February 19, 2005

Subtitles.

Ben Yagoda has a nice essay (in tomorrow's NYT Book Review) about the overuse of subtitles in book titling:
I miss the time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a book to go out into the world with only a strong title followed by a few hundred pages of outstanding writing. That was certainly the tack taken by most mid-20th-century nonfiction classics: ''Hiroshima,'' ''All the President's Men,'' ''The American Way of Death,'' ''The White Album,'' ''Elvis,'' ''Dispatches,'' ''Joe Gould's Secret,'' ''The Executioner's Song,'' Lillian Ross's ''Picture,'' ''The Right Stuff,'' ''The Soul of a New Machine,'' ''The Kingdom and the Power,'' just about everything ever written by John McPhee, and a book that, were it published today, would tote a subtitle like ''The True Story of How the Ivy League Elite Developed Strange Ideas About the World, Got America Into Vietnam, and Messed Up Foreign Policy for a Long Time.'' Back in 1972, David Halberstam called it ''The Best and the Brightest'' and then shut up.

The problem with respect to books is nothing compared to law review articles. One rarely sees a title without a subtitle. But the truth is, those subtitles really are helpful when you look for articles through LEXIS and get a long list of titles. A snappy title is nice, but it's almost never nice enough to make me curious enough to take the time to click on the link to see what you've written. You've got to have that colon followed by something that makes it plain what you're writing about.

A sidenote: I always use LEXIS to find law review articles when I'm doing legal scholarship. Nevertheless, I receive many reprints of law review articles in the mail. Reprint-sending is such a wasteful and now totally unnecessary practice. Could we all please just stop? Think of the trees! Think of the mail truck exhaust! Lawprofs: if there were a national "do not send reprints" list, would you not put your name on it?

"The religion of health," part 2.

Yesterday, I wrote about what Vatican officials called "the religion of health." And not too long ago, I criticized Arkansas Governor Huckabee for participating in a covenant marriage rally. Some of my readers thought I was being too hard on Huckabee, and perhaps now you will suspect me of having an unfair focus on the man from Hope, but Huckabee keeps walking right into the net of Althouse blog-topics. This is from yesterday's Daily Citizen:
Striving towards fitness is part of a person's covenant with God, said Gov. Mike Huckabee to Harding University students Thursday morning during Harding's daily chapel.

First, thanks for reminding us that "covenant" is a word with deep religious connotations. It helps shed some light on the problems with those state-sanctioned "covenant marriages" you just rallied about. Either keep the religion out of marriage or keep government out of marriage. Just choose, and be consistent.
Huckabee has lost about 110 pounds since he was diagnosed two years ago with type two diabetes. He had been told then that the next decade of his life would be his last if he did not change his eating habits and begin exercising, recounted Huckabee, who was hosted by Harding's wellness committee.

"If my body belonged to the Lord, I was not following the design of the Designer," said the governor.

It is a matter of the divine ownership of the body, said Huckabee.

Whatever helps you lose weight is fine with me, and tying God into every aspect of your life that you can think of, if that's what you want to do, is fine with me. But do you really mean to say everyone who's fat is sinning?
"I was living in a way that made my body unfit as a temple where He might live. It was not only unhealthy. It was sinful," said Huckabee.

I guess he hasn't heard that making a religion out of health might be a sin. But quite aside from whether dieting is the stuff of religion, is it the concern of government? Huckabee surely thinks so:
Huckabee has used his governorship to enourage state-wide weight-loss. Huckabee's legislative package last year included a law now in effect requiring public schools to weigh their students, and send home each child's body-mass-index, said Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris.

Public radio needs classical music?

Andrew Ferguson, writing in the Weekly Standard, doesn't like that his local NPR station is going from classical music to all news and talk. And he's arguing that this format change is a reason why public radio ought to be privatized. I would argue the opposite: public radio is most justifiable in the news and talk format.

I listen to WERN here in Madison, but only if it has a news or talk show on. If I turn on the radio and hear classical music, I turn it right off and am, in fact, irritated that they are using the public station for that purpose. I don't hate classical music -- Ferguson calls it "beautiful and intelligent music." But it is only listened to by a small segment of the population, no doubt the more affluent folks who are perfectly capable of purchasing all the easily available classical music they want on CD or as digital files. Yet Ferguson's argument is studded with points about a dysfunctional marketplace:
Public radio in the United States is remaking itself according to a wholly new sense of its mission. Originally conceived as a service for preserving and encouraging minority tastes ignored by the market -- particularly in the arts, not only in classical music but also in jazz, bluegrass, cabaret, folk -- public radio is being transformed into the nation's first government-funded news service....

"We're in the business of trying to create a larger audience," [WETA's president] told the Washington Post, explaining the [format change]. Her line of reasoning is shared by the new generation of station managers who have gained control over public radio in the last 15 years. According to their conventional wisdom -- though whether it's wisdom or merely convention has yet to be determined -- news and chat inevitably bring in more listeners, and more affluent listeners, than classical music or jazz. And affluent listeners draw higher-class advertisers (called "underwriters" in the painstaking lexicon of public broadcasting) and respond more generously during pledge drives.

... [But] the point of subsidized radio has never been to maximize its audience, and certainly not to maximize its income. It has always been sustained instead on an odd, but sturdy, rationale: Public broadcasting needed to exist because its programming wasn't terribly popular....
If poor, minority, or marginalized persons were big fans of classical music, I might think about this differently. But the audience for classical music does not deserve special favors. They got what they wanted in the past precisely because they were the affluent people who would respond to fund drives. Now that the baby boomers have filled up the affluent demographic, the same dynamic is pushing out classical music, because not many baby boomers care about classical music. Quit whining about the advantage you're losing and ask yourself whether you ever deserved that advantage in the first place. It's not enough to say that classical music is "beautiful and intelligent." Nearly everyone thinks the music they like is the best.

I do realize that there has always been an argument about cultivating a new audience for classical music, and that telling people who already like it to buy their own CDs is not enough because we need new people to encounter it on the radio, where they can learn to like it. But why should the government care which genre of music people decide to like? Why isn't the marketplace enough? Just because it doesn't favor the music you like? There is some problem with radio stations being too much alike, but playing a lot of classical music is an inadequate solution to that problem. Why should only one minority taste get government support?

Is podcasting good?

The NYT has a frontpage article promoting podcasting, which is supposedly the big new thing now that blogs are so last year. I decided to check out Adam Curry's "Daily Source Code," and clicked on this one. It was just unedited, uninteresting blather. He rambled on about NYC. He seemed to think it was worth stating that he hadn't been there since 9/11, even though he had nothing else to say about 9/11 and just continued into some lightweight talk about how he had a lot of friends to visit. And there was no amusing detail of any sort about the friends. Just: he has a lot of friends in NY. Who cares? Then, he got to the topic of "The Gates," which he had nothing interesting to say about. "The Gates" made it hard for him to find a hotel. He said, "The hotels are all booked to the hilt," then immediately started talking about the Hilton. Well, it seems to me that if you have any way with words at all, if you say "to the hilt" and then "the Hilton," you've got to riff on that. If you don't have a way with words and you can't riff verbally and your ideas and observations don't flow out with some detail or distinctive edge, why are you recording yourself?
So I've got the lav on, so I can walk around a bit, look out the window. Let's see. What was I going to do?

One thing about written blogs is you can glance over them quickly and decide how much you want to read. These podcast recordings impose their time frame on you. A slow talker forces you to listen longer. A slow writer doesn't cause you to read slowly.

I'm not completely knocking podcasting. I might like to do it myself. Curry deserves credit for developing the medium, but I don't see him as much of a content provider. That's my snap judgment after listening to him for about two minutes and not wanting to put up with any more slow-moving banalities. I can see the special value to people who are walking around with iPods and want to listen to something radio-like. Sitting with my computer, I find it annoying to listen to a rambling chat. But audio might be a nice addition to a blog, like photography. But like photography and writing, spoken word needs to be done well. It can't be just: hey, look, I'm podcasting.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that at some point Curry plays music. That's when I turned it off, actually. Conceivably, a DJ can chatter inanely and still be acceptable to people who want to hear music. I pretty much only listen to music in my car. You might wonder why I don't have an iPod. I quite simply don't want one. I don't like to listen to music while I'm out walking around.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Legal Underground thinks I'm rejecting podcasting and Adam Curry unfairly and claims that there are a lot of great podcasts out there. First, link to some that you consider great so I can see for myself. I picked Curry's site because he seemed to be an important podcaster. And I did get his "soundseeing" concept, but found it lacking in content. (I also hate when NPR pads out its stories with footsteps in the crunching leaves as we approach ... whatever.) And I do understand the notion of downloading the material into an iPod, but I'm not going to sign on to the idea that the material therefore doesn't really need to be that good. If I listen through my computer and find it boring and pointless, I'm going to stand by that opinion. I've listened to "This American Life" and old episodes of Jean Shepard's great show on the computer. It's the same as listening to the radio.

YET MORE: There is also just "audioblogging," which looks really easy to do on Blogger. One advantage is that you can phone in your posts, which means you can blog without a computer. A pitfall, judging from the examples at that link, is talking as you would in an ordinary phonecall. It is quite tedious to listen to a stranger talk in a way that would be normal and acceptable in a personal phone call. I think people naturally hold themselves to a higher standard when writing. But audioblogging might be great for a small blog that is read by friends and family -- basically, the people who would enjoy chatting on the phone with you. It would take a real effort, I think, to use a telephone to make an audio clip that a large number of strangers would want to hear out. Even getting good content would be hard, but add to that the problems most of us have speaking fluently and distinctly and in a nice-sounding tone of voice.

AND YET MORE: Jonathan Gewitz agrees with me about the problem of audio imposing its time frame on you and adds that videoblogging has the same drawback. I note that I'm essentially making an argument for why reading is the best way to receive communication (unless you're having a personal relationship). I've developed almost an aversion to going to the movies in the last couple years, and I know it's mostly about feeling stuck in the theater. You commit yourself to being there for the two hours or so and then you have to wait while the material is reeled out at the pace somebody else decided was a good idea for the audience in general. At least with TiVo or a DVD you can pause when you want, but isn't reading superior? You're not limited to pausing. You can vary the pace constantly depending on your interest, the difficulty of the material, and how much room you need to make for thoughts of your own.

I realize that this point is related to what I wrote yesterdayabout the Summers speech heard live and the speech read as a transcript. ("I think if I had been there and heard the 'daddy truck/baby truck' part, I would have missed the whole next section because I would have become wrapped up in my own thoughts. This is one reason why I'd prefer to read a speech than listen to one. Who can sit through a long, overcomplicated speech with a passive mind?") Of course, as a teacher, I impose live speech on an audience all the time, so I must also believe that there is something that happens in that setting that is better than reading or an important addition to reading. But I certainly know one needs to make a very great effort to do it right. You've got to feel that you owe your audience a lot, since you are presuming to trap them in a room for an hour.

The lingering furor and the deepening rift.

I've been following the NYT stories about Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers. Yesterday, it was "Furor Lingers as Harvard Chief Gives Details of Talk on Women," and today, it's "Rift Deepens as Professors at Harvard See Remarks." It's essentially the same headline, but I think it's funny how a "furor" becomes a "rift" and I like to contemplate the possible difference between a problem "lingering" and "deepening." I think there's more trouble in "deepening," but maybe it's just the metaphorically consistent word choice when you're going with "rift." Of course, a rift could also "widen." And I actually don't like "lingering" with "furor." A "furor" seems too turbulent and furious to just "linger."

See, this is why it takes me forever to read the newspaper. I really am interested in the substance of the article, but I think I am more interested in the words themselves. Oh, perhaps, it's that verbal thing women are born with....

Anyway. Let's actually read today's article:
A mood of uncertainty settled over Harvard University on Friday in the aftermath of President Lawrence H. Summers's release of the transcript of his contentious remarks last month about the shortage of women in the sciences and engineering.

Many people were parsing and debating the often dense and rambling 7,000-word transcript, a long-awaited document that quickly became a must-read on campus....

Ah, yes, I tried to read that transcript yesterday. It was dense or I was dense because I just couldn't get through it. Well, this is Harvard's problem. Now there are two groups of professors gathering signatures, one for a letter supporting Summers and one for a letter against him.

I get distracted by words again. Is it right to call his remarks "contentious"? Isn't it the faculty that's contentious? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "contentious" can mean controversial, and is not limited to meaning quarrelsome. My digression leads me to this entry in the "Dictionary of Phrase & Fable" for John Lilburne:
If no one else were alive, John would quarrel with Lilburne. John Lilburne was a contentious Leveller in the Commonwealth; so rancorous against rank that he could never satisfy himself that any two persons were exactly on the same level....

“Is John departed? and is Lilburne gone?

Farewell to both -- to Lilburne and to John.

Yet, being gone, take this advice from me:

Let them not both in one grave buried be.

Here lay ye John, lay Lilburne thereabout;

For if they both should meet, they would fall out.”

I love the old "Dictionary of Phrase & Fable" (written by E. Cobham Brewer and published in 1898). Let's look up something else: "Furor"! I love that word, and I wanted to check and make sure it really was related to "fury" (it is). Here's the entry in the "Phrase & Fable" book:
Furor.

Son of Occasion, an old hag, who was quite bald behind. Sir Guyon bound him “with a hundred iron chains and a hundred knots.” (Spenser: Faërie Queene, book ii.)

Having explored "furor," why not "rift"? I found this story about Virgil, which might perhaps give the Harvard professors some idea of what to do about Summers:
Virgil was wise, and as craft was considered a part of wisdom, especially over-reaching the spirits of evil, so he is represented by mediæval writers as out witting the demon. On one occasion, it is said, he saw an imp in a hole of a mountain, and the imp promised to teach the poet the black art if he released him. Virgil did so, and after learning all the imp could teach him, expressed amazement that one of such imposing stature could be squeezed into so small a rift. The imp said, “Oh, that is not wonderful,” and crept into the hole to show Virgil how it was done, whereupon Virgil closed up the hole and kept the imp there. (Een Schone Historie Van Virgilius, 1552.)

There, now, wasn't that perfectly innately feminine of me?

February 18, 2005

Movie star.

There's a movie being made chez Althouse tonight. The star came over in a pouch:



A sugar glider!

The closer you get...

Ambivablog thinks "The Gates" look nice from a distance, like Buddhist monks' robes:
But when I walked through and under them, the fabric looked heavy and inert, more like drapes than filmy wind-yielding robes. (There wasn't any wind, was part of the problem.) And there was something claustrophobic and oppressive about the way they hung straight across, like Christiane Amanpour's bangs...

The brains behind the dummy.

Here's the obit for the inventor of the crash-test dummy, Samuel W. Alderson. What would we do without crash-test dummies?
In the 1930's, with traffic fatalities becoming a growing public health concern, manufacturers began to explore the design of safer cars. But the new science of crash testing raised a seemingly intractable problem: to study the effect of a crash on the human body, researchers would have to equip the test car with a live human being. Volunteers were few.

As a result, the first crash-test dummies were cadavers. While useful in collecting basic data, they lacked the durability required for repeated trials.

And because no two cadavers were exactly the same size and shape, no two tests were strictly comparable.

Actually, cadavers are still used in some crash tests today, as I learned from chapter 4 of Mary Roach's incredibly enjoyable book "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers."

Blogger is driving me crazy.

Blogger has its good days and bad. I have no idea why. But the last few days have been awful, as it slowly grinds away and you gradually go from wondering when it will ever finish a task to worrying whether it will destroy your post altogether. And if you go back and edit while it's in the middle of one of its endless publishing hang-ups, you can expect to see your post published in duplicate or triplicate. Right now, I'm wasting time trying to see if my last post is double-posted -- all because I couldn't resist breaking in to correct the spelling of "labyrinthine."

Summers releases the transcript.

Finally, we get to see the transcript of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers making his much-criticized remarks about women and science. I had an excerpt here, which I'd edited down, but on preview, it was still far too long. The speech is labyrinthine. Let me try again:
[T]here is reasonably strong evidence of taste differences between little girls and little boys that are not easy to attribute to socialization. ... I think, while I would prefer to believe otherwise, I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something. And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize. There are two other hypotheses that are all over. One is socialization. Somehow little girls are all socialized towards nursing and little boys are socialized towards building bridges. No doubt there is some truth in that. I would be hesitant about assigning too much weight to that hypothesis for two reasons. First, most of what we've learned from empirical psychology in the last fifteen years has been that people naturally attribute things to socialization that are in fact not attributable to socialization. We've been astounded by the results of separated twins studies. The confident assertions that autism was a reflection of parental characteristics that were absolutely supported and that people knew from years of observational evidence have now been proven to be wrong. And so, the human mind has a tendency to grab to the socialization hypothesis when you can see it, and it often turns out not to be true. The second empirical problem is that girls are persisting longer and longer. When there were no girls majoring in chemistry, when there were no girls majoring in biology, it was much easier to blame parental socialization. Then, as we are increasingly finding today, the problem is what's happening when people are twenty, or when people are twenty-five, in terms of their patterns, with which they drop out. Again, to the extent it can be addressed, it's a terrific thing to address.
I think one reason this transcript wasn't released earlier is that it is so wordily inarticulate. There are some obvious garbles -- "The second empirical problem is that girls are persisting longer and longer" -- and that makes you wonder how much he was in control of what he was saying. I'm not surprised people came away from the session with a lot of different ideas about what he was saying, because he either unwilling or unable to speak clearly and directly.

When you speak on a sensitive topic, listeners are going to pick out certain phrases and then magnify and distort your meaning as they swirl the part they heard around in their heads with their own fears about what they think you might be saying.

I think if I had been there and heard the "daddy truck/baby truck" part, I would have missed the whole next section because I would have become wrapped up in my own thoughts. This is one reason why I'd prefer to read a speech than listen to one. Who can sit through a long, overcomplicated speech with a passive mind? Assuming you can resist thinking about something else altogether -- what's for dinner? -- you hear bits of the speech and think about it, criticize it, relate it to something in your own experience.

Whether the release of the transcript will help Summers now is a different matter. The NYT reports:
While Harvard professors plan to convene Tuesday to discuss the transcript and Dr. Summers's leadership, and some have spoken of a vote of no confidence, it is the Harvard Corporation that has decisive influence over Dr. Summers's fortunes. It stood behind him on Thursday.

Several female scientists who were at the National Bureau of Economic Research forum and who expressed outrage at Dr. Summers's remarks there said they felt vindicated. Critics had accused them of misinterpreting him and overreacting out of political correctness.

"I'm glad his words are finally out there," said Shirley Malcom, who grew up in segregated Alabama and is now the director of education for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. "Because so many of us have been accused of implying that he said things he did not, and now people can actually judge for themselves."

Good luck sifting through the verbiage.

"The religion of health."

Vatican officials criticize the rich countries of the world for luxuriating in excessive health care. We expect far too much, we overconsume, as the rest of the world goes hungry for the most basic health care:
"While millions of people in the world struggle to survive hunger and disease, lacking even minimal health care, in rich countries the concept of health as well-being figures in creating unrealistic expectations about the possibility of medicine to respond to all needs and desires," said the Rev. Maurizio Faggioni, a theologian and morality expert on the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

"The medicine of desires, egged on by the health care market, increases the request for pharmaceutical and medical-surgical services, soaks up public resources beyond all reasonableness," Faggioni said.

This is a good point. Perhaps as an ethical matter, anyone contemplating something like cosmetic surgery, ought to think again and contribute the money he or she would have spent on the surgery to a charity that provides basic health care to the poor.

But the Vatican officials take the criticism a step further: the rich countries have embraced a "religion of health."
Vatican officials ... held out Pope John Paul II's stoic suffering with Parkinson's disease as an antidote to the mentality that modern medicine must cure all, calling this a "religion of health" that is taking hold in affluent countries.

Now the problem is framed not merely as selfishly consuming more than your share, but believing in the wrong values.

There is some truth in this. I remember a TV commercial from a few years back with an ordinary woman, standing on her porch, blandly asserting, "Nothing is more important than my family's health." Taken literally, that's quite an inappropriate thing to believe. People often say, without any sense that they are saying something offensive (and idiotic): "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything." To make health one's central value is exceedingly shallow.

Is health becoming a religion? Some people make it the central value around which they order their lives. Health is worshipped. And, Lord knows, there are many rituals.

UPDATE: Reader Jim Havey writes:
I've long thought that the Catholic church offers people who are brilliant in every field except economics. Our pursuit of better drugs and procedures benefits people all over the world. Particularly in the development of pharmaceuticals: millions are spent in development of new drugs and we in the United States pay most of the cost. Once developed, those drugs are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and people in less affluent countries often get them at prices they can afford. When there are problems getting drugs to where they are needed, it isn't because we are consuming more than our share.

The maladies of impoverished countries--beyond poor healthcare -- are the result of bad government or cultures with poor priorities. Whenever I hear a representative of the Catholic Church speak about third-world poverty, it's from a zero-sum view of wealth -- we in the West can only have more at the expense of someone else.

I'm no economic expert--I'm an appellate prosecutor. But that's pretty basic.

[Is health] becoming our religion? Maybe. If my life is representative there is sin -- eating junk food and carousing -- and there is penitence -- miles run and time at the gym.

Yes, this religion of health has sinners, doesn't it?

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader, Reginald White, writes (and I use his name with permission):
I read with some interest your comment on the cliché, "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything." While I agree (with what I think is your premise) that "[t]o make health one's central value is exceedingly shallow," I also believe that this cliché contains more truth than most.

Almost seven years ago (May 2, 1998--not that I'm counting), I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In five years, what started as a numb spot about the size of quarter in my left thigh has effectively ended my career and has left me physically disabled. (This was not an easy adjustment; I graduated at the top of my class from Tulane Law School, expected a lot from myself, and was on the fast track until I physically couldn't pull the hours anymore. I also went to college to play baseball, so the physical limitations, such as the inability to walk more than a block or so, have been particularly difficult to accept).

So, the Vatican's pronouncement about health as well-being disturbs me. (As a former Catholic, such statements still carry particular weight with me). But for modern medicine and its expensive treatments (which have stabilized my health by slowing the rate of disease progression), I would be in a wheel chair or worse. The resources expended on me could have been used to provide basic health care for more than a few persons.

In Britain, the National Health Service effectively rations the immunomodulating drugs that have done so much for me. Is the Vatican providing a theological basis for rationing health care for people with chronic diseases like mine?

The entire health care debate seems to have skipped over the question of what to do about people like me. Unlike people who have acute incidents (i.e., health incidents from which people either will die or will overcome), most people with chronic diseases consume much more in health care resources and produce less economically. From a strict cost-benefit analysis, this money spent on people like me could be expended with better result elsewhere. (The Nazi realized this quickly and implemented their vile T4 program, the precursor for the Final Solution).

What is more ethical? Helping me preserve what remains of my health (and dignity for that matter)? Or spending the same money on health care for more people with less serious and more treatable ailments, conditions, etc.?

I don't know. Obviously, the way out of this dilemma is to advance the science and cure this (and other chronic diseases). I fully expect a cure sooner than later, but probably I have unrealistic expectations about the possibilities of medicine. But until then, what? Or what if it's incurable? What should society do with people like me?

First, I'm constantly impressed by the email I receive, and I'm chastened to be reminded of the things I forget to think about. Clearly, I don't mean for anything I've written to mean that White should not receive his treatment simply because the money spent on him could be distributed to provide health care for, say, several children with various, simply cured diseases. There is no reason to draw the line at health care: why don't we all only consume the bare minimum and give all the rest to charity? Isn't that what Jesus told the rich man to do? How can I buy a fancy new car, or even any car? Why don't I walk, eat only what is necessary to survive, and live in a one-room apartment, and contribute everything else to the poor? I should do that before White should give up his treatment, of course, and I don't.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

YET MORE: The Anchoress has an excellent post.

February 17, 2005

Is Governor Huckabee running for President?

I certainly thought so as I lambasted him for his recent covenant marriage stunt. And today I see that Brian Lamb -- who, despite his name, never lambastes anyone -- asked him straight out the other day whether he was running for President:
"Gov. Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas, what will it take to get you to run for president in 2008?" Lamb asked.

"Oh! That's a big question," Huckabee responded. "Probably a vision from above." He said he has a lot of other responsibilities, including being governor of Arkansas ...

The governor followed with the standard but sincere line that he is "flattered" to be talked about as a potential candidate, but added that such speculation is "premature" and that he was still celebrating the re-election of his friend George W. Bush....

"I'm not going to try to push you to say, 'I'm running or not running,' but what I was getting at is that you're a Hope, Ark., native," [Lamb] said. To which the governor responded with a solid "Yes."

But [Lamb] still wasn't finished. "You're a Republican governor eight-and-a-half years in the office. A lot of people mention all kinds of folks during this period, and I just wonder if you're - I know you want to avoid saying yes or no on all this, but what kind of questions do you ask yourself in a period like this, when people start saying, 'Mike Huckabee should run for president?'" Lamb asked.

This time the governor must have realized that his polite interviewer wasn't going to let go of this bone, so Huckabee engaged him:

"I think the things that anyone has to ask. What do I bring to it? Do I bring ideas? Do I bring a world view, or something that maybe would be useful to the country? Is there some perspective that is, that's helpful? I think if it's just this, 'Gee, I'd like to do that,' that's not an adequate beginning for me. There has to be something. Maybe it's a focus on domestic policy, a focus on how we can improve our nation, but there's got to be something deep inside."

We need a serious President capable of handling foreign policy and national security, not some "values" charlatan.

When I see a guy like this moving forward, and, among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton moving to the center and burnishing her national security credentials, I feel like dusting off my Democratic Party registration.

Are "The Gates" Art? Who cares! They saved puppies!

Aw.

Enough of Christo's "Gates."

Time for the Somerville Gates!

"You're a law professor?"

Let's say you're a businessman of some sort, encountering a prospective client for the first time. It's your big chance to make a good first impression, to establish a relationship of trust. You ask her what she does for a living. She says she's a law professor. How do you respond? I'm not so sure I really want to help you, but let me just say "You're a law professor?" is not a good response. (And neither is "Good for you!")

Marriage: “sculpt[ing] the raw rock of male aggression and sexuality.”

The day after Valentine's Day, I criticized Arkansas Governor Huckabee's big covenant marriage spectacle. That post was linked by Instapundit yesterday, and I've been getting a lot of traffic -- as you might imagine -- along with a fair amount of email. So I'm going to to go over the more recent news stories on the subject and share a little of the email. But for now, I just want to talk about this article, by David Koon, in the Arkansas Times.
An estimated 6,500 faithful started showing up at 5:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. showcase of Arkansas’s 2001 Covenant Marriage law. (The Huckabees have been too busy before now to make use of the law.) The audience drove in or rode church buses from all over Arkansas to sit in hard folding chairs and listen to the governor preach the merits of the law, which he said puts “speed bumps” in the road to divorce. Thanks to the law, the millions who might divorce every year over hangnails, custody of the remote, who left the toilet seat up and other inconsequential differences of opinion, will come to their senses.

Well put. Of course, staging a spectacle to celebrate traditional marriage creates a forum for those who would like to reform the institution. The article continues:
A group of about 80 gays, lesbians and their supporters got there early as well, waving signs protesting last year’s vote that banned them from getting even the freeze-dried version of what was being sold at Extra Strength inside. A woman handed out pebbles with John 8:7 inked onto them — the one about stones and who should cast them. Another waved a giant cardboard wedding cake. Sheena Alford, 19, of Conway, stood beside her friend, Brandon, holding a sign. What would she say to the governor if she could? “Just support us,” she said. “Our love is just as valuable as theirs is. We’re not any less because we may love someone of the same sex.

I like the pebbles with that scriptural reference. The form of expression is small and subtle, and it calls attention to an aspect of Christianity that is far, far more important that opposition to homosexuality. (I'm not assuming opposition to homosexuality is even a part of the Christian religion, but some people think it is.)

The article quotes one of the speakers at the Huckabee event, Rabbi Daniel Lapin , of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, as saying that marriage is need to “sculpt the raw rock of male aggression and sexuality” into marriage. Yikes! I wonder if much of the opposition to homosexuality is the fear of masculinity: What would happen to this world if the ways of the male are not diluted and modified by the female ingredient?

And, Rabbi, nice castration imagery! Bring on the sculptress to chisel away at the "raw rock."

To what extent is the opposition to homosexuality really -- if the opponents would be brutally honest with themselves -- opposition to male homosexuality? And is your opposition to female homosexuality more like your concern about solitary women: Why are they not performing the necessary work of mellowing and modifying some dangerous man?
The Huckabees recited wedding vows that proclaimed [God] had chosen them for each other. Mike promised to “protect” Janet, and Janet promised to “submit” to him.

No! Why must she submit? He should submit. We need Janet to sculpt the raw rock of Mike's aggression and sexuality!
Later, at a press conference, the governor said “the fact that we have been married 31 years is in my mind her forgiveness and God’s grace. It’s not that we’re an exceptional couple.”

Wait, I thought this whole covenant marriage idea was to get government authority to hold couples together. So is it government or God that will save us from decline? If you really think it's God, why are you moving government into God's realm? Or is God, like your big marriage spectacle, just another device for leveraging your way into political power?

UPDATE: A reader from Arkansas writes:
I have to say (type?) that our governor is not usually into spectacles. He's generally a pretty low-key guy. I think that this current circus is going on because he truly believes that "covenant marriage" will help curb divorce in the state. Among the very religious people (read: Evangelicals) in our state, including our governor, lowering the rate of divorce has become a huge issue. ...

Do I think covenant marriage will curb divorce in Arkansas? No. I don't even know why people would want the covenant marriages in the first place since it's just a marriage that's harder to get. But I just wanted to let you know that our governor is generally likeable and not usually like this. I think he's just particularly impassioned right now.

There are many nice and likeable people who shouldn't be trusted with political power -- especially people who think good intentions are enough. In fact, some of the nicest people are full of good intentions. And maybe they're so nice because the have a sunny attitude that things will work out well because they mean well. So I'm looking out for nice.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I'm getting a fair amount of email informing me that men really are quite beastly. This is being presented as a conservative concept -- an acknowledgement of the Hobbesian state of nature. (I'm also familar the the concept from the feminist anti-pornography movement.) I did not write this post to dispute the observation that men as a group, compared to women, have more violent, dangerous urges. I'm objecting to the idea that women exist to control and civilize men. Women are individuals, not instruments for solving problems you might think men have. Let the men develop self-control and good character. It's not our job to fix them. (Pun intended!)

February 16, 2005

Catching up with "American Idol."

Enough talk about blogging! Time for a new topic: "American Idol." I didn't write anything about last night's show partly because I was very tired, partly because I had to go out and experience life in the real world, and partly because the show was a bit of a boring blur as hordes of young people who had previously been carefully selected were suddenly sorted into four rooms so that half of them could be told summarily it's all over for you now. Annoyingly and typically, for the ones who were told they would be staying, Randy and Paula hammed it up big time acting like they were about to say no and then suddenly saying yes, because it really is so fun to tease anxiety-ridden youngsters.

But now I'm reasonably well rested, and I have nowhere to go, so let's take a look at tonight's show.

Today, they must whittle the group down to "twelve boys and twelve girls." They make a big deal out of the ride up a stainless steel elevator which opens into a huge gold-painted room and a long walk over to a chair in front of the judges. The contestant just sits in the chair and is told the judge's decision. No performance! The contestants seem sad that people in front of them have been rejected, even though, logically, the more rejections ahead of them, the better their chances of being in the final twenty-four. The camera keeps focusing on contestants who are freaking out. The whole set up is designed to torture the contestants needlessly. A lot of false drama is created, because we know certain people are going to go through by the way the show has been edited so far to focus on them, and this was almost certainly done to prepare us for the later rounds of competition. My favorites Mario Vazquez and Anwar Robinson make it. Glad Scott Savol, the Sling-Blade-y guy, made it. I'm more interested in the guys, but there are plenty of good female singers too.

Really cool montage of losers in the end.

Well, next week should be interesting. It seems to me that they made a much bigger effort than in past years to get all nice-looking people (with the sole exception of Scott Savol, for some reason).

The CNN blog reporter.

I was listening to Judy Woodruff's "Inside Politics" on CNN today and was surprised at the long segment featuring CNN's "blog reporter." She was surveying Technorati for the main stories that were making the rounds on the blogs today and making a point of looking for posts on less prominent blogs, some of which she read out loud for our entertainment. (One subject covered was naming the submarine after Jimmy Carter.) Woodruff was interviewing the blog reporter quite seriously and assuring us that the blog reporter would be doing segments in the future to keep us apprised of what's happening in the blogosphere.

The politics of the blog comments function.

Just One Minute has a long post today about the difference between bloggers on the right and bloggers on the left (which is one of my favorite topics). (Via Instapundit.) Based on my experience, I don't think lefty bloggers are interested in advice from anyone they perceive to be on their right -- which is, of course, part of the bigger pattern of behavior of isolating themselves from people they need to persuade in order to be politically successful.

What I particularly like about the Just One Minute piece is the focus on the comments function. JOM's primary piece of advice to lefty bloggers is:
Turn off the comments: they are too numerous to be useful, and if your readers are commenting at your site, they are not out in the blogosphere, are they? Send those readers out to meet new lefty bloggers, and let them comment there - new blogs will develop, new channels for ideas will develop, and more ideas will be shared.

The blog left recirculates itself within the comments. What is there on the other side?
Essentially, an almost totally disorganized pack of hungry bloggers led by the hypercaffeinated Glenn Reynolds, the InstaPundit. Do people on the right "vote" a blog post into popularity? No. Are research tasks assigned, or project volunteers sought? No. Glenn Reynolds provides a link to a blog, an Instalanche results, and whatever message was there is widely dispersed. Of course, there are plenty of other large blogs directing traffic, so readers and ideas certainly move independently of Glenn, but he is a major hub. And since Glenn does not have a comments section, there is no reason to linger at his site- people stop by, and head off into the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, on the left, I've observed plenty of carping about the lack of comments on the less left blogs. There's a notion recirculating over there that it is somehow wrong or unethical or cowardly not to turn on the comments. I don't like linking to this again, but I'm denounced by a commenter on the Washington Monthly blog for not having comments. ("Althouse ... is too much of a coward to have her own comments section.") There are plenty of good reasons not to have comments, but Just One Minute just identified a really important one: it forces readers to get out and around and to make their ideas presentable to the world.

UPDATE: Tom Bozzo has some thoughts on the politics of the comments function.

Local press covers the Althouse blog.

Here's the Capital Times article about my talk yesterday at the Chaos and Complex Systems seminar. With a picture of me! I wrote about the seminar here, blogged from the seminar here, and offered an inside look at Clint Sprott's office here. The Cap Times article quotes Sprott (a UW physics prof) as saying that blogging is "a complex dynamical system, like an ecology might be, or a meteorological system." So, presumably, that means you can apply that Lotka-Volterra equation, right?

UPDATE: My younger son called me up today to ask if I knew there was a picture of me on the front page of the newspaper. I said yeah and, not having seen the paper edition, asked the obvious question: "Above the fold?" Answer: Yes! -- with a caption (not in the on-line version) that, I'm told, is something like "Queen of Blogging." I was going to stop at Borders to buy the paper copy but I thought it might be a little strange to buy a newspaper with such a conspicuous picture of yourself on it. So I asked Chris to buy one for me. But now that I think about it, I should have gone in and bought my own copy and experienced whatever awkward thing might have happened because I could have blogged about it. Ah! What the hell! I can still blog about how I didn't do it.

And Sheila Variations linked to the photos of Prof. Sprott's blackboard, which led to a lot of talk in the comments section about the Lotka-Volterra equation.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Chris brought home the paper, so now I can read that caption I mentioned: it's "Queen of Blogs."

Fathoming the sad face of the caveman.

Here's a picture I found rather disturbing when I was a kid. It's an artist's rendition of Zinjanthropus, a fossil human ancestor discovered in the 1960s. The artist, Peter V. Bianchi, is from Wisconsin, and there is an article about him today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
[Bianchi's] road to fame began when Mary Leakey, wife of the noted anthropologist, Louis S.B. Leakey, found bits of fossilized skull in Africa's Olduvai Gorge. National Geographic set Bianchi to work giving the fossils a face, and the famously crusty Louis peered irritably over his shoulder.

That's because Leakey knew that his find wasn't what he'd hoped; Zinjanthropus would not be the proverbial "missing link." But Leakey wanted to attract the public to his diggings for funds and publicity. He needed a marketing tool.

"Leakey was trying to make his mark and trying at first to claim this was a direct human ancestor. So he had Bianchi paint him with modern eyes and a human stare, full of emotion," said Dan Joyce, senior curator of exhibits and collections at the museum. That stare remains unnerving to this day.
What I find so strange about the picture is that it looks like an absolutely normal human being with the top of his head shorn off. He looks awfully pouty and sad. Who wouldn't be?

So our caveman's please-help-me expression was really Leakey pleading for support?

One wonders what sad pictures publicizing scientific research today are really disguised pleas from scientists for more funding.

UPDATE: Archaeoblog sees Zinjanthropus a different way.

February 15, 2005

The complex subject of blogging.

I don't have a recording of today's Chaos and Complex Systems seminar, where I talked about blogging, so I'll have to try to see what I can remember. I didn't stick to my notes very much, because we had the lights low to see the projected computer display and also because I got carried away explaining the various websites I was projecting and I was very open to whatever questions the twenty or so people in the seminar wanted to ask.

Here's a list of quickly fading memories of what I talked about.

1. I did not resist the temptation to begin with the cliché of explaining the word "weblog." I thought of resisting, but I felt I should reach out to the full audience, which I did before descending into the sort of talk about blogging that probably left anyone who didn't already know the word "blog" far behind. But so what? It was the Physics Department! Am I not entitled to think these are the smartest people in town? Let them deal with it!

2. A reporter from The Capital Times was there taking notes, and a photographer from the newspaper took a bunch of shots of me at the beginning. I'll be interested to see what the reporter writes, especially since, at one point, when I referred to the way journalists and not bloggers are supposed to maintain a politically neutral stance, an audience member snarked that I didn't read some newspaper famous for its liberal slant, and I said, "I read The Capital Times," before remembering the Cap Times reporter was in the room. Whoops!

3. One area of interest to the audience was why a person blogs and what blogging does to you as a person. Blogging can be too seductive, too addictive. You can really love it in a way that drags you out of your "real life." Two things I thought of to talk about in response are: A. traditional writers might be thought to be too reclusive and self-involved (wouldn't people have told Marcel Proust to get out of bed and engage with life more?), and B. people who are socially or geographically isolated might use blogging to leap over the confines of their real life (I mentioned a woman staying home with children, a person in a rural environment, and -- slightly veiled -- a moderate, hawkish, female lawprof living in a priggishly lefty midwestern university town).

4. A second area of interest was politics. What is the role of blogging in the organization of political debate and activity? I talked about the Eason Jordan case, which – I don't know if you've noticed – I've never before written about on this blog. I talked about "swarming" and the accusation that bloggers are a "headless mob" or "slavering morons." What does MSM have to fear from us? Are we just "more speech" in the "marketplace of ideas" way or is there something unfair about the way we can pick our issues and be as one-sided as we like? Or is that all quite funny, considering that we are the little guys and MSM has held far too much power, far too long? I aired my various theories about how left-wing blogging behavior is quite different from right-wing blogging behavior, and that the right has a far more effective approach.

There was much, much more, but, unfortunately, like most of life, it's hard to remember the details!

Inside the UW-Madison Physics Department.

After Fedjur class today, I packed up my laptop and walked over to the Physics Department where I was to be the guest speaker at the Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar. My role was to talk about blogging, and the audience's role was to ply me with questions that might draw out some useful material relevant to chaos and complex systems. Blogging, with all the attendant linking and Googling and ranking and so forth, is a complex system. I was to meet the professor, Clint Sprott, in his office, and as soon as I saw the place, I was getting out my digital camera. Of course, to me -- I've never studied physics -- the blackboard was a cool graphic display, reminiscent of a Cy Twombly painting:

Image-AFB3C1877F9011D9

But to Professor Sprott, these equations hold worlds of meaning that I cannot begin to think about. He is especially excited about this equation:

Image-AFB3EC067F9011D9

This explains so much about so many things. Ecology! The stock market! Friendship! It's the Lotka-Volterra equation:

Image-AFB527757F9011D9

If I only knew how to understand it, I would be quite profoundly amazed. Nevertheless, I love the way it looks and I can appreciate that it means a lot:

Image-AFB39B647F9011D9

I go ahead and ask some dumb questions. Why write all the equations on a blackboard? I can understand a blackboard in a classroom, but it seems odd to me to have a big blackboard in your office covered with equations. Why wouldn't you sit at your desk and write the equations on a piece of paper?

Sprott explains that people get together in the office to talk about the equations and having them on a blackboard helps. It's the centerpiece of many lively debates.

I ask whether all physicists have a picture of Einstein in their office.

Image-AFB415A37F9011D9

No, he says, some have Richard Feynman; some have Isaac Newton.

Time to head to the seminar, but first, let's stop in the tech room and get an adaptor for my iBook. The tech room is a glorious mess and the tech guys give me permission to photograph it for the blog:

Image-AFB438CD7F9011D9

Simulblogging.

I'm really here at the Chaos seminar!

It's about to start. Someone brought Hugh Hewitt's book and has some questions -- about "the enemy"!

UPDATE: Well, once the class started, I couldn't really blog anymore. I wrote the above material while my computer was hooked up to the projector and the assembling group was watching my writing on a movie screen. I was doing a little demonstration of how easy it is to do a blog post, but then it was time to talk. I'll do another post about the substance of the seminar, but first I'm going to do a post with some nice photos from the Physics Department, which I really enjoyed visiting. Meanwhile, here's a blog post about the seminar from an audience member.

The marriage show-offs.

I must say I find it utterly repugnant for a political figure to make a big public show of upgrading his marriage to a "covenant marriage." I don't particularly approve of the trend of private celebrations that involve some married couple renewing their wedding vows. (What are you saying about vows if you have to renew a vow?) But for a state governor to participate in a spectacle like this, thrusting his private life into a gigantic rally, is just appalling.
In front of more than 5,000 cheering constituents in a North Little Rock sports arena, Gov. Mike Huckabee took the former Janet McCain to be his lawfully wedded wife Monday night, just as he did nearly 31 years ago, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.

This time, although the actual vows were not repeated, the emphasis was clearly on the "until death" pledge.

Upgrading their vows to that of a covenant marriage, a legally binding contract available only in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana, the Huckabees hope to jump-start a conservative movement that has shown little sign of moving in recent years. A covenant marriage commits a couple to counseling before any separation and limits divorce to a handful of grounds, like adultery or abuse....

The event Monday night, held at the Alltel Arena, site of local basketball and hockey games and the occasional concert, was billed as Arkansas's first "Celebration of Marriage." Besides the governor's renewed nuptials there were speeches from national religious leaders and songs by the gospel and pop singer CeCe Winans...

There was no fresh recitation of the wedding vows, just three simple questions: Had they sought counseling before taking this step? Had they had the proper affidavit notarized? Did they have a copy of their marriage license and that affidavit?

"Yes," the governor said.

Mr. O'Brien reached into his jacket and said, "Well, I just happen to have a stamp here."

He clicked the affidavit once, and that was it. The audience roared to its feet.

No word on how the wife liked having her private feelings turned into a giant political display. How utterly unromantic and tasteless! And what a ridiculous notion of the role of government in the lives of individuals!

UPDATE: Sorry for writing "how utterly romantic and tasteless." You can't switch from sarcasm to non-sarcasm in the middle of a sentence. I've corrected it. MORE: I just corrected the correction. Sorry for updating to say something incomprehensible!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for linking. And here's my more recent post continuing on the subject of the Huckabee spectacle.

Update alert.

There are a lot of updates -- mostly about Nixon -- on this post from yesterday. I've got lots of prepping and teaching most of today, including this extra seminar, but I'll be back later in the day.

"Nothing changes. I'm not even going to make any edits because it's real."

Reality show producer Mark Burnett reacts to the suicide of one of the contestants on his new show, "The Contender." The show, which begins on March 7, is already filmed except for a final live episode. It's a boxing variation on "The Apprentice."

February 14, 2005

Blogging and the Chaos Seminar.

Tomorrow, I'm the guest speaker in the Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar. (Here's the professor's introductory lecture for the series.) There have been three guest speakers so far, two from the Physics Department and one from Communicative Disorders. You can read the descriptions of what they talked about here.

Me, I'm going to talk about blogging. How am I going to do this when I have zero expertise in the area of chaos theory (and in fact have never taken a single physics class in my life!)? The physics prof Clint Sprott assures me: "Don't worry about relating [your talk] to chaos and complex systems unless you have ideas about that. We are good at finding such connections, and we will enjoy your talk even in the absence of such." Okay! I'm game. I have no end of things to say about blogging and actually think it will be incredibly cool to have the class breaking in, trying to find the connections to chaos.

Small and large falls.

Today, I was struggling to drag out the gigantic, three-paneled whiteboard contraption in my classroom when the handle came off, and I fell on the floor right in front of fifty students. The class was Constitutional Law, and the subject of the day was the Watergate Tapes case. Thematic unity: my humiliating and idiotic, little fall and Nixon's far grander and far more painful fall.

Speaking of Nixon, here's a nice Criterion Collection DVD of "Secret Honor," Robert Altman's film with Philip Baker Hall playing Nixon. We see the fictionalized Nixon in his study, mulling and raging over his downfall. The DVD includes a lot of archival footage of Nixon speeches, including the meandering, overemotional farewell speech he made to the White House staff on the day he resigned.

I would double-feature this with Atom Egoyan's short film (in this set) of the Samuel Beckett play "Krapp's Last Tape." This has John Hurt monologuing and agonizing over the past while playing audiotapes. I assume "Secret Honor" was inspired by "Krapp's Last Tape" -- Krapp is uncannily Nixon-like. Both actors -- Philip Baker Hall and John Hurt -- do a phenomenal job in a part that is entirely about an old man alone in his room, remembering and suffering, ridiculously and tragically.

But don't watch "Krapp's Last Tape" on Valentine's Day, not unless you want to feel the horrible pain of passing up the love of your life. Which reminds me, as I write about falling: the best falling for Valentine's Day is falling in love. Not falling splat on the floor as you lose a struggle with an oversized whiteboard on which you were hoping scrawl things like "sensitive national security secrets" as you expatiated about United States v. Nixon.

UPDATE: This brought some email.
I'm very sorry about your fall! Did any of your students come to your aid, and treat it as a situation in which real injury could have occurred?
Thanks. I'm fine. A student did come help me up, and no one laughed, even though I'm sure I looked quite ridiculous. It's quite incongruous for the teacher to fall down. But it's not the kind of incongruity that provokes laughter. I saw it happen once in law school, so I know what it's like from their perspective.
I vaguely remember a comedy show where it has Nixon and...Dean?... and they're reminiscing about what was actually going on during the infamous recorded conversations. The two are shown joking around, mooning the "hidden" microphone, covering it up to make wisecracks about other cabinet members... I didn't really get it, because I think I was about six and barely knew who the President was at the time (Reagan), but my parents thought it was funny. Any idea what show that was?
You saw a rerun of this old episode of "Saturday Night Live" with the great Dan Aykroyd interpretation of Nixon and the great John Belushi playing Kissinger. Here's a photo of how they looked in this skit that was based on the scenes of Nixon and Kissinger portrayed in "The Final Days." In the skit, Nixon and Kissinger were talking about how all the bad things on the Watergate tapes were just jokes. We see a flashback of them saying the various damning quotes, but making faces and gestures that showed they were just kidding. But people took it the wrong way, because they only had the cold transcript. Note: that sketch was written by Al Franken.
It's really weird: I remember how I hated Nixon, but I now don't think he was so bad. He was really a moderate in many things and, putting aside his unfortunate paraonoia, was a pretty effective president. When I look at the current political scene with our preacher-in-chief, I feel a definite odd nostalgia for ol' ski-nose.
One of the reasons "Secret Honor" is so affecting is that, with the distance of time, we feel sympathy for the man, especially because we are aware of how Nixon-hating had a lot to do with a very personal reaction to the man. There was a sort of loathing that wasn't about politics, but about the way he looked and spoke and certain personality qualities of the sort that would have made him unpopular even as a child. And the truly challenging thing to think about is how he could have been politically effective if he repelled people on a deep psychic level.

Bush-haters of today might try imagining themselves thirty years in the future, looking back at him as a mere man.

But we did it for you!

Gordon Smith responds to the recent email by various top law reviews telling lawprofs to quit sending them such long articles:
The irony of the new Harvard Law Review policy ... is that we were writing long articles for the students!

If you're not a lawprof, a law student, or (maybe) a lawyer, you don't really have to worry about the dysfunctional relationship that has grown up over the years between law students and lawprofs when it comes to our academic publishing.

Suffice it to say, the articles are weirdly, bizarrely long. They are books, really.

Unpublishable, unreadable books.

Drudge Report Shock: Women Do Not Exist.

The headline over at Drudge Report at the moment is: "HOST CHRIS ROCK SHOCK: ONLY GAYS WATCH OSCARS." Here's the article:
Veteran members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have grown concerned over the choice of Chris Rock as host of this month's awards show, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

Concern deepened after Rock claimed only gays watch the Oscars!

"I never watched the Oscars. Come on, it's a fashion show," Rock recently declared.

"What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one!"

Rock added: "Awards for art are f---ing idiotic."

Hey, all Rock did was ask whether any straight black men watched the Oscars. Even if you read the question as an implicit assertion that no straight black man watches the Oscars, there are still straight white men and women of all races who don't fall within the implication.

Anyway, I am so not shocked by this big revelation about Chris Rock. Part of being funny is being irreverent and saying things other people might think but won't say. People laughing in an audience are expressing themselves. They respond to the comedian saying the things they hold their tongues about.

Oscar shows are so boring (in part) because the Academy takes itself too damn seriously. Of course, if Rock says the sort of thing that we at home want to hear expressed, because it punctures the pompous self-regard of the very vain people in live audience, Rock might have a tough time making it through the night.

As for "Awards for art are f---ing idiotic" -- that's a pretty routine thing for the actors themselves to say. It shows appreciation for art -- as opposed to awards -- and is actually fundamentally respectful toward the very thing the awards are meant to recognize.

UPDATE: Sorry for the double posting before. Blogger has been acting up today.

Valentine's Day has some big obstacles to overcome.

First, the view from India:
The Delhi unit of Shiv Sena has termed Valentine's Day as "Prostitution Day" and will hold a protest march near Delhi University to oppose the celebrations.

Sena sources said that they have named the day as "Prostitution Day" because they see it as Western society's poisoning influence on India....

The Sena's Delhi unit chief has also requested the Delhi Police to prohibit any functions and take strict action against all those indulging in 'vulgar displays' of affection.

Of all the vulgar displays, is affection not the best?

Here in the U.S., there's the guy who apparently thought mass suicide was just the right Valentine's Day gesture:
A 26-year-old man allegedly used an internet chatroom to try to entice up to 31 lonely single women to kill themselves on St Valentine's Day.

Gerald Krein was arrested last Wednesday at his mother's mobile home in the town of Klamath Falls, Oregon...

"He invited them to engage in certain sexual acts with them, and then they were to hang themselves naked from a beam in his house. He was indicating in these chat groups that he had a beam and that it would hold multiple people."

It's un-lonely, but...

[ADDED: Clearly, trailer homes have no beams capable of supporting several people, even with the weight of clothing subtracted. The 26-year-old man who lived with his mom in a trailer was coming up with some crude phallic imagery here with his "beam."]

In Saudi Arabia, you must be secretive about red teddy bears:
In gift and flower shops across Saudi Arabia, the flush of red has started to fade.

Each year shortly before Feb. 14, the country's religious police mobilize, heading out to hunt for -- and confiscate -- red roses, red teddy bears and any signs of a heart. In a country where Valentine's Day is banned, ordinary Saudis find they must skirt the law to spoil their sweetheart.

[ADDED: And let's not forget Bin Ladin's attitude toward the day.]

In Canada, they are worrying about stress:
The stress from the politics and etiquette behind it can affect all ages, says Josey Vogels, a Toronto dating and relationship expert.

"There is too much pressure," Vogels says. "It has become so commercialized, like Christmas. And we wonder why so many people break up on Valentine's Day. It's the pressure of not living up (to an ideal)."

The pressure starts as early as elementary school with the exchange of valentine cards, continues through the phases of adulthood — intimate relationships, business relationships, friendships, marriage breakdowns — and culminates in old age, when too many think the idea of Valentine's Day is unseemly.

Through it all, there's the opportunity for as much pain as pleasure.

That's true in younger kids, when Valentine's Day is a prime opportunity for hurt feelings.

Teachers often try to help children cope by handing out a master list with all their students' names. If kids want to give out some valentines, they have to give them to everyone in the class.

Well, love is pretty stressful, and people do get jealous when others get more love than they do. Valentine's Day just makes a spectacle of that reality. Love is enough trouble without making a day out of rubbing it in.

Whether it's the religion police or the emotion police, Valentine's Day has some big obstacles to overcome. It's Valentine's Day! The anti-Valentine's people are all over the place. You pro-love, pro-Valentine's people are going to have to counter all this negativity.

The rain that fell all day yesterday and overnight has changed over to a delicate snow, here in Madison: nature whispers its message of romance.

Good luck, everybody, everywhere!

February 13, 2005

Priceless, ultra-expensive extreme heat.

Is this product just a little too weird and scary?
Priceless, ultra-expensive Tourmaline jewels are infused into the plate and the heater ... Iron heats in seconds! Adjustable temperature heat control, 410° maximum. ... Steaming sound from the iron while in use is simply water hitting extreme heat...

I know they are trying to say it's quite something, but it seems awfully extreme for something to clamp onto your hair.

Nevertheless, I'm buying it!

And consider this:
Sensual Rice Steam Perfumed Ice Cubes For The Body

Made of plant water and extracted from the heart of the rice plant without using chemicals, it's rich in essential oils, trace elements, and mineral salts. Ice cubes become a creamy, milky fluid and release the perfume built on the fragrance of rice steam. Try this sensual treat.

The things they make for women are just very, very strange!

Sharansky versus Buchanan.

Yesterday, I blogged about Roger Cohen's piece in the NYT about the influence Natan Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy" has had on the Bush Administration. Today, Sharansky appeared along with Pat Buchanan on "Meet the Press." Here's the transcript. It was a really lively debate. Sharansky defended the practicality of his democracy ideals:
[T]he security of the United States of America, people in the United States of America, depends on the level of freedom of people in the other countries because democracies are peaceful, because the leaders of democratic countries depend on the will of their people. And dictatorships are always belligerent because in order dictators will control their own people, they need external enemy.

Pat Buchanan said exactly the sort of thing we are used to hearing from the anti-war left (except that Buchanan was unusually articulate in making his points):
There have been despotisms from time in memorial. There are 22 Arab states, not one of which is democratic, and the United States has not been threatened by any of them since the Barbary pirates.

In my judgment, what happened on 9/11 was a result of interventionism. Interventionism is the cause of terror. It is not a cure for terror. The idea that the president of the United States, as he said in his inaugural, is going to help democratic institutions in every region in every nation on earth is a formula for permanent war, Tim. ...

The president of the United States was profoundly mistaken [when he said that on September 11th, "Freedom came under attack"]. He has misdiagnosed the malady. He has misdiagnosed the reason for the attack, Tim. The United States was not attacked because we are free. Bin Laden was not attacking the Bill of Rights. We were attacked ... over here because the United States' military and political presence is massive over there. Bin Laden in his fatwah, his statement of declaration of war on the United States, said the infidels were standing on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. They want us out of the Middle East. They don't care whether we have a separation of church and state.

These are starkly opposed positions. What mental leaps are required to decide to believe one or the other? Is it perhaps possible to hold in one's mind the possibility that either might be true or that both might be part true and to make careful case-by-case decisions as we go along?

"Grandma Eats Cannabis."

That's the name of a book by "Cannabis gran," who defies British anti-marijuana laws. She eats marijuana five times a day (cooked into things like chicken and leek pie and lemon cheesecake), the BBC reports:
"They can put me in prison as long as they like," she says. "I'm not afraid of going to prison. I'll come out and start buying it again.

"And then they can put me in prison again and I'll come out and start buying it again."...

She admits that some people may become addicted to the drug, but adds: "People can get addicted to anything. Some people are addicted to soap operas, some are addicted to crisps."

Is anyone saying anything interesting about "The Gates"?

You can go to Central Park and see "The Gates," or you can look at the pictures of it that are everywhere, and we all know what it looks like by now. But my question is whether anyone is saying anything interesting about it. There are hundreds of MSM articles, presumably thousands of blog posts, and a million conversations, but are we getting anything beyond the basic facts (Christo and Jeanne-Claude spent $21 million of their own money and accepted no grants), the obvious starter question "Is it art," and the snap judgments (from "I love it" to "Get this out of my park")?

I went looking.

Kenneth Baker, in The San Francisco Chronicle, attempts political analysis:
It may have no political intent, but "The Gates" does achieve something radical. It makes vivid an idea eclipsed by the ideological fog of official propaganda -- the idea of the commons.

Ordinarily, Central Park is too large and, to some, too unwelcoming to symbolize shared realities preserved at everyone's cost for everyone's benefit. "The Gates" -- for the next 16 days at least -- has brought this idea back to life by making the park intimate again.

Everyone present felt it. Conversation among strangers flowed easily as it seldom does in Manhattan or in any American city. Having felt it, how can they sustain it?

Put less foggily: "The Gates" awakens us to what the park already is.

Blake Gopnik has an elaborate piece in The Washington Post. His main point is that "The Gates" has no depth of meaning that has to do with the time and place. He compares it to Christo's 1976 project "Running Fence," which "seemed to talk about the fencing of the West; about the American Dream's obsession with open space; about competition between man and nature" and which "had the grandeur of a splendid folly" because it was set out where few people would see it. And he compares it to "Wrapped Reichstag," Christo's 1995 project that spoke of "muffling ... the past" and becoming a cocoon out of which "the newly unified nation" would emerge. The Gates, by contrast, was conceived in 1979 and meant something in the context of that earlier time:
There is an era in which the gates seem to belong, but that's three decades back. They remind me of a certain kind of celebratory public sculpture that you could see in the 1970s, and that represented a kind of last-gasp moment in grand modernist abstraction. Imagine huge sheets and beams of brightly enameled steel, set down in public plazas everywhere, and you'll get the feel I mean. Postwar optimism still hung on in this art, mingled with a bit of flower-power energy: It was the Mary Quant moment in public sculpture, and it didn't last....

It strikes me as passing strange than any artist would imagine that a piece that might have been a good idea at one moment would still matter just as much half a career later. When the "Gates" project was first proposed, New York was near bankruptcy, the middle class had fled and the filthy walkways of Central Park were where you went for a good mugging. The idea of using cheery orange fabric to lure strollers up to Harlem Meer had all the ludicrous energy of a bedsheet strung up across the West. Now, with Meer-view condos going for a few million bucks, the artists' gates just seem like the latest thing in bourgeois beautification. (Crate & Barrel must be due to launch a home-and-garden version any day.)

I'm going to assume Gopnik is rather young, because he seems to be blurring the 1970s in to a single moment in time. 1979 was so not the time of Mary Quant and flower power. The early 70s were thematically one with the late 60s. But 1979 is part of the era of the 80s: the time of yuppies, dressing for success, and the chrome-and-glass high-tech look in decorating.

At the end of his piece, Gopnik switches to the fashions of the 1950s: the fabric looks like "the deeply pleated, below-the-knee skirts the well-dressed woman wore in 1950s middle America." Now the gate posts look like legs, and he's got the feeling he's walking between the legs of these presumably strait-laced women and in a position to look up at their crotches. Well, that should be racy, but he imagines it to symbolize some reactionary turn in American politics:
Somehow, despite seemingly unending war and nuclear-armed tyrants and gaping social safety nets, we've decided that it's time to revive the look and feel of America at its most buttoned-down. And Christo and Jeanne-Claude have managed to channel our complacent retrospection.

Or maybe it does not have much to do with them at all. After all, it was New York's corporate mayor, and the gentry that he leads, who decided that the time at last had come to fill the park with elegant day wear.

It seems to me that "The Gates" are providing a chance to review whatever ideas you already have sloshing about in your head as you go for a long walk in the park. These gates mean ... these gates mean ... these gates mean George Bush is eeeevvvvviiiillllll!

Much more down to earth, Geraldine Baum, in The L.A. Times, has a nice collection of vignettes from different sorts of people:
[A]s Naomi Liselle led her three children, ages 6, 9 and 12, to their favorite playground, she tried to engage them in the art of it all. "Look up — look at the symmetry of the poles. Look over the hill and see the orange sticking out among the gray trees. Listen to the flapping of the panels. Doesn't it sound like the sails of our boat when we're in the Hamptons?" asked the young mother, who studied art history in college. The children looked at her dully as they used the legs of the gates as makeshift soccer goals. "Mom," said Marcus, the oldest, "what are you talking about?"...

"I don't know whether [Frederick Law] Olmstead would have liked this great work of art in his great work of art, but as a Jeffersonian he would have approved," said art critic and historian Irving Sandler, as he sipped champagne and gazed out at the park from a 10th-floor apartment on Fifth Avenue.... "Nobody would like it if it was still here in March"....

"Why didn't they bring snow too?" a jogger, who'd clearly been unable to finish her run because of the crowds, complained as she exited the park at 72nd Street. Out of nowhere a man walking his dog chimed in. "Yeah, look back at the great view," he snarled. "It looks they left their dirty laundry hanging!"

The best thing about having this in Central Park, as opposed to somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, is all the people who are there to provide their endless comments. Let the ooh-ing and the carping continue.

UPDATE: 1. Welcome Instapundit readers. 2. Best headline goes to The New York Post for: "The Big Apple Gets The Big Orange." 3. (Same link) One of the volunteer workers on the project is former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who said: "Isn't it spectacular? It's so full of life and energy, and all these people are having a great time." 4. And no, I'm not in NY. I'm just reading the newspapers here in Madison. I did go to Lodi yesterday, however. I did contemplate traveling to New York just to see it though. And my colleague Nina Camic is there and blogging, with photographs. 5. Did I really write this post at 4:25 a.m. Central Time? Yes, I did. It wasn't the sheer excitement of "The Gates" (or blogging) that had me up that early, though. It was just ... just nothing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Roger Kimball reprints a Spectator piece from mid-January. He's quite negative:
Christo and his wife are geniuses at self-promotion. They have gulled municipalities around the world into letting them stage their pranks, and the result is celebrity and riches.

I must admit that's what I thought of Christo for decades, as I read about his projects in various news reports. But I completely changed my mind about him when I watched the Maysles Brothers documentaries ("5 Films About Christo and Jeanne-Claude" -- linked in the sidebar). I was won over and came to believe that Christo is an art saint.

AND STILL MORE: Vast, non-art-related claims are made for "The Gates." This is from the Christian Science Monitor:
City officials are touting the massive undertaking as a sign that New York has recovered from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They hope to impress not only the tens of thousands of tourists from the United States and abroad who are coming to see "The Gates," but also members of the Olympic site-selection committee who will visit during the installation.

Most significant -- most touching -- is the social, psychological aspect:
Everyone's talking about it," [one woman] said. "You know, because we need it, our souls need it -- the beauty which this brings."...

"As New Yorkers, I think we gravitate towards anything that lifts our spirits and makes us happy, especially in the middle of winter," [another woman] said.

MORE: Here's a strong new entry in the "Get this out of my park" category.