Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Friend of the Law School. The Capital Times reports:
Frederick W. Miller, the longtime chairman of the board of The Capital Times Co. who died Dec. 15 at the age of 91, left more than $7 million of his estate to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to endow the deanship of its Law School, from which he graduated in 1936....
Life in Madison: chilly, musical, and overworked. Well, I'm horribly busy today. With an edit of a long law review article on one side of my desk and a pile of admissions files on the other, two more pieces to edit arrived as email attachments yesterday. That's not supposed to happen. I'm feeling some pressure! And I started the day by getting up extra early to take advantage of my dentist's first appointment of the day (because it minimizes the time spent in the waiting room). The dentist pipes in music that most resembles the kinds of songs that contestants on American Idol sing. When I'm at the dentist I'm hyper-aware of how much I hate that kind of music, which makes me wonder what strange force makes me watch American Idol. Oh, the Motown stuff last night was good--I like Fantasia--but it's that generic bellowing anthemic crap that I can't tolerate (for example, at the dentist today, Melissa Etheridge singing something along the lines of "It only hurts when I breathe....," where the approach seems to be come up with one line that appears clever and just emote the hell out of that one line over and over). But that is all to say: I really do have a lot of work to get on to. I've got a Conlaw class at 11, where we'll be beginning the always fun topic of the negative Commerce Clause. So let me just leave my valued return readers with another little Madison picture. This one is from a few days back, but the weather today has returned to the state it was the day these two guys were playing. Yes, it's chilly again today, yet many students will just assume the weather, once warm, will continue on a steady path toward summer heat. There will be people out in sandals and T-shirts today, I'm sure, even thought the temperature is back in the 30s. So here are two of our local street musicians as they were two Saturdays ago, playing their hearts out doing one of the kind of songs I really do like, that old 60s tune "I'm a Believer."

UPDATE: I've been informed that wasn't Melissa Etheridge. Sorry, Melissa.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Journeys With George. I didn't have HBO back when Alexandra Pelosi's documentary Journeys With George was on originally, so it was nice to finally get the DVD. It's quite enjoyable. Pelosi did not hesitate to some include footage shot from the TV (usually with the camera tilted to give the talking heads that David-McCallum-on-Outer-Limits giant cranium effect). This encouraged me to continue with my TV photographing propensity, displayed below with John Kerry on Dick Cavett and earlier with Courtney Love on Letterman (TiVo helps you get the best frames). I like the effect of getting extra close, which Pelosi did, and forthrightly showing the lines and imperfections of the TV image. It's similar to the way Roy Lichtenstein gets close to a newspaper image and revels in the dots:

So let me give you a frame I liked from Journey's With George, where George Bush is spelling out the letters to VICTORY in cheerleader style. This is the R:

Anyway, it's a cool documentary, quite funny, about what it's like to be a journalist following a candidate around. At one point, there's a telling statement, that the journalists traveling with Gore can't stand him (though they want him to win), while Bush, surrounded by reporters who are hoping he will fail, has "charmed the pants off" them.
"George Bush has launched a full-scale assault on women while the war in Iraq continues to provide cover for the damage he is doing to our rights at home." So reads a letter from NOW I received yesterday. Oh, how I detest this kind of rhetoric! I suppose it helps raise money to instill a sense of emergency and to make the other side look aggressively evil.

I was particularly struck by the weird invocations of the war on terrorism, because there is no connection between the war and abortion rights (other than that people in politics have positions and fight about both things). The letter calls for a march on Washington in support of abortion rights, and states "we've put our bodies on the line to stop anti-abortion terrorism. And now we must take to the streets again." One could defend the use of the word terrorism by saying it refers only to people who try to murder abortion providers and bomb clinics, but the letter is all about defeating George Bush. The letter says we need to "send the ultra-conservatives who've hijacked out government a message," and I don't think the word "hijack" (or any other word) in this letter is accidental.

The letter describes the faces of "Bush and the applauding crowd of men behind him," as he signed "an abortion ban," as "smirking." It contends that Bush is "pulling out all the stops to impose his anti-woman agenda." (This is done, in case you're interested, by appointing federal judges who are "extremists who will enforce his malicious policies." And did you know that NOW's "allies in the U.S. Senate understand that we expect them to filibuster each and every judicial nominee who opposes" abortion rights?)

The tone of this letter is so overheated and lacking in rationality that if I were not seeing the name of the organization that sent it, I would not believe it was sent by a large, important organization. Clearly, many people who support abortion rights also understand and can respect the position of those who oppose them. I'm completely offended by this characterization of abortion opponents as outrageous extremists who smirk with glee as they exercise ill-gotten power to carry out a dangerous anti-woman agenda.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Slightly off Madison windows. Maybe you should use a window sill as a bookshelf, especially if your window is at street level and people look in all the time. Face the spines inward, and no one will know what you're reading, but they will know that you are a book-reader ... or at least a book-user.

But this other window really disturbs me, not because I'm wasting any time worrying about people getting tattoos. I'm worried to find myself living in a world where people get tattoos in places that display gnomes in the window. (Is tattooing a step in a profit-making scheme that includes stealing underpants?)

Chants recently chanted. The AP reports:
The Massachusetts Legislature adopted a new version of a state constitutional amendment Monday that would ban gay marriage and legalize civil unions ... The vote came at the opening of the third round of a constitutional convention on the contentious issue, as competing cries of "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" shook the Statehouse outside the legislative chamber...

After each intonation of "Jesus" by gay rights opponents, gay rights advocates tacked on "loves us." The two opposing sides then shouted "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" simultaneously, blending into a single, indistinguishable chant.

"I'm just here to support Christ," said Olivia Long, 32, of Boston, a parishioner at New Covenant Christian Church. "We love all people, but we want to keep it like it was in the beginning."

The indecipherable blending of "Jesus Christ" and "Equal Rights" is not the most absurd chant reported in today's news, however. That would be "Karl Rove ain't got no soul," chanted while pounding on the windows of Karl Rove's house, with the bizarre expectation of improving "educational opportunities for immigrants."
Lidrock. We were just talking last night about why CD packaging hasn't been improved (after all these years of complaints about how hard they are to open). If people aren't buying enough of a product--and CD sales are bad these days--they ought to do some things to make it more appealing. Making CDs way cheaper was the main idea that occurred to us (that and making them easier to open). But here's a really new idea: making soda lids that contain little CDs. This is especially cool as a design idea because a soda lid and a CD are both round with a center hole. It seems that CDs have always belonged there. That's really satisfying. There's also a plan to put little DVDs in the lids of movie theater sodas: that's quite elegant!
A Borders encounter with a Bush supporter. I was browsing at the front display table at Borders last night, when an old woman, for some reason, started talking to me about how bad it is that there are so many books attacking Bush. I told her not to worry, that no one who didn't already oppose Bush would read a book like that, so it didn't matter. Maybe I specialize in reassuring old ladies, because I also went so far as to assure her that Bush was going to win and he was going to win by a lot. Another basis for reassuring her occurred to me as I was driving home: the people who buy these Bush-attacking books imagine they are doing something for the anti-Bush cause by buying the book, but a more rational use of the same money would be to donate it to the Kerry campaign; she should feel reassured that money that ought rationally be donated to Kerry is just going to some writers.

UPDATE: I would note that the covers of the books do function as anti-Bush ads, so the books' presence on the display tables and racks in the bookstores does work as advertising that has some effect on the people who are undecided about Bush. If the books sell well enough, they will be prominently displayed, so buying the books helps maintain the display, so the covers (quasi-ads) are seen even by the people who won't buy the book. Thus, buying the anti-Bush book is indirectly buying an advertisement for Kerry.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Kerry in 1971. C-Span showed an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show with the young John Kerry debating a Nixon supporter, also a Vietnam vet, about the Vietnam War--in particular the assertion that the soldiers were war criminals. Kerry was very articulate and also quite mild mannered, almost diffident, with eyes downcast most of the time, making it hard to capture an image of him. Below are two images, one showing the glorious 1970s set, sprouting with orange shag carpeting and space age chairs. The other vet, John O'Neill, started off incredibly stilted, reading an opening statement, and awkwardly trying to attack Kerry, but he loosened up a bit toward the end. Seeing O'Neill reminded me of how tough it was for a young man to be an actively political conservative in those days. It was very uncool! Better to be the frat boy, then, as perhaps George Bush aptly perceived.

The Evil One relents, just enough to preserve the allegiance of one who was about to turn to the light.
The original Eternal Sunshine ending. I can't find a link for it, but the original text of Charlie Kaufman's screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is floating about. Too bad the original ending was not used and we were given more of a Hollywood conventional ending. Maybe they filmed the original ending and we'll get it on the DVD, so don't read on if you don't want it spoiled. [UPDATE IN BRACKETS: Chris tells me the original ending was filmed, but it tested poorly, so expect to find it on the DVD. If you want to wait for the cool surprise ending, skip the next sentence.] But in the original screenplay we see the two main characters as old people and learn that they have gone through their whole lives erasing each other and then getting back together fifteen times!

Another Hollywood decision that was imposed on the film was to concentrate on the two main characters--"This is really Joel and Clementine's story..."--and only use the other characters to further the plot. You may have noticed that the Jim Carrey character referred several times to his current girlfriend Naomi, but then she never showed up. She is in many scenes in the original screenplay.

One thing in the movie that bugged me was that the way the Jim Carrey character is suddenly inspired to skip work and take a train out to Montauk and go to the beach on a cold day. He wonders what came over him. Then, when there's one woman out there on the beach, and there she is again in the restaurant later, and then again on the train home, it never occurs to him to connect her insistent presence with his original impulse to go out there. Wouldn't anyone with half a brain have thought fate made her appear here? I mean, if he did that first impulsive act with this whole "something was drawing me off the one train onto the other train" attitude shouldn't that belief in destiny have stayed with him so that he would expected something to happen? And then she's so obviously it. But it would be dumb to have him just see her as his destiny at that point, so he can't say it, and we're not supposed to notice.

UPDATE: Trimblog has a link for the original screenplay.
Madison themes merge here. In the window of Badger Liquor, there's this chalked sign:

And one of their more traditional signs:

And, to find it from a distance, the familiar ice cubes:

Scenes From a Marriage. I've been watching the DVD of the Ingmar Bergman TV series Scenes From a Marriage, which had been edited down to feature film length for theater release in the US back in 1974. (Of course, being DVD, the film version is included. It's a beautiful Criterion release.) It is so exciting to get a chance to see the original form of the material, because the film itself was incredibly good and one had to assume the TV version was better. I saw the film when it came out, and one scene in particular had made a big impression on me, which I had remembered very clearly for 30 years. Liv Ullman plays a woman who, as presented in the first scene, is happily married. She's a divorce lawyer (so put this on those lists of films about law), and in another scene, which occurs in the second TV episode ("The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"), she's interviewing a woman who is seeking a divorce after 20 years of marriage, a woman who told her husband 15 years ago that she didn't love him and wanted to leave but then agreed to stay until the children had grown. Now, describing her feelings about the marriage, she starts to speak of her feelings generally: all of her senses have diminished and the whole world lacks feeling and seems "puny" and insignificant. There's a closeup at this point that I waited to see once again, just the woman's fingers touching the wooden table next to her, as she describes having lost her sense of feeling. Then there's a closeup of Liv Ullman's face, the professional demeanor combined with the horrible fear that the same thing is happening to her. Liv Ullman's face at that point, which for some reason I didn't remember as much as the hand on the table, is my candidate for best closeup of all time (oh, along with Ingrid Bergman--another Swedish actress--at the end of Casablanca).

Scenes From a Marriage made an interesting contrast to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, seen earlier yesterday, and written about below. Sunshine is all about how you'll regret leaving, but Scenes is all about how you'll regret staying. In Sunshine, you stand to lose the love of your life. In Scenes, you stand to lose your own senses. There was a different zeitgeist then! Anyway, if that partner you're trying to leave took you to see Sunshine to prove to you why you should stay, you can argue the other side with Scenes, which is designed to stun you out of your complacency. No one wants to be that woman 20 years into a relationship who can't even feel the reality of the table under her hand. I think she might be the most frightening character in the history of film.
The Kerry surgery-snowboarding mystery. There are reports today that John Kerry is going in for surgery on his shoulder, to deal with an old injury that was aggravated while he was campaigning in Iowa. Why did he go snowboarding then? I guess he had to make a big show of being hale and hearty before appearing weak and debilitated. (He's going to be wearing a sling for a week.) No wonder he got pissed off at the Secret Service agent who knocked him over when he was snowboarding.

Ah, poor guy. It's his right shoulder too, and he's had all those hands to shake and still has all those hands left to shake. God forbid he should wince or look at all unenthusiastic when engaging physically with the crowds. And then when one thing goes wrong, it creates opportunities to tie to other things, as the Times reports:
Some campaign aides were concerned about scheduling the surgery, which is elective, because they feared it would ... revive memories of Mr. Kerry's struggle with prostate cancer last year, though it is unrelated.

When he went on vacation earlier this month, some Democrats suggested that Mr. Kerry was leaving himself vulnerable to negative portrayals in President Bush's television advertisements while Mr. Kerry was still relatively unknown to many voters, and the break for surgery presents a similar risk.

As if the "vacation" wasn't part of the campaign. And of course any damn thing a candidate does is "vulnerable to negative portrayals." But I'm particularly tired of the subject of the health of the candidates. Somehow I don't think the Democrats are going to pass up the opportunity to bring up the topic of Cheney's heart or whatever such topic presents itself for "negative portrayal."
The science of reality show casting.The NYT reports--on the front page--on the science of casting for a reality show:
[T]o be cast in the second season of "The Apprentice" this fall, [an auditioner] will have to make it through six rounds of cuts, two extensive questionnaires, a medical exam, an intelligence test and the kind of background check usually reserved for secret agents.

The casting of reality shows, once an intuitive, on-the-fly endeavor, has become much more of a science, with its own growing set of protocols and rituals. Several producers have hired psychologists to help them with the vetting process.

Good subject for a law school exam, isn’t it? Oh, I think the fact that there was science to the casting of reality shows was evident long ago. I did a Civil Procedure II exam using this material maybe ten years ago, after the third season of The Real World. At that point, you could see that the casting was scarcely done “on-the-fly.” There was always a person with conservative or religious principles (e.g. Rachel) who was chosen to react to the outrageous character (e.g., Puck) and the character with something about him that would challenge her values (e.g., Pedro), and a person who was extra sensitive about conflict who was chosen to suffer. The Apprentice is produced by the same company that does The Real World, so it’s no surprise that the cast of characters resembles the mix on the MTV show. You need drama and comedy, so be sure to cast a Puck--that is, in modern parlance, an Omarosa.

But suddenly it’s front page news that the producers of reality shows are putting some major effort into their selections? Oh, I think the NYT is just hot to talk about The Apprentice:
"The Apprentice" — with its majestic views of the New York skyline and lingering shots of the show's other towering presence, Donald J. Trump — is built on a seemingly can't-miss concept, a seductive weave of aspiration and Darwinism.

“Seductive weave”? “Seductive weave”? Quit making me think about Trump’s hair!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

"A small incident will shortly develop to your advantage." So says my fortune cookie (which is in no position to know). Time to leave the restaurant: the laptop battery is down at 16%. I did just want to post this one picture, which says at least one true thing about Madison food:

But what movie did you see? I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the first movie I've gone out to see since House of Sand and Fog, which long time (or archive) readers of this blog know I saw back in January, in the first week of blogging. Fog ... Sunshine ... is there some kind of weather theme to your movie selections?

So was Eternal Sunshine "the best movie of the decade" as Slate would have it? That hardly seemed possible and of course it wasn't. It was bearable, but then I'm impatient. I prefer TV--including watching DVDs--because I don't like being stuck in the theater. Some things need to be seen on the big screen, but ES isn't one of them. It has a music video look that would do better on TV I think. There is a bluish pall over the whole thing, broken only by Kate Winslet's hair, orange sweatshirt, and a few other things. Okay, that's a color idea. I think color movies should have color ideas, but I think it is a video screen, not a movie screen idea.

Other random things I'll say about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

1. Mark Ruffalo seemed to have the Rick Moranis role.

2. Kirsten Dunst looks like my mother looked as a young woman--not counting the hair.

3. Kate Winslet modeled her American accent after a particular American actress--a la Nicole Kidman doing Meg Ryan in To Die For--but I couldn't figure out which one. Email me if you do.

4. This movie is a powerful date movie, because it teaches the lesson that for all its flaws, the relationship you are in is the great love of your life that you must cling to desperately no matter how intent you may have been to rid yourself of every last vestige of it. Don't leave: you'll be sorry!

5. Romantic movie clichés that were done reasonably well: running about in the lapping waves shows how in love people are, a kooky young woman can show a man who doesn't know what life is what life is, romping in snow is reaching one's human potential.

6. As far as mess-with-your-brain movies go, I can think of three I like better than Eternal Sunshine: Total Recall, Brazil, and Being John Malkovich. There are probably others, but I just can't think of them.

7. With Kate Winslet in the picture, I couldn't help thinking about Titanic a few times, like when Jim Carrey was desperately pulling her along through hallways and when she (in the Leonardo diCaprio position) was dragging Carrey out on the ice to show him how to let lose and start to live (it was like that arms-spread on the prow scene).

End of random observations about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Small pleasures. At the restaurant where I've stopped for an after-movie, mid-afternoon meal of the day, there's wifi. So, a little time to eat Sichuan beef and to check Sitemeter for the day-after effects of an Instapundit link. My Sitemeter graph for the month shows four spikes, all from Instapundit. Thanks, Glenn! There are days when I feel that I'm talking to only a few people or even only writing to myself, but accepting that people can read over my shoulder--that the whole world can read over my shoulder--even though maybe no one at all is. It was that no one's reading feeling I had yesterday when I went out to lunch. The wifi wasn't working right in my usual café (which you can see pictured below, with a big Corona truck parked outside), so I hadn't checked the old Sitemeter in a while. I came back from lunch to find that 2000 people had dropped by. That was pretty amusing!
At the Kubrick archive, the dog is not well. (Via Metafilter) Access to the Kubrick archive leads to strange discoveries:
… a large room painted blue and filled with books. … "Every book in this room is about Napoleon!"

"…just about every ghost book ever written..."

"…a box containing photographs of the exteriors of maybe every mountain hotel in the world." letters … perfectly preserved. They are not in the least bit dusty or crushed. … Each fan box contains perhaps 50 orange folders. ... inside each folder are all the fan letters that came from [a] particular place in any one year. Kubrick has handwritten "F-P" on the positive ones and "F-N" on the negative ones. The crazy ones have been marked "F-C".

… a box marked "Sniper head - scary". Inside, wrapped in newspaper, is an extremely lifelike and completely disgusting disembodied head of a young Vietnamese girl, the veins in her neck protruding horribly, her eyes staring out, her lips slightly open, her tongue just visible.

… two boxes that read Shadow On The Sun. … The boxes contain two volumes of what appears to be a cheesy sci-fi radio drama script. The story begins with a sick dog: "Can you run me over to Oxford with my dog?" says the dog's owner. "He's not very well. I'm a bit worried about him, John." This is typed. Kubrick has handwritten below it: "THE DOG IS NOT WELL."

Friday, March 26, 2004

The kinder, gentler Madison. It's not all divisive politics. There are spring flowers taking hold in the concrete:

Music in the offing:

And a pleasant café from which to blog and contemplate beer-drinking:

Local politics. Here's a new Madison character, perhaps exemplifying the level of public discourse:

Things I've averted my eyes from. This says it all. (Link via Wonkette.) What a shameful display it's been! Must the Presidential campaign infect everything and make everyone look self-serving?
And the best medicine is.... Okay, kids, go ahead!
Outliner 2.0. The Law School Bookmart is selling a product called Outliner 2.0. Could it possibly be that anyone could think that an automatic process could replace making your own outline? The process of making your own outline from your own class notes is the most useful step in studying for a law school exam. The idea that you want to jump ahead to the point where you are studying from an outline is quite mistaken. The best way to "study" the outline is to extract it from your notes yourself. Studying that final product is relatively easy then. Studying a commercial outline is really hard (and full of extraneous material that doesn't relate to the class). Studying a computer-made concoction is just weird. Does anyone do that? Email me if you have another side to this.
Players. Here's the leaderboard for the Players Championship, where my nephew Cliff Kresge is in the 32d spot, after 5 holes, in the second round. Good luck!

UPDATE: He misses the cut by 1. Alas!
Sex and The Apprentice. Prof. Yin aptly notes that the all-female team, Protege, has now become all-male: the rules of the game providing for elimination and selection of replacements made this sex change operation possible. Interesting how the women worked well as a large group, but one-on-one they hate each other, while the men become pals. That could just be the editing, or just these particular people, or some effect of the kind of competitions, but the show is hugely (yoogely) popular, and I can't help thinking it is going to shape American opinion about the difference between men and women as a general matter. Now Amy is the only woman. She has defeated all rivals. She may think all the boys love her, but even if they do, they still want to win more. It will be fun to see how that plays out.

Prof. Yin has some good questions:
How come Trump's assistant George is always off on important business trips, but Carolyn never is? Glass ceiling?

My theory: George goes "off on a business trip" the way government officials resign jobs to "spend more time with their families." He's not as good--or as pretty--of a character as Carolyn. That's George down there under the ceiling, not Carolyn.
What was with the super-mini skirts that Amy and Katrina wore to the final boardroom? Maybe it's just me, but I would think that if you fighting to stay in the game, you'd want to show Trump that you are professional. . . .

Well, the right thing in the right place, but Amy and Katrina weren't just in the boardroom, they were on a big TV show, so their judgment is appropriate. They also know there will be an opaque table in front of them for the meeting. If they didn't know where they'd be sitting, those skirts would have been an insane risk. It's one thing standing up and striding about in heels. Sitting down is another matter. Note that their upper bodies were quite conservatively covered. But generally, women watching the show shouldn't really be using it as a source of tips on how to look and act in the business world.
Madison photographs. So, you may be wondering (maybe one person is wondering), what happened to all the Madison photographs? Nothing since Monday. Fewer pictures all around, even (only that gorilla). I was locked in another idiotic tech struggle. My camera shut itself off while I was in the middle of an iPhoto operation and this caused iPhoto to go into perpetual "photos loading" mode. I read the helpful discussion boards at's helpful just to see that other people have been stuck in perpetual loading hell--and eventually tried the right thing (although, as usual, I tried so many different things, that I'm not sure I could solve the same problem again if it turns up). Then, having gotten the computer to work, I found the camera kept shutting off and then I couldn't get it on at all. Seems obviously to be the battery then, right? But I'd charged it overnight....

It turned out to be a classic case of high tech problem is really a low tech problem: the charger was plugged into an outlet which is attached to a little-used wall switch, and the wall switch was off. Not as dumb as the typical not-plugged-in case, but ... Oh, well, I don't care, because I was so happy my new camera was okay. So, for fans of Madison pictures, I'll have some more today and over the weekend. This blog's description is "Art, law, politics, TV, and various random items from Madison, Wisconsin," and let me assure you that photos will be key random items from Madison, so do stop back.
Simulblogging The Apprentice. Gordon decided to join me and Prof. Yin by blogging The Apprentice, but he ups the ante--note clever gambling theme--by simulblogging it. Simulblogging is a good idea, I think, because shows usually aren't interesting enough to warrant full attention. Writing at the same time is one way to keep from losing interest. Like a lot of people, I sometimes play a video game (like Mah Jongg solitaire) while watching a show (like, say, Meet the Press or Road to the White House--how can you just look at that?). Knitting is ideal, but I can't knit. Knitting would let you keep your eyes on the screen. Oh, a treadmill or situps or something like that would be ideal, really. I recommend that to readers.

But anyway, for The Apprentice, I like to keep my eyes fixed on it, because I love the photography and the editing (as I've written before). It is really beautiful. It does go over the line and reveal who is going to be fired though, I believe. Watch and see who gets all the extra interviews edited in, interviews where the person talks about how other people are faltering and focuses on one other person. Oh, they will be wearing a distinctive item of clothing in the interview. Remember Omarosa leaning against the wall by the window? Remember her scarf? Last night it was Katrina in the hairy off-the-shoulder sweater--the hairy off-the-shoulder sweater of doom.

Gordon, watching for the first time, I think, is impressed by Bill and Amy. Amy said she thought Bill was her toughest competition. I don't get the Bill thing. What has he ever done? He seems to be just hanging around trying not to get into trouble. That hasn't been a good strategy. For some reason, I've always thought Troy was going to win. But he went into annoying huckster mode last night. Generally, they always seem too desperate at some point. That may be the editing, but I don't like when they just start accosting customers and begging them to come over. The casino milieu last night was particularly unpleasant. They were acting like circus showmen, and their targets were elderly Atlantic City gambling types. They can voice-over the term "high rollers" all they want to try to make Trump's Taj look glamorous, but the target customers on this show were the least glamorous on the show yet.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Conservative students at Wisconsin. At the UW Law School we have a coffee & doughnuts session about once a week with students. This week the subject was what it's like to be a conservative student at the Law School, and the session was led by my colleague Gordon Smith, who blogged about it beforehand here. Actually, the topic originally proposed was what it's like to be a conservative student here, and at one point there was a proposal to have a panel of some sort with every political perspective represented, and in the end the topic got narrowed to conservative students and Green Party students, which struck me as pretty weird. Do we see conservative and Green Party types as opposites? If so, that suggests that the middle is occupied by Democratic Party liberals.

Gordon began by passing around papers with large letters--either L or C--on them and everyone was supposed to take one. No Ms? I wouldn't take one. He asked one of the Ls to say what position Cs take on a long list of issues, as a way to demonstrate how un-nuanced we are about the other side. The L's view of the C was of a social conservative, opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage, which I didn't think expressed the position of many of the young people who are attracted to conservatism. He had a C do the same for the Ls and on every issue the position was the opposite (e.g., war on terror? opposed!).

So how did the students say they felt? They had almost no criticism of the way faculty teaches the material. There was a bit of criticism about side comments in class: the targets of little jokes seem to be the targets liberals enjoy seeing attacked (e.g., President Bush, Justice Scalia). The worst criticism of faculty seemed to be some sense of disrespect for some of the judges, which seemed to me to be only a problem if the disrespect isn't spread around or if the disrespect doesn't have an educative point. One student gave the impression that humor ought to be avoided, but I tend to think he didn't really mean that in such an extreme way. I dislike stock humor, especially when it's a shallow assertion that a judge is stupid or biased, but naturally one sees humor in all sorts of things when studying and talking about cases, and some of this humor is going involve showing some disrespect for the way something is written, for the bad choices litigants may have made, for the flimsiness of an argument. No reason not to have some fun along the way. But it shouldn't be at the expense of one side.

The real problem students confessed to seemed to be a self-imposed one. They had quite elaborately developed ideas about what the professors and other students must be thinking and how much they would need to constrain themselves in order not to meet with disapproval or even outright punishment (in the form of grading--even though we have blind grading). I understand this feeling. I remember some similar things as a student. Faculty didn't need to do much of anything at all to cause students to think they need to believe or appear to believe a particular ideology and that the teachers and the other students would think ill of them if they didn't say the right thing. Where do these self-imposed restrictions come from? I suppose it is human nature, and that it is also the mechanism that keeps us from doing all sorts of destructive things. But there is also the human capacity to get past this kind of "overthinking" and to begin to just enjoy taking part in debate, trying out different ideas, practicing advocacy, and listening to the things other people will say once the debate opens up. I hope the session had some effect in helping students see that the faculty overwhelmingly wants vigorous debate and a lively classroom experience--whatever our political views may be and whether or not we ever say what those views are.
"[T]his kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." That's a quote from Justice Breyer from the oral argument yesterday, his suggestion for how to think of the "God" referred to in the Pledge of Allegiance. I enjoy Breyeresque locutions. Here the whole context:

I mean, it's a pretty broad use of religion sometimes. I -- does it make you feel any better, and I think the answer's going to be no, but there is a case called Seeger, which referred to the Constitution -- to the statute that used the word, supreme being, and it said that those words, supreme being, included a set of beliefs, sincere beliefs, which in any ordinary person's life fills the same place as a belief in God fills in the life of an orthodox religionist. So it's reaching out to be inclusive, maybe to include you, I mean, to -- because many people who are not religious nonetheless have a set of beliefs which occupy the same place that religious beliefs occupy in the mind and woman of a religious -- of a religious mind in men and women.

So do you think God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive? ...

And if it is, then does your objection disappear? ...

But what I'm thinking there is that perhaps when you get that broad in your idea of what is religious, so it can encompass a set of religious-type beliefs in the minds of people who are not traditionally religious, when you are that broad and in a civic context, it really doesn't violate the Establishment Clause because it's meant to include virtually everybody, and the few whom it doesn't include don't have to take the pledge.

[NEWDOW: You're referring to the two words, under God?]

Yeah, under God is this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing.

There's something disarmingly roundabout in Breyer's form of expression. It actually reminds me of Ellen DeGeneres. I think it's an intentional backing off from strikingly clear statements that he is surely capable of making. The idea in the end is clear and comprehensible nonetheless, and there is something in the adopted inarticulateness that seems to invite the listener in or to avoid being too overwhelmingly brilliant. Or maybe it's just idiosyncratic or a sort of humor. Anyway, I find it charming.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Jabari was wronged. From The Life of Pi:

[Zoo] animals do not escape to somewhere but from something. Something within their territory has frightened them ... and set off a flight reaction. The animal flees, or tries to. I was surprised to read at the Toronto Zoo ... that leopards can jump up to eighteen feet straight up. Our leopard enclosure in Pondicherry was sixteen feet high at the back. I surmise that Rosie and Copycat never jumped out was not because of constitutional weekness but simply because they had no reason to. Animals that escape go from the known to the unknown--and if there is one thing an animal hates above all else, it is the unknown.

Consider then the 300-pound gorilla who escaped from his enclosure last week, "snatching up a toddler with his teeth and attacking three other people before being shot by officers," as reports:

How the 13-year-old gorilla exactly broke out was unclear. Some youths had reportedly teased Jabari shortly before he escaped, but it was not known if that was a factor in the breakout.

Zoo director Rich Buickerood said the gorilla "had to have scaled" the enclosure's 15-foot concave wall. But some experts doubt that could have happened.

"Virtually anybody who's worked with great apes has not been able to compute anyway that a gorilla could get up a 15-foot wall," Wharton said....

Police ... are investigating, but they said officers were forced to shoot the charging gorilla after it came within 15 feet of them.

"We did not go out there looking to kill an animal," said Senior Cpl. Chris Gilliam, a Dallas police spokesman. "We went out there in response to a situation where three people had already been injured."

Would they have been forced to shoot to kill an unarmed 300-pound man who "charged" at them? Assume a man known to be incapable of understanding language and not morally responsible for the violence he had committed. Don't the police know how to wrestle down a man that size and handcuff him?

UPDATE: Several people have written to point out that it is harder to wrestle a gorilla down than a man of the same weight. I concede that is probably true with respect to most gorillas and most men. But if you reread what I wrote, I never said Jabari was wronged because they didn't use the identical method that would have been used on a man. I'm objecting to the extreme shoot-to-kill reaction and the way we instinctively think they were justified because the gorilla was only an animal. There is a middle range there, between what we think needs to be done when the charging entity is human and what we think is just fine when it is nonhuman. At the very least they could have shot him in the leg or the shoulder. I think, with a sufficient number of police, he could have been physically restrained without shooting him. Don't they have tranquilizer darts at the zoo? If we are going to have zoos to please ourselves, don't we owe something to the animals? Jabari was taunted, rocks were thrown at him (probably to get him to put on a show of ferocity). It seems to me that, under the circumstances, he deserved a lot better than he got.
In its anti-binge drinking zeal, did the UW organize a cartel? The Capital Times reports:

A class action lawsuit was filed today in Dane County Circuit Court accusing 24 downtown Madison taverns and the Madison-Dane County Tavern League of conspiring to fix prices on beer and liquor.

The suit, filed by a Minneapolis law firm on behalf of three University of Wisconsin-Madison students, says taverns that agreed to eliminate weekend drink specials - a step strongly urged by Chancellor John Wiley - committed felony violations of both state and federal antitrust law, regardless of their intent. It also accuses UW-Madison of participating.

My colleague Peter Carstensen is quoted:

But Peter Carstensen, a professor at the UW-Madison Law School, said he was surprised nobody in the university's legal counsel office, nor at the City Attorney's Office, recognized there was a problem with the voluntary ban.

"The general rule of antitrust law is, competitors cannot agree about how they will compete. If that's what happened with these bars, then they're in serious trouble," Carstensen said.
Straightforwardly. In the hope of finding more news reports that discussed Justice Souter's comment, quoted below, I Googled "tepid radar souter pledge." There was only one result, so weirdly not what I was looking for: a huge list of words that can be typed using only keys in the qwerty and home rows. Well, as long as I'm here, I'm curious. What are the longest words? Why, photofluorographies and stereophotographies, of course. Runners-up: astrophotographers, lepidopterologists, phosphodiesterases, photolithographies, stereoregularities. No, come on, what's the longest one someone might naturally use? It's: straightforwardly. Go ahead, type it, it's fun. Straightforwardly, straightforwardly, straightforwardly.
The Newdow oral argument. Early reports on the oral argument are emerging. The AP report makes it hard to tell how the standing issue will come out:
Rehnquist said that the issues raised in the case "certainly have nothing to do with domestic relations." And, Justice David H. Souter said that Newdow could argue that his interest in his child "is enough to give him personal standing."

On the establishment clause issue, though, it seems to me that the school district has the votes to prevail. Reuters lists these comments:
"She [the daughter] does have a right not to participate," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said.

Rehnquist said the pledge "doesn't sound anything like a prayer."

And Justice David Souter asked whether the affirmation of God in the midst of a civic exercise "is so tepid, so diluted, so far from a compulsory prayer that it should in effect be beneath the constitutional radar."

The Souter vote is especially important. If Newdow is going to accumulate 5 votes, based on past voting patterns, I am certain that one of the votes would need to be Souter's. I can see it's in the form of a question, but I would surmise that Souter likes the de minimis argument. If so, the question becomes: does Newdow lose on the merits or lose because he lacks standing?

A dismissal on the standing ground would leave the constitutional issue open, and local decisionmakers might on their own eliminate the phrase (or the whole Pledge) in an effort to meet what they find to be a constitutional requirement. If standing is met, however, and Newdow loses on the merits, the announcement will have been made that the phrase is constitutional, which will give those who want to use it confidence and clout.

MORE: More oral argument text, specifically on the standing issue, from Linda Greenhouse's article in tomorrow's Times:
"I as her father have a right to know that when she goes into the public schools she's not going to be told every morning to stand up, put her hand over her heart, and say your father is wrong, which is what she's told every morning ... Government is doing this to my child. They're putting her in a milieu where she says, `hey, the government is saying that there is a God and my dad says no,' and that's an injury to me."

The requirement of standing is that a litigant have a "concrete and particularized injury"--as opposed to a "hypothetical" or "abstract" injury--that he is seeking to redress through the lawsuit. The injury asserted in that argument is the mere fact of government having different values from the child's father. But schools are constantly teaching things that are at odds with what parents espouse at home. And government is constantly saying things that many people disagree with. If this is a good enough injury to give standing to sue, that might mean one could sue whenever government acts in a way that reflects a belief that is different from what a parent believes. So what if government says one thing and you think another? You're saying you're injured because your child's respect for you is diminished because you don't agree with the government?
Curly hair. About last night's American Idol: they have taken away Jennifer Hudson's beautiful curly hair and have made a big deal about how great her straight hair is. Could they be a little less offensive with their curly hair bad/straight hair good opinion? Every time they have a great female singer with curly hair--Tamyra Gray, Kim Locke--they have to straighten it! And they wallow in self-praise about the wonderful improvement they've imposed. I'm tired of that!
Who cares about standing? 56 briefs were filed in the Pledge of Allegiance case, but the word "standing" appears in only 10 of them. That doesn't surprise me. I teach and write mostly about the structural limitations in constitutional law--federalism, separation of powers, judicial review--so I'm quite aware of the way this aspect of constitutional law is much less juicy and exciting to most people than the substantive rights. On the up side, there are only 10 briefs to peruse.

UPDATE: Ah, no, I'm wrong! The word "standing" appears in 45 of them. More work then, but the consolation of more attention to a subject that interests me ...

ANOTHER UPDATE: "Standing" was not a good search term for finding discussions of standing doctrine, because many of the briefs refer to the schoolchildren "standing" to say the Pledge. But in fact, most of the briefs discuss standing, generally in terms of the father's interest in suing on behalf of his child, despite his lack of joint custody. I'm especially interested in another argument, that he suffers an injury because the school's endorsement of God in the Pledge makes him, as an atheist, less well respected by his daughter. There's also an argument, that he is injured as a taxpayer. I don't have an opinion on the first argument for standing, which imports a lot of ideas from state family law into federal constitutional law. The other two arguments I think should fail. The taxpayer argument is particularly bad.

Another thing I've noticed is that 40% of the briefs that use the expression "de minimis" misspell it. Misspelling a key word in a Supreme Court brief--that's bad.
Safire's Pledge solution. William Safire discusses the Pledge of Allegiance case, which will be argued in the Supreme Court today, and proposes a solution. Although he thinks "this time-wasting pest Newdow ... is ... right," in that adding the words "under God" back in 1954 was wrong, he thinks taking the words out at this point, "offending the religious majority, would be a ... mistake now." So what's the solution?

First, he rejects the idea of "us[ing] the issue of standing to punt, thereby letting this divisive ruckus fester." That baldly assumes the Court uses the constitutional requirement that a litigant have standing to sue in federal court as a way to get rid of pesky cases. There's reason to suspect the Court doesn't apply the standing doctrine in as neutrally principled a fashion as it purports to do, but standing presents a serious constitutional question about the courts' own power. I haven't studied the briefs, but from what I've read about Newdow's case, I don't think he does have standing. More on that later.

The solution Safire does offer is "for the court to require teachers to inform students they have the added right to remain silent for a couple of seconds while others choose to say 'under God.'" Nice try, but there's a huge problem with that: it directs the teachers to lead the class, in a kind of religious exercise. The teacher would be essentially telling the students to examine their own beliefs with respect to the divine and assess whether they have the set of beliefs that makes it appropriate to say those words and to outwardly manifest those beliefs by either saying or not saying the words. Now, the recitation of the Pledge becomes even more of a display of belief in the classroom, as opposed to the historical or de minimis incantation, and to the recitation has been added an exercise of self-examination about religious beliefs, directed by the class authority figure.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A right not to reveal your name? Here's the nice website of Larry D. Hiibel who was convicted of a crime in Nevada for refusing to tell police his name. His case was argued in the Supreme Court yesterday. The state has made it a crime not to identify yourself to the police when they've stopped you under reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime. Linda Greenhouse reports in the NYT:
As a matter of Fifth Amendment analysis, one question is whether giving one's name is sufficiently "testimonial" to invoke the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. "The question, it seems to me, is whether a name itself has intrinsic testimonial consequences," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told [Robert E.] Dolan, the public defender.

If it did not, Mr. Dolan replied, "the government could require name tags."

Snappy answer to a tough question. But actually not that convincing: wearing a name tag would constantly reveal your name to everyone, but the question here is only whether you need to tell it to the police once when they have reason enough to stop you about the commission of a crime.

Quite aside from the particular Nevada criminal statute, there's the issue whether refusal to identify yourself can count toward the "probable cause" needed before you can be arrested, after the police began to question you with only "reasonable suspicion."

"Hiibel" is an interesting name. The double "ii" is quite unusual. And Hiibel seems to be a person with a strong sense of self--of the "I." He's litigating to the hilt the issue of keeping his identity secret.

UPDATE to point out an irony: Hiibel is becoming very famous for his outsized interest in remaining especially unknown.
The Iraqi Federalist Papers. What do you do when you find there are "wild negative rumors about the interim constitution" in Iraq and also that "many of the document's sharpest critics appeared not to have read it"? You write "an Iraqi version of the Federalist Papers."
The Dawn of the Dead/Passion of the Christ Joke. I predicted here that Jon Stewart would go for the ready-made joke about Dawn of the Dead getting the better of The Passion of the Christ at the box office over the weekend. And that it would be "carefully crafted." That is, he wouldn't pass up the material, but he also wouldn't be offensive. The Daily Show writers would wield their great writing skills to surgically extract the usable joke. Here it is:
The Passion of the Christ, after three weekends, got knocked out of the number one movie in America slot. The honor now belongs to: Dawn of the Dead. What it says is this. While Americans enjoy a good resurrection movie, a good movie about one man who rises from the grave, what America has said is: the more people rising from the grave, the better. So that’s really the issue here. It wasn’t the story about religion and its glory. It’s really just dead people coming to life—whether they heal the sick … or eat brains.

Well done! The key was to make it into a joke about how crass our interests are, which really could even have worked as an idea for a sermon.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Madison, weekend. I don't understand sports enough to explain the presence of greenness in redville this weekend. I don't think it was leftover St. Patrick's day, but something about basketball ... or hula.

It got cold again, all blustery, but there was this lovely sign of spring, the first food cart on Library Mall.

And State Street Brats was just waiting for the sports fans to arrive and engage in revelry presided over by those kindred spirits, Bucky Badger and Miss Liberty.

Boo to American Airlines for demanding that one of my sons get off the plane going from O'Hare to Madison at 9 o'clock at night because the plane was overweight. I know there are real safety concerns about weight and removing one person may make a difference and a little weight really does matter on those small planes, but at 9 o'clock at night, with no later flight to take, couldn't you offer more freebies until you get a volunteer? Two people did volunteer, but American only needed to kick off one person and so it would only offer one of these two the measly $200 travel certificate, and the two volunteers didn't want to split up. So one of my sons had to leave, to get the next bus to Madison, at 11 pm, and arrive at the Memorial Union at 2 am--on a cold night, with no shelter open, and nothing warm to wear, because he hadn't worn a coat in Austin, and his luggage had traveled on the plane.

Many passengers on the plane witnessed how rudely my sons were treated and at least one came up afterwards to say how offended he was and how he was going to write a letter to the airline about it. What I simply cannot understand is: 1. If you are going to do something like this at least be scrupulously polite while you're doing it (instead, the method used was: if you don't leave right now, we'll still make you leave and you won't even get the $200 certificate!) and 2. Try much harder to get volunteers (for a second $200 travel certificate, the two volunteers would have left willingly, and everyone else on the plane would have kept a positive opinion about the airline; instead, many people felt really bad about the airline). By the way, I think I would have volunteered in that situation, because the idea of a small plane at its weight limit scares me. That's another reason why they should go for volunteers: pressuring someone makes everyone feel anxious and subject of the dangerous weight of the plane has got to make for some exquisitely bad feeling aboard!

It's interesting that there were seats for everyone on the plane, but the weight didn't add up right. Do you think in that situation the airline ought to pick on the heaviest passengers? Actually, I don't. Yet if I were in that situation, seeing someone being pressured off the plane because of the weight of the plane--especially someone obviously under the 185 weight airlines assume people weigh--I'd be glancing around at passengers to see who was bringing the most weight on the plane and thinking uncharitable thoughts. But that's one more reason why the airline should escalate the inducements until they get a volunteer.

UPDATE: The certificate was for $250, not $200.

AND JUST TO BE CLEAR: The airline was not singling out the heaviest passengers--my sons are way under 185. My point is that if the plane is overweight and that someone is going to have to leave, a certain common sense suggests asking the heaviest person to leave. One person is inconvenienced, either way, but the maximum weight is removed. If you see them trying to oust a thin person, don't you tend to think they ought to be going after somebody big? But they don't, for whatever reason. Fear of lawsuits? Desire not to seem mean? But they were mean!


A couple points you missed on the blog about the American Airlines thing:

1) Three or four women working the gate inside the airport knew, and told John and me, that the airplane was overloaded, and even while it was being delayed never made a single announcement that it was overloaded. They knowingly overloaded the plane because they were too lazy to make an announcement over the loadspeaker that they needed a volunteer.

2) What they should do, if they're going to FORCE someone off the plane, is single out the person who checked the heaviest bag. They have that information--they weigh every single checked bag--and they could easily do it that way, something based on weight, without insulting people for being fat. Instead, they got rid of a thin guy, left all the [heaviest people] on the plane, and even left his bag on the plane.

Also, people inside the plane yelled at the guy for not allowing the couple that volunteered to leave the plane. Plus, they were completely unapologetic and even threatening towards us from beginning to end!
Overblogging. Clearly, I was overblogging on Saturday and Sunday, fueled by the return of my iBook and the fun of figuring out my new camera. The wireless café access and accompanying coffee was part of the phenomenon. And the end of Spring Break ... and my sons being away in Austin.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

"Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, thank you so much--you've been just lovely--a real knock out." That's Prince, at the Hall of Fame show. He gives a great performance--and changes the words to Kiss:
"You don't have to watch Sex and the City to have an attitude."
Oh, but good Lord, the intro is stilted and prolonged. Alicia Keys seems to be auditioning for a movie role, so earnestly emoting her way through the teleprompter script.
"He's the inspiration that generations will return to until the end of time."
I love Prince, but that's just stupid. Keys should have refused to say those idiotic lines. Ah, what the hell. There's always been something incoherent about the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. And good old Prince is still raving about freedom and spirituality, God bless him.

I hope Tonya TiVoed the adorable Dave Matthews intro for Traffic. ... There really is something wondrous about Mr. Fantasy. And Steve Winwood's voice is wondrously intact.
The politics of your zip code. Go ahead, just type your zip code here and find out who in the area gave money to which presidential candidates--and how much they gave! (Via Metafilter--where they've got some good comments.) You can get the street addresses and names of all the donors, so if you're thinking of buying a house, you can find, say, the place in Madison where you'll be snuggled up next to the kind of people who gave $200 to Kucinich, or alternatively, the folks who forked over the whole $2000 to Bush. Students can find out who their professors gave money to (and how much). Hmmpf! A new excuse not to give ...
Blogspot ads. I suppose I'd like to be able to get rid of the Blogspot ads, but at the same time, I find it interesting to see what their machine matches up to my writing. I see they've got City Lights Bookstore, which is apt, because I've been blogging about beat poets a fair amount. Then there's "Progressive Politics," which takes you a blogspot blog on that topic. Hmmm... And Nina's blog has ads for the Republican Party! Tonya's blog aptly points you toward buying tickets for the Dave Matthews Band. There's a simple explanation: the not very subtle machine just matches up ads they have with words you have written, with no ability to discern whether you said nice things or not. Not very effective as a way to sell ads, but a bit of a source of humor anyway.
What plays did William Faulkner see? What did he read? I hadn't exactly been wondering, but this article by Javier Marías in Threepenny Review (linked by A&L Daily) has some answers:
Faulkner was a taciturn man who loved silence, and he had only been to the theater five times in his entire life: he had seen Hamlet three times, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Ben Hur, and that was all. He had not read Freud, either, at least so he said on one occasion: "I have never read him. Neither did Shakespeare. I doubt if Melville did either and I'm sure Moby Dick didn't." He read Don Quixote every year.
Ah! I love silence too. And I've been meaning to read Don Quixote ... there's that new translation ...

I liked this part of the article too, about how he lost his job as a post office clerk at the University of Mississippi:
Apparently one of the lecturers there, quite reasonably, complained: the only way he could get his mail was by rummaging around in the rubbish bin at the back door, where the unopened bags of post all too often ended up. Faulkner did not like having his reading interrupted, and the sale of stamps fell alarmingly; by way of explanation, Faulkner told his family that he was not prepared to keep getting up to wait on people at the window and having to be beholden to any son-of-a-bitch who had the two cents to buy a stamp.

Sounds like Newman on Seinfeld ("The Andrea Doria"). I'd watch a sitcom about this Faulkner character. And don't just tell me to watch Barton Fink--Joel Coel is on record saying the John Mahoney character isn't much like Faulkner.
Are you done talking about the New York Times yet? Well, I wanted to talk about the philosophy therapist and Al Franken and Spalding Gray, but I've been sitting in the café too long, the cappucino is severely frazzling my nerves and I'm getting hungry... And yikes, someone just knocked over a chair and I completely overreacted. So it's time for me to go. Let me leave you with a Madison picture, as I disengage from the newspaper from New York and return to my real environs:
Xiaoze Xie. Here's another artist. (Cool name, too.) More images here.

This is a good insight:
"When I was in China, my fellow students and I felt that art should be for art's sake," Mr. Xie said. "We'd seen a lot of bad critical art for so long. Now I've changed my theory on that. Art should carry some message. But, of course, it has to be beautiful, too."
"The Weather Project" I like this Olafur Eliasson installation in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. The NYT writes:
An instant cult site of mood-altering atmospherics, both gloomy and eye-popping, "The Weather Project" consists of a fake sun (yellow lights behind a huge semicircular screen, below a mirrored ceiling) and pumped-in mist. ...

Thrilled but circumspect about the reaction, he is by temperament a skeptical Scandinavian type. Half Danish, half Icelandic, he is not given to expressions of simple contentment, not with a stranger anyway. "I am trying to maintain in my mind an open discourse about its qualities of consumerism and spectacle," he says. "I would like to think that the spectator became the center of this piece, that the project twisted the Tate so the people who came to visit were what the art was about." ...

Previously, he has erected a fake sun, about 41 yards in diameter, like a billboard, on the skyline in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He designed a waterfall that flowed upward. He dyed various rivers in Europe and America green (eco-friendly dye, naturally)....
Hey, wait a minute. I think Chicago got there first.

A side note: why does the Times deal enthusiastically in ethnic stereotypes when the group in question is Nordic? (Like this one, about the "famously silent, stoic Finns.")
An easy to laugh at correction. The NYT has to correct two things about its review of Jayson Blair's book. Here's a more significant mistake:
An article last Sunday about China's energy needs misidentified the main greenhouse gas emitted by burning coal. It is carbon dioxide, not carbon monoxide.
Well, that makes a bit of a difference!
The Plot Skeleton. I wanted to include some discussion of the Scott Meredith "plot skeleton" in that last post, and did some Googling. I'm quite surprised that nothing comes up for "scott meredith 'fee client' plot skeleton," because I would have thought somebody would have told that story by now! So maybe someone will Google here now that I've written that. I'm sure a fair number of writers have posted letters like this one, but did they know they were "fee clients"? They could not have thought the famous literary agent himself wrote the long letter personally. You had to be a pretty good and prolific writer to churn out such letters, so why didn't my Googling turn up some fee department employee's description?
Art formulas. Should we shake our heads at the production of formulas for art, like "Hit Song Science"?
PolyphonicHMI says the software uses a proprietary algorithm to weigh and analyze more than 20 components of a recording (tempo, rhythm, cadence, etc.) and assign each song a value. The company used that algorithm to analyze 50 years of music released in the United States - album tracks and singles, pop, jazz and classical, totaling 3.5 million tracks - and graphed each song in multiple dimensions to create "the music universe." Plotted, it resembles a picture of a far-away galaxy, millions of song-specks floating in cosmic precision, presenting the illusion of randomness.
Some people do object, thinking art is all about individual imagination, but music is already based on some pretty constraining patterns. Artistic creativity always occurs within some kind of structure, and there is reason to think that a constricting structure enhances artistic creation. Think of the sonnet form or Dogme95. These limitations could be based on philosophical principles or scientific analysis of existing works, like Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, or it could be a game of limiting oneself, like the surrealist games. Obviously, these devices can produce bad art too, but so can a blank sheet of paper or an empty canvas. I love these efforts at constraint and limitation. Some of them are good and some aren't. Devising them is itself creative, even if it is also analytical and scientific. Art is not anarchy.
Punks for Bush. The Times notes a trend:
"Punks will tell me, `Punk and capitalism don't go together,' " [22-year-old Nick] Rizzuto said. "I don't understand where they're coming from. The biggest punk scenes are in capitalist countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan. I haven't heard of any new North Korean punk bands coming out. There's no scene in Iran."

That photograph by Richard Perry is the photo of the year for me. I don't even know how to say how much I love that photograph!

The article notes:
Johnny Ramone, the guitarist for the Ramones, has been an outspoken Republican for years, and some skinhead bands have blended the punk aesthetic with their extreme right-wing views.

(Just go ahead and lump Republicans and skinheads together!)

I like this quote from Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi) who "likened the punk aesthetic to furniture":
"Once it's built you can put it into any house," he said. "You can be a lefty and go to Ikea or you can be a right-winger and go to Ikea." Punk, he said, "is a free space where anything can go — a series of actions and reactions, and people rebelling and then rebelling against rebelling."

He's a smart guy.
Too much ready-made humor. Dawn of the Dead has defeated The Passion of The Christ at the boxoffice this weekend. The potential for jokes in bad taste about rising from the dead is disturbing. Would Letterman or Leno go for the ready-made joke here? There's a line in comedy here: some comics would cross it and some wouldn't. Will Jon Stewart? My guess is that he'll have a carefully crafted witticism on tomorrow's Daily Show.

Another source of ready-made humor this week is Justice Scalia's memo declining to recuse himself after duck-hunting with VP Cheney. There has always been something funny about ducks: the way they look, the way they sound, the word their name rhymes with. The Marx Brothers knew it: Why a Duck? Duck Soup. But Scalia's memo also has the line: ""I never hunted in the same blind as the vice president." So duck blind ... justice is blind ... the Justice is blind ... C'mon! There's a joke here. Here's Maureen Dowd's attempt to pull the seemingly ready-made joke out of that:
No need for justice to be blind when the blinds are just.

Huh? Here's Art Buchwald pointlessly flailing at the material. Enough!

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Dada in Canada. What do they give high artistic awards for in Canada these days? Well, according to the NYT, Istvan Kantor got $12,000 for doing things like this:
a video showing two performers slashing the throats of two cats and wearing their bleeding bodies as hats (to express his rage at pet lovers who are hardened to their fellow man) and staging the burning of a car filled with white rats.

Good thing he's concerned about humanity. As one prof puts it, he "files a grievance for underdogs, people who are homeless and displaced." Let's kill dogs for the underdogs!
Born in Hungary in 1949, Mr. Kantor is recognized as the founder of Neoism, an international anarchist art movement that some critics liken to an updating of the Dadaism of Marcel Duchamp, who once declared that anything you called art was art.

"What are the limits?" Mr. Kantor asks matter-of-factly. "There are probably no limits. Art is very dangerous."

It should be seen as inherently impossible to "update" Duchamp, whose original insights already implied all the permutations of dadaism and made actually doing them unnecessary. He withdrew from producing more of his own work, because he perceived that, so people who are claiming to build on his work are frauds. Worse, they are boring. They resort to doing shocking things to cover up this boringness. The crimes they commit to attempt to be interesting as artists may be interesting crimes, but we need to realize that our fascination with crime and violence is independent of art. Those who claim credit for themselves as artists because they are producing shock and outrage are engaging in a very old scam.

Kantor has a new video:
[H]e says it exposes "the post-Orwellian technological society in which everyone is under surveillance and everyone is using transmission systems like computers to send information out to everybody."

Well, I'm about to transmit this message out to everybody: that insight of his is too trite to be expressed in casual conversation, let alone to be the subject of a long, pretentious video.

He's some typical artist-blather:
"You have to be an anti-Neoist to be a Neoist," he said in his typically satirical, dialectical sort of way. "It was very important for Neoism to get rid of all the artistic language of space and time and introduce a different language that was more using state and military and religious expressive terms that had been alien to art before, to subvert, to provoke, to ridicule, to make fun of that very used and abused language of art."

Pressed to explain, he added, "There's not just a bit of destructiveness in this. There's a lot."

All right, enough of that. That reminds me of that horrible and idiotic comment someone made after 9/11, calling the attack a great work of art.

Ah, wait, this is familiar: "He started his artistic career in Budapest in the late 1960's, founding a band of musicians who played only instruments they had not been trained to play." Isn't that Throbbing Gristle? No, I guess a lot of people came up with that idea.

Hmm... Googling "Throbbing Gristle" got me to a reference to a Village Voice article from 1988 called "The Triumph of Neoism: The Last of the Old-Fashioned Avant Garde Makes Its Stand"! Yet still it survives and is rewarded in Canada!
Madison, Saturday morning. With my restored iBook, I'm at Espresso Royale, where the cappucino is extra-hard on the nerves, I'm relieved that some people at the next table--who were annoying me for little reason other than the extra-strong coffee--are finally leaving, and I'm happy to have figured out (again!) how to get my photos up for linking. I do too many things by trial and error on my computer, and then when I get something to work, I have to wonder what I did that time, as opposed to the other ten times. But the truth is, the time I got it to work was the time I used the help menu and read the instructions, and all the trial and error efforts were wasted. So after that miniature ordeal, let me give you a look at Madison. It's a lovely Saturday morning, with temperatures in the 50s (which is great for us) and plenty of sun. Walking to the café, I stopped first to photograph the tree in Library Mall that an artist attached lots of little cloth leaves to:

I'm wondering how that is going to look when the real leaves decide to emerge. Near the tree is the Catholic center, which always has something nicely painted on the line of glass doors in front. Here's the Lenten theme, the crown of thorns:

Next to that is the University Bookstore, which really doesn't concentrate so much on books--which is why I shop for books at Borders. It's specialty, as you can see from this window, is Badger-related products. If your monitor is clear enough, you can tell that the reflection is the UW Memorial Library on the other side of the Mall:

On State Street, there are kiosks covered with flyers. These provide endless material for signage photography devotées.

And here's Expresso Royale, where I am right now, slightly pleased with myself for figuring out how to do it, over-caffeinated, and wondering how much time I just spent on this little display. The red bird in the corner of this picture is a cardinal, and Madisonians will recognize it as part of a "best of" certificate from the student paper The Cardinal. Red is a very big color around here.

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Rainbow Bookstore. A rich source of crude imagery, just off State Street in Madison.

So I did get out to State Street. Why so crowded during Spring Break? Everyone's wearing red and white ... must be something about basketball. Here are some of the local folk near a secondhand store called Gozira that has nice homemade signage. (I've been photographing signage since 1980, so don't think I stole the idea from this terrific site or anywhere else ... Actually, it's an obvious subject, because it stands still, doesn't object, and provides opportunities for word play along with the visuals.)

UPDATE: Here's how the basketball event looked last night.
Lunch plans, diet tips. I'm heading out to lunch. People are saying it's getting a bit springlike, so I think I'll walk up State Street. I want to test out my new camera and have some Madison images for the blog. I'd like to get some lunch, unlike yesterday, when I became so absorbed by my camera that I did not want to take time out to eat and did not eat all day until 7:30 pm. This could be the basis of a new diet: the complete distraction diet. All you need is to be really interested in something. Food is interesting, but it's not that interesting. Just become sufficiently fascinated by something: weight problem solved. (By the way, are the audiences at The Passion of the Christ eating popcorn and drinking soda?)

But I must go out now and get some lunch, take some pictures, and then pick up my iBook at the Do-It Center. Mac lovers will be heartened to learn that the new iBook, which gave me so damn much trouble, was plagued by a bad memory chip--extra memory, not manufactured by Apple.
Courtney Love, Madonna, CivPro, judges. I rewatched the Courtney Love on Letterman performance and am more convinced than before that she was acting. For one thing, she seemed to be performing. In fact, she seemed to be following the script of the famous Madonna Letterman appearance, which was also, obviously, an act, even though people enjoyed believing Madonna was out of control (a really ridiculous idea). Another reason I'm sure Love was acting is that she's promoting a new album and needs the press: she went out afterwards and engaged in various hijinks. She even got arrested, though it doesn't seem that she did anything to deserve it. I don't know how she gets the police to participate in her stunts, but they did. I liked this info about an earlier run in with the law:
[A]fter her 1995 arrest on charges that she punched several fans at an Orlando concert, the judge dismissed the case, ruling that they had been exposed to no more violence than might be reasonably expected at a rock 'n' roll show.
Hmmm ... I have an old civpro exam about rock show violence. Premised on a tort claim, though, not criminal law. Based on the whole stage diving phenomenon and the extent of negligence by the band and the club and some people at the club. How was that civil procedure? You make everyone from different places with different claims against different parties, and there are jurisdiction and joinder issues galore.

Oh, you know, when I saw Love years ago, she dove into the audience and then, afterwards, accused a guy of sexually assaulting her (touching her in the wrong place when she was crowd surfing and therefore had to be touched a lot). She had the guy dragged up on stage, where she proceeded to yell at him. Let's hope that was all staged too.

Love seems to do well with judges. She had a good line about them on Letterman: "Judges are like rock stars." (I'll have to get the whole quote later. It has something to do with being able to do whatever you want and/or running your own show.) I think the fact that she does well with them is one more indication that her public persona is an act. She doesn't act like that in court.

UPDATE: Here's the judge quote: "The thing about judges that's cool is they're a lot like rock stars. They just get their own damn way." She quotes her judge as saying "I will not have a witch hunt in my state," which she then ties to the Martha Stewart case. She appeals to the audience to side with Martha: "Is that fair? Raise your hand if you think that's fair." A second later she's leaping up, yelling "You are sexist!"
The last abstract expressionist has died. The obit in the NYT has this:
Volatile, acerbic, unfailingly blunt, widely read and singularly dedicated to the ideal of the painter's hard, solitary life, [Milton] Resnick was in many ways the popular stereotype of the bohemian angst-ridden artist.
Abstract expressionists were the people who made painting so godawful serious, and I want to give them credit for helping make Pop Art so very much fun. They are also the people who allow you to get more exercise in museums, because you can walk past their huge canvases so quickly. That's easy to do now, but there was a time when you went to the museum and felt you were supposed to have a religious experience with these rectangles. I can still remember how I felt seeing Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings in the 1960s. There were so many of them and they were so huge and presented with such reverence that I just felt manipulated and resentful of the self-importance and grandiosity and sheer, crashing humorlessness of it all. Here's a Motherwell quote:
Making an Elegy is like building a temple, an altar, a ritual place … Unlike the rest of my work, the Elegies are, for the most part, public statements. The Elegies reflect the internationalist in me, interested in the historical forces of the twentieth century, with strong feelings about the conflicting forces in it … The Elegies use a basic pictorial language, in which I seem to have hit on an 'archetypal' image. Even people who are actively hostile to abstract art are, on occasion, moved by them, but do not know 'why'. I think perhaps it is because the Elegies use an essential component of pictorial language…
See? You better be moved and have a deep experience or you're lumped together with every loser who's "actively hostile" to all abstract art, the laughable idiots who say their child could have painted it. Well, the Abstract Expressionists were humorless, but that made them a great source of humor. My personal favorite (to bring up Woody Allen a second time today), is this exchange in "Play It Again Sam":
WOODY ALLEN: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Yes it is.

WOODY ALLEN: What does it say to you?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence, nothingness, the predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless bleak straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.

WOODY ALLEN: What are you doing Saturday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Committing suicide.

WOODY ALLEN: What about Friday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: [leaves silently]