April 23, 2005

Shopping.

Nina has a nice post commemorating our shopping trip today, complete with photos of: the black Corvette that passed us, cute kids at the Apple Store children's table, and the two of us as photographed by a really nice digital movie camera at the Sony Store. By the way, I don't agree with her interpretation of the mentality of the man in the Corvette. I think he just wanted to hang around with another cool car. Nina was convinced the car looked "like a gun." In the Sony Store picture, you can see the carrying case I bought for my laptop. It's orange with three-dimensional dots!

Disappearing.

A blank page seems to have replaced my blog. Maybe a new post will cure things. I hope.

UPDATE: Well, the second time it worked. What the hell was that? That was a real damn-you-Blogger experience. I'm really trying to stand by Blogger and believe in the long run, it will be the best. I know if I went somewhere else, it wouldn't be perfect either. But, jeez, that was unnerving!

Disappearing.

Disturbingly, when I try to go to my blog right now, I get nothing but a blank. Somehow, I'm thinking publishing a post will cure the problem, so here goes.

The "right" to change the Pledge?

Tyler Cowen asks if a teacher has "the right to change the Pledge of Allegiance." As The Washington Times reports:
The students in Vincent Pulciani's seventh-grade class were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance this week when they heard the voice over the intercom say something they'd never heard before, at least not during the Pledge.

Instead of "one nation, under God," the voice said, "one nation, under your belief system."
It wasn't a classroom teacher, it was an intercom voice that was changing the words.

If a teacher in class had changed the words as a classroom exercise, it would be very different, and better, really than leading the class in a rote incantation. But then I'd want to have a debate in which the students could participate. Here's what I'm picturing:
TEACHER: Not everyone believes in God, so when we say the Pledge today, let's change "one nation, under God" to "one nation, under your belief system."

STUDENT #1: That sounds kind of awkward and ugly, and anyway, why are we standing and saying a pledge together if the words aren't about a shared belief? Why don't we just stand and say "I pledge allegiance to my personal individuality as a human being in the world"?

STUDENT #2: Also "under your belief system"? Is that even good English? Why am I pledging to your belief system and not my belief system?

STUDENT #3: Well, what if my belief system is Communism? The United States isn't under that!

TEACHER: You all raise very good points. My idea was to be more inclusive, but I can see I've introduced some new problems. Actually, I'm pretty impressed by the way you figured out those problems.

STUDENT #1: Yes, maybe we could spend more time in school figuring out problems instead of saying pledges.

STUDENT #2: If we didn't try to do these individuality-crushing mass exercises, the whole problem of "inclusiveness" wouldn't even come up.

STUDENT #3: Why don't we spend more time studying what the flag actually stands for? It would be a better use of your time too.

TEACHER: Of course, that would be best for all of us... Why don't we have a little discussion about why you think government officials want us to use class time to say this pledge every day?

Oh, that's just what I dream school could be like! But really why are we talking about whether a teacher has a "right" to change the Pledge, and not whether a teacher has a right not to have a disembodied intercom voice intrude on the class with a rote exercise?

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has some good wisecracks.

Readability.

Stephen Bainbridge and Gordon Smith are fooling around with a website that purports to calculate the readability of your webpage. Gordon is especially fascinated by two quite different scores, both of which purport to represent how many years of schooling one would need to read his writing. Steve seems to assume that a smarter person writes harder-to-read prose -- which would put Kevin Drum on an unusually high level. [UPDATE: Steve's only kidding.]

But if you read how the calculations are done, you'll see it's all about the length of your words and sentences. So a person who likes to start a new sentence with "and" or "but," instead of going with a comma when there's an independent clause, will get a lower grade level score. So will a person who follows Strunk and White and chooses Anglo Saxon rather than Latin-derived words. I'd say you're probably writing better if you end up with a lower grade-level score.

These simplistic calculations don't encompass enough factors to really tell us how hard or easy it is to read someone's prose. Mark Twain scores lower than Reader's Digest in one calculation, because, I'm guessing, he likes to insert periods, spices things up with some very short sentences, and edits out stuffy polysyllabic words. But I'll bet you can skim through Reader's Digest faster, because there aren't so many surprising observations.

The real question is how sophisticated your ideas are. If you are saying simple things in convoluted prose, you're a terrible writer who doesn't deserve to be read. Point me to the writer -- like Mark Twain -- who's saying striking, new things in clear prose! Blogs, especially, should be easy to read. But blog posts should contribute something new to the mix. Do you seriously think you're doing a better job if you're writing something harder to read? Don't you think Mark Twain worked over his prose to make it readable?

Frankly, I'm disgusted by the atrocious writing I have to read every day as part of my job. Frequently, reading judicial decisions and law review articles, I struggle to get the point, I take the time to decode the eye-glazing verbiage, and when I get it translated into plain English, I see it's a pretty simple point. This kind of writing is a product of laziness, the lack of genuinely interesting ideas, a careerist effort to seem smart and high-level, and a selfish lack of consideration for the reader.

UPDATE: Sissy Willis agrees with me and is nice enough to point out that my post is easy to read and adds something to the mix -- which is the standard I set for blogs. Also, people seem to be assuming that these calculations are something new, but I can remember when a grammar check on Microsoft Word ended with these numbers. And there's another problem with assessing a blogger's writing this way: a good portion of the writing on a blog is in the quotes. I'd like to see my numbers with the quotes excluded: a lot of the fusty writing is in the quotes.

Theater reviews that make you very nervous.

Here's a correction in today's NYT:
A theater review in Weekend yesterday about "The Beauty Inside," by Catherine Filloux, about a 14-year-old Turkish girl whose brothers try to kill her after she is raped, said that music used in the play, composed by Elizabeth Swados, harmonizes the rapist's sexual moans with the sound of prayer from a minaret. No sound of prayer is used in the play. The article should have made it clear that this was the reviewer's interpretation of the sound.

Did Moussaoui admit to being part of the 9/11 conspiracy?

He tried not to:
He said that despite his guilty plea he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Instead, he said, he had been planning to participate in a separate undisclosed plot to fly a plane into the White House at a different time....

"I am guilty of a broad conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction to destroy the White House," he said, offering a new account of his role in plots that is at odds with the different versions government prosecutors have put forward.

Speaking with a heavy French accent, Mr. Moussaoui said there was nothing in the indictment or the fact sheet to which he assented that demonstrated that he was supposed to participate in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You can't point to me and say that Moussaoui came to U.S. to participate in 9/11," he said.

He told the court he felt it was important to emphasize that he had not admitted any connection with the Sept. 11 attacks because that would increase the pressure for his execution "when the government brings victim statements to court."

He tried not to admit to being part of the 9/11 conspiracy, but he didn't succeed. We use the date 9/11 as shorthand for the attacks that took place, because they happened to occur on one day, but that doesn't mean that attacks planned for a different day were a different conspiracy. He's admitted to being part of a conspiracy to attack buildings with planes, and it appears to be one large conspiracy, which was planned to take place over the course of more than one day. The conspiracy was stopped, so the additional events didn't take place, but if there is one conspiracy, he is responsible for all the acts of the co-conspirators, and he has admitted to being responsible for everything that took place on 9/11!

That's the position of the U.S. government:
[Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales and other officials also noted that the statement of facts signed by Mr. Moussaoui included an admission that he "knew of Al Qaeda's plan to fly airplanes into prominent buildings, and he agreed to travel to the United States to participate in the plan."

The statement also said that Osama bin Laden "personally selected Moussaoui to participate in the operation to fly planes into American buildings and approved Moussaoui's attacking the White House. Bin Laden told Moussaoui, 'Sahrawi, remember your dream.'"
That's one conspiracy. I can't believe Moussaoui won't get the death penalty for that. Moussaoui said in court that he'd fight against the death sentence, but as he left the courtroom he shouted: "Allah akhbar! God curse America!"

April 22, 2005

Senator Feingold lectures at the Law School.

The topic: "Upholding an Oath to the Constitution: A Legislator's Responsibilities." Russ Feingold spoke about his devotion to the oath he took as a senator to uphold the Constitution and the second oath he took for the Clinton impeachment trial. Feingold was the only Democratic senator to vote against the motion to dismiss the impeachment. He applied a legal standard to the motion and had to vote the way he did because he could not say that there was no chance of proving the charges against the President. Democratic senators admitted to him in private that he was right. "It was a vote where I tried to move beyond partisanship."

Feingold talked about his campaign finance reform law, which he cared about because he was "tired" of hearing that politics was "about money, not ideas." He reminisced about the court case, challenging the constitutionality of the law, and described sitting through a nine-hour deposition conducted by the great First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams. Abrams began his questioning praising Feingold to his face for his reputation for upholding the Constitution. As Feingold put it later in the question session, Abrams spent the nine hours "trying to confuse me." I'd say the praise that he started off with was a deliberate effort to unnerve the senator. Feingold could hold his ground, he thought, because he believed his position was consistent with his oath to protect the Constitution, because "we spent a great deal of time crafting that bill" to avoid constitutional violations. He respected the Supreme Court's precedent on campaign finance regulation, even to the point of regretting a vote he had cast early on in his career about amending the Constitution to overrule Buckley v. Valeo. The First Amendment should not be diminished, he thought, even by the amendment process.

He spoke about the Patriot Act and his anguish at the speed with which it was pushed through the Senate, beginning with a closed door hearing on October 3, 2001. After Feingold voiced his civil liberties concerns, Attorney General John Ashcroft telephoned him, and, in that conversation, Ashcroft, according to Feingold, agreed that Feingold had raised many reasonable concerns, but that he still wanted his support. Later, according to Feingold, "the White House overruled Ashcroft."

[NOTE: The remainder of this post is an attempt at reconstruction of text that disappeared mysteriously on April 23, 2005. To do the reconstruction, I went back to my handwritten notes and also used two paragraphs that were quoted on Instapundit.]

Feingold objected to this sort of "legislation on the fly." Many members of Congress admitted to him that they had not read the text of the Patriot Act. A procedure was adopted that barred amendments, and the text had not gone through the Judiciary Committee, so there had been no chance to call attention to constitutional problems. Feingold decided to oppose unanimous consent because he "felt he had no choice" and he needed to uphold his oath to the Constitution. He described a difficult conversation he had on the floor of the Senate with Tom Daschle as "suffocating. " Feingold offered his amendments, and Daschle oppposed him, in what Feingold called a "frightening scene." With deep disapproval, Feingold quoted Daschle as saying "My argument is not substantive, it's procedural."

In his work on the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold said he votes against amending the Constitution. He thinks it is better to craft legislation so that it is constitutional (as in the case of campaign finance reform) or simply to reject the amendment as not important enough (as with flag burning).

He ended his speech with the observation that it has been complex to keep his oath to uphold the Constitution and that he has "struggled constantly to get it right."

He took a few questions from the audience. The first was from Professor Alan Weisbard, who asked if a legislator has a duty to interpret the Constitution independently from the courts. Feingold said that there was an obligation not to pass the law if it was clearly unconstitutional, but that he didn't need to be certain or to predict what the Court would say. He could vote for the law as long as he had a good faith belief it would be upheld. "The presumption is it's constitutional unless somebody tells me it really can't fly." This seemed odd to me and made me rethink his opposition to the Patriot Act. Where was the presumption? Must it not be that he opposed the Patriot Act as a matter of policy?

My colleague Jim Jones asked him what he does if he's convinced the Supreme Court has gotten a decision wrong. Feingold said he tries to craft the legislation to avoid the constitutional problems and that he also looks to elections to change who is on the Court. Feingold seemed to be thinking again of the campaign finance reform law, which I don't think was what Jones had it mind. Jones was, I think, concerned about the perniciously wrong cases, like Plessy v. Ferguson. With some more prodding, Feingold said he said he believes the cases that permit the death penalty are wrong, but that the new death penalty case (making it unconstitutional to execute a person who committed his crime as a juvenile) is an "exciting example of how the Constitution can evolve." Jones, still not satisfied, asked whether he was just counting the Justices' votes, and Feingold said he mostly had to accept that they are right, for example, with the Line Item Veto case. "I respected it ... that's the normal situation," he said, but he acknowledged that there are "extreme situations" he'd treat differently. He then joked that this really was like being back in law school, which drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Russ Feingold

I would never have said this out loud, but I couldn't help thinking how interesting it was that Feingold shaped his whole lecture around the sanctity of the oath, when just a few days ago he announced that he was getting a divorce, his second. Was I the only one who thought how strange it was to hear a man piously invoke a passionate fidelity to an oath when he had -- so conspicuously -- gone back on the marriage oath twice?

But I like Senator Feingold. I do think he's a good man. I don't presume to know what happens to people in their marriages, and I am divorced myself. Nevertheless, he could have discussed his devotion to the Constitution from some perspective other than the fact that he'd sworn an oath. Taking an oath to the Constitution, after all, is not the strongest reason to support it.

UPDATE: Many of the commenters think it isn't fair for me to compare marriage vows and the oath to support the Constitution. And one commenter asks the interesting question: "What on earth can account for the view that amending the constitution is wrong but that allowing the constitution to 'evolve' under the watch of political judges (with no Constitutional basis for this evolution) is preferable." Here's the answer I give in the comments:
Thanks for making me think about that! There really is an answer. The idea is that it's terrible to amend the Constitution because you're taking away something that's there. We've been revering the First Amendment (to take the prominent example) all this time, and it would be unseemly to use political power to remove it as an obstacle. But if a court would just say, that obstacle you imagine really doesn't exist, then you haven't wielded political power against the revered document. Of course, [Feingold] still supports using political power to stock the courts with people who will perceive the evolution he wants them to perceive. It all just works so much better if you can get a judge to do it for you. Plus it is very hard to amend the Constitution, so if you try, you'll probably fail, and your enemies will rake you over the coals the whole time -- for wanting to change the Constitution. Acting through the courts is so much more politically palatable. And the beauty of it is that you can continue to lavish praise on yourself for your devotion to the Constitution.

The Earth Day march.

I heard the drumbeat of a student protest march, so I grabbed my camera and stood on my office sofa to catch these shots of an Earth Day march:

Earth Day March.

Earth Day March.

Note the position of the first bicycle, which appears in both photos, to gauge the size of the march.

The chant was: "Hey hey, ho ho, burning coal has got to go."

The sniffing dog.

I spent the early afternoon in the faculty library, participating in a workshop on a paper on democratic theory, written by one of my colleagues. Midway through the workshop, we were politely interrupted by security people who told us they needed to bring through the sniffing dog. We kept our discussion going while the big, leashed German shepherd loudly huffed around the periphery of the room.

What's the security occasion? Russ Feingold is giving a lecture today at 4. I'll attend and take notes (and maybe photos) and will probably come up with something bloggable.

Not incredibly outrageous.

Justices O'Connor, Scalia, and Breyer took part in another one of those discussions about whether it's okay -- or "incredibly outrageous" -- for judges to refer to foreign law. We've already heard plenty from Scalia and Breyer on the subject, so the article (in the NYT) focuses on O'Connor:
''This is much ado about nothing,'' she said in response to a question by moderator Tim Russert of NBC. ''Our Constitution is one that evolves. What's the best way to know? State legislatures -- but it doesn't hurt to know what other countries are doing."
O'Connor also said she reads 1,500 pages a day. Mostly lawyers' briefs, I presume. The life of a judge! Do you envy it?

Blogs buzzing about religion and Microsoft.

The NYT seems to be going out of its way to frame and feature stories about how the agents of religion are controlling things behind the scenes. This front page story, about how Microsoft withdrew its support for a state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, introduces a rumor this way:
Blogs and online chat rooms were buzzing on Thursday with accusations that the company, which has offered benefits to same-sex partners for years, had given in to the Christian right....

Microsoft officials denied any connection between their decision not to endorse the bill and the church's opposition, although they acknowledged meeting twice with the church minister, Ken Hutcherson.

Dr. Hutcherson, pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, who has organized several rallies opposing same-sex marriage here and in Washington, D.C., said he threatened in those meetings to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products.

After that, "they backed off," the pastor said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," he said.
It's no surprise that Hutcherson would be eager to provide a useful quote. Presumably, he likes to see himself as a power wielder. Microsoft itself has been long been a leader in recognizing gay rights on its own -- as the article notes -- and already offers more than the state law would require.

By the way, the paper copy is worded differently: "Blogs and online chat rooms were aflame on Thursday with accusations that the company, which has offered benefits to same-sex partners for years, had caved to the Christian right." Was some decision made to tone it down? Maybe "aflame" seemed to contain a slur against gays, but that doesn't explain replacing the strong verb "caved" with the weak "given in."

MyPyramid, MyTaxMoney.

Gerry Daly links to a post from yesterday, notes Stephen Bainbridge's Patrick Swayze imitation, and issues a challenge to the blogosphere.

A Polish birthday celebration.

Nina writes that in Poland, when she was growing up, it was the person with the birthday who provided the food to others, who apparently were doing their part just by dropping by with good wishes. So we were happy to play along with that tradition. She set the table with her best hand-painted Russian plates:

Nina's birthday

Mmmm... the layers there are, from top to bottom: caviar, sour cream, smoked salmon, potato:

Nina's birthday

This borscht is homemade, as is that puff pastry:

Nina's birthday

And there's a whole story to why there's already a slice out of that cake -- a story of drunkenness and karaoke:

Nina's birthday

Nina's got her own account of the party, from which I'm going to snag this picture of me trying to get another photograph:

April 21, 2005

"This Court is, in fact, a Goldwater and a Reagan Republican Court."

Lawprof Marci Hamilton has a new essay up at Findlaw.com: "Senator Frist and Representative DeLay's Claims of Supreme Court Judicial Activism and Anti-Religion Bias: Why They Aren't Persuasive":
Even if politics must define the Supreme Court -- and the truth is, law defines it far more -- then today's name-calling by both the far left and the far right misses the mark. This Court is, in fact, a Goldwater and a Reagan Republican Court.

The Goldwater Republicans, embodied by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, believed in individual rights, separation of church and state, and federalism. No wonder, then, that they believe that no single religious viewpoint should determine whether a woman could obtain an abortion.

Meanwhile, the Reagan Republicans were united under a single banner of smaller government (which translates into states' rights, or federalism).

These positions have been all but abandoned by the current Administration, but they were and are, above all, moderate ones. ... [F]ederalism is not a partisan stance, but a constitutional basic. And the principle of separation of church and state, too, is no more partisan -- and no less part of our Constitution -- than, say, the fact that we have a bicameral legislature.

There's much more in the essay. You should read it.

But it's a rainbow-striped tomb!

You know what bugs me the most about the government's newly revised "food pyramid"? It's that it's called "MyPyramid." MyPyramid!

First, unless you want me to pronounce it mip-ee-RA-mid, put the damn space in. It's not cute to take out the space. It's just irritating.

But second, what's with the "my"? This is your recommendation for everyone. Am I supposed to think you think I'm special? Is this, like the removal of the space, supposed to be cute? Like "My Little Pony," my little advice from the government?

Could you please stop wasting my little tax contribution telling me what to eat, especially coming up with ideas like having a tomb as a symbol of health?

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has more.

Redbud.

What redbud looks like today in Madison.

Redbud

More fun, more comfortable, better nostalgia.

While some women are paying maybe $600 for pair of jeans to distinguish themselves in our heavily jeans-clad culture, other women are fed up with of all the tight clothes and wearing billowy long skirts:
"I'm tired of all those tight little skirts and pants I have to keep pulling up to get them to cover my rear," [artist Elizabeth] Huey said as she held up several alternatives she considered more compelling. They were breezy, colorful skirts redolent of Woodstock, midnight hayrides and prom nights: the sort of thing that she once could find only at vintage stores. "Now they're everywhere," she said. "It's exciting."

Leping Pu, a 40-year-old doctor shopping at the store, was also drawn to fuller skirts. "Designer clothes have been so tight you can't put them on," muttered Dr. Pu, who wore a floral-patterned skirt that swirled around her calves. "I like something free enough to give you space to move."
Jeans once were about freedom, comfort, and affinity with the working class. I remember a period in the 1970s when young people wore only Levi's or Lee jeans and scoffed at older women who bought "designer jeans." (The brands of the time were Jordache, Sassoon, and Gloria Vanderbilt.) Lately, we've been reliving that period, with a bizarre misplaced nostalgia for things that were not considered good at the time. So I'm glad to see the hippie skirts come back. More fun, more comfortable, and better nostalgia.

"Willie and the Hand Jive."

Driving in to work this morning, I had the satellite radio set at the 1950s decade channel, and I came in at the middle of Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," which I greatly enjoyed. Even better was the next song, The Johnny Otis Show doing "Willie and the Hand Jive." One of the many things I love about this song is that even though the title and the first two verses convince you it's about masturbation, they build deniability into the lyrics with lines like this:
Mama, Mama look at Uncle Joe
He's doin' that hand jive with sister Flo
Grandma gave baby sister a dime
Said, do that hand jive one more time...

Willie and Millie got married last fall
They had a little Willie Junior, and a-that ain't all
You know, the baby got famous in his crib, you see
Doin' that hand jive on TV.

So if you think the song is about masturbation, there must be something terribly wrong with you! Great joke all around.

These are the days of miracles and wonders.

I guess everyone's going to link to Peggy Noonan's essay about the new pope, and I wasn't going to pope-blog, but this line jumped out at me:
It is an age of miracles and wonders, of sightings of Mary and warnings, of prophecy, graces and gifts.

Didn't you think of two things?

1. Paul Simon's "Graceland." Was that on purpose? Google says yes. Search for "Paul Simon" and "miracles and wonders" and the first thing that comes up is this old article by none other than Noonan.

2. "Sighting of Mary"? Is Noonan excited about the salt stain on the Chicago underpass? Too bad we can't get a miracle in the form of improving the flow of traffic on the Kennedy Expressway.

UPDATE: Argonautical Ramblings is photoblogging the underpass stain and the assembling crowds. The link is to the blog itself. Each photo is a separate link, unfortunately, but here's the post that begins the series. Thanks to the commenter here who pointed out this site.

Let's roll back 30 years and start over.

David Brooks on Roe v. Wade: Things would have worked out better for liberals if the Supreme Court had not made abortion into a right but had allowed the issue to work its way out in the democratic arena.
Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.
The only way out of our nasty politics, he thinks, is to overrule Roe v. Wade:
[T]he entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.
But it's not possible to redo the last 30 years. We already are where we are, and those who think abortion should be legal have spent these decades -- or their whole lives -- thinking abortion was not only legal but a constitutional right. To take that right away now would not give us a chance to have the democratic debate we never had. It would be a wholly different experience of taking away a right, after the bitter politics had built to the level where the side opposed to the right has finally gotten its way, after we have already become polarized. What makes you think that won't be insanely bitter?

True, it will be democratic -- though the pro-abortion-rights side won't give up on fighting in the courts -- but it won't be the same democratic debate we might have had back in the early 1970s. Ironically, if, after all these years, social conservatives finally gain a majority on the Supreme Court that is willing to overturn the precedent, it will activate political liberals and libertarians. And one thing they will want is their majority back on the Supreme Court.

I think David Brooks, like most of those who push for radical change, is indulging himself, painting a rosy picture of life post-change.

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner tries to rehabilitate Brooks after my attack. Ponnuru assumes the debate would return to the states, which is a subject I took up in the comments. I wrote:
[T]he Supreme Court can't ensure that if it overruled Roe v. Wade, the matter would be determined at the state level. With a new political field opened up, Congress would want to do things too. Unless the Court also did something awfully strong to limit the Commerce Power, Congress would have the power to regulate abortion, including making it a federal crime. I can't imagine that it wouldn't try!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ponnuru does acknowledge the potential for federal action here:
[I]f Roe ended, pro-choice activation would, I think, not likely be matched by pro-life quiescence. There would be too many state (and federal) legislative battles to fight, and nobody on the pro-life side would think their work done.

He goes on to say:
In a lot of places, you'd have state laws that restricted abortion a lot more than it is restricted today, but not as much as pro-lifers (like me) would like. So hard-core partisans on both sides would be unhappy. ... Public policy on abortion would be closer to median-voter sentiment. And the sense of the law's illegitimacy would be much harder for the losing side of any battle to maintain (as Brooks points out).
I do think this prediction of moderation, with the hardcore ends of the spectrum unhappy envisions decentralized politics rather than a sudden grab for everything in Congress in a very bitter, unsettling fight. Why wouldn't the groups on both sides converge on Congress and demand everything they want? How could Congress ignore that? If the Terri Schiavo case is any indication, Congress will plunge forward and take over this area.

American politics and the pope.

I wasn't going to pope-blog, but this NYT article makes the new pope story all about American politics:
Pope Benedict XVI ascends to power at a tumultuous time for his church in American politics: Catholic voters, long overwhelmingly Democratic, have become a critical swing vote. Republicans have become increasingly successful at winning the support of more traditional Catholics by appealing to what President Bush calls the "culture of life" issues, including abortion, euthanasia and research on embryonic stem cells. Mr. Bush carried 56 percent of the white Catholic vote in 2004, up from 51 percent in 2000 - a formidable part of his conservative coalition.
This voting trend is longstanding and would have existed and continued even if John Paul had survived. But the point is that Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which backed American bishops who "have become more assertive in urging their congregations to vote in accord with Catholic teachings on those issues" and who have "chastis[ed] Catholic officials who disagree, in a few cases by threatening to deny them Communion." So there's a prediction that Catholic voter will keep feeling the need to vote based on "culture of life" values.

There is also an effect on candidates themselves. The article, written by Robin Toner, clearly seems to favor the John F. Kennedy approach to Catholicism and politics: "I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me." It worked for Kennedy (who had to battle anti-Catholic prejudice), but John Kerry had difficulty using the same move. He had difficulty for any number of reasons: he didn't need to overcome an initial aversion to a Catholic president, and he had to operate in a political field where personal moral questions have become central.

The gist of the article is that Benedict will energize American bishops to directly criticize Catholic candidates who don't adopt the complete set of orthodox Catholic beliefs, which will make it very hard on Democratic candidates. But there is no direct quote saying that. The closest of the many quotes is this one:
"I hate to pre-judge, but based on the record I would say Ratzinger is a very serious Catholic and he's going to say things like, 'Beware of falsehood in advertising,' " said Michael Novak, an expert on the Vatican at the American Enterprise Institute. "If you say you're a Catholic, be a Catholic."

April 20, 2005

"American Idol" -- the results.

Mercifully, they're going through the results in a mere half hour. Ryan introduces the judges, and I notice how Simon always turns his head to the side and resists looking at Ryan. Now we see Ryan Seacrest getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For real? I guess it just doesn't mean a damn thing anymore. Now there's a Seacrest tribute montage, including sexual innuendo with a flamingo. Flamingo innuedo. And now, a tribute to some dreadful songwriter as a lead-in to a group song. It's a crap song, but they actually sing it with some appeal. Anwar seems cooler singing while playing a keyboard, and Carrie's more tolerable playing guitar. Bo's playing guitar too. Vonzell's doomed to partnering with Scott, but they both do a nice job. And Constantine and Anthony get paired, because there aren't enough women to go around, and they do just fine too. It's for charity -- the Red Cross -- so good luck to them. Still: the song is garbage.

The commercials end with the Ford commercial starring the "Idols." It's a really cool 50s commercial that has animated a filmed routine into a cartoon somehow. They all have big heads and tiny bodies. Even Scott. Very cute! Everyone's hair is greased up into a 50s do, which makes it hard to recognize Constantine and Bo, remade into Elvis-y toons.

The results will be revealed by bringing everyone on stage into one of two groups and then saying which is the bottom group. We saw this last season in the shocking results show where the three black female singers were grouped and, to our amazement, told they were the bottom. (One of them, Fantasia, went on to win the contest.) So I'm expecting that the group that looks safe will be the bottom, but I can't see how that can happen with these contestants, since clearly Bo and Constantine will not be in the bottom group. Vonzell too. Vonzell goes to the left, Anthony to the right. The right must be bad. Anwar joins Anthony. Okay, then there is no question. Right is bad. Constantine joins Vonzell. What scintilla of suspense can there be? Carrie goes to the left. Scott goes to the right. What about Bo? The groups are even. So he's just told he's safe and then he's asked to join the group he thinks is the top. He goes to the middle. He's not playing games. Why should he take orders?

After the break, we're told what we already know. The Scott, Anthony, Anwar group is at risk. And the loser, as I, and many others, predicted, is Anwar.

A slow blog day.

It's been a long, hard day, beginning with the lack of bloggish inspiration with what was for me the excessively Pope-focused news. But there was a lot to do at the law school, including teaching one of the last Constitutional Law classes of the semester. Later, it seemed like a good idea to spend $50+ getting my toenails painted "Pompeii Purple," to have my chiropractor pop my vertabrae into a more appropriate position, and to pick up a shredded beef burrito at Chipotle. I arrive home and walk up the front path, under the arch formed by my two redbud trees, which are in bloom now. All I really want to do is to pour a glass of wine, unwrap my burrito, and turn on the television. A nice, quiet evening at home. Maybe I'll find something bloggable -- there's always the "American Idol" results show -- and I'll be back to replenish the blog.

A quick look at the news.

So, without pope-blogging, what is there? There's Tom DeLay zeroing in on Justice Kennedy, but that's just a rehash, though I suppose we can snort at this line:
"He said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
There's the Nanny News: maybe fat isn't so fatal, let's redraw the food pyramid.

There's the postponement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on John Bolton, over some mystifying story of him banging on a woman's door in a Russian hotel and because Senator Voinovich, who skipped last week's two-day hearing, suddenly didn't "feel comfortable."

Enough for me, for now!

Not pope-blogging.

The news seems to be all about the new Pope this morning, so I'm not finding the usual stimulation for blogging. I have nothing to say about the Pope!

Madison: a land of contrasts.

Little Green Footballs linked to my post about the "theologist" who came to UW to propound a 9/11 conspiracy theory and got a standing ovation from an audience of 400. They've got tons of comments over there, including some swipes at UW and Madison more generally. For some positive UW news: an advance in treating Lou Gehrig's disease.

April 19, 2005

I hate disco!

Time for another grueling round of "American Idol." The theme is announced: “70s dance music.” It makes Constantine say: “Let’s boogie.” It makes Chris (here at home) say: “Why don’t they just say disco?” I say, “I think they are counting something beyond disco.” Seacrest gave Earth, Wind & Fire as a clue (along with Bee Gees and Donna Summer), so I think they can do disco or (let’s hope) funk.

Funk ≠ disco.

Constantine Maroulis: proving he’s into the whole cheesiness of Idol, he goes with the Bee Gees. “Nights On Broadway.” He’s gotten his hair streaked with blond, and I’m seeing eyeliner. He hams it up a lot. Paula: “Everything about you in the last few weeks is oh-my-God.” Simon: “Akin to a waiter in some ghastly Spanish restaurant.” In the Seacrest interview, we get a nice closeup. His hair is super-shiny, and there’s not just eyeliner, there’s golden eyeshadow. And it looks great!

Carrie Underwood: she’s doing “MacArthur Park.” Huh? You know, the Donna Summer one. She’s going for a Stevie Nicks look, but Stevie Nicks in 80s “Dynasty” makeup. She’d look better if someone left her out in the rain and let the sweet green icing flow down. The song ends with a long, dragged out “Oh, no” – like “ooooohhhhhh noooooo” – and that’s my thought exactly. Randy loves it. Paula (she’s cringing, but she’ll lie): “Wow on that last note, you held it out for the longest I think any Idol’s ever held a note.” Yikes! What passes for good. Simon comments on the look: “It’s like Barbie meets the Stepford Wives.” Nothing about the music.

Scott Savol: “Seventies ain’t my thing.” But he is dancing and moving about under a mirror ball. So there’s a fun side of Scott. Actually, it’s rather amusing. The song is “Everlasting Love.” Nice! They want him to leave though, so let’s see how they try to kill him. Randy: “just the right song… it was hot.” Paula uses her turn to harass Simon about how he probably never danced. Simon admits he’s never danced and Randy quotes the phrase “the dead don’t dance.” Simon’s looking for a theory why Scott has squeaked by thus far: “You are Ordinary Guy who is doing quite well” – basically karaoke. Scott aces the Seacrest interview, asking God to bless Simon and saying happy birthday to his mom. Why is that acing? Because it will bring in the votes he needs. Watch him avoid the bottom three this week. America will keep Ordinary Guy afloat.

Anthony Fedorov: boy, is he looking dewy fresh! He’s figured out what he has that the other guys lack: sheer youth. “Don’t Take Away the Music.” Ooh, I hate this song. Oh, but he’s ending well. Those high notes. Randy, Paula: they love it. Simon: “pleasant, safe, and a little insipid – so it’s sort of a compliment.”

Vonzell Solomon: doing Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” She’s got a cool 60s hairdo: the huge bump with a long fall. But you’re not supposed to remember the decades straight. It’s just some nostalgic old crap. I guess she’s good, but by now I’m in full “I hate disco” mode. Randy: “you worked it out.” Paula: “best performance so far tonight.” Simon: “one of the most difficult songs… your personality can carry a song like that.. and I think you did get away with that.” So they pretty much all said it was on the edge of a horror, but we love you anyway.

Anwar Robinson: “September” – Earth, Wind & Fire. Is this funk? Just seems like more disco. Arrrggghhh! That was painful. Randy: “great… good.” Paula: “awesome.” Simon: like a “seventies revue musical.” In the interview, he phonily claims he “just wanted to have fun tonight.” I’m predicting him as the loser.

They’ve saved Bo Bice for last. Clearly, they want to help him (after he landed in the bottom three last week). They already singled him out in the show’s intro. Don’t forget to help Bo! “Vehicle” is his song. Never heard of it. I tried to hide from disco. Everyone I knew hated disco. Oh, wait. I know this song. “I’m your vehicle, woman/I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” He just wants to be used. Please think of me as a car. Kind of a rich, old geezer’s desperate line to a beautiful, young woman, isn’t it? Simon thinks this is his “only authentically good performance.”

Okay. I hate disco, and I did not enjoy any of that. But it’s over now, so I'll settle down. What’s going to happen in the vote? I think Constantine, Bo, and Vonzell are secure. I think Anwar is in the biggest trouble. But who will the other two in the bottom three be? You know I want Carrie in the bottom three, so I’ll just predict her. And Anthony. Scott will survive.

Did Justice Blackmun slack off?

David Garrow is stirring up a storm with his contention that Justice Blackmun abdicated his judicial function to his law clerks. But he also admits that there's a much more general problem of judges relying on clerks too much. Still, this struck me as awfully unrealistic (from Tony Mauro's Law.com piece):
"The real issue is not specific to Blackmun," said Garrow, a professor at Emory University, "but whether furnishing the justices with four clerks creates powerful incentives to the justices to do far less of their work than if they had only one. The debate that would be good is whether it would be better if they had just one clerk or at the most two."

On the other hand, maybe they'd vacate their seats more quickly.

What would Jesus wear on his T-shirt?

With hundreds of students at the Homewood-Flossmoor high school planning to wear T-shirts that say "gay? fine by me" on a "gay awareness" day, some Christian students have decided to argue with the message with T-shirts of their own:
[T]he T-shirt campaign, which made a quiet debut last year, is meeting opposition from some of the school's Christian students. In what will amount to a schoolyard battle of messages, a couple hundred other students are expected to wear shirts citing "crimes against God," namely "discrimination against ... my 10 Commandments, my prayers, my values, my faith, my God."...

Jacques Jacobs, a youth minister at Family Harvest Church, said his church is "not fighting anybody, we are only standing up for the rights of the Christian student."...

David Thieman, a Homewood-Flossmoor school spokesman, said both contingents could wear the shirts as long as they comply with the student code of conduct, which forbids the promotion of violence or drugs.

UPDATE: And to answer my own question -- what message would Jesus wear on a T-shirt -- I'm going to go with: "Love one another." Do you have a better idea?

A standing ovation at the University of Wisconsin for a speaker who argues that Bush orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.

The Daily Cardinal reports:
Theorists bent on exposing falsehoods in The 9/11 Commission Report maintain the attacks were a conspiracy led by the Bush administration, as UW-Madison students heard Monday at an event sponsored by the Muslim Jewish Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth.

The event, broadcast on C-SPAN, featured Christian theologist David Griffin, Ph.D, and his interpretations of the alleged Sept. 11 conspiracy theory.

Griffin's speech addressed his own compiled evidence that suggests the attacks were not only known about by the United States government and military, but orchestrated in order to expand an "American empire" allegedly based on oil and power.
Student quote:
"I definitely endorse his theory,"
Here's the report from the other student newspaper, the Badger Herald:
[M]uch of the audience appeared sympathetic to Griffin, rewarding him with a standing ovation at the conclusion of the lecture.
UPDATE: A reader sends this link to the March 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, which methodically debunks the various 9/11 conspiracy myths.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And here's the report from the Capital Times::
David Ray Griffin asks the tough questions about Sept. 11, contending U.S. officials had some knowledge of what was coming and possibly orchestrated the attacks.

Griffin, whose book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," came out a year ago, drew an enthusiastic standing ovation from the majority of the 400 or so people who packed his lecture Monday night at Bascom Hall.

A retired Christian theologian, Griffin, 65, taught for more than 30 years at the Claremont School of Theology in California.

His comments Monday night were directed at religious people, who he said need to respond to Sept. 11 - and the American empire that has ensued - based on the moral principles of their religious traditions.

Drawing laughter from the crowd, Griffin said he had in mind principles like: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' oil" and "Thou shalt not murder thy neighbors in order to steal their oil."

While Griffin noted that his books and talks have not received attention from the mainstream media, C-SPAN had a cameraman at the event and plans to air the lecture at a future date. Madison's public access cable television station, WYOU-TV/Channel 4, meanwhile, will air the talk at 7 p.m. Thursday.
UPDATE: Let's look closely at the journalism here. My son John Cohen writes:
I noticed this from the Cap Times article you linked to today:
"Americans interpret the events of Sept. 11 in one of four ways, Griffin said: ... A second group accepts the official line but thinks Sept. 11 has been used opportunistically by the Bush administration to extend the American empire. People who hold this view often believe that America's response to Sept. 11, which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, is far worse than the attacks themselves, he said."
Notice how it's not clear who is saying that "America's response to Sept. 11" "has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths." It sort of seems like they're just reporting on what Griffin said, because the sentence ends with "he said." But that's not necessarily the case: you could also see it as a parenthetical remark that the Cap Times itself is inserting into their paraphrase of Griffin's view. (And of course they don't question the assertion.)

I didn't read the whole article, but just glancing over it I noticed that the Cap Times seems to take every chance it can to slant its wording to suggest that Griffin has credibility (not that this is surprising). One example:
"Griffin also made a case that the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was brought on by thousands of explosives placed throughout each of the buildings."
Saying someone "made a case" isn't quite saying that they made a good case, but it implies that they at least made a reasonable case.

Also, your excerpt of the Daily Cardinal says:
"Griffin's speech addressed his own compiled evidence that suggests the attacks were not only known about by the United States government and military, but orchestrated in order to expand an 'American empire' allegedly based on oil and power."
This should read: "Griffin claimed that his evidence suggests....” When they refer to "his own compiled evidence that suggests..." they're saying that the evidence actually suggests what he claims it suggests. (And even just using the word "evidence" is kind of slanted.) (And it's just comical that they qualify one part of the sentence with the word "allegedly," as if they're being objective.)

I know I'm being very nitpicky about wording. And any of the things I'm pointing out might be just sloppy editing. But why is all of the sloppiness slanted in the same direction?
For shame!

Pope Benedict!

A 78-year-old Pope will replace John Paul, or should I say, to repeat what I just heard repeated over and over on TV during the post-white-smoke, pre-announcement period, will never be able to replace John Paul.

UPDATE: I was watching NBC, and I must say, they were pathetically unprepared to fill the time which they knew they were going to have to fill. They really did just keep saying one thing over and over: John Paul is a tough act to follow, the new Pope must know that he will not be able to take the place of John Paul, John Paul has made it very difficult for this next Pope to find a way to begin to fill his shoes, those are very big shoes to fill, and this new Pope is going to have quite a difficult time in this, his effort to fill those unusually large shoes that John Paul II has left us with here today, shoes indeed of the very great, very large-shoe-wearing, now deceased, Pope John Paul II.

"Ethnicity of fish must be revealed."

"Ethnicity of fish must be revealed"? I'm just going to call that the Headline of the Day. From the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Will hoodia gordonii save us from our sin of gluttony?

The NYT examines the vaunted appetite suppressant.
But even if eating the plant dampens the San people's hunger, [a doctor] said, that does not mean that processed supplements necessarily work the same way. For one thing, people who take the supplements do not get as much exercise as the San people do and have easier access to food.

Yes, it's that access to food that makes us so fat, really, and we all know it. As to the exercise, if food were hard to get, as it was back in the days when we were evolving this appetite, we'd be getting plenty of exercise tracking the stuff down. The lack of food was also the motivation to exercise. How hard it is to overcome the deep urges nature has implanted in us!

But how much worse it is to be a hungry person where food is so scarce that you "break off a spiny, cucumber-shaped stalk from this succulent plant, feed on its milky center [so] you will have the energy to set off on a long hunt unencumbered by hunger pangs."

Count yourself sublimely lucky, and instead of dosing yourself with dried hoodia gordonii, think of the people who are driven by real hunger and atone for your gluttony. Deny yourself a little every day until you are not fat anymore.

Imagine no SUVs... I wonder if you can...

Florida will be offering a specialty license plate with a picture John Lennon and the word "Imagine" to go along with the other special license plates like "Save the Manatee."

UPDATE: Go inside for the comments, where Doc Weasel throws down the gauntlet re Lennon. Sample: "Lennon flamed out around '65, his enduring fame is mainly because the liberals adopt any pop radical and make them a demi-god, Che, Rachel Corrie, Mumia, what have you."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interestingly, no one went in to defend John Lennon! I wonder what that means. Who knows what more John might have done without Yoko or what portion of Paul's good and badness was a reaction to John? There was a mystical entity that was The Beatles. The amazing thing is that it came into being and existed at all, and I'm not inclined to blame any of the parts for not having been more than they were. They became The Beatles, and we'll never be able to understand how. You can pick your favorite Beatle and your favorite Beatle album and argue all you want about the way you rank these things, but the fact it, it was all so very good, and it was sad when it ended. More specifically, about John, I've always loved The White Album, and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," in particular. Much more than the other Beatles (and even before he was killed), there was something about him that allowed people to project their own ideas and aspirations onto him. He, himself, was enigmatic. It was never even clear in "Revolution" whether he was for it or against it. That's something I like about him. I don't really think he was very political, except in an arty, emotive way. I don't really like to think of him in some endless face off against Paul. They were both great, and they were both greatest when they were able to connect with the other, and thank God they did for a few years.

Companies that make us love them.

There are those companies people come to hate. Microsoft, Walmart, Starbucks. I'm not saying I hate them, but for whatever reason, they get a hate-vibe going, and it's got to hurt them. If only they could discover ways to inspire love.

Well, maybe that's why Starbucks let itself be the set for that Jon Stewart/Amy Sedaris bit on Oprah yesterday. I was just flipping channels and caught a little Oprah-after-the-show on Lifetime. We see Jon Stewart, on a wish-granting mission from Oprah, driving a van up to a Starbucks, and going in to talk to a sullen barista, played by Sedaris. When the Sedaris character realizes he's from Oprah, she goes nuts, quits on the spot, tells everyone she hated the job, throws cups around, and even sucks whipped cream out of the dispenser. Please love us, Starbucks seemed to be saying, we're willing to be the butt of a joke.

People starting new companies must think: don't let that Starbucks thing happen to us. If we're very successful -- deservedly so -- because we're very good, people might nevertheless start hating us, irrationally, just because we're successful, even though we're very good. They might even hold it against us that we're so good: as if it's not fair somehow that we've gotten the jump on everyone else.

So making them love us has got to be a big part of corporate planning these days, right? Anyway, that's what crossed my mind when I got this email from Flickr:
Hi Ann Althouse!

You may have heard on the grapevine that we planned to reward our dear Flickr members who bought a Pro Account in the early days. Well, it's true! And since you're one of those lovely people, here's a little something to say YOU ROCK!

1. Double what you paid for!
Your original 2 year pro account has been doubled to 4 years, and your new expiry date is Mar 30, 2009.

2. More capacity!
Now you can upload 2 GB per month.

3. 2 free Pro Accounts to give away to your friends!
This won't be activated for a day or two, but when it is, you'll see a note on your home page telling you what to do.

Thank you so much for putting your money where your mouth is and supporting us, even while we're in beta. Your generosity and cold, hard cash helped us get where we are today.

Kind regards,
The Flickreenies.

Love, love, love.

UPDATE: I only gave them $80.

April 18, 2005

Any Hill-lounging today?

Oh, yes, yes, yes! Bascom Hill was dotted with sun-loungers:

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Defending rudeness.

The NYU law student who asked Justice Scalia "Do you sodomize your wife?" is given a forum to explain his behavior in The Nation:
The idea that I should have treated a man with such repugnant views with deference because he is a high government official evinces either a dangerously un-American acceptance of authority or insensitivity to the gay community's grievances....

I know some who support gay rights oppose my question... Do not presume to tell me when and with how much urgency to stand up for our rights.

I am seventeen months out of a lifelong closet and have lost too much time to heterosexist hegemony to tolerate those who say, as Dr. King put it, "Just wait." If you cannot stomach a breach of decorum when justified outrage erupts then your support is nearly worthless anyway.

Didn't King emphasize strict decorum in civil rights demonstrations? It was an extremely effective strategy!

Ducks, soaps, buttons.

We did a little shopping at The Soap Opera today. You can get just the right rubber ducky (click photos to enlarge):

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Express yourself with soap:

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Also for sale here, though seeming off the store's theme of bathing and grooming -- political buttons:

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

Bascom Hill soap buttons duckies

It's Madison. What can I say? We need to be kept well supplied with political paraphernalia.

Pick a decade.

Driving around in my car, I like to listen to the satellite radio, especially the XM "Decades" channels. I always start with the 60s, because basically, the 60s are forever imprinted on me, music-wise. But then if I don't like a song, I usually click down to the 50s. Sometimes, I click up to the 70s. Less often, I'll go all the way down to the 40s or up to the 80s or 90s. Which covers all the XM "Decades" channels.

Yesterday, as I emerged from the underground garage and could pick up a signal, the song playing from the 60s was my favorite song, "God Only Knows." Next up, confirming my subjective sense of belonging to the 60s, was "Bad Moon Rising." Then they went to "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," and I think: that's when things started to get screwed up -- Crosby, Stills, and Nash ruined rock and roll.

So I clicked down to the 50s, where they were playing some of the great novelty songs, which are so crisp and good-natured: "Get a Job," "Alley Oop." I love the way "Alley Oop" ends by giving us a nice clear 50s slang lesson:
He sure is hip ain't he?
Like what's happening?
He's too much
Ride, Daddy, ride
Hi-yo dinosawruh
Ride, Daddy, ride
Get 'em, man
Like--hipsville.

It was hipsville. They played some Eddie Cochrane too. And Danny & the Juniors singing "Rock and Roll will never die." Danny was right! And Frank Sinatra singing "From Here to Eternity" -- is that the worst song he ever recorded?

I can't remember what made me leave the 50s, and I ended up in the 70s, and there was this song I just loved, which I couldn't remember ever hearing before. Had never heard of the group either: M. The song: "Pop Muzik." Can I get a 70s channel restricted to New Wave?
Get up...
Get down...

Radio, video
Boogie with a suitcase
You're livin' in a disco
Forget about the rat race...

I love it!

Madison Mario music.

This is really slow-loading but it's from Madison, so I've got to link. It's worth the wait if you have fond memories of Super Mario Brothers.

Is your baby's head round enough?

Are you sure you've met your obligations in perfecting your child?

Cert grant in the hallucinogenic tea case.

Here's the news report. I'm too busy at the moment to say anything more but here's my earlier post on the case.
The U.S. is seeking Supreme Court review of a Tenth Circuit case that relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to bar the federal government from enforcing drug laws against Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal. The drug in question is "hoasca tea," a hallucinogenic.
"Compliance with the injunction would force the United States to go into violation of an international treaty designed to prevent drug trafficking worldwide, which could have both short- and long-term foreign relations costs and could impair the policing of transnational drug trafficking involving the most dangerous controlled substances," acting Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote in a court filing.

Here's Prof. Marci Hamilton's excellent analysis of the legal issues in the case, including why there is no claim under the constitutional Free Exercise clause and how the Court of Appeals could rely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act after City of Boerne v. Flores (which held that Congress's Fourteenth Amendment power did not support the act). Hamilton, you should note, is a strong advocate for the government's side of the argument.

"They are just totally floored that you can even go to an Ivy League school and hold some of the beliefs that we hold."

Abstinence and chastity at Princeton.

Something I don't understand about the ecosystem.

Look at the traffic ranking in the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem. What's with the cluster of "Joe User" blogs that all have exactly the same daily traffic? Today, they are at 80 through 96 and they all have 4906 daily visits. Is it that the 17 blogs taken together have that much traffic? There seems to be one shared Site Meter.

Is Hillary Clinton a political genius?

Jay Cost, in the WSJ, is convinced everyone takes it for granted that she is. I disagree with that. Anyway, he assures us she's not:
Where do her political credentials come from? It seems to me that she was a great supporting player to a good (though highly overrated) politician. She played the part of the forgiving, intelligent, driven wife with great effectiveness. When she takes center stage, however, the results are quite mixed. She botched health-care reform so badly that President Clinton got absolutely nothing from a Democratic Congress. She coined the term "vast right-wing conspiracy"--guaranteeing that conservatives everywhere would curse her existence until the end of time. She did win that New York Senate seat, but that, to my mind, was pretty unimpressive. She beat latecomer Rick Lazio, who was not a formidable candidate, to say the least (the word "sophomoric" comes to mind).

If her political accomplishments are unimpressive, why is she so feared? Why is she seen to be a political genius? The answer to this question eluded me for a long time, perhaps because it is so simple. The plain fact is that Hillary Clinton is actually one of the worst politicians in national politics today. She is feared as a brilliant politician only because she is such an obvious politician, which is actually the key mark of a bad politician.

April 17, 2005

Have I been too kind to the late Andrea Dworkin?

Cathy Young, who wrote in the comments section of my post on Andrea Dworkin, has this post on Dworkin over at Hit & Run. Young doesn't think anything positive should be said about the recently departed feminist, and is especially distressed that I said something positive:
I was especially taken aback when the usually reasonable Ann Althouse, University of Wisconsin law professor and blogger, decided to "honor" Dworkin with this tribute. Althouse notes that in contrast to the "blatantly partisan" feminists who flocked to Bill Clinton's defense when he was accused of sexual misconduct, "Dworkin, for all her overstatements and wackiness, was truly devoted to feminism as an end." All right, so Dworkin was nonpartisan in her demonization of men and male sexuality ("What needs to be asked," she notoriously told a British writer on Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, "is, Was the cigar lit?"). That's a good thing? And what is this "feminism" she was dedicated to, anyway? It certainly wasn't liberal feminism, anti-censorship feminism, or pro-sex feminism, all of which she despised.

I've read a lot of Dworkin's books, but I read them a long time ago, and I really can't remember the extent of "her demonization of men and male sexuality," which I don't agree with. I remember finding a lot of rousing and provocative ideas in those books and a real passion about harms done to women. I think I was careful about what I wrote; my honoring of this woman who had just died was not unqualified. I'm glad Young thinks I'm "usually reasonable" but I'm going to defend myself and say that this was another example of my being reasonable.

Here's what Young wrote in the comments section to my original post (linked above):
As a semi-regular reader of your blog, I am extremely disappointed by your positive comments about Andrea Dworkin.... Dworkin was a psychopath -- a pitiful woman to some extent, because she was so obviously sick; but unfortunately she acted out her sickness on a public stage, by demonizing not only men (and male sexuality) but women who have the temerity to enjoy heterosexual sex.

(Yes, Dworkin spent the last 20 years of her life living with a man, and she wrote warmly about her father and her brother. But it's possible to be a bigot and to make a few personal exemptions. By the way, Dworkin's companion, John Stoltenberg, was an avid follower of her anti-male views; he wrote a book called Refusing to Be a Man, and in his own writings described the penis as "an instrument of oppression.")

By the way, let's please not get into the tiresome discussion of whether or not Dworkin actually uttered or wrote the words "all sexual intercourse is rape." Read this chapter from Intercourse and see for yourself:
"Physically, the woman in intercourse is a space inhabited, a literal territory occupied literally: occupied even if there has been no resistance, no force; even if the occupied person said yes please, yes hurry, yes more."

"Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior."

"Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women."

I showed some of these passages to a friend who had never even heard of Dworkin before. Her immediate response: "She's writing about rape, not sex."

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose a man -- a very troubled men who had had horrible experiences with women -- wrote book after book arguing that women are evil sirens and parasites whose sole purpose in life is to sexually manipulate and destroy men.

Would anyone be hailing him for his "challenging" and "provocative" ideas? Would there be a lot of quibbling over whether he actually ever used the words "All women are whores"?

Yet you, Prof. Althouse, seem to embrace the left-wing double standard with regard to hate speech -- it's not really so bad if directed at "the oppressor" and motivated by concern for the oppressed.

I prefer to agree with Daphne Patai, a former women's studies professor who has written: "Cultivating hatred for another human group ought to be no more acceptable when it issues from the mouths of women than when it comes from men, no more tolerable from feminists than from the Ku Klux Klan."

The accusation that I "embrace the left-wing double standard" was a response to something I wrote in the comments: "People who speak out on behalf of the oppressed can be admired -- with qualifications -- despite their anger-driven overstatements and misjudgment." And I wrote a comment later explaining this:
My phrase "people who speak out on behalf of the oppressed" refers to Dworkin's writing, which is concerned with rape victims, pornography workers, prostitutes, etc. I think women have been oppressed throughout history, around the world, and that there is scarcely a more important concern, but it doesn't justify hate speech and it's not even helpfully dealt with by vilifying men. I'm just trying to explain why I don't vilify Dworkin.

I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to point out the shortcomings of the woman's work. She just died! I alluded to some disagreements I have, and I don't have a problem with the substantive content of Young's post other than that I obviously don't think I departed from my usual reasonableness.

Young points out this op-ed in the NYT by Catharine MacKinnon, which I somehow missed yesterday. MacKinnon's point is that Dworkin was mistreated and that "[h]ow she was treated is how women are treated who tell the truth about male power without compromise or apology." It's not surprising that people reacted strongly to the very harsh things Dworkin said, and it's simplistic to call what she said "truth" and leave it at that. It was dramatic overstatement for effect. She provoked a big argument -- as did MacKinnon -- and I don't see how you can blame people for fighting back on the important subject of sex.

And much of the mistreatment MacKinnon describes is the typical lot of the writer. People talk about writers' work without taking the trouble to read it all the time. People misstate and twist the meaning of what people say all the time. And people mercilessly ridicule public figures for the way they look -- though surely Andrea Dworkin got a particularly harsh version of that treatment. Dworkin made people really angry, and even if there was a good measure of sexism in that response, a lot of the nastiness was returning in kind what she dished out. That is part of being taken seriously.

A blogging software feature I would love.

You know what would be a really nice feature in blogging software? Text files made to order. Today, I was interested in collecting everything I'd written over the past year on a topic that I want to write an article about. In Blogger, I could go to "edit posts" and enter my search word and get a list of all my posts with that word, but then I had to individually view fifty posts and cut and paste each one into a Word document. It would have been great if I could have had an option to make one text file, and I'd like to be able to reorder them with the oldest one first.

Blogging software ought to take into account that a lot of us -- probably most hardcore bloggers -- are using blogging as a rough draft of our thoughts -- daily notetaking and idea-generating. We'd like this material to be accessible and manipulable. Don't just help us blog, help us write, in the broader sense.

And surely, it ought to be possible to press a button and get the entire text of your blog as an oldest-to-newest journal. I know there is a service somewhere on the web that will do this for you at a price, but why isn't it just part of blogging software?

So, that's what I want. Does it already exist? Can I get it?

Why is Jon Stewart such a media darling?

Harry Stein at City Journal takes a shot at answering that question:
Stewart’s elevation to near-iconic status says more about those doing the elevating than about the comedian himself. His “bravery” and much-vaunted grasp of political nuance consists mostly of his embrace of every reflexive assumption shared by every litmus-tested liberal holding forth at every chic Manhattan dinner party.

It's a long article, which includes a lot of funny stuff from the show, but let me just pull out this argument:
There’s no more striking example of how big a part ideology plays in the mainstream media’s taste in comedy than its about-face on Stewart’s fellow comedian Dennis Miller. Making his bones as one of Chevy Chase’s successors behind the Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor desk, Miller was long a media darling, praised like Stewart for inventiveness and daring, especially when he became host of his long-running HBO show, Dennis Miller Live. As the New York Times’s Caryn James wrote in 1996, Miller is “as scabrous and funny a political satirist as anyone around,” given to “irreverent comments on the news.”

That’s when Miller was a man of the Left. Then, after September 11, in a metamorphosis both startling and brave, given the world in which he made his living, Miller emerged as an outspoken defender of Bush’s foreign policy. Instantly, he became the skunk at the media party. In 2004, hosting a new show on CNBC, he found himself dismissed by the very same Caryn James as one of “the stand-up comics turned pontificating policy wonks.” To her colleague Rich, he was simply “formerly funny.”

Too true! But I will say something in the media's defense here. Stewart's comic persona is lovable. Miller always had a nasty edge. Both men seem to think you're stupid if you don't agree with them -- which makes the audience want to laugh along to prove they're smart -- but Miller dares you to get pissed at him, and Stewart seems to be begging us to still like him. And it works. I still like Stewart and watch every episode of the show. I even laugh when things I believe are mocked. There's enough gentleness to the satire that people who don't agree can watch. And it's hard to say that about Miller.

Sunday, 72 degrees.

On this weekend with no obligations, I did go in to my office to get a couple things done. But I left soon enough and took a stroll down State Street. Lots of people lolling about in the sidewalk cafés:

State Street, April 17, 2005

A street musician strumming for dollars, while the world goes by all around him:

State Street, April 17, 2005

Drawing from the nude model.

The NYT tell us that "trendy artists" are subjecting themselves to figure drawing sessions again. But is this really new?
In the market where these contemporary artists ply their trade, the age-old discipline of drawing human figures is considered a rather fuddy-duddy exercise. Although figurative painting and drawing has always maintained some presence, in recent years rumors of its demise were rampant, as video, installation, and conceptual art rose to the ascendant.

Though figuration has recently made a comeback, hand-in-hand with the burgeoning popularity of painting, the art-world laurels still tend to go to those who package their figuration with a conceptual gambit - like John Currin's devastating grotesqueries, which often skewer precisely the types of people who can afford to buy them, or Elizabeth Peyton's romantic portraits, celebrated because they're fashioned at her own pleasure rather than a patron's behest.

Oh, human beings will never get over the human figure. How absurd to imagine they would! Abstraction and conceptual art could die out, but we can never lose our love of the human body and our desire to gaze upon it.

I suppose there is some chance that photography could serve this human need so completely that artists would cede the subject to lens-wielders. But if they ever did, the next artist would come along and seize the opportunity. There are always things you can do with pencils and paint that can't be done with photography. You don't necessarily need to gaze on a live nude model to do figurative artwork, but it's an inspiring practice:
Most say the sessions have influenced their work, although not necessarily in obvious ways. Ms. Essenhigh, who was standing at an easel at the back of the room making strong, muscular pencil drawings, said that life drawing was great for "keeping your chops up." It serves "to prevent yourself from being clichéd, from your hand always going with the same thing," she explained. (Since she began attending, the figures in her paintings have gone from flat to volumetric, and her aesthetic has changed to match.)

My undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts, and I've spent many hours drawing from a live model, both in art school and in evening sessions here at UW. With a model taking a pose -- which is hard to hold for a very long time -- you feel a strong, shared concentration, and intense attention to your own drawing results.

That is, if all goes well.

It can also be tiresome to draw from the model. You may think it's always going to be interesting to look at a naked person, but many people who try to be artist's models are not very good. You need an interesting body and an ability to find a good pose and hold it. The artist can move around looking for a good angle on a pose, but with some models there are no interesting angles. Try drawing a thin man! The best models are overweight women -- like the woman in the photo at the link. One reason I stopped doing the evening drawing sessions here at UW was that nearly all the models were thin. I mean, if I want to draw landscapes, I'd go to the mountains, not the plains.

Taking the best of both sides of the culture war.

David Brooks is writing again. I always get distracted by the prose. "Acres of exposed pelvic skin." That is supposed to be a sexy image. "Acres" sounds morbidly obese. And "pelvic skin" makes me stop and spend about five minutes trying to think of other parts of the skeleton and whether we'd say they had their own skin. Do we call the skin on thighs "femoral skin"?

But let's get past that and look at the theory: "American pop culture may look trashy, but America's social fabric is in the middle of an amazing moment of improvement and repair." Brooks notes a lot of evidence that younger Americans, for all their exposure to raunchy pop culture, are just enjoying the music, and not acting out the words. He concludes that the young have adopted the best of both sides of the culture war: the outward, broad expressiveness of the left, and the morally constrained private life of the right.

I hope that's true. Think how much better it is that the opposite: prissy, priggish public expression and sinning like mad privately.

Worrying about "The Constitution in Exile."

Do we have to read Jeffrey Rosen's long article in the NYT Magazine (poorly titled "The Unregulated Offensive")? It's an examination of what is characterized as a movement -- called "The Constitution in Exile" -- to bring back the Constitution as it was understood before the Court changed many interpretations beginning in 1937. The article, which is full of the usual warnings about Bush's judicial nominees, focuses on a few key proponents, for example:
Michael Greve, an active defender of the Constitution in Exile at Washington's conservative American Enterprise Institute, argues that to achieve its goals, the movement ultimately needs not just one or two but four more Supreme Court justices sympathetic to its cause, as well as a larger transformation in the overall political and legal culture. ''I think what is really needed here is a fundamental intellectual assault on the entire New Deal edifice,'' he says. ''We want to withdraw judicial support for the entire modern welfare state. I'd retire and play golf if I could get there.''

There's much more in the article, including a discussion of the theories of lawprof Richard Epstein, and a description of a clash between Epstein and Justice Scalia. I could excerpt more, but I recommend reading the article if you're not familiar with recent Supreme Court case law. If you are familiar with the cases, you might want to skim and then read the last page, which is oddly inconclusive.

UPDATE: This post by David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy is very helpful. He debunks the idea of a "Constitution in Exile movement" (there's really only "a very loose-knit group of libertarian-oriented intellectuals with many disagreements among themselves"), [MATERIAL DELETED because Bernstein deleted it as "unfair"], and observes that Bush is unlikely to try to appoint libertarians to the Supreme Court. About the phrase "Constitution in Exile," he writes:
[T]he phrase was pretty much ignored until 2001, when it was picked up and publicized by liberals. In October 2001, the Duke Law Journal, at the behest of some liberal law professors assumedly worried about what would happen to constitutional law under Bush appointees, published a symposium on the Constitution in Exile. Thereafter, other left-wingers, such as Doug Kendall of the Community Rights Council and Professor Cass Sunstein, began to mutter about some dark conspiracy among right-wingers to restore something called "the Constitution in Exile."
You can read that symposium issue of Duke Law Journal here. I was one of the participants.

"Oh, and one more thing: F--you."

In The Weekly Standard, Matt Labash has a long, colorful article about Ward Churchill, whom he followed about and had a long drunken conversation with. An excerpt:
That night, Churchill, his wife Natsu, and I meet up at the Hotel Durant bar, just off the Berkeley campus. ... [W]e tuck into a bay-windowed nook with a no smoking sticker displayed prominently. "I usually put that right over my ashtray," he rasps.

Seeing as how we're getting along so famously, I pop out my tape recorder and start with a softball. "Why do you hate America?" I ask him.

"Next question," he says. "Why do you beat your wife? When you answer that, I'll answer yours."

I go with a different approach, asking what Easter means to him. "Easter?" he says, as if he's just heard the word for the first time. "That's when that poor man was crucified. Is that after he'd been entombed, and they rolled the rock back, he ran out, saw his shadow and ran back in?"

I take the Punxsutawney Jesus crack to mean that Churchill is up for a good mud-wrestling match, so I order fire-waters all round (he's a Jameson's Irish Whiskey man), and we hunker down for a three-hour duel. ...

As the night wears on, I feel transported back to my college days, when, on any given evening, you could end up in an off-campus bar with some batty radical professor, drinking, arguing, and throwing darts--at each other. Churchill and I, in repeated cycles, suffer through the classic three stages of happy hour: boozy bonhomie, injurious repartee, then schmaltzy reconciliation.

We find common ground on a few things. We agree that singer Townes Van Zandt is God, or was, until he drank himself to death. We resolve that Paul Newman characters make for good children's names (Luke, Hud, etc.). We concur that one of the most satisfying lines in the English language (Churchill's favorite) comes from Dashiell Hammett in The Dain Curse, when he describes a woman's face as a "dusky oval mask between black hat and black fur coat."

We disagree on nearly everything else, sometimes violently. ...

We patch things up, for the most part. And by the end of the evening, I again posit to Churchill that he knows no transgression unless it's American transgression, that his calculus considers only the wars we've fought, but never the wars the world never had to fight as a result of American might. I tell him that communism, which set into motion so many of the American policies he detests, was no joke--it took the lives of 100 million people. At this, he blanches. "You don't really want to sit here and get into an arithmetical tally of who killed more people. Both have killed astronomical numbers of people in order to maintain themselves. Neither is defensible. The Soviet Union, however, has the virtue at this point of not being here anymore. The United States cannot claim that credit."

As I settle the check, and Churchill and his wife get up to leave, he says offhandedly, "Oh, and one more thing: F--you." I think he's joking, but in case he's not, on behalf of the little Eichmanns, I offer back with relish, "F--you too."
Great article. There's much more in it. You should read it.

This new comments trend.

Noting the addition of comments to this blog and over at Volokh Conspiracy, Stephen Bainbridge is considering adding comments (and is taking a vote). Who started the trend? At least for me, it was Judge Posner.

Check out the comments page from my posts of the last two or three days, some of which have over thirty comments -- nearly all of which are well written, thoughtful, on point, and not abusive. There's some real discussion and debate in there, and I put my own comments in from time to time.

UPDATE: Shortly after writing this, I got my first dose of spam comment: just a list of links to what are apparently porn sites. Well, if it's just one, I can easily delete it right? Wrong! I know it's somewhere in the comments because Blogger emails me each comment. I can read the comment, but I can't tell which post it goes with. I'd have to spend a lot of time looking for it! If you run across one of these things, email me and tell me which post it's on, so I can delete it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: An emailer pointed out that the email from Blogger has a link that takes you right to the post. I hadn't noticed that! Well, that makes this much less of a problem!