March 5, 2005

"Ashcan chic ... a kind of homeless masquerade."

The Olsen twins have created a cool new style for young girls, which, with luck will drive out the too-tight, too-bare, too conspicuously expensive things girls have worn in recent years.
As fall turned to winter and edged toward spring, [Mary Kate] Olsen, 18, pushed her version of ashcan chic to emphatic extremes ... The look became dottier and dottier, until it morphed into a kind of homeless masquerade, one that was accented by subtle luxuries like a cashmere muffler, a Balenciaga lariat bag and of course her signature carryout latte from Starbucks.

I approve! They're adorable. And those other clothes were not good for young people. These things are infinitely more charming and fun.

Virtual high school.

Wisconsin has open enrollment in public schools, and lots of Wisconsin kids are opting for Waukesha's virtual high school (iQ). You can stay home and go to school, without having to be home schooled. That is, it's not a parent participation system. Here's the school's website.
What makes iQ Academies so different is that YOU are the main focus - you set your own schedule, study at your own pace, and work from wherever you want with your own laptop computer. Once enrolled, your tuition will be paid for; iQ Academies provides you with computer equipment and all the resources you need to begin your teacher-supported, virtual high school program.

Just the freedom over your own time is immensely attractive. How much time did you waste in high school in a holding pen like study hall or waiting through classes that took an hour to cover something you could get in five minutes? How much were you brain-impaired by having to try to deal with an extremely early starting time? And that free laptop is a Macintosh!

Check Your Blogroll Day.

Can we make today -- a day whose date speaks of order -- Official Check Your Blogroll Day? I'm not going to name any names, but a lot of bloggers have blogrolls studded with defunct links. Why not go through your links and make sure they all go somewhere and that where they go is a blog that is still kept current? Often, when I visit a blog, I casually click on a few links on the blogroll, just to see where it might take me. Half of the time, it seems, I end up at "Not Found" (even for blogs that actually do exist) or at a blog that ended many months ago (and perhaps left a forwarding address to a new blog). Presumably, everything on your blogroll is something you cared enough to recommend to your readers. Now, you're doing a disservice both to that blog and to the readers whose time you waste sending them nowhere.

UPDATE: Actually, yesterday was the day whose date speaks of order: 03-04-05. We're already back in the days of disorder. It's 03-05-05. And that's an unlucky 13, to boot. So in response this disturbing slide away from order, could you please just put one thing in order? Your blogroll.

Sims go to college.

My son Chris is quite taken with the new University Expansion Pack for the Sims 2 video game. I wonder how many actual college kids will let their actual college work and their actual social life slide while they try to make their Sims successful in their simulated college careers. The new setting does look quite fascinating, especially the surreal elements like the "cow plant" (which looks similar to the "Little Shop of Horrors" plant, but with cow-ish black and white markings) and the "home plastic surgery kit."

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds thinks his pre-college daughter might learn something useful from the Sims college experience. My college student son Chris rejected the theory I was wondering about in this post. He said that people are always saying that violent video games are going to make people violent, so they ought to think that a video game where you try to make your characters successful at college would be good for their academic careers. He seemed rather proud of the high GPAs achieved by his Sims.

What are they saying about us?

I'm adding WatchingAmerica.com to my blogroll. This is a website that collects news stories about the United States that are written for people outside of the United States. I like the graphic design, with its three column arrangement, sorting the stories, newest at the top, by the continent of origin: Europe/Middle East & Africa/Americas, Oceania & Asia). Translations into English are provided. It remains to be seen how good these translations are and how good the story selection is.

March 4, 2005

Reading the transcript of the oral argument in the Ten Commandments case.

SCOTUSblog has a link for the transcript of the oral argument in the Ten Commandments case (Van Orden). Let's read it.

The first task given to Erwin Chemerinsky, the plaintiff's lawyer, is to distinguish a Ten Commandments monument from a prayer given before a legislative session (which the Court has held does not violate the Establishment Clause).
MR. CHEMERINSKY: Your Honor, there is a difference between a prayer that a chaplain gives -- in Chambers v. Marsh, this Court emphasized that the prayer by the chaplain was a nonsectarian prayer. This is very much sectarian. This proclaims that there is a God. It proclaims --

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, I mean, I haven't read the prayer. I would be surprised if I went through all the prayers and there was no mention, direct or indirect, of the Ten Commandments or a couple of them.

MR. CHEMERINSKY: Your Honor, I would be surprised because here, if you look at these commandments, it's that God has claimed that he is the only God, prohibiting idolatry, prohibiting graven images, prohibiting taking the name of the Lord and God in vain. Requiring observing of the sabbath. This is God dictating to God's follower's rules for behavior.

What if I read those legislative prayers and find something more religious than the Ten Commandments? Does that mean you lose? Justice Breyer cleverly inquires. Of course, Chemerinsky says no: another difference is that legislative prayers go back to the earliest days, and there is no similar tradition for Ten Commandments monuments.

Justice O'Connor asks about the placement of a monument in something like a museum setting. Clearly you would want to permit a government-owned museum to display religious paintings, and the Ten Commandments monument in this case is in a "park-like" setting on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. The problem with the monument, Chemerinsky argues, is that it's the only religious monument in the area.

Much of the argument is about government's freedom to express religious beliefs. Justice Kennedy takes the lead, worrying about an "obsessive" or "hostile" ferreting out of all religious expression. Then Justice Breyer breaks in to say that he thinks government should be "noninvolved with the religions":
But at the same time, we are a religious nation, where most people do believe in God and most of our institutions flow from the religious nature of our people. The City on the Hill, proclaim liberty throughout the land. All of those are religious. So how can the government, without what they call the pervasive and brooding commitment to secularism, which they think would be wrong, become necessarily involved because of our traditions, but not go too far?

Despite Breyer's uneasiness about the linedrawing in the case law, Chemerinsky argues that doctrine works well enough. Chemerinsky sticks to his position that you need only apply the existing doctrine, make the appropriate distinctions, and this display will fall on the unconstitutional side of the line.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is questioned by Justice Stevens: what if there were just a crucifix on the state capitol grounds? Abbot concedes that would be different: the Ten Commandments express a message about the origin of law. Justice O'Connor slams him with the fact that district court found that the legislature did not have this as a purpose for erecting the monument. Justice Kennedy complains: "You're asking us to ignore the religious purpose that is the most manifest value of these symbols."

Reading the whole transcript, I got the impression at that the Justices were leaning toward a reconfiguration of the doctrine, permitting the majority to express its religious beliefs through government. It seemed to frustrate the Justices that the lawyers hewed close to the existing doctrine and restricted themselves to making careful efforts to characterize the details of this particular case. It will be interesting to see if the Court says anything distinctively new that reaches beyond the particular facts surrounding the Texas monument.

UPDATE: I have yet to read the transcript in the companion case (McCreary) that involves a copy of the Ten Commandments displayed in a courthouse and along with other documents. Maybe later!

"Miramax porn."

That's a term used in a movie review in today's NYT:
This Miramax movie epitomizes the style some critics jokingly call "Miramax porn." The term refers to manipulative tearjerkers like "Dear Frankie" whose sensitive performances, along with a light dusting of grit, allow them to be marketed as art films. This one is clever enough to fool a lot of people.

Ha! A useful term. I haven't fallen for this marketing trick in well over a decade.

Another NYT crossword first.

A while back I noted the first appearance of the word "blog" in the NYT crossword. (It was in a clue, "blog predecessor," where the answer was "diary.) I noticed an interesting first appearance in today's puzzle, an answer to the clue: "Special intuition, in modern lingo." It's a six-letter word. Click here to see the word.

WiFi transgressions.

The other day I wrote about the perceived problem of students using WiFi in the classroom, and here I am using WiFi at a faculty meeting. I'm sure some of my colleagues would find it wrong. I should be paying attention! But let me tell you: this is helping me pay attention.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers, and I hope you clickers-over are not disappointed to find no juicy inside view of a law school faculty meeting. Our meetings are quite tame. They are rare, but when they do occur, they tend to go long. I think nearly everyone brings something to read, so is it daring to bring one's laptop to read? Actually, I "dared" to go on line from a faculty meeting and blog back in May. Funny to go back and read that one. I was getting wireless in one corner of the room and another faculty blogger was mouthing "are you on line?" -- he wasn't -- and then moved his seat to try to pick up the connection I was getting.

A painful oral argument.

Christine Hurt calls attention to this argument (audio link) before a Seventh Circuit panel, where a lawyer finds himself at a terrible loss for words facing the reality that his case is governed by a Supreme Court precedent that the circuit court can do nothing about. He resorts to saying that he's disturbed by what the Supreme Court did, and a judge hits him with:
Well, you can be disturbed on your own time. Why are you intruding on mine?


UPDATE: An emailer writes:
When I read your item about the Seventh Circuit argument, and the judge's jab about being disturbed on his own time, I immediately thought it sounded like Judge Bauer. I was a staff attorney at the Seventh Circuit from 1978-1980, and he was probably my favorite judge from that court. So I clicked on the link, and sure enough, it was Judge Bauer.

Here is a personal Judge Bauer anecdote. When I was getting out of law school in 1977, about to go clerk at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I realized that I was going to need more suits. So I went to this warehouse-like place in the Boston area and bought some cheap suits. One of them was a salmon-colored suit with very strange lapels (hey, it was a different era back then). After my year in Madison, when I moved on to the 7th Cir., I had to take in a motion to Judge Bauer one day, and I happened to be wearing my salmon suit that day. Judge Bauer said, "Hey! Where did you get that pimp suit?" As you will probably guess, I never wore the suit to work again.

Ah, the 70s! Imagine even being able to think you could wear such a suit into court! [ADDED: The motions were made in the judge's chambers, not in the courtroom ... but still...]

"A black suit, a shimmering bronze-colored waistcoat, purple socks, sandals and sunglasses."

That's what Michael Jackson wore in court yesterday.

"De-gendering" restrooms?

I understand the problem transgendered persons sometimes have in finding an acceptable public bathroom, but I consider the solution of abolishing separate mens' and womens' restrooms quite intolerable.
People in Search of Safe Restrooms [is] a group founded here three years ago. It reflects a small but active movement, mostly on college campuses but also in a few cities, in which the bathroom, that prosaic fixture of past battles against racial segregation and for the rights of the disabled, has become an emotional and at times deeply personal symbol of a cultural and political divide.

In fact, bathrooms have become a cultural "fault line," said Mary Anne Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, where the Queer Action Campaign for Gender-Neutral Bathrooms recently got 10 single-use restrooms on campus designated gender neutral.

"Very few spaces in our society remain divided by sex," Professor Case said. "There's marriage and there's toilets, and very little else."

To young transgender people, especially college students, the issue has particular resonance.

"Students are looking hard at the right to express their gender, a painful right of passage for every young adult," said Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group in Washington that fights discrimination and violence based on gender stereotypes. "These kids are demanding the right to be who they are and what they are 24/7. They're tired of being harassed or hassled when they simply need to use a public facility."

And so many students - including those at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., and the University of California, Santa Barbara - have lobbied successfully for gender-neutral bathrooms.

At the New College of California, a liberal arts college in the Mission District of San Francisco, men's and women's rooms have recently given way to "de-gendered" restrooms, devoid of urinals as well as of white stick figures with pants or a skirt. Signs on the doors proclaim the new restroom politics: "Lots of people don't fit neatly into our culture's rigid two-gender system."

Yes, but lots of women care a great deal about not being exposed to men while they are in the bathroom. There are some obvious safety and privacy issues here.

I'm old enough to remember when the Equal Rights Amendment went down to defeat. One of the main things people obsessed about at the time was whether it would outlaw separate bathrooms. Proponents of the ERA worked hard to assure people that of course, somehow, it couldn't mean that.

I have no problem with the sort of bathrooms that accommodate only one person at a time being made available to anyone. But once you have more than one person using the same space, separating the sexes is important. Having to mix with men in the bathroom would be like having to mix with men in the locker room!

UPDATE: One emailer writes:
People in Search of Safe Restrooms ... I feel an acronym coming on...

And a female law school colleague writes:
As for gender-neutral bathrooms -- forget it! I'd just as soon eliminate the one stall model too. I hate the messy toilets on the 6th and 7th floors. So long as men can't pee straight, nor wipe after themselves, I sure would prefer to keep them out of my space. I have sit in their mess and it's disgusting.

Well, now that you mention it, maybe I should take back my statement that I have "no problem" with the single-user unisex bathroom. The truth is I do. Years ago, the single-user bathrooms in the law school were labeled for one sex or the other. (Usage note: I don't say "gender" for "sex." I don't say "limb" for "leg" either.) In those days, the women's room was one floor up from my office, which was on a floor with a men's room. Nowadays, I can use the bathroom on my own floor. But I much prefer the days when I had to go up a floor, but got to use a women-only room. The simple reason is that a bathroom used by men is dirtier. It doesn't have to be, but it is! Get your act together, guys! It's a wonder women are willing to live with you at all.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, there's a delicate issue here. There are varieties of filth. Jiblog writes:
[G]uys have a tendency to leave the seat a little damp. Outside of that, womens' rooms are much, much dirtier. I speak from experience. From ages 16 to age 25, I was employed in retail industries in some way, shape, or form. I had to do numerous bathroom checks/cleanings, and without fail, the womens' rooms were always dirtier. And disgustingly so at times. I'll spare you all the details.

And I received email saying:
When I worked at [a Madison coffee shop] it was often my job to clean the restrooms, and the women's room was consistently dirtier than the men's room.

To which I answered:
Is it possible that the women's rooms were used more?

Do you think I'm more sensitive to the dirtiness of men (e.g. pee on the seat) and you're more sensitive to the dirtiness of women (sanitary products??)?

Oh, my friends: there is a divide between men and women!

I don't want to say anyone is better than anyone else, but, my friends, we are different! Please, leave us to our separate bathrooms, lest all hell break loose!

YET MORE: Sissy Willis comments.

Martha leaves prison.

This morning, I'm checking out the TiVo'd coverage of Martha Stewart being released from prison. One of my favorite talking heads, Nancy Grace, has taken over the Larry King show. She's got a panel of experts and a reporter at the prison gate. We're told the federal version of house arrest does not let you go into the yard, so no gardening for Martha -- though I can just picture her cultivating an indoor garden and stressing the importance of interacting with plants, perhaps especially for those who are unable to leave the house.

The reporter on the scene is all excited. The clock has struck midnight! Martha could be walking out at any time!

Susan MacDougal -- who went to prison to protect President Clinton -- does an interview with Nancy Grace. MacDougal notes that Martha has 48 hours a week to leave the house and go to work, and she could use some of that time to work in her garden. Yes, it's hard to find the line between work and puttering around the house and garden when you're Martha.

The on-site camera is trained on the gate to the prison. We're told a private plane awaits her. Everyone's all atwitter! We see all the cameras lined up. The Martha Stewart website is mentioned: there's going to be a message over there! Let's check it out. Oh, there's our Martha, cradling a hen in her arms. Who wouldn't, after months in prison, want to cuddle a chicken?
Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about all that has happened, the extraordinary people I have met here and all that I have learned. I can tell you now that I feel very fortunate to have had a family that nurtured me, the advantage of an excellent education, and the opportunity to pursue the American dream. You can be sure that I will never forget the friends that I met here, all that they have done to help me over these five months, their children, and the stories they have told me

A panelist on the show says that for the next two years a parole officer can drop in to check on Martha at any time. Nancy Grace says to see what -- a completely meticulous house?

Slate reporter Henry Blodget is asked how prison has changed her and he says what most of us would say: it's humanized her. But can she maintain that warmth? he wonders. And I wonder: how will warmth go with her characteristic coldness? Possibly a sort of hot-fudge sundae effect.

Susan MacDougal relives her own experience of leaving prison. It was surreal, she says, a really surreal moment.

Martha is not going to make a statement as she emerges from prison, we're told. It's not part of the "careful orchestration." She's got to be careful not to do something that critics can say is in bad taste. Susan MacDougal says it's important to be "'umble." MacDougal opines that Martha Stewart's "downfall" was "the love of money" and that she needs to work on her relationships, care about people, and perhaps find herself a man. (A bit heteronormative of MacDougal, there, don't you think?) Now, MacDougal is bragging about how prison made her "'umbler."

Amidst the studio blather, suddenly something is happening at the prison. A big man in a black coat walks out for some reason. False excitement. Back to the blathering panel. I succumb to fast-forwarding. More prison officials come out. A paper leaflet is distributed. We see some cars drive out of the prison. We learn Martha Stewart has already left, presumably in one of the cars. Quite a non-spectacle! So she didn't walk out of prison for us. Finally, CNN can take a commercial break.

Back from the break, the cameras now show a private plane. The studio panel is wowed by the plane. "This is some ride she's got going on." They kill time talking about the plane. It must be stocked with her favorite foods, don't you think? Looks like they washed it for the occasion.

And the TiVo'd hour runs its course, with still no sign of Martha. Chris, who watched the doings live last night, told me that eventually we do catch a glimpse of her, and that she's dressed in jeans and wearing a shawl. [ADDD: a poncho, actually.] Ah, yes, here's a picture. Her hair is super-glossy. The color chosen for her clothes is a very 'umble blue gray.

Good luck, Martha!

UPDATE: I had a feeling Manolo would have something to say about that poncho. And here's the video of Martha hopping onto the planed, borne aloft by the power of the flapping poncho. The video link comes via Jackson's Junction, via Gawker, where I went in search of more poncho mockery. Found none, unfortunately. Where is the best blog mockery of the poncho? Is it a Manolo monopoly?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's Henry Blodget's piece in Slate about Martha:
What has Martha learned? One thing, everyone hopes. Perhaps, after a graphic trial and five contemplative months, Stewart has recognized her one truly unattractive personality trait: a penchant for treating the help and the little people like dirt. (If I hadn't heard this directly from people who have worked for her, I'd be inclined to dismiss it as the usual carping, because I've never seen it myself.) Prison is a humbling experience for everyone, and probably was even for Stewart. Reports from Alderson have described apologies to other inmates for "bossy" behavior, microwaved apples for Valentine's Day, donated linens and comforters, yoga lessons, and deep empathy (and public support) for first-time offenders clobbered by mandatory sentencing guidelines. Martha as mensch—that would be a truly formidable businesswoman and celebrity.

Evolution.

Hey, overnight I evolved into a "Playful Primate"! So thanks to everyone who's ever linked.

March 3, 2005

Things to read/watch.

Arriving in the mail today is the April issue of The Atlantic, with two stories on the cover that look really interesting: an article about political talk radio by David Foster Wallace (whose nonfiction I'm a big fan of), and an article by Jeffrey Rosen titled "Rehnquist the Great?"

Then the UPS truck pulls up with an Amazon box containing:
"Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" (the DVD of the documentary promises "over 10 hours of Metallica," 2 commentary tracks, 40 extra scenes, and a contest where the prize is meeting Metallica (but I don't want to meet Metallica!).

"Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" (a DVD that I ordered after writing this post).

Nick Hornby, "The Polysyllabic Spree," which is subtitled: "A Hilarious and True Account of One Man's Struggle With the Monthly Tide of the Books He's Bought and the Books He's Been Meaning to Read." (Don't we all know that problem? From October 2003 to October 2004, each essay begins with a list of the books he bought and a list of the books he read.)

So, time for me to stop writing and start reading/watching for an hour or so. Then it is off to dinner.

Some of the buzz about Condoleezza Rice running for President.

Jonathan Karl of ABCNews queries Condoleezza Rice about running for President:
MR. KARL: You've seen some of the buzz about you running for President in 2008 and there's even a website, there's even a Condoleezza Rice for President song, a theme song.

(Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, really?

MR. KARL: Yes. Would you consider it?

SECRETARY RICE: No. I'm really respectful of those who do run for office. I know what I do well and I know what I like to do and I'm really going to try to concentrate on being a good Secretary of State.

MR. KARL: So you would categorically rule out running for President in 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: Jonathan, I'm going to try to be a good Secretary of State, and then, as I've said many, many times, there's always NFL Commissioner.

MR. KARL: Right. So it sounds like there’s a door open now.

SECRETARY RICE: Jonathan, I'm going to try to be a good Secretary of State and see if I can do this job well, and then we'll see if the NFL is open.

MR. KARL: The NFL and maybe something else. We'll see.

Thank you very much, Secretary Rice.

Despite the "no" after "Would you consider it?" -- I'm reading a "yes," because when asked it she "would categorically rule out running for President in 2008," she makes the classic move of saying I'm happy with my current job. That's exactly how a serious candidate would talk at this stage, right?

UPDATE: Here's a Village Voice piece about the Condi for President push. And here's that "Americans for Rice" website (which has an atrocious web-retro design!).

Jon Stewart goes neo-con.

Thanks to James Taranto for TiVo-transcribing Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" interview with Nancy Soderberg. I was going to do that myself, but there was so much great material I couldn't decide where to start. Soderberg, a former Clinton aide, was there to hawk (dove?) a book called "The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might." You can just imagine what kind of a helpful, softball interview she was expecting from the man who has been ridiculing the "Mess o' Potamia" that is the Iraq war. But Stewart went all neo-con on her. A sample:
Do you think that the people of Lebanon would have had, sort of, the courage of their conviction, having not seen--not only the invasion but the election which followed? It's almost as though that the Iraqi election has emboldened this crazy--something's going on over there. I'm smelling something.

Much more at the link.

At one point, Soderberg lamely jokes: "There's always hope that this might not work." Oh, humor like that is sure to help the Democrats...

Anyway, I'm renewing my Stewart-love. It's great to watch him working through his ambivalence on camera, and self-deprecation is generally much better comedy than smugness.

UPDATE: You can watch the Soderberg interview here.

Did Bush admit to making a big mistake?

Robert Novak writes (via Memeorandum):
George W. Bush, who is not prone to confessing mistakes, has confided to close associates that he committed a whopper on Social Security. He admitted error in pushing for new personal accounts while not stressing the repair of the safety net for seniors.

What kind of a big mistake is that confessing to? It's only saying that he regrets not ladling on more reassurance!
Thanks to the orchestrated effort of the AARP and organized labor even in the most Republican districts, GOP lawmakers encountered angry opposition to President Bush's plans at town meetings. These pressure groups have overwhelmed the campaign for personal accounts by planting fear among 50-something voters.

So the fault confessed to is only the failure to get out in front of those groups who are really at fault.

It didn't take the work of "pressure groups" to make people my age worry about a drastic new plan to replace something that has worked well enough and is just going to need some tweaking. Our worry is a basic, conservative, rational response and not some out-of-it fear that had to be "planted" in us by outsiders.

"The Gucci revolution."

This is from the BBC report on the "Cedar Revolution" demonstrations in Lebanon:
Some people here are jokingly calling the phenomenon "the Gucci revolution" - not because they are dismissive of the demonstrations, but because so many of those waving the Lebanese flag on the street are really very unlikely protestors.

There are girls in tight skirts and high heels, carrying expensive leather bags, as well as men in business suits or trendy tennis shoes....

[W]hat has been fascinating to observe is how Lebanon's middle and upper classes have been woken from their usual lethargy by the assassination of Hariri....

After living through 15 years of war with amazing resilience, the Lebanese had pinned their hopes on peace.

They tried to put it all behind them, forget about politics and focus on making money.

The blast that killed Hariri devastated nearby luxury hotels, scaring off hundreds of Arab and Western tourists who left within hours, apparently taking Lebanon's dreams of economic prosperity with them.

But instead of packing their bags and emigrating, as they have done so many times before, in wartime and in peace time, Lebanon's well-to-do took to the streets in surprising numbers.

Self-important director with a donkey problem.

Pretentious ass of a movie director Lars Von Trier has this to say:
"In my view the political and social content of the film is so important that it would be sad if it could be rejected or ignored merely by referring to the 'donkey problem', as it was called in the papers. You might say that this renders the death of the donkey in conjunction with the making of the film meaningless; however, you may still rejoice in the fact that it escaped slaughter."

Because of the ignorant press, I am diminished as an artist and the donkey died in vain!

UPDATE: This post led to this email exchange:
EMAILER:"Pretentious ass of a movie director" is a classic. "Dogville" was the worst movie I had ever seen.

ME: The question is why you didn't know better than to go see it.

EMAILER: To be honest, I went to go see it for the same reason that every other Manhattanite went to go see it: it was the antithesis of every mainstream Hollywood blockbuster....

ME: You could be a sucker for the worst crap in the world with a theory like that.


ANOTHER UPDATE: Don't miss Shiela O'Malley's anti-Von Trier rant.

"We wanted something intimate, and we listen to Tori Amos when we're alone."

Fashion designer Rolf Snoeren explains his inspiration:
The headlines in Thursday's papers will be "Pillow Talk" or "The Big Sleep," and there will be sniggers at the breakfast table when people catch a glimpse of a model in a red duvet dress with a fat white pillow tucked behind her head. The Viktor & Rolf show, at the ancient Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, was something. Beautiful in its dreamy use of white cotton shirts with eyelet ruffles, and highly conceptual in its evocation of the bed as the center of family life, Viktor Horsting's and Rolf Snoeren's show was an ode to love, with Tori Amos at the piano.

"We wanted something intimate, and we listen to Tori Amos when we're alone," Mr. Snoeren explained. "All good things happen in bed."

And Tori herself plays at the fashion show. Tori lovers should not miss the beautiful picture at that last link of Tori flailing her crimped orange hair about. She's wearing something big, magenta, and liquid. Ah, but avert your eyes from the text Tori lovers. Tori loathers: there's plenty here for you to savor:
Naturally, given the Lawrence Welk tendencies of [Viktor & Rolf], the live music for their show yesterday was provided by Tori Amos, the pop music klaxon.

Held in a space where what passes for experimental theater is usually staged, the production had as its centerpiece a black grand piano played by Ms. Amos, a stiff and stately piece of furniture herself. Her long hennaed hair was arranged in pre-Raphaelite crimps, and she wore quilted red trousers and a red satin blouse.

After greeting the audience with deep Kabuki bows, Ms. Amos took to the keyboard and began banging on it and keening as the English kewpie-doll mannequin Lily Cole appeared wearing quilted trousers and with satin pillows strapped behind her head like a weird Elizabethan ruff.
Red? The blouse sure looks magenta to me! In aesthetics, it's all subjective, I suppose. But no: that blouse isn't red!

Klaxon? Being a lawprof, I hear "Klaxon" and think of the Erie doctrine, but the definition I'm picking up from the dictionary is "A trademark used for a loud electric horn." So presumably, the writer (Guy Trebay) means to say that Tori clashed with the "Lawrence Welk" tone of the designers? And the designers are wrong that Tori is intimate?

"All good things happen in bed"? Then why are we at this damned fashion show? Maybe that aphorism makes more sense to a person whose name is -- it looks -- pronounced "snorin'."

Fashion is a strange other world.

An unusual plaintiff.

The NYT has a profile of Thomas Van Orden, the man who brought the lawsuit about the Ten Commandments monument in the case the Supreme Court is considering. It's quite an unusual story:
Mr. Van Orden, a suspended lawyer who put his age at 60, compiled the case while homeless, living in a tent on a wooded tract in Austin, surviving on food stamps, while writing his briefs at the law library and scrounging for writing materials.

"You can find paper and pens on the college campus," he said. "Just look down."

March 2, 2005

"American Idol" -- slicing away four contestants.

It's a half hour show tonight, kicking out two "guys" and two "girls" -- in only thirty minutes. So the usual padding is gone. There's a little preliminary blather about song choice. Then, Ryan Seacrest turns to the assembled female contestants and says "Would Celena Rae join me please? ... Celena, unfortunately, I have to say, you got the lowest number of votes and you'll be leaving us tonight." That was the most abrupt send-off ever! She's not asked to sing the song that made her lose. That's a relief. Well, she's one of the singers I was willing to get rid of. Time to lose one more "girl." After the break, they go through the women one by one, and pull out Aloha and Vonzell. Both sang Alicia Keys songs. And Aloha, who was so good last week, is gone. Yet I'm glad Vonzell is getting another chance. That's what I wrote in last night's post.

Which two "guys" will leave? Here, you can see I thought that Travis Tucker and Joseph Murena would go. Ryan: "The boys' result coming up." Oh, now we're calling them "boys"? Some of them are pushing thirty! Ryan goes through the top row of contestants. All are safe. Then he picks out Scott Savol, in the middle of the bottom row, and it's an anxious moment, but the fat, unattractive "boy" is told he's safe. Four are left, and all four are made to stand and form a line. (They keep varying the way they announce the loser!) We see Mario without his hat for the first time. He is not bald! Ah, Mario is safe! Travis is safe! And Joe and David leave. Lucky Travis! I'm not surprised at the result. Travis saved it, I think, by that little dance he did.

Until next week!

The Oscars offended Uruguay!

Cinemocracy explains. (Nice looking blog, by the way. Love the logo.)

Oral argument in the argument in the Ten Commandments case.

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case about government displays of the Ten Commandments. Linda Greenhouse has a nicely detailed account in the NYT. She highlights Justice Scalia's role:
Justice David H. Souter asked whether a tablet containing only the last five commandments, the injunctions against killing, stealing and so on, might be constitutional because, unlike the first five, they did not necessarily imply religious belief.

That would be a harder case, Mr. Chemerinsky replied, but such a tablet would still be unconstitutional because it would still convey the Ten Commandments' message.

What about a "piece of stone" simply carved with the various "thou shalt nots," Justice Souter asked.

That would be acceptable as a "reflection of law" rather than religion, Mr. Chemerinsky replied.

"Who are you kidding?" Justice Scalia broke in, adding that "everyone knows" that the reference would be to the Ten Commandments.

"Context matters enormously," Mr. Chemerinsky said.

Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, described the Ten Commandments as a "recognized symbol of law" and defended the state's display as having the secular purpose of "recognizing historic influences" on the legal system.

The attorney general's argument distressed Justice Scalia. "You're watering it down to say the only message is a secular message," the justice said. "I can't agree with you. 'Our laws come from God.' If you don't believe it sends that message, you're kidding yourself."

Later, Justice Scalia told Mr. Abbott: "I would consider it a Pyrrhic victory for you to win on the grounds you're arguing."

MSNBC highlights Justice Kennedy's role:
[Justice] Kennedy rebuffed arguments presented by Erwin Chemerinsky, who was presenting the case for Thomas Van Orden, the plaintiff seeking to ban the Texas display.

The justice suggested that for the courts to tell a state that it could not allow the Ten Commandments on state land would wrongly cater to “an obsessive concern with references to religion.” He said that banning displays of the Ten Commandments on state property might “show hostility to religion.”

Kennedy chided Chemerinsky, saying, “I think you’re telling us the state can not accommodate religion,” adding that the plaintiff was essentially “asking religious people to surrender their beliefs.”

And Justice O'Connor? She does tend to be the deciding vote in these cases. CNN.com has quotes her:

"If legislatures open their sessions, that the public can attend, with a prayer, why can't it allow monuments? It's so hard to draw that line."

Why, yes, it is -- especially when you analyze the Establishment Clause looking at a multitude of factors, judging things based on the whole context. But that has been the way of Justice O'Connor. Could it be that she's frustrated by her own efforts at finding a middle way?

UW Law School website calls attention to the Althouse blog.

Funny, it even cites the "Queen of Blogs" appellation thought up by The Capital Times.

Students distracting students -- classroom wireless access.

The law faculty here is having an email list debate about the perceived problem of students using the wireless internet access during class to check websites, do email, IM, etc. Blogging hasn't been mentioned yet, but presumably, where there is wireless access, there is blogging. Some faculty don't like the idea that students aren't paying full attention. That has always been the case of course -- who pays full attention to a lecture? Personally, I find doing something like playing a simple video game or doodling helps me pay more attention to a lecture. There is nothing that special about wireless access when it comes to this complaint. I consider the inability to lock onto a speech and pay 100% attention to be part of what is, in all, a positive human capacity: we retain our independent thoughts and desires and do not achieve oneness with a person who is talking at us.

But there is a more specific problem: the way computer screens distract other students. How much of a distraction is a computer screen? I know when I was a law student, I chose to sit in the front row because I found the backs of people's heads distracting. There are always distractions. In fact, it's funny how distracting the least interesting things are when you're at a lecture. Suddenly, you want to watch someone take a sip of coffee or sharpen a pencil. This is human nature, part of our connection to the concrete world. We want to see things, feel things. This is good.

Do students really mind the images on the other computers? If you glance around and can see which blog someone else is reading or that the Drudge Report has put up the revolving siren image, can't you deal with that? If you find it especially hard, choose a front row seat.

Now, somebody in the faculty email discussion said that some students have complained that other students look at pornographic images during class. I was surprised to hear that, because what student would be so disrespectful of other students and so unconcerned about being disliked? Is that really happening? That is so out of line with basic social etiquette that I find it hard to believe. But if it is, can't the students apply some peer pressure to these social outliers? IM the clod.
Anyway, send me some email, law students, and tell me if I'm not taking the problem seriously enough. On the faculty email list, I offered a proposal that there should just be a clear rule against displaying any images on screen during class. You can have all the text you want, but no images. But really, I'm inclined to think the whole thing is just not a real problem.

UPDATE: You know, it wasn't that long ago that people thought the students shouldn't be typing on laptops during class, because that was too distracting. In the early days of laptops, some students had laptops that they kept in their backpacks during class. They thought it would be offensive to use them to take notes. Now, no one thinks of that as a distraction.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My colleague Gordon Smith offers his thoughts on the subject. My son John, a first year law student, writes:
I don't think the school should have rules dealing with distracting images (unless, of course, they're offensive images). I sometimes let my screen saver (a slideshow of photos) turn on in class. It's possible that another student could start looking at my photos and stop listening to the prof. But I just don't feel that that would be MY responsibility!

Note that distracting images are nowhere near as bad as distracting noises. You can't just close your ears to certain noise, whereas you can choose not to look right at someone's computer screen. And you NEED to HEAR the prof; you don't need to SEE the prof.

If it's a problem for students to display distracting images on their computer screens, then shouldn't students also be prohibited from wearing flashy clothing?

My property prof is always putting up extraneous images on her PowerPoint slides, e.g. while she's discussing a case about marriage she'll put up a photo of a random married couple that she got off the web. Should SHE be forbidden from showing distracting Internet images?!

Law profs shouldn't deal with the problem of "not paying attention" by coming up with regulations; they should deal with the problem by making their classes more interesting!

But wireless access should be blocked in the classrooms (as it is at Cornell), because it destroys the Socratic method to let students IM and email answers to each other in class.

A Yale undergraduate who is planning to go to law school wrote this:
I personally don't bring my laptop to class -- I like writing down my notes, because I type quickly enough that if I typed notes I would just transcribe the lecture and glean nothing from it, and I think it is a valuable skill to discern on the spot what information is important or not -- but a ton of my friends do. And of course there is rampant IMing, emailing, surfing (not porn sites though...what total creep looks at porn in class?!) but I wanted to mention to you something that professors might not think about, which is students using the internet in to look up additional information on the topic at hand.

I've seen this happen plenty of times. The professor brings up a new topic, or mentions a particularly interesting anecdote, and students start Googling away to find out more. If that isn't a sign of the intellectual curiousity that we as college students are always encouraged to have, I don't know what is.

On a sidenote, I don't find laptops particularly distracting, unless the lecture is poorly delivered enough to warrant my desire to FIND distractions. And if that's the case, I will find distractions anywhere -- typically in the crossword puzzle, which is something that just cries out for collaborative whispering and note passing among students. Oh, the horror!! Ban the crossword!!
A law student writes:
I LOVE it. I am like you, in that I can't really pay 100% attention, and in my undergrad, I'd just doodle. This way, I am doing productive things like reading your blog, catching up on the news, doing assignments for other classes and work, talking to my wife at home on the home computer, etc. Not only that, but when I am really interested in something the teacher says, I'll go to Lexis and pull up the case, or do a quick search on Google and find that his facts are all wrong and therefore, so is his argument. More than a few times, a friend has been called on, and been way off, but with a little helpful IM, he's back on track. Wireless is a beautiful thing, and would only help the students. Like you say, those who won't pay attention, wouldn't pay attention anyway. Moreover, I've found that my attention span is about the same as it was before. If class is interesting, I'll pay attention.

As for being a distraction, the way our classrooms are set up, you can see what website someone is on, but you can't read it (too small font), so it isn't a temptation. I've never seen porn during class, and I sit closer to the back in each class. I have seen at one time, approximately 95% of the laptop users in class (which at any time is between 60 and 90%) playing solitaire during one particular dry lecture.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: This is very interesting, from a fairly recent graduate of NYU School of Law [ADDED: it's Matt Marcotte of Throwing Things]:
[D]uring my law school time …, Internet misuse during class was rampant -- online gambling, day trading, checking the news, etc.

Honestly, I never found it that distracting, and it's basically unregulable without doing a complete ban on Internet use, which I think is a bad idea--having Internet access allows access to a wide range of information and commentary which (when used well) can open up class discussion dramatically.

But a story on how broadband can be good--I was actually in class on September 11 in New York. At the time, I didn't have a broadband hookup capable laptop and sat near the back of the class. While the professor (who was apparently wholly oblivious -- not out of malice, but out of general obliviousness) prattled on, a student in the front row was constantly refreshing various Internet news sources on his browser and putting up the headlines on his screen so everyone behind him could read. (And yes, we heard the thud as the buildings collapsed in class, as the professor droned on.) So sometimes, "distraction" is a good thing.

Minors and the death penalty, minors and abortion.

Here's a free link to reach Dana Mulhauser's article in TNR about the new death penalty case (Roper v. Simmons) and the effect it might have on abortion rights. In forbidding the death penalty for persons who commit crimes before they turn 18, he Simmons Court said some things about minors that could be used to support laws that require parental notification before minors can have abortions or a law (now under consideration in Congress) that would make it a crime to accompany a minor across a state line with the purpose of obtaining an abortion.
In his decision, Kennedy argued that juveniles have limited mental capacity. Or, as he put it, a "lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young"; juveniles "are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure"; and "the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult."...

The litigation strategy that promoted the idea of youth vulnerability was the subject of controversy within the juvenile-advocacy community. Juvenile-rights activists usually push for more reliance on juvenile autonomy--in custody battles, in the ability to obtain contraception, and in abortion decisions. Nevertheless, in its amicus brief, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice argued that "juveniles, like the mentally retarded, have developmental deficiencies." During a panel on Roper at a conference two weeks ago, Stephen Harper, head of The Juvenile Death Penalty Initiative, admitted that such tactics not only made him uncomfortable, but were in opposition to the premises he has spent twenty years defending.

As Mulhauser notes, Justice Scalia made the connection in his dissenting opinion in yesterday's case:
Scalia noted that "we have recognized that at least some minors will be mature enough to make difficult decisions that involve moral considerations. For instance, we have struck down abortion statutes that do not allow minors deemed mature by courts to bypass parental notification provisions. It is hard to see why this context should be any different. Whether to obtain an abortion is surely a much more complex decision for a young person than whether to kill an innocent person in cold blood."

Prior to yesterday's decision, the death penalty required a consideration of the individual before the death penalty is applied with respect to decisions made by a person under 18 years old, but now there is a flat age line drawn and all minors are group together and stereotyped as lacking mature judgment. I would note that one could argue that constitutional rights should be interpreted generously: the Court should adopt a flat age line with respect to the death penalty and require an individualized analysis in the abortion access context, because each rule is more protective of rights than the alternative.

Nevertheless, the new reliance on the incapacity of minors is there in the Simmons case and diverse litigants will find their opportunities to build arguments on this foundation.

UPDATE: William Saletan accuses Justice Scalia of switching sides with respect to juvenile moral development by upholding laws requiring parental notification and laws authorizing the death penalty for minors. Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy administers the swift takedown Saletan so richly deserves!

"Artstar."

I love the idea of a reality show for artists.
"In the 1970's when I started in the art world, no self-respecting artist would have stood in line to try to get on a television show," said Jeffrey Deitch, whose gallery, Deitch Projects, is helping to create an art-reality show called "Artstar." "It never would have happened."
Back in the 50s and 60s, ordinary people got excited about art and followed the celebrity artist like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. And Picasso was still around, with all his star quality. But ordinary people haven't followed art in recent decades. So art needs a reality show to make it relevant again. Artists lining up in SoHo to participate in the show is a nice follow up to the big Christo stunt in the park. Even if the art isn't all that great, it's good to make art popular again!

And maybe the show is good for the artists. Why assume the current system for selecting artists is better than a contest?
[M]any of the artists who were braving the icy wind on Wooster Street Monday morning said that if trying to break into the art world through television was a little silly, it was no sillier than many of the other ways that artists try to attract attention in the highly competitive New York art world.

"It's so much about luck," said Arnulfo Toro, 28, who recently quit a job working as a painter for Jeff Koons's studio, where he said he was dissatisfied by the pay. "You can be really bad and get the go-ahead and be really good and go nowhere. We all need a godfather to give us a start." But despite camping out in sleeping bags beginning at 6 in the morning to get a place in line, neither Mr. Arnulfo, a painter, nor his friend, Peter Knutson, 30, a sculptor, made the cut yesterday to a group of 32 semifinalists.
Finally, just as a matter of good TV: art gives us something to look at and TV is a visual medium. I note that the best episode ever of "The Apprentice" involved selecting and promoting an artist.

The prince doesn't eat a bug.

The BBC reports on Prince Charles (who's in Australia):
Doug Taylor, who works at the Northern Territory Park, told the prince that the witchetty grubs, found in the roots of the Acacia bush, had to be eaten head first to stop their tails moving.

The fat white worms are high in protein and are said to taste like peanut butter.

Charles picked up one of the creatures and looked as if he was about to eat it before turning to the assembled photographers and saying: "There are limits."

Ward Churchill comes to Wisconsin.

Ward Churchill spoke at UW-Whitewater last night. The American Mind has a lot of photos of the pro- and anti-Churchill doings outside the hall. Here's the Badger Herald's report on the speech:
Churchill ... lashed out at media coverage of his essay, in which he condemns American foreign policy and compares Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi official, saying he did not advocate the terrorist attacks.

“I never anywhere in that essay use the word ‘justify,’” he said. “I didn’t justify anything. I spoke to a phenomenon that I believe to be natural and inevitable.”...

Addressing the most controversial portion of his essay, Churchill said his comparison of the workers in the World Trade Center to Nazi official Adolf Eichmann has been repeatedly misrepresented.

Although Eichmann did not directly kill prisoners in German concentration camps, he was responsible for the structures’ daily operations. According to Churchill, the WTC workers acted in the same way — they merely ensured America’s profit-maximizing, capitalistic hegemony remained a well-oiled machine.

Wouldn't everyone working for a living count as an Eichmann in that calculation? If the man is just foaming about capitalism, why are we letting the fact that he came up with an outrageous metaphor keep us from ignoring him the way we ignore all the many people who hate capitalism?

Here's the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Report:
The people he was referring to as "little Eichmanns" in his essay were the same types of "nondescript" bureaucrats or technocrats who, unwittingly or not, keep the American killing machine rolling, he said.

Churchill further defended his remarks by saying the CIA and the Department of Defense had facilities in the World Trade Center, making the twin towers legitimate targets under the same rationale the United States has used to bomb military targets in civilian surroundings in other countries.

The Wisconsin State Journal has this:
To lessen hostility toward the United States around the globe, he said, every American needs to engage in "some direct confrontation with power," and thus compel the government to follow appropriate international law "by whatever means ultimately are required to be effective."

That didn't go over so well. Neither did the several times he suggested that every American - including himself - was a murderer because the government has killed innocent people abroad with repressive military and economic policies.

When the response to such remarks was a tiny smattering of uncertain applause, if that, Churchill was quick to note it.

"Oh, I made 'em nervous," he said at one point.

"Oh my God," he added, in mock imitation of what he assumed the audience was thinking, "we might be responsible for doing something."

Sorry to write such a long post on Churchill, which I'm only doing because he came to Wisconsin. I find him incredibly boring, saying the sort of tired old things that radicals have been saying for as long as we can remember. He's getting way too much leverage out of a metaphor, and it's not even an inventive metaphor, just the same old America is Nazi Germany metaphor that radicals have been using for as long as we can remember.

UPDATE: Bob Taylor connects this comment of mine with the idiotic invocation of Nazis made by Robert Byrd from the floor of the Senate yesterday:
Many times in our history we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men.

But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler's dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that "Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact." And he succeeded.

Hitler's originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.

And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

It seeks to alter the rules by sidestepping the rules, thus making the impermissible the rule. Employing the "nuclear option", engaging a pernicious, procedural maneuver to serve immediate partisan goals, risks violating our nation's core democratic values and poisoning the Senate's deliberative process.

For the temporary gain of a hand-full of "out of the mainstream" judges, some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each Senator's right of extended debate..

You know, the Nazis incinerated human beings, and the Republicans might incinerate the fillibuster. But if you think that's outrageous, maybe we ought to stop referring to getting rid of the fillibuster as the "nuclear" option. Maybe we shouldn't invoke the image of a nuclear holocaust lightly either. But we "nuke" our foods in the microwave. And there's the "Soup Nazi." So I'm thinking we shouldn't be so prissy and easily riled about imagery. After all, we say "I'm starving" when we're just a little hungry, showing no sensitivity to the millions of human beings who actually have starved. All of which is one more reason to ignore Ward Churchill. His Eichmann line is just another wavelet in the sea of metaphor we swim in.

March 1, 2005

"American Idol" -- the "girls."

It's "girls" night, and I expect to find it less entertaining than last night. But Randy does think they are going to "bring it," so let's see if they do.

Aloha Mischeaux. Wearing a big red flower in her hair and a giant rectangle of red chiffon, she sings a draggy song, one of those meandering, tuneless R&B songs so many of the contestants do. It's an Alicia Keys song. The judges all hate it.

Lindsey Cardinale. I can barely hear her over the band. Seems to be some sort of country song. She does that growly thing with her throat that singers do to seem sexy and emotional, but the effect is phony. The judges all hate it.

Jessica Sierra. She tells us she's a country girl. She's wearing a large swath of blue satin, possibly an actual article of clothing. I hate the song -- something about angels flying, but I think she's singing pretty well. Some good belting, some decent range. The judges all love her. Simon: "amazing."

Mikalah Gordon. This is an incredibly annoying 16-year-old who looks 40, has (apparently) heavily collagened lips, and tries to act as much like TV's "The Nanny" as she possibly can. How long can we put up with that? But you vote for people on this show, not against them, so she may be able to hold on for another week or so. Wow! She sits on a stool, she wears a real article of clothing (a red turtleneck), and she sings a real song: "God Bless the Child." Damn, I like her just for singing a real song! Randy: "I give you mad props, man." Paula: "You nailed it." Simon: "That was just a joy to watch and listen to... You weren't annoying in the slightest, because you're not talking!" Well, somebody gave her some good advice, and she adjusted well.

Celena Rae. More bogus throatiness. Another cheesy country-ish song. I Google a lyric and figure out it's Faith Hill's "When the Lights Go Down." I hate that kind of crap. The judges find her ordinary. Simon: "There's a thin line between being a pop star and singing in a hotel."

Nadia Turner. The coolest looking person who has ever appeared on the show. Amazing, huge hair is just the beginning. She's wearing a short white camisole and a red skirt held up by her pubic bone. And some kind of wacky black and white boots. She sings Paul McCartney: "My Love." She's not really a good enough singer, but we all like her.

Amanda Avila. She attributes her success to "God's timing." She sings "Turn the Beat Around" -- horrendously. She's pretty, but get her out of here!! Painful! I bet the judges tell her she's pretty. Randy: better than last week -- not just a beautiful face. Paula: better than last week. They are not harsh enough. Please, Simon: slam her! "Overall, it was a great performance." Ridiculous!

Janay Castine. She was terrified last week, so what will she do now? She's singing some weird song that reminds me of that "I love to sing-a" cartoon with the frog -- you know? But much less musical. I just can't understand this concept of music. It's somewhere in a realm that is not music. Randy: "That wasn't very good, man.... A little rough." Paula: "It wasn't bad..." Simon: "You're like a little doll who's been programmed to be a pop star.... Right now, I think you're too young."

Carrie Underwood. She accepts being thought of as "farm girl." She sings "Piece of My Heart"! But she starts too low for her range. She dances in that bouncy, wiggly way that does not make me feel anything -- maybe it works for you. My opinion: not enough real feeling. Randy: "It's hard to do Janis Joplin." Get back in your country box! Paula: "That wasn't believable." Get back in your country box! Simon: "We loved you last week. This was reminiscent of what a cover band would do... You lost some star quality." All true! "Oh, you're holding me!" Ryan says when she puts her arm around him. "That's a first this season." Hey, get back in the box! You're the squeaky clean girl!

Vonzell Solomon. She's going last, the mailman girl. So I guess she's going to be good. She's wearing a black sheath and a clunky gold breast plate. Her voice is thin and screetchy. I don't like it! Randy: "Didn't quite make it." Paula: "You were ambitious... you're a fun performer... hold your center together." Simon: "An overcooked performance." Well, I'm glad they broke from the pattern of putting the best person last.

America, feel free to vote off: Aloha, Lindsey, Celena, Amanda, Janay, Carrie. Especially Amanda! But you've got to keep: Jessica and Mikalah. And let's give Nadia and Vonzell some more chances. Tomorrow night, I'm predicting Amanda and Celena are gone.

UPDATE: A reader emails that Carrie really was still in her country box, because Faith Hill had a big hit with "Piece of My Heart," and Carrie was probably doing the Faith Hill version. Another emailer writes to say that Alicia Keys is not herself "meandering and tuneless" when doing that song that Aloha did badly. I assumed so. I think Keys -- whom I haven't listened to much -- has a lovely voice that brings musicality to things that mediocre singers can't find the music in.

What if Bush was right?

We've been listening to Daniel Schorr Bush-bashing for years, but did you hear him tonight on "All Things Considered"?
During the run up to the run up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region. He may have had it right.

What does this great gray owl have to do with terrorism?

Here in Madison, the huge bird is nesting near a power station -- which is considered a terrorism target. Company employees keep calling the police over the suspicious looking groups of persons with binoculars. They are just birdwatchers.

On being heteroblogual.

Learning to love reading bloggers whose politics you don't share.

The use of "international opinion" in today's death penalty decision.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Roper v. Simmons, justifies the use of "international opinion" in constitutional decisionmaking:
It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime. See Brief for Human Rights Committee of the Bar of England and Wales et al. as Amici Curiae 10—11. The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions.

Over time, from one generation to the next, the Constitution has come to earn the high respect and even, as Madison dared to hope, the veneration of the American people. See The Federalist No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

Justice Scalia responds:
I do not believe that approval by “other nations and peoples” should buttress our commitment to American principles any more than (what should logically follow) disapproval by “other nations and peoples” should weaken that commitment. More importantly, however, the Court’s statement flatly misdescribes what is going on here. Foreign sources are cited today, not to underscore our “fidelity” to the Constitution, our “pride in its origins,” and “our own [American] heritage.” To the contrary, they are cited to set aside the centuries-old American practice–a practice still engaged in by a large majority of the relevant States–of letting a jury of 12 citizens decide whether, in the particular case, youth should be the basis for withholding the death penalty. What these foreign sources “affirm,” rather than repudiate, is the Justices’ own notion of how the world ought to be, and their diktat that it shall be so henceforth in America. The Court’s parting attempt to downplay the significance of its extensive discussion of foreign law is unconvincing. “Acknowledgment” of foreign approval has no place in the legal opinion of this Court unless it is part of the basis for the Court’s judgment–which is surely what it parades as today.

Justice O'Connor, who also dissents, looks at it differently:
Over the course of nearly half a century, the Court has consistently referred to foreign and international law as relevant to its assessment of evolving standards of decency. See Atkins, 536 U.S., at 317, n. 21; Thompson, 487 U.S., at 830—831, and n. 31 (plurality opinion); Enmund, 458 U.S., at 796—797, n. 22; Coker, 433 U.S., at 596, n. 10 (plurality opinion); Trop, 356 U.S., at 102—103 (plurality opinion). This inquiry reflects the special character of the Eighth Amendment, which, as the Court has long held, draws its meaning directly from the maturing values of civilized society. Obviously, American law is distinctive in many respects, not least where the specific provisions of our Constitution and the history of its exposition so dictate. ... But this Nation’s evolving understanding of human dignity certainly is neither wholly isolated from, nor inherently at odds with, the values prevailing in other countries. On the contrary, we should not be surprised to find congruence between domestic and international values, especially where the international community has reached clear agreement–expressed in international law or in the domestic laws of individual countries–that a particular form of punishment is inconsistent with fundamental human rights. At least, the existence of an international consensus of this nature can serve to confirm the reasonableness of a consonant and genuine American consensus. The instant case presents no such domestic consensus, however, and the recent emergence of an otherwise global consensus does not alter that basic fact.

UPDATE: Here's my account of a recent debate between Justices Scalia and Breyer about the use of international opinion in American constitutional law decisions.

"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards."

So says Justice Scalia, dissenting from the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the death penalty for those who were under 18 years old when they committed their crimes. But the Court setting a minimal standard is not making itself the sole arbiter of morality, since a state could express stronger disapproval of the death penalty by, for example, outlawing it altogether.

UPDATE: Here's my separate post on the debate about the use of international opinion in the case.

Reenacting the Jackson trial.

Here's a NYT story about an actor who, with the help of a wig and makeup, will be impersonating Michael Jackson in reenactments of the Jackson trial:
"Michael Jackson Trial" [is] a daily half-hour series based on the singer's child molestation trial in Santa Maria, Calif., which began yesterday. Through the use of transcripts, the show, a collaboration of E! Entertainment Television and the satellite service British Sky Broadcasting, will try to re-enact the actions in the court, which is closed to cameras....

With the trial in its initial stages, [Edward] Moss will, for the time being, not have much to do, unless Mr. Jackson pulls something unexpected. If the defense does not put Mr. Jackson on the witness stand, then the extent of Mr. Moss's "acting" may be a cocked eyebrow here or the crinkle of a surgically altered nose there. "He'll be doing next to nothing for the first few months," Mr. Harbert conceded, "not strenuous at all until we get to the defense's presentation. Frankly, he may go through this show with not a lot to do. It could either be a huge acting job or a little one."

This seems to be a good way to deal with the lack of cameras in the courtroom. There's no way to stop the public's interest in the trial, yet keeping the cameras out makes more sense in this case than the usual case. So why not hire actors and do the transcripts? The alternative is to have on camera lawyers repeating the statements. On the other hand, I like seeing the courtroom artists' drawings, but surely these will be there to see on the many other cable channels that will be following the trial.

Did I set the TiVo for that E! show? I wavered. First, of course. Next, I don't have time and I dislike the way actors try to seem like lawyers. Finally, yeah -- why not? -- if it's bad, I'll blog about how it's bad.

February 28, 2005

"American Idol" -- the "guys."

Simon reveals that he has already identified the winner.

Mario Vasquez: He's my favorite, but he was a little bland tonight. Simon's nice to him -- I think because he doesn't want to lose him.

Ryan Seacrest reveals his weight. It's 142.

Anwar Robinson: He's one of the best, and at first I'm worrying about him, as he blandly begins "What's Going On," but he builds it up as he goes along, and ends nicely. Simon babbles that he usually watches Anwar and thinks he's good but then afterwards, when he "watches back," he sees it's not so good. But this time he thinks it really is good. Of course, he hasn't "watched it back" yet, so what can that possibly mean?

Joseph Murena: "Let's Stay Together." A classic "American Idol" song. He's cheesy, and he tells the audience to "come on." Which is the mark of cheesiness. His voice is not rich and distinctive enough. He's got a whole cocktail lounge vibe. Randy says he's "waiting for one note" that would prove something. Paula: "Good for you." Simon: "This is 2005 ... We could have been in a Portuguese nightclub in 1974." Just a nightclub singer -- that's what I thought too.

David Brown: He's wincing and melisma-ing his way through "All In Love Is Fair." How far can you get just trying to be Stevie Wonder? He didn't bring his "sparkle," Simon says. I like his huge billowy lavender shirt. I hope he doesn't get booted out this week.

Constantine Maroulis. The rocker. Yikes! What a mess! Horrible song. What is it? Too Hard to Handle? Oh, it's an Otis Redding song: "Hard to Handle." I don't remember that one, and he sure doesn't sound like Otis Redding.... [UPDATE: Several readers have emailed to say he was doing the Black Crowes' version of the song.] I'm expecting him to get slammed. And you know they stick the worst performances in the middle. Uggghhh! Randy: "At least you had a really good time." Paula: "Definitely, definitely." I hope Simon is mean! "I could go to any bar ... and see someone of the same caliber as you." I agree! Ryan looks tiny next to him and says, "Yes, I am short."

Scott Savol: He didn't think he'd make it based on his physical appearance. He sings some oozy R&B song. He's cultivating some facial hair designed to give him a chin line. Paula thinks he "brought it." She likes everyone, though. But Simon agrees! That might be a trick to get people not to bother to vote for him, but I think Simon tells the truth and doesn't game it.

Travis Tucker: He's going to lose, I predict. Wait! He's dancing. But he's off-key and unmusical. He's singing that Lionel Richie song "All Night Long" -- makes me realize how great Lionel Richie was. Randy reveals it's not a challenging song, so I guess Lionel Richie wasn't all that great.

Nikko Smith: The guy with the rectangular glasses. He sings without his hat! "Let's Get It On." A little lackluster, but with some nice screaming. Randy loves him, because "it's about singing the song." Simon thinks he's 1000% improved, but looks too much like Bobby Brown!

Alexander Federov: Uh-oh! Seems off key, singing "I Wanna Know What Love Is." I hate this sort of song. Wait! He hits a high note -- and we forgive everything! Randy: "You worked it out." Paula: "You kicked it into a different gear." Simon: "I think you did a fantastic job." He doesn't want to lose him.

Oh, Bo is last! He must be good. He's my favorite. (I mean, him and Mario.)

Bo Bice: I think he's the guy Simon has pegged as the winner! He's the best rocker and the most masculine singer the show has ever had. Wow! He blew everyone else away. Randy: "I love you." It was an Allman Brothers song. Paula: "You are the real deal." Simon: "Every year -- somebody comes on the stage -- we had it last year with Fantasia and LaToya -- and does something so fantastic, it blows you away." That song was "Whipping Post": Good lord, I feel like I’m dyin’.

Okay, Bo is now my favorite. Sorry, Mario.

Who should go? Joseph Murena and Travis Tucker. Sorry guys. I would say Constantine, but ... What the hell? Constantine deserves to go to? Why? Because he is not Bo!

About those high-heeled boots.

This amused me.

Free-floating anti-SUV hostility.

The NYT has some letters to the editor today about that op-ed that said the reason Frenchwomen don't get fat is that they smoke a lot. (I blogged about that op-ed here.) This letter caught my eye:
The reason Frenchwomen are slim and American women are fat is simple: American women drive S.U.V.'s, and Frenchwomen walk.
Would you not get fat if your just drove a Prius everywhere?

"German to build corpse art factory in Poland."

So reports Reuters. It's just Gunther Von Hagens back in the news. I like that photo and recommend clicking to enlarge, but you might be offended.

The morning after the Oscars.

Last night, I simulblogged the Oscars. The morning, what sticks in my mind?

First: how mad I am at Jamie Foxx for romanticizing child abuse! Why did people just sit back and laugh and accept his account of how much his grandmother beat him? Just because he presented it in a positive light? I'm grouping this with the stories surrounding Hunter S. Thompson's suicide. People in the public eye need to see beyond themselves and think about what they are legitimating when they choose to present a bad thing in their own lives in an uncritical positive light.

Second: how out of place Chris Rock was. I like him as a comedian: I've watched his HBO shows and I own a couple DVDs of his comedy routines. But his style is built on a harshness and his mode of delivery is yelling. That just didn't go with a roomful of elegantly dressed people -- even if they are too full of themselves and in need of some puncturing. Sean Penn's use of his time on stage -- presenting the Best Actress Award -- was awkwardly devoted to restoring the reputation of Jude Law, the one actor Rock decided to rip into most viciously. I'm sure Rock chose Law because Law is riding so high and is regarded as so handsome. But it was too mean.

Third: the fashion for inflated breasts has ended. All the coolest looking women had smallish breasts, including the two Oscar winning actresses, Hillary Swank and, especially, Cate Blanchett (who won for portraying that great small-breaster of the Golden Era, Katharine Hepburn). Last year's winner, Charlize Theron was also sporting the micro look last night. So was nominee Natalie Portman. They all looked great. (I enjoyed reading The Anchoress's review of the dresses, which includes: "I loved Swank's dress; it was dangerous and bold, and a hard - unforgiving - dress to wear - if her bustline was the merest big bigger, it would have been a disaster, but she pulled it off.")

UPDATE: Tom Bozzo notes that I didn't say anything about Clint Eastwood last night -- I was tired by the time he got up! -- and points out that I had a lot to say back when the nominations were announced. So let's look back at that post, which was a morning after correction of typos -- and a meditation inspired by one of the typos:
I meant to express irritation "for the Oscar-worthy projects that extract Oscar recognition from the Hollywood fossils," but I wrote "Oscar-worthy projects that extract Oscar recognition for the Hollywood fossils," which is an even worse sort of mistake because it makes sense and just means something I didn't intend to say. Looking at the statement this morning, however, I'm thinking I could intend that statement to some extent. There seems to be an attempt going on to extract Oscar recognition for the "Hollywood fossils" Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, but I wouldn't have used that epithet against them intentionally.

I will say though that Clint Eastwood looks horrible on the cover of the new Entertainment Weekly. When I saw it, I exclaimed "he looks like a snake head" about five times. Would grizzled old Clint get a face lift? Instead of a face full of interesting lines and crags, his thinned out skin is stretched back, forming a taut, glossy surface that does not look human. And it sure doesn't help that his ears are so far back that they are scarcely visible in the full frontal view. Why? Why? Why would someone that old do something that can't make him look young, but only make him look very weird? Why would an actor who is only suited to play weathered old men ruin his face -- his instrument -- in search of an unattainable look that belongs to men who belong in roles he could never have anyway? And why did Clint Eastwood get a nomination instead of Paul Giamatti? Maybe the old fossils look at his new, old snake head and see themselves.
In retrospect, that seems too mean. Clint Eastwood deserves credit for playing characters who are his age, and, on stage accepting the Best Director Oscar, he called attention to his geezerhood, showing the wisdom and grace of age. (See last night's post for the "wisdom and grace" reference -- it's from Drew Barrymore). I liked how low key and modest Eastwood acted. He's a real sweetheart, not a snake head at all!

ANOTHER UPDATE: MSM didn't like Rock. Tom Shales in the Washington Post called him "strangely lame and mean-spirited. " USA Today is harsher: "Loud, snide and dismissive, he wasn't just a disappointment; he ranks up there with the worst hosts ever." What's more:
[W]hat many viewers are most likely to remember — particularly those who feel Hollywood is out of touch with many of its customers — is Rock's lengthy attack on George Bush.

It went over big with the crowd, and if you voted for John Kerry, you probably found it amusing. But that routine had nothing to do with the Oscars, either, and it very likely sent half the audience fleeing from what was otherwise a politics-free evening.

But apparently, the ratings were good, so I suppose we're in for more of this sort of thing in the future. And what is that? An abrasive, political comedian followed by a parade of anaesthetized Hollywood folk with nothing to say? Actually, I think the people who voted for Kerry should be worried. But they'll have to get past their in-group enjoyment of themselves and their own imagined superiority and get some concept of how the people who didn't vote for Kerry -- AKA the majority -- respond to this sort of display.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Nina disapproves of my statement that a majority of people didn't vote for Kerry. Admittedly, I should have said a majority of voters didn't vote for Kerry, and I ignored non-Americans (though they didn't vote for Kerry either). [ADDED: And anyway, it is true that most people, including most Americans didn't vote for Kerry.] But I think her post overall is an example of exactly the problem I'm trying to talk about: Kerry voters do not want to worry about the impression they are making. They adored "Fahrenheit 911" and they trashed Bush viciously, and then their man lost the election. And then their reaction was: how could that possibly have happened? I'd say that if you want to win, you have to be able to imagine how things you find delightful look to people who don't share your politics.

AND MORE: Several people have written to say they also think Eastwood has had his face surgically altered, and one sends this picture link.

February 27, 2005

Simulblogging the Oscars.

5:51 Central Time. There is still an hour to go before the big Oscars show begins, and I will be going strictly live beginning then. No TiVo tomfoolery once the official broadcast starts -- that's a rule enforced chez Althouse, but not by Althouse. But I want to watch on HDTV anyway, so I guess that would be my rule too, even if it were up to me, which it's not, because I share this old house with someone who is much more serious about film and all of its accoutrements than I will ever be. But pre-7, I'm going to catch up on what the TiVo dragged in: E! Live from the Red Carpet. This show for me, is all about the absence of Joan Rivers. Yes, I know that Joan lives on over at the TV Guide channel, but that show is sad and low energy. I want the old Joan back -- Joan before she was tossed aside by E!. So, what we have is Star Jones, reading her lines and not even pretending to be interested in anything but selling her $20 shoes, and Kathy Griffin trying to do comedy even though her face is disturbingly immobilized.

6:10. Jones interviews Morgan Spurlock. The bodice of her dress fits so badly, so loosely! Here's Carlos Santana. "Che Guevara! That's the luck right there," says Star Jones, after she asks him what he's wearing for luck and he opens his black jacket to reveal a Che Guevara T-Shirt. He is promoting "Motorcycle Diaries," so perhaps we shouldn't be so hard on him. Don Cheadle, not nervous? "I took the right meds before I got here, so I think everything will be smoothed out the rest of the night." Melanie Griffith is wearing a blue-gray dress and carrying a cane -- she's broken her leg! Antonio Banderas has very stringy greasy hair tonight.

6:29. Leonardo Dicaprio! He doesn't care about fashion, but for the Oscars: a Prada suit. What would the little girls out there find surprising about you? "I'd say just about everything." Hilary Swank in a dark blue looks-like-it's-on-backwards dress provokes Jones to say "You are on my list as a perpetual Glamazon." Swank says hi to her fifth grade teacher. Virginia Madsen brings her glamorous mother. Mother and daughter have big swinging earrings. Scarlett Johansson looks incredibly light pink with nearly white poodle hair. The dress is black, a very dramatic contrast. "Aging is about wisdom and grace," Drew Barrymore informs us, with the perspective of her thirty years.

6:48. Spike Lee is wearing a white suit, with a black shirt and tie -- and a black fez! So far, on the hat front, we've seen Carlos Santana in a Che beret and now Spike Lee in a fez! Salma Hayek shows up and suddenly ranks at number 1 on the home voters' best fashion list. Her dress is another dark blue dress -- what's with all the dark blue? -- and it's got black bows and other black trimming all over it. Alan Alda says Morgan Freeman is going to get the Supporting Actor Oscar and he's just there to have fun. Kate Winslet in bright, medium blue: beautiful! She's talking to the other Cate -- Cate Blanchett. Cate is impossibly fragile, with translucent skin and a lemon-sherbet-colored dress. Johnny Depp! He's in dark blue. He's still got some gold teeth from the pirate movie. His wife is beautiful and, actually, looks a lot like him.

7:00. Now, I go to live-blogging, and to HDTV. I love the red carpet on wide-screen, and it's great to get a chance to see all the flaws on the stars. Annette Bening is beautifully crinkled – presumably with grace and wisdom. Jamie Fox is proud to have "cracked open" the love for Ray Charles that was hidden underground.

7:13. Orlando Bloom is asked why everyone admires Johnny Depp so much. Bloom, who's doing the new pirate movie with Depp, starts to explain something slightly complex about integrity, and the interviewer talks over him and shoos him along.

7:34. Nice clip show to begin. I hope they do more montages, less on-stage entertainment. Now Chris Rock comes out and gets a standing ovation. Why a standing ovation? It makes no sense. It's as if they were warning us about all the overpraising we've got coming tonight. "There's only four real stars, and the rest are popular people." Rock is yelling his routine. It's about how moviemakers should wait for the real star to be ready to film. Don't make "Alexander" with Colin Farrell. "If you're doing a movie about the past, you need to get Russell Crowe's ass." Rock loved "Fahrenheit 911," he says, and we see numerous stars in the audience clapping solemnly. Rock talks about Bush: imagine seeking a job, and while you're seeking that job, there's a movie playing everywhere about how awful you are. He goes into a long Bush-bashing tirade, and we see the audience cracking up and clapping. He ends the routine, though, by sending out love for all the troops.

7:44. "The Aviator" gets the first award, for Art Direction. The nominees are all made to stand on the stage, which seems a little sadistic, but does allow the women to show off their gowns. Renee Zellweger comes out in a stiff red dress. She moves like an inchworm. Her hair is dyed black. Best Supporting Actor is next. They don't make these guys line up on the stage. Based on the clips, I said "Anybody but Church." Morgan Freeman wins. He thanks everyone, especially Clint Eastwood. "This was a labor of love."

7:54. Robin Williams comes out with white tape on his mouth, presumably symbolizing censorship. He rips it off and does a little routine about how various cartoon characters -- other than Sponge Bob -- are gay. Donald Duck, with that sailor suit and no pants. Best Animated Feature: "The Incredibles." Cate Blanchett announces the makeup award from the audience, not from the stage -- innovative! "Lemony Snicket" wins. Drew Barrymore announces the first performance of a nominated song. My suggestion for a better Oscars show: just get rid of the song award altogether. Beyoncé sings in French with a boy choir. She looks great, with lots of green eyeshadow, but the song is absolutely deadly.

8:07. Chris thinks Beyoncé sang that song just great. We argue through the commercial about this, with me taking the position that it demanded more of an operatic voice and was not suited to Beyoncé, who I'm willing to believe is an excellent pop singer.

8:10. Chris Rock goes downtown to ask ordinary people what their favorite movie was. "I'm not going to lie, and I'm not going to front to these people," says one guy as he admits he didn't see "Sideways." Scarlett Johansson announces the scientific and technical awards, and I suddenly feel that I understand her dress. Pierce Brosnan announces the Costume award with that fashion character from "The Incredibles," causing me once again to regret that I didn't have a child of an age that could have justified my going to a cartoon this year. On seeing the clips, I mutter "The Aviator," and I'm right, and I take that to mean that "The Aviator" will win the most awards, including Best Picture. Tim Robbins -- who bores us to death with his politics, per Rock -- announces Supporting Actress. Oh, I love them all. And my Cate wins!!!

8:26. A tribute to Johnny Carson, with horrendously smarmy music. Leonardo Dicaprio introduces the Documentary Feature award. The nominees are lined up on stage. One expects Spurlock to win. I saw that movie and thought little of it. So I'm thinking: anybody but Spurlock. And I am satisfied. It's "Born Into Brothels." Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom come out to do the Editing award. If "Aviator" gets this, the handwriting is on the wall. And it does!!!

8:42. Adapted Screenplay: "Sideways." Not surprised. I've like Alexander Payne for a long time. He accepts the award knowing all of his actors missed out. Visual Effects: "Spiderman 2." Didn't see it, but the clip made me laugh with delight. Now we reach the great slump section of the night. Everyone goes into a coma now, and maybe later we will emerge and think, why am I so tired? when will it all end? I like Al Pacino but spare me the awards that don't relate to the past year!

9:08. Struggling to emerge from the coma. What was that? Beyoncé again! Yes, that was Beyoncé, but was that a song? I can't tell you one word that was in that song or remember a single musical phrase. Jeremy Irons ad libs "I hope they missed" when we hear a sound like a gunshot. Best Live Action Short -- a pointless category. "Wasp" wins. I have no idea if it's about the insect or not. Short Animated Film - well, could you show a clip, maybe? Wouldn't that be a better use of time than those damned songs? Something called "Ryan" wins. No one cares. Kate Winslet! We love her chez Althouse. Cinematography is the award. I predict "The Aviator," because it's been an "Aviator" night. And so it is.

9:20. Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz side by side. Fascinating! Another line-them-up-on-the-stage-award, that is, a low-valued award. What is it? Sound mixing. Who cares? The award is announced but the movie isn't named, so we're all confused. What won? Oh, it's "Ray." Now, Sound Editing. What the hell's the difference between that and Sound Mixing? No one knows or cares. Why isn't this grouped with the technical awards that are done in a separate ceremony? The coma continues... Okay, it's "The Incredibles." Here's where I miss using the TiVo assist. The acceptor says these aren't "technical" awards, these are for "artistic decisions." It's as if he heard my bitching. And now, another damned song. Salma Hayek not only announces the song from "The Motorcycle Diaries," she translates the words into English. Carlos Santana plays guitar and Antonio Banderas sings. It's the sort of thing where if you wandered into a bar and this was going on, you'd turn around and walk out.

9:34. Here's Natalie Portman in a dress that requires her to stand perfectly upright. Best Documentary Short Subject, the low point of the evening. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Original Score is next, and John Travolta does us the kindness of speaking very fast. "Finding Neverland" wins. That's one of the movies I saw, but I have no memory of the music.

9:47. Okay, I've ignored the humanitarian award. Annette Bening introduces one of my favorite sections, the memorial to dead filmfolk. Yoyo Ma plays the cello to set the lugubrious tone. Reagan is first, and we hear only applause. Good. It ends with Marlon Brando, with a series of clips. Clearly, Brando is the greatest actor to have died in the past year.

9:56. Sean Combs introduces another boring song, again with Beyoncé. What is the pont of this overuse of Beyoncé? The song is awful, the thing from "Polar Express." Combs tells us we should listen to the words, that they have some important message especially relevant today. I think he may have said that it's "hip." But the song is about how you should believe in your dreams! "Believe in what you feel inside, and give your dreams the wings to fly." Oh, how I hope that song loses, even though none of the other songs made any impression on me. And now, it's Prince! Pink pants, blue jacket. Sparkly hair! He just reads his lines -- doesn't do anything odd. The "Motorcycle Diaries" song wins. Good! Get it over with. The guy who accepts re-sings the damned song. As if we care! At least he doesn't talk. No more songs!!! Finally, we are at Best Actress. Announcing the award is Sean Penn. He tells us Jude Law is one of our finest actors, which he says to contradict Chris Rock's insult to him in the opening routine. Ha! Humorless Sean Penn -- but he was right about that! As expected, Hillary Swank wins. "I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream."

10:12. Gwyneth Paltrow comes out to give the Best Foreign Language Film. "The Sea Inside." Samuel Jackson gives the Original Screenplay Award. Some good films here. "Eternal Sunshine." Charlie Kaufman. Good! He seems like a sweet guy, and he really is doing something that no one else does. And it makes Kate Winslet happy, so... "It's the one thing that really deserved it," says Chris.

10:22. Charlize Theron, in a fluffy light blue dress, introduces the Best Actor nominees. As expected, Jamie Foxx wins. Standing O! But the standing O was cheapened earlier in the night. "Thank you, Ray Charles for living." Love! Love! Love! He praises his grandmother for beating him and that gets a big laugh. Ah, but grandma is dead and he's crying over her. So, love! I'm sure there are some people who beat their kids who are sitting at home thinking, see, I'm right, it does the kids good, and they'll thank me for it some day.

10:32. Julia Roberts introduces the directors, who bring their visions to the "scream." Clint Eastwood wins, so we can continue to talk about how Martin Scorsese has never won an Oscar. Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand (dressed in dark blue) come out to give the Best Picture award. Hoffman seems to be in a weird trance. Seeing Streisand reminds me that no one (other than Rock) brought up politics tonight. "Million Dollar Baby" wins.

10:40. That's it!

UPDATE: Here are my morning after thoughts.