Saturday, July 31, 2004

"The Hives Vote on Kerry."

I can't find an online link, but the paper copy of the August 6th Entertainment Weekly has the Swedish band The Hives offering some opinions about The Electras, John Kerry's old garage band. They like it and give it a B-, noting that "half of what makes it good was probably unintentional."

Entertainment Weekly asks the great question "What does being a bass player say about Kerry's leadership qualities?" The Hives bass player says, with classic bassist's modesty, "I think it's strike against him." Lead singer Pelle Almqvist gives an elaborate answer, eliminating the drummer ("an animal"), the singer ("an egotistical maniac"), and the guitar players ("they just want to be the loudest"):

The bassist is a solid foundation, a good person. Maybe bass players don't have the strongest leadership qualities, but they are good at negotiating, they have a basic fairness, which is very important if you're gonna run a country."


I laughed a long, long time at this, from Tonya's post about Thursday's dinner with Nina, Jeremy, and me:

I also learned a few interesting things about the other bloggers. First, the other bloggers like to have a good time. They are my kind of people because I am always, always, always down for having a good time. Second, Ann drinks cognac. I don't think I've ever seen anyone even order a cognac. My only association with cognac is remembering that it was a favorite drink of former DC mayor Marion ("The bitch set me up!") Barry.

Tonya surmises that I have little else in common with Mayor Barry. Probably Barry would have stayed with the group if it started out going out to dinner in an expensive restaurant and then decided to top off the night by going dancing in a club that was playing hip-hop music. I, however, defected.

As to drinking cognac: it was after dinner. We had gone to a bar to kill some time waiting for the club to open. The others ordered Cosmopolitans and Margueritas, which seems just crazy to me. Those are cocktails. Why would you order that after dinner? I find that weird. Tonya finds it weird that anyone ever drinks cognac. Oh, well. Perhaps all can agree "The bitch set me up" will be funny forever.

On picking up a big jar of mayonnaise.

Don't you hate it when some common object forces you to think about someone who has weirdly gotten their identity linked with it?

Thinking about death, thinking about Bush and Kerry.

Reuters reports on some scientific studies that supposedly shed some light on voter behavior and candidate strategy:

Another study focused directly on Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

The volunteers were aged from 18 into their 50s and described themselves as ranging from liberal to deeply conservative. No matter what a person's political conviction, thinking about death made them tend to favor Bush, [Sheldon] Solomon said. Otherwise, they preferred Kerry.

"I think this should concern anybody," Solomon said. "If I was speaking lightly, I would say that people in their, quote, right minds, unquote, don't care much for President Bush and his policies in Iraq."

He wants voters to be aware of psychological pressures and how they are used.

"If people are aware that thinking about death makes them act differently, then they don't act differently," Solomon said. Solomon says he personally opposes Bush but describes himself as a political independent who could vote Republican.

Hmmm ... Solomon sounds a tad biased. And is it unrealistic to be aware of the potential for death when thinking about who ought to be President? And where is the study that shows that if people are aware of a psychological force, it doesn't affect them anymore?

I wonder exactly what was done here to make people "think about death." The article says that in an earlier study the subjects were just told to contemplate their own deaths. If they were just asked to think about dying and then shown pictures of the two candidates, Kerry's physical appearance might have skewed the results. Kerry's undertaker-like appearance may have caused then to lurch toward Bush.

Only the radio.

My New Beetle is now five years old and the original stereo no longer recognizes the CD player that is lodged in the trunk. "No magazine," it tells me. The tape player died a while back, so that leaves me with only the radio. I generally prefer to listen to the radio, because I like to hear people talking about one thing or another when I'm driving. I don't hate music, but I find I rarely want to listen to music. I enjoy a music-free atmosphere. You'd think someone who drives a New Beetle and uses only Macintosh computers would be the sort of person who would have an iPod, but I don't want an iPod, because I don't want to listen to music. I think there is too much music around already. The main reason for an iPod for me would be to play music to screen out other music. When they make an iPod that cancels out music, I'll buy it.

But sometimes the radio is not enough. On a long trip, it can be hard to find anything on the radio. I've driven through places in the West where you hit the scan button and it just goes all the way around the dial over and over. I've driven in other places where the scan button takes you all the way around and back to where you were before (and it was always Cher singing "Believe"--a few years ago). Sometimes, being limited to the radio can draw you into the landscape in a deep and mysterious way. I remember driving through rural Mississippi and hearing the middle of a long gospel song, a sung sermon. The singer was describing how some day she would arrive in Heaven, and she would not want to see her mother, because she wanted to see Jesus, and she would not want to see her father, because she wanted to see Jesus. It went on and on, with different persons the singer did not want to see in Heaven, until my driving took me out of the range of the broadcast.

I could almost convince myself that it is better to be limited to the radio while driving, even when it means driving out of the reach of all broadcasting. That is a stunning and eerie experience, to go with the desert landscape. But sometimes the radio is not enough. If you have a long drive, especially on the boring Interstate, you need something to occupy your mind. I have many spoken word CDs to load into the CD player, and, in any event, I share my car with my sons, and they like to hear music.

But how can you replace the stereo in a New Beetle? It's got a distinctive curve and an oval shape and lighting that matches the beautiful lighting of the entire dashboard. The aesthetic effect would be ruined! The only choice, other than to stay with only the radio, is to go back to the dealer and repair the original stereo, though it's five years old, or buy another one. We had wanted a new stereo with a nice slot to stick in one disc at a time, which we all prefer to loading six CDs into the device in the trunk, but there is no such stereo designed for the Beetle. (What about an iPod that you connect to the stereo? I can't use one of those devices that you insert into the tape player, because the tape player is broken. There's another device that plays through the radio, but I don't trust that to work well enough.) We are forced--by aesthetics--to stay with the trunk CD arrangement, or stick with just the radio. I remember when a radio in a car was an impressive extra, and an AM-FM radio something to brag about. Staying with only the radio is the perfectly cheap, do-nothing solution, which is always a plus. It is my car.

UPDATE: After this paean to radio, the God of Radio smiled upon me and made my CD player start working again. Now, if only I could think of a way to appease the God of Cell Phones and find the one I lost on Thursday.

Hitchens on Kerry.

Christopher Hitchens brilliantly calls John Kerry out for the repulsive isolationism implied by his complaint about "opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America." This is especially striking:

A few years ago, many of the same liberals and leftists [who now argue against spending money on reconstructing Iraq] were quoting improbable if not impossible numbers of dead Iraqi children, murdered by the international sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein. Even at its most propagandistic, this contained an important moral point: Iraqi civilians were suffering for the sins of their dictatorship (and from the lavish corruption of the U.N. supervision of the "oil-for-food" program). OK, then, we'll remove the regime and lift the sanctions. Happy now? Not at all! It turns out that 1) the Saddam regime was only a threat invented by neo-cons and that 2) we don't owe the Iraqi people a thing. Also, we could use the money ourselves.

This would mean that all the protest about dead and malnourished Iraqi infants was all for show. Surely that can't be right?

"Instead of making vibrant, relevant movies, he's created his Pennsylvania fiefdom ... "

The main thing New Yorker writer Michael Agger seems to have against M. Night Shyamalan is that he refuses to leave the suburbs of Philadelphia:

He lives outside of Philadelphia with his wife and children and insists on shooting most of his films within a day's drive.

… raised in an affluent Philadelphia suburb, M. Night grew up ensconced in the world of regulated suburban achievement …

On the Philadelphia set, Shyamalan somehow transformed himself into a disciplined director.

He stays put in Philadelphia, refusing to move to L.A. and play ball. He creates a local film industry around his productions.

Shyamalan's interest in creating a vibrant film business and setting his films in a specific place that he knows and loves is portrayed as some sort of sick deficiency: "He's not making movies. He's making cocoons."

Friday, July 30, 2004

Cats' territory.

I don't own any pets. Nevertheless, as I go to unlock my front door just now, I look down next to the front stoop and see this big black cat making a bed for itself in the vinca next to the house.

As I'm pausing to take a few photographs of the black cat, I hear mewing and jingling and here's this second cat, climbing the front steps and posing with an attitude of ownership.

My opinion of Kerry's speech.

Too long. Too many flubs:

We will double our special forces to conduct terrorist operations ... anti-terrorist.

What does it mean when 25 percent of our children in Harlem have asthma because of hair pollution?

... it's not the story of senators and menators ...

Too many overrehearsed hand gestures. Not enough balloons. I wasn't sure how to feel without the sight of tumbling balloons to symbolize overflowing excitement. I want a President who will never ask me to sit through an hour-long speech without a plan for releasing the balloons.

UPDATE: I corrected the first of the quotes above. I had: "We will double our special forces to conduct terrorist operations ... anti-terrorist operations," but in fact Kerry did not repeat the word "operations" when he corrected himself.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

"The Daily Show" is faltering.

"The Daily Show" should be at its best this week, as it covers the Democratic Convention. But the funniest thing on the show last night turned out to be the set-up for a completely unfunny punch line. The set-up was a clip of Ron Reagan explaining stem cell research. The whole "Daily Show" audience was laughing at the clip, and we were hysterical at home. What was it about Ron Reagan's overenunciated, pedantic lecture that made it so funny? Surely, it can't be just his opportunistic seizing of the limelight on the occasion of his father's death. That's not that funny.

The show had so much material to work with, and yet they frittered away time with material about their wireless microphones that didn't even refer to anything that took place at the Convention and that seemed like it could have been improvised on the spot by a reasonably smart high school kid. Then Joe Biden appeared and had nothing interesting to say. What could he say? He's pretty much stuck saying whoever spoke at the convention did a great job.

There are times when The Daily Show's support for the Democrats undermines the potential for comedy. That's the sort of media bias I cannot tolerate.

UPDATE: Thursday night's show was an improvement. Skipping the interview was a good move. So was the extended segment analyzing the reactions to Al Sharpton's speech. That was an example of having a specific humor idea and neatly making your point by skillfully editing the news clips of the day. The target of the humor was not the Democrats, though, but the news media.

Is anyone listening to the speeches at the Convention

who isn't listening through a filter of thinking about the way someone else would be hearing the speech? I think not. I think the someone else, for whom the speech was written and to whom it is delivered, is not tuned in at all. Everyone listening is either already a Kerry supporter hoping the speech will convince someone else or a journalistic observer analyzing whether the speech is the sort of thing that will have the effect on the target audience it is intended to have.

ADDED: My son John Althouse Cohen emails:

You wrote about how everyone watching the convention is imagining how the speeches will seem to someone else, even though it might be that none of those "someone elses" are actually watching the speeches. The same thing happened when Kerry won the primaries. Everyone was voting for him because they thought he would appeal to someone else. And those voters believed at the time that that was the politically savvy thing to do. But it was actually politically disastrous: if everyone was just voting for him because they thought someone else would like him, then NO ONE ACTUALLY LIKED HIM.

One problem is that if you're trying to choose the most "electable" person, I would imagine that you'd be likely to do it by process of elimination -- by ruling out all the candidates with obvious political liabilities. I think this is the number-one reason why Kerry won the primaries: he was the only candidate who didn't seem to have anything particularly wrong with him. Edwards was too inexperienced; Clark was a poor campaigner; Dean seemed kind of insane; Gephardt was too liberal; Lieberman was too conservative. So they choose the one candidate who has no qualities that would really make anyone hate him. The problem is that he also has no qualities that would really make anyone like him either.

10 conventionisms I'm tired of.

1. Repetitions of the phrase "health care."

2. Assertions that John Kerry is just now introducing himself to the American people. (This one fills me with a curious mix of ennui and outrage.)

3. "Swift boats."

4. References to the presence of bloggers at the Convention (as opposed to links to great blog posts from the Convention).

5. Explanations of what a blog is: "Blogs are akin to wire services that provide updated news on the fly, though blogs are more opinionated and snarky -- a term so beloved by bloggers ...." (Bloggers love the term "snarky"? Ugh!)

6. Fussing over whether Teresa Heinz Kerry is sufficiently performing her function of imparting warmth to John Kerry.

7. "Hope."

8. "Optimism."

9. References to qualities supposedly possessed by John Kerry (e.g., "thoughtfulness") that are obviously intended as a way to assert that the opposite quality is possessed by George Bush.

10. "Emma Claire."

"He's been encountering some animosity."

That's what I overhear as a walk into a State Street café this morning. Two men are talking about Ralph Nader's problems getting on the ballot in key states, including Wisconsin. I get my cappucino and sit down with my laptop and search for an article on the subject. I find this editorial in today's Register Guard (of Eugene, Oregon).

In Oregon, Nader twice attempted to qualify to have his name listed on the November ballot by holding conventions at which 1,000 voters would sign petitions. At both conventions, organizers fell short of the mark. The second event was torpedoed by Democrats, who were urged to attend the convention and then decline to sign the nominating petitions. It was not an inspiring performance by a party that bills itself as pro-choice.

Republicans are also playing games. In Michigan, the GOP helped circulate petitions to get Nader on the ballot in hopes that he'd siphon voters away from Democrat John Kerry in that battleground state. Republican or conservative groups are also said to be helping Nader's ballot access efforts in Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida. The efforts betray a lack of confidence in President Bush's chances of defeating Kerry on his own, and require GOP activists to work for a candidate they would never consider supporting.
Now, some people might say that Ralph Nader is distorting the process of choosing between Kerry and Bush, and that the Democratic obstruction and Republican help should be conveying the message that he should just stay off the ballot in the battleground states. This is essentially response of the Green Party candidate:

David Cobb says he won't campaign in states where the Bush-Kerry race is close, for fear of pulling votes away from the Democrat. Cobb will offer himself as an alternative, in other words, unless there's a chance that voting for him would affect the result. If the Greens don't want people's votes, perhaps they should disband and reconstitute themselves as an adjunct to the Democratic Party.
The Register Guard looks at the Democratic obstruction and Republican help this way:

Ralph Nader is running for president because he believes both major parties are fundamentally indistinguishable. Nader's quest for ballot access is inadvertently proving his point, as Democrats and Republicans resort to cynical tactics to thwart or promote his candidacy.
I don't think attending the conventions but then not signing the petition really amounts to much of a dirty trick, but this editorial is portraying the tactic as a reason to conclude the parties are "indistinguishable." Well, sure, they're indistinguishable in their willingness to fight hard to win. Are the Democrats supposed to lie down and welcome Nader into the game lest they look like bad sports? Are there really many people who would be so upset that the Democrats aren't nice enough that they'd migrate into the Nader camp? There seem to be at least a few in Eugene.

Al Franken on "The View."

First, why am I watching "The View"? I needed some bacon and eggs, and when I cook I usually turn on the TV. (My kitchen is open into the main TV room, a room we've always called the "big room." Useless information? Doesn't it reveal something about me? We could have gone with the common term "great room," but we didn't, we called it the "big room.")

I try to find the TiVoed "Daily Show" from last night, but the Convention got recorded instead. (We'll pick up "The Daily Show" on an early evening repeat.) Oh, here's "The View," not because I TiVo "The View," but because we have "Al Franken" on our TiVo "wish list." So let's see what "The View" is like.

There's a long chattery opening segment about bridesmaids' dresses and Jennifer Lopez, then a long sequence of commercials, after which, we've been promised, "funnyman Al Franken" will appear. But first, they must set the View-style tone by splattering chattishness about. Can't just cut to Al Franken; gotta chat about the Convention to establish a View atmosphere for the discussion. What did the Viewsters think about John Edwards speech last night?

JOY BEHAR: I thought it could have been a little harder. It was a little too nice, I thought. I'm lookin' for some action here. We hadda go to Al Sharpton for the action.
Why didn't Edwards even mention Bush?

BEHAR: That's the ultimate dis. You don't even say the person's name. Isn't that what you do with an old boyfriend?
Finally, we get Franken, standing by in the empty hall. "Do you think that there's not enough Bush-bashing, Al?"

FRANKEN: Well, not enough for my taste. ... Well, Jimmy Carter hit him pretty hard. ... He said ... John Kerry showed up when he was called to duty, which used to be pretty faint praise, but when you're comparing it to President Bush, it was pretty harsh.
Yes. Ouch! Ooh, Jimmy, that hurt!

How's Kerry going to do tonight? Behar warns "if he drones on tonight ..." The Viewster that isn't one of the three I recognize -- I'll call her Viewsterette -- asserts, "He doesn't drone." Is that an idiotic or a smart point? If I had to defend Viewsterette, I'd say that technically what Kerry does is not droning, per se, because it's not an even monotone, there's more of a rhythmic rising and falling of the voice that is just as soporific as a drone, but more fun to imitate.

FRANKEN: There's somewhere between being more charismatic than Bill Clinton and droning on. I think if he gets there ... he wins."
Franken, who's kept a straight face so far, breaks into his characteristic smile as he says "there," I think because he realizes he's finally said something that can count as a witticism. He prolongs the joke with busy hand gestures indicating other places on the continuum between "more charismatic than Bill Clinton and droning on." Okay, so much for "funnyman Al Franken."

Enough "View" for me. I can see why people watch that show though. Meredith Vieira does a great job of keeping the pace going even as people appear to be merely chatting like girlfriends at a long lunch, and Joy Behar spikes in with jokes at well-timed intervals. Star Jones fills the spaces with sassy remarks, and the Viewsterette chimes in occasionally just to show that a nonentity -- like the home viewer? -- can be in the group.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Wavering efforts at watching the Convention.

I was watching the convention on MSNBC and CNN for a change, and I got tired of the way all the talking heads were only predicting what would happen later in the night. Why aren't they covering the convention now? So I decide to go back to a channel that fixates on the podium. I choose PBS.

Instant rebellion: Go to C-Span! The reception is better!

Really? Oh, okay, I'll go from PBS to C-Span ... but, hey! What is this?

It's "Amish in the City"! The kids are arriving at the house. Hilarious! The non-Amish kids completely embarrass themselves, showing no end of prejudice. Who's unsophisticated here? Clearly, the non-Amish kids. Great scene.

Rebellion in the TV room. Go back to the convention!

Okay. I pick up my wineglass and head upstairs to another TV, so I can watch "Amish in the City."

On a commercial, I go back to C-Span long enough to hear Al Sharpton claim that if Bush had been President in 1954, Clarence Thomas would never have had the chance to go to law school. I guess the tight scripting is loosening up. It's Bush-bashing time. Can't script Al. Bush is just a complete racist! Now Sharpton is repeating himself stumbling through some business about keeping government out of our bedroom and getting government into the kitchen. Apparently, in a Kerry administration, the federal government is going to come over and cook dinner for me. Cool!

I go back to "Amish in the City." It's seeming a bit like an ordinary episode of "The Real World." My attention is flagging.

Suddenly, I hear footsteps on the stairs: "Put on channel 64!"

I quickly punch 64 into the remote. It's Steve Buscemi!

"Steve Buscemi! Hey, he looks good. But he's wearing a ton of makeup. You know, he's a good example of a guy who's really ugly but somehow ends up being quite attractive."

Buscemi: "... I don't feel safer after 9/11." [Long pause.]


Flip back to "Amish in the City" for a while. Commercial.

Back to C-Span. It's Governor Ed Rundell. He's come to speak about energy independence. I'm asked if I noticed the noise from the crowd after Gov. Ed said he was going to talk about energy independence. I hadn't -- because I was writing this post -- so I guess: a mass sigh of disappointment? No, I'm told. A big cheer. Crazy!

I flip back to "Amish in the City." They are shopping in L.A. One of the Amish boys really appreciates the help the gay guy is giving him in picking out good clothes.

Aw, Miriam's amazed by a parking meter. "I've never seen one of these things."

They go into an art gallery, and Ruth says "I've never seen art before. ... The Amish don't study art because they don't feel art is important. " She seems to have a real feeling of love for art, and I find this very touching. I get all misty.

Mose goes in the ocean for the first time and almost drowns. In the car ride home, the non-Amish kids lampoon him. That night, Mose has a nightmare and gets up in the middle of the night. He gets out his Bible -- in German -- and reads it aloud to calm himself. In the voiceover, he says that he believes that if he does not remain Amish, he will go to Hell when he dies, and he realizes he could have died that very day. It is exceedingly rare to see religion like that on television.

Now the non-Amish kids have to dress in Amish clothes. They do decently well. One non-Amish girl says, "I look good in black." The gay guy, dressed in Amish clothes, curls his eyelashes. The black girl says, "This looks like a slave get-up." They go to an amusement park, with the Amish kids in ordinary L.A. clothes, and the city kids in Amish clothes. Amish boy: "Now they know how I felt when I was standing on the doorstep in Amish clothes."

The Amish boys leave their dishes lying around. They are used to having women clean up after them. Ruth speaks with some passion about the way the Amish boys take advantage of the women. I adore Ruth. She loves art, and she's experiencing dawning feminism on camera. You don't get to see that on TV very often either.

Conclusion: "Amish in the City" was much more real and human and compelling than the Democratic Convention. But now, "Amish in the City" is over, so I'll head back downstairs to watch the prime hour of the convention with the rest of the household.

Hmmm... they're watching C-Span 2, which is showing Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro's acceptance speeches from 1984. John says: the rhetoric is the same as now. Ferraro was saying that the Republicans will put people on the Supreme Court who would move us back to the nineteenth century. (Sounds like Sharpton.) Same buzzwords: faith, hope, values, family, strength. What's strikingly different though is the strangely sad, downbeat, stern tone. No wonder people preferred Reagan.

Howard Dean explains how he knows Bush is bringing back the draft.

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews is interviewing Howard Dean, taking questions from a group of young people, one of whom asks Dean what he will do to interest young people in the election. Dean answers the question by calling attention to the fact that Bush is about to bring back the universal military draft, which "is going to be a big issue for young people." Chris Matthews asks how he can say that and notes that if Bush were here right now he wouldn't say he was going to bring back the draft.

DEAN: Of course he isn't going to say it.

MATTHEWS: How do you know it?

DEAN: I don't know it for a fact. But the truth is: I was right and he was wrong about the weapons of mass destruction. I was right and he was wrong about al Qaeda's links to Saddam Hussein. I was right and he was wrong about the fact that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, after he told the American people that he did. I've got a much better track record on Iraq than he does.

Stupid Chris Matthews question of the day.

Heard just now. Matthews asks Howard Dean: "Do you think John Kerry should be more like you?"

Television ratings for the Democratic Convention.

So, we all know the ratings for the Convention are down from previous years. A key reason is that all the excitement has been drained out of them, as they've become carefully planned to work as slick commercials for the candidate.

New entry for a modern "Dictionary of Received Ideas":
Presidential nominating conventions: Be sure to use the phrase "tightly scripted."
Though the numbers are low, a few million are watching. But who are these people? Are they the ones for whom the smooth, Bush-bashing-free, hope-'n'-optimism fest was designed? Or are they just people who would actually enjoy some hardcore Bush-bashing but are tuning in to observe whether it seems is the sort of thing that will influence less hardcore people? Consider the cable news numbers:
During the ... 10 p.m. ET hour, CNN averaged 2.54 million viewers, Fox News Channel had 1.44 million viewers and MSNBC had 1.10 million, Nielsen said. ...

CNN won the ratings competition even though Fox routinely has a bigger audience during a normal prime-time.

Politics may play a part: Democrats are more likely to watch CNN and Republicans to watch Fox, according to a study released this spring by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
So there's the evidence that the Convention is mostly playing to existing Kerry supporters. That doesn't suggest that they may as well have had their Bush-bashing fun. If they had, the worst quotes would have echoed in news and commentary and hurt Kerry with the undecideds. And, by the same token, those who don't watch will get a general sense that a well-run, well-behaved, reasonable convention is taking place and that that might allay some worries and inspire some confidence.

But that's not to say the whole extravaganza was a worthwhile use of anyone's time and money.

On being overheard and making a spectacle of yourself.

I'm trying to piece together, over the months, the ethics of blogging. I have a lot of fuzzy rules that I suppose if I tried I could formulate into a code. I avoid saying anything bad about anyone who isn't a public figure, and I generally avoid naming a nonpublic figure who doesn't agree to be named, unless they are blogging under their own name, in which case I have, I believe, an obligation to link them. Sometimes I refer vaguely to a person to tell a story, but then I leave them unidentifiable. I'm quite aware of how disturbing people without blogs may find it to know that someone else has a blog, with hundreds or even thousands of daily readers, and who might some day up and say something objectionable about them.

But what should the rule be about overheard conversations? I reproduced some overheard dialogue from neighbors who talked loudly and drunkenly outside my bedroom window throughout an entire night. (Here's my post: note the time stamp of 3:59 a.m.) And Nina is recounting overhearing a conversation in a café chiefly to make the point that the person ought to have found a private place to have a conversation like that. My neighbors and the café student didn't protect themselves against being overheard, so does that trigger the rule that we can write about them online? Should the world be on notice that if they allow themselves to be overheard that someone may offer up a transcription on the internet? Or, at least, should people who are being outrageous or annoying enough know that they won't just be the subject of privately told anecdotes, they will be written up for the world to see?

As for photographs, I would love to take photographs of strangers, as Walker Evans did with a secret camera on the New York subway. But I don't think it's right. For this reason, I often pick photographic subject matter that doesn't include people. I will use pictures of people who are only seen at a distance. The other day I was taking a picture in a café and the light was low, which caused my camera to focus by projecting a bunch of red dots prior to the shot. That made a woman at a distance turn around with a real look of alarm on her face. It was quite an interesting picture, but I deleted it (and regretted alarming her!). But I do have a rule that it is perfectly acceptable to post a photograph of someone who is making a spectacle of himself. Like this guy:

The law library blog.

I've just added Wisblawg to the blogroll. Wisblawg is the University of Wisconsin Law Library perspective on legal research, especially internet resources and technologies.

Watching the Convention on C-Span.

I've been watching the Democratic Convention the past two nights on C-Span, because that seems to be the way to actually see it. You get the uninterrupted proceedings from the podium and some shots of people in the audience, and nothing else. No one so much as explains, for example, why the wife of a governor is one of the speakers (a question I raised in yesterday's posts). Last night's convention was mindnumbing. I tried to simulblog, but, aside from Ted Kennedy, no one said anything interesting. That was a pleasant enough little film about Teresa Heinz Kerry and she carried out her speaking duty with aplomb, but I had nothing to say about it.

I'm thinking the real convention is what takes place on the network shows as the analysts ignore the convention. I got a sense of what must be on those shows from watching "The Daily Show" last night (when they were dealing with Day 1 of the convention). Were they gabbing about Teresa saying "shove it" and Kerry dressing up in that blue thing? [Apparently.] Maybe I need to abandon C-Span on the theory that those speeches I was watching weren't really meant to be heard. They were just background, something for Dan Rather to sit on the other side of a glass from as the party fed him talking heads. A speech like, say, Christie Vilsack's wasn't meant to be listened to. She was wallpaper--shiny, pink, polka-dotted wallpaper--for the chattering analysts. Watching C-Span, I was staring at the wallpaper, a notoriously tedious activity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Night 2 of the Convention: Barack Obama.

Now here is a speaker I can stand to listen to. He's modulating his voice and he seems to have the speech memorized, so he doesn't have that awful teleprompter stare. He places some emphasis on personal responsibility. Parents need to turn off the television! Hmmm ... he's on television saying that. This can't be good for ratings.

Obama does a great job delivering the speech, even though the words of the speech are quite banal. There are many references to hope. The speech is blessedly short. Cheers, waving signs. Cue the music. Curtis Mayfield's "Keep On Pushing":

I've got to keep on pushing

I can't stop now

Move up a little higher

Some way, somehow

'Cause I've got my strength

And it don't make sense

Not to keep on pushin'

Night 2 of the Convention: between Kennedy and Obama.

Daschle and Mosely Braun said nothing of interest as far as I noticed. Mosely Braun stressed out her voice and hurt my poor ears. Can't they turn up the sound levels and coach the speakers to speak to the people watching at home in their living rooms? This speaking to the huge auditorium is quite likely to get Kerry in trouble later this week, as his manner of speaking is insufferable when he's projecting into a large room. And we all know that speaking (and screaming) to a large, noisy crowd was fatal to Dean's candidacy.

Speaking of which: Here's Howard Dean. "I bet he screams as a joke," I say. At least, he'll make a joke about it. If he made a joke about his fatal scream or said anything at all amusing or interesting, I didn't notice.

Christie Vilsack is the next speaker, for some reason. Why is the wife of a governor one of the speakers? It can't just be that they needed more women. They had a whole gang of women Senators lined up on the stage last night. Christie is wearing a lovely, shiny, pink, polka-dotted jacket. That counts for something.

Governor Janet Napolitano. Health care, health care, health care. John Kerry knows healthy children grow up stronger! No way that dummy Bush could figure that out.

Night 2 of the Convention: Senator Kennedy speaks.

Ted Kennedy, introduced by a historian, pushes the theme of the Founding Fathers. He cites a phrase from the Declaration of Independence--"a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"—as he argues for pursuing coalitions with our allies before taking action. But the full phrase is "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that [a people declaring independence] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." That's not saying one has to get other nations to agree with us, only that we owe them an explanation. He also says: "The only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush." Not terrorism?

Are bloggers watching the network coverage of the convention?

Instapundit says that although network coverage of the convention getting terrible ratings, at least bloggers are watching it, and when you click on his link you get to his post linking to my simulblogging of the convention from last night. But if I had been watching the networks, I would have included comments about the various yammering journalists and their interruptions of the speeches. The hardcore convention simulblogger watches C-Span. At least I did. TiVoed C-Span.


Reading about Giambi (follow the link in the previous post), made me think about Jambi, a character on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse." I am quite nostalgic for this wonderful old TV show, and I would have ordered something on DVD, but nothing is available or even in production. It's very sad the way Pee-Wee was excised from American culture. We still have one of the old Pee-Wee talking dolls around. If you had snapped up a lot of them back when Pee-Wee got into trouble back in 1991, thinking they'd be great collector's items later, you'd be trying to unload them today on eBay for next to nothing. Ah, poor Pee-Wee Herman! Not even a life in the realm of nostalgia?

Bonus Giambi/Jambi reference: In this hilarious episode of "The Isaac Mizrahi Show," Isaac and Conan O'Brien go clothes shopping. Conan riffs about ties at Barney's and makes up a fake name for a designer of ties. The name is "Giambi." (The clip at that link is well worth watching, despite the omission of the Giambi wisecrack.)

"It's like McCarthyism or something.

They're looking to see who looks like a Communist. I'll probably get in trouble for that ..." Yeah, you probably will. (Via Metafilter.)

Political material buried in fiction shows.

Andrew Sullivan reprints a reader's email complaining about anti-Bush material woven into the dialogue on "Six Feet Under." First, there's a statement Nate made on the July 18th episode, which is best described by Television Without Pity's Djb, who writes:

Nate "Go Ahead With Your Own Wife, Leave Me Alone" Fisher sits at the Fisher family kitchen table, reading the paper. He mumbles, "Bush just lies and no one cares" to my endless amusement, in a sparkling pearl of partisan dialogue that is like a gorgeous flower popping up through so much manure.
Second, in this week's episode, as the Sullivan emailer describes:

This time it's Ruth's husband George, reading "Perfectly Legal," a book by a New York Times reporter claiming that the super-rich gouge the middle class. As he puts the book down he says (paraphrasing), "They're just hollowing out the middle class until there's nobody left." Later in the episode he's seen reading the book again. Nothing else in these scenes addresses this activity.

In the same episode, Claire and her friends create art on the walls of her room, making several comments along the lines of "dropping bombs and calling it peace," and painting the phrase "Terror Starts at Home" on the wall.
Sullivan's only comment is that anyone "sophisticated enough" to be watching this show probably won't be influenced. But why even see these lines as functioning as an anti-Bush argument? Only the first one--"Bush just lies and no one cares"--is presented in a context that suggests we ought to believe the character. Nate is the most important character on the show, the one who might be seen as representing the writers' view of things. But at the point when he says this he is deeply depressed, so whatever he says is a development of his character as a depressed person, whose view of reality is dark and distorted.

The context of the other two lines eagerly invites us to reject the statement -- especially since we're "sophisticated enough" to be watching the show. Why would we believe anything George says? That character lies all the time, and we've been given reason to have all sorts of suspicions about him. This "sophisticated" viewer sees the book title "Perfectly Legal" and thinks, hmmm, I wonder what crimes George has committed? Murder? "[H]ollowing out the middle class until there's nobody left"? This is a show about dead bodies! If George said that you should be flashing on a picture of George with a large knife and one of his many former wives that we keep hearing about. The Sullivan emailer seems to think one of the characters ought to address the political arguments in the book. Why is he even watching a fiction show? The fact that no one addresses his activity is just one more place where the viewer is encouraged to be ahead of the family in figuring out that George is a monster.

And as for Claire and the art students slopping paint on the walls and blabbering about the war: These people are all high on drugs! And they are pretty idiotic even when they aren't on drugs. What suggests that we should be buying their political opinions? It is more the case that we should view their statements as the sort of thing flaky, drug-addled, self-indulgent art kids would say.

Truce proposed.

So Schwarzenegger said "girlie men" and the Heinz Kerry said "shove it": Is this a good time to say we're even and call a truce? I know it's going to be hard, but could we please just stop this bad-word-of-the-day politics? Oh, but we were planning to have so much fun with Teresa! No,no, we can't stop now.

Politics and fashion.

There's a nice article by Cathy Horyn in today's NYT about women who pick a style and stay with it (like the socialite who decided in the late 1950s to wear blue tinted glass day and night and is still wearing them and Ivana Trump with her giant beehive). Here's the political part:

To look at Laura Bush, with her neat, unvarying hairstyle and penchant for tailored clothes, is to wonder if she subscribes to Lady Astor's line: "What a boring thing it is to try to look pretty." But unlike her predecessor in the White House, who bobbed from style to style, Mrs. Bush found a look that suited her (now mostly from Oscar de la Renta) and stuck to it. She has managed to silence the conversation about her clothes, which is the boring thing.
The brilliance of being boring! Isn't what Laura Bush does (as opposed to what Ivana and that socialite do) the old dress-for-success approach that ruled in the 80s (alongside a lot of goofy, outrageous fashions)? And isn't it what men, en masse, have been doing for over a century? Pick out a plain uniform and be done with it.

Trump calculates his "Apprentice" salary.

I can't link to it, but the front page of the Wall Street Journal today has an article about how expensive it's getting to be to put on a TV reality show. The shows used to be a way to populate the screen with human beings who didn't have to be paid much, as compared with a show that needed actors. Now Donald Trump, who only got $55,000 an episode in the first season of "The Apprentice" figures he ought to be paid $18,000,000 an episode. That math sounds like something one of the contestants on the show would come up with. Hey, it makes sense: The actors on "Friends" got $1,500,000 an episode, but there were six of them sharing the work. If one guy has to carry the whole thing, that's 1.5 times 6: $9,000,000. But "Friends" was only a half hour show. "The Apprentice" is an hour. So, 9 times 2: That's $18,000,000. Trump said, "I'm not being totally facetious." The art of the deal, in the end, got him to a six figure salary.

Bonus anecdote: Last fall, I was walking down Fifth Avenue, past Trump Tower, when I heard a woman say to a boy who was perhaps 5 years old: "Donald lives there!" The boy said: "Donald who?" Is a little kid supposed to be so aware of Donald Trump that he knows what you're talking about when you call him by his first name? Is a little kid supposed to care? I guess it's never to early to teach your kids to marvel at wealth.

Monday, July 26, 2004

A little convention simulblogging.

I don't really want to watch the phony display that is a political party convention, but others in my household have turned it on, as I sit here with my laptop. So I'm blogging by accident. Al Gore just spoke in his strange, overheated way. I say he reminds me of the kind of guy in an old movie who would be trying to marry W.C. Fields's daughter. Og Oggilby. John says you should blog that. I'm thinking, who thinks about Og Oggilby?

Next, there's a horrid version of "Proud Mary" (the Tina Turner version, not the Creedence Clearwater version), with terrible new words: "working for the people every night and day," etc.

Now, they've lined up all the women. Barbara Mikulski is yelling out the words on the teleprompter, while every other Democratic woman Senator, including Hillary Clinton, stands in a line behind her. Nearly all wear colorful pantsuits and clasp their hands in front of them. Why must people--like Mikulski right now--speaking in a large auditorium always use an oratorical yell, as if there were no microphones? It's so irritating when you're sitting at home. When women seek power, by the way, it's not about power for themselves, it's about power to make a difference, here at home ... and abroad!

Now a huge group of children, making no effort to sing in tune, sing "This Land Is Your Land." The Senate women are still on stage, because, of course, what goes with children better than women? They clap along with the kids and smile and smile.

Time for seniors now. An elderly woman doctor, piped in from Little Rock, enunciates her way through a teleprompter speech. Kerry will be great for seniors because he'll help with a prescription drug benefit.

More music, and once again it's back to the sixties: "Everyday People." At least they don't change the words this time:

I am no better and neither are you

We are the same whatever we do

You love me you hate me you know me and then

You can't figure out the bag I'm in.

Yes, that's right: you were for the war, and then you were against the war. I can't figure out the bag you're in. And what a comfort it is to go back to the good old days when we did apply our mental efforts to the determination of what bag people were in.

Whoops, now it's "Tennessee Waltz." Because we want the votes of the pre-Boomers too. Or is it the rural voters we're trying to extend a hand to now? Or is it just Tennessee, that state Al Gore so famously lost last time around?

Governor Richardson now. Another speaker who seems not to notice there is a microphone. His attempt to shout to the last row makes his voice unpleasantly harsh. John (my son) says: "It's not just the tone of his voice. He sounds like the school principal giving a speech."

A little film about Carter. Carter in the flesh emerges. He served in the military, he informs us, and I slip back into my semi-coma, as it's clear where this is going. He served under two Presidents, Truman and Eisenhower, who had themselves served in the military, and because of this they had the proper judgment about how to use the military, judgment that is sorely lacking now under Bush. And presumably under Clinton, but let's not mention that. (And was Carter for Dole?) And let's not even think about what we would say about this principle of military service if a woman candidate seeks the Presidency some time in the future. This year, the principle will be treated as an eternal verity.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, wearing a hot pink suit jacket, takes the podium, and reminds me of how everyone who has spoken tonight has delivered a sequence of stock phrases. Has there been one fresh expression? Did you know that we want an America that is stronger and more united? Did you happen to realize that we should seize the promise of the future?

They play the original Chuck Berry recording of Johnny B. Goode. Happy people in the audience dance and clap as if rock 'n roll was invented yesterday.

Tammy Baldwin! A cheer goes up in Madison. The local kids are gathered in the NItty Gritty restaurant to watch her on TV together. [Someone who attended comes in wearing a button that says: "Dated Dean, Married Kerry."] Tammy looks pretty and emotes her way through the speech like Reese Witherspoon in "Election."

Rep. Bob Menendez is speaking. Someone who wasn't in the room back when John made that comment about Gov. Richardson observes, "That guy sounds like the school principal." Menendez pronounces "nuclear" "nucular."

Glenn Close is called upon to talk about 9/11, Hollywood-style: "It all began on an ordinary, cloudless day ..." A mother of a 9/11 victim reads a speech from a piece of paper. There are shots of people looking appropriately grief-stricken in the audience. A sixteen-year-old boy plays "Amazing Grace" beautifully on the violin and everyone in the crowd holds up a cigarette lighter flame.

Rev. David Alson, who served in the military with Kerry, gives a rousing speech. He wears a striped suit that has a wicked moiré effect on TV.

Hillary Clinton arrives as a saxophone plays "New York State of Mind." She's wearing a light yellow pantsuit and the official jewelry of the Democratic Convention: a pearl choker. Blah blah blah health care blah blah drug prices blah blah stem cell research. She highlights the names of the wives of Kerry and Edwards. She talks about 9/11 in terms of its effect on her. I thought she was only going to speak for 5 minutes. I guess she's caught some of Bill's tendency to run overtime.

And out comes Bill Clinton, and the Fleetwood Mac music kicks in, so people can feel fully nostalgically thrilled to get that old 1992 feeling again. Bill looks slim and well-tanned and has a neat short haircut that has been tinted blond. (Are people noticing this? It's quite clear. You can see he's left some white at the temples, and the contrast is clear. He's gone blond!) Ah! Clinton is an immensely engaging speaker. (Is Al Gore still there, watching in some back room or back at his hotel? Is he regretting not using Clinton in his own campaign?) The most interesting thing Clinton says is that he's jealous of Edwards. He sees himself in Edwards.

Oh, enough of all this. Time to watch "The Daily Show." No, it's a rerun. We'll have to wait until tomorrow for their convention coverage. Time to shut off the TV. End of post. Really.

P.S. Thanks to Instapundit for linking to this while I was still in the middle of writing it!

More test results, withheld and revealed.

Well, Nina didn't like the state quiz because she didn't like the result. She won't say what state she came up as. This is kind of a test of how well we know Nina. What state would it bug her the most to be told that she is? Texas? Mississippi? Nebraska? Come on! I showed mine, and it had the word "bulky" in it! Anyway, she's recommending the "What book are you?" test, so I did that one. I hope it won't be too horrifying to know, I'm "Les Miserables"!

You're Les Miserables!

by Victor Hugo

One of the best known people in your community, you have become something of a phenomenon. People have sung about you, danced in your honor, created all manner of art in your name. And yet your story is one of failure and despair, with a few brief exceptions. A hopeless romantic, you'll never stop hoping that more good will come from your failings than is ever possible. Beware detectives and prison guards bearing vendettas.

Take the Book Quiz

at the Blue Pyramid.

UPDATE: Nina emails that it's not the state per se that makes her want to suppress the results of her test, but what is said about the state. I now know which state it is, but don't know how to get to page with the offending language. I tried redoing to test and guessing at what answers Nina might give, but I got Tennessee.

Ooh, cool new color tones at Technorati!

A nice change to go along with the beginning of its Democratic Convention blogging coverage. (Crazy typo just corrected: "Demoncratic.") Now, if only Technorati could get itself to work consistently and at a decent speed!

Yes, yes, why am I checking out Technorati instead of doing that editing project? I just relocated to a State Street café to do the edit. I've got my large cappucino, I'm checking out the new art exhibit, and just trying to settle in. They're playing Creedence Clearwater Revival here. "Fortunate Son." No, not some kind of Madison Bush-bashing effort to mark Day 1 of the Convention. They're playing the whole album. No, not "Willy and the Poorboys," unfortunately. Some greatest hits thing. This one. I would never have thought, back when I used to listen to "Willy and the Poorboys" in my college dorm room, that the kids in 2004 would be listening to this. Well, I'd "better run through the jungle" of my law review edit now.

UPDATE: Ah! Editing project completed. The "track changes" function on Microsoft Word really makes going over the changes in a law review article much easier! Some law reviews still send out paper copies by FedEx for the author to mark up and FedEx back. I really can't understand why. Quite aside from the trouble and expense of using FedEx instead of email, the process of clicking through the changes works to keep you focused on the task of getting through the document. Maybe it's the clicking itself that creates a pace, like a metronome.

Monday morning.

Rising to the top of my to-do list is a final edit due today, a matter of going through a Word document and clicking my approval (I hope!) of various edits and then, with blissful convenience, emailing the attachment back to the law review. This article is the written version of a presentation I gave last November at a symposium at Brooklyn Law School called "Our New Federalism? National Authority and Local Autonomy in the War on Terror." If you go to the symposium website and scroll down to the bottom and click on the first "Presentation" link, you can see your humble blogger giving a presentation called "The Vigor of Anti-Commandeering Doctrine in Times of Terror." I'm the first speaker after the introduction. There's a roundtable discussion later too. [I speak at 0:11:00 and 1:34:52.] I've never watched this video: I hope the extemporaneous version of the article is coherent. Time for me to hone the paper version. So feel free to watch that video, or look at this pretty flower:

"Ruth finally snaps George's really vertical head off."

If Djb at Television Without Pity, who wrote that lovely quote, needs to watch last night's episode of "Six Feet Under" again and again before deciding what it was all about, then so do I.

"All of her friends call her Alaska."

I took the "What state are you test?" as did Prof. Yin and the Slithery D before me. Apparently, I'm Alaska:

You're Alaska!

You're big, bulky, and extremely wild. At the same time, you're rather cold and standoffish, even a loner of sorts. Taming you may be one of the last great quests of the people who do manage to find you or even seek you out. So many of them just want to plunder you for what you have of value, but there are a few, the ones who will stick with you, that truly value your rugged remoteness. As long as no one is spilling stuff on you, you are truly beautiful.

Take the State Quiz

at the Blue Pyramid.

(For the source of the quote in the post title, go here.)


Jeremy's mom says "criminy" (and a lot of other things in a classic mother-son dialogue). My mother used to say "crimininny." I grew up thinking that was one of the main things people said when they got angry (that and "oh, fudge"). But apparently no one says "crimininny."

A car that shows its feelings

is being developed by Toyota. (Via Drudge.) I need this car, because the car I drive won't stop smiling. It's the dolphin of cars. And another thing about my car: it is the car chosen for the kooky gift shop worker on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" who had the delusion that Larry David was following her. On the other hand, if "Curb Your Enthusiasm" had an episode with a character that drove that emotive Toyota, that character would not come off well.

But at least the new Toyota would allow people who like cute cars to respond somehow to all the people out there who have deliberately selected "angry face" cars.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Round 4.

The crowd must be going nuts out at the Brown Deer Park Golf Club, as Madison native Jerry Kelly is in contention for the top spot at the U.S. Bank Championship. He's charging, shooting 4 under on the first 9 holes today. I'm sure the cheers can be heard all over the course. I've gone there and back already today, and it was not so good for my nephew in Round 4. He went 6 over par and is near the bottom of the leaderboard.

I arrived at the golf club about half an hour after his tee time, slotted my car into the space the officials with orange flags waved me to, then found no signs pointing to the gate, so I adopted the strategy of following other people. Surely, they'd be heading to the gate, right? No, it was so early that volunteer officials were arriving. They were all heading toward a tent to get their various supplies and instructions. Someone pointed me to the nearest entry point, a back entrance.

When you enter the front way, you can get almost anywhere easily because it takes you to the hub that the holes keep coming back to. Because the holes fan out away from the hub, I found myself in a random spot that had me puzzling over the course map to think up a strategy for finding Cliff. On my first try, at the 7th hole, I see Kevin Na, who is golfing alone, since there are twosomes, made of an odd number of players, and Na was the one chosen to golf alone, because he had finished last yesterday. He had to start first too. Cliff, I know, is two groups behind Na, so I try the 6th and then the 5th hole, where finally meet up with Cliff. I learn that, unfortunately, he has already bogied two holes. He birdies the 5th hole, which makes me start to feel like a good luck charm again--see here and here--but my lack of charm is thereafter soundly confirmed, as Cliff goes 6 over par today and finishes the tournament at 10 over par.

His partner, Steve Pate, didn't do much better. One of the spectators tells me Pate is nicknamed "Volcano," because of his bad temper. I notice his name, as written on the caddy's vest, is S. Pate---spate---and try to think of a more poetically satisfying water-related nickname for a guy with a bad temper: Torrent? Surge? Niagara?

But I never see an S. Pate outpouring, even though he experiences plenty of provocation. In fact, Cliff and Pate seem to be enjoying the game, like recreational players. There is plenty of talking and joking. I overhear a lot of discussion of the brawl at last night's Yankees-Red Sox game. Both men started the day at 5 over par, but at one point, Cliff, who had started out badly, has struggled back to 5 over and Pate is at 10 over. A few holes later, their scores meet at 7 over, and Cliff, who has been losing ground, claps Pate on the back and announces playfully, "Now, we got a dog fight!" That happens right after I had found myself thinking about how important the function of denial is to a human being. One always hears of denial as a bad thing, and surely it can get you into trouble, but it came upon its place in human psychology because of all of the good it can do so much of the time. Often there are hardships, and the best hope of making it through to a better time is to refrain from realizing how bad things are.

I stop at a refreshment stand and order a soda.

If you want anything to eat, it's all ready.

It's a little early for a hot dog.

Nah! Breakfast!

I guess it is kind of like a sausage ... It is a sausage.

Yeah, sausage!

The men soldier on to the bitter end, in the beautiful park, on this calm and cool Sunday morning. No tears were shed, no tempers lost. And it's on to Grand Blanc, Michigan for the Buick Open next week. Good luck!

UPDATE: And all those Jerry Kelly fans will go home unhappy too, as he bogied 3 of the last four holes and fell to 13th place. And the winner is Carlos Franco, who, according to his bio, "Grew up in poverty in Paraguay. Family of nine shared a one-room, dirt-floor home...Father was a greens superintendent and caddie at course in Asuncion...All five of his brothers became golf professionals."

Is Michael Moore like Leni Riefenstahl?

The BBC reports on the reaction to "Fahrenheit 9/11" in Poland:

Gazeta Wyborcza reviewer Jacek Szczerba called the film a "foul pamphlet".

He said it was too biased to be called a documentary and was similar to work by Nazi propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl.

But politicians opposed to the country's involvement in the US-led occupation of Iraq have urged people to see the film.

"In criticising Moore, I have to admit that he has certain abilities - Leni Riefenstahl had them too," Mr Szczerba said in his review.

"Michael Moore will not convince Poles with his film," the Rzeczpospolita newspaper said in its review.

"People are very sensitive to aggressive propaganda, especially when it pretends to be an objective documentary or a work of art."

It is heartening to see that exposure to propaganda breeds resistance to it.

There are many huge differences between Moore and Leni Riefenstahl, though. Quite aside from the fact that she was working in support of Hitler and Moore is working against Bush (and Bush is no Hitler, despite some noise to the contrary), Riefenstahl would have snorted at the lack of artistry in Moore's work. She was all about beautiful and precise visual imagery. "Triumph of the Will" does not pound at you with voiceover assertions, it aims to lure you and seduce you with sequences of images. Moore's type of propaganda is far, far easier to resist, because it is immediately and constantly apparent that he is propagandizing. That is a lot fairer to the viewer: your resistance is instantly activated. You can decide what you want to think. What Riefenstahl did was incomparable.

I highly recommend the documentary "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" to anyone who is interested in the manipulation of political opinion and anyone who is interested in the intersection of art and politics. There is also an excellent Criterion Collection DVD of "Triumph of the Will" with historian commentary, which one ought to find difficult to bring oneself to buy but is genuinely important to watch. This film is always talked about loosely, as in the Polish reviews cited above, but, as in those reviews, people don't seem to have seen it or don't remember what they saw.

The upside of 4 a.m.

The NY Times is here. It even seems a bit exciting to go outside and pick it up. (What if I accidentally lock myself out?) And Cliff's tee time is 7:14, and it takes at least an hour and a half to drive to Milwaukee. So there's time to have some coffee, even some eggs, and to read the paper (in part), before setting out and driving into the sunrise. There's time to blog and check the Sitemeter reports. I got a nice Instapundit link yesterday. Ordinarily, it seems as though almost no one reads blogs over the weekend. But get an Instapundit link, and you soon find out there are tons of people reading on the weekend. I see people are up right now and blog-reading--15 people are reading as I write this. Hi, 15 people! But they aren't necessarily reading at 4 a.m. They could be anywhere.

Bonus observation: it's halfway to Christmas.

That backyard conversation.

At 10 p.m. last night, neighbors of mine were sitting in their backyard having a loud conversation. I could overhear bits of it:

The last time I was in town … oh my God, I saw it all … I got it … what … where you come from … sophomore… Jay Leno last night … woman was 90 years old … Helloooo? … you were good … no one has ever … Layla … Layla! … Ayatollah … OH! I heard that! … Whoooo! … O'Brien, by the way …

At 4 a.m.—4 a.m.!—the conversation is still going on! No women's voices anymore. Perhaps just two men, going on and on, without reason. It's still loud enough that I can pick out a few words:

Michael Moore … he makes himself richer … the Bush family … he's rich …. scientologists … if my daughter is pregnant at 15, she's not leaving the house … what would you do? … she'd be out, riding around, with a bunch of dudes? … race had nothing to do with it … white trash …

Seriously, if I were Sharon Osbourne, I would have thrown the ham over the fence a few hours ago.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Charm, niceness assessed.

Yesterday, as noted here, I was declared a lucky charm. Today, I returned to Milwaukee for round 3 of the U.S. Bank Championship--a PGA golf tournament, though it sounds like a lot of banks having a fight!--but things did not go so well. Cliff (Kresge, my nephew) was 5 over today and fell from 39th to 75th place. My claim to charm is destroyed. The saving grace was that Cliff made a phenomenal shot in front of the big crowd at the 18th hole. After having such a bad day overall, on the 18th hole, he made his second shot into a horribly deep sand trap clear across the green from the hole. I was sitting in the bleachers, and felt awful to see him preparing to shoot: only his head and shoulders were visible above the grassy overhanging fringe of the green. How bad do things have to be? He shoots, the ball kicks up out of the trap and onto the green, rolls the length of the green and into the hole! The crowd goes wild. It was a par 5 hole, so that was an eagle!

I arrived at the golf course early today. With half an hour until tee time, I sat on a picnic bench to write some notes. One of the officials--one of the men who hold up the "quiet" signs when the golfers are shooting--comes over to me and says, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, you can't sit there." I see the bench is inside the rope, though the rope is on the ground at the moment, and it's quite close to the green. "Oh, I'm sorry," I say, embarrassed. "That's okay," he says in the extremely nice way people performing various functions around the golf course always have. People are so polite here. I'm an outsider observing the golf ethic: I have never played golf, and I am only interested in it because of my nephew. But I'm impressed by the super-niceness everyone embraces on the golf course during professional tournaments. People are quiet and maintain a thoroughly restrained manner. No one talks when the "quiet" sign is raised. In fact, there is only a little very quiet talking when you're allowed to talk. No one would ever do anything even close to, say, calling out "Miss!" when a player is shooting or laughing when a player misses an easy shot. It's just unthinkable. You never notice anyone rooting against someone. Even though it helps your guy when another guy misses a shot, you never hear the slightest indication of satisfaction. It hurts your guy when another guy makes a shot, and you never hear the slightest whisper of regret. Everyone claps when anyone makes a good shot. Go to a golf tournament, and even if you tend to think the golf manner is staid or repressed or geriatric or phony or whatever, you'll find yourself acting the same way too. You'll hold back when an official makes a little hand motion to signal that you need to wait for the players to cross one of the little bridges over a water hazard, and when the official motions to you that you may now cross the bridge, you'll say to him, "Thank you."

Clinton and British libel law.

This is really interesting:

Before publication in June of the British edition of his memoir, "My Life," Mr. Clinton authorized changes to a dozen or more passages, most of them related to Mr. Starr, apparently in an attempt to make the book and Mr. Clinton less vulnerable under Britain's tough libel laws.

The article has some examples of language changed: "continuing efforts to coerce people into making false charges against Hillary and me, and to prosecute those who refused to lie for him" is toned way down to "and to prosecute those who refused to tell him what he wanted to hear." It also has some striking info on the Chinese version of the book.

The NYT on gay marriage and jurisdiction.

Here's the NYT editorial on the jurisidiction bill discussed in the previous post. It stresses the history of jurisdiction cutback efforts:

The House's solution, stripping the federal courts of power, is one that opponents of civil rights and civil liberties have been drawn to in the past. Opponents of court-ordered busing and supporters of school prayer tried it. But even at the height of the backlash against the civil rights movement, Congress never passed a law that completely insulated a federal law from Supreme Court review.

It concludes by characterizing the current effort as a political stunt:

The House vote could be dismissed as election-year politics. It's highly unlikely the Senate will go along, and even if it did, there is good reason to believe the law would itself be declared unconstitutional. Still, even one house of Congress backing this sort of assault on the federal judiciary is an outrage.

Two UW grads in Congress fight over gay marriage and federal jurisdiction.

The Capital Times highlights two local members of Congress in the fight over gay marriage. Now the issue is federal jurisdiction:

Heated debate over a bill that would prevent federal courts from requiring states to recognize same-sex marriages ended with a showdown between two Wisconsin representatives. The bill passed the U.S. House, 233-194.

"Marriage is under attack," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls. "To say that this is an attack on the foundations of government is just plain wrong."

But Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, who led the Democratic opposition, sharply disagreed, calling the proposal "unnecessary, unconstitutional and unwise."

"We face no less than the specter of a sign posted on the courthouse door: 'You may not defend your constitutional rights in this court. You may not seek equal protection here,' " said Baldwin. "Today, the 'you' is gay and lesbian citizens. But who will be next?"

Both Baldwin and Sensenbrenner are graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School. Sensenbrenner received his JD in 1968, so he's before my time. I've been here and teaching since 1984, and the subject I've been teaching the longest is Federal Jurisdiction, where one of the topics always is the scope of Congress's power to cut back the jurisdiction of federal courts and the focus of the study is always Congress's use of the power as a covert way to cut back on constitutional rights. A central question is whether having to assert your right in state court is equivalent to having less of a right. Are state courts as good as federal courts? So much been written on this complicated question that it has a one word name: "parity."

As a Federal Jurisdiction lawprof, it was nice to hear one of our graduates invoke the parity issue:

Opponents of the Marriage Protection Act "seem to think that state courts are second-class courts," said Sensenbrenner. He recalled his years as a law student in Madison and noted that the Dane County Courthouse is just a few blocks away from the statehouse. "Those judges are perfectly capable."

Hmm ... even he didn't assert a belief in parity. "Perfectly capable" doesn't mean "just as good" or "equally expert in the interpretation of the Constitution." Imagine if you were going in for surgery and had selected an excellent surgeon, then learned he would not be available, but that there was another surgeon who was "perfectly capable." You'd be alarmed, wouldn't you?

"We're doing nothing more than what the Supreme Court itself says is proper," added Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

Oh, there will be a few open questions to debate if Congress uses the jurisdiction cutback power specifically to control the meaning of a constitutional right, but there is a well-recognized argument that this power can be used as a check on the federal courts, even as a way to achieve a substantive end--cutting back constitutional rights--that could not be achieved directly short of a constitutional amendment.

"(This bill) is a terrible mistake," Baldwin said, wondering aloud whether Republicans would use similar tactics to prevent courts from ruling on other politically polarizing issues, including abortion and the Patriot Act.

"I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg."

This argument tends to win in Congress. Even where members of Congress are unhappy with a particular court result (there was a failed attempt to cut back federal jurisdiction after the flag burning case), they get cold feet about cutting back jurisdiction, because their opponents call attention to its indirectness. If you can't do it directly, isn't it wrong to do it indirectly--even if, technically, you have the power? Maybe not, but when the issue is attacking constitutional rights (including rights that the federal courts have not yet articulated), it may look bad enough that a legislator may not want it on his record.

(I may write more on this later, but right now, I must dart off to Milwaukee again, for round 3 of the U.S. Bank Championship.)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Spectator extremes.

How strange it was to be a spectator at a huge arena rock show at 9 pm last night, then 12 hours later, at a PGA tour event. (Scroll down: I was at the Prince show in Chicago and the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.) The differences could scarcely have been more extreme!

The most obvious difference is in the sound level. The concert was played as loud as you can play without causing ear damage, and the woman screaming behind me was (from my position) even louder. At the PGA tour event, the crowd is nearly silent, to the point where I felt that the ice rumbling around in my soda cup when I took a sip was perhaps inappropriate. When a player is about to make a shot, several men hold up signs that say "QUIET" and the crowd becomes completely silent. Adding to the quiet was the breezy outdoor air and natural light, which seemed dreamlike after the crammed arena and its alternating darkness and glaring stage lights.

Another big difference is the amount of activity required to be a spectator at a golf tournament. While the concert forces you to stand nearly the entire time (because other people stand), to follow a player you care about, you have to walk the course just like him. It's quite a hike! (You can, if you want, sit in the bleachers at the 18th and the 9th holes. Or you can bring a little chair and sit wherever you want.) But it's quite demanding to attend a golf event. It's funny, because I think of golf as a low energy sport. Many people of all ages and weights play it for recreation. Many people smoke and even drink quite a lot while playing. But from the spectator's standpoint, golf is the most physically demanding sport I can think of.

The crowds were different. The average age at the Prince concert was maybe 35-40. At the golf course it was more like 50. Women outnumbered men at the Prince concert. Men greatly outnumbered women at the golf course. The racial balance was also quite different. Nearly everyone at the golf course was white. The Prince audience was a particularly diverse group.

At which event was my bag searched? Golf!

At which event is a cell phone absolutely forbidden? Golf!

At which event did a woman, a stranger, standing next to me, clasp her two hands around my upper arm more than once? The Prince concert! I'd turn around and look at her each time (of course), and she would then let go with a sort of oops-I-don't know-what-I'm-doing expression on her face. What the hell was that?

Insight into the mind of Amazon.

Amazon emailed me this:

Greetings from Alerts.

As you requested, we're notifying you of new releases matching the

following criteria:

DVD and Video with "Cary Grant" in the Actor's name. ...


Publication date: July 20, 2004 ...

We hope you enjoyed receiving this message.

Well, first, I did enjoy receiving this message. It was quite amusing, in fact. Cary Grant was in Dracula? I click on the "more info" link and see it's that 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula--the one with Gary Oldman as Dracula. Winona Ryder is in it. I saw that movie, and even if I hadn't, I'd be damn skeptical that Cary Grant was in it. I click on the link to see the full cast of the movie. I search the page for "Grant" and then "Cary" and find the actors Richard E. Grant and actor Cary Elwes. Amazon isn't quite as smart as we might think.

Why a single victory over KenJen

should be deemed more impressive than KenJen's entire string of victories--perfectly explained by our public sociologist.

Lucky charm services performed.

I'm back from the U.S. Bank Championship PGA golf tournament. Despite the late concert and drive back from Chicago last night, I got up at 6:30, and after a brief blog break and a check of the driving directions, I mixed up a cup of coffee and milk, got in the car and drove to Milwaukee to the Brown Deer Park golf club to watch my nephew Cliff Kresge play his second round of golf. The tee time was 7:54 and there was no way I'd make it to the 10th hole (where he started) in time. I arrived at a quarter after 9 and calculated that he'd go at a rate of about one hole every 15 minutes, so I hurried along to the 14th hole. It was not his threesome, but I had a program listing the threesomes by tee time, so, based on who was playing 14, I was able to figure out which direction to go and I finally found him at 16. The sign had a red three for Cliff and I had to ask a spectator (who turned out to be a friend of Cliff's and a Madison lawyer) whether red meant under or over par. It meant over, so things were not looking good. [UPDATE: I've got red and black reversed in the previous two sentences. I would have thought red indicates a deficit, like the red ink used for debt in accounting. But in golf the negative numbers are good. So should red ink be used for under par or over par? It's confusing! But it's black for + and red for - , just as in accounting. I'll try to remember this time.]

Yesterday, Cliff was 2 over par, and the prediction was that the cut would be at even par (i.e., today would be his last day unless he made it to even). I later found out that he had bogied the first two holes and birdied the third. That had put him at 3 over. He needed to make up three shots (at least) in the 13 holes left to play at the point when I caught up to him. He proceeded to eagle on the 18th hole and then birdie on 2 and 6, ending the day at 1 under par. So he played at 4 under during the 13 holes when I was watching. Afterwards, the caddy came up to me and told me I was his "lucky charm," and then Cliff came out of the little armored building the players where the players officially verify their scores and said the same thing: I was his lucky charm. That was pretty nice.

"Dance, Music, Chicago, Romance."

Did I make it down to Chicago last night to see the big Prince concert? Yes!

Did Prince play the three songs we were talking about in the car drive down? Yes!

And the songs were? "When Doves Cry," "Sign O' the Times," and "Pop Life."

When Prince sang "When Doves Cry" and got to the line "Animals strike curious poses," which might be your all time favorite Prince line, did Prince in fact strike a curious, animal pose? Yes!

And the pose was? I'd identify the animal pose in question as a bit of a gibbon-style position with arms extended outward, elbows bent ceiling-ward, then with the fingertips pointed down.

So, excellent concert (other than the seemingly inevitable blurry speakers of a big arena), but I'm not going to attempt to describe it--for two reasons. First, it's incredibly difficult to write well about music. (I greatly admire the people who are able to do it.) And second, I've got to jump in the car this morning and drive to Milwaukee, to the Brown Deer Park Golf Club, for day 2 of the U.S. Bank Championship. I was going to wait until the weekend, what with the late night last night, but I need to give some support to my nephew Cliff Kresge who has a ways to go today to make the cut. So watch the leaderboard and root for Cliff. That's what I will be doing. His tee time is 7:54 and I'm never going to get there in time, so I've got to move. Maybe I'll have some golf stories later.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Is this the way to defend abortion rights?

Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to write a strong op-ed in favor of abortion rights. Her final paragraph is this:

Choice can be easy, as it was in my case, or truly agonizing. But assuming the fetal position is not an appropriate response. Sartre called this "bad faith," meaning something worse than duplicity: a fundamental denial of freedom and the responsibility that it entails. Time to take your thumbs out of your mouths, ladies, and speak up for your rights. The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away.
Interesting imagery there. You wouldn't want to "assume the fetal position," of course, because you'll be quite vulnerable to people who would like to take away your rights--like a fetus.

Okay, but let's look at the rest of this piece and examine the tone and see how helpful it is. Ehrenreich is irked that so many women, even those who support abortion rights, still feel a lot of ambivalence about abortion. She complains that the HBO show "'Six Feet Under,' which is fearless in its treatment of sexual diversity, burdens abortion with terrible guilt." She puts the words "liberal media" in quotes as she wonders why they're not helping the cause of abortion rights by portraying abortion as an "acceptable option." She complains about the women who have abortions because of a health defect in the fetus and think they are superior to women who have abortions for economic reasons.

It would be unfair, though, to pick on the women who are in denial about aborting "defective" fetuses. At least 30 million American women have had abortions since the procedure was legalized, mostly for the kind of reasons that anti-abortion people dismiss as "convenience" - a number that amounts to about 40 percent of American women. Yet in a 2003 survey conducted by a pro-choice group, only 30 percent of women were unambivalently pro-choice, suggesting that there may be an appalling number of women who are willing to deny others the right that they once freely exercised themselves.
Her point is: people need to be honest. If you would have wanted abortion as an option when you were very young or in economic need or if pre-natal tests showed the fetus suffered from a serious health problem, you ought to think hard before denying that option to other people. It's much easier to think about abortion in the abstract and to adopt a severe position when you are not facing the occasion for making the decision. This is an important point, but it doesn't go as far as Ehrenreich thinks it does. It shows why the right to an abortion ought to remain intact, as a decision made by the individual who is facing the pregnancy. But it doesn't show why people should refrain from making moral judgments about abortion. It doesn't justify telling people to grow up and start promoting abortion as a guilt-free option. And there is nothing "dishonest" (to use Ehrenreich's word) about having an abortion and also believing it was wrong.

The ambivalence that women maintain about abortion ought to be seen as a reason to support abortion rights. If women had no qualms and misgivings and serious moral struggles about abortion, it would make more sense for government to deny them the right to choose. It is precisely because women experience torment over choosing abortion that people who feel abortion is wrong can reject the paternalism of an abortion ban. Supporters of abortion rights should not try to sanitize the difficulty and the guilt out of abortion. It is the very difficulty of the decision that makes it the domain of the individual.

And by the way, let me make a side point about Ehrenreich's use of the word "grubby":

I was a dollar-a-word freelancer and my husband a warehouse worker, so it was all we could do to support the existing children at a grubby lower-middle-class level.
"Grubby" means:

1. Dirty; grimy: grubby old work clothes. 2. Infested with grubs. 3. Contemptible; despicable: has a grubby way of treating others.
Being lower middle class doesn't make you dirty or despicable.

UPDATE: Prof. Bainbridge quotes my paragraph that ends "It is the very difficulty of the decision that makes it the domain of the individual" and asks: "And how would you differentiate infanticide or euthanasia of the elderly, both of which presumably present the actors with moral qualms too? Should they be in the realm of the individual, as well?" I understand and respect the pro-life position on this issue, even though I don't think abortion should be re-criminalized. Those who are strongly pro-life, like Prof. Bainbridge are similar to Barbara Ehrenreich in their exasperation with the large number of people who take a middle position. Most Democratic candidates take the middle position too: They say abortion is wrong but should be legal. In the case of candidates, one has to wonder whether they have a reason for their position other than the desire for political gain. But what about all these other people in the middle? Are they just not thinking clearly? Ehrenreich thinks these people ought to abandon the idea that abortion is wrong, because if they don't, abortion rights could be lost. Bainbridge thinks these people ought to face up to the consequences of their perception that abortion is wrong and make it illegal.

I am trying to say something about the middle position, which views abortion as wrong, but wants it to remain legal. Surely, making it illegal won't make it go away. What is the best way to reduce the number of abortions? I believe the most important thing is to foster moral decisionmaking in the individual. You could impose a lot of rules from above, which people would resent and look for ways to break. Abortions would continue, of course, and those denied legal abortions would feel defiant and oppressed about it. Women would feel outraged that the government was intruding its will into the interior of their bodies. I would prefer to see pro-lifers reorient themselves and, instead of working to force women to carry out their pregnancies, work to convince women to see the reason to choose to do so.

As to how I would differentiate infanticide or euthanasia of the elderly: Pregnancy is a great physical intrusion on the body of a single individual. If a decision is to be made, it is best to leave the decision with the person whose body is being subjected to that intrusion.

ADDED ON 7/28: No response from Prof. Bainbridge. Or, really, from anyone who stakes out the extreme ends on the abortion issues. I maintain a semi-fantasy that I'm talking to everyone across the whole spectrum of positions on this issue that people are so passionate about, yet I realize that the people at the extreme ends will almost surely stay exactly where they are. Realistically, I know I can only hope to reach people in the middle on the abortion issue, but I think this is where most people find themselves. We can't help referring to the people who speak from the extremes, but perhaps we can't seriously expect them to engage with our responses to them. LATER THE SAME DAY: Prof. Bainbridge has a response up now.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Patrick Brown (in the Psychology Dept. at University of Western Ontario) emails, raising questions about the 30 million/30 percent/40 percent numbers Ehrenreich uses as a basis for her analysis:

I was struck by Ehrenreich's comparison of a snapshot with a running total. The snapshot is a 2003 survey that suggests 30% of women in the US were unambivalently pro-choice. The running total produces the proportion of women who have had abortions since the procedure was legalized 30 years ago.

The problem with this method is that the pool of women who are "eligible" to have abortions was not constant over those 30 years - some moved out of the pool and others moved in. This matters when you're calculating the proportion. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests the following. Assume Ehrenreich's claim that "30 million = 40% of American women" is true at any one time. Then 100% would be 75 million. (Since the 2001 census showed 107 million women lived in America, I assume that the 75 million refers to women of child-bearing age.) Now, suppose that lifespan = 80 years so that each year 1/80th of women leave and another 1/80th join the pool (I think that will serve as an approximation). That's about 940,000 per year. Over 30 years, that's 28 million. Added to the 75 million base, that means that the pool of women who might have had abortions over the past 30 years has included 103 million individuals. If this logic is roughly correct, then we get a value for the proportion of eligible women who actually had abortions that is very close to the proportion in the survey who are unambivalently pro-choice: 30/103 = 29.1%.

So it seems to me that Ehrenreich's claims were not only elitist, they were wrong arithmetically, too.

I asked our blogging sociologist Jeremy Freese about the math, and he wrote back:

It's a smart point, but it's hard to know. There is too much missing information in Ehrenreich's column to figure out what's going on with that number so precisely. As he notes, thirty million is not 40% of American women. It's fairly close to 40% of women aged, say, 14 to 50 today. You could count who was in the abortion window over the past 30 years as abortion-eligible, but that's a little misleading, as some of those women were only in that window for a short period of time in their mid-to-late 30's. For that matter, some substantial number of the women who have not had abortions yet will have abortions.

The bottom line is that Ehrenreich's stat is impossible to figure out without knowing more about its provenance, since she can't literally mean all American women. I don't know where the numerator of her statistic (the 30 million) comes from, either. Which is not to say that it's wrong. Her abortion attitudes figure should be adjusted to the same population, whatever it is, although I don't know if it would make any difference. But there are undeniably a lot of unambivalently pro-choice women who have never had abortions, so this is all kind of moot anyway: if there were 30% of women in-some-population who were unambivalently pro-choice and 30% who had abortions, this would not indicate the absence of hypocrisy, just that the number of unambivalently-pro-choice-no-abortion-women was equal to the number of non-unambivalently-pro-choice-women-who-have-had-abortions.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Several emailers have noted that the assertion that "[a]t least 30 million American women have had abortions since the procedure was legalized" seems not to take into account that some women have had more than one abortion. I assume that medical records are private enough that we don't know the actual number of women who have had at least one abortion. I haven't tried to research the abortion statistics, but I have a feeling that a lot of assertions about statistics are made in the arguments for and against abortion. This would be a good subject for a "How to Lie With Statistics" sort of article, I think. Email me if you know of one.