June 11, 2005

No, no, no...

This is so not the right list of sad songs. But you know how we love lists, so here I am linking.

Please offer better suggestions in the comments.

My personal sad, sad song -- the song I used to play when I was already sad and wanted an accompanying soundtrack for my sorrows -- is: "Fool To Cry."

UPDATE: On a nonpersonal level, I should think "Gloomy Sunday" would take first place, given its reputation for inspiring suicide.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Lots of great suggestions in the comments. Go in and add some! I thought of a long -- really long -- story song that gets me: "El Paso." I remember hearing the Grateful Dead do it, and recently I heard the brilliantly sung Marty Robbins version on the radio. Here's the cowboy's terrible end:
Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I'm getting weary, unable to ride

But my love for Felina is strong and I rise where I've fallen
Though I am weary, I can't stop to rest
I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest

From out of nowhere Felina has found me
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side
Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for
One little kiss, then Felina good-bye.

Photo advice.

Rick Lee has a lot of photo advice.

With a digital camera, one really should take a lot of shots of the same thing, trying different angles. When Chris and I were at Harvest last week, we shot over 300 pictures of each other during the meal, just trying to get good shots and thinking up new angles, composing different backgrounds. You can see the ones I saved in this Flickr photoset.

When we were out at Crave with the other day, I took a hundred shots of Nina -- trying to get a good portrait, but also looking for new compositions, like this one making the Cosmopolitans monumental.

Another portrait with a monumental drink -- and distortion from the glass that I love but that Chris might object to (don't, please, Chris!):

Dinner at Harvest

Hey, give me that.

Dinner at Harvest

Idly shopping State Street.

Just browsing. And snapping. Let other people do the real shopping. I'm just noticing the scenery, hanging around State Street, here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Record shop.

Jazzman

Sale

Kids, don't do drugs.

Especially meth. For one thing, it'll ruin your teeth. Persuasive photo at the link. Also: tales of teeth that became "'little black stubs' too painful to brush" and a 17-year-old getting dentures.

"Mr. Dylan has turned his act into one of the weirdest road shows in rock. "

From the NYT:
He rarely speaks to the crowd, and when he does, his remarks are often gnomic throwaways. ("I had a big brass bed, but I sold it!") He plays some of his best-known songs, but often in contrarian, almost unrecognizable versions, as if to dampen their anthemic qualities. He highlights recent compositions more than most of his 60's coevals, but these, too, are delivered as highly stylized, singsongy chants.
I think Bob Dylan has invented the best style of being an old rock star. Better than doing the big showy tours, reaching back, like the Rolling Stones, trying to recapture your glory, is this low-key, constant playing. It poses a fascinating puzzle for us.

Are you afraid of your real life? Are you completely bonded to art? Do you think you owe penance? What are you doing, Bob?

We know something is happening, but we don't know what it is. It's right that Bob Dylan should needle us to the very end.

Very cleanly, Mr. Stork!

Storchennest is live-streaming a stork's nest, from Germany. I waited for it to load and then the first thing the stork did was back up to the edge of the nest and poop. Very cleanly, Mr. Stork!

Love the audio. It's so sharp and dimensional, I had to turn off the sound more than once to check to see if I wasn't hearing birds just outside my window.

UPDATE: In other bird news. But maybe we should be worrying about birds.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Sissy Willis loves the storkcam.

Make Room for Daddy.

There's no Danny Thomas ("Danny Williams") on TiVo's list of TV's Greatest Dads! Throwing Things doesn't acknowledge the glaring omission of that classic TV dad, but found lots of other omissions -- like "Uncle Bill, who deserves a credit for "taking in those three kids like he did and keeping his 'relationship' with Mr. French behind closed doors as not to scar them."

Wasn't "Make Room for Daddy" the original dad show? It started in 1953 and ran until 1964 and was a top show the whole time. TiVo puts Andy Taylor second on its list (after Cliff Huxtable), but did you know that the pilot for "The Andy Griffith Show" was an episode of "Make Room for Daddy" ("'Danny Meets Andy Griffith'")?

Well, all I can say is that if they ever do a TV's Greatest Uncles list: don't forget Uncle Tonoose.

IN THE COMMENTS: A reader asks, "How about Ozzie and Harriet? That was from way before Make room for Daddy. I can remember when it was a radio program." Good point! Especially since the TiVo list includes Ozzy Osbourne.

"Ozzie and Harriet" goes back to 1941 in radio form and to 1952 as a TV show, one year before Danny Thomas. Funny, I just heard an Ozzie Nelson band song on the 1940s Decade channel on the radio the other day. Ozzie also made the first TV music video, with Ricky, who went from kid to teen idol, singing "Travelin' Man."

Ozzie was the original hapless, bumbling TV dad. Many people over the years have joked about how he didn't seem to have a job. Harriet played the smart housewife, another classic TV sitcom type. By contrast, "Leave It to Beaver" seems to have been designed to copy O&N (down to the two sons, with the younger one the troublemaker), but getting the proper sex roles enforced. (Ward Cleaver does make the TiVo list, at #5.)

I think a big part of my love for "Make Room for Daddy" was that, unlke Ozzie and Ward, Danny had a daughter. I was so jealous of Angelica Cartwright! Why wasn't I on TV? That question nagged me throughout childhood. Sometimes, I imagined my life was a TV show. I really enjoyed the way the television audience saw everything from my point of view!

Anyway, like Ozzie Nelson, Danny Thomas was on the radio -- even named the "best newcomer in radio" in 1945. He's also notable for being a Lebanese-American, and for refusing to yield to pressure to get his big nose rhinoplastied. The nose proved useful for many jokes. He did change his name, though -- from Muzyad Yahkoob.

Here's a Danny Thomas bio. It's very impressive. Click on the link to see a picture of him doing something no TV dad of today would do.

"A New York Times reporter is just a blogger who..."

The NYT takes issue with a column by Julie Hilden about copyright problems that might develop with more sophisticated newswriting software robots. Currently, Hilden writes, Google News is "lawsuit-proof" because readers need to click a link to get the whole story and so Google is increasing the readership of the news media it links. In the future, Google's software might combine tiny snippets from many sources into a readable article that wouldn't stimulate click-through. Then traditional media might sue and win. But if it did, Hilden writes, Google might switch to nontraditional sources and compose its articles from blogs.

Here's how the Times quotes her and reacts:
"Traditional media, of course, is hardly dead yet," [Hilden] concludes. "But with tools like these, new media may drive a few stakes in its heart."

A reporter for The New York Times, she writes, "is just a blogger who happened to attend college; impress some bosses with his or her talent; get some training through experience - and possibly (though certainly not always) journalism school; and receive a podium for his or her pains."

Which is a little like saying a lawyer is just someone who likes to argue who happened to go to law school, pass the bar, and get a job at a law firm. There is little doubt that blogs are transforming the news media, mostly in positive ways. But what the "blogs will destroy the media business" argument misses is that there are fundamental economic reasons that it can never happen.
The Times ends it at that. It's just a cute squib for them -- at least in print. Maybe in person, they are quaking about the economic implications.

Let's look at the Hilden quote in context. Read the Hilden piece. I've given you the link to it. (The NYT only linked to the Findlaw website, but I tracked down the link.) Hilden has ideas about how software might be designed to identify bloggers whose reliability compares to traditional media.
Much-linked-to sites tend to be reliable. Blogs that do well on the "fantasy market" for Blog shares tend to be reliable. Sites that report local events tend to be reliable. (Bloggers have the ability to provide the most local reportage possible - doing it literally street by street; so do local news sites and the like.)

Of course, these proxies for reliableness - links, market evaluation, geographic proximity - wouldn't be perfect. Far from it. But it's worth noting that neither are traditional media. Remember, a New York Times reporter is just a blogger who happened to attend college; impress some bosses with his or her talent; get some training through experience - and possibly (though certainly not always) journalism school; and receive a podium for his or her pains.

Indeed, certain institutional features suggest bloggers (or other local reports) may actually be more reliable than traditional media when it comes to local topics.

Recall, for instance, the New York Times's problem with "touchdown bylines" - where a Mobile, Alabama byline, for example, could merely mean the reporter's plane touched down there briefly - while the reportage came from a local, uncredited freelancer unaffiliated with the Times. Might not credited reportage by a Mobile-based blog be more reliable than the Times's "Mobile" story?

Similarly, consider Newsweek's headline-making - but now-retracted - reportage on alleged desecration of the Koran. Wouldn't an anonymous blog by someone within the military -and vetted by others in the military, who could anonymously comment -- have been more likely to get the story (or lack thereof) right?

Moreover, and crucially, Google would not have to rely on proxies for reliability such as links, fantasy markets, and the like. Instead (or in addition), it could limit its sources to blogs (and other sites) willing to incorporate a system to further guarantee reliability.

How would this system work? It could ask readers to rate content for reliability - and to rate other raters as to how accurate their ratings were.

Systems for rating raters already exist - though they are not yet legion. Transparensee (for which I have worked, and from which I have stock options) has developed a dynamic system by which writers' ratings are adjusted based on readers' evaluation of their postings; top-rated writer's posts would appear first for readers. Daily Kos also uses a rating system for those providing comments.

Google could also require disclosure -- through which a content writer or producer could, in effect, make an argument for his, her, or its reliability.

For instance, one rater (or source) on economic issues might disclose that he has a Ph.D. in economics from, say, Stanford. Readers - and raters - may infer that he probably knows what he's talking about in economics (but not necessarily when it comes to, say, wine tasting).

Long-established brands like "Stanford" wouldn't be the only ones that counted: The Wired brand, the Wonkette brand, and individuals' names ("Anne Rice" is a brand when it comes to vampire knowledge) would matter too.

Video game scores could be proof of reliability regarding knowledge of video games; "top Amazon book reviewer" status could indicate knowledge of books. People could also vouch for each other's reliability, just as they often do in real life.

Finally, a writer who couldn't resort to any of these brands - a rare occurrence -- could just make an argument: "Why you should believe me." In this way, content itself could vouch for reliability: After all, expertise doesn't always come from a degree; it can come from experience or access instead.
So we see the NYT omitted a lot as it made its wisecracking analogy to lawyers and nonlawyers and bluntly concluded that new media replacing traditional media "can never happen." Having read Hilden's piece in full, however, I'm inclined to wonder if it could happen.

ADDED: And, yes, you don't have to tell me: you can't trust people just because they happen to have law degrees either.

June 10, 2005

The wealth of the Justices.

Here's up-to-date info on the wealth of the Supreme Court Justices. Distinctly poorest: Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Richest: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and Stephen Breyer.

Travel info, too. Most trips, by far: Sandra Day O'Connor. Least trips -- that is, none: Souter.

"3170 illustrations complete; 33495 remaining."

An illustration for every verse of The Bible, that's the goal of Flaming Fire, an elaborate on-line project. (Via Drawn.) Each chapter has a page -- like this, for Genesis 1 -- where you see the citation for each verse -- 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, etc. -- with either a thumbnail of the completed illustration or the notation "not yet illustrated."

The artists are in a position to claim the verses they want to say something about, and they might hate rather than love the verse they choose. There's no enforcement of orthodoxy in the project. Let's check out a famously controversial verse.

The first one I think of is Leviticus 12:22: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

Here's the illustration. We can click on the artist's name and see a page of thumbnails of the artist's other contributions. That's interesting not only to see the illustrations but also to see the verses he claimed. The same artist, Mark Baldridge, has done Leviticus 18:19: "The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover." You look at the thumbnails and decide what you want to click!

IN THE COMMENTS: A reader draws attention to Aerick Duckhugger, who chooses verses of "disgusting horrors." Here's a striking example!

Visiting the corpse flower with pro-sunsetters.

I didn't really want to go watch that sunset. I wanted to see and smell the Titan Arum in bloom. Yesterday was the big day for the plant, and the UW Greenhouse was open until midnight for the sniffing gawkers. Unlike me, the pro-sunset people I was with did not care about the flower. I stayed to get my share of lungfuls of the animal-smell of the gigantic flower and to struggle to get some pictures in the dark:

At the UW Greenhouse

The pro-sunsetters hurried right through and waited outside for me. They pronounced the flower a "nonevent" and complained about the illusion that it was the crowd around the plant and not the plant that was the source of the stink.

How did the flower smell? I thought it had a zoo smell. Maybe I've never smelled a corpse, but it didn't smell dead to me, just funky and animal-y. It wasn't at all fishy. More mouse-y. It wasn't nauseating or even terribly strong, in my opinion. I can't really understand the distinct aversion felt by the three persons who humored me by coming along.

Ah! I humored them about the lake and the sunset!

Lake Mendota at sunset.

After a nice dinner at Crave, we walked down to the Memorial Union Terrace and watched the sun set.

Lake Mendota at sunset

Lake Mendota at sunset

June 9, 2005

"Nuts!"

Oscar goes to Bastogne. Earlier: The Maginot Line.

Are you math teachers sure you're trying hard enough...

To indoctrinate your students?

Well, now really, let's think about this. I agree that this is ridiculously politically slanted in one direction. But if we're going to use "story problems," why shouldn't we demonstrate how useful math is in analyzing social and political matters?

And shouldn't teaching math have the end of preparing students to function competently as citizens, voters, and consumers of news media? I'm thinking of the issues raised in the very cool book "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper."

UPDATE: More on teaching math here.

IN THE COMMENTS: Lots of actual right-wing math story problems!

"The peduncle has not grown beyond yesterday's measurement of 14 inches"!

Get ready, people!

At the UW Greenhouse

And click on the live-streaming at the link. People are visiting the corpse flower, and you can watch them and hear them talk. At some point the thing is going to stink like mad, and you'll be able tell from the reaction of the visitors. Then it's time to scamper over there and get a whiff of it yourself.

What does it smell like? Read the sign (click the image and then on "all sizes" to get the full enlargement):

At the UW Greenhouse

A woman has a second set of quadruplets... and wants a third set?

Why stop at three, when you're so in love with quadrupling? Go ahead, have four sets. If you're going to have twelve children, you might as well have sixteen.

"There are not two principled originalist justices on the Court today, but one."

Here's Randy Barnett's piece on the medical marijuana case. Barnett, who represented the plaintiffs, is especially critical of Justice Scalia:
It comes as no surprise that I admire Justice Thomas's opinion. His opinion now establishes that there are not two principled originalist justices on the Court today, but one. To me, this means that when it comes to enumerated federal powers, there is only one justice who is clearly willing to put the mandate of the Constitution above his or her own views of either policy or what would make a better constitution than the one enacted....

What about Justice Scalia? ... In his concurring opinion in Raich, Justice Scalia appears to put his commitment to majoritarianism over his commitment to originalism. Yet this decision does run counter to his oft-expressed insistence that the people should act to protect their un-enumerated rights in state political processes rather than in federal court. Here this is exactly what the citizens of California and ten other states have done, but Justice Scalia's new stance on the Necessary and Proper Clause leaves citizens little, if any, room to protect their liberty from federal encroachment in the future. It has always seemed significant that he never joined Justice Thomas's originalist concurrences in Lopez and Morrison. Nor does he explain why Justice Thomas's originalist dissent in Raich is historically inaccurate, which would be incumbent on him as an "originalist justice" to do. Instead, Justice Scalia now joins in expanding the reach of the Commerce Clause power beyond even that which the Court had endorsed in Wickard v. Filburn. In oral argument he admitted, "I always used to laugh at Wickard." Now it's Judge Stephen Reinhardt and the Ninth Circuit's turn to laugh.
I defended Scalia here. And I think some of his thinking was revealed at oral argument, which I wrote about here:
Justice Scalia shows some signs of agreeing with the federal government's position that it may regulate an entire market, even trivial parts of the market that seem quite separated from the ordinary trade in the product that gave rise to the motivation to control it:
Justice Antonin Scalia asked [plaintiffs' attorney Randy] Barnett how his argument of a trivial economic effect from medical marijuana would apply to federal laws protecting endangered species. Those laws ban possession of ivory or eagle feathers without regard to whether a person obtained them through interstate commerce.

"Are those laws likewise unconstitutional?'' Scalia asked.

There's more to Barnett's article than the attack on Scalia, and Barnett also has more at Volokh Conspiracy (with a very clever post title).

UPDATE: I'm reminded of this quote from the Washington Post, which I read last fall:
Scalia told [Ken Foskett, the author of "Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas,"] that Thomas "doesn't believe in stare decisis, period." Clarifying his remark, Scalia added that "if a constitutional line of authority is wrong, he would say let's get it right. I wouldn't do that."

This isn't a new revelation about the difference between the two Justices.

Live 8 skepticism.

Here's a NYT article about Live 8. It's mostly about the different motivations of different types of pop stars deciding to participate.

About that "A-list bloggers" conference call, Sissy Willis is "not amused." I understand the skepticism, but we were all skeptical too.

Out asexuals.

Here an interesting piece in the NYT about the newly found pride of persons who are not sexually attracted to anyone:
They describe themselves as asexual, and they call their condition normal, not the result of confused sexual orientation, a fear of intimacy or a temporary lapse of desire. They would like the world to understand that they can live their entire lives happily without ever having sex.

"People think they need to convert you," said Cijay Morgan, 42, a telephone saleswoman in Edmonton, Alberta, and a self-professed asexual. "They can understand if you don't like country music or onion rings or if you aren't interested in learning how to whistle, but they can't accept someone not wanting sex. What they don't understand is that a lot of asexuals don't wish to be quote-unquote fixed."
"People think they need to convert you" -- that reminds me of the scene on the yacht in "Some Like It Hot," where Marilyn Monroe is trying to help Tony Curtis (who's just pretending).

Go to the link to see a picture of a young man wearing a shirt proclaiming his asexuality. I wonder what sorts of things people say to him when he's parading around in that? I'm sure most people think he's kidding and trying to get attention. But he's quite serious.

The actor and the concierge.

I saw Russell Crowe on Letterman last night. He was squirming and twitching his way through an apology:
Crowe told Dave he was frustrated with the hotel's poor phone service because he was ``trying to fill my basic obligations to my wife who needs to know that I'm, you know, at home, I'm in bed, I haven't had too much to drink and that, primely important, that I'm alone.''

I'm assuming you follow the celebrity news. If not: Russell Crowe threw a telephone at a concierge named Nestor Estrada. The concierge, who was hit in the face, received minor lacerations and a glisteningly perfect cause of action.

Estrada's not talking to the press. My theory is that he's staying out of the public eye because he's really happy. Wouldn't you be, at this point?

Anyway, Letterman has always had a telephone on his desk, so he had the chance to do some funny business moving the phone far away from Crowe. Crowe obviously knows he's in trouble, and he's trying to salvage his life. So he grovelled like mad on camera for us. It was icky.

Unlike Nestor Estrada, who may be staying off camera because he needs to worry that he can't act duly sad and wounded, Crowe is a very capable actor, so however Crowe acted on Letterman last night is how he, along with his lawyers, has figured out it's best for him to act. Tell the story of how it's all about your deep devotion to your wife.

June 8, 2005

They have unisex bathrooms in France.

So what's the problem?

Kerrville Folk Festival.


Kerrville Folk Festival
Originally uploaded by John Cohen.
Here's a picture John took when he was down in Austin visiting Richard last week. Here's Richard's description of the Kerrville Folk Festival, replete with naked hippies and White Trash Sociologists.

Corpse-flower-blogging.

I stopped by the UW greenhouse to get a look at the Titan Arum. Go to the official site for some nice shots of the whole thing, for live streaming, and for information about how big it is now -- 97 1/2 inches -- and when it's going to start to stink up the whole campus. Here are a couple of my pictures. Growing past the tape measure:

At the UW Greenhouse

A closeup:

At the UW Greenhouse

UPDATE: Chris emails:
The Corpse Flower kind of looks like this image from the back of the "Little Earthquakes" CD case.

Discovered: the basis of human civilization.

Here's more of the usual highly speculative sociobiology, but it's spicy and it's drawing the bloggy links, so let's take a look:
Women who fail to orgasm during sex may be genetically programmed to weed out unreliable men who are a flop between the sheets, according to new research.

Scientists who have studied the ability of thousands of women to climax say it is largely written in their genes - the most compelling evidence so far that the female orgasm has a biological role.

The findings suggest the failure of some women to orgasm regularly is not a dysfunction, but a sophisticated mate-selection strategy that evolved during prehistoric times.

Tim Spector of St Thomas's hospital in London, who led the research, said: "The theory is that the orgasm is an evolutionary way of seeing if men can prove themselves to be likely good providers or dependable, patient and caring enough to look after the kids."

Women who orgasm very easily may be more likely to be satisfied with poor quality men.
It looks as if all the achievements of human civilization ought to be attributed to how hard it is to satisfy us women. Men did plenty of the work over the millennia, but they wouldn't have bothered if we women hadn't needed something more than sex to impress us.

Keep trying, guys!

A tribute to Anne Bancroft.

Here's the best one I've seen.

Marijuana, federalism, rhetoric.

I'm seeing a lot of articles like "Federalism, Up in Smoke?", responding to Monday's medical marijuana case (Raich). It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that those who wanted the case to go the other way are saying the Court has turned its back on a commitment it had made to enforcing federalism. But don't fall for the rhetoric. Those who don't like the Court's federalism cases have long exaggerated the extent of what they like to call the Court's "federalism revolution," giving those who have wanted the Court to do something quite significant in the name of federalism the ability to sound plausible if they scream betrayal whenever the Court sides with the federal government, which is very often. Excuse me if I view all of this with a jaundiced eye.

UPDATE: Let me be clear about why I linked to that old post of mine, which discusses the as-yet-undecided Oregon Death With Dignity case. It is for this passage:
[The NYT's Linda] Greenhouse (along with others) has written so many pieces decrying the Supreme Court's "federalism revolution"...

Don't believe it! The Supreme Court has upheld federal regulatory power quite consistently, and the deference it has shown to the states has only been in discrete areas. Congress's power to regulate all components of a national market -- such as the market in drugs -- is quite solidly established. It will be hard to find a way to back off from that. I support the Court's federalism decisions and I approve of allowing the states to experiment as Oregon has, but I don't see a good way, considering the precedents, to disempower the Attorney General in this decision about how the Controlled Substances Act ought to be enforced.
The federalism-enforcing cases have gotten a lot of press, and a lot of liberal commentators have tried to stir up alarm about how much had happened, but these cases never seriously undermined federal interests. The Court's federalism was always very tame. It only trimmed what was perceived as unimportant federal power around the edges. I could go on at length about this, as I have in scholarly articles, but really, if you actually thought the Court was seriously enforcing federalism, you were believing the spin. Conservatives were doing some similar spin, characterizing the Court as committed to something in the hope that it would demonstrate some serious commitment in the future, but, believe me, the commitment to federal interests was always there. And the federal government is unquestionably committed to drug enforcement.

UPDATE: Here's the Wall Street Journal's contribution to the genre.

June 7, 2005

Lactivism.

Nursing mothers protest Barbara Walters. Walters dared to say she felt uncomfortable sitting next to a nursing mother on an airplane.

Lactivism has been rather successful:
[S]ix states have recently passed laws giving a woman the right to breast-feed wherever she "is otherwise authorized to be."
Got a problem with that? I don't.

I know what it's like to need to breastfeed and be in a situation where there's nowhere private to go. One time, back in the early 80s, I breastfed my baby at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I remember feeling I was doing something really wrong and that I was about to be discovered at any point and treated harshly. So I like these laws. What are you supposed to do on a plane? You can't occupy the bathroom that long, and anyway, that would be a disgusting environment for a baby.

Breastfeeding mothers, like anyone else who has a right to be in a public place, should attend to their and their babies' physical needs discreetly and try not to trouble people. That means minimizing how much you expose yourself and not going out of your way to sit right next to a stranger. It's not shameful to be breastfeeding, but that doesn't mean it's in good taste to flaunt it.

As a rough comparison, imagine if you needed to blow your nose and you were in the middle of a store or a restaurant. We'd think it was outrageous if the owner kicked you out for doing it and rude if the other customers gave you dirty looks -- assuming you did it discreetly. But it would be rude of you and you'd deserve those dirty looks if you blew your nose loudly and sloppily right next to someone.

UPDATE: If anyone had ever told me that one day they'll be talking on TV about about my breasts and the Baseball Hall of Fame, I would have been amazed. Amazed and perplexed. (Does he make it sound like I was looking for a place to breastfeed, so I went to the Baseball Hall of Fame? I was that desperate.)

Kerry's college D's.

Revealed by the Boston Globe (via Memeorandum):
The transcript shows that Kerry's freshman-year average was 71. He scored a 61 in geology, a 63 and 68 in two history classes, and a 69 in political science. His top score was a 79, in another political science course. Another of his strongest efforts, a 77, came in French class.

Under Yale's grading system in effect at the time, grades between 90 and 100 equaled an A, 80-89 a B, 70-79 a C, 60 to 69 a D, and anything below that was a failing grade. In addition to Kerry's four D's in his freshman year, he received one D in his sophomore year. He did not fail any courses.

I told you he wasn't smart
way back last August. I got a lot of flak for that, so let me just laugh a little over this one. And for old time's sake, here's a link to the classic Guardian article that asked the question: "Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush?"
I'm sure their SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead.
Well, ha ha ha.

And shame on all the people who imagined they were perceiving brilliance in the man! Movie rental idea of the day: "Being There."

UPDATE: Soxblog, linked at the beginning of my August post, is also enjoying being vindicated.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This post is getting an awful lot of comments! You know what I think? I think everybody misses the old days of the presidential campaign. It was fun, wasn't it, back then, going over all the little things about the candidates? Nothing today is so consistently bloggable. I was glad when it was finally over and there was the new challenge of finding diverse things to blog about every day. But this post was a chance to relive the good old days of blogging about the campaign.

"Forget the century, it wasn't even the cultural story of the spring."

The Michael Jackson trial fell far short of "trial of the century." As a cultural story of the spring, "American Idol" was bigger.

Why did people find the Jackson trial so much less compelling than the O.J. trial? It's not just that the judge banned cameras in the courtroom. There are many other differences. For one thing, the charges were not new. There was no sudden, surprising event that transformed how we thought about a celebrity. There was only a decision to bring a celebrity to trial over things we've been hearing about him for years.

In the O.J. case, two persons were brutally murdered and the question was whether he did it. In the Jackson case, the question is whether a crime occurred at all, but if it did, there's no other person out there who might have done it. If it happened, Jackson did it. In the O.J. case, the reality of the dead bodies was an undeniable fact, foisted upon us. In the Jackson case, to be drawn in, we must engage with the question whether a crime occurred, and we can still turn away and think: I just don't know. It would be terrible if it were true, but I hope it's not.

June 6, 2005

About that Live 8 conference call.

Here's what Frank J. at IMAO has to say about the Live 8 conference call I wrote about earlier today. And here's John Hinderaker (who worked on setting up the conference call with Joe Trippi):
To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Geldof is an extraordinarily knowledgable guy. Equally important, he is not soft-headed about Africa's problems. He emphasizes free markets and the need for political reform, which should be, and according to Geldof will be, a condition of the assistance that he advocates. Another important point, I think, is that he talks eloquently not only about the appalling conditions in some areas of Africa, but also about the striking progress being made in areas where political tyranny or upheaval have made such progress impossible.
And here's Citizen Smash:
[Geldof]’s devoted his life to fighting hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it shows – Sir Bob really knows his stuff. And while he is clearly trying to reach out to a wide spectrum of people, he didn’t pull any punches when it came to criticizing those who waste, embezzle, or squander public money (at one point, he casually mentioned that both Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy and French President Jacques Chirac would be in jail for corruption if they weren’t leaders of their respective nations). I was impressed.

Here’s the clincher: Geldof wasn’t asking for donations. He admits that food aid and even debt cancellation, while helpful, are of limited utility in the long run. Instead, he’s asking us to start a converstation about how to stimulate long-term development in Sub-Saharan Africa. “This isn’t Live Aid 2,” the website reads, “LIVE 8 is about justice not charity.”
Captain Ed simulblogged the phone call. Lots of details there, including the fact that Geldof was surprisingly positive about President Bush and Americans in general.

It struck me that Geldof, like Bush, saw establishing democracy as central to solving problems. And there was none of the Bush-related cynicism one normally expects to hear. How can Bush take the lead pushing for democracy in Africa when so many people in other G8 countries are derisive about his efforts in Iraq? No such thing was said. Geldof acted as if such a thought did not exist. He thinks Bush is perfectly positioned to take the lead.

Chapomatic highlights Geldof's statement: "Read your Adam Smith." Geldof was big on free trade and critical of all sorts of protectionism.

Here's Charles Johnson's post:
Despite my skepticism (rock stars with causes, oh boy), I was impressed with Geldof’s knowledge of the situation, and by his group’s ideas to make sure that whatever aid is generated will not simply be pocketed by corrupt African dictators. Ultimately, the vision seems to be to promote freedom and reform on the African continent. Geldof said, “Robert Mugabe will not be included.”
Like Johnson, I was impressed at how Geldof framed his presentation to be compelling to persons across the political spectrum.

Sorry I haven't written more about this today, but I will keep up on this story in the future.

The silent Justice Kennedy.

I've written about Justice Scalia's opinion in Raich, but what about Justice Kennedy? A colleague of mine emails: shouldn’t I be asking if he’s been hypocritical? He is flying under the radar, compared to Justice Scalia, the other member of the Lopez and Morrison majority who voted with today’s majority. Unlike Justice Scalia, Kennedy did not write a separate opinion. And unlike Justice Scalia, he tends to be thought of as less hard line about federalism matters. But Justice Kennedy wrote a strong federalism dissent in Hibbs (the Family and Medical Leave Act case), where the Chief Justice and Justice O’Connor both voted in favor of federal power. And he's been the needed fifth vote in the federalism-enforcing cases of the last seventeen years.

So let’s think about Justice Kennedy for a moment. Kennedy’s agreement with the majority today seems consistent with the beginning of the concurring opinion he wrote in Lopez:
The history of the judicial struggle to interpret the Commerce Clause during the transition from the economic system the Founders knew to the single, national market still emergent in our own era counsels great restraint before the Court determines that the Clause is insufficient to support an exercise of the national power. That history gives me some pause about today's decision, but I join the Court's opinion with these observations on what I conceive to be its necessary though limited holding.
The message here is that Congress has broad power to regulate the national market and that the Lopez case should not be taken as a major disturbance of settled assumptions.

But in the end of his Lopez concurrence, Kennedy, more than anyone else on the Court, professed respect for areas of traditional state concern and the role of the states as “laboratories of democracy”:
While it is doubtful that any State, or indeed any reasonable person, would argue that it is wise policy to allow students to carry guns on school premises, considerable disagreement exists about how best to accomplish that goal. In this circumstance, the theory and utility of our federalism are revealed, for the States may perform their role as laboratories for experimentation to devise various solutions where the best solution is far from clear.…

The statute now before us forecloses the States from experimenting and exercising their own judgment in an area to which States lay claim by right of history and expertise, and it does so by regulating an activity beyond the realm of commerce in the ordinary and usual sense of that term.
Justice O’Connor joined that Lopez concurring opinion. As the author of today’s principal dissent, she cites Kennedy’s Lopez dissent five times. She extols the role of the states as policy experimenters:
One of federalism’s chief virtues, of course, is that it promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting).
Justice Kennedy built his Lopez dissent upon that classic Brandeis idea. The opinion he silently joins today never examines the question from this viewpoint. At the very least, he ought to have resisted merging with the group of Justices who dissented in Lopez and Morrison.

I presume if he had come forward, he would have emphasized the general rule that Congress has broad, well-established power to regulate markets and that, when Congress is operating in that mode and not meddling with matters not part of a web of interstate buying and selling, it just doesn't matter that the states have some interesting policies they'd like to experiment with. Congress has chosen its policy, pervasively regulating the market, down to its tiniest components, and federal supremacy means that the congressional policy choice prevails over that of the states.

If that's the answer and if that is supposed to convince those of us who take the Brandeisian laboratories of democracy idea seriously, then he ought to have put it in writing.

Who was inconsistent about federalism in Raich?

On the eve of the oral argument in Raich, I wrote:
[I]t will be interesting to see the response of those who have harshly criticized the majority's recent federalism decisions and have professed abject deference to Congress and the Executive branch about federalism matters. From a liberal perspective, one might want to think: I support the enforcement of federalism limits when federalism is really a stand-in for individual rights, and I support strong federal government power when the federal policy in question is really a stand-in for individual rights. But it is rather hard to translate that instinct into sound constitutional law.
In today's decision, the Court's liberals -- all in the majority -- did not attempt to work out a tricky position of that sort. They stuck with their deference to Congress.

Conservatives faced a dilemma too, I wrote at the time, but only "if their conservatism is the kind that puts great importance on strong anti-drug enforcement."
But conservatives who take the libertarian position on drugs can happily seize a two-fold opportunity: they can demonstrate a principled fidelity to constitutional federalism and, at the same time, improve federalism's reputation among liberals.
Three of the Court's conservatives did take the side of the state, but Justice Scalia did not. Should we aim special criticism at him?

Scalia emphasized Congress's power to regulate what is certainly an interstate market. He notes that the Lopez Court said that private gun possession could be regulated as “an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated.” But there wasn't any scheme of regulating an economic activity that depended on banning the possession of guns only within a 1000-foot radius of a school, the law in question in Lopez. The Controlled Substances Act at issue in Raich is completely different. It regulates an interstate economic activity, the marijuana market, and that scheme would be undercut if it didn't extend to homegrown marijuana -- even homegrown marijuana used medically.

I'm sure many people will accuse Scalia of faltering in his support for federalism. But I have always thought the best way to understand Lopez is not by the commercial/noncommercial distinction, but by whether the regulated intrastate activity is part of a connected web of interstate activity. We can picture individual states making diverse, decentralized decisions about how to deal with violence in schools -- the interstate activity in Lopez -- without the policy in one state interfering with the approach chosen by another. One state's experiment with gun-exchange programs and parental responsibility laws doesn't undercut a tough imprisonment policy used in the next state. You don't need a uniform national law to deal with the problem. In fact, the different state policies work as experiments, generating information about which policy works best. But if it is to be possible to ban marijuana, a uniform national law is important. One state's lenient approach would undercut the next state's hardcore approach. That's the Lopez-based argument for congressional power in Raich.

I supported the Court's decisions in Lopez (and Morrison) precisely because of this kind of analysis (and not because of any economic/noneconomic distinction), so Scalia's opinion makes sense to me. I'm going to defend him against the accusation that he's turned his back on the Court's federalism doctrine.

Raich mega-blog, Live 8.

Don't miss the Raich mega-blogging going on over at SCOTUSblog. I'm going to be participating over there too, but I just got off the phone from the Live 8 conference call, which went on for over an hour. I must say that Bob Geldof is incredibly articulate and informed, even when hampered by the flu, as he was. He's trying to get bloggers involved and said he was excited to be talking to bloggers, that it reminded him of "being a hippie in the underground press."

UPDATE: I review what the other participants in the call had to say about it here.

Should the reason for using homegrown marijuana make a difference in Congress's Commerce Power?

I’m not at all surprised by the Supreme Court’s opinion in Gonzales v. Raich. Justice Stevens, writing for the six-member majority, relied heavily on Wickard v. Filburn, a 1942 case that upheld the regulation of a farmer’s production of wheat that he grew for use on his own farm and never intended to sell. The Wickard Court interpreted the Commerce Clause to allow regulation of the entire market on the ground that even trivial components on the market count, because, taken together, they have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Home consumed wheat was part of the market both because it supplied the home-use needs of the farmer who would have had to buy it in the market and because the farmer might change his intentions and decide to sell it in the market.

Under the 1995 case, Lopez v. United States, which struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act, there seemed to be some reason to think that a completely noncommercial activity might be treated differently from a farm, but Lopez did not involve regulating a market in a product, but individual gun possession.

Justice Stevens wrote
what I thought the Court would have to say: if noncommercial, homegrown marijuana were seen as beyond the Commerce Power for medicinal users, it is also beyond the Commerce Power for recreational users. The theory is the same, that noncommercial user-producers can’t be included in the Wickard-style analysis. Justice O’Connor, dissenting, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas thought the two motives for growing and using marijuana are “realistically distinct” and for that reasons susceptible to different Commerce Clause analysis.

But why? O’Connor is giving affirmative force to the state’s interest in conducting it own policy experiments. But what if there were a state interested in performing the policy experiment of authorizing the recreational use of homegrown marijuana?

UPDATE: Justice Thomas distinguished the medical use from the recreational use because the state statute, California’s Compassionate Use Act, defined and controlled who could use marijuana. This would mean that Congress began with power to reach homegrowing medicinal users of marijuana, but lost that power when California set up its regulatory scheme, because the state regulation drew a crisp, new line. Does anything else in Commerce Clause jurisprudence work that way?

Madly multi-tasking.

I'm hanging on for a Live 8 conference call, where I'm not really sure what I'm doing, and trying to read and write about all four opinions in Gonzales v. Raich (the medical marijuana case), where I'm going to be blogging here and in a group effort elsewhere.

"The R. Crumb Handbook."

I've been reading "The R. Crumb Handbook." (Yeah, it's one of the five books referred to here, the guessing commenters will be interested to know.) I was not an R. Crumb fan until the movie "Crumb" drew me in. The Handbook is terrific, mixing written biographical text and illustrated pages. The text to a great extent tracks the story told in the movie, with some notable differences. The book emphasizes Crumb's Catholic upbringing, a subject entirely missing from the movie.

When you make a documentary, you take your footage and tell the story you want -- like a lawyer deciding what evidence to present. The R. Crumb of the movie was shaped by weird parents, the repressive American culture of the 1950s, and the liberating effect of LSD and sex. The Crumb of the book is much more grounded in serious respect for art and an intensely religious upbringing.

The book comes with a CD of Crumb's old-timey music. Fans -- like me! -- of Jim Kweskin should enjoy it. I'm sitting in a café, waiting to get my hands on the new marijuana case, and, needing to screen out something awful the baristas decided to unleash on the nerve-jangled customers, I started playing the Crumb CD through the headphones on my computer. The fifth song is a bit much, but it makes me laugh anyway. It's a jaunty little ditty called "My Girl's P***y."

Now, let's see if I can get to the case.

Feds win medical marijuana case.

Drudge reports. I'll read the case this morning and have much more soon.

UPDATE: Still waiting to get to the case. Here's my post from May 12th, predicting this outcome, explaining why, and saying why the Court was taking so so long:
[I]t's 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.

Stencils!

Mmmm.

"It's crunch time for some of high court's biggest decisions."

Joan Biskupic has this in USAToday. (Via How Appealing.)
Among the cases to be decided are those that test whether certain public displays of the Ten Commandments are unconstitutional; whether states may legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes; and whether companies that produce Internet file-sharing programs can be held liable for illegal copying by consumers.
I hope we get something big today.

"A very cold little jukebox."

"The iPod is a very cold little jukebox. It's a little digital marvel, but it's not radio." So says Cousin Brucie. His real gripe is not with the iPod, but with the so-called "Jack" radio format that sounds to him like an iPod on shuffle.
Radio, properly practiced, he said, is a theatrical art. "You have to have a persona," he said, "that transcends those tubes and transistors and wires and reaches into somebody's heart. When that light goes on and says 'Brucie, you're on the air,' my stomach turns warm and I know I'm with my friends on a giant telephone, having a party line conversation."

In recent years, Cousin Brucie has done the Oldies format on WCBS-FM, which is putting him out of work by switching to the Jack format. Jack is really Oldies too. It just only goes back as far as the 1970s.

I listened to Cousin Brucie in the mid-1960s when he was in his prime on WABC (AKA "WA-Beatle-C"). Those were the days before there was rock music on FM, and you only heard singles on the radio. Everyone in the NY area listened to Cousin Brucie in those great days of popular music. I can see how he's put off by Jack, and not just because it excludes his once-all-powerful voice. It deliberately cuts off the music of the 60s, the best music ever.

I can see why a format that does that is popular: people who arrived after the Boomers have plenty of reason to be sick of all our pop culture stuff. Forgive me if I get nostalgic about that 60s place once again, but it really was fine back then, with Cousin Brucie playing the new music, when the new music was the Beatles. Once an hour or so, he'd play an oldie, and in those days "oldie" meant a song from the 1950s or very early 60s, like "Peggy Sue" or "A Little Bit of Soap."

I remember how odd and disorienting it felt the first time I heard a Beatles era song called an "oldie." I considered it a misnomer. Jack seems to represent the same kind of feeling: my songs are not "oldies."

June 5, 2005

The rose Marilyn Monroe painted for President Kennedy.

Sold for $78,ooo.

It's rather nicely done actually. Her personal phone book brought a higher price, though.

UPDATE: Here's more on the personal items that were sold, including bras, stockings, and garter belts.
“The crowd was cheering. There was one woman who told us her budget was $500. Finally she bid $950 on pantyhose. When she got it she not only screamed, she cried — and the crowd was cheering.”

That sounds a little ugly. Vulturish.

A wife's reverie about infidelity.

Cristina Nehring writes an interesting review of Diana Shader Smith's "Undressing Infidelity: Why More Wives Are Unfaithful." Read the whole thing -- [subscription to The Atlantic required][try this] -- but let me quote the conclusion:
Unshakable loyalty to a central partner does not preclude passionate responses to other people. If it seems that way, it is only because of the puritanism, the pious emotional parsimony, of our American era.

Diane Shader Smith's book provides, ironically, a perfect example of this. Her introduction is an alarmist confession of her attraction to a man other than her husband. She recounts in detail her nervousness around him, her supposedly dangerous fascination with his charm. She criminalizes her feelings. And so, one might add (albeit more understandably, since she has led the way), does her husband. In a different culture her attraction would be viewed by her readers, herself, and her husband as perfectly natural and even commendable. What sort of a creature would you be if, having once found a human being who stirs your heart (and whom you marry, if you follow Rabbi Boteach's example, by age twenty-one), you were never stirred again?

The key is to incorporate chemistry into our marital lives, not to snuff it out. We are erotic and emotional animals, and when we react most fully to people, we react to them erotically and emotionally. We react this way to teachers and to students; to pop stars and to politicians; to interns, novelists, and waiters; to our elders and our juniors. It is a part of what allows us to relate to human beings across the social, political, and cultural spectrums. To demonize this responsiveness is to truncate our sensibility, our humanity. Better to share our passing fancies with our mates, to turn them like colored glass in the light, lest they become blades in our pockets. For this we need magnanimous partners. And we need an 18-karat commitment to those partners, who over the years will inevitably seem less perfect than those glinting shards of novelty in the corner of our sight.

"To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god," said Jorge Luis Borges. To love truly is to stay in love after the fall. It is to love more gratefully, more potently, because our god has come down to earth: the spirit has been made flesh and now walks—and slips, and flounders, and slouches—among us.

It's a delicate proposition—counterintuitive, presumptuous, heady, unreasonable. And yet therein lies its nobility and, perhaps, its necessity.
Well, that's awfully pretty prose, but something tells me Nehring has not actually played this tricky game. "Colored glass in the light," "glinting shards" -- try juggling with real emotions. Nehring's thought it through, intellectually, but on her own limited terms. She posits a "magnanimous partner" and "an 18-karat commitment." And the attraction to another is conveniently placed at the "passing fancy" level. If everything stays neat and manageable like that, maybe you can keep your marriage and still not "truncate" your "sensibility" and "humanity." It is a "delicate proposition," indeed, but passionate, sexual love is not going to behave itself in real life the way it does in your nice little reverie.

So you long to fulfill yourself through sexual attraction to others and, in doing so, add complex dimension to your marriage in a way that humanity-squelching, emotionally parsimonious Americans dare not? I look forward to reading your well-written essay about how that worked out.

UPDATE: A commenter makes me realize that I've linked to an article that requires a subscription. Magazines should realize that bloggers need to be able to link to them. Why should I read The Atlantic if I can't link to an article for my readers? Ah! The Atlantic has gone way downhill in the last couple years anyway. Way too much one-sided politics. I was going to let my subscription run out anyway, but I was thinking, looking at this new issue, that the back third of the book is worthwhile. But it's a lot less worth my while if I'm not thinking this might be bloggable.

Posing with the corpse flower.

Go over to the Titan Arum website and click on the live streaming video. You can spy on the people visiting the flower, see them posing in front of it, and even hear them talking. (The audio's very bad, though.) They don't know we're looking at them.

Judging from their faces, the flower has not yet begun to stink .

Ethnicity, spelling, and "rote" memorization.

Why were the top four contestants at the National Spelling Bee all of Indian ancestry? It's hard to analyze the phenomenon without offending anyone, but John Berger has a go at it in the NYT Week in Review:
Interviews with those winners, many who are the children of seamstresses or small-time shopkeepers, reveal that to bring the glow of accomplishment into their parents' spare lives, they will sacrifice television viewing and socializing to work on agonizingly slow and complicated experiments.

But Indians brought to spelling mastery some particular advantages, said Madhulika S. Khandelwal, an Indian immigrant who directs the Asian American Center at Queens College. Their parents or grandparents were usually educated, often as scientists or engineers; their parents generally spoke English and appreciated the springboard powers of education.

Unlike many American children who are schooled in sometimes amorphous whole-language approaches to reading and writing, Indians are comfortable with the rote-learning methods of their homeland, the kind needed to master lists of obscure words that easily stump spell-checker programs. They do not regard champion spellers as nerds.

By 1993, the North South Foundation, based outside of Chicago and devoted to making sure Indians here do as well in English as in math, set up a parallel universe of spelling bees. Now 60 chapters around the country hold such contests, according to its founder, Ratnam Chitturi.

They become a minor-league training ground for the major league 80-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was started by The Louisville Courier-Journal as a way to promote "general interest among pupils in a dull subject."

The enthusiasm has spread. There are now chat rooms and blogs where Indians discuss spelling. Stories about the contests are featured prominently in community newspapers.

(Blogging about spelling? I'd love to read that.)

What are we to make of this idea that some ethnic groups are more "comfortable" with rote learning than others? Is rote learning an unpleasant ordeal that some groups will tolerate, or can rote learning be a pleasure with intrinsic value? Why do Americans with distant immigrant ancestry think we need to structure education to spare our kids any contact with rote learning? We get so involved in thinking of our kids as creative and independently analytical that perhaps we deprive them of the opportunity to experience the joy of building their memorization powers.

Don't you sometimes undertake a memorization project just for fun? I do! Why shouldn't we think our kids would actually like doing memory exercises some of the time? Why do we always have to throw in the pejorative word "rote" when talking about memorization? Why don't we appreciate memorization as a beautiful human accomplishment?

Memory! What is more profoundly human?

And it is not merely memory that wins the spelling competition, it is analysis. The best spellers take the things they know -- root words and spelling conventions of different languages of origin -- and figure out how to spell words they don't know. We Americans of distant immigrant ancestry value analytical skills so much, but you need something in your mind to analyze, so memory is a crucial component of these intellectual activites we think are so important.

Let's build memory and be proud of it!