May 27, 2006

"We're emenies on account of we both loves Olive Oyl."

Said Popeye, wondering why Curly wanted him to come over, in an old E.C. Segar comic I was reading today at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which has a big, cool exhibition called "Masters of American Comics."

I'd been looking at comics art for about half an hour, working my way through the Winsor McKay and Lyonel Feininger comics, and got to the Segar stuff, and that line of Popeye's made me laugh out loud. And then I was doubly amused to realize that was the first laughter I'd heard at this huge exhibition of comics. I stayed for another hour, and I think I laughed one or two other times, but I never heard anyone else laugh. It was like a church in there. Is this the effect of museums or did the curators choose the very comics that were least likely to make you laugh? Fantasy and surrealism loomed large. So did serious comics like "Maus." And a lot of the humor was the sort of thing that you appreciate intellectually and don't giggle over. Like:
And with insipid porcine vapidness he lapses into somniverous oblivion.
That's a caption in a "Krazy Kat" comic, as a pig goes to sleep.

"S'turbil" = It's terrible, in Krazy Kat dialect. She also says "Jee-Wizzil." I find all of that amusing, but you'd only laugh out loud at that sort of thing in a social situation, where you were interested in elevating the mood of the people you're with. In the museum setting, everyone's floating along in his own little reverie.

Hmmm.... I see there were no women artists in this exhibition, and there were 15 male artists. I'm surprised, not because I think there is a woman who deserved to be in this group. (Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Lyonel Feininger, E.C. Segar, Frank King, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff, Charles M. Schulz, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware.) I'm surprised because I would have thought curators would feel uneasy about a show with that many artists that lacked even one woman. Thanks for not patronizing me.

Anyway, it's an excellent show, well worth the trip to Milwaukee if you're roughly in the area. It will be there until August 13th.

And, in case you don't know, the museum itself is quite the architectural marvel:

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

"The very serious questions about the scope and legality of the N.S.A. domestic surveillance programs that he helped design, implement and defend..."

Senator Kennedy gave his reason for voting against General Hayden to head the CIA. But Kennedy was one of only 15 Senators who voted no. It's hard to take congressional attacks on the NSA surveillance program seriously when 78 Senators voted for him.

"Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir, so that every mouth can be fed. Poor me, the Israelite."

Goodbye to Desmond Dekker. The ska legend's biggest hit was "The Israelites." In 1969:
The Jamaican rhythm of ska had already generated hits in the United States, notably Millie Small's 1964 hit, "My Boy Lollipop." But that song was treated as a novelty. "The Israelites," with its biblical imagery of suffering and redemption, showed the world reggae's combination of danceable rhythm and serious, sometimes spiritual intentions.
Yes, I remember loving that hit and experiencing it as a novelty song (though that doesn't mean that we American kids didn't pick up the spirit of suffering and redemption). Another seeming novelty song that we heard and loved that same summer was "In the Year 2525."
In the year 7510
if God's a-comin' he ought to make it by then
maybe he'll look around himself and say
"guess it's time for the Judgement Day''

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake his mighty head
he'll either say "I'm pleased where man has been''
or tear it down and start again...
I remember listening to "The Israelites" and "In the Year 2525" -- both were played on the radio constantly -- and feeling really strange in that really strange year 1969. Two infectiously poppy songs with a painful, religious edge.

Did you know that Paul McCartney named his "Ob-Bla-Di, Ob-Bla-Da" character "Desmond" after Desmond Dekker?
Desmond has a barrow in the market place...
Molly is the singer in a band...
Desmond says to Molly "girl I like your face"
And Molly says this as she takes him by the hand...

The heart surgeon gives his own blood.

Eight hours into surgery, with the blood running out -- a rare blood type -- the surgeon gives his own blood.
"The patient was malnutritioned going into the operation," [Dr. Samuel Weinstein] said. "He was bleeding a lot, his blood wasn't clotting and supplies were running out.

"I sat down and donated a pint of blood, drank some water and ate a Pop-Tart, and went straight back to work.

"The blood went from me to him in a matter of minutes."
That would be stupid in a fiction story. It's so cool in real life.

When your child accidentally kills another child.

An 8-year-old boy in NYC caused the death of an 8 year-old girl. He got into an unattended school bus and released the parking brake. As a parent, you think about how you would feel if your child died, but not so much how you would feel and what you would do if your child killed someone else. You don't picture your child becoming a murderer, but you may not think of how easy it would be for a little child to kill another child by accident. How would you go about being a good parent to your child after that happened?

The ceramicist uses human ashes.

Ash, such as tree ash, is a normal ingredient in the glaze. Why not use human ashes? Have you ever had some ashes -- were you gauche enough to call them cremains? -- and wondered what to do with them? Was it awkward or properly solemn or did you screw it up like the Dude in "The Big Lebowski"? How would you feel about your loved one being reformed into pottery?

Bob Dylan, the old geezer DJ.

Have you been listening to "Theme Time Radio With Bob Dylan"? I have. I dash out to my car and go for an hour-long drive every Wednesday at 9. (The satellite radio's only in the car.) I was driving, listening to "I Drink" -- the theme was drinking -- when a cop pulled me over and gave me a speeding ticket 10 days ago. That was the first speeding ticket I'd ever gotten -- in many decades of driving.

This past Wednesday, Bob turned 65, and I don't think he mentioned it on the show. The theme wasn't birthdays or getting old, it was baseball. He started off the show by singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," not trying to sing it well, just singing it like your grandad might do if he was trying to remind you why it's great to go to a baseball game. In fact, Dylan does the whole show as if he's an old grandad reminding us of the past:
The majority of the music Dylan plays predates his own rise to fame.

"I think it's more akin to the way radio sounded in 1952 than it does in 2006," said Lee Abrams, XM Satellite Radio's chief creative officer.

Dylan's entertaining baseball show also mixed in calls from classic baseball games, like Curt Gowdy announcing Ted Williams' home run in his final at-bat with the Boston Red Sox.

He refreshingly avoids the obvious: Dylan spins Billy Bragg and Wilco's "Joe DiMaggio Done it Again" and not Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" ("where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio ..."). He plays Buddy Johnson's "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball" and ignores John Fogerty's overexposed "Centerfield."
He tells jokes that are either old or written to sound like they're old:
"If diamonds are a girl's best friend, why do so many girls get mad when you want to go to the ballpark?" Dylan says during this week's show. "You tell me."

That sort of absurdist humor is what may most surprise listeners. Dylan told mother-in-law jokes a la Henny Youngman during one show ("I just came back from a pleasure trip — took my mother-in-law to the airport"). He discussed — seriously, we think — watching the old country-flavored musical/variety TV series "Hee Haw."
And he does some surprising things in his old geezer persona, like the week when his theme was mothers and he played something by LL Cool J:
Dylan's intro to "Mama Said Knock You Out" became an old white man's rap.

"Here's LL Cool J," he said. "Don't call it a comeback. He's been here for years, rockin' his peers, puttin' 'em in fear, makin' tears rain down like a monsoon, explosions overpowerin' the competition. LL Cool J is towerin'."
And here's how he introduced the mothers theme:
"Going to pay tribute to that bountiful breast we all spring from, mother dearest," he said. "`M's' for the many things she gave me. `O' is for the other things she gave me. `T' is for the things she gave me. `H' is for her things, which she gave me. `E' is for everything she gave me. `R' is for the rest of the things she gave me. Let's talk about mothers."
Do you understand the mystery of why that's so funny?

It's the weekend.

A big holiday weekend. Are you going to be reading any blogs or are you going to be out behaving in the appointed outdoorsy fashion, acknowledging the official beginning of summer? In academia, summer seems to begin on the last day of class, which was somewhere back in April, and weekends only have to do with where traffic and crowds will be. "Do you have plans for the weekend?" I get asked that a lot. If I say "no," will I sound like a loser? If I explain why weekends mean nothing to me, will I seem to be bragging or will it just be boring, like answering the question "How are you?" with details of how things are going for you these days?

May 26, 2006

Gunfire in the Capitol Office Building.

CNN reports.

UPDATE: Apparently, it was jackhammers.

When the rugged individualist goes where only rugged individualists go...

He's got a problem when he needs help. The only people around are the kind of people who would be in a place like that.

What's that?

I go out to pick up the newspaper and I'm all... What?! Did somebody come into my yard last night just to throw up in my garden?

Slime mold

Oh, it's slime mold. Dog Vomit Fungus! Remember? I mentioned it here once, you know, that day when I deliberately vomit-blogged. But I've never seen it in my yard before, even though I have seen -- and photoblogged -- some pretty impressive fungus, fungus that makes you think not of vomiting, but of one of those other bodily activities.

"The 50 greatest conservative rock songs."

John J. Miller at the National Review has a list. I was surprised to see "Gloria" at number six, and I was starting to think over the lyrics and come up with a theory. Like to tell ya about my baby/You know she comes around/She about five feet four/A-from her head to the ground... Nothing was clicking. Is it the interest in correct spelling? G-L-O-R-I-A. Then I saw it was "Gloria" by U2, a completely different composition. te domine/Gloria...exultate/Oh Lord, if I had anything/Anything at all/I'd give it to you... Quite different. In Van Morrison's song, Gloria was giving it all to him.

Anyway, what does Miller count as conservative:
The lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values.
Skepticism of government? Surely, that's grasping at a lot of stuff that wasn't meant as conservative. But what the hell? Conservatives can enjoy it. Most mentions of the government in rock songs are skeptical of it. Can you even think of any pro-government rock songs? I mean where it's not sarcasm or the voice of a character you're not supposed to believe.

Well, go read the list. I think in a lot of cases the song leaves room to argue whether the message is actually conservative. Rock song lyrics can be blunt and plain -- when they are about sex, like Van Morrison's "Gloria" -- but they're usually fuzzy and ambiguous when they get to political and social topics -- especially if they're any good. That makes the more of a Rorschach test.

Miller's quite keen on the notion that The Kinks are conservative. (I should say konservative.) I think what he likes to read as conservative is really an artist's aversion to politics -- you know, that thing artists do: standing at a distance, observing, alternating between bemusement and critiquing human character.

Art Spiegelman on the Muhammad -- and other -- cartoons.

I want to write something about Art Spiegelman's piece in the June issue Harper's Magazine, and it's frustrating not to be able to link to it. I hate to think I've reached the point where I feel that it's not worth reading things I can't link to. Remember that Kevin Kelly piece from a couple week's ago about how, in the future, everything would need to be on line to matter? I feel myself falling into that future. If Art Spiegelman wrote an article in Harper's that I can't link to, is that like Art Spiegelman thinking his own private thoughts or muttering to himself when he's walking alone on a deserted beach?

But I did go over to Borders and pick up a paper copy of the magazine, which was worth doing not so much because it reprints the notorious Muhammad cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, but because of the luscious reprints of some cartoons from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These old cartoons are brilliantly drawn and politically vicious. What is the point of beginning the article with these images? Spiegelman writes:
Cartoon language is mostly limited to deploying a handful of recognizable visual symbols and clichés. It makes use of the discredited pseudoscientific principles of physiognomy to portray character through a few physical attributes and facial expressions. It takes skill to use such clichés in ways that expand or subvert this impoverished vocabulary. Cartoonists like Honoré Daumier, Art Young, and George Grosz were masters of insult and were rewarded for their transgressions: Daumier was imprisoned for ridiculing Louis-Phillippe; Art Young, the Socialist editor of The Masses, was tried for treason as a result of his anti-World War I cartoons; and George Grosz was tried variously for slander, blasphemy, and obscenity before fleeing Germany as the Nazis rose to power.
Spiegelman goes on to criticize the Muhammad cartoons: most of them are not well drawn, they lack a discernable message, and -- in his view -- they fail to "speak truth to power." Cartoons are important: why aren't they better? Quite aside from the issue of stirring up religious fundamentalists by depicting Muhammad, there's the problem of decline in cartooning, an argument you pick up almost instantly upon looking at the old cartoons Spiegelman has chosen.
Hard-hitting cartoons have mostly been replaced by topical laffs in gag-cartoon format or by decorative "Op-Ed" style illustrations whose meanings are often drowned in ambiguous surrealism.
"Rancorous visual satire" is in short supply these days. Spiegelman wants more of it. I agree.

May 25, 2006

"Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply."

That's not a very good headline for this NYT article. The article is not about the complete rejection of blogging interns, but about how young people who are at ease with blogging need to learn that the organization is unlikely to accept it if you use your inside information for blog material.

Haven't writers always exploited the knowledge they've gained from access to things other people don't know about? It's the way of the writer, isn't it? The difference with blogging is that you publish your writing instantly, using information you just came across. That's what gets you fired. And it's not just about the workplace. Writers also exploit their personal relationships and use the secret info they get from having friends and lovers. Blogging's got to be riskier here as well, because you don't have the time lag and the elaborate processing of the material.

Eat chocolate.

It makes you smart, so you're smart to eat it.

"The governor thinks that abstinence should be an important part of the message that kids hear from adults as part of their classes."

The governor is up for reelection.

IN THE COMMENTS: Why so many comments? There's a lot of discussion of abstinence education, and I'd just like to say that you should not assume from my post that I don't support abstinence education. I do. Here's my old post on the subject from last November:
[A] bill requiring a stronger abstinence message is about to pass the legislature here. (What the governor will do is another matter.)

The bill ... would require school districts that offer sex education programs to "present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior" for unmarried students....

The current state law simply lists more than a dozen topics that districts "may include" in their sex education instruction but does not stress one as more important than others. The word "abstinence" does not appear, although "discouragement of adolescent sexual activity" is one of the topics districts can choose to include.

Should the legislature be requiring all the schools in the state to push abstinence as "the preferred choice of behavior"? The culture varies from place to place around the state, so I don't like a statewide requirement that goes this far, even though I think it's important for young people to hear a strong presentation of the case for abstinence. Shouldn't local school districts decide this one rather than posturing state legislators?
So, there's a distinction between the importance of teaching young people about abstinence and the political posturing that is going on. I don't blame Governor Doyle here though. He didn't start this one. He was set up.

"At 1 year old, he was putting his own DVDs in, skipping scenes."

Your child is a genius. Be sure to tell everyone. I'm sure they won't take your statements the wrong way.

Murder defendant tries to strangle his lawyer...

... in court, in front of the judge.

Cue the lawyer jokes. In a shameless bid for leniency....

Divorce degrades your daughter's looks.

Studies show. But a bad intact marriage makes her even uglier. Or can we solve the whole problem with the right hormone injections?

May 24, 2006

"Top Chef" -- there's another finale tonight, kids.

Stephen smartly says he wants to work with Tiffani, while all three of the other eliminees -- Miguel, Leanne, and Dave -- say they want Harold. Harold chooses Leanne outright, then leaves Dave and Miguel to draw knifes to see who gets him. Miguel does. So Tiffani gets Dave, the guy who disrespected her so severely last week.

Oh, Tiffani has an uphill battle. And Dave and Stephen show up late and drunk. They undercut her throughout the day, down to the point where they say to the judges that they think Harold should win. Tiffani's dinner doubles each dish, so that she makes 10 things instead of just 5. Harold makes only the 5. He plays it safe, the judges say again and again.

But they give the Top Chef award to Harold. I liked Harold all along. But in the last few weeks, the edge of the antagonism toward Tiffani has hurt me. I was rooting for Tiffani. At one point, somebody said that in the end of the day it is not a popularity contest. But, in the end of the day, it was.


... on "American Idol." Shut up, already. Damn!

"Americal Idol" -- the results, I mean, really, the results!

It's the big night. It's gonna take two hours. But we will have an end. And it's not like you even have to bother. Because you know what the end is. Taylor Hicks won. Hasn't DialIdol showed him way ahead every single damned week? So they actually have to try to entertain us. That's the upside of all this nonsuspense.

In Phase 1 of this attempt to entertain us, they bring out rejected Idols and their idols. Paris Bennett sings with Al Jarreau. Is Al Jarreau embarrassed to stoop to this or happy to get such a gigantic audience? I don't know. But I wish him well. He's a brilliant singer. People like him used to go on "The Ed Sullivan Show" where they were juxtaposed with puppets and acrobats. Why is this different? Leave the lovely Mr. Jarreau alone. We see Chris Daughtry singing with Live, side by side with Ed Kowalczyk. Is Ed comfortable? Is Ed thinking I'm doing this for money? Is Ed thinking God bless Chris for loving me enough to imitate me or is he just exploding inside at the bizarreness of it all? Then the weirdness climaxes as Meat Loaf sings with Katharine McPhee. Noooo. I've blotted that out. What was Meat thinking? That she was horrible? That if he was as sexy as she he'd be the biggest star in the universe?

And stuck in there is a cute and genuinely funny comedy routine with Wolfgang Puck and Kellie Pickler. He's trying to teach her about food, and she's hiding the escargot in the napkin. Give that adorable girl a TV show, please.

In Phase 2, they purport to give out awards. This is just an excuse to go way back into the bad auditions file. We hear four bad women and four bad men, one of whom cavorts on stage for us.

After the longest commercial break in the history of television, we get another dose of Puck and Pickler. (She goes all Annie Hall about lobsters.) Then Phase 3 begins. Ryan introduces: GUYS! "Takin' Care of Business." It's Ace 'n Kevin 'n Bucky 'n Chris 'n Elliott. Now Taylor comes out, harmonica-ing. "Tobacco Road." (I was just hearing this song on XM Radio today, the Ten Years After version.) Now it's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." Suddenly, it't the 1992 Democratic Convention. Yesterday's gone!

Uhh...ohh... we seem to be back in Phase 2, with "Proudest Moment" awards. Elliott's mom wins, and, really, she's about the coolest Idol family member ever. Claudette! She's adorably jolie laide, and she looks just like Elliott. Now, Elliott Yamin sings. And introduces Mary J. Blige! All the stars are getting in on this action tonight. And what a tribute to Elliott: Blige shows up. "American Idol" rules... if Blige shows up.

Carrie Underwood sings. She's in a country place. I haven't been following this. "Don't forget to remember me." I kinda have.

"The Randy Jackson Award for Public Speaking." To Ronetta, for bleepable crap. This is the low point of tonight's show. I don't like this disrespect to Randy. Ronetta plays the role of Ronetta, accepting the award. Let's ignore this.

Cut to Taylor. He starts "In the Ghetto," then introduces Miss Toni Braxton! Disturbingly, she can hardly sing. This is a weird moment, and it's clipped short. What just happened?

Time for the big "GIRLS" medley. "I'm a woman. W-O-M-A-N." Lotsa Paris here. We feel that if only she'd had a chance to prepare -- lord, she's only 17 -- she'd have held up the female end of the competition. "I'm Every Woman." Nice to see Mandisa back. But then... it's also too strained, too desperate. (Bring back the guys.)

Back to the awards. The next one's for imitation. And the guy who wins is the Clay Aiken imitator. He accepts his award and agrees to sing. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me." Midway through the song, the real Clay -- the guy! -- comes out and is singing along. Fake Clay freaks out but does the duet anyway. Omigod! It's Clay! In person! It's Clayyyyyy!!!!

Phase 4. Burt Bacharach is introduced and he staggers over to the grand piano, but I'm not going to make fun, because he starts to play a beautiful, beautiful song. "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love." Taylor Hicks begins the sublime lyric. Hey, dammit, the show is really entertaining tonight. It's two hours, but they've got material. "The Look of Love." Ace and Melissa (I think it's Melissa). "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" -- Kellie. Aw, now it's Bucky singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." Aw. Mandisa sings a little prayer for us. Lisa Tucker sings "Alfie." What's it all about?... Are we meant to take all that we give?...

"A chair is not a chair..."
It's that absurd lyric Tamyra once sang, and now it's Elliott. Dear, sweet Elliott. "What's New Pussycat?" Kevin Covais. Ick! But kinda awesome. "Caught Between the Moon and New York City." "Close to You."

Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Dionne Warwick.
Well, it's established: "American Idol" is the new "Ed Sullivan Show." Dionne Warwick is here, singing "Walk on By" and "That's What Friends Are For." Taylor and Katharine wander out and then all those other characters. Taylor holds Dionne's hand and popdom is complete.

There's a "male bonding" interlude here... I've got nothing to say about it. Aaahhhh... come on! We're so close to the end. Let's get to it!

Finally, the results....

And... I'm speechless... it's Prince....

Aw... that's sublime....


Now, Taylor's singing "The Time of My Life" and Katharine bops out over to him. They can both relax and enjoy the moment. They totally know what the answer is on this suspenseless but awesome night. I think the lack of suspense pushed them to make it a good show, and they did.

Ryan tells us it was 63.4 million votes, more than any President has ever received.

"Here we go. The winner of 'American Idol,' Season 5, is: Taylor Hicks!"

Taylor: "Soul Patrooooooollllll!"

Hey, don't complain. He deserved it. He made America love him. What did he have? A bit of a voice. A love for soul music. A willingness to throw himself into the spirit of it all. We laughed. We responded. Who else ever made that happen? He's just a guy in the middle of music who made us feel something. Shut up!

Is that a sex theme park?!

Now, in London, there's Amora, The Academy of Sex and Relationships. Oh, sex and relationships. Maybe you could imagine the rides at a sex theme park, but what the hell kind of rides would there be at a relationships theme park?
The 10,500sq-ft exhibit is designed to "separate fact from myth and educate everyone into being better lovers"....

The theme park will include life-sized silicone-made models which visitors can touch to discover erogenous zones.

People will also be able to build their ideal partner from a series of body parts and there will be instructions on how best to kiss and how to talk more sexily.

The seven zones will start with attraction, love and relationships and include a sexual well-being zone which looks at the dangers of unsafe sex.
For the love of Eros, it's a damned health class!

Punk rock and fast cars.

Michele Catalano -- of the defunct blog A Small Victory -- has a new blog. It's all about punk rock and fast cars: Faster Than the World.

The new commercial.

On stage, live, before a play. Yuck! And since the actors are live, you'd feel pressure to applaud them. That's the social convention. We don't boo anymore, not when there's a real human being on the stage. We could start again, though.


You're right. That is giving me nightmares.

The burden of parenting.

Glenn Reynolds has a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the dwindling incentives to become a parent. He thinks the standards of caring for kids has gone up -- we supervise them all the time and strap them into car seats -- which increases the burden of parenting. Back in the old days, parents let the kids roam around the neighborhood. (I note that they also didn't waste any time slathering sunscreen on our little bodies. I got sunburns every year that I think they'd arrest the parents for these days -- the kind with blisters and sheets of skin peeling off.) And the rewards, Glenn says, have declined. He doesn't say the kids won't love and amuse you but the rest of society doesn't reward you so much anymore:
My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.
If this means a damaging decline in the birthrate, what can we do? In Russia, Vladimir Putin is working on economic incentives, but Glenn isn't promoting that. He thinks the change should come from the culture. But how? You can't make it cool to have kids just because we need kids. And the people with the kids aren't helping. Aren't they the ones who do the most to make folks without kids see raising kids as an unattractive proposition? It's a deep, deep problem, and it's not going to change.

May 23, 2006

"Life on an appellate court tends to be isolating, and for me, one of the bright spots was always when Ed called."

Said Samuel Alito at the funeral of Judge Edward R. Becker.
Alito recalled one incident while he and Becker were hearing cases in the Virgin Islands - part of the territory, along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, that makes up the Third Circuit. After one busy court day, Alito and Becker took a sightseeing boat trip.

"I looked around for Eddie, and Ed was sitting along the side of the boat with an enormous stack of papers on his lap," Alito said. He called Becker a "tireless worker - but for him, it was a labor of love. He absolutely loved his work."
Justices Scalia and Souter were also at the funeral.

"American Idol" -- The Finale!

It's the big finale tonight kids. Let's let Slate's music critic Jody Rosen set things up:
[Katharine] McPhee would seem to be a record executive's dream candidate: a classy, pretty girl from Los Angeles who can really sing. But there's only a few record executives out there, and many millions of Idol voters, and I suspect that they, with guidance from Simon, Randy, and Paula, will choose Hicks, the prematurely gray-haired doofus who has spent the past several weeks jerking across the Idol stage like a spaz while belting out classic R&B covers. There's something vaguely unsettling about his shtick: Although he's not black, he calls his fans "The Soul Patrol," and although he's neither black nor blind, he insists on lurching backward when he sings like his idol Ray Charles.

Still, I'll be rooting hard for Hicks. I wager he'll win in a walk, as well he should: He's just a more interesting singer. A Hicks victory would be the ultimate answer to critics who've slammed Idol for its plastic pop-music values. (Bar Band Singer Bests Pop Princess!) And it would continue the Idol voters' streak of choosing talent over beauty—think of pretty boy Justin Guarini falling to Kelly Clarkson, who despite the best efforts of a battery of stylists still looks more like a Dutch mastiff than Jessica Simpson.
Ooh, that's mean to say about Kelly!

In the first few minutes of the show, we see clips of Taylor and Katharine from the early stages of the competition. Seeing Katharine's original audition, I'm reminded why I liked her so much then and lost my feeling for her. She seemed fresh and youthful before they slathered her in makeup like the kind Heather Graham had on in "Boogie Nights" in that scene where she kicks that guy in the head with her skate.

Katharine goes first (because she lost a coin toss). She does "Black Horse in a Cherry Tree." She's got the guys with the box drums again, but -- I'm glad to see -- she doesn't sprawl on the floor. She doesn't overdo it, and she's not over-made-up. The judges give her a lukewarm response.

Taylor does "Living for the City." He's got a magenta velvet jacket on. He tippy-toes up and down the stairs. The audience goes wild. He's obviously more loved than Kat. Randy calls him "a hot one." Paula goes wild. Simon: "Round 1 to you."

Now Katharine's on the floor singing. It's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Well, it makes her dad cry. Randy: "It was hot." Apparently, she worked it out. And he thought it was going to be anticlimactic, whatever, whatever. Paula effuses: "It's no mistake that it's God-given talent that you are possessed with." Possessed? Are you sure that's not devil-given talent? "...or possessive of" is Paula's revision. Simon: "Back in the game."

Ah! Taylor's singing "Levon." Leave on the TV. I want to hear this. Here's what I said about that the first time he sang it:
He's singing "Levon." Beautiful! "He calls his child Jesus, because he likes the name." Paula: "Everything just exudes from you." Paula's all passionate, professing her love. Randy chimes in: "There's never been anyone on the show in five years like you." Simon: "I said in the beginning... that I didn't think you should make the finals. I was wrong." Can I go back to the lyrics? "Alvin Tostig has a son today." What's with that name? Tostig? My grandmother's maiden name was Tausig, so I always heard Tausig. But Tausig/Tostig -- it's such a specific name, in a song where Jesus is highlighted as a good name. What's with that? I've been wondering for decades!
Oh, yeah. I always get caught up in that name. Not Levon. Not Jesus. Alvin Tostig. Was that the first time I liked Taylor? No. Here's what I wrote about the original audition:
They save Taylor Hicks for last. He's got prematurely gray hair. "A Change Is Gonna Come," one of the best songs ever. He sings with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes closed. He does a second song, clapping and contorting almost like Joe Cocker. Simon says personality is important, which Paula takes as a cue to praise him for his nice personality, but that's the opposite of what Simon had in mind.
Funny, I liked him for the first couple weeks, then turned against him. I was for Chris through most of the competition. But I came back to Taylor after Chris got the boot. I'm for Taylor tonight, but I'll admit it if Katharine deserves it.

Let's see what the judges say about "Levon."

Randy: "A little pitchy for me." Paula: "Maybe a little pitchy for you." Simon: "Katharine has taken the second round." They set up the third round as the tiebreaker. It doesn't work like that, but they've just got to play us.

We see Kat's parents. She's been singing ever since she could open her mouth, Kat-Dad says. I think it's what she was born to do, Kat-Mom says. Kat, on tape, recounts singing endless scales for years. Oh, yeah, I'm sure that part just came naturally.

Kat sings her first single, "My Destiny." Oh, crap. It's some damn song the show had written. "I have always dreamed of this." Blah. Could you just once leave out "dream"? It's dreary and limp. She's wearing a gray dress that even makes her look flat-chested. Oh, no! Are they trying to destroy her? How can they say this is crap when it's the single they're putting out? This is so sadly lackluster. Suddenly, a gospel choir comes out. Kat gets all screetchy in the end, then closes in a phony-sweet soft tone.

Randy? Tell the truth! "You sounded good. I did not love the song." They sandbagged her! And you know her earpiece didn't work on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and, as she said, she begins a cappella and that made it hard to start on key. Conspiracy!! Paula: "You are brilliant." Simon: "I'm sorry. You went from brilliant to quite good within one song. And you are a great, great potential artist."

Taylor's song begins "I've never been the one to raise my hand..." Hey, I know your kind. His sly smile seems to say I know Kat screwed up. I've got it made. "This is what we dream about..." Again, with the dream. Always a damned dream. And the gospel choir is out already. He ends in spasms of joy, knowing he's won.

Randy: "No matter what the song is, you know how to make it into a Taylor Hicks vehicle." (And Randy finally thinks of another way to say "You made it your own.") Paula: "You are better than the song" -- again, disrespecting the show's own song -- "but because you know who you are ... all the nuances of Taylor Hicks exist in that song...." Simon: "Assuming I was right that the show was tied, then you just won 'American Idol.'" Taylor screams "Woo!" Everyone knows the answer.

Randy and Paula exult that they were the ones who voted for Taylor at the audition stage, and Simon would have let him go.

Hey, congratulations to Taylor Hicks. He thoroughly won this, the clearest win ever on "American Idol."

"She insulted George Bush, simulated sex and suspended herself from a giant mirrored crucifix, head adorned with a designer crown of thorns..."

Please, won't somebody please pay attention to Madonna!

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

The greatest comeback in the history of presidential/vice presidential debates.

RIP Lloyd Bentsen.

So who won?

My little contest here.

(And is it too obvious what got me wondering?)

Lad lit, a summary.

By Michael Kimmel (via A&L Daily):
I may be 30, but I act 15. I am adrift in New York. I'm too clever by half for my own good. I live on puns and snide, sarcastic asides. I don't look too deeply into myself or anyone else — everyone else is boring or a phony anyway. I may be a New Yorker, but I am not in therapy. I have a boring job, for which I am overeducated and underqualified, but I lack the ambition to commit to a serious career. (Usually I have family money.) I hang out with my equally disconnected friends in many of the city's bars. I drink a lot, take recreational drugs, don't care about much except being clever. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and while I am eager to have sex, which I do often given the zillions of available women in New York, the sex is not especially fulfilling, and emotions rarely enter the picture. I am deeply shallow. And I know it.

Oh, and then something happens. I go on a journey, get inside the media machinery, sort-of fall for a new girl. Or 9/11 happens, but that doesn't really affect me much either. And though I might now mouth some bland platitudes about change, anyone can see that I'm still the same guy I was before. Only different. But not really.
Kimmel -- a sociologist -- continues his scorn in the third person:
Each work is written in the first person, by a destabilized, unreliable narrator; these books are like one long run-on sentence of self-justification and rationalization....

Despite being obsessed with getting laid, the characters, oddly, seem unconcerned about sex itself. Perhaps it is too demanding. Tom Farrell's most emotionally intimate conversations are with his penis.

Nor does anyone seem especially ambitious professionally....

Political commitment also is scorned, seen as a naïve symptom of actually caring about something....

The characters in these books are as unmemorable and faceless as the men in the gray flannel suits they hold in such contempt....
But don't worry. These books aren't doing particularly well:
Women won't read these books unless there is some hope of redemption, some effort these guys make to change. And men won't read them because, well, real men don't read.
"Real men don't read"? I think he means don't read novels. They read the newspaper don't they? (I don't know. Lately, reading the NYT, I've been thinking the whole thing seems constructed to appeal to women.)

They read blogs, don't they?

"It's the frequency and not the intensity of positive events in your life that leads to happiness, like comfortable shoes or single malt scotch."

Says psychology professor Daniel Gilbert of Harvard's Social Cognition and Emotion laboratory. (Via A&L Daily.)
Although we humans have the capacity to imagine what will make us happy lodged in our well-developed frontal lobes, we are not good at it. It's the way we consistently err that fascinates the professor.

His researchers at Harvard interviewed voters before and after recent U.S. elections who said they would be extremely unhappy if George W. Bush won and would likely move to Canada — but who reported after the vote that they feel just fine.

"In prospect it always seems so dire," he says.

The Harvard researchers have also done extensive interviews with sports fans who just know they'll never smile again if their team loses but, of course, recover speedily after a loss.

"The human brain mispredicts the sources of its own satisfaction," Gilbert says, "and the reason is that we fail to understand how quickly we will adapt to both positive and negative events. People are consistently surprised by how quickly the abnormal becomes normal, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. When people say I could never get used to that, they are almost always wrong."

Gilbert believes we have an emotional immune system that helps us regain our equilibrium after catastrophic events...

"I am not saying that losing a leg won't change you in profound ways. But it won't lower your day-to-day happiness in the long run."
(Interesting place to use the phrase "in the long run.")
Is there a better way to predict what will make us happy than using our imagination?

"Yes," he says, "but no one wants to use it. It's called surrugation, and it circumvents biases and errors. If you want to know how happy you'll be if you win the lottery, ask a lottery winner — it's a mixed blessing. Will having children make you happy? Observe people who have them."
Quit thinking you're so special and start surrugating! If you want to be happy, check out what makes other people happy, and do that.

Ah, but do you really want to be happy... if it involves doing what those people do? And will other people reliably reveal what makes them happy or reliably report whether or not they are happy? People who have what is supposed to make them happy -- a marriage and children are prime examples -- are likely to say these things are making them happy. People who are happy in situations that are generally viewed as grim or pitiful may not want to let you know they are in that situation.

It's not really all that easy to surrugate, is it?

UPDATE: Based on questioning in the comments and a little Googling, I'm convinced "surrugation" is not some technical term or some Canadian word, but a misspelling of "surrogation."

YET MORE: In the comments, Christy reminds of the "Story of a Good Brahman," Voltaire poses the classic question: "Aren't you ashamed to be unhappy at a time when right at your door there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and who lives happily?" The Good Brahman says "I have told myself a hundred times that I would be happy if I was as stupid as my neighbors and yet I would want no part of such a happiness."

In support of Gilbert's idea, I should point out once again something I was talking about in my 49th podcast, this quote from Benjamin Franklin. Of his role in providing for street sweeping and streetlamps, he said:
Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho' dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produc'd not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good instrument.
And don't forget the comfy shoes and the single malt scotch.

"I gave him a personality. He was the equivalent of nonvintage wine, cheap plonk, and now, as a result of being around me, he's become full-bodied."

Said Simon Cowell about Ryan Seacrest -- in this big NYT article about Seacrest. (I like Seacrest. He's the glue that holds "American Idol" together. He does a lot more than you may notice.)

Speaking of Simon Cowell, you may have missed the piece in The New Republic about him. (Subscription-only link.) Franklin Foer says critics of "American Idol" are missing its "true contribution to culture":
That contribution comes in the form of Cowell.... Every week, he finds new pejorative descriptions for the lame music he encounters. "I think you're possibly the worst singer in the world," he has quipped. Or, "You take singing lessons? Do you have a lawyer? Get a lawyer and sue your singing teacher." But, far from precipitating cultural decline, these vicious performances have restored authority to the one figure that can salvage us from doom: the critic.

Critics don't just exist as arbiters of taste and explicators of art. They exist to bemoan their own inability to influence the world. In an essay on book reviewing, George Orwell once portrayed the critic as "a man in a moth-eaten dressing gown ... [a] down-trodden, nerve-racked creature." This self-pitying streak often makes critics sound like militant Muslim enthusiasts for the lost caliphate of Al Andalus--always pining, with somewhat selective memory, for the moment when they exerted genuine authority over Western civilization....

"American Idol," however, puts the lie to this nostalgic story line. Whatever influence Edmund Wilson may have achieved in his prime, it hardly compares with the power of Cowell....

On the program, "Idol" judges render assessments but don't actually vote for contestants. Their power rests entirely in their ability to sway the public--in other words, with the power of their criticism....

Cowell doesn't just influence the outcome of the competition; he affects its substance. In response to Cowell's advice, raw-sounding rockers have experimented with unfamiliar genres to expose their "sensitive side"; torch singers have dropped their crutch reliance on ballads. Of course, Cowell isn't shy about claiming credit for these small victories. ("Well, I have to take a certain amount of credit for that performance," he boasted several weeks ago.) When spreading the good news about his favored singers, Cowell avoids the fate of many contemporary critics, especially movie reviewers. After watching so much dreck, movie reviewers get so excited when they encounter a solidly constructed film that they lose control of their faculties, slathering Million Dollar Baby and Crash with superlatives formerly reserved for Fellini and Scorsese. Cowell, on the other hand, will frequently begin his most effusive comments with a deprecating remark about the contestant's hair style or past performances. And, even in his most enthusiastic moments, he'll rarely say more than "very good" or "it worked." But, in his restraint, he has achieved the ultimate critical fantasy--to actually shape the objects of criticism, to play the role of co-creator.
Foer's piece comes closer than anything else I've ever read to explaining my fascination with "American Idol" to me. I don't like the music very much. I like the criticism in action and the chance to hear an honest slam -- startlingly delivered right to the face of an optimistic, ambitious young person.

(Hey, the big finale is on tonight!)

When Hillary runs for President, we'll have to talk endlessly about her relationship with Bill...

So why wait? The NYT throws a big, front-page article at us:
[Bill Clinton] has told friends that his No. 1 priority is not to cause her any trouble. They appear in the public spotlight methodically and carefully: The goal is to position Mrs. Clinton to run for president not as a partner or a proxy, but as her own person....

Since the start of 2005, the Clintons have been together about 14 days a month on average...

Rarely, however, do the Clintons appear in public when they are together. That is largely driven by their careers, but it is also partly by choice.
It's a long article, but there isn't much meat in it, presumably because the Clintons have a strategy and are implementing it. Much of the article is speculation about what people will think once the presidential campaign gets started. How will what we already know and think of their relationship affect our assessment of her as a candidate?

Right now, we're in a long period of thinking about her without noticing him. That is, their strategy has been working. But at some point, when we concentrate on the campaign, the image of Bill Clinton back in the White House will become quite real. Do we have a problem with that? We've never had a woman President, but we've also never had a former President, who is disqualified from running for President again, back in the White House, in some quasi-President capacity that we can't quite know.

Remember that Bill once said that in voting for him for President, we'd also get Hillary for President, "two for the price of one." We will be getting the two-fer back, but they don't want you to think about it.

Interestingly, the NYT does.

UPDATE: Slate's Jack Shafer tries to read the NYT's "own private code."
Healy could directly ask, "Is Bill cheating?" Instead, he writes a donut around the subject...

Healy writes, "Nights out find [Bill] zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties and fund-raisers in Manhattan." Given the context, what literate person won't make a connection between "zipping" and "zipless," especially when the person with whom Clinton is zipping is a billionaire bachelor buddy?...

[W]hy make any fuss about Bill not being at Hillary's side? Few members of Congress appear in public with their spouses, except during campaigns, and even then many campaign alone. Unless, of course, the Times intends a secret message with this piece: They spend lots of time together, he keeps a tactful distance from her career by mutual agreement, and he cheats.
Shafer concludes that the Times has sources who say Bill is cheating and that there's no other reason to write an article like this.

Lorie Byrd joins Wizbang.

After that dustup at Polipundit, that we talked about here.

May 22, 2006

Oh, I'm still laughing...

About the uniforms Roxanne and Allie cooked up on "The Apprentice." (Or should I say "The Apprentice does Project Runway.") And the snuggling in bed before the boardroom. And then the way the two women clawed each other to death in The Boardroom.

The literati versus the technorati.

At BookExpo America:
When John Updike approached the lectern in the Convention Center ballroom Saturday morning, most of his bleary-eyed, coffee-swilling audience expected him to talk about his latest novel, "Terrorist." ... [W]ithout warning, he opened fire on the technorati.

"I read last Sunday, and maybe some of you did too, a quite long article by a man called Kevin Kelly," he began.
We were just talking about that article here. Remember? It's the one about how authors are going to have to give up on the technology-conquered idea that they can make money selling copies of their writings.
Updike went on at some length, heaping scorn on Kelly's notion that authors who no longer got paid for copies of their work could profit from it by selling "performances" or "access to the creator." ("Now as I read it, this is a pretty grisly scenario.")

Unlike the commingled, unedited, frequently inaccurate mass of "information" on the Web, he said, "books traditionally have edges." But "the book revolution, which from the Renaissance on taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling pod of snippets.

"So, booksellers," he concluded, "defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our human identity."
Meanwhile, a guy named Tom Turvey -- his nickname must be Topsy -- is there from Google, promoting Google's Book Search project.
Told of Updike's criticism, he suggested that there's a bit of an "apples and oranges" thing going on.

"For novelists and trade publishers that publish books to be read sequentially," he said, the utility of searching within a book's content is harder to understand. But this kind of book is a minority, and a lot of publishers know that they can increase their sales by allowing searches that lead potential customers to texts they otherwise might never have found.
And Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. With a book to sell -- "iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: Getting to the Core of Apple's Inventor" -- it's not clear if he belongs to the literati or the technorati faction. Asked about the Kelly article, he just says: "It's like everybody's scrambling to figure out how it falls out... and I don't know how it falls out." That sounds like a good condition to have your mind in.

"At those times when you are absolutely sure you're right, go find someone who disagrees."

Said Condoleezza Rice to the graduating students at Boston College. Cue the Bush-hatin' jibes.

How much protesting was there?
About 50 students stood with their backs toward the stage as Rice was introduced to give her commencement speech, but they were quickly drowned out by a standing ovation.

A half-dozen signs that said "Not in my name" were held in the air by students, who sat down by the time Rice started to speak. One banner that said "BC honors lies and torture" was held on the side of the stadium, away from where the students were sitting.

Other students cheered Rice, and an Internet broadcast of the ceremony included a shot of a student, talking on his cell phone, with an "I Like Condi" button pinned to his graduation cap.

I wonder if the coverage of McCain's New School appearance convinced people to be a little more civil.

"An officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided."

Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, in an opinion just handed down today:
Justices said four Brigham City, Utah, police officers were justified in going inside a home in 2000 after peeking through a window and seeing a fight between a teenager and adults.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the unanimous court, said that officers had a reasonable basis for going inside to stop violence, even though they could not announce their arrival over loud noise of a party.

"The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties; an officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided," Roberts wrote.

The trial judge had ruled that police had violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches by failing to knock before entering the house.

When the adults realized the officers were inside the house, they allegedly became abusive and were charged with disorderly conduct, intoxication and contributing to the delinquency of a minor - all misdemeanors.
So the cops can barge into your house to break up a fight? Better stop fighting in front of open windows.

But here's my question. It's a sports question. A sports and writing question. We're familiar with the way a referee in a boxing can stop a fight if it becomes too one-sided. Why throw in "(or hockey)"? It not only clutters the sentence, it makes the concept harder to grasp. I don't even know about hockey referees stopping one-sided games. Since Roberts is known for the high quality of his writing style, I've got to think that parenthetical really adds something. But what?

Is it that in hockey fights break out, and the refs don't stop them unless they're one-sided, and it's actually more like the police situation because the fighting isn't legitimate in the first place, but some people might think the police should ignore fights unless someone is outmatched? In that case, hockey is a more apt analogy in light of the argument that the search was unreasonable.

MORE: Here's the whole opinion. This is the analysis of why the search was reasonable:
The officers were responding, at 3 o’clock in the morning, to complaints about a loud party. As they approached the house, they could hear from within “an altercation occurring, some kind of a fight.” “It was loud and it was tumultuous.” The officers heard “thumping and crashing” and people yelling “stop, stop” and “get off me.” As the trial court found, “it was obvious that … knocking on the front door” would have been futile. The noise seemed to be coming from the back of the house; after looking in the front window and seeing nothing, the officers proceeded around back to investigate further. They found two juveniles drinking beer in the backyard. From there, they could see that a fracas was taking place inside the kitchen. A juvenile, fists clenched, was being held back by several adults. As the officers watch, he breaks free and strikes one of the adults in the face, sending the adult to the sink spitting blood.

In these circumstances, the officers had an objectively reasonable basis for believing both that the injured adult might need help and that the violence in the kitchen was just beginning.
(Usage buffs may discuss whether the sentence I've put in boldface should be in the present tense.)

UPDATE: Marty Lederman links to my post and says:
Althouse ... ponders why the Chief Justice all-of-a-sudden lapsed into a screenwriter's present tense in the final sentence of this paragraph... Are these the Chief's ways of giving we Court-watchers something to talk about on a light decision day?
Well, Marty's giving us Court-watchers something else to talk about...

"I've got everything -- a total smorgasbord."

That's Hillary Clinton, talking not about her politics but her iPod.

You're not tired yet of news stories of what politicians have in their iPods, are you? I want to know if they load up their own iPods or have some staffer do it or if there even is an iPod -- because you know it could just be like what book would you want on a desert island. What would you have in your iPod if you had an iPod and took the trouble to fill it up? All I really want to know is whether, if you have/had an iPod, you are even capable of filling it up without thinking of how whatever you're putting in there will look in the newspaper article about what you've got in your iPod.

Hey, guess what? Hillary has Aretha Franklin's "Respect" in her iPod! Wow! And, of course, it's also an eclectic mix, and includes some (unnamed) classical stuff. I'd just like for once to hear a politician say they don't like classical music and they could go the whole rest of their life without hearing Aretha emote her way through "Respect" again. That would sock it to me.

"Baghdad ER," "The Sopranos," "Big Love."

Did you watch three straight hours of HBO last night? Or did you leave off "Baghdad ER" on the theory that there's something wrong with witnessing real bodily pain and then enjoying "The Sopranos"? Or did you only watch "Baghdad ER" because of that? I saw there was a problem with the line up, but still watched all three.

I think "Baghdad ER" was a good documentary. Is it an anti-war documentary? Several times, amid the carnage, a doctor or nurse says the violence is senseless, but there is no political context to this. We can't tell whether they are saying the continuing acts of enemy violence are senseless or whether the whole project of overthrowing Saddam Hussein made no sense. Basically, this program shows you the reality of what the wounds are and how doctors go about doing their work. This is something that you should not look away from whether you oppose the war or support it. Watching this film involves seeing a leg sawed off, an amputated hand thrown in the trash, a hole in an eyeball sewn closed, and many similarly gruesome things. With perhaps only one exception, the medical personnel are not cynical and weary. It's not like "MASH." They are impressively professional and rational about accomplishing what they need to do. Seeing clearly what that is lets us honor their heroism.

Now, I feel it's crass to go on to write about "The Sopranos" and "Big Love." But this illustrates the dissonance anyone would have felt if they sat down to the three hours HBO offered up last night.

"The Sopranos." Was Edie Falco's trip to Paris gratuitous enough for you? See gazes upon picturesque sights and feels transformed. It's the old contrast between her interest in higher things -- remember religion? -- and the ugly, evil world she likes to indulge herself by thinking she's not connected to. But why Paris? Sarah Jessica Parker went to Paris in the end of "Sex and the City," so why is HBO dishing up the woman-goes-to-Paris plot again? In Paris, you can really put your thoughts in order? Why would that be? I'm thinking the HBO folks just like to do some filming in Paris. Especially after all that New Jersey, that relentless, endless New Jersey. The "Sex and the City" people got to film in New York and they got to go to Paris. It's only fair that the New Jersey-afflicted crew of "The Sopranos" gets to go to Paris. But it wasn't all Carmela gaping at statues. (Oh, you want an Emmy for that too?) It was Tony getting the finger (from AJ). And Vito getting the pool cue. And that other guy getting the knife in the gut.

"Big Love." Margene spends most of the episode rototilling the dirt backyard, laying down slabs of sod, and keeling over, while Barb and Nicki natter over problems. Margene is the family slave. But all three of the women fuss over their wills. Who should get your children if Bill and you die? The wives all have different opinions. Once Bill dies, there's no ongoing polygamy: the surviving wives will no longer be "living the principle." So do you want one of the un-principle-living wives to have your children? Or do you ship them back to the compound? Meanwhile, we wonder whether 15-year-old Rhonda will wake up to reality and resist getting sealed to the Prophet. She thinks she's so superior, but then she didn't make it to the second round of that acting competition. One of the most amusing scenes had Rhonda saying some lines that turned out to be from "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." Her long journey into night is only beginning, so what could she know of the torment of the character she imagined she could play?

Will the Democratic Party become uniformly anti-war?

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about Joe Lieberman's troubles with his party and John McCain troubles at The New School commencement:
We doubt all of this will help Democrats with the larger electorate, which whatever its doubts about Iraq does not want a precipitous surrender. Americans haven't trusted a liberal Democrat with the White House during wartime since Vietnam, which is when the seeds of the current antiwar rage were planted. The great mistake that leading Democrats and anti-Communist liberals made during Vietnam was not speaking up against a left that was demanding retreat and sneering at our war heroes. Will any Democrat speak up now?
The WSJ also has the full text of the speech McCain gave at The New School. It reads well on paper, but it must have been dreadful intoned as if the room were not in disarray. A funny thing is that it's titled "Let Us Argue." He got a little more argument than he had in mind.

"We have to pray for your brother. He's in real trouble."

Said Clarence Thomas to President Bush's sister. (Quick: Did you know the President had a sister? Do you know her name?)

More from the same Lloyd Grove column:
Later I had a nice chat with the conservative justice — who's had little use for journalists since his 1991 confirmation hearings, in which Anita Hill accused him of inappropriate sexual advances and Thomas accused the Senate Judiciary Committee of conducting "a high-tech lynching."

"Life is long," I said at one point.

"That's right," Thomas agreed. "That's what you should say when somebody does something to you: Life is lo-o-ong. Ha-ha."

Sounds like Thomas is still trying to get over that unpleasant piece of business from long ago.
Who knows what Thomas was thinking when he said that? And there are so many ways to vocalize "ha-ha." Well, Grove knows the context and heard the intonation, and he's saying Thomas is still pissed. Wouldn't you be?

"McCain sez 'I don't' to backing constitutional ban on gay nups."

Daily News headlines crack me up. I mean, I gay rights are a serious matter. But "gay nups"? Oh, I don't know. Maybe if we'd all get along better if we lightened up and talked about gay nups.

May 21, 2006

Audible Althouse #50.

The 50th podcast is ready to download or stream.

Freddie's dead, smoking'll kill you (and make you glamorous), shallow fictional characters (and the authors who hate them), the women's studies sociologist who became a prostitute and why the Washington Post is writing so much about it (and what it's not saying), John McCain's lack of awareness and spontaneity while giving a commencement address at The New School, the promotion of movies by stirring up bogus controversies, and wondering how sweet or harsh to make my own writing.

"Do you think I'm foolin'/When I say 'I love you'?"

"Maybe you'll believe me/When I'm finally through, through, through, through..."

Aw, Freddie, we believed you back in 1965. Thanks for all the joy and happiness. And I'm really sad to hear you are finally through, through, through, through...

RIP, Freddie Garrity.

Rewatching "Coffee and Cigarettes."

I'd rather rewatch a movie I love than watch something new. Much as I'd like to add more titles to the list of movies I love, the rewatching experience is so much deeper and more pleasurable. You can't really see things the first time. The other night we were going to rewatch "My Dinner With Andre" (my most rewatched movie), but then we hit upon the somewhat similar "Coffee and Cigarettes" (which I watched -- and blogged -- a year and a half ago).

So, yeah, "Coffee and Cigarettes" turned out to be nicely rewatchable. I found new appreciation for the lesser scenes. Aware Bill Murray was going to be insignificant, I got so much more out of watching him drink that coffee straight out of the carafe. Knowing where the longueurs were, I relaxed and took in the luscious black-and-white photography -- all those checkered tablecloths and checkered tiles, seen from above with circular coffee cups and swirly cigarette smoke.

Speaking of photography, the "My Dinner With Andre" DVD is horrible. Every time I think of watching it again, I have to air the same complaint. At least this time, I had a new way to say it: It's like watching the movie on YouTube.

"Anonymous Lawyer."

I've been sent a review copy of "Anonymous Lawyer," the novel Jeremy Blachman made out of his blog Anonymous Lawyer. Maybe you're already a fan of the blog, and, if so, I have a free copy of the book to give away, and I'll have the publisher send it to you if you're the one in the comments here to give me the best explanation of why I ought to read this book, given that I've formed a resistance to it after reading 20 pages.

My resistance is based on the thinness and emptiness of the narrator, who is a partner in a big law firm. I get the stark impression that the novel is not written from the perspective of a person who has ever lived such a life or has any desire to understand someone who has, but from the perspective of a young person who has worked as a summer associate in a law firm and hated it and hated people like the Anonymous Lawyer.

I already understand the bad feeling many young people get from working in law firms, and I don't want to spend my time reading what I think is merely projected hatred and not a real character that can be understood.

"Toward the end of shooting... I was, like: 'You guys have got to let me be kind somewhere. This is boring.'"

Chloe Sevigny talks about playing Nicki on "Big Love."

"The woman with a PhD in sociology, an expertise in women's studies and a former career as a well-regarded college professor."

Accused of running a house of prostitution in her $400,000 suburban home. The neighbors had gotten suspicious:
For months, Bonnie Sorak and other residents on Shirley Meadow Court had speculated about the goings-on at the home of the woman known to take walks at midnight, string Christmas lights at 4 a.m. and always buy candy when schoolkids went door to door. Lately, neighbors had noticed, men in golf shirts driving Lexuses and other nice cars seemed to be frequenting the house. Sorak had idly wondered if Britton was dealing drugs. Another neighbor had joked that she must be turning tricks.

Now, as Sorak pulled up to her house, her two small children in the backseat, she spotted police. Hurriedly closing the garage door behind her, she called her husband: "The SWAT team is over there now."
Men in golf shirts! That gets the neighbors talking. Too many men, too similarly dressed, all with nice cars, and just not staying long enough.

"True belief means . . . that you hate the polytheists and infidels but do not treat them unjustly."

A lesson from a textbook for Saudi 5th graders. For 8th graders: ""As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus." Meanwhile, the Saudi government has gone about bragging that it has "eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from old textbooks."

Tommy Thompson and "the three little T's."

It's funny that a guy with the initials TT -- does he drive a TT? -- seized upon the rhetorical device of "the three little T's" to denounce Governor Doyle:
Thompson, [gubernatorial candidate Mark] Green and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who bowed out of the race earlier this spring, heaped scorn on a governor they characterized as a tool of the state teachers union, the trial lawyers and tribal gambling interests ("the three little T's," Thompson called them).

"We believe in the big T that trumps all those other Ts. That's you, the taxpayer," Thompson said. "This T is going to spend my summer and fall making sure you taxpayers know that."...

Green accused Doyle of "selling out" the state to special interests by vetoing legislation that would have limited corporate liability, opposing expansion of Milwaukee's school choice program and fighting legislative oversight of tribal gambling compacts.
Unfortunately, Green seems to be a hardcore social conservative. He favors making abortion illegal except to save a woman's life.