March 19, 2005

"Certainly I'll pray for this gentleman, who seems to be a troubled soul ... Part of that love of Christ is forgiving people."

So says Monsignor Paul Swain, the rector of St. Raphael, about the man charged with burning the cathedral to ruins. The linked article also quotes the man's former wife:
"I haven't been in touch with him for many years. I'm the mother of his two sons," said Arlena Wilson of Oregon state, who was divorced from Connell in 1993. "He left Oregon in 1990 and never came back," she said.

"His sons are 16 and 14. The oldest is a straight-A student, National Honor Society. They both lettered in wrestling. They're just great kids," Wilson said. "My kids are devastated. He's their dad. ... I hope he gets help. I'm sorry he felt led to do that."

What's interesting about the plague.

From the New Yorker review of “The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time":
There was no effective treatment for the disease. Medieval medicine was basically a mixture of the ancient “four humors” theory and the astrological formulations of the Arabic physicians of the end of the first millennium. According to the Arab treatises, certain planetary alignments could foster illness by creating miasmas, or clouds of noxious air. In the judgment of many of the fourteenth century’s best minds, that was the cause of the Black Death. Some cities took public-health measures—mainly, quarantines. People were advised to avoid pore-opening activities (bathing, exercise, sex), so as to prevent the miasma from penetrating their skin.

The New Yorker reviewer thinks this new plague book is too padded, and recommends Norman Cantor’s 2001 “In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made” instead. Cantor's book is better, we're told, because instead of wallowing in grim descriptions of buboes, it talks about the social and political consequences of living in a world suddenly bereft of one third of its inhabitants. Law students may like to know that "the most enthralling chapter has to do with property law."
In the course of their quarrels, the gentry and the nobility put aside old codes of civility, and that development, together with certain very striking national events—notably the ouster and probable murder of Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke, at the end of the century—created what Cantor calls a “new dark age of bad behavior.” The modern conviction “that unrestrained greed is good” was born. The new property legislation controlled it but also fostered it, by encouraging people to do whatever the law would let them get away with.

Superimpositions.

Elegant, subtle images result from the automated combination of 50 photographs bearing the same Flickr tag. (Via Metafilter.) Here, for example, is what 50 superimposed photographs tagged "The Gates" look like. Here's "Eiffel." A Metafilter commenter notes the similarity of the effect to this set of images that uses mean averaging to produce a single image combining every Playboy centerfold from an entire decade.

Froth.

Latte art (via Drawn!).

Lexicographers are cool.

What's the coolest thing in this article about editing dictionaries?

1. Noah Webster was inventing American iconoclasm when he decided to oust the "u" from words like "glamour."

2. The first name of the author of the article is Strawberry.

3. Erin McKean, the new editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, while doing an interview in her office with NYT reporter Strawberry Saroyan, doesn't sit in a chair but sits on a black exercise ball and bounces.

4. An editor of the American Heritage Dictionary has a phonetic vowel chart tattooed on his back.

Ah, but now wait. This lexicographer coolness thing is all about marketing. The way they sell new dictionaries is by calling attention to all the new words they've located. So naturally, they need the kind of editors who can tune in to high tech terms and youth slang. Take McKean:
To find new words, Ms. McKean said she subscribed to 60 magazines, including The Oldie, a British publication for the elderly; The New Scientist; and Entertainment Weekly. She also watches television shows like "The OC," which she said was known for being linguistically playful. She also relies on her staff, freelancers, a group of four or five people she calls the "friends of the dictionary" and even small talk at cocktail parties.

Well, at least The Oldie got in there, so it's not all about youth. (The Oldie really is a pretty cool magazine, which I've had bookmarked for years.)

I'm sorry dictionaries are so focused on slang and high tech, even though I realize they need a way to convince you to buy a new edition. But I've bought a lot of dictionaries over the years, and I've never cared about which one had the most new words. I've cared about the presentation of the really useful words in the rich, beautiful vocabulary of the English language. How sharp is the usage advice? How clear are the distinctions between near synonyms? Is this book going help me see how to use words better?

It seems as though these dictionary people think the main use of a dictionary is to look up words you encounter while reading. I'm more likely to Google for definitions of such words. There seems to be a lack interest in the use of a dictionary for writing purposes. These new editors are all jazzed up about finding more and more new things, but I want a more insightful presentation of the the old -- the existing English vocabulary, which is always slipping out of our grasp.

Condi-style.

The NYT reports:
Not even two months into her new job as secretary of state, she is routinely asked by interviewers around the world whether she wants to be president. Crowds gather to see her limousine. This week, a television reporter in India told her that she was "arguably the most powerful woman in the world." She laughed but did not exactly agree - or disagree.

But along with the new celebrity, Ms. Rice seems to have found her style - unremittingly positive and upbeat with allies and friends, but frank and even brutal with others.

Wherever she goes, she wears her close relationship with President Bush on her sleeve. It is the perception that she has the president's ear that gives her much of her power. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell carried the opposite perception, which left him at times without the influence that Ms. Rice so obviously wields.

Patronizing analogies.

I ran across the AARP ad in the NYT: "If you have a problem with the sink, you don't tear down the entire house." That explains why you should be opposed to the President's Social Security reform. Then there's the argument for the other side, that TV commercial where the Titanic is about to hit the iceberg: "Some people say Social Security is not in trouble. Just like some people thought the Titanic was unsinkable." That really explains why the President is right. Come on, you're just not trying hard enough with your patronizing, ridiculous analogies. Don't you know Social Security reform is boring us to tears? At least give us some animals! I'm getting nostalgic for the old "bear in the woods" absurdity. (Click on the bear thumbnail at the link. [ADDED: You might have to click through to the 1984 election page.])

Note: FactCheck.org has analyzed both the sink ad and the Titanic ad.

UPDATE: A reader writes:
Well, what kind of animal metaphor would you come up with for Social Security? "The Future is like a Lion: It EATS the old, sick, weak members of the herd!" "Social Security is like having a snake in the toilet, it can really bite you if you aren't paying attention, but if you think about it the answer is quite simple (sound of toilet flushing)" "Social Security reform is like putting a weasel in your freezer: it just Doesn't Make Sense!" "Social Security is like a goldfish; it will grow to fill whatever tank you put it in."

I think I'll leave it to my readers to email me some Social Security animal analogies. Thanks for getting us started.

And Spring Break begins -- with the biggest snow of the year.

You saw yesterday's snow pictures. Today, I look out my upstairs window and see this.




Much more snow than yesterday.




Here's the downstairs deck, its furniture deeply upholstered.




Yesterday, I was able to see the blue-wrapped NYT on the front walk. Today, even though the snow from yesterday was shoveled, there was twice as much snow on the walk. I couldn't even see a shred of blue wrapper poking out anywhere. I had to take the snow shovel and start clearing the walk, in the hope of finding the Times. Ah! Found it! And I got far enough down the walk to see that there was not a single footprint in the deep snow on the sidewalk in front of the hedge. If you've done any snow shoveling, you know it's much easier to shovel before any feet have compressed the snow, so I took advantage of the opportunity and shoveled the whole sidewalk. That was all done without a coat or gloves, and really, it's not very cold. The snow is already melting. Clumps of wet snow keep dropping off the trees. But it's great packing snow, kids, so get out there and start building snowmen. I expect to see snowmen everywhere, all over town, by early afternoon.

March 18, 2005

Music to read by: the suggestions.

Today, my iPod Shuffle arrived, and I adore it, as blogged here. You may remember I bought it to fill with music that would help me read and study without distraction, and I solicited advice from readers about what they thought would fit this need. I've already noted some preliminary suggestions, including a warning against classical music, the theory being that it's too complex and interesting, which makes it distracting. Clearly, you don't want to study while listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but I think there are some good classical choices. One reader writes:
In response to your e-mailer who suggested that classical music is too distracting to read by: presumably that depends a great deal on the individual reader/listener. I, personally, am distracted by schlocky music. Most contemporary movie soundtracks would have me yanking off my earphones and begging the barista to chat me up. The thing I love about Chopin (for example) is that, while it has a deep, complex musical structure and emotional texture, it doesn't have any of the insistent qualities that demand that you focus your immediate, conscious attention on it at every moment (like a driving beat, or an incessant rhythm or lyric, or a rigid structure). Last week in the library I read two books and skimmed three more in two and a half hours while listening to Rubinstein play Chopin, and my concentration never wavered. I can rarely sustain that level of concentration for that long, and I credit the music for helping to maintain my interest and focus.
In fact, I have this CD already, and I put the only the slower pieces on my "Reading Music" playlist. Here's another email with classical suggestions:
My taste might be more vanilla than you're looking for, but I often study listening to Chopin's nocturnes, Schubert's impromptus, and Vanessa-Mae's classical work. A good Chopin CD is Jean Yves Thibaudet's "The Chopin I Love"; there's quite a bit on that CD, including the E-flat major nocturne, which is my absolute favorite. For Schubert, the Wanderer Fantasy CD is very nice, especially if you can find the one played by Leon Fleisher. Actually, most of Leon Fleisher's piano work is wonderful. And Vanessa-Mae--her Original Four Seasons CD is very nice. It has the Vivaldi pieces but also her own work, the Devil's Trill Sonata, which is fantastic. Her CD Violin Player is also probably good, but I don't have that one. I do have Storm, which is interesting--she is a beautifully talented violinist who likes to fuse classical music with more modern work. She combined Bizet's Can-Can with a driving techno beat, and that worked quite well. But some of her other pieces on that CD are a little annoying--Bach just shouldn't be combined with a synthesizer or electric guitar line.
Here's another:
I find that the Hilliard Ensemble's "Morimur" is great to read to. (It's on ECM New Series.) The recording was inspired by the research of Helga Thoene, a musicologist who argues that Bach alluded to chorales in the Chaconne from the second partita for solo violin. So the recording presents several chorales (in German) and the partita, followed by a reconstruction of the Chaconne with singers emphasizing the chorale melodies. (Of course, you can't go wrong with Bach for stringed instruments, either: the 'cello suites, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and the lute music -- there is also a very fine, recent release of Segovia Bach transcriptions on Deutsche Grammophon.)

I have a lot of Bach on CD and am putting a good portion of that into the Shuffle. Someone recommended Schubert's "Wanderer Fantasy," which I had.

Another of the "preliminary suggestions" noted in the earlier post was movie soundtracks. As that emailer above indicates, many film soundtracks are bombastic and inappropriate for my purpose, but from my existing CD collection, I chose the Philip Glass soundtrack from "Kundun." Although I haven't ordered any of these, here are some specific soundtracks that were recommended: "Ghost in the Shell 2," "The Last of the Mohicans," "Cinema Paradiso."

Another recommendation noted in the "preliminary suggestions" post was Brian Eno's ambient music, particularly "Music for Airports." I've ordered that, along with Eno's "Ambient 4: On Land" -- a classic example of making a second purchase to earn the free shipping.

Now, for some extra stuff. One emailer pointed me to this list of music featured on The Weather Channel. A couple people recommended Sigur Ros -- which sounds great. Another interesting idea is "True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead" ("Radiohead consistently produces very complex melodies and this works surprisingly well. Classically they fall into the 'Romantic' camp. Very Debussy.") One emailer suggested Miles Davis, specifically "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain." Someone recommended Aphex Twin. Someone recommended Ottmar Liebert. ("He plays 'nuevo flamenco,' some of the most beautiful and interesting classical guitar you’ve ever heard. Perfect background for reading or just thinking. Or in my case, for coding :)")

From my CD collection, I pulled out a lot of early music. I have had very good reading success with this CD in the past, so it went right in. And I had these two Hildegard von Bingen chant recordings. I put in some Monteverdi.

One more email:
It may be rather SNAGy (Sensitive New Age Guy) of me to mention this, but there is, in fact, a lot of so-called New Age music that is not overly cheesy and quite relaxing. I read and write to George Winston, Michael Jones (solo piano), David Lanz and/or Paul Speer (they collaborated), among others. A lot of it is the sort of pretentious 'Toltec Magician' (I kid you not) crap, but there are also some halfway decent composers out there. I subscribed to Real's Rhapsody service, which is pretty cheap for streaming audio, and they have a New Age stream where I get some ideas. A bunch are available on iTunes.
Anyway, that's enough for now!

Blame "CSI."

Maybe the acquittal of Robert Blake is not just about celebrities and the fancy lawyers they can afford. Maybe jurors in all sorts of cases have come to expect the kind of neatly packaged, conclusive evidence provided by the stories told on the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Across the country, prosecutors say juries are demanding more from them. In the Blake case, jurors said Thursday that they wanted more-convincing evidence, such as conclusive gunshot residue on Blake's hands, or a fingerprint on the murder weapon, or more precision from casual eyewitnesses about Blake's actions around the time Bakley was shot to death in a parked car in Studio City.

"There is no doubt that there's increasing expectation by jurors of [the evidence] they're going to see," said Joshua Marquis, an Oregon prosecutor and member of the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Assn. "Prosecutors across the country are very concerned about this."

Marquis found it disturbing that Blake jurors "seemed very dismissive of circumstantial evidence," he said. "Well, guess what? In most cases … you don't have physical evidence."...

Cecilia Maldonado was among the majority of jurors who felt from the beginning that the state had not proved its case. The 45-year-old Granada Hills legal secretary said she would have liked more of the kind of evidence she has seen in the cases on "CSI."

"I just expected so much more," she said, acknowledging that such television crime shows did create "a higher expectation" for her.

UPDATE: A reader writes:
I had jury duty on Thursday. During voir dire, the prosecutor specifically asked us if we watched CSI, and whether we understood that it was just a TV show, that in real life investigators don't find a ten-year old cigarette butt, wave it in front of a scanner, and have a magic screen pop up instantaneously with a photograph and complete dossier of the perpetrator. Everbody laughed, but we paid attention to his point, about which he was deadly serious.

Neuroeconomics.

The L.A. Times reports:
"Economics has hit the wall," said Andrew Lo, director of MIT's laboratory for financial engineering. "It has explained about as much as it can with the tools it has. There are too many inconsistencies between theory and data."

Pioneers in neuroeconomics believe the key to understanding economic behavior lies deep in the brain, at the level of cells and synapses.

The brain is above all an economic engine forged by evolution through eons of scrounging for scarce resources, they argue. So the ability to trade things of value is the defining characteristic of the brain, the keystone of human character.

"Trade preceded agriculture; it preceded cities; it is a major component in human sociality. More than anything, it explains our success as a species," said Vernon Smith, an economist at George Mason University whose work in experimental economics earned him a Nobel Prize in 2002.

Some experts suggest that stock markets and other financial exchanges, as creations of the human intellect, may mirror the biological networks in the brain.

If only they can understand the brain, researchers believe, the mysteries of markets will be revealed.

Women in the Mideast and the soft power of the United States.

Here's a free link to get to The New Republic's article on the use of U.S. power for the benefit of women in the Mideast. Excerpt:
Women remain marginalized and oppressed by many of the Middle East's secular and Islamist governments alike--including both America's allies and its opponents--and it's not clear what exactly the White House intends to do about it. Even in the two countries where the U.S. exerts direct military authority, the cause of women is advancing in some ways but regressing in others. In Afghanistan, human rights organizations report that rape, sex trafficking, and extra-judicial "honor killings" remain prevalent in rural areas, in part because the central government is too weak to exert much control outside Kabul. In Iraq, the security situation has effectively barred many women from leaving their homes to go to school or work. Furthermore, some newly elected Iraqi Islamist parties are pressing to repeal the relatively liberal personal status law for women that has been on the books since 1959. They want to replace it with a version of Islamic law that would take away women's inheritance rights and skew divorce law to favor men. These setbacks are the downside of political destabilization brought about by American hard power. The trouble is, American soft power is weak and inconsistent on the issue of Middle Eastern women--at a time when soft power is precisely what is needed to mitigate the negative side-effects of an aggressive foreign policy.

My iPod Shuffle meditation leads to "Ben Casey."

This morning my iPod Shuffle arrived via FedEx. Maybe I'm the world's biggest sucker for cute elegance, but I don't see how anyone can see this thing in its package and not want to buy it. I bought mine on line, but I'm just astounded by the coolness of the flat, square, green package with its vertical window within which floats the amazingly tiny and minimalist device. I expected to be surprised by how small it was, which you would think would prevent actual surprise, but I was in fact surprised.

It took me a while to open the package, because I spent some time just admiring the package. But eventually I extracted my new toy from its wrapper. Who can look at it and not think of a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum? One almost smells and tastes minty-ness – is that why the package is green? Unlike a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum, the corners are soothingly rounded and (unless you look at the back) there's no writing to disturb the iconic minimalism of the rectangle with its two concentric circles with their five silently articulate symbols:

+

|<<

>||

>>|

-


Ancient memory stirred up by the symbols: the opening sequence of the "Ben Casey" television show. "Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity." You know they have a special U2 edition iPod. I'd like a "Ben Casey" iPod Shuffle with the 5 Apple symbols replaced by the 5 "Ben Casey" symbols. "Infinity" would be the pause button. "Life" could be the + (volume up) button, and "Death" could be the - (volume down) button. Then we'd have to decide whether "Man" or "Woman" got to be the "forward" button, and who'd be the "backward" button. Better make "forward" the woman and escape charges of sexism!

And by the way, wasn't Vince Edwards (Ben Casey) handsome? I was ten years old when that show first came on the air. In those days, everyone had an opinion whether "Ben Casey" was better than the other doctor show that started in 1961, "Dr. Kildare." I was for "Ben Casey," and my sister was for "Dr. Kildare." How can you prefer "Dr. Kildare"? I would demand. Her answer: "Richard Chamberlain is such a dreamboat." I took the position that Vince Edwards was the better man. But he's mean, she would say. Casey was a moody guy, and Kildare a much sweeter man. Kildare was an internist, handling a variety of cases. But Ben Casey was a neurosurgeon, so all the stories were about people with brain problems. Doctor, this iPod is giving me synesthesia!

You'd think an Apple devotee would be more of a Kildare type. But no!

Murdered for the "spiky" and the "carré."

Terrorists in Iraq are murdering barbers for giving Western-style haircuts.

When was the last time anyone laughed...

At one of Jacob Weisberg's "Bushisms"? But he's got to keep cranking them out, because he's got his ongoing series of books to profit from. (Look how you can "click to buy" the Bushisms books right from the "Bushism of the Day" page.) You'd think at some point, Weisberg would get sick of himself. Think of a new humor concept, Jacob! Then you can run that one into the ground too.

Wireless access in the law school classroom.

Responding to my request for a description of yesterday's "Coffee and Doughnuts" session about the perceived problem of laptops and wireless access in the law school classroom, one of our students emails this:
Say, I went to that Donuts and Coffee discussion. My prediction? We'll default to the current status quo, leaving things as they are. So many speakers offset each other in their opinions, positive and negative, about wireless in the classroom.

One young man seemed truly offended that the professors would even consider taking away his classroom Internet, as he got about an hour's worth of work done on his laptop, before, during and after class, in the down time. When pressed by a prof as to what "work" he was accomplishing, he came up with: responding to emails, reading the newspapers, checking on things, etc. I do this at school too, but on the library and public access computers. If you cut off the classroom access, will the library suddenly become more crowded, meaning you have to provide more desktop computers or open areas for laptops? If the library has wireless access, some spills over into the classrooms, and people can still pick it up there.

Or is the administration considering cutting off access to the whole building? One student said gossip was going around, people were concerned what y'all were up to -- banning laptops? -- on that mysterious faculty listserv of yours. No one really was sure how these things would work out, affect admissions, etc. One woman explained her generation needs to multi-task. She knitted her way through undergrad, and found it helped her concentrate. They feel like time is wasting if they're not doing 3 things at once, giving the example of walking down the street, talking on the phone, or listening to music.

A few people said seeing games and images on other people screens was annoying. One explained she has ADD and these things DO distract. If you don't get there early the day they do the seating chart, there's not a lot extra available seats to switch to. This person, incidentally, reported seeing a semi-porn CSI type video game on the screen, played daily by the guy who sat in front of her. Nobody else said anything when one prof asked, really is porn out there in class?

The discussion, in fact, seemed to get most passionate about this issue. One older student, with a Ph.D who has taught before, was trying to explain how naughty pics might appear on laptop screens in class: if you're checking your email, say from AOL, some people have nude/provocative pics that go with their name IDs. He would just quickly close that window, he said, if it came up. He also was offended the administration would consider shutting off the wireless, said he had undergrads coming to class stoned when he taught, and really, what can you do when the students are adults? His criticism was of teaching methods -- when he can be chatting with the book open, get asked a question, skim to find a line that explains what the prof wants, and then go back to chatting... that's the prof's fault for being boring, and asking simplistic questions.

The first guy I mentioned, spoke up to say he really wasn't sure what was in his laptop either. Things happen. Pop-up ads, innocently typing in whitehouse.something, etc. can take you places you don't want to go. That's when one prof jumped in to give say listen up people, it can be a felony to have some things on your computer, period, and innocent explanations won't help you later down the line. He's seen cases of it in practice.

Another female prof also spoke strongly, I think this was after the student spoke of the CSI-type game, that NEVER should people have to tolerate porn in the classroom, period. This prof asked what students thought of a policy, laptop users sit in back, non-users sit in front. Sounded like a good compromise, but how would it work with the outlets distributed throughout the room? Some people still need to plug in. And does that create artificial distinctions among students?

Overall though, I think that prof may have had it right. She's no dummy, and reported to students that there's an obvious online, hunched- over look that shows you're not just taking notes. Very little typing, more slight scrolling with the mouse. Even if you're listening and doing other things, it's rude to the prof and to fellow students when you don't look up during a discussion, and listen to what others have to say. (It's different from doodling, one prof said, more like opening a newspaper and starting to read it.) Stay open, and give your attention to the speaker. One gives a little speech early on, during the intro/housekeeping portion of class, saying stay engaged, eyes off the screens occasionally, basically please pay attention people, and you might learn something not in the readings.

More than one student suggested, though, it's survival of the fittest, if people want to tune out, maybe they suffer the consequences come test time, and then again, maybe they don't. In the end, the conversation took a turn that teaching styles need to incorporate all the benefits of online resources. But this seemed like a cop-out to me, after we'd spent all that time discussing the low-level reasons people really are online during class. They're not all checking WestLaw or Lexis-Nexis, or sharing extra details about cases, though I'm sure that happens too.

I'll update this post if anyone has other perspectives on the event or the issue.

UPDATE: A recent graduate of another law school offers this:
1) I think that no matter what you do, a student is basically going to get out of it what he or she puts into it.

2) My undergraduate degree is in Computer Science and I really haven't handwritten anything much longer than a grocery list in 20 years. I simply could not take meaningful notes by hand. While my case may be kind of rare, I'm guessing that there are more and more students who would be severely handicapped if they had to take notes by hand. (Thank God VA had a laptop option on the bar!) [Althouse note: At UW, we have not yet decided to let students use laptops for their exams.]

3) It was very helpful for me to have access in the classroom because of my family. My wife had to work full time and caring for the children, ages 8, 11, and 13 now) was a constant problem. A cell phone wasn't really in our budget and would have been really rude in class. But Net access allowed me to be contacted by the kids' schools or my wife, or even the kids directly. ... I could even have set up a camera at the house if I had felt the need. My oldest son has standing instructions to check his email if he gets home and no one is here so I was also able to handle class running over or deciding to meet another student in the library easily.

4) Finally, and I know this is really weird, but I took all my notes using Netscape Composer. It handles outlines much better than Word and produces nice, clean HTML. My basic class method was to make a web page out of the syllabus with each topic linking to a subtopic. Each subtopic web page consisted of my outline of the assigned text material for that subtopic, supplemented by links to my class notes and to cases, statutes, and other sources that were often on the Net or in Lexis. By doing this I was able to maintain some perspective on the material and decrease the time necessary to find something during an open note exam.
Point 3 is especially interesting. I hadn't seen anyone make that point, but I believe it would have a decisive impact on some decisionmakers. And it should!

ANOTHER UPDATE: A UW law student comments on the controversy and thinks the faculty will adopt a lame rule for the sake of adopting a rule. Bet we don't!

YET MORE: Stuart Buck responds to my post:
I can’t imagine a good reason that law school administrators would go out of their way to offer free Internet access in law school classrooms. ... A law school might as well pay for a poker game and a clown act to take place in the back of a classroom, as well as handing out free newspapers for students to read during class.

And Will Baude responds:
Mr. Buck's attitude seems to be that since the benefits of internet use are very small the school should not subsidize distraction. I think the proper analysis is the reverse-- the marginal increase in distraction is uncertain, and in any case the costs of not-paying attention are personal rather than external. Meanwhile, the internet provides great rewards to some who use it well, which I think swamp the horrors of students' reading ... blogs during class.
I need to point out that my law school is considering going out of its way to turn off the wireless access in classrooms. We want wireless in the building generally, especially in the library.

About those Blogger problems.

Blogs for Industry has a theory about the problems with Blogger that a lot of bloggers, including me, have blogged about in the last couple days.

Fittingly, Blogger ate this post the first time I tried!

Time for Spring Break!

Maybe you've already left town. Perhaps you don't have a Friday class, or maybe you've cancelled your Friday class, or – if you're a student – you're just going to skip out on it. But I've got a Friday class, and I'm not leaving town anyway. In fact, my law student son is coming here for Spring Break. Here's the view from my front step. That's Silvio under a blanket of white.



I've got to make some deep footprints to get over to that swatch of blue in the whiteness:



It's the New York Times.

Today will be a good day to test out Silvio's "Quattro" handling:



The sculpting of Silvio's rear end leaves horizontal, no-snow slits, which seem designed for satirical effect. Can you read anything?



See?



It says "Wisconsin." And, yes, we are in Wisconsin, and we knew we were in Wisconsin without having our faces rubbed in it.



But for everyone who's been aching for Spring Break, crawling toward Spring Break, this is a reminder why we so desperately need Spring Break. Ah! Spring Break! How I love you! But first, I must prepare that last class, for the good students who did not blow it off and leave early. It is time to think not about spring, but about the market participant exception to the dormant commerce power! Surely, that will take your mind off the snow.

March 17, 2005

Did you notice the Ward Churchill reference in the new episode of "South Park"?

On last night's new episode, hippies infest South Park. First come the "giggling stoners," then the "drum circle hippies," and finally the dreaded "college know-it-all hippies," who drive up in a car that has a rear window sticker reading "University of Colorado—Boulder." The kids are trying to sell magazine subscriptions and make their pitch to the college hippies:
"Oh, wow. You guys shouldn't be doing that. Do you know what you're doing to the world?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're playing into the corporate game! See, the corporations are trying to turn you into little Eichmanns so that they can make money."

Computers in the law school classroom.

A while back I wrote about the perceived problem of students' using computers in class, especially when there's internet access. Today, there was a "Coffee and Doughnuts" session at the Law School to bat the topic around. I have a 9:30 class, so I skipped the session, but I did drop by the Faculty Library for a moment to get some coffee and had a chance to listen to a couple minutes of one student's statement. The student seemed to be saying something I expected a lot of students would say: it's the faculty's job to make the classes so fascinating that the students are not tempted to do things like check websites and email. If I had attended the session, I would have said something you would expect a faculty member to say: it's the student's responsibility to pay attention and not to distract other students. I assume this faculty viewpoint was expressed at the session, and I also assume that there were some pro-regulation types who advocated a new written policy outlining exactly what students can and can't do with their computers and some hardcore turn-off-the-damned-internet types.

But I wasn't there. If I had been there, I would have simulblogged, that is, if the damned internet was turned on in the Faculty Library.

If you were there, feel free to email me and give me some info about what was said (or send me a link if you blogged about it).

Miscellaneous fact: the doughnuts had green icing for St. Patrick's Day.

UPDATE: Sorry for the double posting before. Blogger has been horrible these last couple of days. Your post doesn't seem to go through, so you try again, and then both go through. Grrrrr.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's one description of the session.

It's St. Patrick's Day...

So: Happy Birthday, John!

The future of Blogads.

John Hawkins has an interview with Henry Copeland of Blogads.

"They're all liars!"

I just saw a clip of Robert Blake on TV. He's dramatically re-infused with life and talking like the tough guys he used to play. I wonder what we'll see of him now. Lots of interviews probably. But will people accept him as an innocent, falsely accused man or see him as a murderer on the loose? Did you hear Nancy Drake on CNN last night, scoffing at the jurors? "Who do they think killed her?" The written word cannot convey the outrage and scorn of the inimitiable Drake launching that question.

Like O.J. Simpson, he faces a civil suit, where the results are likely to be different. And Blake is so old and was so forgotten that it was hard to picture him doing anything other than slinking back into obscurity. But perhaps he's become an interesting current celebrity now. When I heard him spit "They're all liars!" I found him interesting.

"We have entered Flannery O'Connor country."

Peggy Noonan's column today reprints the entire transcript of Ashley Smith's description of her hostage experience: Noonan adds:
It is an idiot's errand to follow such testimony with commentary. It's too big. There is nothing newspaper-eloquent to say. We have entered Flannery O'Connor country, and only geniuses need apply.

Here are mere facts. They were together seven hours and each emerged transformed. He gave himself up without a fight and is now in prison. She reported to police all that had transpired, the police told the press, and now she is famous.

Tuesday evening on the news a "hostage rescue expert" explained that she "negotiated like a pro." Actually what she did is give Christian witness. It wasn't negotiation. It had to do with being human.

Noonan's absolutely right. It was so clear that the "negotiated like a pro" explanation was not at all what happened. Maybe there are some pros who can feign such things, but I doubt it. It's even hard to imagine anyone telling the story in such beautiful sentences as those in the Smith transcript at the link. Fiction writers can only hope to labor to produce lines that good.

March 16, 2005

So what's good here?

Wanting to take the new sports car out for a spin, we picked out a restaurant about a half hour out of town, in Stoughton to be exact. It was a place that has singing waiters, except on Wednesday, and perhaps because of that, there were no other customers. The waiter hands me a menu and I ask my usual question what's good here? He answers immediately and forthrightly: sauerkraut balls.

"I want to kiss your smile and feel the pain."

That's a horrible line from the group song tonight on "Amercian Idol." As the contestants take turns singing lines, we get a chance to make close comparisons, and the terribleness of Mikalah is obvious. Anthony seems pretty awful too. What's worse, though, is the way everyone sings so hard, and loses any semblance of taste, sensitivity, or soul.

Ooh, look at Bo! They've taken a flat-iron to his hair. Judging from the glassy slickness, I'd say they've used the same powerful T3 I use to crush my hair into submission.

Constantine is safe. So is Nadia. Anthony is too. Lindsey -- she's got to be in the bottom three. She is! Bo, of course, is safe. Carrie, as expected, is safe. Scott mouths a prayer as his turn comes, and he is safe. Mikalah's in the bottom three. Anwar, Jessica, Nikko, and Vonzell are left. I expect Nikko to be the last of the bottom three. Anwar is told he's safe. Oh, it's Jessica who's at the bottom. We see her elderly mom in the audience, booing loudly.

At the ad break, we see our contestants doing their first commercial. It's not so bad.

We come back to the bottom three. I note all three are white females. The only white female not in the bottom three, in fact, is Carrie. I consider this significant because there have been accusations at times that the voters don't give the black contestants as much support as they deserve.

Jessica is told she's safe, so she got up and got to sit right back down. We see elderly mom in the audience again and she's bouncing and clapping. So either Lindsey or Mikalah is going. Both richly deserve ouster.

And "America" got it right: Lindsey gets the boot.

Where are all the female bloggers?

Howard Kurtz takes up the topic in today's WaPo, where he quotes me, and makes a special appeal to women bloggers to email him "when they have a posting on media or politics that they'd like to see picked up."

Maybe women don't send out as much self-promoting email as men do. We should!

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if there are many more female bloggers than males, even though males greatly outnumber females at the top of the traffic/links charts. People blog for different reasons and in different styles. And people read blogs in different ways: it may be that readers who want political opinion have a greater tendency to converge on the conspicuous top blogs, but readers who want quirky anecdotes, wise insights, and cultural commentary may spread out over a much larger number of blogs.

Cutting remarks.

La Shawn Barber, uncharacteristically, agrees with Maureen Dowd. Dowd wrote:
While a man writing a column taking on the powerful may be seen as authoritative, a woman doing the same thing may be seen as castrating. If a man writes a scathing piece about men in power, it’s seen as his job; a woman can be cast as an emasculating man-hater.
Barber writes about a male blogger who commented on her blog: “LaShawn, as much as you preach, I wonder if you have a HUSBAND and a FAMILY??? Probably not.” She observes:
Unfortunately this sort of response is what women, married or single, have to deal with from disgruntled men. A woman with strong opinions is a shrew. If she’s unmarried, it’s because of her “preaching” (read: nagging).
She responds by cutting him off. Ha!

And, yes, it is a common thing to inform a woman who expresses strong opinions that she either needs a man to tone her down or that she will never be able to get a man. Has anyone ever said to an outspoken little boy: "No one will ever marry you"? That is what little girls hear, and it's quite crushing. To speak up, it seems, is to make personal sacrifices males are not called upon to make.

An inside look at reality fakery.

The NYT reports.
In tonight's episode [of "Wife Swap"], for example, the Oeths, a family of six, are described by the narrator as putting "success before family life" and as "high achievers who run their family like a business." In pitching the episode in a one-page memorandum to ABC, the show's producers - a British company called RDF Media, which also produces a British version - posed the following question: "Will Mrs. Oeth get in touch with her natural maternal instincts?"

In fact, Mrs. Oeth, 36, who works at an investment firm, said in a telephone interview this week that she had stayed home for five years to raise her four children, a fact the producers never share with viewers, and that she had returned to work only last year, when her husband left a high-pressure job in Manhattan.

"There is a very big element of unreality to the way they pigeonholed me," she said.

Mario's Top Ten.

"American Idol" drop-out Mario Vazquez did a "Top Ten" appearance on Letterman last night.

The Summers lesson.

Now that Harvard president Larry Summers has suffered his vote of no confidence, will anyone ever be willing to suggest that there is a biological difference between the male and female brain? (Link via Memeorandum.) Of course they will! They do it all the time. Then what is the lesson of the Summers downfall? It's that you can't hold a powerful position an institution that does not have a proportional number of women and make people feel that you are more interested in explaining away the problem than trying to solve it.

UPDATE: Quoting this post, David Wallace-Wells (in Slate) calls me a "lawyer" and "a rare voice in support of the [anti-Summers] resolution." Should we call lawprofs "lawyers"? I haven't practiced law in over twenty years. More importantly: did I write in support of the resolution? I didn't mean to, but I didn't condemn it as so many bloggers did. I'm just deriving the relevant lesson from the experience. Whether the Harvard folk are right or wrong to treat their leader the way they did, Summers surely could have done a better job of understanding and communicating with the people he meant to lead. Most bloggers, it seems to me, are focusing on too much on one aspect of the Summers controversy: the legitimacy of studying whether there is a difference, on a biological level, between male and female brains. I certainly think it is a legitimate matter of study, and I am very critical of attempts to browbeat people into towing the line and saying "gender" is entirely "socially constructed."

Railing against light rail.

P.J. O'Rourke in the WSJ:
Then there is the cost, which is--obviously--$52 billion. Less obviously, there's all the money spent locally keeping local mass transit systems operating. The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides." Heritage cites the Minneapolis "Hiawatha" light rail line, soon to be completed with $107 million from the transportation bill. Heritage estimates that the total expense for each ride on the Hiawatha will be $19. Commuting to work will cost $8,550 a year. If the commuter is earning minimum wage, this leaves about $1,000 a year for food, shelter and clothing. Or, if the city picks up the tab, it could have leased a BMW X-5 SUV for the commuter at about the same price.

No post about "American Idol"?

Regular readers might have noted my failure to post about "American Idol" last night. Sorry, I was out. Here's a picture of me out last night, chez Nina, who cooked up an amazing six course meal. Really, six courses: you can read the menu at the link. Ever go to someone's house for dinner and the menu's written out? Ever go to someone's house for dinner and have six courses, all whipped up by one person? There was champagne. We sang the birthday song. I made it home after eleven -- on a school night! -- and yet, I still sat down and watched the TiVo'd "American Idol." So I am, in fact, in a position to blog about it, as I sit here this morning, up at dawn. Why am I up at dawn? My class is not until eleven. I am up because I am up, and I have no choice about it.

So, then, how was "American Idol" last night? I don't know if my judgment was affected by watching it so late and after an evening of over-indulgence, but I thought it was awful! After all these weeks of paring it down to the final twelve, these are the twelve? Why these? They all seem woefully inadequate. No one sings in a way that I find the slightest bit appealing. Last night was 60s night, and 60s music is permanently imprinted on me as my favorite music. But they never do the 60s songs I like on "American Idol" (except that one time years ago, when Ryan Starr tried to sing "You Really Got Me").

Last night, one person did Burt Bacharach, "A House Is Not a Home" (which served only to remind me of how well Tamyra Gray sang that song back in Season One). Bo and Constantine did Blood, Sweat and Tears songs. (Must I really be forced to think once again about what the hell a spinning wheel has to do with a painted pony?)

The others? Mikalah wailed a soulless version of "Son of a Preacher Man." Anthony -- who seems to be putting a tremedous effort into bulking up and working out -- sang "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," and at least he wasn't the worse. Carrie is boring me to death, but she won praise for "knowing who she is" -- AKA staying in her box. Nikko's back and he sang that Michael Jackson "Oh, baby, give me one more chance" song, but is this really the best time to emulate Michael Jackson? Nikko's nice enough, but he represents the absence of Mario, and I want my Mario back! Vonzell did one of those Dionne Warwicke songs. Scott sang something. I forget what, but I do remember he wore a very baggy light brown suit. Anwar seemed pleasant enough, but I've forgotten his performance entirely. Lindsey was predictably horrendous. And I just don't think anyone gave a good performance. Not Nadia, not nobody.

March 15, 2005

What girls like to read.

Our Girl in Chicago loves this new feature in The Atlantic, called "Close Reads." This month, Christina Schwartz combs through a paragraph from a short story by Anne Beattie made up entirely of the details of a mother and daughter having dinner together and watching a movie. As you might expect, through the descriptions of superficial things -- like candles and M&Ms -- we gather the deeper truths about the mother and the daughter, those things they can't admit to each other or even to themselves.

Yes, I used to believe I needed to appreciate literary short stories. This is what the best people read. But I learned a while back that I never have to read that sort of thing. I can maintain full self respect and never even open a book that I think is going to be like that! Maybe you men think this is the sort of thing women read and women teachers were always trying to get you to read, but plenty of women readers want nothing to do with stories like this either!

That said, like Our Girl in Chicago, I think it's pretty cool to spend a lot of time with a single paragraph and pull all the meaning out of it. One thing I like about being a law professor is that you can fix upon a single passage and tease through the meaning word by word. Of course, I'm not trying to plumb the mysteries of the mother-daughter relationship. I'm trying to understand what the judge was saying, to speculate about what he was thinking and not saying, and to get some good ideas about how his language can be used in ways he wasn't thinking about at all.

What boys like to read.

Here's an article in The Washington Post about teaching boys and girls to read. (Via Memeorandum.) I'm wading past the blather about what's innate. Girls are better at language? Just don't say girls are worse at math and science or you'll be wandering into Larry Summers territory, and people might get so mad, they'll want to strip you of your job. Anyway:
"A lot of teachers think of reading as reading stories," said Lee Galda, professor of children's literature at the University of Minnesota. "And in fact, a lot of boys, and not just boys, like nonfiction. But we keep concentrating on novels or short stories and sometimes don't think of reading nonfiction as reading. But in fact it is, and it is extremely important."

Teachers and parents have said boys generally prefer stories with adventure, suspense and fantasy and tend toward reading nonfiction stories and non-narrative informational books, as well as magazines and newspapers.

Maybe it would be easier to say that everyone wants to read what interests them and quite properly rebels at being told what to read. (Maybe boys just rebel more conspicuously than girls.)

It's one thing for the biology teacher to insist that you read a biology book, but if teachers are just trying to get kids to read, why shouldn't they provide a broad selection and give kids a chance to discover what they find interesting? It looks as though the biggest problem is that teachers are pushing too much literary fiction on kids. English teachers tend to be people who enjoy that sort of thing, but most people don't read it on their own. Why should we have an appetite for stories? And why should our appetite for stories be about elegantly described characters and their relationships (as opposed to adventure and fantasy)?

I used to take my sons to the bookstore and let them find whatever they were interested in. We used to hang out at Borders nearly every day, and I usually ended up buying a book or two. What did they want? Humor, especially in comic form (like "Life in Hell"). Collections of amazing science facts and other things that did not have to be read in linear fashion. (This was a big favorite.) Books about movies and music and other subjects they were interested in.

The Post article links to this website aimed getting "guys" to read. Is this website designed for some sort of male hard-wired brain phenomenon? Because I found it unbelievably irritating! Somehow I suspect males will find it damned irritating too.

Ideological disagreement and the "disruptive" student.

The Daily Cardinal's reports on a problem that arose in a seminar here at the UW:
The principles of appropriate classroom behavior and intellectual diversity recently collided in Professor Scott Straus' Politics of Human Rights seminar, resulting in an angry and frustrated class, a student alleging professor incompetence and the student being forced to meet with an assistant dean of students.

Controversy arose when UW-Madison senior Joe McWilliams repeatedly questioned Straus during class.

Straus and other students in the class claim McWilliams' questioning of the professor was off-topic and combative, while McWilliams maintains his questions were not off-topic and his behavior was appropriate.

After several classes where McWilliams spoke out in what the professor and other students deemed an inappropriate manner, Professor Straus brought the issue to the Dean of Students Office, which sent McWilliams a letter requesting a meeting and mentioning possible suspension or expulsion.

"The tone he was setting was having a detrimental effect on the class. He was, in my view, interfering with my ability to teach the class," Straus said.

McWilliams feels the professor targeted him because of his outspoken nature and political views.

"To receive a disciplinary letter from the professor and the assistant dean of students-I felt that was me being singled out for having a belief system which was inconsistent with [Straus]'s conformist liberal view," he said.
It's incredibly difficult to figure out what actually occurred. How disruptive was the student? Was he treated in a manner proportional to his disruptiveness or was he treated more harshly because of his ideological disagreement with the teacher and the other students?

Perhaps it's impossible to conceive of a student who ideologically agreed with the teacher and other students but was somehow also equally disruptive. Can you disaggregate the student's disruptiveness from his being out of step with the rest of the class? Should the teacher need to actively accommodate a range of views so that a student with ideological disagreements will not seem so disruptive? Is it acceptable for a teacher -- I'm not saying Straus did this -- to establish an ideological norm that makes raising other points of view seem to be dragging the class off topic and ruining the organization to the detriment of the other students? And if a student really does have a problem understanding his role in a seminar, is it overkill to involve the Dean of Students and to mention sanctions like expulsion?

UPDATE: Note that the Daily Cardinal has expressed regret that the headline for the article was misleading. I was drawn to the article by the headline, and noticed that the material in the article didn't support the headline. I also know that letters supporting Professor Straus have been sent to the Cardinal, including a letter from students in the seminar who strongly deny that there was any repression of viewpoints.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Cardinal publishes the letter sent by the students.

Ashley Smith and "The Purpose-Driven Life."

Here's the NYT account of how Ashley Smith used "The Purpose-Driven Life" to move murder suspect Brian Nichols to surrender:
Speaking to reporters in her lawyer's office in Atlanta on Sunday, Ms. Smith said that while Mr. Nichols held her hostage, she asked if she could read. He consented, and she fetched "The Purpose-Driven Life" from her bedroom.

"I turned it to the chapter that I was on that day," Ms. Smith said, according to a transcript posted by CNN.com. "It was Chapter 33. And I started to read the first paragraph of it. After I read it, he said, 'Stop, will you read it again?' "

Chapter 33 is titled "How Real Servants Act." "It mentioned something about what you thought your purpose in life was," she said. "What were you - what talents were you given? What gifts were you given to use? And I asked him what he thought. And he said, 'I think it was to talk to people and tell them about you.' "

Later, she added, "After we began to talk, he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God. And that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ. And that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot people."

(By the way, I'm glad that someone like this knows to have a lawyer!)

Nichols, I assume, must believe very deeply in his purpose by now, because so many people have now, through him, learned of Smith and her highly effective book.
It was the fifth-biggest seller last year at Barnes & Noble stores around the country, and though it had recently ranked about No. 50 on Amazon.com's hourly list of best sellers, by early yesterday evening, after Ms. Smith's comments received widespread publicity, the book jumped back into Amazon's top five.

It's currently up to #2 on Amazon. While huge numbers of people were already devoted to the book, many more are hearing about it now and feeling motivated to read it after seeing Ashley Smith on television yesterday.

Scalia's latest speech.

Here's a recap of a speech Justice Scalia gave yesterday. (Via Memeorandum.) I saw this on C-Span last night. It was his usual material, given some new oomph by the new death penalty case.
Scalia said increased politics on the court will create a bitter nomination fight for the next Supreme Court appointee, since judges are now more concerned with promoting their personal policy preferences rather than interpreting the law.

"If we're picking people to draw out of their own conscience and experience a 'new' Constitution, we should not look principally for good lawyers. We should look to people who agree with us," he said, explaining that's why senators increasingly probe nominees for their personal views on positions such as abortion.

He traces the "notion of a living Constitution" to the Warren Court, and specifically to Earl Warren:
"You have a chief justice who was a governor, a policy-maker, who approached the law with that frame of mind. Once you have a leader with that mentality, it's hard not to follow," Scalia said, in response to a question from the audience.

When I teach Constitutional Law, I trace the notion of a living Constitution to McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). I thought all conlawprofs did.

March 14, 2005

"Our faith is not based on buildings, it's based on Christ."

A beautiful 150-year-old church here in Madison -- St. Raphael's -- suffers a horrible fire.

Music to read by.

I am getting a great response to the request I made yesterday for suggestions what to load into my iPod Shuffle, which I want solely for the purpose of screening out annoying room noise so I can maintain my concentration to read and study. That is, I don't want to be distracted by the music, but I don't want to be listening to crap either. Anyway, crap would annoy me, so it would be distracting. I'm going to post a list of suggestions later -- so keep suggesting things -- but I wanted to make a few observations while they're fresh in my mind.

First, I'm amazed by how many people have suggested Brian Eno's ambient music, especially "Music for Airports." And unfortunately, Amazon does not have it for sale new and it isn't in the iTunes music store. (Note: I'm not trying to prompt people to mail me sound files. Please, don't.) [UPDATE: Now, for some reason, I'm finding it on Amazon: here.]

Second, though some have recommended classical music, one person warned against classical music, saying:
Do not be fooled by anyone claiming to have a list of classical pieces that foster easy reading. Classical music is so complex and interesting that it claims your full attention. You will be too busy wondering what's going to happen next musically to devote any of your brain to your reading.

I think this is absolutely right. I bought a CD of the supposedly "relaxing" classical music for my work computer to screen out noise, and it is distracting. For years, I relied on this CD of much older music and found it very helpful. The emailer that warned me off classical music recommended mediaeval chants.

Third, many people have recommended film various film soundtracks -- I'll name some later -- and I think one reason many of these are good is that they are similar to classical music, but much less likely to be distractingly interesting, surprising, and complex.

Malkin on Dowd.

Michelle Malkin has a post about yesterday's Maureen Dowd column. Dowd was encouraging women to dish out some harsh opinions, and Malkin does: she lets Dowd have it.

Malkin ends her post by linking to a bunch of female bloggers, under various headings. She includes me. Thanks! I'm under the heading "Center and left" – I hope all my left wing friends notice.

(My post on Dowd's column is here.)

"A few of the banners cemented the theme of unity by displaying both a cross and a crescent."

The immense demonstration today in Lebanon.
"Who is going to fight who? All the factions are here."Indeed, the mix of demonstrators was readily apparent in the mix of dress codes, from veiled women to horsemen in traditional Arab headscarves to women with bare midriffs and pierced belly buttons. A few of the banners cemented the theme of unity by displaying both a cross and a crescent.

Many of the banners displayed a certain degree of wit: "Long Live the Syrians in Syria," one said.

The demonstrators have adopted blue as the color demanding the truth from the investigation into Mr. Hariri's assassination and two long blue scarves were draped around the neck of the two main figures in the famous statue on Martyrs Square, the blue cloth occasionally lifting in the slight breeze under sunny skies.

"I feel a certain kind of grandeur today," said Tarek Hamade, the chef at the rooftop Virgin Restaurant that overlooks the entire square. "The Lebanese people are finally saying what they wanted to say for years, and they are saying it out loud."

So the color is blue now? Beautiful!

A "vast and sterile desert" growing "astonishingly idiotic" men.

Think we have a problem with the French? They've been hating us for a long time. But what about Tocqueville? They thought he was presenting a "sugar-coated America."

Meanwhile, President Bush is trying to make the French like us by quoting the old sugar-coater.

The good news from Iraq.

Arthur Chrenkoff in the WSJ rounds up the good news from Iraq, including the amazing story of a man who'd been working as a dentist in England for 20 years, made a trip to Iraq to check up on some relatives, and ended up as the governor in one of the insurgent-ridden provinces.
Abdallah Al Jibouri ... had originally planned merely to check up on his elderly mother when he visited his home town of Muqtadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, shortly after Saddam Hussein's fall. His Mancunian-accented English, however, ensured that he was pressed into service as unofficial negotiator between American troops and Iraqis, who elected him mayor.

Much to his astonishment--and, he says, to the dismay of his British wife, Sharon--he also became governor of the province of Diyala, whose population is 1.8 million.

Local insurgents have paid his leadership the ultimate backhanded compliment: they have tried to kill him 14 times, and have put a $10,000 bounty on his head. "I came for a visit two weeks after the liberation because I have got my mum and other family here," said Mr Al Jibouri. "I just wanted to make sure that they were all right. But I found the whole place was really a mess, with weapons everywhere, even little kids with machine guns.

"I began talking to the local sheiks and the US army and we hired some police. I thought I'd go home then but they said, 'No, you've got to stay and help us.' Of course it's dangerous, and the wife back in Manchester worries, but there are a lot of good people out here and they are worth it."
Many more stories at the WSJ link.

Will the NYT cut off free access to its site?

The NYT contemplates charging for on-line access. Does this affect me? I've subscribed to the paper version for decades and have never considered giving it up and only reading on line. I see things in the paper copy that I would never find clicking around on the website. I like the real thing, the tactile reality of the newspaper spread out on the dining room table. But yes, it would affect me a lot, because reading the Times in the morning is the basis of blogging for me. I read and find things I want to talk about and then go to the website for the links. What a loss it would be if I couldn't link to the Times stories! I guess I would find what I wanted to write about by reading the NYT, then go on line and Google for a URL to some other news site so I could give my readers a link.

So don't do it, NYT! I know you're losing revenue, but I'd always heard the revenue was in the ads, and that the paper subscribers were only covering the cost of printing and paper and delivery. If that's true, the website should be free. But quite aside from that, the website needs to be free or the audience will slip away. I'd like to see you go further in the direction of free and make the archives available and Google-able. Then go to town with the ads.

God, family, pancakes.

How Ashley Smith, taken hostage, talked Brian Nichols, the man accused in the Atlanta courthouse murders, into surrendering peacefully:
"You're here in my apartment for some reason," she told him, saying he might be destined to be caught and to spread the word of God to fellow prisoners. She told him his escape from authorities had been a "miracle."...

[S]he said she told Nichols that her husband died four years ago and if he hurt her, her little girl wouldn't have a mother or father. Smith's attorney, Josh Archer, said her husband died in her arms after being stabbed.

The two talked about the Bible and she handed him photos of her family. When morning came, Nichols was "overwhelmed" when Smith made him pancakes with real butter, she said. He told her he "just wanted some normalness to his life," she said.

I expect a book and a movie about Smith soon enough, but for now, I'm sending out waves of admiration to the woman. Like Uli Derickson, she had the presence of mind and the inner resources to respond brilliantly to an irrational, desperate man. To think that her husband, murdered, died in her arms! She must have processed that shocking event through her religious beliefs and come to a place in her mind where she could speak calmly and directly to Nichols.

March 13, 2005

"Titanic."

Have you been waiting for a deluxe DVD of "Titantic"? Chez Althouse, we have.

Why I ordered an iPod shuffle.

I've never wanted an iPod, because I'm really not that interested in listening to music, other than in my car, where I'm quite happy with the satellite radio. But I often want to read or work in a café, and though I usually don't want to cut myself off from the sound of the room -- I'm happy hearing voices and the piped in music -- sometimes I totally lose my concentration. It's partly the effect of caffeine, which unlocks the door of irritability, but it takes something more -- either the music or the people -- to make me want to insulate myself. What kind of music? Well, maybe something really happy and peppy with trumpets. I glance over to the baristas with my are-you-kidding look, but they never respond in the sorry-what-were-we-thinking way I'm hoping for. What kind of people? Well, maybe the café is nearly empty, but there's one table of six that keeps laughing a lot and squealing. Anyway, I don't need a regular iPod with a meticulously assembled music collection to fiddle with. I just want an iPod Shuffle to load up with music that facilitates reading.

If readers send me their ideas for music that most helps a person concentrate on reading, I'll do an update and list some things. I have several requirements. It can't have a persistent beat, blaring brass, or any singing in English. It can't be bombastic or annoying in any way. I'm aware of the collections like "Music to Read By" or whatever, so no need to tell me about those. And no need to tell me about some really intrusive music that you somehow find helpful. I'm soliciting suggestions of high quality, specific pieces that would help an ordinary person maintain the concentration to read or study.

Mario's gone.

Mario Vazquez, my -- and a lot of other people's -- favorite contestant on this season's "American Idol" has withdrawn from the show. We don't know why. On the Television Without Pity forum someone linked to this article as part of the speculation.

On the up side, the contestant they brought back is Nikko.

Worrying about the skyline.

Madison is one of these cities with a big, old central landmark that makes preservationists want to control the entire skyline. (The same people tend to object to sprawl too: these urban values are hard to keep straight!) I love the look of the state capitol building, and the many clear views of it from all around Madison are nice, but really, shouldn't we have some tall buildings? There are many magnificent views to be had from higher levels, and the skyline could use more than one spike.

So consider this new proposal.
Developer Curt Brink is proposing the most ambitious building project in Madison history.

The $250 million Archipelago Village would be the city's tallest, biggest and most costly private development ever....

The 27-story, 570-foot-tall building - twice as tall as the state Capitol - would be the second highest tower in the state and would provide a staggering 1.4 million square feet of commercial space on the old Mautz Paint site and other properties on the 900 block of East Washington Avenue. The development would shatter sacred city and state laws that limit building height to 187.2 feet within one mile of the Capitol. Those rules are designed to preserve views of the Capitol. The proposal is expected to ignite intense debate on how the city should grow as its boundaries reach their limits for expansion...

The project, featuring varied rooflines meant to look like buildings built over time, would include two hotels, 600,000 square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail space, condos, a grocery, health club, perhaps a water park and 3,200 parking spaces.

It would also have a six- story, football-field-size atrium surrounded by stores and restaurants and crossed by wide footbridges where people could linger, eat or socialize...

Early reaction has been a mix of awe, along with praise for offering life to a dormant block, skepticism about Brink's capacity to pull it off, and concern about the height, mass and location....

Brink said he has thought deeply about bringing life and style to the site. He said he is influenced by the architecture of Stockholm, Sweden, and Central Park West in New York City....

The architecture, with varied heights, allows for dynamic, stylish rooftops and outdoor balconies and spaces unique vistas, Brink said.

The 570-foot-tall office- condo tower far exceeds city and state height laws, but it may be time for the city to choose places to grow up and enhance its bland skyline, which resembles a flat-topped cake from a distance, he said....
I love the idea. The building looks great, and would be set in a part of downtown that looks pretty dismal at the moment. And about that retail space: it's really time for Madison to have an upscale mall. As it is, people who want to shop at high end stores are forced to take their money out of town. The malls we currently have are depressingly utilitarian. We need more entertaining shopping in this town!

UPDATE: For an example of showing no respect for the state capitol in the skyline, look here.

"The Jeffersons" remade in Chile.

The LA Times reports:
"Los Galindo" [is] based on a show whose all-American pedigree and barbed, race-based humor would seem hard to transfer to another culture. Set in a Bel-Air-like district of this smog-choked capital city, "Los Galindo" echoes the premise of "The Jeffersons," in which a nouveau riche African American clan moved to a "de-luxe apartment" on Manhattan's Upper East Side and embarked on a swanky new lifestyle....

The Galindos don't belong to an ethnic minority, but they do represent a relatively new element in Chilean society: the self-made, middle-class urbanites who've embraced free-market values with a vengeance since the 1990 ouster of Chile's longtime dictator-President Augusto Pinochet. Their ascent is shaking up the social and economic status quo, much to the chagrin of the old-guard moneyed elite. Which may help explain why "Los Galindo," in only its first season, is expected to garner a ratings share of at least 25% when figures are announced Monday, which would make it one of Chile's top-rated TV shows.

Living without a beating heart.

Did you know that was possible? There are three people in the world known to be living with a still heart! Somehow the blood vessels themselves are able to pump blood. Or maybe this story is false.

Did Russert extract an absolute "no" from Condoleezza Rice?

On "Meet the Press," just now, Tim Russert confronted Condoleezza Rice with the question whether she would run for President. First, he showed her pictures of several American Presidents and asked her what they all had in common. She didn't know, and he informed her tha they were all Secretaries of State. He then displayed a Condoleezza Rice for President website and played her a cheesy Condoleezza for President song. He asked her if she'll run, and she saed she doesn't "have any desire" to run. "Desire or intention?" He asked. "Both," she answered.

He showed her the Sherman statement -- "If nominated, I will not accept. If elected, I will not serve." -- the classic, absolute way to say you're not running. She responded with another statement of not "wanting" to run, so we think, "Aha! She will run!" Russert prompted, "I will not run." And she said, "I will not run." But then she went back to "do not want" and "do not intend" formulations, so I was thinking, she's backing off from "will." Russert -- he's good! --swooped in with, "Shermanesque statement?" She threw her right hand up in the air and, with a big smile, said, "Shermanesque statement." He said, "You're done? You're out?" And she said, "I'm done." He concluded: "Here's news!"

Despair! But what's this? Does she back off?
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who just said she will never run for president, correct?

DR. RICE: Tim, why do you keep pressing me to make these statements?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, because if you're secretary of state, will it affect your ability...

DR. RICE: I don't want to run for president of United States. I have no intention of doing so. I don't think I will be president of the United States ever. Is that good enough?

MR. RUSSERT: And you will never run?

DR. RICE: I don't intend to run.

MR. RUSSERT: But it's different.

DR. RICE: I won't run.

MR. RUSSERT: Oh, we got it.

DR. RICE: All right. There you go.

MR. RUSSERT: Thanks very much.
So, is that supposed to be it? I think not. I can still see her saying, at some later date: "When I said 'I won't run,' I meant it. I had no intention to run. But since that time..." As Secretary of State, she can't be openly running for President, at least not now. She's got to distance herself from the whole idea, even if crafty newsmen like Russert push and push and quote Sherman.

Don't despair Condi for President people!

UPDATE: Nina addresses this dialogue and says, "she was side-stepping the issue of the presidency by focusing on the act of running for that office," and cites on Condi's potential as a VP candidate. Possibly. But what "focusing on the act of running for that office" makes me think, is that she may not run -- it's hard to as Secretary of State -- but she will accept being drafted. That's inconsistent with the Sherman statement, I know, but still.

Some Bjork views.

Bjork on Michel Gondry directing Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind":
"Michel did a great work there. He gave Kate ... who's obviously such a huge spirit, such a vivacious lady, so much space. Usually when you see females in movies, they feel like they have these metallic structures around them, they are caged in by male energy. But she could be at her full volume without restrictions."

The interviewer adds the inference: "A contrast, one senses with [Lars] von Trier, who loves brutalising his actresses."

Bjork on fashion:
She would never wear jeans and a T-shirt, she says, because they are "a symbol of white American imperialism, like drinking Coca-Cola."

Jeez, being political is a lot of work!

Bjork on why people responded so generously to the tsunami disaster:
"I think because it happened just a month after the Bush election, it made people think they really had a say in rebuilding things, that they could make a difference. For the first time since the Vietnam War there seems a universal feeling among common people that they don't agree with the people who are ruling the world."

Bjork on feminism:
"It's incredible how nature sets females up to take care of people, and yet it is tricky for them to take care of themselves." Slightly to her astonishment she is becoming interested in women's rights. Because of her mother's own militancy - "she wouldn't enter the kitchen, I mean come on" - she reacted the other way, adoring housework, knitting and sewing.

''This isn't hair, these are nerve ends.''

So said Phyllis Diller, long ago. Now she's got a memoir, and it's reviewed here by the always interesting Jane and Michael Stern.

Religion and capitalism.

Francis Fukuyama writes about Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," written 100 years ago:
Religion, according to Weber, was not an ideology produced by economic interests (the ''opiate of the masses,'' as Marx had put it); rather, it was what had made the modern capitalist world possible. In the present decade, when cultures seem to be clashing and religion is frequently blamed for the failures of modernization and democracy in the Muslim world, Weber's book and ideas deserve a fresh look....

Weber argues that in the modern world, the work ethic has become detached from the religious passions that gave birth to it, and that it now is part of rational, science-based capitalism. Values for Weber do not arise rationally, but out of the kind of human creativity that originally inspired the great world religions. Their ultimate source, he believed, lay in what he labeled ''charismatic authority'' -- in the original Greek meaning of ''touched by God.'' The modern world, he said, has seen this type of authority give way to a bureaucratic-rational form that deadens the human spirit (producing what he called an ''iron cage'') even as it has made the world peaceful and prosperous. Modernity is still haunted by ''the ghost of dead religious beliefs,'' but has largely been emptied of authentic spirituality. This was especially true, Weber believed, in the United States, where ''the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions.''

Sounds terrible, but what happened in the 100 years after Weber made the observation? Read the essay, which questions whether "living in the iron cage of modern rationalism is such a terrible thing after all."

"Obscene opulence" comes back to haunt you.

Bingu wa Mutharika, the president of impoverished Malawi, can no longer sleep in the opulent 300-room presidential palace.
"The president is no longer staying there and we have asked clerics from several Christian churches... to pray for the New State House to exorcise evil spirits," said Malani Mtonga, the presidential aide for religious affairs.

Another aide who did not want to be named told the Associated Press: "Sometimes the president feels rodents crawling all over his body but when lights are turned on he sees nothing."