May 14, 2005

A glamorous but slightly pervy rest stop on Route 90.

The Belvidere Oasis on Route 90 just north of Chicago is the most glamorous rest stop I've ever seen. It spans the highway, and you can get a Starbucks coffee and a Krispy Kreme doughnut and sit and watch the traffic stream underneath you:

The Belvidere Oasis on Route 90

They have two spiffy VW vans -- both with big Sponge Bob dolls in the front seats -- that each has four compartments filled with stuffed dolls to play that arcade game where you manipulate that gripper device to try to snag a prize before your time runs out:

The Belvidere Oasis on Route 90

Whoever loaded up the Flintstones compartment put the Betty Rubble dolls on top, face down, with their skirts pushed up so you could see their white underpants. And the one in front has a dirty fingerprint on the panties! (Click photo to enlarge.)

The Belvidere Oasis on Route 90

Oh, my!

Greetings from Cleveland.

The view from the window of my lovely hotel room:


Off to Cleveland.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to Cleveland. Why Cleveland? It's halfway to Ithaca, my destination. I'm going to toss a few things into my Audi TT Coupe, which has never been more than a hundred or so miles from home, and take it for its first long trip. I've booked hotels with WiFi, and I'll have my camera at all times, so you can expect to see some Cleveland blogging here this evening.

Exciting, isn't it?

And thanks to all the great commenters who gave me tips about things to do in Cleveland (and between Cleveland and Ithaca and in Ithaca)!

When the satire gets way out in front of its target.

Huffington's Toast is not only far better than than The Huffington Post, it doesn't even really need The Huffington Post to continue to exist -- either as a real site or as something anyone pays any attention to. The Onion initially based its format on USA Today, but is no longer at all dependent on USA Today as a subject of mockery. Similarly, the Toast doesn't need the Post. The format accommodates satire of all sorts of bloggers, celebrities, and politicos, and they can keep going on that material long after the Post is toast. The Post was useful to get a snappy look and a flood of attention, but these guys have already run right past it and become a general humor site.

Judge for yourself, because I'm a running joke over there, so I must be biased. But which way am I biased?

May 13, 2005

What could be more personal?

Let's check out The Huffington Post again. There's Arianna, tucked away, as usual in the upper left hand corner. She's effusing:
One of the things I’m loving about our inaugural week is the variety of subject matter and tone that we’re getting from our bloggers. From the unabashedly political to the deeply personal -- such as the new postings by Bruce Cohen and Cheryl Saban (after all, what could be more personal than witnessing your daughter give birth, then blogging about it?).

What could be more personal than witnessing your daughter give birth, then blogging about it?

How about: witnessing your daughter give birth and not blogging about it.
Watching my baby have her baby was like being a sous chef for GOD -- there was nothing I could do but observe in humility and awe.

Fabulous metaphor! Because you know how a sous chef just does nothing but stand there.

[ADDED: Yes, it's a simile, not a metaphor....]

I scrolled through all the current blog posts just now. Nothing caught my eye. Just a lot of dreary pedestrian blather. Laurie David's concerned about global warming. Gary Hart is concerned about security, not just "traditional military security" but "security of livelihood, security of community, security of the environment, security of energy, and the security of thoughtful politics."

And don't forget the security of knowing you don't really need to click over to the HuffPo, because it's going to be boooorrrrriiinnggggggg.

It's so much more fun over here.

UPDATE: N.Z. Bear is making fun of the eminently risible HuffPo User Service Agreement. That and their refusal to join the Ecosystem. And show us their Site Meter.

"What? There's another episode?!"

I wonder how many people across the country said that at the end of last night's "Apprentice." They left absolutely zero suspense about who would win. The whole episode was cut to make Tana look hilariously bad and even more hilariously delusional about herself. Meanwhile, there was almost nothing wrong with Kendra. The next thing we're shown will happen is that each woman's teammembers will talk about her behind her back, but we already know Kendra's people loved her and Tana had no rapport at all with hers. What's to watch next week?

I guess it might be funny to hear everyone tear into Tana and destroy her ridiculous, smug confidence. We've been prepped to find that amusing. How can anyone like Tana anymore after she said "I have a husband and children to go home to. Kendra has nothing"?

Fear of bloggers.

Making the rounds today is the story of an adjunct professor at SMU, who was not renewed, perhaps because of her blog, which included sharp observations about professors and students. Not surprisingly, she's writing a book. And she should: the writing's really good. Let's hope that, freed from her job, she'll write more and better stories about campus life.

The blog is The Phantom Professor. I'm putting her on the blogroll.

Did the school do anything wrong if it cut her because her stories disturbed faculty and students and their parents? It would be at least foolish, because there will always be another blogger to write about the school, and now those bloggers will be reacting to anti-bloggism. And since The Phantom Professor observed the basic decencies of changing names and identifying details, her telling descriptions and insights did no serious harm. And it's usually better to appreciate satire and laugh at yourself.

For example, I'm still laughing at this -- scroll down and keep scrolling, all the way down -- even though it makes me a little nervous sometimes.

UPDATE: Judging from the comments on this post, people think that last link actually takes them to The Huffington Post. It doesn't! And, really, look for my name, which appears about 20 times.

ANOTHER UPDATE: That is, about 40 times. (And, no, I'm not a secret co-author of that blog.)

Ten things I've never done.

Yesterday, I linked to RLC's list of 10 things about himself, and Tonya, in the comments, said I should write 10 things about myself. For some reason, I didn't find that immediately appealing, but it popped into my head to write a list of ten things I've never done.

I've never:
1. Gone camping.

2. Eaten egg salad, devilled eggs, or cold hard-boiled eggs.

3. Gone skiing.

4. Set foot on any continent other than North America and Europe.

5. Shoplifted.

6. Watched a pornographic movie -- other than in federal court, as part of a forfeiture proceeding.

7. Called anyone "sir" or "ma'am."

8. Used a computer that wasn't a Macintosh (unless you count things like dedicated LEXIS consoles and ATM machines as computers).

9. Seen the movie "Apocalypse, Now." (It was always "Apocalypse," later, for me, and now maybe it's "Apocalypse," never. )

10. Used cocaine or heroin.
UPDATE: Steven Taylor accepts my meme here. And, wow, it's amazing what he's never done. Never gone to New York City? And Stephen Bainbridge joins in here. Two of his are wine-related.

The "C.S.I. effect."

A criminology professor, Simon Cole, writes in the WSJ -- not the Wisconsin State Journal, the other WSJ -- about the much-vaunted "C.S.I. effect." Have the neatly packaged stories on the popular TV show reshaped jurors minds, causing them to hold prosecutors to unrealistically high standards?
[T]o argue that "C.S.I." and similar shows are actually raising the number of acquittals is a staggering claim, and the remarkable thing is that, speaking forensically, there is not a shred of evidence to back it up. There is a robust field of research on jury decision-making but no study finding any "C.S.I. effect."

There is only anecdotal evidence....

Cole argues that the media have fallen for the prosecutors' version of what the show has done to people's minds. There's a defendants' version too: it's made people think of "forensic evidence as unambiguous and more certain than it is."

Even without a systematic study, though, we can assume popular culture is always affecting how people think. Cole admits:
As Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner note in "Minding the Law" (2000), "judges and lawyers must inevitably rely upon culturally shaped processes of categorizing, storytelling, and persuasion in going about their business." TV has become our principal storyteller, transmitting legal norms or, arguably, creating them. It's been said that "NYPD Blue," like cop shows before it, educated the public about its Miranda rights. Other scholars talk about a "Perry Mason effect," which may cause juries to expect on-the-stand confessions like the ones Raymond Burr elicited week after week.
I've never seen "C.S.I." Surprised? I rarely watch any TV dramas (or movie dramas for that matter). I think I've come to dislike watching actors pretend to have problems and sitting around waiting for them to "solve" those problems.

But it seems to me that "C.S.I." would tend to sharpen a viewer's perception and attention to logical reasoning. I'm not that sympathetic to prosecutors' whining that they can't rely on jurors' fuzzy thinking anymore. Defense lawyers have always complained about the way jurors were dazzled by science and would defer to expertise. So what if everyone thinks he's an expert too now? That's an incentive for prosecutors to do their work well. The imperfection of real-life evidence is just one more thing they will have to get through to the C.S.I.-sharpened minds of the jurors.

May 12, 2005

"Now, again, we're going back to the 50s... Things were very, very different from how they are now."

So said Priscilla Presley -- through a painfully surgically stretched skin-mask that was once a beautiful face. She was on the Letterman show last night, describing her parents' concern when she, at the age of 14, started dating Elvis Presley, who was 24. After three dates, her father -- so old fashioned! -- insisted on meeting Elvis. They were "nervous" about her "visiting" him.

Letterman: "You... you... you were 14. Uh... uh... he was 21? 24. So that was... uh... I mean ... even today... that was ... it's unheard of ... I would think ... Isn't it? More or less?"

PP: "Well, I don't know about today. I mean, there's older ... well ... in Hollywood ... there's ... uh..." (Grimaces -- to the extent the face permits -- and the audience giggles.) "Little bit ... 30 years ... how about that one? Heh, heh."

The new Bench Memos blog.

Despite my general dislike for high-profile blog launches, I'm going call attention to Bench Memos, the new National Review blog entirely devoted to the current tussles over judicial nominations. (Pointed out by How Appealing.) This is going right on the blogroll. And I'd love to see a corresponding blog that would keep track of the Democratic side of things in an equally solid and very substantive way.

Ten things...

... about my ex-husband.

ADDED: #5 should also say he's been mistaken for Ozzy Osbourne.

Goodbye, Dennis.

CNN reports: "'Dennis Miller' will be replaced with a second airing of 'Mad Money With Jim Cramer' at 9 p.m. ET."

"Mad Money With Jim Cramer"? That's brutal. Poor Dennis.

His show never got to be as good as it could have been because -- I'm guessing -- Miller never got the support from CNBC he needed. And he deserved it. His past work on HBO was great, but the CNBC show was struggling on the edge all along. I suppose Miller never should have risked his reputation by venturing into that unsupported environment. There was a limit to how much he could do on sheer wits alone. And it was often painful to watch him sweating it out on camera.

He needed great writers and supporting actors and a sharp audience -- what Jon Stewart has on "The Daily Show." Now, he's the one stuck looking like a failure. And I blame CNBC for doing that to him.

I'm going to punish them by never -- never! -- watching "Mad Money With Jim Cramer."

WaPo on HuffPo and some blogging advice.

Howard Kurtz in the WaPo addresses HuffPo criticism in the blogosphere. He gives me some credit I don't deserve:
Ann Althouse begins with a bit of satire: "Hello everyone! This is my first post!! Ever. I've never posted before! Anyway. . . . . "

"Nothing particularly clever or pithy coming from the celebs, and there's too much verbiage to give them all a chance. No one seems to have given much thought to how to write a blog. Have they even read other blogs?
The italicized quote is not satirical writing by me, just quote selection from a real HuffPo blogpost.

Kurtz also quotes Kevin Drum:
"I guess I don't get it...250 contributors? And 65 posts on the first day? (83% by men, BTW, just to toss another match on the whole women-in-blogging thing.) Is anyone really going to plow through all that?...

"Maybe I'm missing something here. My taste is not everyone's taste, after all. But I read blogs because I enjoy the author's voice and enjoy seeing them engage with the rest of the blogosphere. An enormous dumping ground of miscellaneous paragraphs parachuting out of the sky, on the other hand, doesn't seem that appealing."

Drum links to Marc Cooper to note that HuffPo got 8 million hits on the first day. Ah! I bet it was all bloggers like me looking for stuff to make fun of. I'm sure I hit the site at least 20 times!

And I thoroughly agree with Cooper about the widely-linked Nikke Finke piece (which I haven't mentioned before because I thought it was too stupid to talk about): Who cares if David Geffen doesn't blog?

Another thing about that Nikke Finke piece -- now that I'm bothering to talk about it: It's ridiculous to compare a blog to a movie -- as she did -- and to judge it a "bomb." When a reviewer sees a movie, that's it, that's the whole movie. You can say if it's good or bad. But a blog is a continuing flow of material. It might develop into something good. It might start big and peter out. You can't make a final call on the first day.

In fact, I don't like when bloggers make a big thing out of their first day and say "Look at me, I'm launching a new blog!" Why not blog low-profile for a while and get a feel for what your voice is going to be, what makes a good post, how to mix up the subject matter? Then one day when you've got a particularly good post on a subject some prominent blogger would want to link to, send out an email on that post. Then if you get a link and people follow it, they'll see this is some kind of a real blog over here -- there's a whole flow going on -- and that link will have some potential to lead to a regular readership. That's what I did.

Why is the medical marijuana case taking so long?

Jim Lindgren speculates on the outcome of the medical marijuana case (Raich):
[T]he Supreme Court is in a bind in Raich. Either the Court has to follow the Constitution and strike down federal drug regulation of intrastate noncommercial uses of marijuana (a controversial decision to follow the rule of law), or it has to expand Wickard radically, rendering the Commerce Clause almost (though not quite) a dead letter. Stated another way, the Court either has to expand its federalism jurisprudence slightly (eg, Lopez & Morrison, but in the controversial drug area), or it has to limit Lopez & Morrison to their facts by radically expanding federal power under the Commerce Clause. It can't stand still. Perhaps that is why the Court has been so slow to render an opinion.

Here's my theory on why the Court is taking so long with Raich. The Court is going to uphold the application of the Controlled Substances Act, even to the users of homegrown marijuana California wanted to accommodate. It really is not such a difficult question because Congress is trying to regulate a commodity down to the very smallest components of a market, including the home supplying of a product that would otherwise be bought on the market.

The Wickard case, which Lindgren would discount as "weakly reasoned," establishes this principle, albeit in the context of a farmer, and a farmer is engaged in a commercial enterprise, even if the wheat the government regulated never left his farm. Lopez and Morrison support drawing a line between commercial and noncommercial, however, and a homegrowing, home-user belongs on the noncommercial side of the line.

But if you take that route, how do you treat medicinal home-users differently from recreational home-users? You have to say medical home-users are not the sort of persons who would use the illegal market as a substitute for homegrowing, and that recreational users are. Considering all the people who have been punished for the possession of homegrown marijuana, I find it very difficult to accept a constitutional line drawn between these two motivations for using the drug.

The distinction is entirely based on a speculative theory about how people in different situations behave. Somehow medical users are the sort of people who would refrain from seeking out an illegal seller? They'd switch to a legal drug of some kind? Why? Why isn't it more likely that recreational users would limit themselves to homegrowing if it was completely legal, and would switch to a legal substance if they'd neglected to grow their own? Aren't medical patients more in need of the substance than recreational users? They are the ones with the special need for appetite stimulation. Recreational users can just substitute alcohol. And medical patients are more likely to have difficulty doing their own gardening and to require a different source.

(But it’s easy to grow marijuana, isn’t it? No one really needs to switch to buying, do they?)

I simply don't understand any distinction between medical and recreational users that is relevant to the constitutional point. (I realize medical patients are more sympathetic.) Both groups must be treated the same under the Constitution.

Assuming the Court has to find for the federal government in Raich, the reason it's taking so long -- I'm speculating -- is that it is very hard to explain the Wickard concept in a way that will satisfy the general public, which finds it so easy to sympathize with the suffering cancer patients on the other side. The Court is just hung up crafting and recrafting its labyrinthine legalisms into a form suitable for public consumption.

Alternatively, the Court may have decided to give up on its recent effort to limit the Commerce Power. Maybe the line drawing it undertook in Lopez and Morrison is not worth the trouble, and one member of the majority from those two cases is willing to join the Justices who would re-introduce the simplicity of completely deferring to Congress about what "substantially affects interstate commerce" and thus falls within the Commerce Power.

Or maybe the Court will put all homegrown marijuana outside of the reach of the federal government, and we can all start tending our own little marijuana plants on our windowsills. I wonder how many people who never consider buying illegal marijuana would happily pursue the option of growing their own. A lot, I think. It's hard to imagine how much America would change if the Court made that little move -- one that is quite justifiable as a matter of constitutional interpretation.

We’ll find out soon enough.

UPDATE: Just to clarify on a point brought up by a commenter. If federal law for homegrowing home users were held unconstitutional, there would still be the layers of state and local law to deal with. We'd get a chance to see what the states would do in this newly cleared field of regulation. Some might choose to ban all possession, some would legalize only the medical use, but I think some would permit recreational uses. It would be quite interesting to see the states, those laboratories of democracy, "experiment with drugs."

Lear on how Democrats can feel good again.

Let's see how The Huffington Post is huffing along this morning. I see Norman Lear has posted:
I have had it with elected officials depending on polls and focus groups and fingers in the wind to instruct them as to what direction they should take us. We sent them "to the hill" from which, presumably, they are the ones with the 360 degree view. In their emotionally crowded lives, average working class voters should be able to rely on those they send to the hill to get the complete picture, and then have the courage to lead. To lead, not return to them for instructions.

I cringe for that great body of voters every time I hear them disparaged --"Can't they see they're voting against their own self-interest?"-- by us Democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever we are calling ourselves at the moment. We owe them empathy, understanding, leadership.
Translation: Stop hand-wringing about why the great mass of people can't understand things and just tell them how it's going to be. Then, instead of that nasty feeling you have now -- caused by thinking the American people are stupid -- you can start feeling good -- thinking what a fine, empathetic person you are for respecting the way ordinary people devote themselves to family and work and not to politics.

And I will give Lear credit: That was nicely written, in an appropriately readable, bloggy style.

"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong."

I've complained about how hard it is here in Madison to put out the trash properly. We're sent a thick booklet on how to do it right, and it you put something out wrong, they just won't take it, and you're left to try to figure out how you've offended, to reconfigure your proffer of garbage, and to endure the suspense as you wait to see if they'll accept it next week.

But it's way worse in Japan, where they've come up with 40+ categories for you to sort your discarded things into, and where they search through your bags to check your work and track you down and chide you and humiliate you about your garbage misdeeds.
Mitsuharu Taniyama ... drives around his ward every morning and evening, looking for missorted trash. He leaves notices at collection sites: "Mr. So-and-so, your practice of sorting out garbage is wrong. Please correct it."...

He stopped in front of one messy location where five bags were scattered about, and crows had picked out orange peels from one.

"This is a typical example of bad garbage," Mr. Taniyama said, with disgust. "The problem at this location is that there is no community leader. If there is no strong leader, there is chaos."...

On the corner of a street with large houses, where the new policy went into effect last October, Yumiko Miyano, 56, was waiting with some neighbors.

Ms. Miyano said she now had 90 percent compliance, adding that, to her surprise, those resisting tended to be "intellectuals," like a certain university professor or an official at Japan Airlines up the block....

Shizuka Gu, 53, said that early on, a community leader sent her a letter reprimanding her for not writing her identification number on the bag with a "thick felt-tip pen." She was chided for using a pen that was "too thin."

"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong," Ms. Gu said. "So I couldn't bring myself to take out the trash here and asked my husband to take it to his office. We did that for one month."

At a 100-family apartment complex not too far away, Sumishi Kawai was keeping his eyes trained on the trash site before pickup. Missorting was easy to spot, given the required use of clear garbage bags with identification numbers.
So we have it easy here in Madison. At least if they accept your garbage, they don't come back and tell you you did something wrong. And we really only have maybe about ten categories at the most around here. We do have to use clear bags for recyclables, but we get to put all the cans and bottles in one bag. I guess we have it easy. I'm sure there are some folks in town who think the Japanese approach is even better, but we're still far from ready to tolerate this sort of thing.

I love the way the garbage-enforcer quoted in the article is shocked that it's the "intellectuals" who resist. Also this quote: "If there is no strong leader, there is chaos." It sounds like a very grand political struggle. Is it just about garbage?

May 11, 2005

Carving down to the final three.

Nice results show tonight on "American Idol." We saw the original audition of each of the final four, which was quite charming. Vonzell showed up with un-color-matched shoes. Anthony, told he reminded Paula of Clay Aiken, pushed up his glasses in that Lisa-Loopner-nerdy way and said that that's what people at work told him.

Carrie, who's been looking glum all evening, watches her earlier self singing "I Can't Make You Love Me." Her present-day self looks terribly grim, as if she's thinking, "Oh, yes, I was young and innocent once. I had hopes and dreams and the world was rosy. But, now -- now!-- it has all turned to ashes in my mouth."

Finally, we see Bo's audition, which never made the cut in the early rounds. He looks a little ragged. Remember Bo when his hair wasn't glossy? He sings with his eyes closed -- except one eye is open a little to check out the response. As soon as he's done, Simon says "Brilliant." And Simon usually waits for everyone else to speak first and often, in those early rounds, says nothing more than "You're through to Hollywood" when the other judges vote yes. We can't even figure out if he was positive or negative. That's his coy game. But he out and said "Brilliant" for Bo.

Carrie is looking so glum that it's hard to believe they haven't already told her she's going. But I can't see any reason for them to do anything "corrupt" like that. I didn't see her second song last night -- my cable glitched -- but maybe she was really awful.

But, no, Carrie is safe. She's told that right after Bo is told he's safe. The bottom two are Anthony and Vonzell. And now Vonzell is told she's safe. So it's Anthony who must go.

Goodbye, Anthony, sweetheart.

"Cool, creative stuff"?

Here is a "featured post" on The Huffington Post today:
The grave urgencies facing us do not simply lie in fighting terrorism abroad but also in ensuring that our children - all of our children - can grow strong, talented, and hopeful in this land that we love.

That garbled syntax, that graduation-speech glop, is a front page teaser that's supposed to get you to click for more. And there's Arianna, permanently parked in the upper left hand corner, chirping: "There is some cool, creative stuff showing up on The Blog."

I wonder what it would take for me to start feeling sorry for her.

UPDATE: Hey, this is pretty funny. I can't get a permalink for the post I want you to read but it's called "I Got Here Before That Bitch Winer." So just scroll down. MORE: Here's the link.

That morality test.

Stephen Bainbridge points out this test of moral intuitions (via Tyler Cowen). Here's my score:
Your Moralising Quotient is: 0.47.

Your Interference Factor is: 0.00.

Your Universalising Factor is: 0.60.
That puts me in the "personal morality" quadrant of the diagram.

Howard Dean appreciates my tremendous support.

Here's some email I just received from Howard Dean:
Dear Ann,

On behalf of the Democratic National Committee, I want to express to you our great appreciation for the tremendous support you provided the Party and its candidates as a volunteer attorney for the Democratic Party in the 2004 election. Your work to ensure that the right to vote was protected was and continues to be vitally important.

We must continue our efforts at the state and local levels to ensure that the right to vote is fully protected, that citizens are not unlawfully purged from or kept off the voter rolls, that voters are not intimidated or harassed, and that all voters can count on a fair and transparent process on Election Day. With your help, the Democratic Party did a lot in 2004 and in past cycles to promote these goals, but much more needs to be done. As you know from your own first-hand experience on the ground, we have a long way to go before we can say that our election process is truly fair, open and respectful of the basic rights of all Americans....

I am asking you to join the DNC's new National Lawyers Council....

Sincerely yours,

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.
Chairman, Democratic National Committee

I wonder what part of my "tremendous support" for the Democratic Party Dean appreciated the most. The part where I voted for George W. Bush and called attention to that fact on a blog that was getting a quarter of a million hits a day at the time?

UPDATE: I edited down Dean's letter. It was taking up too much space and annoying me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Gordon received and instant-blogged the same email.

Is $45,000 too much to pay when your dog kills the neighbor's cat?

I say absolutely not. Obviously, anyone can get a new cat free, so the replacement cost is nothing (unless it's a fancy breed). The linked article emphasizes the emotional harm to the owner, who was, as people are, quite attached to her specific pet.

But what I would emphasize is that people with dogs should not be letting them run loose. Unleashed dogs terrify children and disturb many adults. Back when I used to walk to work, I permanently altered my path the second time I saw two dobermans run out of a particular house. And there are many cases of dogs mauling children to death.

In short, damages have a deterrent effect, and letting dogs run unleashed in a residential area is a very specific behavior, quite susceptible to deterrence. I hope a lot of people get the message.

Now, about that cat. It shouldn't be running around loose either. It might easily bite or scratch a child too. And, worse than a dog, it is a nonnative animal that hunts down the native animals to the detriment of the ecosystem. Maybe someday someone will sue the neighbor whose cat kills a nesting songbird in his yard and win $45,000. What would you think of that? I say it would have a fine deterrent effect.

"People ask, Why should we change?"

The NYT reports on a horrible ritual:
[In Malawi] and in a number of nearby nations including Zambia and Kenya, a husband's funeral has long concluded with a final ritual: sex between the widow and one of her husband's relatives, to break the bond with his spirit and, it is said, save her and the rest of the village from insanity or disease. Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life....

In a region where belief in witchcraft is widespread and many women are taught from childhood not to challenge tribal leaders or the prerogatives of men, the fear of flouting tradition often outweighs even the fear of AIDS.

"It is very difficult to end something that was done for so long," said Monica Nsofu, a nurse and AIDS organizer in the Monze district in southern Zambia, about 200 miles south of the capital, Lusaka. "We learned this when we were born. People ask, Why should we change?"

Read the whole article. It contains many woeful details.

Best new packaging idea.

If only the latte inside weren't "overly sweet [with] a distinct chemical aftertaste." And it's way too heavy, which sort of defeats the purpose of a self-heating container. Still, I could imaging having a bunch of these in the car when going off on a long trip. The worst part for me is that it's a can, and I actually never drink from a can.

Not a fraud, just a fortune cookie.

How 110 persons got 5 of 6 numbers right on Powerball. And what's with the middle initial of the reporter on this NYT article? Should I be placing a bet somewhere?

Getting started.

It's the first real day of summer for me, now that I've written both exams and done that speech I was telling you about. I've still got the exam grading to do, but that will be a much less pressured activity -- assuming I pace myself well. There was a big thunderstorm in the middle of the night, though, and I lost a chunk of sleep, which I made up for by sleeping late. So I'm just starting to cook up some morning posts for you.

Meanwhile, you could read the Carnival of the Vanities. And here's the Christian Carnival, which is up to its LXIX edition. The contributors are blogging their way, verse by verse, through Ephesians 6. The verses look nice interlaced with blog references. Why, there's "Fathers, do not exasperate your children" -- we could all think up a little something for that. Other lines are much more intimidating: "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes."

You can read that if you like. Me, I'm going to page my way through the paper New York Times, which I just dragged in out of the rain.

May 10, 2005

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I need to drive east, to pick up my son in Ithaca next week, and I've decided to stop halfway there in Cleveland and take a day to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Any Cleveland travel tips? Any advice for scenic byways or charming towns or natural beauties on the drive from Cleveland to Ithaca? I'm already aware of Niagara Falls, of course, and I've even seen Taughannock Falls. I'm looking to do some interesting photoblogging as I make my way east and then dart back home again.

Fallen "Idol."

I can't provide the normal "American Idol" report because midway through the show, my cable service went dead. (I'm using dial-up to post this!)

It was a very emotional moment. Vonzell had just sung horribly, and Anthony was launching into his song quite nicely... and then, nothing! I'll have to read the Television Without Pity forums to get a sense of what happened. What a shame! The final four has traditionally been the key show. Ah, but I'm thinking Vonzell crashed-and-burned for some reason. They were saying she was nervous. Somehow, it seems, she lost her nerve. Or did she come back on Song 2 and save the day?

UPDATE: Did something quite pervasive happen? I see that my Site Meter went down to 16 during the hour when I lost my service (after being above 200 an hour all day and back up to 290 after that hour). I wonder how many people lost the show and how it will affect the voting.

I'm trying to get a sense of what happened from the Television Without Pity forums. This comment struck me: "Will it be a Tamyra week? Hmm! Well, if we must shock and awe, I say let's unload Farm-Bot!" In other words, Tamyra Grey left in this week in Season 1 and a big loss in the final 4 week has become traditional. "Farm-Bot" is Carrie, and the word seems to be that she was not so good on the second song. As you may know, I've long disliked her, and I thought she was terrible on the first song, the one that was supposed to be good. One thing about her is that I don't think she'd be that competitive on "Nashville Star," and it irks me that someone can make it this far on "AI" being the "country girl" when really there are plenty of country girls out there who'd beat her soundly on a solidly country show.

The tie-dye continues.

Last week I blogged about how it just might be eternally 1969 here in Madison. A crack about always wearing tie-dye led to a post with a picture of Tonya, wearing tie-dye. Tonya seemed kind of amused by the post, and perhaps eager to make her mark as a hardcore Madisonian, because she dropped by my office today dressed like this:


(And she was quite enthused about the new Dave Matthews CD.)

A very long day.

It's been a long day. I managed to get a post up this morning, but I haven't even had a chance to read the newspaper. I made my post of the day about the filibuster not so much because the filibuster fight is coming to a head today, but because I was gearing up for an hour-long speech to the Dane County Bar Association about the Supreme Court's cases thus far this term and my theme was tying the cases to the political fight over judicial confirmations. I needed to spend the morning paring down my notes to fit the time slot.

The introduction to my talk included a lot about this blog, including some very strong encouragement to the local lawyers to read the blog. [ADDED: Not me introducing the talk this way! Someone else.] So if you were there and are stopping by as a result, thanks! Look around, join the comments, come back frequently.

After the talk, I had office hours for my conlaw students who have their exam tomorrow morning. Somewhere around 4:30 I was on the verge of losing my voice.

Now, it's time to go home and read the newspaper and get something to eat. I should feel a great sense of relief having gotten through this hectic day, but somehow it hasn't kicked in yet. There will surely be some more blogging later, because, whether I find anything bloggable in the newspaper or not, "American Idol" is on tonight. I do look forward to an oblivious hour of very foolish television and the challenge of saying something about it that isn't entirely foolish.

"Our government was not designed to be efficient."

The Washington Post reports:
President Bush yesterday called for an immediate vote on two of his most controversial judicial nominations, increasing pressure on Senate Republicans to consider a historic rule change that would make it easier for him, and future presidents, to reshape the federal bench, including the Supreme Court....

The president, who initiated the conflict by renominating judges whom Democrats had blocked during his first term and demanding new votes this year, is essentially guaranteeing a showdown that is as much about the power of the presidency as Democratic obstinacy, according to numerous government scholars. The result could be a more powerful White House, a weakened Congress and the possible erosion, if not end of, the most powerful tool available to the minority party, the filibuster, the scholars said.

"This is being done to . . . help a president achieve what he wants to achieve," said former representative Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), now a scholar at the Aspen Institute. "It's a total disavowal of the basic framework of the system of government. It's much more efficient [for Bush], but our government was not designed to be efficient."
The Senate wasn't designed with a filibuster either. It's true the government wasn't designed to be as efficient as possible, but it also wasn't designed to be as inefficient as possible. A balance of efficiency and inefficiency was thought best. The filibuster is an extra inefficiency the Senate chose for itself. How is it "a total disavowal of the basic framework of the system of government" to return to the degree of efficiency provided in the Constitution? You can argue that more inefficiency is a good idea and that it isn't unconstitutional for the Senate to adopt addditional inefficiencies, but don't think you can palm it off with pieties about your faithfulness to the intent of the Constitution's Framers.

Similar rhetoric is deployed by proponents of the President's nominees:
Supporters of the proposed rule change say it would restore the proper balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches. They contend the Democrats' repeated filibusters of appellate court nominees are imposing a new and unfair standard that requires 60 votes, rather than 51, for any appointee the minority party finds objectionable.

"Respect for the separation of powers has been tossed aside," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said yesterday.
I suppose no one is able to think straight about whether the filibuster is a salutary brake on the power of the majority. Everyone already knows whether they would like to see the majority act efficiently or the minority have an active role checking its power. So everyone professes fealty to the Constitution and shock that the other side would betray it.

May 9, 2005

Arriving on the computer blog site of the Internet blogosphere.

Walter Cronkite is posting:
Arianna Huffington has exercised her renowned wisdom to give journalism another boost along the ever busier Internet. Her blog site promises to be an interesting challenge for those of us lucky enough to be invited to participate with our occasional contributions. Hopefully the product will be at least as interesting.

I'll launch my first contribution right here: Arianna, I offer this first editorial opinion that you settle for "interesting" and recognize that it is not a synonym for "entertaining."
And, moreover, I offer this addendum as well to this my first editorial opinion, Arianna, to be merged into your already formidable wisdom, wisdom celebrated across the continents, that you recognize that by "interesting" I mean insufferably tedious.

The NYT responds to bloggers' criticism with a rich new source of bloggable material.

From the NYT:
In order to build readers' confidence, an internal committee at The New York Times has recommended taking a variety of steps, including having senior editors write more regularly about the workings of the paper, tracking errors in a systematic way and responding more assertively to the paper's critics....

It also said The Times should make the paper's operations and decisions more transparent to readers through methods like making transcripts of interviews available on its Web site.

Great! What a boon to bloggers! Is it too much to hope that we'll be able to get permalinks to the transcripts? Not to mention the articles. Bloggers will -- they must know -- have a field day finding discrepancies and imagined discrepancies between articles and their underlying transcripts.

But the Times was motivated to quell bloggers:
One area of particular concern to [executive editor Bill] Keller at the outset was the relentless public criticism of the paper, amplified by both the left and right on the Internet, that peaked during last year's presidential campaign. The paper was largely silent during those attacks, and Mr. Keller asked the committee to consider whether it was "any longer possible to stand silent and stoic under fire."

The committee asserted that The Times must respond to its critics. The report said it was hard for the paper to resist being in a "defensive crouch" during the election but now urged The Times to explain itself "actively and earnestly" to critics and to readers who are often left confused when charges go unanswered.

"We strongly believe it is no longer sufficient to argue reflexively that our work speaks for itself," the report stated. "In today's media environment, such a minimal response damages our credibility," it added. As a result, the committee said, the newsroom should develop a strategy for evaluating public attacks on The Times and determining whether and how to respond to them. "We need to be more assertive about explaining ourselves - our decisions, our methods, our values, how we operate," the committee said, acknowledging that "there are those who love to hate The Times"' and suggesting a focus instead on people who do not have "fixed" opinions about the paper. A parallel goal of this strategy, the committee said, was to assure reporters "that they will be defended when they are subjected to unfair attack." The defense should be led by journalists in the newsroom, the report said, "with support and advice from our corporate communications, marketing and legal departments."
I love their idea of focusing on people like me.

Huffington-related hopes elevated for two seconds.

On The Huffington Post, Larry David's wife, Laurie, begins her first post like this:
Here is a dirty little secret: Larry David watches American Idol. In fact, it’s one of his favorite shows…well, maybe if he didn’t have two daughters to watch it with him, he wouldn’t be as interested, but nonetheless he is the first to plant himself in front of that TV come Tuesday night.

All right! I'm ready! Tell me what Larry says when he's watching "American Idol"! But the next line is:
Which brings me to the reason for this post: Detroit still doesn’t get it.

Aw, damn.... And the rest of the post is about how SUVs are bad. It's not a complete non sequitur: Ford advertises on "American Idol." But, damn... You got my hopes up there for about two seconds.

Click on the "bio" link:
Laurie David is devoted to political and environmental activism. She is principally focused on global warming and fuel economy issues.

A trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Board and a founding member of the Detroit Project, Ms. David has spear-headed numerous...


Can Larry please post? Does Larry find this sort of thing amusing? What does Larry think of the verb "spear-head" as applied to his wife's activities?

UPDATE: Larry David is posting now. Not about "American Idol." About John Bolton. Bolton's mean. But Larry likes him because Larry's mean too. Try to imagine Larry's cranky-guy voice when reading it. I can't really tell if it's funny at the moment, because I have a pretty cranky attitude about the Huffington Post. Hmmm... I accidentally typo'd "Huffington Pose."

"Hello everyone! This is my first post!! Ever. I've never posted before! Anyway..."

So after all the weeks of waiting, the first posts are up, over at the Huffington Post blog. See that? It's called a link. You might want to learn how to do that. None of the celebrity-type bloggers seem to know how, though some of the columnists can.

Like Max Blumenthal. (Is Max Blumenthal a celebrity? I had to Google to find out who he was.) He linked to an Al Gore speech from last week.

Al Gore gave a speech? I did not know that. Now, with that link, I can go check out the speech for myself. But I didn't feel like it.

Blumenthal offers up a long column on the big "theocracy" problem in America. I glanced over his chunk of pedestrian prose but didn't read it. And the "theocracy" meme is something I'm following. The Al Gore block paragraph as a lead-in didn't exactly excite me. And then Gary Bauer had some response to Gore which Blumenthal found inadequate.

So, the columnist types over there are writing more of their usual columns, the kinds of things that get accepted as they do their normal work in MSM. These would-be bloggers are not -- it seems -- trying to come up with a blog-oriented style.

The celebrities seem to be going on about animals and food. Ellen is concerned about the wild horses. Someone else is interested in cooking spaghetti squash and another, lemon squares. Trying to corner the female blog-reading audience, are we?

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's husband goes a little political by re-making the most-made joke about the Defense of Marriage Act. Go ahead! Guess what it is!

Nothing particularly clever or pithy coming from the celebs, and there's too much verbiage to give them all a chance. No one seems to have given much thought to how to write a blog. Have they even read other blogs?

May 8, 2005

Pedestal-leaping effrontery.

Everybody's jumping on that Adam Cohen piece, the one I blogged about here. I was just doing an update and noticing I said that anyone can blog but "there's no pedestal to jump right on top of and have an instant readership as there is when you're hired on by mainstream media."

But, you may say, what about The Huffington Post, that big, foaming mass o' celebrities blogging? Aren't those characters planning to leap right onto a pedestal?

Oh, yes. I'd forgotten. That starts tomorrow, doesn't it? Should we be passive-aggressive and link-withhold? Or aggressive-aggressive and beat them to a virtual pulp for their pedestal-leaping effrontery?

"It was before we lived in a theocracy."

So says Barbara Hall, the creator of the "Joan of Arcadia," trying to explain the TV show's big drop in ratings in this, its second season. She adds, "God wasn't quite as controversial then as he is now."

Her theory seems to be that a show about religion -- Joan is an ordinary teenager to whom God speaks -- is being spurned by all the many Americans who are appalled by the great strength of religion in America. But if religion is so popular, why wouldn't there be plenty of people eager to take in a well-made show about a young person struggling to understand and live up to the requirements of religion?

I'd say it is Hall and her co-writers who are appalled by the strength of religion in our political culture, and they've imbued the show with their own politics, thus putting off the natural audience for their show: ordinary Americans struggling to understand and live up to the requirements of religion. Hall and her co-writers wrongly imagined that the audience was made up of people with Hollywood-style values.

The first episode of Season 2 featured a gratuitous dirty joke (suitably deniable). As I wrote at the time:
In the first episode of this season's "Joan of Arcadia," Joan's boyfriend Adam is telling her about his summer spent working full-time in a hotel and the caption reads: "What do you want to know about plaster, grout, or unclogging toilets? And don't get me started on caulk 'cause that's my passion." But the actor clearly mispronounces the screenplay's word "caulk" in the most hilarious way possible.

I'm sure in Hollywood they fell on the floor laughing, but I think a lot of regular viewers felt uneasy. The NYT article linked above reports:
Barbara Hall ... said in a recent telephone interview that CBS bought the show in 2002 when public discourse about spirituality seemed more gentle: post-9/11 prayer services rather than heated debates over "The Passion of the Christ."

So Hall, concerned about the success of "The Passion of the Christ," set us straight with Episode 1 about what the real passion is: cock.

The season proceeded on the theme of teenage sex. Will Joan sleep with her boyfriend? What if he has another girlfriend? What if she has another boyfriend? Religion had very little to do with the problems Joan faced in these dreary episodes. I was one of the people who stopped watching midway through the season.

And it wasn't just all the Hollywood sex rained down on the sweet, earnest teenager we came to love the year before. It was also the Hollywood politics. Two weeks after Bush won reelection last November, I wrote about another early episode in Season 2:
On last night's episode of "Joan of Arcadia," Joan's boyfriend said to her: "So what if you don't make Ivy League? Is it really that big of a deal? If George Bush is any indication..."

The actor says "George Bush" with a mild but scoffing inflection that invokes the Bush-is-dumb opinion it's assumed we share. But this a big, popular network show, and Bush just won a decisive re-election. Who do they think watches the show?
And now that the show has lost two million viewers and faces cancellation, Barbara Hall blames America's devotion to religion? Why not blame yourself for losing faith in the deep religious component of your own show?

UPDATE: The Anchoress approves.

We don't need your code of ethics.

Adam Cohen has a long-winded, flat-footed piece on the NYT editorial page about bloggers and ethics. He wants more rules -- a code -- to bind bloggers to the same ethical standards that bind journalists. Eason Jordan and Dan Rather got into a lot of trouble when they violated the journalistic code of ethics, but their "misdeeds would most likely not have landed them in trouble in the world of bloggers, where few rules apply."

Please. The journalistic code didn't keep Jordan and Rather in line. It was the bloggers, invoking their own standards -- not a code but an evolving culture -- that called them to account. Any bloggers with any kind of high profile will be similarly called to account if they violate the blogosphere's cultural norms. And Jordan and Rather can take up blogging any minute they want. Our practice is open to anyone who wants to join.

The difference is, there's no pedestal to jump right on top of and have an instant readership as there is when you're hired on by mainstream media. We only have the readership we can attract with the strength of our own writing. We have to build that readership and keep it with constant writing. No one would ever be in a position to invoke a rule and fire us. It's all a matter of whether the readers stay or go. In a sense, we're constantly getting hired and fired in tiny increments as individuals decide whether or not to click to our sites one more time. We're living on the edge. Mainstream journalists can whine and look on with jealousy over the things that bind them and not us, but they've got their pedestal and their paycheck, and we don't. We deserve to be different.

And the great value of the blogosphere is that, in this difference, we are constantly engaged in creating something new. Is that hard for MSM to adapt to, to get a grip on? Good!

UPDATE: Citizen Z gives Cohen the tweak he so richly deserves for claiming that the call for a code of ethics is coming from the blogosphere.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Larry Ribstein has the most pro-code piece I've seen. Mindles H. Dreck says there is no institution -- no Bloggers Guild -- to adopt and enforce a code, so the whole idea makes no sense. Steven Taylor knocks Cohen about corrections: we're much better than MSM at making corrections.

YET MORE: Christine Hurt asks: "What is a 'code of ethics'? Sarbanes-Oxley requires reporting companies to have one posted on their website, and apparently journalists have one, too. The Pink Ladies and the T-Birds had a 'code' in Grease 2."

AND: I love Jeff Jarvis's comprehensive attack (especially the part where he quotes Cohen, interlaced with his own retorts in brackets).

So what do you think: is Cohen reading all the bloggers who are responding to him? Is he enjoying all the linkage?