Thursday, September 30, 2004

Who won?

When I was nine years old, I watched Nixon and Kennedy debate. I barely had any understanding of what anything was at that time in my life. I remember reading newspaper headlines and puzzling over who this Krushchev was. Somehow I thought Tchaikovsky was the same person. Basically, nothing political made any sense to me. But I got the feeling that the debate was important. My parents--who almost never watched television--watched it intently. So I watched too. Somehow I thought I understood it enough to see that it was a competition, and when it was over, I asked my parents, "Who won?" With their usual amusement at the inadequate comprehension of children, they informed me--making me embarrassed for thinking in such childish terms--that it wasn't the sort of thing that anyone actually won. I hated feeling embarrassed and resolved to try to figure out what the hell the world was all about. Politics was something these adults had a handle on, and I had better get up to speed if I wanted to avoid the dreaded, humiliating condition of embarrassment. Forty-four years later, I hear other people going on and on about who won the presidential debate, and I wish I could send a message back to my nine-year-old self, that lots of people, plenty of whom are adults, think it is a game to be won or lost. I can't do that, but I can turn off the horrible spinning that follows the debate, the embarrassing assertions of partisans hoping to to affect the minds of those who might somehow find themselves in the condition that I found myself in when I was nine years old and looked to the nearest authority figures to tell me who won.

UPDATE; Rereading this post Friday morning miraculously revived an old memory. "Somehow I thought I understood it enough to see that it was a competition," I wrote. But now I remember why I thought that. It wasn't that I was able to perceive that the two men were in a winnable competition, it was that I had heard the commentators speaking over and over about who would win, just as commentators spoke about last night's debate. I aspired to grown-up understanding when I was nine, and I especially wanted my parents to give me credit for it. So I thought I was pretty precocious when I said "Who won?" I was saying what the people on TV were saying, feeling certain that I was speaking like an adult. My parents' instant rejection of my attempt at adulthood was crushing, and I realized that this adulthood business was going to be hard: there was some discrepancy between what the people on TV were saying and what the adults I depended on understood to be true. Embarrassed and bewildered as I was at the time, I can see now that they were teaching a lesson about consuming media that remains useful to this day.

My take on the big debate.

I watched the big debate live, without benefit of TiVo pausing, and that means I can't give the impression of simulblogging here. I will admit that I nodded off at one point, somewhere right before the closing statements. I will say that I was watching along with one of my sons, who wanted to watch the post-show on MSNBC with Chris Matthews, and that when I saw Ron Reagan Jr. was one of the commentators, I grabbed my laptop and ran out of the room. I put on FoxNews in my bedroom, and I ran a hot bath. I listened to a bit of Brit Hume's post-show as I took that hot bath and tried to think if I had anything helpful to add to the whirlpool of post-debate spin.

I thought both men held their ground. Senator Kerry put on a more polished show, while Bush seemed to struggle to contain his passion. At times, when Kerry spoke and the camera showed President Bush, I thought Bush looked truly incensed. I said, more than once, "Bush looks like he hates Kerry." I didn't listen to enough of the post-debate spin to hear how much people may have said that Kerry threw Bush off; but to me, Bush seemed to be overwhelmed with feeling, maybe even haunted by knowledge of what he had been through and resentful that Kerry would challenge him. Bush often paused for a disturbingly long time while speaking. Kerry misspoke and bumbled at times, but never, I think, because of any real feeling that gripped him. Kerry seemed aware that this was his big chance to make a move toward victory, and he did what he needed to do. Bush seemed put upon, genuinely irritated that he should be asked to account for himself. Kerry seemed to engage with the opportunity presented by the debate, while Bush seemed more annoyed that his hard work these last four years had not been understood and appreciated.

The nerd's brain.

A nice, nerdy girl is tested for coolness by brain-mapping scientists, told she's somehow especially cool, but later they call her back and say, no, really she's not. Though the heading of the article gushes about brain studies--"why brain mapping is the new trend spotting (and the hottest trend in brain science)"--the author's conclusion feels quite different:

Even in carefully focused studies, however, there's still the problem of what is actually being seen. For example, no one really knows what it means when the amygdala - the brain's emotion processor and one of its most studied regions - lights up. Is it recognizing fear, anger, or happiness? Or deciding how to respond to it? Or is it merely deciding whether to respond? Despite the new fMRI technology, cognitive function remains a black box. At this point, researchers can't even say for certain whether the amygdala is activated primarily by aggression or equally by emotions like despair and joy.

The sentimentalists among us may rejoice that the human mind is still a mystery.

Side point: If you cover yourself with enough tattoos, you may not be able to have an MRI, because "tattoo ink contains trace amounts of metal, which can act like tiny lightning rods in the strong magnetic field of an MRI machine."

Surprising student email of the day.

I have an album coming out in the Spring, and I sampled part of your Fed Jur lectures.

Would you like to hear? The album will be released in both Europe and the US. A few majors have approached us, but we have declined.

Permission to quote the email was granted, along with the request to plug the group's name: Cougar.

Restaurants and WiFi.

There's a restaurant I like on State Street where sometimes I've picked up a WiFi signal and sometimes not. Today, I opened my laptop and checked for the signal before ordering. If I had not picked up a signal, I would have gone to the place next door, which always has WiFi.

The rule is: casual restaurants need to have WiFi.

Justices' names to appear in the oral argument transcripts.

It's about time. Since we're already listening to recordings of the arguments, the identity of the Justices is hardly disguised. It was sometimes diverting to try to recognize the voices. I could always tell O'Connor, Ginsburg, Rehnquist, Breyer, and (if only he ever spoke) Thomas. But Scalia, Souter, and Stevens were a little hard to tell apart from the voice alone.

Kerry fades out of Wisconsin.

Slate's "Election Scorecard" map shows Wisconsin in solid red now. And here's the local paper's coverage of Kerry taking his leave of Wisconsin yesterday:

His mid-afternoon departure Wednesday drew fans and detractors along the 50-plus mile motorcade route from the resort to the airport. About 100 people cheered him at an intersection in Dodgeville, and supporters near a farm implement dealer along Highway 18-151 in Iowa County held up three large signs that said "DeBate," "DeBunk" and "duh- Bush."

Elsewhere, a farmer gave the motorcade a double-fisted middle-finger salute, and on Stoughton Road in Madison, the motorcade passed the local headquarters of the Bush campaign, where a Bush supporter was dressed like a giant flip- flop. Kerry has been accused of changing his positions on issues.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Gordon Smith stopped in at Shubert's, the folksy Mount Horeb restaurant where Kerry did a photo op on Sunday. Gordon is struck by the framed photograph, dating back to 1960, of John Kennedy [visiting Shubert's], which is hanging just inside the front entrance:

Conspicuously absent from the restaurant was any evidence of Kerry's recent visit. Not even a photo from Monday's newspaper. As I paid my bill, I prompted the owner for some thoughts on Kerry's visit. He responded with obvious disdain, "Lots of television cameras."

When a local business owner who's maintained a shrine to Kennedy for 44 years feels no glow from your visit there two days ago, you've got a problem.

The death of a voice.

How many, many hours we spent listening to the voice of Scott Muni. He was there in the early and mid 1960s, alongside Cousin Brucie, on WABC-AM, playing the Top 40 singles of that era, pop songs that can never be equaled. Looking back, I feel lucky to have been an adolescent in those days and to have those songs playing in my head for a lifetime. In 1966, he was the voice of the new FM radio on WOR-FM and then WNEW-FM, back when terms like "progressive radio" and "underground radio" were in vogue.

From the NYT obituary:

"Scott was the heart and soul of the place," said Dennis Elsas, who was hired by Mr. Muni and became WNEW-FM's music director; he is now a disc jockey at WFUV. "We were all kind of making it up as we went along."

Musicians were constant guests at the station. During one interview, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin collapsed in mid-sentence; Mr. Muni played an album, revived the guitarist and finished the interview with Mr. Page lying on the floor. In another interview, Mr. Muni played cards on the air with members of the Grateful Dead.
Thanks for everything, Scott!

Race, anti-Semitism, and sex on "The Apprentice."

"The Apprentice" last night began with a gesture at solving what some perceive as the show's race problem, by running a long clip of Kevin (the only remaining black contestant) mildly ranting at the women when they return from the boardroom, where last week they achieved the end of their conspiracy to oust Stacie J. (the other black contestant this season). Kevin does not mention race, but since he's black, it quite clearly seems intended that we should read his scolding as criticizing the women's team for racism. But, neatly, the show does not have to take any responsibility for actually calling anyone racist.

Later in the show, Jennifer is fired, after doing any number of stupid and irritating things. Because Jennifer has made herself such an obvious target for firing, Trump fires her without ever calling on Stacy R. to tell the tale of how Jennifer detested two elderly women customers at the team's restaurant and repeatedly called them "two old Jewish women." Stacy R., who identifies herself as Jewish, is righteously irked, and when Jennifer, this week's team leader, picks Stacy R. as one of the two women who will join her in the boardroom in the end, we see Stacy R. reacting with a knowing smile and a little nod. During the commercial, we anticipate Stacy R. accusing Jennifer of anti-Semitism, but we never do hear it. I'm sure it was said, but edited out. Maybe we'll hear it if there's an extended boardroom show over the weekend, but I'm thinking the show's producers think they must walk a fine line, showing the antagonism among the contestants, including some behavior we may easily interpret as racist or anti-Semitic and allowing us to see the offenders punished in some way, but editing out the inflammatory labels.

Meanwhile, the show's woman problem rages on. Here's Prof. Yin's take. Miss Alli shows no pity as she scoffs that the women are "sure to have an easy time ... now that the bothersome troublemaker has been banished." The women are an awful group who seem to beg us to think all sorts of bad things about women. The men are a much more appealing group. On the positive side, at least it was the men this week, not the women, who decided to use their sexuality to win. Well, maybe the women did it a bit too, by wearing little black dresses as they milled around in the restaurant, looking like extras in a Robert Palmer video on a break. (I love the way the men all agreed who among them was the best looking. Would women ever do that?)

Oh, the poor clueless women! They are trying to use their prettiness the way the women last season did quite successfully. And they all dressed alike this time, and that worked so well for the boys the time they all put on bow ties and sold ice cream. Their real problem is a complete failure ever to come up with a single creative idea or even to notice that they should. Then they resort to the short-term strategy of attacking each other to get someone fired, which only makes things uglier when they go back to their rooms. Next week, Pamela, the woman who early on was sent to the men's team, is reunited with the women. Hopefully, she'll change the dynamic in some exciting new way--maybe by pointing out exactly how awful they all are.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A new TV arrives, DVDs are deployed to test its quality, and, a propos of Kerry's new tan, the subject of disease perceived as health is discussed.

As noted a while back, my old television gave up on the color red, and I ordered a Sony HDTV. Waiting for it to be delivered, I kept watching my old TV, where everything was green and yellow and blue and gray and black. When I wrote about Kerry's new orange spray-on tan yesterday, an emailer reminded me that I wouldn't be seeing it on my TV. That would have been true, except that my new TV arrived today, via Sony's free premium delivery service, which entailed two nice young men taking the set out of the box outside, bringing just the set in, and putting it in its place in the big room. They did a great job delivering the TV, even introducing themselves and shaking my hand after I answered the door. They didn't have to, but they did take out my big old broken TV, which became a topic of conversation:

Does it work?

It just doesn't have any red. It might be good for someone who only likes very old things, things in black and white.

Or colorblind. My uncle is colorblind.

I think the TV could help noncolorblind people see what it's like to be colorblind.

I can test that on my uncle -- if he's the right kind of colorblind.
Assuming there is a form of colorblindness where you just can't see red, my TV would let a normally sighted person see what that was like. And I assume for that colorblind person, my TV would be the same as a color TV. But it's hard to think what kind of an impression my bad TV would have on someone with the more common sort of red-green colorblindness, where red and green look the same. I think if I were partially colorblind, I might prefer to turn the color off altogether and watch in black and white. Yet I did not do that with my bad TV. For some strange reason I preferred the wrong color, even though a black and white picture was more aesthetic.

When I got all the stray cords hooked up into reasonable places in the back of the new TV--ignoring for now the weird new things like card slots--I wanted to test the picture with a DVD. I picked "Apocalypse Now" and got all mesmerized. Chris took over and tested the TV with DVDs of:

"The Birds"

"8 1/2"

"Moulin Rouge"


"Ghost World"

"The Two Towers"

"Mulholland Drive"

"Tori Amos: Welcome to Sunny Florida"

"The Sopranos"


"The Cranes Are Flying"

"Spirited Away"

"Blue Velvet"
The picture was pronounced spectacular. The built-in sound--carefully checked in the engine room scene in "Titanic," right after the iceberg is hit--was declared superior to the separate speakers we used with the old TV.

So--in short--I will be monitoring the debate tomorrow night in thoroughly beautiful color and excellent sound.

And on that subject of Kerry's getting overtanned for debate purposes: Kerry, like Gore before him, seems to think it's good to be tan for a debate, a belief can be traced to Kennedy's appearance in the 1960 debate. But we know now that Kennedy's tan appearance was in fact a symptom of his Addison's Disease.

The subject of disease perceived as health is an interesting one. Here are three other examples:

1. I remember reading an essay some years ago written by a woman who had been suffering from cancer, who heard many people tell her how great she looked. They were only seeing that she had lost a lot of weight. (Send a link to this essay if you know it.)

2. There is a terrific essay by Oliver Sacks in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" (one of my favorite books), about a 90-year-old woman with syphillis, which she called Cupid's Disease, who enjoyed the lively, tipsy way it made her feel and did not want to be cured: "I know it's an illness but it's made me feel well."

3. In the Tennessee Williams play "The Glass Menagerie," the character Amanda makes having malaria sound fun: "I had malaria fever all that Spring ... just enough to make me restless and giddy."

NYT pronounces UW lawprof "wiry."

It's R.W. Apple writing about the Wisconsin Farmers' Market. The wiry lawprof in question comments on the appellation here.

The last time the NYT called anybody "wiry," it was the cinematographer of film director Wong Kar-wai:

Christopher Doyle, a wiry 50-year-old with bright blue eyes and a shock of mad-scientist hair, simultaneously zoomed out and moved the camera for a kind of reverse corkscrew effect, from closer in to a stopping-point near the ceiling.
That's how wiry cinematographers behave. Nina writes compellingly--here--about why Poles blog so much (twice as much as Americans). Go read that and find out what drives wiry Polish, female, lawprof bloggers.

Links in high places, where readers don't seem to be the click-through type.

Even though I check Sitemeter a lot and see who's linking to this blog and sending traffic this way, I very well might not have noticed that the official Bush campaign blog linked to my "How Kerry lost me" post yesterday. It just didn't produce much traffic. Links yesterday from Volokh and Allahpundit brought more. The most recent link from Instapundit brought much more. Just being the top link on Vodkapundit's "top shelf" brings seems to bring more on a given day. So what's going on? Either few people read the official campaign blog, or the people who do just aren't the click-through type.

Let's assume the people who read the official Bush campaign blog just aren't the type who click through to read the original. My anti-Bush editor snipes: Of course they're not the click-through type! They like their big-picture, incurious George because they too want to be reassured in thinking what they already think and don't want to be troubled by disturbing details!

In fact, the Bush blog chose two paragraphs of my long post and set these out in full. The intro to the first paragraph quoted is:

For months, blogger Ann Althouse was an undecided Wisconsin voter. In this post carefully weighing her decision in November, she reaches the conclusion that John Kerry is simply the wrong choice. First, she remembers being impressed with the Republican National Convention, which offered substance and an agenda for winning the war on terror ...
So the Bush blog reader knows I'm a woman, previously undecided, and from Wisconsin. They don't know I'm a law professor. I just seem to be one of those women voters in a swing state everyone has been talking about. Maybe a soccer mom turned security mom. Later, the Bush blog refers to me as "Ann," not Ms. Althouse or, properly, Professor Althouse.

Was my post "carefully weighing [my] decision ... [and] reach[ing] the conclusion that John Kerry is simply the wrong choice"? No! My post was conceding I'd been expressing a lot of hostility to Kerry lately, then going back over old posts to trace the origin and history of my discontent. I wasn't weighing my decision like a generic voter, I was trying to understand myself and using the resource of my own old blog posts.

Was the first thing I wrote about the Republican National Convention? No, it was the twelfth thing I wrote about!

Did the convention impress me because it "offered substance and an agenda for winning the war on terror"? I never said that. I wrote about being impressed by the passion and conviction about national security as expressed by Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Ron Silver.

The Bush blog quotes only one other paragraph of my post, which was over 25 paragraphs long. I don't mind linkers picking out the paragraphs they like, but if people don't click through and read, they aren't going to see whether those quotes were taken out of context.

UPDATE: Thanks to all who emailed to say they didn't click through from the Bush blog because they had already seen the post as regular readers of this blog. Regularly returning readers are ideal, I think all bloggers would agree.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


I've signed up for Blogads. So here's your big chance to be the first to advertise on Althouse!

Nader off the Wisconsin ballot. reports:

A Dane County judge Tuesday kicked Ralph Nader off the Wisconsin ballot, prompting an immediate appeal by the independent presidential candidate with the state Supreme Court. While Judge Michael Nowakowski ruled Nader should be left off the ballot, he also prohibited the Elections Board from sending county clerks a certified list of presidential candidates until Wednesday afternoon to give Nader’s backers a chance to appeal. There was no immediate word from the Supreme Court whether it would accept the case. ... State Democrats sued to kick Nader off the ballot, claiming he had failed to comply with state law that requires presidential candidates to list 10 electors on their nomination papers. The statute says the electors shall include one from each congressional district and two at-large. One of Nader’s electors listed as living in one congressional district actually lives in another. Electors cast ballots in the electoral college to decide the presidential race.
Well, what's the excuse for making a mistake like that? I know the Nader people worked hard to get him on the ballot, but what can you do? A rule's a rule! (I'm no expert on this law, and maybe there's a pro-Nader angle I'm missing. Email me info you know.)

UPDATE, OCTOBER 1: For Wisconsin, change "a rule's a rule" to "close enough."

The "Bush volunteered for Vietnam" story.

The Columnist Manifesto has decided that new reports that Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam do not require that he reconsider his take on Bush the "draft dodger." Why? He just doesn't believe it:

Why hasn’t the White House previously offered us the assertion that Bush “volunteered for Vietnam?” I mean, what, did Bush simply forget about that episode? Or has he been silent about it because he realizes it’s kind of lame to say, “Gee, I asked about going to Vietnam once, but they wouldn't let me”? This isn’t like Winston Churchill asking General Eisenhower’s permission to ride out with the Normandy assault troops on D-Day. I’m sure if Bush really wanted to go to Vietnam, he could have pulled some of the very same strings he used to get into the Texas Air National Guard in the first place and gotten himself over there.

Or has the “Bush volunteered” story not come up before because (like the Kerry didn’t deserve his medal’s story) it’s untrue?

But it's never been established that Bush pulled strings to get into the TANG. One could just as well read his failure to get assigned to Vietnam as evidence that he did not rely on string-pulling to get what he wanted. As to why Bush never raised this point before: Perhaps it's because Bush has never used his military service for self-promotion. You might say that's because he has little to brag about, and surely volunteering to go to Vietnam when you don't meet the eligibility requirements is not an especially strong basis for bragging. But generally, those who've served in the military refrain from using their service for self-promotion, don't they? And one reason the Swift Boat Vets came forward when they did was that Kerry began to use his claim of military heroism as the centerpiece of his campaign.

Personally, I'm willing to accept Kerry's medals as the final judgment about what Kerry did in Vietnam and Bush's honorable discharge as the final judgment that Bush fulfilled his duty to the Guard. I'd rather talk about more relevant things. Kerry supporters like The Columnist Manifesto can't let go of this argument that the man who has fought in a war is better prepared to make decisions about war. But you know damn well they'd rather have Bill Clinton.

UPDATE: An emailer sends this link to a 1999 interview with Bush that appeared in the Washington Post. The information about Bush volunteering to go to Vietnam is clearly stated there. If it was untrue, I feel quite sure someone would have skewered him about it by now. The interview is also interesting for its clear statement of Bush's intent to become a pilot:

Why did you do the Guard instead of active duty?

I was guaranteed a pilot slot. I found out – as I'm sure you've researched all this out – they were looking for pilots. I think there were five or six pilot slots available. I was the third slot in the Texas Guard. Had that not worked out no telling where I would have been. I would have ended up in the military somewhere.

You meant to join the Guard when you took the pilot's qualifying test?

Or the regular Air Force. I was just looking for options. I didn't have a strategy. I knew I was going in the military. I wasn't sure what branch I was going into. I took the test with an eye obviously on the Guard slot, but had that not worked out I wouldn't have gotten into pilot training. I remember going to Air Force recruiting station and getting the Air Force recruiting material to be a pilot. Then I went home and I learned there was a pilot slot available.

The emailer notes:

George Bush has a father that served as a Navy pilot during WWII. I also had a father that served in the Navy during WWII. I think that, to a certain extent and at some level, both George Bush and I wanted to be our fathers. If you were a boy during the fifties and early sixties, and loved and respected your father, this was a very normal thing. My father was not in Naval aviation. So the thought of flying, while appealing, was not at the top of my list of things to do. I tried to be a Naval officer, but they wouldn't take me since I wear glasses.

George H.W. Bush was a Naval combat pilot. George W. Bush would have heard stories about that all his life. That, I think, is why wanted to be a pilot. Getting to be a military pilot then was not easy. There were just so many slots. The active duty pilot slots filled up quickly with military academy and ROTC graduates.

Based upon what I remember from the times, I could easily believe that there were no available fixed-wing flight school slots for active duty officers when George Bush was looking for one. The Guard, however, could easily have been another story. Much has been said about George Bush jumping the queue of 150 other people to get a slot in the TANG. This has been used as proof that he used favoritism to get into the Guard. There were 150 people on "the list" (as if there were only one list) and George Bush got into flight school. QED...

What has not been said is that few, if any, of those 150 people would have been applying for pilot slots. A non-flying slot would have meant, at most, about a six months commitment of time. About six to nine weeks in basic training followed by another six to ten weeks in a technical school. Then back to your home unit for some on-the-job training and then release from active duty. For the next four to six years, it's just one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Get your 50 points a year and then get out.

A pilot slot was a much different story. A one and a half to two year commitment to active duty was the norm. That's just about the same time commitment as for those who were drafted. At least the first year to year and a half would have been spent away from your Guard unit. You would spend that time on an Air Force base, wearing an Air Force uniform, and doing Air Force things with Air Force people. You might even think you were in the Air Force during that period.

Much has been made of George Bush's claim (and this is strictly hearsay since I never heard him say it) that he served "in the Air Force" when he was actually "only in the Guard." Well, as someone who was "there" at the time, I think they would have had trouble telling him apart from the "real Air Force" during his time in flight school. "If it looks like [an Air Force officer], and walks like [an Air Force officer]..."

Going orange for the debate.

So John Kerry seems to have gotten one of those dark spray-on tans. He's done this before. Back when he was on "Meet the Press" in April, Chris commented:

He has the Charlize Theron tan. You realize it's like a major Hollywood fad. All the big Hollywood celebrities, especially the female celebrities, are getting an orange tan. Britney Spears got it. ...He's gone way too far. I mean, it's hard to even take him seriously."

Well, he's gone and done it again!

You just know it's his debate look. Whenever presidential debate season comes around, the one thing you can count on pundits to talk about is the 1960 debate when Kennedy looked tanned and rested and Nixon looked pasty white. There are any number of reasons why Kennedy was more appealing on television than Nixon, but the one thing Kennedy had that anyone else can get is a tan.

Other more recent debate memories have faded. Why don't Kerry's people remember how Al Gore was ridiculed for looking way too orange in the first debate in 2000? Here's what Camille Paglia had to say back then (this link and those that follow are to Salon, so prepare for an ad if you click):

As for Al Gore, if I had had any doubt about whether he deserves my vote, he managed to run right over it with his out-of-control, ham-laden 18-wheeler. What a loathsome, smug, preening, juvenile character! The supposedly great debater babbled out of turn; snickered, snorted and sneered; panted and sighed like a bellows; and rocked to and fro and ripped paper like a patient in a mental ward. And Gore looked positively repellent with his dark mat of dyed hair, garish orange makeup and flippantly twisting, strangely female features: I kept on thinking of the bewigged, transvestite Norman Bates as Mother in "Psycho."

Yeah, the part about orange is in there. Here, let me highlight it. Hmmm.... amusing. Paglia had quite a number of problems with Al Gore there, didn't she? I suppose I could have found a quote more focused on the orangeness of Al Gore, but it would not have been have contained as many fascinating words. Like "ham-laden" and "bewigged." Aw,poor Al didn't deserve all that. On the other hand, come back Camille! That was fun to read.

Here's Ben Stein's ridicule of Gore's looks:

Gore was comically overmade-up, I guess because he was so nervous about sweating. I work in show business every day, and I don't think that I've seen that much makeup on anyone besides a Las Vegas showgirl. I kept waiting for his false eyelashes to fall off.
Orangeness aside, Gore's first debate offers many lessons that Kerry might want to learn. Here's Andrew Sullivan summing up the first 2000 debate in a few sentences:

The best way I can think to describe the last hour and a half is assisted suicide. Gore was wooden, condescending, boring, preachy, very liberal. Bush was a human being, good-natured, reasonable, smart, sane. It was a knockout.

I have a feeling those sentences, with the appropriate changes, will probably be reusable after this week's debate.

Murray Mall!

Here's the new campus project:

UW-Madison is unveiling details of its proposed $10 million East Campus Mall that will run from Regent Street to a grand esplanade opening on a view of Lake Mendota.

The seven-block mall will include special pavement; places for public sculptures, fountains and places to sit, study and socialize; ornamental planting beds, signs, lighting and more.

I'm excited about this but one phrase in there scares me: "public sculptures." It's possible to have a great campus sculpture, but in recent decades, extremely unlikely. They just don't make them like this anymore:

"He kind of made it sound like Bush wasn't thinking straight the last four years."

That's a 13-year-old's summary of John Kerry's presentation to a middle school yesterday (as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal). Meanwhile, over at the high school the kids are a bit irked: "I thought it was stupid that they went there - none of them can even vote." The high school talk continues:

"For this hick town, it's a big deal," said senior Parker Gates, 18 ...

"His wife's been seen walking around," said junior Davon Noltner, 17.

"Is she hot?" asked Gates.

Some high school kids did attend the rally at the middle school, like 17-year-old Erin Brander, 17, who wore a button that read "Except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism and communism, war has never solved anything." Her assessment of Kerry: "He tends to insult Bush a lot."

UPDATE: Emailers tell me the slogan on the button is from

Sex, lies, and psychology studies.

The NYT reports on a study by Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a psychologist at the State University of New York at Albany:

When researchers asked volunteers to listen to recordings of people counting to 10 and rate the attractiveness of the voices, they found that the voices rated highest belonged to people having more active sex lives. Moreover, their physical characteristics (broad shoulders and narrow hips in men, narrow waist and broad hips in women, and symmetry in both) conformed to conventional notions of attractiveness.
The article doesn't detail the results enough to overcome my skepticism about the accuracy of this finding. I do note that it says "the voices rated highest belonged to people having more active sex lives," not the most active sex lives, so I suspect that we might find that some of those with the most active sex lives did not necessarily have highly rated voices. We're just not seeing the overall correlation between good and bad voices and active and inactive sex lives. And we can't tell if good voices are attracting more sexual partners, or if (as the article suggests) the human voice conveys information about a person's sex life. But more importantly, we need to account for lying. Maybe the voices of liars are rated more highly, and of course, a subject people are quite likely to lie about is their sex life.

Former prosecutor: an impressive credential for Kerry?

Beldar has a nice post analyzing the limitations of John Kerry's credentials as a former prosecutor. ("He's always been a prominent member of the subspecies Lawyerus Politico.") I wonder how much people really are thinking of voting for him on the basis of that short period of his life? I suppose that "former prosecutor" image is used like "Vietnam veteran" to make people think he's tough in some areas where people tend to think Democrats are soft.

Unlike Beldar, I don't care at all that Kerry hasn't kept his legal license current. He's not a practicing lawyer anymore, but he's entitled to rely on his earlier experiences as he runs for office. A Senator doesn't need to have an active legal license. I'm a lawprof, and I don't keep my membership in the New York bar active, because I don't practice law. The only possible problem with retiring from the practice of law is the implicit statement that you plan never to return to practice. An elected official might want to disguise the fact that he sees himself as a career office-holder.

The main problem I have with Kerry going on about his prosecutor days (and his Vietnam experience) is that it means he isn't resting on his more recent and relevant experience as a Senator. Other than the talk of his votes about the war, I've heard almost nothing about his accomplishments in the Senate. You'd think the Senate is just a holding chamber for presidential candidates--which is especially pathetic considering that it's been 44 years since a Senator won the presidency.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Horse sense.

John Kerry came to town yesterday, and here's the report of his doings that appeared in the local paper, the Capital Times. It's worth going to the link to see the picture of him raising a beer mug, while sitting next to a local guy who was just hanging out in a Mount Horeb bar, trying to watch the Packers game, when Kerry dropped in to make a photo op out of him. I'd bet Kerry made a point of saying the name of the Packers' stadium a few times as he was waving that beer glass around. Today, the article says, he spoke in a middle school in Spring Green (where he is preparing for the debate):

Kerry said a Madison man told him yesterday that he feared voting for Kerry because he didn't want to change horses in mid-stream.

Kerry told the man, "When your horse is headed down the waterfall, or when your horse is drowning, it's a good time to change."

"May I also suggest we need a taller horse. We can get through deeper waters that way," Kerry said.

We'll never hear the end of this horse in the stream business. It just keeps getting new frills. So we need a "taller horse," because the current horse "drowning" as we go into "deeper waters." And now we've added a waterfall. So I guess we need a special kind of horse that's especially good at surviving a precipitous drop, which you'd really want in a situation where two horse were simultaneously going over a waterfall and you decided your horse was less crashworthy and that it would be a good idea to try to get onto the other horse while you were still in the waterfall. That's quite the metaphor.

How come we don't hear about Kerry's penchant for poetry anymore? (Here's an old post of mine making fun of Maureen Dowd's column about Kerry's interest in poetry. Key line: "Maureen, the man isn't a poet, he's a windbag!") Who even remembers when--or why--there was an argument that Kerry was better than Bush because of his interest in poetry?

What we're not talking about.

It's been a strange election season. Though it's gone on way too long, a huge amount of energy has been wasted on matters unrelated to the next four years, chiefly the sickly obsession with Vietnam. The talk about Vietnam perhaps occupies the space that would otherwise be devoted to more general blather about character. We're also hearing a lot of punditry about what women are doing, often in the form of whether Soccer Moms became Security Moms. (Have you ever noticed that these specialized labels are always about white people? No one ever talks about, say, "Security Blacks" or some such group. Would it seem offensive? If so, maybe you should worry about offending women with such labels. If not, why isn't it done? Is it because people believe racial groups do and/or should vote as one?) And there's always room to talk about things that affect the finances of older people (like medicine). (If young people voted more, maybe the government would bend over backwards to help us pay tuition. Can't we at least get the interest deduction for student loans back?)

But what is not being talked about that you would have thought you'd hear plenty about?

Supreme Court appointments! This was a huge issue in the 2000 election, when we were told the next President was sure to appoint two and maybe even three or four new Justices, and we--especially we women--were encouraged to feel quite alarmed about it. Here's speculation about particular appointments, in the October 4 Newsweek (including the ridiculous notion that President Kerry might appoint Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court). The Sacramento Bee today asserts that "All Eyes" are "on Aging Justices," which, first of all, is not true (no one seems to be bothering); and second of all, is offensively ghoulish. (Why are we so solicitous of the needs of old voters, but openly take a deathwatch attitude about old Justices?) The Bee article is not based on statements by the candidates and notes that Kerry hasn't made the issue a "centerpiece" of his campaign. It quotes those who would like to see the issue on the front burner. Here's an AP article noting the absence of candidate attention to the issue.

I see there's a Daily Kos piece from Saturday, "Crank up The Supreme Court as an Issue in this Campaign!"

Is there any reason the Kerry campaign isn't making the Supreme Court a HUGE issue? ...

There's been a lot of talk recently about a possible decline in support amongst women for John Kerry. How about ratcheting up the Roe v. Wade/Supreme Court issue in the last few weeks?
As if the Kerry campaign might somehow have just forgotten about abortion and the standard way to make it a big issue. (Those Justices aren't getting any farther from the grave!)

Why don't the reporters delve into the question why the Kerry campaign decided to drop the issue? I could speculate, here in my dining room in Madison, Wisconsin: Some research showed the issue hurt Kerry. But why don't the professional journalists reveal the actual strategies of the campaigns? The AP reporter--prompted by Kos?--just dusts the cobwebs off the old deathwatch warnings heard in the 2000 campaign and calls up the head of a "liberal-leaning" group and a "conservative-leaning" group for some stock verbiage.

UPDATE: The parenthetical at the end of the first paragraph makes it look as though I consider myself a young person. I'm not. But I am quite involved in paying tuition! And sorry about not doing a better job of copy-editing this post earlier. I've touched up some gaffes (like "a AP article").

ANOTHER UPDATE: There is some kind of interest deduction for student loans, as an emailer pointed out. Sorry for the misinformation. Back when I had student loans, you could deduct all the interest (you could deduct your credit card interest too!). Now there is some kind of complicated approach that phases out the deduction as you make a higher income.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

How Kerry lost me.

I started this blog in mid-January, and I've devoted a lot of words since then to analyzing the presidential campaign. I've said many times that I'm not going to pick my candidate until October. Yet I find myself expressing an increasing amount of hostility to Kerry, so I thought I'd go back and trace the arc of my antagonism through my various posts.

Here's my first statement about Kerry and the Iraq war, made on April 9th. (It was Good Friday--scroll up [actually, click here] to see the man preaching from a cross.)
I think it makes a lot of sense, after the primary season, to ignore the Presidential campaign as much as possible. There's no reason for a moderate like me, who might end up voting for either candidate, to follow the campaigns right now. For one thing, it's not fair to Kerry, because I find him a boring speaker and I'm really going to get tired of him if I pay any attention to him. For another thing, I can't think about him seriously until I know what he plans to do in Iraq, and he hasn't said what he will do. (Will, meaning, in the future. How the past might have been different is not going to determine my vote. And don't try my patience by telling me that I can infer what he will do in the future from what he asserts he would have done in the past.) He has no motivation to take a position on Iraq until closer to the election: why should he pin himself down when events are in flux?

Six days later, I got irked at him for the first time, for saying "You're not listening" to a man who wanted to know what his position on Iraq was. Back then, Kerry was saying things like "We shouldn't only be tough, we have to be smart. And there's a smarter way to accomplish this mission than this president is pursuing." My question was: "If you still don't know what he would do differently from Bush, do you deserve to be snapped at for 'not listening'?" I've linked back to this old post of mine a number of times, because I never forgot that he got testy and accused a man of not listening, when in fact Kerry had never expressed himself clearly about what he would do in Iraq. I had been willing to wait a long time for a clear answer, yet here he was criticizing us for not having heard his answer yet. All I had heard was "smarter way," which just seemed like a placekeeper for a plan to be submitted later.

On April 19th, Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press," and Tim Russert asked Kerry exactly the question I wanted an answer to: What would you do differently from Bush in Iraq?
Kerry's "response" is to launch into an anecdote with no apparent connection to the question (about a Vietnam vet--of all things) and gradually work his way toward something that will seem to be an answer. The strategy is to put the "answer" as far from the question as possible, in the hope that you'll forget the question and accept the proffered "answer" as an answer (or just hope that he'll stop talking already). Does Kerry ever answer the question about the future of Iraq? He always substitutes assertions about mistakes in the past. The most I'm hearing about the future is that Kerry will pursue all the same goals, but in a "smarter way." I'll just do it better. Trust me! Why? Because Bush hasn't been good enough.

On April 28th, I complained about a Kerry appearance on "Hardball." I'm irritated by meandering non-answers and robotic repetition of lines from his stump speech. I offered Kerry a deal:
It's on and on about the medals and ribbons. This is incredibly irritating. I agree with Kerry that it's pointless to quibble about whatever it was he threw away when he was an young man with an issue to fight for. But let's make a deal then: stop using Vietnam as an argument for why you should be President. The whole issue is a waste of time. I'm willing to accept that both Bush and Kerry are good people with good character. Now, get on with it! Give me some substance!

After the first commercial break, Kerry is smiling--with teeth showing oddly. Someone told him to smile, so he's taking stage directions. Oh, I'm so hopelessly tired of Kerry.

And that was back in April! Little did I know then that he would keep robotically delivering clips from the stump speech and would make Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign! Looking back, I can see that the "Meet the Press" and "Hardball" interviews were crucial in turning me against him. Notably, Kerry thereafter steered clear of serious interviews.

May 1st was an important day, when Kerry responded to the news of Abu Ghraib. I complimented him and expressed a hope:
Kerry may choose to do something more with this issue later, but [his comments today show] complete forbearance from opportunism. I want Kerry to demonstrate that he would never allow his political ambition to override the interest in the successful completion of our efforts in Iraq, and I have worried that he would pursue the strategy of uniting Bush and the war in the public's mind, creating a single entity (BushWar), and then use every opportunity to find fault with something done in the war to attack BushWar. What a disaster that would be.

Perhaps Kerry's statement only represents the astute political understanding that he needs to avoid appearing not to support our soldiers--especially important for him because of his Vietnam era statements--but I hope there is something more to this restraint, that there is a real commitment to the success of the mission. He is in a tough position here. Should he criticize Bush for not acting swiftly and harshly against the accused soldiers? For now he's chosen to refer to gathering the facts and providing "appropriate" process to the accused soldiers and preserving the rule of law. That may be too tame, part of his characteristic dullness, but it may be the surface of what is a competent commitment to the success of the war effort.

Nine days later, I wrote about Abu Ghraib again:
If Bush doesn't find a way to do something comprehensive, he deserves to be replaced. Whatever deficiencies Kerry may have--and I have not been a Kerry supporter--I would like to see him moved into the Presidency to make clear statement of the thing that Bush himself keeps going around saying: this is not what Americans are.

This was the point of my strongest support for Kerry.

On May 29th, I was pretty sympathetic to Kerry and defended him against attacks that he took too many positions:
One can easily portray Kerry as a man who takes so many different positions in such a confounding mix that no one--no one with any real potential to actually vote for him--ever gets too upset. Yet, obviously, Kerry has a careful balancing act to perform, and he seems sensible about trying to hold on to the middle. For the antiwar side, he seems to be offering only a feeling that he's going to wind things down more quickly and effectively than Bush, but Bush is trying to reach the same goals Kerry is stating. (This is why I'm not deciding between the two candidates until October: I'll see what Bush has actually done between now and then.) Kerry is urging ... that we get away from "partisan politics" and "just think common sense about our country, about what it should be doing." I don't argue with that. It's hard for him to get specific about what he would do, since he wouldn't be starting to do anything until over eight months from now. How can he use common sense to figure out what should be done that far in the future when things are changing every day so far out of his control? That's the downside of not being an ideologue.

Ironically, on this day I was dealing with nasty commenters on my blog (right before I turned off the comments function), who couldn't stop telling me what a louse I was for not condemning the war.

In June, two things happened that I wrote a little about: Reagan died and received a lavish funeral, and "Fahrenheit 911" came out and was loved and hated. I watched a bit of the funeral and avoided the movie. Various people used the occasions to stoke extreme partisan feeling. I felt my usual aversion to all of that. On July 1st, I complained about "ugly political imagery."

On July 31, I was very impressed by a Christopher Hitchens article that attacked Kerry for criticizing the war in Iraq for using money that we could be spending on our own people at home. Like Hitchens, I found that argument repugnant. Kerry further alienated me by repeating that argument many times.

Right after the convention, in early August, I questioned the assumption that Kerry is especially smart and call him "a cipher who went to Vietnam":
[M]y questions about Kerry's intelligence do not arise solely from my inference that he had a poor academic record and low standardized test scores. My questions are also based on his exasperatingly convoluted and unclear manner of speaking. This has been excused as a propensity for "nuance" and "complexity," but could also be caused by a lack of mental capacity. It could also be willful evasion. I'd really like to know. ... I've been listening to him talk for a long, long time, and I'm not impressed at all. And I'm sure not impressed by the mere fact of someone managing to hold a Senate seat for a long time!

I realize people who truly despise Bush don't care about any of this. The fact is Kerry's the candidate, so there's nothing more to say. Unite behind him, whoever he is. It's too late now. And please don't say anything bad about him. Shhhh! But that doesn't work for people, like myself, who don't despise Bush. I am actually trying to assess Kerry! Where is the material? It certainly wasn't presented in the convention last week, and Kerry's speeches and interviews are not exactly brimming with information. I've been looking for an answer to what he plans to do in Iraq for a long time ... and I still can't figure him out. It seems to me we're being asked to make a cipher President. A cipher who went to Vietnam. And isn't Bush. Is that enough? If you hate Bush, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" It isn't enough for me.

Next came the Republican Convention, which I watched much more closely than the Democratic Convention. I had TiVo'd the C-Span coverage of all nights of both conventions, but the Democratic Convention bored me and the Republican Convention gripped me. The speakers that made a real impression on me were: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Ron Silver. These men all spoke well and with conviction. I listened to every word they said. I will admit to feeling deeply struck by Silver's line: "The President is doing exactly the right thing." Silver was open about being a liberal on the social issues--as I am--but passionate and clear that national security trumps other matters. I agree! I even enjoyed Zell Miller's old-style preacher speech.

How did Kerry try to claw his way back into the running after the convention? He was getting a lot of conflicting advice and being told to fight harder and attack. This post, written on September 5th, was pretty sympathetic to Kerry:
Of course, Kerry does seem to be on the path to defeat right now, so his supporters can't help panicking and find it hard not to yammer a lot of (conflicting) advice at him. But I think his best chance lies in continuing to be the lumbering, dull but solid and grown-up guy that he is, so that when election day finally comes and the excitement-seeking is over, people will look at him and say--perhaps: Yes, he's a frightful bore, but put him in the office and he'll probably earnestly work hard and make a decent share of good-enough judgments, which is all we really ever hope for anyway.

I could still have accepted Kerry at this point. But Kerry decided to go for the hard Howard Dean-style criticism of "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." In these last few weeks, he has battered us with negativity about the war, but still without offering any realistic positive solutions that are different from Bush's, and raising worries that he will simply give up on Iraq. And then he disrespected Prime Minister Allawi when the man was in the country and speaking to Congress. Yesterday, I wrote of Kerry's treatment of Allawi as his final, fatal mistake. I meant only to say that he had sealed his fate with voters for that, but, realistically, thinking about it today, I have to say he sealed his fate with me personally. Rereading this post, I see that the hope about Kerry I expressed on May 1st is completely lost.

UPDATE, MONDAY EVENING: After devoting much of Sunday to tracing the arc of my antagonism, it was nice to get so many visitors today. Thanks to Instapundit for starting the traffic, to Allahpundit for the cool quip ("[A]fter several months of looking at the menu, Ann Althouse decides she's not in the mood for Waffles."), and to lots of other people who linked and emailed.

Untame my hair.

Let's ask the experts about the deep meaning of the presidential candidates' looks. That's sure to be helpful. Caroline F. Keating is, according to the NYT, "a professor of psychology at Colgate University who has studied status cues transmitted by facial features." She worries that Kerry's "droopy brows and hooded eyes send an unwelcome signal of age and lethargy," and that he ought to "show more animation and smile more." You can make up for your tired, old eyes not only with smiling, but also with "exciting hair," which Prof. Keating thinks Kerry has. She says "This wild, untamed hair is something we associate with youthfulness." But what do we associate a sculpted, lacquered helmet of hair with? Because that's what some of us see topping the craggy Kerry face. Maybe it's not that seeing the hair affects what we think of the man, but that what we think of the man affects how we see the hair.

That NYT Magazine article about bloggers.

I suppose the New York Times thinks that by writing about bloggers, it can force all us bloggers to link to it. I already link to them much more than to anyone else (because I begin every day interacting with the paper NYT). I was going to shun the blogger piece, but I won't, because I wanted to comment on this:

[I]n 1999, Mickey Kaus, a veteran magazine journalist and author of a weighty book on welfare reform, began a political blog on Slate. On kausfiles, as he called it, he wrote differently. There were a thousand small ways his voice changed; in print, he had been a full-paragraph guy who carefully backed up his claims, but on his blog he evolved into an exasperated Larry David basket case of self-doubt and indignation, harassed by a fake ''editor'' of his own creation who broke in, midsentence, with parenthetical questions and accusations.

That paragraph makes me realize our culture has indeed changed dramatically--not, because of blogging, but because the NYT could write out an observation like that and not feel compelled to drop in the word "postmodern."

This is interesting too:

The blogs that succeed, like Kaus's, are written in a strong, distinctive, original voice. In January, a serious-minded former editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education named Ana Marie Cox reinvented herself online as the Wonkette, a foulmouthed, hard-drinking, sex-obsessed politics junkie. Joshua Micah Marshall, in his columns for The Hill and articles for The Washington Monthly, writes like every other overeducated journalist. But on his blog, Talking Points Memo, he has become an irate spitter of well-crafted vitriol aimed at the president...
Which persona is the invented persona? Wouldn't it make more sense to conclude that the dry, dignified version of Kaus/Cox/Marshall was the playacting and the vivid personal voice is the real person? Isn't self-expression the incentive to blog? Well, yes, but that self-expression can include escaping from your usual, socialized-to-get-along-well-with-others persona and finding the edited version of yourself that is readable, bloggable. It can't be bland, but it doesn't need to be nasty. The bloggers I've come in contact with--with a rare exception--are decent and fair. I'm struck by how rational and orderly the world of blogging is. You really can't get away with just "spitting vitriol." As the Times writes in its inelegant phrase, it must be "well-crafted vitriol" if you are to hold readers, and then it isn't really spitting at all, is it?

Interesting fact about Josh Marshall: He drinks a very large Coke and a very large iced coffee at the same time. The Times thinks it's interesting that he "sometimes even" writes in bed. Well, who in possession of a laptop doesn't write in bed sometimes? Does he blog naked? That might be interesting. Or not.

Interesting fact about Kos: When he was 17, at 5' 6" tall and weighing 110 pounds, he joined the Army, where he learned to fight back after years of being bullied. Also, Kos cares a lot about bloggers getting respect, and when he talks about it, though he smiles, the New York Times perceives "all the veins ... pulsing in his neck." I like this Kos quote: "If I care about something, I'll write about it. It's the essence of blogging." He displays a very tough attitude, then he expresses a fear of his own high traffic and a guilt about not linking to other bloggers enough. Kos has the most spirit and angst about blogging. If you wanted to make a documentary or a biopic or a fictionalized film about a blogger, Kos would make the best subject.

The Overture celebration.

Last night was another open house at the big glamorous Overture Center here in Madison. Here's how the inside of the dome looks at night:

Here is how our beautiful Capitol dome is framed in the immense windows of the Overture Center:

Here's a glimpse of the complex interior paths of the Center:

Last night, there was a big concert (Dave Brubeck) in the big Overture Hall. We did not have tickets, so we couldn't check out the Hall. It's said to have fabulous acoustics. I hope so. We stopped in to two free concerts that played in two of the smaller performance spaces. Later, a salsa band played in the cavernous lobby area. Lots of townsfolk were there, and plenty of people danced happily.

Even though none of the music I heard was the kind of music I like, I enjoyed seeing the community gathering in a beautiful space. I especially love the grand tradition of everyone coming to a big dance, which is the way human beings have enjoyed the gift of life for millennia.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Hitchens on Iraq.

If you missed Tim Russert's CNBC show tonight, try to catch one of the many repeat showings in the next day or so. The guests are Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens and the subject is, unsurprisingly, the current presidential election. It's hard to imagine a more cogent discussion of the election issues. Let me just set out one great exchange:

RUSSERT: What do we do about Iraq? What's going to happen? When American people are confronted, day in and day out -- a thousand soldiers killed -- 7,000 wounded and injured. There's a sense, obviously, in the world, that the United States will eventually say: Enough! We're getting out!

SULLIVAN: I hope to God not. If we need more troops, put more troops in there. ... You've gotta go through with this. And I think there's still a twenty, thirty percent chance of our succeeding.

HITCHENS: Let's take, I mean, let's put the case ... that the election takes place in a form that's not too contemptible, that people will say, okay, it's a good deal better than nothing, and that election is won by a party or coalition of parties that requests the United States to withdraw. What then? I mean, that would persuade me that you probably couldn't hope to hold on in the face of that. If, instead, we are fighting a war against people who are deliberately trying to sabotage the election, then there's obviously no question but that one must stay and mean that, under no circumstances, will we turn over a country of the importance of Iraq with the responsibilities we've inherited there to the Clockwork Orange fascists, the fundamentalists. They'll never go. The day will never come when they will own Iraq, and there will be no one in the United States who will be able to disagree with that even if every one of their sons has been killed in this war. Because it's self-evident. That's why, I think, there isn't more reaction to this combination of gross administration incompetence and these heartbreaking casualties. People know, in some way, that Iraq cannot be given over to Bin Ladenism. It doesn't need any further explanation. The President, actually, doesn't need to add any more. People have got this point.

Hitchens got that right, I think. Bush opponents who are tearing their hair out wondering why people aren't getting more upset about the conduct of the war in Iraq ought to see that.


The Sitemeter--despite recent undercounting--clicked past 300,000 today. That's pretty cool. Thanks to all you readers, and thanks to all of you who like to see the photographs of Madison. Thanks to Instapundit for linking to me today and sending me over 10,000 visitors on what would otherwise be a slow Saturday.

Approaching football.

So I did go take that walk I was talking about in the last post. The football stadium is six blocks from my house. On the third block of the walk, things could not be more peaceful:

On the fourth block, I take a quiet pause and admire the architecture:

It's not hard to guess the architect of that house (in front). It's even easier to guess the architect of the house next to it:

At the fifth block, I pass two little kids selling parking in their driveway for $20. I see the first signs of red and white:

Finally, I see the crowd converging on the stadium. They arrive from the north:

And they arrive from the south:

Some make their way up into the stadium:

Some loll around on the security barricades:

These two ask me to take their picture:

I ask if it's okay if I put the picture on my website, and they say "You can if you write that we're the coolest people you ever met."

Look, even the stop signs are red and white:

Across from the stadium, there are the parties:

Mothers, did you send your boys to college to drink beer while standing on the edge of a roof?

But no one fell, and the overloaded triple-deck porches seemed to hold up under the weight of all the young kids:

And everyone seemed to be having a mellow, happy time:

I guess it's on ESPN. Why don't you watch, and root for the Badgers?

UPDATE: Congratulations to the Badgers on their victory. Consolation to Penn State, with good wishes for their injured quarterback.

Listening to football.

I've been sitting at my dining table all day, catching up on some reading, blogging intermittently, and enjoying the pleasant breeze and filtered sunlight through the open windows. I'm also enjoying the occasional hearty yell that reaches my house from the football stadium a few blocks away. It's a nice feeling to spend the day reading at home but still to feel that you're hanging out, albeit remotely, with 80,000 people.

I decided to check the score before publishing this and was surprised to see the game won't start for another 45 minutes! I'm just hearing pre-game rowdiness. I ought to go for a little walk--I do need to get out the house--and go see what things look like over there. Maybe I'll have some pictures later.

Attention to detail.

Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren paint an unflattering picture of John Kerry's management style in tomorrow's NYT. Most telling revelation:

[Kerry] spent four weeks mulling the design of his campaign logo, consulting associates about what font it should use and whether it should include an American flag.

UPDATE: The Times story about Kerry set people thinking: That sounds like what they used so say about ...

Poliblog writes that it sounds like what they said about Al Gore, who took it upon himself to redraw the campaign logos overriding the work of the graphic artists assigned to the task.

An emailer wrote: "[T]the Times description of Kerry called to mind for me Jimmy Carter. My recollection is that many faulted Carter for trying to master all the intricate details of an issue--instead of allowing his aides or other experts to do this--and so was distracted. In this way, he was contrasted w/ Ronald Reagan."

It's hard to find a link to back up that statement about Carter, but I seem to remember that sort of thing being said. Nevertheless, let me add, that I think there is some tendency to overdo the classification of personality types. I don't think we should classify people into the "attention to detail" types and the "big picture" types. Any competent person must be capable of multiple levels of perception as well as good judgment about when it's big picture time and when you have focus on the details. We ought to worry about a candidate who can't or won't adjust his level of attention wisely and in tune with the circumstances. It's easy to make Kerry look foolish for "mulling" over the font for four weeks, and if he did nothing else in those weeks, he'd be frighteningly incompetent, especially if he really became lost in mental dithering. But it's likely that he only spent a total of an hour's time thinking about the font and also that he got some pleasure and recreation out of the project. (Jeez, am I going into Champion-of-the-Underdog mode?)

Elsewhere, Instapundit also singled out the mulling-over-the-fonts story for comment, and he compliments Kerry on the good design.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Poliblogger continues the discussion. Also, an emailer sends a good link for the info about Jimmy Carter, an old article by James Fallows in The Atlantic, but you've got to be a paid subscriber: here's the link. Here's a good passage from the article:

If there is any constant in the literature of presidential performance, it is that the President must husband his time. If he is distracted from the big choices by the torrent of petty details, the big choices will not get made—or will be resolved by their own internal logic, not by the wishes of those who have been elected to lead. Carter came into office determined to set a rational plan for his time, but soon showed in practice that he was still the detail-man used to running his own warehouse, the perfectionist accustomed to thinking that to do a job right you must do it yourself. He would leave for a weekend at Camp David laden with thick briefing books, would pore over budget tables to check the arithmetic, and, during his first six months in office, would personally review all requests to use the White House tennis court. (Although he flatly denied to Bill Moyers in his November 1978 interview that he had ever stooped to such labors, the in-house tennis enthusiasts, of whom I was perhaps the most shameless, dispatched brief notes through his secretary asking to use the court on Tuesday afternoons while he was at a congressional briefing, or a Saturday morning, while he was away. I always provided spaces where he could check Yes or No; Carter would make his decision and send the note back, initialed J.)

After six months had passed, Carter learned that this was ridiculous, as he learned about other details he would have to pass by if he was to use his time well. But his preference was still to try to do it all—to complain that he was receiving too many memos and that they were too long, but to act nonetheless on everything that reached his desk.

Presidential Halloween masks.

"Bizarro Gordon" is offering up political commentary as a guest blogger at Venturpreneur, to compensate for regular blogger Gordon Smith's aversion to talking about politics. BG's first post links to the "buycostumes" site, which claims that the sales of masks representing the presidential candidates predicts the outcome of the election. The winner of the election, we're told, corresponds to which mask sold the most. We're urged to buy a mask and thereby cast our vote. Nice sales pitch. But I have three problems. First, the Bush mask looks more like Nixon than Bush. It's just a crappy mask. Second, people go as negative characters for Halloween. They aren't in favor of devils and pirates and witches. Third, sometimes one candidate just looks scarier, weirder, funnier, or more distinctive than the other candidate, and would make the better mask for that reason. A Kerry mask is just more Halloween-y than a Bush mask. The original President mask that really took off was Nixon--and it sure wasn't because he was popular!

Personally, I think the website is just making up the statistics about mask sales to try to lure visitors into spending money to up the percentage for the candidate they support. BG has a different theory though, so go read that.

The UW's almost-great spam filter.

Recently, the UW installed a new spam filter that has vastly improved reduced the flow of email around here. Yet somehow the Nigerian scam letters still come through. How can that be? I don't even have to open these messages to know they are the classic spam letters.

Those wealthy ideologues, that crazy campaign finance reform.

The NYT examines how the McCain-Feingold law has successfully changed the ways of corporations and labor unions, who used to seek political influence through soft money contributions to the political parties and are not too interested in giving money to the independent advocacy groups that are making the 2004 election season so messy and unpredictable. According to the Times, the 527s are fueled by money from extremely wealthy individuals who are hardcore political true believers.

The fact that these people are not motivated by self-interest like the old corporate donors is both good and bad. It's good because they aren't corrupting the politicians by seeking favors and access. It's bad because they are political extremists so they give money to the groups that appeal to their extremist mentality, and these groups crank out advertising that clashes with and undercuts the candidates' own messages. received an astounding amount of money, which it pours into overheated advertisements intended to help Kerry. Unfortunately for Kerry, ads appeal to the people who would already vote for Kerry and are quite offputting to the people he might win over but is now losing. But I suppose, after the election is over, what everyone will remember is the Swift Boat ads, and the conventional wisdom will be that they turned the election, and, consequently, everyone will gear up to run bitter, nasty, uncoordinated ads again next time.

Meanwhile, Kerry has heard the siren call of the pacifist wing of his supporters, and I doubt very much if there is anything he's going to say in the debates to allow me to vote for the Democratic candidate as I have in the last six presidential elections. But I will vote for Russ Feingold. The most recent Wisconsin poll, the Badger poll, had Feingold ahead by 15 points. Badger also showed Bush ahead in Wisconsin by 14 points this week. So Feingold is polling 29 points better than Kerry in Wisconsin. Thirty percent of the Feingold supporters told Badger that they were voting for Bush. So we love the super-virtuous Russ Feingold here in Wisconsin. But he did give us this crazy campaign finance law that has skewed this presidential campaign into the realm of the bizarre.

UPDATE: This article by Telis Demos in TNR Online offers some insight into why Feingold is doing so much better in Wisconsin than Kerry:

[T]he problem for Democrats isn't the disappearance of Wisconsin and Minnesota's quirky brand of progressivism; it's the persistence of that unusual political sensibility--and the fact that it has been co-opted by Republicans. … It's not liberals these states love; it's mavericks. Democrats' problem isn't that they have taken Wisconsin and Minnesota for granted. It's that they have taken their own status as the party of maverick progressivism for granted. And while they were doing so, the GOP moved in on their territory.... As for Russ Feingold, he seems less the product of a liberal culture than of an odd-ball tradition that runs much stronger and deeper.

Kerry's final mistake.

Here's what I'd like to read about the 2004 election: an analysis of what happened written ten years from now. Anything written today is part of the events themselves. Writing today, you're caught up in the event of the moment. I feel I've been remiss in not yet posting a condemnation of the Republican's ban-the-Bible letter. Writing today, you're influenced by a hope or fear of affecting the events. And you also don't know how things will turn out. You don't know who will win the election, whether some dramatic event will occur in October, and how the war in Iraq will play out.

I try to imagine how someone looking back on the election will analyze it. If Kerry loses, one question will be, what was the turning point? Did the Swift Boat ads set the campaign on a track that led to defeat, was it Kerry's own choice to make his Vietnam service the central argument that he should be President, or was it a mass delusion--Kerry is electable--that overtook voters back in the primaries? Another question will be: When could Kerry have done something to salvage his candidacy? And: What was the final, fatal mistake?

I'm writing today, so I have all the deficiencies of a person writing today, but I have a prediction of the answer to that last question. The final, fatal mistake was criticizing and contradicting Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi when he was visiting the U.S. Kerry is in a very difficult position needing to criticize Bush's handling of the war, because the criticism itself seems damaging to the war effort. Bringing Allawi to the U.S. and linking him to the Bush campaign message was a powerful political move by Bush, but it was not a checkmate. Yet it forced Kerry into a terrible blunder. The grisly takedown has begun:

BUSH: This brave man came to our country to talk about how he's risking his life for a free Iraq, which helps America. And Sen. Kerry held a press conference and questioned Mr. Allawi's credibility. You can't lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility.

CHENEY: I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Sen. Kerry showed for this man of courage. Ayad Allawi is our ally. He stands beside us in the war against terror. John Kerry is trying to tear him down and to trash all the good that has been accomplished, and his words are destructive."

And the Kerry campaign is now wasting a lot of breath pointing out that it is an election year and the President's conduct of the war must be open to criticism, but what can be said of the attack on Allawi? Kerry will never dig himself out of this one, I think. And any time he makes his old favorite argument that he is much better suited for interaction with our allies, his Allawi blunder will be thrown in his face.

Friday, September 24, 2004

A bride and a bridal gown.

The NYT runs a long piece about John Kerry's early political years. I was interested in the material about his first wife, of whom we've heard very little:

Later that spring [in 1970], he married Julia Stimson Thorne in a big Long Island ceremony. The bride wore a gown from a relative's 1786 wedding, at which Alexander Hamilton had been best man and George Washington a guest, and The New York Times's lengthy account declared, "Whether today's wedding becomes a similar footnote to history may depend on the bridegroom."

Ah, but there is nothing more about the elusive Julia. The bridal gown played a more vivid role in the story than the woman who wore it.

UPDATE: Here's a Newsweek article about Thorne from last May. According to Newsweek, she's elusive by choice and she supports Kerry in the race. This is interesting:

Kerry told [biographer Douglas] Brinkley that a big reason he'd volunteered for Swift Boat duty in Vietnam—which is often cited as an example of his heroism—was so he could spend the summer with Thorne before training started. When asked if she'd ever heard that story before, their daughter Vanessa Kerry grew quiet and said, "No, but it wouldn't surprise me."

Why Kerry speaks so incomprehensibly ...

According to Stanley Fish. It's not that he's complex and nuanced:

If you can't explain an idea or a policy plainly in one or two sentences, it's not yours; and if it's not yours, no one you speak to will be persuaded of it, or even know what it is, or (and this is the real point) know what you are. Words are not just the cosmetic clothing of some underlying integrity; they are the operational vehicles of that integrity, the visible manifestation of the character to which others respond. And if the words you use fall apart, ring hollow, trail off and sound as if they came from nowhere or anywhere (these are the same thing), the suspicion will grow that what they lack is what you lack, and no one will follow you.
This implies a deep connection between our language ability and our emotional makeup that gives rise to an amazing practical wisdom in the human animal. If the candidates' speech inherently reveals who is speaking the truth and has a sound moral core, instead of worrying that people vote their feelings and fail to devote enough effort to amassing information and reasoning logically, we should renew our faith in democracy.

UPDATE: Eroding my faith in democracy, John emails "I take it [Fish] thinks that Aristotle and Kant weren't expressing their own ideas."

The fearsome litigation bred by Bush v. Gore.

Jeffrey Rosen, in TNR, describes a nightmare scenario of post-election litigation tapping into that "inexhaustible font of rhetoric and novel lawsuits" that is Bush v. Gore. Rosen resurrects Felix Frankfurter to warn us about courts entering "the political thicket." Wander in there and you'll never get out! Yet Rosen seems mired in the politics of Bush v. Gore itself: He puts a lot of effort into chiding the Supreme Court for getting involved in that particular political controversy. See, now there's hell to pay! Aren't you sorry?

But it wasn't possible for the U.S. Supreme Court to have made a decision to avoid turning the 2000 election into a legal matter. The Florida state courts had already taken hold of the controversy. The decision the U.S. Supreme Court had to make was whether to leave the outcome of the national election in the hands of one state's judges or to take it into their own hands.

Rosen is right that Bush v. Gore is now a precedent that lawyers will use to fight for the goals of their clients, and there is, of course, potential to weigh down American elections with far too much litigation, but it will be the job of the courts to make sensible decisions refraining from excessive involvement in politics. Surely, there are some political matters--such as the gross malapportionment of legislative districts that Frankfurter would have left intact--that deserve judicial scrutiny. The fear that if courts do anything they will have to do everything is alarmist and overstated.

"Security mommery."

Noam Scheiber writes in TNR about the recent news stories about "security moms" going for Bush. (I wrote about the NYT article here.)
Often the stories are larded with a testimonial by a real-live security mom, invariably a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-death penalty former Gore supporter who's convinced only George W. Bush can keep her children safe. All of them conclude that security moms could cost John Kerry the election.

When I read this in The Columnist Manifesto I suspected that I was reading about a fictional character. Urban mythmaking. So I was glad to read Scheiber's piece. Key line:
The stories usually have one other thing in common: They're based on almost no empirical evidence.

Scheiber examines the polls in depth and ends by tweaking Kerry for being "so defensive about it's standing among women."

Note: That's TNR's apostrophe, by the way, left in to entertain my copy-editing-buff readers.

UPDATE: John emails to tweak me about writing "tweaking Kerry" when I was tweaking TNR for writing "it's." "Kerry" is the wrong antecedent for "its," so I should have written "tweaking the Kerry campaign for being 'so defensive about it's standing among women.'" It might be a bad idea to write about grammar or spelling, because inevitably you will make some mistakes yourself. On the other hand, writing about such things gives you an incentive to take some extra care. [LATER: I just corrected two damn little errors that I made as I wrote about the inevitability of errors.]

Kerry's pessimism move.

The NYT reports on Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi's visit to the US:

But on a day when Republicans and Democrats used Dr. Allawi to reinforce starkly opposed campaign messages about Iraq, Mr. Bush and his ally presented, over all, a rosy picture of the country. In contrast, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, seized on the visit to paint a bleak portrait of Iraq and a Bush administration in disarray.
Remember--around the time of the death of the famously optimistic Reagan--when the candidates used to compete over who was more of an optimist? Now, Kerry seems to have decided that his last hope is to win us over to his dark view of Iraq. It's a desperate move, and it will be hard to get away from it now. I'm "painting a bleak portrait" of Kerry's future in the polls.

Back when optimism was in vogue, Kerry ended his convention speech with the very rosy line:

It is time to reach for the next dream. It is time to look to the next horizon. For America, the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are still to come.
To be fair, he did say "For America, the hope is there." Maybe, once again, we deserve to be chided for not listening. I never said for Iraq, the hope is there. Sometimes these nuances slip right by us.

So maybe it's simpleminded of me to think, Kerry was for optimism and then he was against it. He was always a subtle mix of optimism and pessimism and we were always a little too dense to pick up the message. That's quite possibly true. Yet we simpleminded, unnuanced, unsubtle folk will vote in the end.