July 29, 2006

Chez BlogHer.

My conference session is over and I'm re-ensconced at my posh hotel, where I'm nibbling sushi and sipping Pouilly-Fuissé and listening to a guy bang out "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" on the grand piano. The question for me now is do I know the way out of San Jose and what kind of meandering route home am I going to take? I came via the southern route, and I'm circling back home through the north. I've got one really excellent posh hotel stop on the way home, and I've got two national parks I intend to see by car. Yes, I'm one of those ridiculous people who love the national parks but barely -- eek, bears -- get 200 feet away from our cars.

Anyway, how was the conference session?

Well, they'll have a podcast for you in about a month. I may have a couple audio clips of myself for the next podcast. I'm deeply troubled by letting more than 7 days go by without a podcast, but some podcast fans would welcome a return to the old Sunday pattern.

But the session, the session, how was it?

Well, first of all, I was way older than the other four bloggers on the panel, old enough to be their mother. And they were all progressive/lefty/liberal, and I'm basically not. But my main theme was one you regular readers must know too well: I'm in this blogging game for the intrinsic value, for the real love of self-expression and expressive community. But the other women were into self-expression too, even if they had more focused political goals.

I have a lot of admiration for the hyper-local bloggers. Lisa Williams, who emcee'd expertly, blogs all about Watertown. Courtney Hollands is all about Plymouth, and she's fabulously excited about her town. I mean, I love Madison, and a lot of what I do is in some sense celebrating Madison and also seeking to reach out beyond Madison for some counterbalance to Madison, but I wouldn't want to just write about Madison. I almost never mention the mayor or the the city council, but I'm impressed by people who love to provide that coverage, much more than mainstream media will.

Jarah Euston is devoted to Fresno. Fresno! And she really cares. That's beautiful!

Kety Esquivel's concentrated place is not geographic but spiritual. She's progressive. And she's Christian. For her, to be Christian is to be progressive. You might feel insulted if you're a conservative Christian, but she's passionate about wanting to counterbalance the political weight you know you have.

Lindsay Beyerstein, who looks exactly like the picture on her blog, is more like me, blogging in a somewhat similar fashion, but much more politically committed. See, she's bitching about the Comtrex just like me and wants more cool gadgets. I imagine she hates to think we're alike, because, after all, I voted for Bush. I even mentioned it in the session. I think she's insulted me a couple times on her blog, but what the hell? She's a passionate, serious blogger, and I wish her well.

There were great comments from the audience, including one from a woman who impressed me terribly by saying she came up first on Google if you searched for her first name: Betsy! Wow! How about Ann? I'm sure I'm not first, but am I at least on the first page? Yes! Oh, how I love the internet. All my life, I've felt that Ann was an absurdly plain name. It's practically like not even having a name. Ann? It's like, the. An article. An Althouse. Yeah? Which one?

Just this little woman hiding out in the lobby of a posh hotel in San Jose, listening to the piano player murder "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

Light art.

At the San Jose Art Museum. The installation -- full of undulating lights -- is by Jennifer Steinkamp. I loved taking photos here, because of the way people would position themselves within the frame and become part of the art, something I'm sure Steinkamp intends.

Light installation

Light installation

No people in this one, but I thought it was really cool:

Light art

"Condoleezza Rice: Midwife from Hell."

Speaking of magazines, here's a lovely piece from a little magazine from Madison, Wisconsin.
Her description of the conflagration in Lebanon as the “birthpangs of a new Middle East” was about as callous as it gets, matched only by Bush’s remark that the conflict represents “a moment of opportunity." ...

Rice’s cruel opposition to an immediate cease-fire has left the whole world outside of Israel (and Tony Blair’s kennel) aghast.
This is the kind of talk one hears around Madison. If the U.S. or Israel does something violent, you speak only in terms of your horror and righteous anger that we have killed people. If our enemies do something violent, you call attention to their understandable frustration and outrage and our role in making them feel that way.

"Will Israel Live to 100?"

That's the title of an article, by Benjamin Schwarz, published in The Atlantic in May 2005. It's currently #1 on the "Top fifteen most-read articles online this week," according to email I just received from the magazine. Conclusion:
[I]n conversations with Israelis on the left and the (moderate) right in academe, the military, the government, and the security services, I've been struck by their grim declarations that they as a people aren't going anywhere, but also by their foreboding about the country their children will live in. Most of all, though, I've been struck by the frequency with which these men and women—patriots all—have wistfully said, "We should have taken Uganda" (which Britain offered to the Zionist leadership in 1903). History shows that many problems have no solution—a fact all but unfathomable to Americans. Nevertheless, the century-long Palestinian-Zionist conflict is a story of two peoples, each with reasonable claims to the same piece of earth; and nearly every aspect of that story suggests that in the end—and to the detriment of those peoples, their region, and perhaps the entire world—their aspirations are not amenable to compromise.

Drive talk.

Driving across the continent this week, I listened to the satellite radio for hours and hours. Around Madison, I stay with the music channels most of the time, but on this long trip, I needed the talk channels to keep me going. And there's only so much news I can take, and I gravitated to non-news talk shows. My heart always lifted when "This American Life" came on, as it does more than once a day on the XM Public Radio channel. I also got through long stretches of highway listening to interviews with artists. On one of the comedy channels, there was a long, absorbing session with Carlos Mencia, who's really smart as well as funny. Then there was a great hour with a musician whose name I can't recall, one of The Pacers -- not Sonny Burgess. He had memories of Sun Studio in the golden days and so much heart, so much love for rockabilly music. (Don't you love rockabilly music?) And then there was a Public Radio interview that I stumbled into the end of and then heard on repeat from the beginning.

It was T.C. Boyle, whose crushingly depressive quote bugged me the other day. Some blogger criticized that post for making everything political, even though all that bothered me was the repulsive pessimism, and it occurred to me later that the blogger who criticized me -- he's linked in the linked post -- was not only ridiculously hypocritical -- he was the one seeing politics everywhere -- but he had also made an embarrassing concession about the political vision of the left: It feels like depression.

Anyway, on the radio, T.C. Boyle didn't seem like a depressing guy at all. He seemed perfectly energized, bubbling with ideas. In fact, he reminded me of blogging. He said he got his ideas from reading the newspaper, finding some little thing that touched off his thinking and taking it from there.

What reminded me that I wanted to say I really like Boyle is seeing this NYT review of "Talk Talk," the book I heard him talking about on the radio.
These jubilant portrayals of the loathsome and the lunkheaded have earned Boyle a reputation as a satirist, but the truth is more complicated. His outsize attack may at first glance appear surreal and excessive. In fact, this is 21st-century naturalism. Boyle depicts his whirling, pestilential world like an amused, not unaffectionate Hieronymus Bosch, graphically detailing the 31 flavors of greed.

He doesn’t remake the thriller in “Talk Talk” — that’s a tall and probably superfluous order. But without being too explicit, let’s say that he does engineer an ending unusual for a genre in which writers tend to administer justice like Antonin Scalia, displaying little sympathy for the criminal element. More than 20 years ago, in the story “Greasy Lake,” Boyle wrote, “There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste.” With T. C. Boyle, thankfully, such times have never gone out of fashion. No one writes better about the wages of American sin. Or, if not wages exactly, sin purchased on credit, and that probably stolen.
Hey, wait a second! How did Scalia get into the review?! And talk about seeing politics everywhere!

ADDED: You can buy a download of the interview with Boyle here.

The mystery of Bob Dylan's motorcycle crash.

It happened a long time ago, and it's now written up as history. Since he was not very seriously injured -- no ambulance was called to the scene -- why did his music change so much? And aren't you still sad that the brilliant run from "Bringing It All Back Home" to "Highway 61 Revisited" to "Blonde on Blonde" came to an end? Or should you be happy, on the theory that he would have died if he'd kept up like that?

What the new Woody Allen movie "Scoop" is really about.

The new Woody Allen movie "Scoop" -- which I saw last night -- is ostensibly about a beautiful college girl who fancies herself a reporter and sleeps with men as an investigative reporting technique. She's trying to get the scoop. We see her using this technique -- ineffectively -- in a short scene in the beginning of the movie. Then, after she gets a tip from a ghost that a certain aristocrat is a serial murderer, she applies this technique to him. Scarlett Johansson plays the woman, AKA Sondra Pransky, AKA Jade Julliard Spence. Hugh Jackman is the aristocrat, Peter Lydon. And Woody Allen plays a catalytic role as a corny old magician named Splendini, who unwittingly puts Scarlett in touch with the ghost when he pulls her out of the audience to participate in a trick. She, in turn, pulls him out of his stale magician life to investigate the serial murder with her. Along the way, she tells the aristocrats he's her father, and he plays along, becoming more involved in the investigation as she drifts into love with Peter Lydon.

Okay, that's all very well. There were some jokes that made me laugh out loud. For some reason, I thought it was hilarious when Splendini was posing as a reporter, and his interviewee asked him what paper he was from, and -- after some stuttering -- he said, "The Washington Post," and then babbled about "All the President's Men" and said that he was "the little guy."

Seeing the story this way, it seems good enough, but likely to be dismissed as fluff.

But this is not what the movie is about!

First, if you're inclined to think it's one of Allen's throwaway flicks, a light variation on the dark "Matchpoint," which also starred Johansson, you might point to the silliness of starting off the story by having a ghost giving the main character a tip about a murder. But that's no mark of frivolity. That's an allusion to "Hamlet." That's a tip for you to concentrate on the psycho-sexual details of the story.

The movie teems with sexual imagery -- and I don't just mean the frequent tableaux of a man in a boat. There is also the woman in a box -- the magician's box -- where the man -- Splendini -- "excites her molecules" -- as he puts it, more than once, during a trick where she's supposed to disappear (and where she is stunned to encounter a man who tells her something shocking). There is the locked music room, which you have to go downstairs to reach and find next to a wine rack that consists of phallic bottles stuck in holes.

You need to know the secret code to get into the room. Peter Lydon -- Peter Lie Down -- takes the woman into the room when he is trying to seduce her. The instruments all symbolize genitalia -- oboes and clarinets for the male and plenty of lutes and violins and French horns for the female. Lydon shows Sondra a Stradivarius and tells her it needs to be played. Remember her invented middle name is Juilliard.

Later, Splendini gets into the music room with Sondra, and he picks up the French horn and holds it with the fingers of one hand inside the bell and says he knows a filthy joke about how the French horn player slept with his wife. We never hear the joke, so we're forced to speculate on our own about the way the horn is like a woman's body and the position of the man's hand. Later, important clues are found hidden under the bell of that French horn.

Now, Lydon gets the girl, and he also easily knows the code to get into the music room. Splendini is denied access to her. Woody Allen displays himself as miserably old, shrunken away from any sexual vibrancy. And Sondra has designated him as her father -- giving the character the message that he can't ever be considered. And Woody Allen further humbles himself before us, because we know of his real-life humiliation as a man who had sex with a woman for whom he served as a father. Splendini's wretched age shows itself as he cannot remember the code to get into the room. The code is a series of three two-digit numbers (even though the lock is a keypad, not a combination lock), and the three numbers really seem like the ages of young women he cannot have, something like 16, 21, 23.

So I think this is Woody's elaborate meditation about sex, specifically about an old man's exclusion from sex. The scoop, which Splendini can't get, is the woman's vagina. (Dictionary definition of "scoop": "7. A hollow area; a cavity.") There are many more things I could talk about here, but I don't want to spoil the ending and I've gone on too long already.

July 28, 2006

Photo op.

That's our Bush:

ADDED: Can you tell who's happy and who's freaked out at having this imposed on him/her? In the latter category, I'm putting Lisa Tucker. Yeah, I know you want to say, in the former category, I'd put Kellie Pickler. But she's an actress. A brilliant one.

McCain and Mrs. Clinton.

In a boozing contest!

AND: Holy Mel, DUI.

UPDATE: Here's the NYT article that was referred to in that first link. Excerpt:
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain... share... a general approach to politics. Both strive to be seen as willing to break with ideological orthodoxy from time to time and to work across the aisle. Both emerged from nasty political battles — Whitewater and her husband’s impeachment in her case, the 2000 Republican primaries in his — declaring their hatred of the “politics of personal destruction,” as former President Bill Clinton called it.

“They would run a completely different campaign than we’ve seen in recent memory,” said Marshall Wittman, a former aide to Mr. McCain who has worked with Mrs. Clinton.

“Both of them realize there is a desire in the country for a different politics of national unity that transcends the current polarization,” Mr. Wittman said.

You've heard of Heartbreak Hotel.

Then there's Hard Day's Night Hotel.

Convention, Convertible, Contrex, Chardonnay, Condom.

Stumbling into the BlogHer conference, completely late for Day 1, I go first for the test drive. There's a bunch of cars, including a line of Saturn Sky Roadsters, but I know the one I want to drive. This red one:

Saturn Sky Roadster

No, not because it's red. Because it's the only one with a manual transmission. I wonder if they got it right about the proportion of women who are interested in sports cars and have the taste and skill to want a stick shift.

How does the Sky compare to the Audi TT Coupe I just drove 2400 miles? The seat doesn't adjust, so I couldn't get myself into the ideal position. That's my biggest criticism. But it was fun to drive, and it looks really cool -- all curvy. My TT isn't a convertible, but maybe when I buy my next car -- probably another TT -- I'll think about getting the convertible. It was awfully hot and bright, but the wind-in-the-hair effect is sublime. (When I was in high school, I drove a 1961 Chevy Impala convertible. Sea Foam Green.)

I went to the writing workshop, already in session. In the part I heard, they were talking about how to title your posts to best attract the kind of traffic you want. Am I following any rules about titles? I wonder. I do whatever amuses me at the moment, but maybe I could extract a set of rules from my behavior. I sort of hate to hear the "official" rules, because now I have to think about whether I'm following them, whether I should, whether I ought to want to break them on purpose, and whether I want such thoughts in my head. As opposed to tripping along on instinct, my usual approach.


All these bloggers are overloading the Hyatt's WiFi and even their Ethernet connection. (I did remember to bring an Ethernet cord.) Connection is spotty. I'm a little frustrated. I'm drinking from a freebie bottle of Contrex. Did you know there was special water for women? It tastes awful, and within the hour, I start to feel sick to my stomach. Possibly a coincidence.... I remember I have an over-the-counter remedy stashed in an obscure pocket of my computer case. I swallow it... without water.

I light out early, taking the light rail back into town, where I nestle into a banquette at my posh hotel.

Hotel lobby

The remedy has restored me. Along with that big glass of Chardonnay...


And that lovely tuna roll...

I'm getting good WiFi, so I download my photos, and work on this blog post. I pause to browse through the goodies in the Six Apart tote bag I got earlier in the day. What companies got in on the BlogHer action? Trojan! What condom was selected for the lady bloggers? Elexa! I see it's a condom with "a woman's perspective."

What else have I got here in this bag?

IN THE COMMENTS: I throw down the gauntlet:
I want a fancy-schmancy post modernist to deconstruct this post!
Sippican pens an awesome entry. Is there thermite? Of course. Elizabeth says one perfect thing. And XWL flings himself into the exercise -- over here on his blog -- and writes a whole essay on the title alone -- and don't forget this post has a passage about titles -- before declaring deconstruction crap. But he said such cool things that I can't believe it. Like this:
Convention: intentionally ambiguous meaning here, both in the sense of a 'convention' as meeting, and 'convention' as accepted method of doing things, this double meaning (with a third less obvious, but nevertheless informative meaning of 'convent'ion, given the 'sister'ly nature of the BlogHer conference, this particular 'convention' could be seen as a modern descendent of a 'convent' and therefore 'convent'ional in a secular imitation of the religious 'convent') serves to inform every aspect of the rest of the post. Next the concept space suggested by the term 'convertible', a (no doubt) intentional mimicking of the c-o-n-v-e- of the first word in the title, but with the changed ending a change in inference.

"'Convent'ion" ... that rules. If only the Saturn had been an Ion my head would have exploded.

Mellified man.

I'm suddenly getting lots of traffic from people searching for "mellified man." I come up #1 on this search. Here's my old post:
Yesterday at Borders, I got completely absorbed reading "Stiff," by Mary Roach. I happened to open it up in the middle, which is how I always judge books in bookstores. Apparently, a lot of people (most people?) start reading at page 1, but I figure the author has too much incentive to put good material on the first page. I want to see a more representative part of the book, so I open it up at random. Usually, I open in a few different places, and if they all seem interesting, I'll buy the book. I opened up "Stiff"--which is a book about cadavers, as you can tell from the cover--to a chapter called "Eat Me"--which, as you can imagine, is about cannibalism--and read about a little medicinal concoction called "mellified man." Well, that may have been the most amazing thing I've ever read about, and the author writes quite entertainingly about the subject. Really, just as an exercise in writing, this book is a marvel: how did Roach make so many things about dead bodies so interesting and so much fun? So, go pick up this book and read the part about mellified man or anything else. I'd try to say what mellified man is, but I can't put it as well as Roach. Let's just say it involves a lot of honey and 100 years.
Why the sudden interest in a legendary medicine made from the corpse -- soaked in honey for 100 years -- of a man who killed himself by eating too much honey? I think it's the name of a band with a song people are interested in, funnily enough.

UPDATE: Ah, no -- thanks, readers -- it's this.

A city polarized by sex.

At one end of the city, we've got your testosterone. At the other end, your estrogen. The San Jose Mercury-News provides the gender analysis:
Everyone knows that tens of thousands of crazed fans will be cheering and sweating in downtown San Jose today and Saturday for the San Jose Grand Prix, a celebration of engineering, speed and, of course, manhood.

But in the north of San Jose, 750 female bloggers are cloistered away from the din of the roaring engines. Instead, they gather today and Saturday at the BlogHer conference at the Hyatt San Jose to discuss the roar they are making online on every topic worth talking about -- politics, business, divorce, knitting, parenting.

Tempers may flare. Things may get said. Feelings may get hurt and everything will be blogged on at both ends of the city.

This weekend, San Jose is divided between two playgrounds, the testosterone fueled, gas guzzling, sound-wall-breaking one downtown. And the estrogen-laced community-building, business-savvy one that comes complete with corporate-sponsored child care.

Amusing. Well, I'm still at the testosterone end of town. Though I'm a Central Time person, I'm running late even by Pacific Time. I'm blogging and nibbling a beautiful -- and low carb! -- breakfast at my posh hotel, around which race cars are currently zooming. The concierge has advised me to leave my car in the garage and take the light rail to the Hyatt. I think I'll take in a little of the testosterone end of town and do some photography, then sample mass transportation and make it to the afternoon dose of estrogen.
General Motors, one of BlogHers sponsors, will have its hybrid SUVs, hydrogen fuel cell family cars and Saturn Sky available to test drive.


Jeremy's wound-blogging.

Here's Jeremy's contribution to this important, though small, subgenre of blogging.

And while we're over at Jeremy's, let's read this post about the promiscuous sharing of iTunes libraries in the university WiFi setting. Note to lawyers: please don't sue Apple.

[Bad link fixed.][UPDATE: Really! I mean it this time.]

UPDATE: Actually, this is Jeremy's most interesting recent post. I don't know what's wrong with me that I go right for the wound-blogging!
When the "Animals and Society" section of the American Sociological Association was first formed, I will admit to having been intellectually skeptical. It is plain I was wrong. Here are some of the (yes, actual) titles of A&S presentations given slots at the prestigious annual meetings next month:
"Deconstructing Playing With Katie"

"Rethinking the Interaction Order: Sociability Among Pigeons and People"

"The Political Economy of Beef: Oppression of Cows and Other Devalued Groups in Latin America"

"The Demographics of Change in Human-Horse Relationships"
Lots of good comments on this one, including Tonya's "For a change, I am feeling really good about having gone to law school."

Oscar plunges into anti-Bush blogging.

I'm always bugging my colleague "Oscar Madison" to write some more political things. Like last week, when he did a nearly non-existent post about participating in an impeach-Bush teach-in -- an impeach-in -- I crabbed in the comments:
Why such a skimpy post here? The material must have been rich. If it wasn't, the fact that it wasn't should be milked. Why are you holding back? If it was iced coffee or something pestering you in a train station, we'd have six block paragraphs! Come on! I mean [another commenter] is right that the idea of impeaching Bush is stupid. (Did you analyze the downside of success, quite apart from the miniscule likelihood?) This post is so frustrating!
Now, I see, he's responded with a meaty post! Let's all go read it. Excerpt:
If the argument is that successfully removing Bush from office has the downside that somebody worse will take over -- an argument that contradicts the critics' point that impeachment won't succeed -- then the answer is that the impeachment process will significantly hamper the Bush administration's ability to (mis)govern for the next year to eighteen months. And after the hypothetically successful conclusion to the impeachment process, there would not be enough time left for a mortally wounded Cheney administration to do much damage.
I don't like the idea of making the work of the President even harder than it already is. These are dire times. How about trying to help? If Congress thinks he's gone wrong, let it produce explicit legislation limiting his power. Impeachment proceedings are a temper tantrum.

I'd still like to hear descriptions of the teach-in itself. How many people were there? What did they look like? How did they act? What was the mood? Did anything funny happen? Were people reasonable or did they spew inanely? (Not that I expect Oscar to write posts to order for me....)

Speaking of Oscar, I loved his post on the Kevin Barrett controversy:
[W]ho is best served by the controversy now swirling around Barrett and his ilk?

Next to the crimes alleged by the grotesque circus of the "9/11 Truth" movement, the stuff Bush has actually done -- invading Iraq based on lies, illegal electronic surveillance, presiding over and justifying the use of torture and illegal detentions -- doesn't seem nearly so bad.

So here's a conspiracy theory: how much of the "9/11 Truth" movement is actually being fueled by agents provacateurs [sic] sponsored by the Bush administration to distract the public?
Conspiracy theories can be amusing. I like the idea of Kevin Barrett as a Rovian plant. And it's true that crazy anti-Bush theories dilute the serious criticisms. The outlandish charges are distracting, and the real criticisms go into matters too complex to understand -- at least without the heuristic device of already knowing whether you're pro-Bush or anti-Bush.

ADDED: A little tweak on the Barrett as plant conspiracy theory. The students are being lured to take the class. The CIA will take that class roster and investigate the hell out of them. (But you don't need Barrett to be a plant for that to happen.)

AND: How could anyone who believes the administration is evil enough to take down the Twin Towers not feel completely paranoid about being on the roster for that class?

UPDATE: The article on Barrett that the Isthmus published has been republished here, so now I can give you a link for the quote I was referring to back here, where Barrett expresses his utter certainty that his theory is true:
Does Barrett believe there is even a teensy-weensy chance he's wrong? This he rejects as too outlandish.

"It is inconceivable that anyone could read the [9/11 Commission's] report, alongside David Griffin's critique, and accept the report as a trustworthy account of 9/11," he says. "I am convinced that any reasonable person who takes the time to read Griffin's critique, and look into the background sources and context, will agree, and admit that a prima facie case for ‘inside job' exists."

Notes from the road.

• Finally, a day without driving! Someone in the comments to the previous post said those last 200 miles must have been hard. Indeed. Not only had I been driving for more than 12 hours and not only is the highway busy and confusing, but it was dark and the streetlights were dimmed and the signs unlit. I know California has an energy problem, but is this where you want to cut corners?

• Another commenter wanted to know what was the highest gas total I got. I don't know. I really ignore the gas price problem at the personal level. I mean, it is what it is. I've already made my decision to drive, and I've got to fill the tank. I think the highest price I saw was $3.17. I paid $3.14 at a gas station at a remote spot on Route 50 where there hadn't been any gas station in -- I don't know -- a hundred miles. Where's the next gas station? You stop there and fill up if you're only half empty. The price isn't going to affect your decision, just like the condition of the bathroom isn't going to keep you from using it. Inside, the woman at the counter was strangely beautiful and well made-up and lots of people were quietly playing slot machines. The only people outside were four middle aged guys and a woman with huge Harleys. One of them came over to me and said, referring to my car: "Does that thing go vroom vroom?" I said it did. He said it was a nice car, so I said he had a nice bike. Is "bike" the wrong word? I'm picturing Bruce Willis correcting me: "It's a chopper, baby."

• Another commenter wrote: "the San Jose Grand Prix is set to happen this weekend in downtown SJ." Is that the vroom vroom I'm hearing from my hotel room? Oh, here's the track map. I guess my preference for a posh downtown hotel over the convention Hyatt has put me in a bizarre situation. How do I get out of here? Isn't this one of the least sympathy-inducing problems you've ever read about? Hell, I'm a blogger. The question is: Can I get some good pictures? Is this a trip about the BlogHer convention or a trip about driving? So far it's been a driving fest. I thought these next two days would be respite from driving, but the god Serendipity has other plans. The driving fest enters a new phase.

• I see that there was some kind of freak rainstorm back home in Madison. That link is to the local paper. Here's the story told by a blogger.

The Nevada Club.

Oh, I drove so many miles on Thursday. This will be a Friday post because it's after midnight, Central Time, though it's still Thursday, here in the Pacific Time Zone. There were beautiful expanses... and grueling California freeways, where all the streetlights are off and the signs are unlit, which I understand... but still... it was hard on the weary traveler, who'd driven all the way from Moab and was just trying to find the way to San Jose.

With my mystifying Mapquest instructions, I got confused in the end. It was late enough and I was tired enough that I stopped to ask for directions at a gas station. The guy sees the papers in my hand and exclaims "Mapquest!" I get the feeling he's got an endless stream of people stumbling in after botching an attempt at Mapquesting. He gives me instructions that are so simple I repeat them three times to get absolute assurance I'd heard right. I've driven nearly 1000 miles, you understand, and am just about as fried as you imagine me. But not quite. I hold up to 16 hours of driving better than you might think. I spent the last hour or so listening to an XM Satellite radio interview with Carlos Mencia, which helped immensely.

Back at my car, a young man in a buzz cut and tattoos started telling me of a better route into town. It had more steps, so I demurred. He seemed disappointed, and I had it together enough to express appreciation: "I'm sure that would work too."

In town, some festival was ending, and the streets I wanted to use were blocked, but I kept rolling down the window and talking to the police, and they were nice enough to let me through the blockades and give me directions to my hotel, which is not the hotel where the conference is. I'm a weary traveler, but one who planned on being weary, and booked a room in a posher hotel.

Let me leave you with the photo I took impulsively, while stopped at one of the few lights that broke up the long glide across Route 50, through Nevada. Town: Eureka. I have found it. Silver, presumably. Or: I have found the manliest icon in Nevada.

Nevada Club

July 27, 2006

Another long drive.

I see I've set myself up for another long drive today, going all the way from Moab -- I'll have more photos later -- to San Jose, via "The Loneliest Road," a drive I've done before and loved.

So be patient about seeing your comments approved again today, and feel free to talk about any news stories that come up today right here.

"The Iraqi prime minister is an anti-Semite."

Said Howard Dean:
"We don't need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah."
So it's the usual anti-war position, with a new spike of rhetoric... that doesn't seem likely to appeal to anyone.

"Every generation has a defining moment... This Was Ours."

That's the voiceover -- accompanied by Coldplay music -- in a new ad for Oliver Stone's movie "World Trade Center." Test screenings showed a surprisingly strong response from teenagers. I suppose releasing this story about the teenage response is part of the publicity campaign. Let me idly speculate that the movie is failing to appeal to adults for some reason -- perhaps because it has a cheesy disaster movie feel -- and they are repositioning.

July 26, 2006

Reaching Utah.

I drove what seemed like all day. But it was only half as much as yesterday. Big mushroom-shaped thunderstorms loomed in the expanse of desert in front of me. The lightning looked strangely three-dimensional, not flat against the sky the way it looks back home, but in a precise place in the middle ground. Mostly, I drove in bright, hot sunlight, but a few of those blinding storms hit me. One made the temperature -- around 100 all day -- suddenly drop to 67. But I was inside the car, with the windows up and the air conditioning on. I was just reading the numbers on the dashboard.

I'm in love with the beauty of the western landscapes. But at the same time, I know that without the car, this place would be frightening and dangerous. I delighted when the ground went from green to brown as I drove west, and the land went from gentle hills to gigantic, ragged rocks. But it is only because there is so much land like Nebraska and Iowa that I'm in a position to see these desiccated landscapes as beautiful. Without all the affluence produced on that land I snub, I would have to see all this as a tragic wasteland.

But it's beautiful, isn't it?

Arches National Park

Helping make it beautiful:

Arches National Park

What the poet/undertaker said and where he said it.

I was listening to the XM public radio channel as I was driving across Colorado on Route 70. It was Thomas Lynch, that poet/undertaker who wrote that pretty cool book "The Undertaking." He was talking about burial vs. cremation and said the problem with cremation was not cremation per se, but the ideas people have about cremation. They say, "Just cremate me." That word "just" shows the problem, he said. The moment he said that I passed an exit called "No Name." Do you think that gave me the willies or amused me?


You often hear someone described as irrepressible, so why is no one ever called repressible? Are all those people who aren't irrepressible... repressible? Logically, it must be so. Then why is it never mentioned? I think it's because we like to repress each other, but we don't want to talk about the fact that we do.

On the road.

As you can see from the previous post, I'm on the road. I put in a crazy 15 hours of utilitarian driving yesterday to set myself up for perfectly aesthetic driving today. And Bob Dylan's radio show starts quite soon, so I can't do my usual morning posts. I'm going to collect my things and be in the car for a perfect morning of heading into the Rockies with Bob.

July 25, 2006

1000 miles.

I drove today, getting the boring part of the drive behind me. I'm really too fried to write a blog post, but what is this blogging enterprise if not daringly throwing yourself in front of the world in whatever condition you're in? So I'm trying to get through the comments moderation for the day. Scroll down and find the post that explains why I've had to turn on comments moderation. You know there are so many beautiful strangers who have made my blog a little coffeehouse, where people can talk about all sorts of things. And it only takes one person to spoil the ambience. Moderate though I am -- I like to say -- I don't like doing this moderation, mainly because it slows everything down.

How awful to think that with all the wonderful students I've had over twenty years, a former student should be the one screw up my place -- which is so much about enabling people to have good conversation.

Patience, everyone. I'm doing badly today getting through approving all the comments, but it's not the usual thing. Today was one of my all-time heavy driving days. I made it past Denver, and the last part, in blinding rain was really, really hard. But the motel is fine, and the internet is working, and there's a plastic cup into which I've poured X ounces of the single malt Scotch I've stashed in my bag.

So I will blog-tend and sip until I hit the wall. Tomorrow will be leisurely and scenic... with photographs, I assure you. It will be all about Colorado and Utah. I'm in love with the American West. Driving across Nebraska today, I appreciated the lush farmland. It's important. But my heart lightened when the land started looking dry, when the green verged over into brown.

"What should Wisconsin do?"

Glenn Reynolds opines on the Kevin Barrett controversy:
They've got two problems here. No, make that three.

Problem one is that they hired a looney as an adjunct. That's not shocking -- adjunct positions pay badly and are often hard to fill....

Problem two is that they've converted this into a question of academic freedom, when it's not. At least, an adjunct who promised to teach white supremacy, or Christian supremacy, in a course on Islam would be very unlikely to retain his position. Wisconsin may claim otherwise, but I don't believe them, and I doubt many others do....
I think they'd try very hard to. The pressure for academic freedom here is very strong. But, of course, that kind of hiring mistake is far less likely to occur, so we probably will never face this test.
Problem three is that the Wisconsin administration has responded in a very tin-eared fashion and made the problem much bigger than it has to be.

To address these, they could fire Barrett, but I think that's a mistake and wouldn't get to the root of the problem. They need to look at the process for hiring adjuncts, and to protect students in Barrett's case they should assign the guy a supervisor or member of the department to co-teach the course for quality control. For justice, it should be the department head or committee chair who hired him, they should be present for every class, and it should be an addition to their regular course load. . . .

More importantly, they need to realize that people pay good money to send students to Wisconsin because it's "branded" as a place that provides quality education from quality professors. When you respond to criticism by basically disclaiming any responsibility for what's taught in classrooms, you also destroy the brand. Why send students to Wisconsin if that's the case? Where's the quality control? What does it mean to be an elite institution if you let any bozo teach whatever he/she wants in any course?
Good questions. I wish the university administration was not so averse to talking to the citizens about their concerns. It is content to state the justification for the decision, to tell people that they aren't working hard enough to grasp the justification, and to try to deflect attention onto the bad old legislators who want to intrude on the university. This aloofness doesn't help the university's cause. And, ironically, it runs counter to the very enthusiasm for free and open debate that the administration asserts as its reason to retain Barrett.

"The ‘debate’ over teaching evolution is.... about God and whether science somehow threatens one’s belief in God"?

Instead of objecting to that, some scientists want to have that conversation.

"Imagine the most evil supervillain and the nicest, sweetest cartoon animal."

I hate to think so much of our personality lies at the genetic level, but let's look at the evidence about nonhuman animals:
In one colony, the rats have been bred for tameness in the hope of mimicking the mysterious process by which Neolithic farmers first domesticated an animal still kept today. When a visitor enters the room where the tame rats are kept, they poke their snouts through the bars to be petted.

The other colony of rats has been bred from exactly the same stock, but for aggressiveness instead. These animals are ferocious. When a visitor appears, the rats hurl themselves screaming toward their bars....

“The ferocious rats cannot be handled... They will not tolerate it. They go totally crazy if you try to pick them up.”
There's a lot in the article about animals and domestication, but what about us?
Human self-domestication, if it occurred, would probably not have exactly the same genetic basis as tameness in animals. But Mr. Albert said that if he could pinpoint the genetic difference between the tame and ferocious rats, he would compare the chimp genome and the human genome to see if they showed a similar difference.
Well, we can't do that today. Maybe you would like to speculate wildly (or tamely) about where on the line between wildness and domestication you think we are and where we should be.

July 24, 2006

Would the university allow a white supremacist or a Holocaust denier to teach?

UW Regent Jeffrey B. Bartell says he'll respond to that question, which he's been hearing a lot lately. Here's how the response goes:
[M]y question in response is how did you learn about these theories?... As abhorrent as these propositions are, how do any of us find out about them and understand their rationale?

Perhaps we read about them in the newspaper or in magazines; perhaps we hear about them in discussions with friends; or perhaps they were part of the curriculum of a class we took at the university. We are told that a small number of academics in this country, and a much larger number of Muslims in other parts of the world, believe that the U.S. government was implicated in the disasters of 9/11.

Why shouldn't students at the University of Wisconsin learn that, with whatever evidentiary bases exist for that assertion, as they also study the conclusions reached by the 9/11 Commission to which most of us subscribe? Why shouldn't Kevin Barrett have to answer his students' questions about how such a horrendous and far-reaching disaster could be orchestrated by our government without even one person "blowing the whistle" and bringing the conspiracy to an end?
Well, he came at that obliquely, but I guess that means he would allow a white supremacist to teach his theory if he'd managed to get himself hired here. But he won't say it head on, and he won't even look straight at the Barrett problem, which is not that the students are learning that many Muslims believe this theory, but that they are learning it from someone who actually believes it's true, which ruins any useful potential for understanding Muslim culture. The interesting issue here is why they believe something so plainly false. How can someone who believes it take students down that path? That issue has some relevance to a course on Muslim culture. The evidence supporting the theory is something that might be profitably examined in an engineering class, using the tools of that discipline. But it's hopelessly off topic in a humanities course.

Bartell does end with this:
Mr. Barrett may not be the person I would hire to teach this course on Islamic culture and religion. But neither would I fire him or prevent him from teaching solely on the basis of his controversial, even bizarre, views. I think Provost Farrell made the right call.
May not be? Controversial, even bizarre? Why pull those punches? Barrett is absolutely not the right person to teach this, and his views are idiotic, even evil.

Tell it straight, and then it will mean something when you back Farrell. I do.

Comment moderation.

Friends, I've had to turn on comment moderation. This will cause some delay in getting your comments to show up, as I will have to approve them. Unfortunately, this was made necessary because of some very abusive comment behavior today.

UPDATE: Well, I tried to turn off comment moderation this morning (Tuesday), and the abusive commenter managed to get 7 comments up within 20 minutes. I've deleted them all and turned moderation back on. How utterly pathetic the way some people think they are entitled to ruin a community. Amazingly, this blog stalker is someone I know, a former student, who does not perceive how embarrassing her behavior is, I think because she experiences her very moralistic opinions with great certitude. What a shame!



(More here.)

"A shameful question."

Seven bloggers -- including me -- have short essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Juan Cole and the risks of being a blogging professor. Cole has a response that begins:
The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an academic's career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not be worrying about "careers," the tenured among us least of all.

"What have you got there? Babies?"

"Oh, all right. I won't bug you then. But I wish you would go live somewhere else."

= what I just said, verbatim, to a rabbit, that I tried to scare away and then saw was crouching over some freakish looking squiggly things.

"Ann Althouse is always worth reading, but she has absolutely been on fire...."

Great beginning for a blog post! It's David French over at Phi Beta Cons, weighing in on the Kevin Barrett controversy.

Two lawprofs, vlogging.

You might call this The Ann & Tonya Vlog. It's me and Tonya Brito, starting off talking about that "eye for an eye" op-ed discussed in the previous post. It's a little over 4 minutes. Don't miss the lawprof catfight.

(Here's the audiobook I talked about.)

An eye for an eye is a subjective game.

Suggests Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist, in an op-ed in today's NYT. Here's a study he describes:
The researcher began the game by exerting a fixed amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. The first volunteer was then asked to exert precisely the same amount of pressure on the second volunteer’s finger. The second volunteer was then asked to exert the same amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. And so on. The two volunteers took turns applying equal amounts of pressure to each other’s fingers while the researchers measured the actual amount of pressure they applied.

The results were striking. Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind.
So they were upping the pressure 40%? How disturbing is that? Maybe the "eye for an eye" rule already incorporated the realistic prediction that people carrying out retribution would go over the mark. And maybe they should. There are lots of people who would be only too happy to punch you in the face if they had the assurance that all you'd ever do would be to give them one equal punch. But what discord the first puncher causes! How is one equal punch back fair? There's a guy at the next table in the café where I'm writing this. If I waltzed over and slapped him in the face, I'd be shattering the whole social order. Slapping me back is hardly sufficient. The lesson is: Don't start it, because even fair-minded people will pay you back with some extra punishment that you richly deserve for breaching the peace.

Well, that's what crossed my mind. Gilbert's conclusion is much mellower:
Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

None of this is to deny the roles that hatred, intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict. It is simply to say that basic principles of human psychology are important ingredients in this miserable stew. Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.
Hey, why should I trust the bastard who hits me out of the blue?

I know Jesus said "Turn the other cheek." I remember right after 9/11, a friend say to me -- with great enthusiasm -- that a brilliant response would be to do nothing at all, to turn the other cheek. The Muslim world would be awed into profound admiration of us and everything would just topple into place.

What if the judge reads the lawprof's blog?

And the lawprof has analyzed the issue in the judge's case? Howard Bashman asks:
What is the judge to do? Should he stop reading the blog post immediately? Or if he reads the post, is he obligated to alert the parties to its existence and his knowledge of it?

In my view, if the blog post is publicly available to anyone with Internet access, and if the blogger has not taken any steps other than publishing the post to draw it to the attention of the judges before whom a case is pending, then those judges are free to consider and rely on that information if they find it to be helpful. Such a blog post cannot be viewed as an impermissible ex parte communication any more than a New York Times editorial endorsing a particular outcome in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case could be viewed as such....

[A]judge's consultation of those blog posts is, in my view, just another form of permissible legal research.
Is there any trace of a problem here? There's the suggestion that blogging is a too-easy way around writing an amicus brief. (But so is doing an op-ed.) And there's the suggestion that blog posts are written hastily and without much editing. But judges and lawyers are thoroughly used to reading things and deciding what they are worth. (And plenty of law review articles and court briefs and cases are badly done.)

The main thing I can think of is that blog reading can be seductive, eroding your patience for belabored writing, and judges and their clerks might read blogs out of proportion to their actual worth. A relatively small proportion of lawprofs are writing blogs, and the ones who are doing it aren't necessarily the best scholars. We're just the people who love to write in this form.

UPDATE: Howard Bashman responds to this post by recounting an event where judges were fretting about this (non)problem. Judges!

Kos and Israel.

The Weekly Standard describes the political problem Israel's war presents for Daily Kos:
Combined, the half dozen front-pagers have written exactly one post on the subject. And that post, authored by Moulitsas, simply declared that he wouldn't write anything further on the subject. So while the most important story of the year develops, the nation's leading progressive blog has chosen to focus on the Indiana second district House race between Chris Chocola and Joe Donnelly. Nothing wrong with that; it's their prerogative to blog about whatever they like.

But inside the Kos diaries, it's been a different story. The conversation in the diaries has been overwhelmingly anti-Israel--and potentially disastrous for the Democratic party.
This is a very crisply outlined manifestation of a broader problem faced by Kos. The readership is gained with sharp opinions. It wants to transform that readership into political power. But the style and extremity of opinion doesn't suit the people who need to be won over. There's some ugly stuff over there, and perhaps a lot of it can be ignored, especially if it's just in the comments, like calling Israel "a spreading plague" that ought to be "dismantle[d]" -- which The Weekly Standard quotes.

IN THE COMMENTS: There's a lot of discussion about how much comments are seen or should be seen as what the blog is about. I write:
About quoting commenters, remember I had the experience yesterday of seeing my name printed in the New York Times right next to a quote that was written by one of my commenters (who wasn't named). Nothing I wrote was quoted, but there was my name. Fortunately, it wasn't a despicable quote, but it's a little scary to think how that would be read by most people, especially if they don't think about the relationship between the blogger and the commenters (which is that I'm providing a forum and policing only some undefined outer limit). And I initially misread it as quoting me, throughout the whole time I was writing a long post dissecting the article (not concentrating on that part of it). What does the casual reader think? Probably that it's what I said.

Not the usual political discussion.

Elisa Camahort assures BlogHer conventioneers that the political blogging session -- which includes me -- is not going to be about the usual "left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican... [or] who uses online communication tools better, or about when political communications cross the line into propaganda, and who are the worst offenders." So what will it be? One thing is highly focused blogging. Lisa Williams and Courtney Hollands blog about one place -- Watertown and Plymouth, respectively. Kety Esquivel creates a place for one group -- progressive Christians. That sounds really coherent, so why am I and Lindsay Beyerstein on the panel too? We shall see. I see they've got me labeled "conservative" over there and saying that I don't consider myself a "knee-jerk partisan." Well, I don't consider myself a conservative or a partisan, knee-jerk or otherwise. But Lindsay's the liberal, so I guess I must be the conservative. But this is not the usual political discussion. So they say.

UPDATE: I emailed Elisa and she's corrected changed "conservative" to "moderate." She also appears in the comments, as does our regular commenter Simon, who says:
It's rather like the radio show you did recently, where they had you as the "conservative" voice, and the nutjob from the local press as the leftie voice.

I can't help wonder if there is some kind of trade-off here: if they portray someone who is basically a moderate centrist as a "conservative", then maybe they feel they can have someone even further to the left to "oppose" you?

On the other hand, if people associate in their minds someone with Ann's qualities with the GOP, I can envisage that having a net positive effect on their view of the GOP.

That's a fascinating pair of theories. They aren't inconsistent really, but you can see how Democrats are hurt. Far lefties are called in to represent them, and they are off-putting to ordinary voters. Strong conservatives aren't properly represented either, but I stand in for them, presenting a more liberal-friendly front.

July 23, 2006

Where I was. What I was reading.

Yes, I spent some time with the NYT Book Review this afternoon.


The Book Review and the acrostic.

IN THE COMMENTS: JLR asked if I read the Henry Alford essay about books in the bathroom. Well, yes, I did. And I had it on my lists of things to post about, before I hit the wall and decided to end the day with this highly relaxing photograph. But since JLR brought it up, I'll just make it part of the subject matter of this post for you to comment on. It's a cool little essay about the practice of putting a lot of books in the bathroom. What's that all about? There are different motives:
A few bathroom collections fell into a category I’ll call “Entertain or Educate Self.” The actor Jonathan Walker showed me the 16 books — mostly cookbooks from the 1950’s and 60’s — he and his wife keep loosely stacked on a shelf in their bathroom. Given that the books were about food, I brought up a theory held by some psychologists that people read in the bathroom because it’s a symbolic way to replace what’s lost through the act of voiding. A book about food, I speculated, might be an especially vivid replacement. But Walker wasn’t buying. He showed me a semi-psychedelic picture of a dessert called “Red Raspberry Fluff” and said, “it’s like listening to music while you’re vacuuming.”
That's just a taste. Read the whole thing. And don't drop your computer in the toilet.

"Nobody ever went broke overestimating the self-absorption of the Democratic Party."

Writes Tobin Harshaw in the NYT Book Review. I'd prefer to stock up on all those Beatles and Bob Dylan books mentioned in the previous post, but there are also all these new books giving advice to Democrats about what they need to do to stop losing all the time. The reviews today are for David Sirota's "Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government — and How We Take It Back" and George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea."

Sirota's a blogger -- here's his blog -- and Harshaw speculates about the general problem of a blogger writing a book:
Perhaps it’s unavoidable when a blogger tries to write at length, but the verbal mannerisms that may seem like an invigorating shot of espresso on a brief daily basis become a bathtub of stale Nescafé when stretched out to more than 300 pages. The clichéd revolutionary language (political TV programs offer “a flood of Orwellian messages from the Establishment that deny the existence of our very own beliefs”), the wafer-thin allusions to popular culture (a single paragraph includes references to Rocky Balboa’s trainer, Luke Skywalker’s light saber and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) and the childish taunts (Tom DeLay is “slime”; Mickey Kantor, who served as Bill Clinton’s trade representative, is a “hack”) quickly become oppressive.
But blogging should be good writing, not something that just looks good because it's short. And I love books where every sentence counts, and you never feel it could have been put more concisely. It might be oppressive to have to read straight through a book that is full of snappy sentences, but I'm not so sure books like Sirota's are meant to be read through. Maybe you are supposed to open them at random and read a bracing passage, and then pick it up again later and do the same. The discipline of the book reviewer is not the casual practice of the reader of popular nonfiction. Actually, when I see these political books laid out on the front tables at Borders, I get the impression they are designed primarily to get people to make a purchase to express their identity. You don't need to read them at all.

Lakoff’s a linguist who got a lot of attention in the last election for telling Democrats to concentrate on language, especially his favorite term "framing."
His suggestions included renaming the national debt the “baby tax,” calling income taxes “membership fees” and referring to trial lawyers as “public-protection attorneys.” Remarkable that John Kerry largely ignored him and still came within one state of the White House.
Ha ha. About his new book:
Lakoff uses a parenting metaphor to explain the worldviews that produce these anathematic ideas of liberty: progressive thought stems from the “nurturant parent family” model (based on “empathy and responsibility”), while the conservative outlook is shaped by the “strict father family” model (in which the “moral authority . . . of the father must not be seriously challenged”).
I guess that's better than saying the mommy party and the daddy party. He's letting men in on the Democratic feeling with that "nuturant parent" business. (Oh, yeah, he's framing.) But doesn't the traditional father model ascribed to Republicans involve more personal responsibility than the mother... I mean nurturer... model? You can frame responsiblity over to the liberal side if you're talking about what government will do for you as opposed to how the party perceives the individual.

Anyway, Harshaw observes that Lakoff seems not to know any actual conservatives.

Reading about Lakoff's book made me want to make sure you were aware of this lovely little book.

Is there anything else to say about the Beach Boys?

Bruce Handy thinks not, judging by Peter Ames Carlin's "Catch a Wave." So why is there another book on the subject? Handy has a grip on that:
I must own 40 books about the Beatles, another 30 about Bob Dylan, and maybe 20 more about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Then there are the CD’s and DVD’s by these artists overflowing my meager New York City shelf space, not to mention the back issues of Mojo and Uncut piled up beside my bed. (Those are popular British music magazines that pretty much cover only 60’s bands, though they occasionally leaven the mix with stories about contemporary groups like the Clash.) All of which raises questions: How many live versions of “Gotta Serve Somebody” do I really need to own? How much more insight do I need into Ringo’s reasons for briefly quitting during the “White Album” sessions? Am I not an adult? What’s wrong with me?
And I thought I had a thing about the 60s. I'm sure I haven't read more than 10 books about the Beatles, 5 about Bob Dylan, and 3 about the Beach Boys.

"He was a loving man doing his best to raise a son..."

"...away from the zany antics of the 1960’s that got in the way of doing a better job with my stepbrother, Jack. He played baseball with me, made sure I did my homework on time, took me to basketball practice and did it all with an air of family-based normalcy and pure love that is not even touched on in Greenfield’s book."

Timothy Leary's son Zach writes in to the NYT Book Review to complain about a biography of his father and a book review of it and to remind us all once again what we ought to do for our kids, which is something that nearly all of us have within reach.

(Here's my old post about the book review.)

"I don’t pretend to know a lot about what’s going on in life most of the time."

"But I had good parents who taught me that hard work and patience were some of the most important things in getting what you wanted."

And we're glad you got what you wanted, Floyd Landis.

Stanley Fish takes on the Kevin Barrett controversy.

Stanley Fish takes on the Kevin Barrett controversy in an op-ed in the NYT today:
Mr. Barrett’s critics argue that academic freedom has limits and should not be invoked to justify the dissemination of lies and fantasies. Mr. Barrett’s supporters (most of whom are not partisans of his conspiracy theory) insist that it is the very point of an academic institution to entertain all points of view, however unpopular.....

Both sides get it wrong. The problem is that each assumes that academic freedom is about protecting the content of a professor’s speech; one side thinks that no content should be ruled out in advance; while the other would draw the line at propositions (like the denial of the Holocaust or the flatness of the world) considered by almost everyone to be crazy or dangerous.

But in fact, academic freedom has nothing to do with content. It is not a subset of the general freedom of Americans to say anything they like (so long as it is not an incitement to violence or is treasonous or libelous). Rather, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to study anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis....
In short, whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content — a crackpot theory may have had a history of influence that well rewards scholarly scrutiny — but of its availability to serious analysis. This point was missed by the author of a comment posted to the blog of a University of Wisconsin law professor, Ann Althouse: “When is the University of Wisconsin hiring a professor of astrology?” The question is obviously sarcastic; its intention is to equate the 9/11-inside-job theory with believing in the predictive power of astrology, and to imply that since the university wouldn’t think of hiring someone to teach the one, it should have known better than to hire someone to teach the other.
Hey! Fact check, people! Can't you tell the difference between the blogger and the commenters? I've written a lot about the Barrett controversy, but I didn't write that. A commenter called "kpom" did. (Note to the NYT: I want a correction printed!) [CORRECTION! I misread that myself. Sorry! He does say a commenter.]

I have said this:
It's conceivable that [Barrett] could still, as a teacher, present [the 9/11 conspiracy theory] neutrally, just as a university teacher on religion could teach the religion he believes in. My problem is that the teacher believes a crackpot, ridiculous theory and he's using a class on Islam to teach his theory. It's like being hired to teach astronomy and covering astrology and actually being someone who believes in astrology. I feel sorry for the students who think it's worth their time to engage with this material and to subject themselves to the power of someone who would believe something so nutty.
So my problem is that belief in this conspiracy theory reveals such a defective mind that the teacher cannot be trusted, and that the factual truth of the conspiracy theory isn't properly taught in a course about Islam. That many Muslims believe the theory could be part of the course, but the inquiry should be into why they would be drawn into such beliefs, and a teacher who thinks the beliefs are true would not seem to have much grasp of the topic.

And I've said this, as a comment in the thread with the quote that isn't mine:
[A] test for the university will come when we see how it treats others in similar positions. What if we found someone hired to teach here was a white supremacist, planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? Would he be treated with as much respect as Barrett? What if we found someone hired to teach evolution was a young earth creationist planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? These people now must be treated the same. Pretty horrible. I hate to even type that out. But this underscores why the hiring phase matters so much.
Back to Fish:
[T]he truth is that it would not be at all outlandish for a university to hire someone to teach astrology — not to profess astrology and recommend it as the basis of decision-making (shades of Nancy Reagan), but to teach the history of its very long career. There is, after all, a good argument for saying that Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante, among others, cannot be fully understood unless one understands astrology.
The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

And this is where we come back to Mr. Barrett, who, in addition to being a college lecturer, is a member of a group calling itself Scholars for 9/11 Truth, an organization with the decidedly political agenda of persuading Americans that the Bush administration “not only permitted 9/11 to happen but may even have orchestrated these events.”

Is the fact of this group’s growing presence on the Internet a reason for studying it in a course on 9/11? Sure. Is the instructor who discusses the group’s arguments thereby endorsing them? Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur.
I agree heartily right up to the last sentence. It is the responsibility of the teacher not to cross this line. But how is the administration to police it? Students may think a teacher is really pushing a viewpoint when he isn't, and a good teacher can sell his viewpoint without it showing. I could use the Socratic method in the law school classroom and only ask questions but have a position I'm hoping to ingrain. I could run a discussion in which I constantly take the opposite side from the one I want the students to adopt and do it in a way that I think will cause students to internalize the side I'm forcing them to defend. How could the administration find out? What would you want them to do about it? And what percentage of university professors do you think cross this line? You'd need a witch hunt if administrators got serious about Fish's line: "that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur."

More Fish:
Provost Farrell ... is too hung up on questions of content and balance. He thinks that the important thing is to assure a diversity of views in the classroom, and so he is reassured when Mr. Barrett promises to surround his “unconventional” ideas and “personal opinions” with readings “representing a variety of viewpoints."...

Rather, the question should be: “Do you separate yourself from your partisan identity when you are in the employ of the citizens of Wisconsin and teach subject matter — whatever it is — rather than urge political action?” If the answer is yes, allowing Mr. Barrett to remain in the classroom is warranted. If the answer is no, (or if a yes answer is followed by classroom behavior that contradicts it) he should be shown the door. Not because he would be teaching the “wrong” things, but because he would have abandoned teaching for indoctrination.
[A]cademic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and shortchange students in the guise of showing them the true way.
What Farrell did was to rely on the fact that Barrett "assured me that students will be free -- and encouraged -- to challenge his viewpoint," that "Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor," and that "he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics." That is, Farrell accepts Barrett as a strong advocate for one side as long as he maintains an open debate in which the students can speak and argue with him.

Both Fish and Farrell stress process over substance. It's not a question of what subjects come into the classroom. (They ignore the process point I've made, which is that I doubt that administrators could stick to substance neutrality. Again: picture a teacher of white supremacy.) Farrell emphasizes the process of multiple viewpoints and debate. Fish emphasizes the process of academic inquiry and avoiding proselytizing. He would ask the teacher whether he could set aside "your partisan identity" and not "urge political action."

I wonder how far Fish means to take that. I've heard many law professors over the years say that since everyone is really partisan in some way, it's more honest to come right out and say what your positions are. They would portray Fish's ideal professor as a big sneak, posturing as neutral, but really slipping opinion in everywhere. Is Fish saying that professors who take the open approach are wrongly allowing their "partisan identity" to appear in the classroom? It would be terribly repressive for administrators to forbid that. Maybe Fish only means for the professor to refrain from "urg[ing] political action." If so, he's not saying very much. But Fish thinks he's identified a clear line:
The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.
Is that a clear line? The more I look at it, the less clear it seems. It's quite subjective. Each of the last two sentences of his essay contains the phrase if the point is. How are we to tell what the teacher's point really is? A smart person with an agenda knows how to hide it.

The Times' publication of this piece, written by one of the great old lions of the academic culture wars (recall that Fish chaired the English department at Duke during the years when it was making a serious bid to become the most politically and theoretically avant-garde department in the country), is highly significant. Perhaps the time has finally come for a national discussion about what academic freedom is, why it matters, what it protects, and, crucially, where its privileges end.
Polonius writes:
[W]hat on earth is wrong with professors urging activism? Professors are the canaries in the coal mine; they're often the first ones to see what's gone wrong. If they don't urge activism, there's often no one who will.
Similarly, in the comments here, Ben Wallace writes (and I've added links):
Fish argues that advocacy of ideas is the dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate speech in a university. This is an acceptable normative position but the position is inconsistent with academic freedom as practiced at the UW since the 1890s. Under Fish's standard, Richard T. Ely would have been fired, not defended, for advocating socialism and encouraging activism. Fish's position, if implemented, would undermine a long-settled standard of academic freedom by attempting to eliminate partisan advocacy of ideas.
Is Fish's idea at odds with "The Wisconsin Idea"? If so and if Fish is right, we have a huge problem here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me first say that by writing "If so and if Fish is right, we have a huge problem here," I mean to suggest the likelihood that Fish is wrong.

Southern Appeal writes:
[T]his is a bit of a strange argument for Fish, who has made his name (outside literature circles) by pressing the view that we can’t separate ourselves from our basic beliefs and that there is no neutral ground....

[T]here’s something to Fish’s distinction between “teaching” and “indoctrination” and in the idea that the classroom isn’t supposed to be a recruiting session for one’s pet projects, however noble they might be. But that doesn’t mean, I think, that teachers need to separate themselves from their views. ...

[T]he detachment model is deficient [because] it subtly teaches students that what smart people do when faced with controversial subjects is to take an air of detached neutrality, cooly surveying the various options, and declining to embrace any of them. My experience as a teacher has been that students don’t really like to get engaged in arguments over controversial subjects -- the detachment model merely reinforces that tendency.

This goes along with something Ben Wallace and I have been writing in the comments here. Ben says:
Under Fish's rule, a faculty member in the South in the 1950s could not embrace and urge the idea that segregation is wrong and that students should act to remedy the situation. The only thing that would be available to a faculty member in that situation [w]ould be dispassionate analysis of the benefits and costs of segregation and a discussion of the different arguments behind segregation. Allowing advocacy and urging students to engage all ideas has demonstrated more effective than efforts to create speech codes, which is essentially what Fish has come up with.
I add:
[I]f the university required teachers to take this dispassionate, neutral stance, it would exclude a certain type of emotive, engaged person who actually is an excellent teacher. The drier, abstract folks would get more jobs in Fish's ideal university... and the students would get more... bored.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Lindgren has a post titled "Astrology, Fish, Althouse, and 9/11 Conspiracy Theories." He's into the astrology subject:
I have actually been studying who believes in astrology. Some indices of conservatism use a belief in astrology as a measure of how conservative a respondent is. Yet Democrats are more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans, with the most conservative subgroup -- conservative Republicans -- being among the least likely to believe in astrology.
That makes me want to remind you of this old post of mine from back when were were all talking about Jerome Armstrong (which may well be what prompted Lindgren's study). I have no idea what the politics of believing in astrology are. I don't see it as having anything to do with politics, but it has something to do with being unscientific. I think there are lots of unscientific folks out there, and neither party is completely anti-science or bound to science.