, a favorite activity of the tailgating fans, for some reason, was playing beanbag.

13. Cameras were banned, but my new cell phone is a camera. If I can figure out how to get the photos from the camera to the computer and if anything is any good, I'll have some photos later. Tonya sneaked her whole regular camera in--even though the bags were searched and squeezed--so she'll have some photos later along with her own descriptions of things and I'll link to that here when I can. [ADDED: Here's that link.] And a couple of photos in her camera were taken by me, and, when she sends them to me, I'll put one up here, and you'll see, it will be my second Who reference of the post, an homage to this classic album cover.

AND: The anticipated photo did not work out right. There were four young men lined up facing this chain link fence, all peeing through the fence. I tried to catch the display quickly and some people walked by:



Here's Tonya's picture of the parking field debris:



This wasn't the worst of it at all. Here's the parking field by daylight, showing the tailgating. I particularly like this picture of Tonya's because of the American flag and the luscious display of manly, freckled flesh:



And this shows I wasn't lying about DMB fans playing beanbag:

Celebrity politics: a compliment to Dave Matthews.

We've heard various accounts over the years about celebrities--the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt--using their concerts to make political pitches, sometimes in a quite nasty form that leaves a segment of the audience feeling betrayed or annoyed by a person they'd chosen to see because they love their art. They didn't pay to attend a political rally and they don't even want to be at a political rally or at that political rally. I don't remember ever going to a concert where that happened to me. I do remember feeling indescribably outraged when I attended--along with 20,000 other people--the campus memorial for the September 11th victims three days after 9/11 only to find speaker after speaker turning the occasion into a peace rally.

I went to the Dave Matthews Band concert at Alpine Valley last night, and I knew Dave had recently signed up for the "Vote For Change" concert tour and was capable of saying things like:

A vote for change is a vote for a stronger, safer, healthier America .... A vote for Bush is a vote for a divided, unstable, paranoid America. It is our duty to this beautiful land to let our voices be heard. That's the reason for the tour. That's why I'm doing it.

But the Alpine Valley folks had not bought tickets for a political tour concert. I was prepared to hear some unappealing politicking from the stage, so I was quite impressed that the only political content occurred when Dave came on stage to introduce the band (Gusher) that played before his band. Dave just said:
There will be a break after they play and before we come out and play, so if you have to take a leak, when you go up to take a leak, you can also register to vote. If you really have to go bad, then first take a leak, and then register to vote. But if it's just a twinge, you can register to vote first.

And vote for whoever you want. Vote for whoever you want. And if you don't know who to vote for, vote for who I want. You know who I want. But vote for whoever you want.
Well said, Dave. Appropriate use of the forum.

August 8, 2004

That touchy credential: a Senate career.

Jodi Wilgoren, in the NYT Week In Review, analyzes why a Senate career looks at first like a great credential for a presidential candidate, but then backfires. (Only two sitting Senators have the Presidency.) Wilgoren notes something I hadn't noticed:
Mr. Kerry's campaign aides rarely use the honorific he has earned in nearly 20 years on Capitol Hill, instead referring to the candidate only as "John Kerry'' in news releases, travel schedules and when talking about him.

Most of us have noticed that the Democratic convention speeches and the Kerry ads rarely mention his Senate career. Here, Wilgoren supplies the surprising details:
Only 3 of the campaign's 18 television advertisements since April even mention his day job, describing him alternately as a combat veteran, former prosecutor, husband, father, "advocate for kids," hunter, pilot, even hockey player.

And in accepting his party's presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, as his opponents were quick to point out, Mr. Kerry spent just 26 seconds - 73 of the 5,343 words in his speech - talking about his time in the Senate.

And most of us have noticed the raw material a Senate career provides for the Senator's opponent:
[A] Senate record [Kerry] has cast some 6,000 votes since arriving in Washington in 1985 - is easy ammunition. Hardly a day goes by without Mr. Bush's aides mentioning Mr. Kerry's 350 votes over the years for higher taxes (not mentioning that most were technical votes on minor amendments connected with balanced-budget packages). If not attacking his votes for higher gas taxes or against financing for the Iraq war, the Bush campaign is pointing to votes or hearings Mr. Kerry skipped while out campaigning.

And Kerry seems especially afflicted (unlike Edwards) by the senatorial speech patterns, which are also a problem:
Then there is the way senators speak - at length, often alone in the august hall but for a C-Span camera, with bonus points for detailed digressions and polysyllabic words.

Indeed, on the campaign trail, Mr. Kerry is inclined to "revise and extend" the draft remarks circulated to reporters, often stepping on his own applause lines by stuffing extra examples and explanations into the bumper-sticker slogans.

"You talk differently," explained Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "You tend to emphasize the specifics and the intricacies of legislation. It's hard to describe a Senate career in a way that makes you appear attractive as a president."

Wilgoren also notes that the two sitting Senators who did make it to the Presidency were, unlike John Kerry, had very brief Senate careers:
[T]he senators who made it to the White House, Harding in 1920 and Kennedy in 1960, had unremarkable Capitol Hill careers, each having spent only one term in the Senate. "They had non-records, so to speak," said the historian Robert Dallek. "There wasn't a single major bill that attached to either Harding or Kennedy's name, so they could defend against attacks on their record."

So being a one-termer is the trick? And not orating like a Senator? Isn't everyone seeing that John Edwards would have been the better candidate?

"Quasi": the plausible deniability prefix.

Last week, Jeremy called me "quasi-snobbish" for taking account of the hierarchy of prestige among law schools. Responding to him, I dropped the quasi, and he wrote: "I said quasi-snobbish; I don't deploy Latinate prefixes idly." So, my ears perked up at this interchange between Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly on Tim Russert's show last night:
KRUGMAN: The United States is the lowest taxed advanced country, by far ...

O'REILLY: Yeah, because they're not a socialist country. [O'Reilly asserts that Ronald Reagan's tax policy stimulated the economic growth of the 90s.]

KRUGMAN (sarcastically): I love this!

O'REILLY: ... I don't care whether you believe it or not. You're a quasi-socialist. ...

KRUGMAN: ... You take a look at anything I've written about economics and I'm not a socialist. You know, that's a slander.

O'REILLY (serenely and smugly): I said quasi.

KRUGMAN: Well, that's a wonderful out. Then you're a quasi-murderer!

So what's the deal with "quasi"? It's something you tack on to a hot term you really want to use, so that you don't have to take responsibility for using it. So I agree it's not idly deployed. It's the plausible deniability prefix. But I think Krugman was right to perceive that O'Reilly had called him a socialist.

UPDATE: Jeremy has a longish post in response, which winds its way around to talking about John Kerry's assertion that Bush's approach to managing the volunteer military is a "backdoor draft." I realized at some point in reading Jeremy's post that "quasi" can also be used to make an insult out of what is not an insult, for example, in referring to something as "quasi-humorous." Anyway, that doesn't refer to Jeremy's post, which is actually humorous, that refers to a letter I wrote a long time ago, criticizing someone for writing an article insulting someone else and meaning to escape responsibility by casting the article as a humor piece. Not wanting to give the article writer any credit, I called the piece "quasi-humorous." Now that I've made such a big deal out of "quasi," if I ever use "quasi" again, it's going to make me queasy.

Shopping.

So, as I said, I was down in the outskirts of Chicago yesterday shopping. I can't help it, but I like the Oakbrook Center, with its nice mix of stores, including an Apple Store, an Eileen Fisher, a Sephora, Crate and Barrel, a Restoration Hardware, Tiffany's, Brooks Brothers, that sort of thing. It's a non-enclosed mall, with outdoor plazas and walkways, with flowers and fountains. Too pretty, if anything. Not gritty or at all hip. Upscale, modern .... I'm sorry, I like it. It's a serene promenade through tasteful merchandise. I don't really like to go shopping. Shopping is often confusing, physically uncomfortable, unaesthetic, and a waste of time. But at Oakbrook, we had a rational and efficient shopping experience, as well as a nice little lunch at Antico Posto.

The two hour drive is a minus, but that was offset by having my son John in the car reading to me the entire time. He likes to read out loud, and I'm happy driving a long time if I can hear something worth thinking about. John came with me because the main goal of the trip was to buy him a suit and various accessories at Brooks Brothers. Now this had loomed as a big chore, but the idea was that BB would simplify the task, and it did. Our saleswoman Helga, with 20 years of experience, can look at a customer and know what size he wears. She's very good at this, she says, but she gets it wrong in the case of her own children, because she sees them as smaller than the really are. Which I thought was sweet. She led us from jacket to pants to shoes to shirts to ties to socks. We put together the whole outfit as the decisions seemed to fall into place inevitably. There's something really rational and sensible about buying men's business clothes. And doesn't a man look fine in a suit? I find myself saying: why don't men wear suits all the time? It's such a simplified approach to personal appearance, and it makes you look great.

Helga got the tailor to do the alterations that afternoon. We went back out to shop around. and she called my cell phone within an hour to say the suit is ready. John tried it on, and I said again what I said when he first tried the jacket on: you look great! It's quite a pleasure to see your own son dressed perfectly in a nice suit!

I bought some soft sweaters at Eileen Fisher, which is as rational a women's clothing store as I have ever seen. And I wandered around Sephora for a while, which is surely less rational, but isn't it amusing to see all the unusual makeup displays, find the Philosophy products charming, try on six perfumes, and be waited on by numerous beautiful salespersons? Well, you can decide for yourself. I think it's a brilliantly designed store.

I noticed how many of the stores play Big Band music--not all, not Sephora. Is there something about Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald that enhances merchandise? I remember my father telling me so many times, back in the sixties, that Big Band music would come back. Oh, how wrong you are, old man--was my attitude at the time--rock and roll had forever conquered your square music! No, he thought rock was a transitory trend, a novelty. It would have to die. But "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay," rock has been singing about itself since the fifties. I suppose that my father must have admitted to himself before he died that Big Band music was not coming back. But now, whenever I go shopping, piped into the sleek, fashionable environments of today is the music my parents loved, sounding eternally young and fresh and inevitable.

Ah, I suppose I also believed, back in the sixties, that men were about to toss aside their business suits for good! Didn't we, the know-it-all baby boomers, see the folly of those uptight clothes? Neckties: what were they for? No one would dress like that in the future. But now, I'm shopping for a suit with my son, respecting the rationality and clarity of the traditional men's store, and I'm genuinely impressed by how great a suit looks.

Breastfeeding.

I barely, but polarly, posted yesterday. I took a long drive down to the outskirts of Chicago to do some shopping. That means I was in no position to run into and photograph the protest march for breast milk that took place alongside the Farmers' Market yesterday. Nina has pictures of fruits, vegetables, and breast-promoters. She asks was anyone against breast milk? She asks rhetorically, in the sense of: isn't it silly to march for this because it's completely noncontroversial?

I remember in the early 70s, Ms. Magazine, in its early days, constantly attacked La Leche League, a pro-breastfeeding group. It was considered anti-feminist at the time to encourage women to breastfeed. Breastfeeding promoters had an ulterior motive (according to Ms.): keeping women at home.

Last year, I studied the Family and Medical Leave Act, after the Supreme Court decided that the law enforced equal protection rights. The Court considered whether the federal statute was a remedy for violations of constitutional equal protection rights, and the violation of rights the Court found was that states had given more family leave to women than to men. Key evidence showed that maternity leaves exceeded paternity leaves to an extent that could not be explained by the time of physical disability that follows childbirth (supposedly four to six weeks). I wondered why it violated men's rights to give long maternity leaves to women, considering that only women were physically capable of breastfeeding. A new mother might want to breastfeed for six months or a year. An employer that accommodated the new mother's wish to stay home and breastfeed violates equal protection? I thought it was rather amazing that none of the briefs talked about this subject.

So I think that's an indication that breastfeeding is not treated as important. Sure, go do it if you want, but don't expect a lot of help. I don't know anything about the women who marched in Madison yesterday, but I assume that they are asking for institutions to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding. If they are hoping for long work leaves to allow it, they've got a big problem. But there are still other issues about being accommodated in the workplace (bring the baby to work?) and in various public places (at the next table in at a restaurant?).