Monday, January 31, 2005

Right and left: my sad experience

I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm a political moderate. More than any ideology, I care about rational discourse. In the year that I've been blogging I've taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right. What I've noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side. Why is this happening? I find it terribly, terribly sad.

UPDATE: My colleague Nina, a self-confessed "lefty," writes that she has been slammed from the right. And I'm reminded that I should say, I don't think all the irrational blogging is on the left. I'm just saying that I'm struck by the way the right perceives me as a potential ally and uses positive reinforcement and the left doesn't see me as anything but an opponent -- doesn't even try to engage me with reasoned argument. Maybe the left feels beleaguered these days, but how do they expect to make any progress if they don't see the ways they can include the people in the middle? If you look around and only see opponents and curl up with your little group of insiders, you are putting your efforts into insuring that you remain a political minority. I also want to add that the many lefties I live and work around in Madison are perfectly friendly to me. I get email saying, it must be terrible for you there, you must be the target of so much hostility. I always write back and say it's not like that at all.

But do read Nina's whole post. She goes on to agree with me about the problems of blogging in general. Here's an excerpt:
I, too, am saddened by so much of what I read in blogs, and comment threads are even worse. It's as if writers are grabbing the mike and running to the stage without having once practiced the song they are about to force onto the audience. At first it seems funny and then it just seems sad, desperate, irresponsible.

The blog is a stage and unfortunately anyone can grab the mike. And I admit, sometimes, in fascination, I log on and listen, mesmerized by the lack of restraint, a demonic pleasure derived from seeing someone so exposed, so childishly out of control. But the experience always leaves me feeling empty. Writing and ranting that is neither clever nor funny hardly qualifies as banter. And most often, it pushes the boundaries of meanness.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Poliblog weighs in on the subject. And here are two different emailers who say something very similar (and quite provocative):
As someone who made the move from liberal to conservative in his mid to late twenties, what I found is that conservatives were much more tolerant of me as a liberal, than liberals are now tolerant of me as a conservative. I'm speaking as a whole not to a person. Conservatives always wanted to reason with me, talk me out of it. Liberals question my intentions and decency. Out here in Hollywood when I would come out of the conservative closet, liberals were shocked because "I'm such a sweet guy" they had no idea. Those people remain nice to me but something changes. It's like having sex with a friend. You can't go back. And it's all awkward now. A shame really. Never had that problem with conservatives. And it's not that liberals are beleaguered. This was happening before the Republican take-over in 94.

[DIFFERENT EMAILER] I think that certain there is a certain type of "leftishness" that predicates its view of the world on some special insight into reality which one can only share or not. I think, for example, this was the principle informing such sixties talk as "raising one's consciousness," or such notions that one is "good" by virtue of mere sincerity or proper beliefs, regardless of one's actions. If one shares the insight or subscribes to it, one is part of the virtuous elect; if not, one is evil. Civil discourse by contrast, presupposes that one can communicate, persuade, and, importantly,be persuaded, which in turn requires at least some degree of modesty in insisting that one is right, that there is a possibility that one is wrong. This of course can appear on the right, but does not do so as much because, I believe, the presuppositions of civil discourse accord more closely with "rightish" values.

I have noticed that a good portion of people on the left proceed on the theory that they are the good people. Of course, there's a segment on the right that does that too. I have a big problem with all of them. Even if you are the good people, the policies you propose might still be bad. But politics should be about communication and convincing people with the quality of your ideas, not claiming to be a good person and demanding that others join you or they are not good. I steer clear of cultish people like that!

YET MORE: A reader emails: "I've heard it said that the Right is looking for converts and the Left is looking for heretics." Actually, it's probably more fun to be a heretic ... in a free country, at least.

AND MORE: Right Wing News weighs in here.

EVEN MORE: Baseball Crank responds. Here's a key insight:
I think a lot of liberals, particularly the more vocal ones on the internet who grew up in blue-state cities and went to blue-state colleges and got into blue-state occupations like the law or academia, just don't have the same formative experience of having had to reconcile themselves to political disagreements with people they otherwise like or respect, and it shows.

AND YET STILL EVEN MORE: Sissy Willis responds. She thinks there is something inherent in left and right positions that produces this different behavior. I am trying to reach out to the left and say: Behave better! Engage me! But I read her as telling me that's hopeless.

Paying our last respects to Li'l Greenie.

Eight days after the car crash, Tonya and I go over to Schmidt's Towing to get the last few things out of the car.

Ah! Li'l Greenie looks so stark over there in the muddy lot.

I'm sorry. I really am.

Tonya says, "It looks like its eyes popped out of its head," as she goes to take a look at the passenger compartment.

You can see that it's perfectly intact, save for the deployed airbags.

It looks pretty good from this angle too:

Oh, but it's bad.

It's really bad:

Li'l Greenie gave his life for us. Goodbye, Li'l Greenie!

UPDATE: An emailer writes:
Seeing those photos of Li'l Greenie on your blog was very painful. It was like looking at an old lover who you have tossed aside 'cause he is a little banged up. One mistake and he is out with no hope of repair or reconciliation. Sitting there in his green overcoat, pain in his crossed eyes. He was so good to you, but no. It was all about the appearance wasn't it?

And now you are galavanting around with, who is it, Silvio? European? Too attractive for his own good, flashing his sculpted rear as though every road leads to Eurodiscoland and all eyes are on him. His seats, his heart, as black as a turtleneck on an Italian playboy. For shame. And you a lawyer. I am glad he completely thrills you, but, this Audi, this beast, slick and silver, will leave you longing for days past.

I have to look away, for there is a li'l greenie in all of us men thus rejected, and it is to painful to behold.

Wow, if you only knew how much resonance that actually has in the facts of my own life, you would not have dared to write that!

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader writes in about the "pretty good from this angle" picture to note the crumpling in the section behind the door. You have to look closely at the picture to see that, but I can verify that that area of the car had an overall crumple to it, though the door closer to the impact zone was completely smooth. That is a matter of deliberate engineering, presumably, as the passenger seats are protected and the impact is absorbed elsewhere in the car. I knew the New Beetle was an especially crashworthy small car, and I want to thank Volkswagen for the good work.

"Don't live in fear."

So read a sign in Baghdad, yesterday, encouraging voters, according to CNN.
"We are defeating the terrorists as we are coming here," Saad said, pointing his index finger into the air. "We want to be and live like all people, like all human beings."...

A Kurdish woman wearing a black scarf said simply, "This is the happiest day of my life."...

"This is the greatest day in the history of this country," Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told CNN.

He said voters had defied loyalists of Saddam Hussein and terrorist leaders Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden. "I think we have sustained a very big blow on them -- at least psychologically -- today," Al-Rubaie said.

Throughout Iraq, voters' fingers were marked with ink to prevent them from voting more than once.

At a voting center in Baghdad, one man dipped his son's finger in ink.

"This is our badge of pride," he said....

Voters nationwide said they were coming to defy the insurgency, to cast ballots for their nation's future and to take part in the first free elections of their lifetime. Many brought their entire families, and the general mood was one of celebration.

A sign on a wall in Baghdad read: "Don't live in fear."

This reminds me of the way Americans responded after 9/11, going back to doing the things that were part of our usual way of life on the theory that otherwise the terrorists would have won. Many of the things we did in those days, like getting on a plane again, were not all that risky, but we did need to conquer the fear the terrorists meant to enfeeble us with. Following the same sound logic, the Iraqi voters faced much more imminent threats yesterday. What a great accomplishment for the people of Iraq! They acted for their own benefit, but it took a lot of courage. They have our deep admiration.

UPDATE: I wrote about Al-Rubaie a while back, here.

Milestone sighted.

Hey, I'm kind of closing in on the millionth visitor over there on the Site Meter!

UPDATE: Milestone reached, sometime there when I wasn't looking. How cool! Thanks to all the readers who have made blogging so interesting and so fun. I wonder who the millionth reader was.

UW researchers make human motor neurons out of stem cells.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
The feat, which took more than two years of trial and error, is seen as an important step in the dream of creating spinal nerve cells in the lab for use in replacing cells damaged by spinal cord injuries or by diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Jury blogging.

Don't miss the new Jury Blog. There should be lots happening over there this week with the big Michael Jackson trial starting up. The new blogger, Valerie Hans, is an old hand at jury studies, with 30 years of experience.

The blue finger of democracy.

My colleague Gordon Smith writes:
I love the ink-stained index finger as a symbol of democracy. If I were George Bush, I would hold up an ink-stained finger in the State of the Union address this week.

It was only a few days ago that there was talk that the ink-stained finger would be a dangerous identification, that would mark people for retaliation, that people would need to hide it. Now we see the pictures of people actively displaying what was devised as a utilitarian safeguard, turning it into a proud new symbol of the love of democracy.

UPDATE: Thanks to Virginia Postrel for linking to this post. She subtly reminds me that the ink is more purple, not so much blue. Maybe it's the same ink used in those old mimeograph machines (the fragrant ink us kids in the 60s used to inhale with delight). An emailer wonders how the lack of an ink-stained finger is regarded today in Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader emails:
"Maybe it's the same ink used in those old mimeograph machines (the fragrant ink us kids in the 60s used to inhale with delight). "

A positively Proustian figure. However, allow me to offer a clarification. That ink wasn't from Mimeograph [sic; it's their trademarked name] machines. In fact it was from Ditto machines -- an entirely different copy process.

Mimeographs used what amounted to a stencil on a drum, through which ink (almost always black) was pressed onto the paper. Ditto used masters typed with a special "carbon" paper which actually deposited aniline dye upon a master sheet, in the shape of each letter. This master was then pressed against blank sheets that had been dampened with a special solvent.

The small amount of the dye that transferred to the solvent-dampened sheets left the imprint of each letter that was on the master.

This dye was almost always purple, although a rather wretched red was also available.

The solvent was a chemical something like benzene or xylene, I believe: a ring-shaped molecule that chemists in fact call an "aromatic". The slow effluorescence of this solvent produced that odor you remember so vividly.

The advantage of the Ditto process was that it was far less messy than Mimeograph, which demanded the frequent handling of viscous black ink that had to be poured into the machine's drum. Hugely messy. Not so with Ditto. Still, if you were careless enough to touch the dye-letters themselves on the master, you'd come away with a purple finger. Which brings us delightfully back to those Iraqi fingers, doesn't it?

"We heard many bombs this morning but we didn't care."

As I noted here, NBC newsman Brian Williams, reporting from Baghdad, heard booms from his hotel and concluded that there must be "general unease." Contrast this statement from a Zeina, a 60-year-old female election candidate in Baghdad, writing for the BBC's Iraq election log:
Everyone is so excited. We heard many bombs this morning but we didn't care because we have to use our right to vote. So many people were afraid to go this morning, but now it seems in the afternoon that more people have voted.

I am so happy, so glad. Later this afternoon we will meet up with our friends for a celebration.

What profound admiration so many of us in America feel for the brave people of Iraq! They remind us of the beauty of the liberties we take for granted and the courage that we are so rarely called upon to show.

"Voting, Not Violence, Is the Big Story on Arab TV."

That's the headline -- at least for now -- on this NYT report:
After close to two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a bloodbath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story this morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the vote, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls.

Often criticized for glorifying Iraq's violence if not inciting it, Arab news channels appeared to take particular care in their election day reporting. For many channels, the elections were treated on a par with the invasion itself, on which the major channels helped build their names.

Far from the almost nightly barrage of blood and tears, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, the kings of Arab news, barely showed the aftermath of the suicide bombings that occurred in the country.

Instead, the channels opted to report on the attacks in news tickers, and as part of the hourly news broadcasts, keeping their focus on coverage and analysis of the elections themselves. And the broadcasters spared no expense to provide an entire day of coverage from northern to southern Iraq.
Beautiful! Will this not greatly increase the effect of the successful election throughout the region? Hope has its own momentum, and these broadcasters, who don't want to be left behind, have become part of the force for democracy.

Quick, change that headline!

Earlier today, I commented on the somewhat positive NYT headlines here, including one that said "Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets." That article was picked up by Memeorandum, which collects blog commentary on it: a lot of prominent bloggers have observed that even the NYT is acknowledging the great success. Then, I clicked on the link for the article and the headline is now:
Insurgent Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Kill at Least 24

The text remains the same:
After a slow start, voters turned out in very large numbers in Baghdad today, packing polling places and creating a party atmosphere in the streets as Iraqis here and nationwide turned out to cast ballots in the country's first free elections in 50 years.

Really, that is one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen the New York Times do.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. I checked the Times headline again, and it's changed once again, not to return us to the "party atmosphere," but to emphasize the number who have died: "Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Reportedly Kill Several Dozen."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Gabe Rivera of Memeorandum emails:
Glad my site (memeorandum) could be of this unique service. I should add that the older versions WILL persist on my site, for better or for worse, by design.

FYI, here is the headline progression for this piece that my site picked up throughout the day. You might have missed the initial version, which was even more upbeat than the one you cited (the second).

09:24 High Turnout in Baghdad Points to Early Success
10:24 Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets
18:26 Insurgent Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Kill at Least 24
20:50 Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Reportedly Kill Several Dozen

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Blasting me as a "wingnut" for this post, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly delivers an irrelevant lecture about how newspaper websites work. He fails to see the point, which is awfully clear in my post, that the changing headlines were for the very same article. (Thanks to The Unpopulist for pointing me to Drum's post.) There are 54 comments on Drum's post at the moment, and, though I haven't read them all, most of them seem to be from people who are just accepting Drum's mistaken point about my post. There is at least one commenter in there who keeps trying to point out the mistake, but the passion for denouncing the optimism of imagined crazy right wing bloggers is so strong that it overwhelms the interest in the facts. And the irony is that Drum's main point is that those who are taking an optimistic view don't respect the truth. It would be bad if I were disrespecting the truth out of optimism, of course. But Drum is disrespecting the truth out of an aversion to optimism, which is really quite sad.

If you go over there, you might want to leave a comment in my defense. And if you're into that, leave a comment for me over here too. I'm surprised at the way some lefty blogs seem to think they are making a good point by quoting something and saying the person who wrote it is stupid or crazy, even as they are plainly misreading the very thing they quote.

STILL MORE: I discuss the fallout from this post here. And this is a related post too.

Kerry on "Meet the Press."

The Kerry interview on today's "Meet the Press" is exactly what you would expect. There are many of the familiar lines from the campaign, including the repeated assertion that he had a better way to handle things in Iraq. Now, success in Iraq depends entirely on the "four-point plan," which he (he says) articulated precisely and clearly during the campaign and which still applies.

Tim Russert shows Kerry that devastating clip that will haunt him forever: he voted for funding the Iraq War before he voted against it. Kerry once again responds that he picked a bad way to express himself about the war, but Bush picked a bad way to conduct the war.

Kerry is trying to define a moderate Democratic position that is distinct enough from the Bush Adminstration and somewhat distant from the strong anti-war element of the party but that also avoids alienating the anti-war element. That's a difficult task, and there's no reason at all to think that Kerry will be any good at it. Kerry is displaying his most annoying tic: insisting that he's being clear and precise when he's fuzzing over everything. And I'm sympathetic to the problem of trying to explain and defend a moderate position! I'm a moderate!

Russert sadistically shows Kerry a photograph of himself sitting just behind Bush, who is giving his Inaugural Address. Russert asks what was going through his head at the time. Kerry says "respect for the process." What is he supposed to say? We're left to imagine what he was really thinking. It's got to be something like: I can't believe that little #@!* beat me!

Russert asks Kerry if the Osama bin Laden tape, released shortly before the election, caused him to lose. Kerry gives a classic Kerry answer where it seems as though he's saying yes and no at the same time. He'd been rising in the polls before the tape came out and after that he "flat-lined," but it was really 9/11 that determined the election. He essentially says that, given 9/11, Bush was destined to win, and he (Kerry) ought to be given credit for coming as close as he did. Of course, Kerry only got the nomination because he presented himself as the one candidate who could actually win (as opposed to express clear ideas about the party's values) -- which stuck Democrats with the double pain of listening to his uninspiring equivocating and losing.

But he's proud, he's proud of what we did, Tim.
Kerry presents the facts about the number of voters in Ohio whose different vote would have swung the election his way. He uses the image of half the number of people at an Ohio State football game, and Russert comes back, saying half the people at a high school football game in New Hampshire would have swung the election back to Bush. Kerry can't really respond other that to note lamely that that is the system. (You know, the one he was contemplating with respect during Bush's Inauguration Speech.) Kerry tries to crowbar in the argument that Bush doesn't have a mandate other than a "mandate for unity," and Russert retaliates with Kerry's vote against Condoleezza Rice. His answer is something along the lines of: I was for her at the same time I was against her.

Remember when we had to listen to Kerry's tiresome explanations every day? What's the point of listening to him now? It's oh so dreary, and on a day when we should be feeling very happy about the Iraqi elections. I guess "Meet the Press" is a nice haven for anyone who doesn't want to have to see positive Bush-related news. Come on over here and wallow in despair. Gaze upon the haggard, hang-dog face that represents your dashed hopes!

But the great Tim Russert is making things hard to enjoy. Getting all Russert-y now, Russert shows Kerry the clip of Swift Boat Vet Steve Gardner in the Christmas in Cambodia -- "categorically a lie" -- commercial and then reads quotes from a lot of newspaper pieces. I lose count of the number of times Russert says the word "seared." The big question: "Were you in Cambodia, Christmas eve, 1968?" Kerry: "We were right on the border, Tim." And he's explained this already, "any number of times." Haven't you learned yet that if you think there's some question that Kerry hasn't already answered, it's always your problem -- you just haven't been listening properly?

Why hasn't he signed the form 180 and let people have access to his military records? You shouldn't be the "filter" for this information, Russert says. Kerry repeats that he released the information that he has received from the government, and Russert has to repeat the question: will you sign form 180? Kerry says a quick yes and goes on to a lot of other equivocation. So, yes! All right, let's see if we get it.

The unspent $14 million in the Kerry campaign fund: why didn't he spend it? The multipart answer: he did spend a lot of money, it was too hard to spend money, a reserve was needed, and -- most emphatically -- lack of spending was not the reason he lost. "A few more television ads in Ohio wouldn't have turned over those 70,000 voters?" Russert asks. Kerry: "There was no request for them." It's the staff's fault, as usual.

Kerry denounced Dean during the primaries, so can he support Dean for the Democratic Party chairmanship? Kerry says yes, and gives a long explanation that pushes me over the line and beyond my willingness to attempt to summarize blather. (Which I have a fair amount of -- have you noticed?)

After the break, the subject turns to the "moral values" angle of post-election analysis. Kerry speaks well about the need to include pro-life people in the Democratic Party. He clearly states, however, that he would vote against any Supreme Court nominee who is opposed to Roe v. Wade. He says he doesn't think that Bush wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned. He states that he would vote against Justice Scalia if he were nominated for Chief Justices, and says that he was wrong years ago when he voted to confirm Scalia.

Social security is next. He's opposed to Bush's plan and thinks Bush is "hyping a phony crisis." All that's needed to solve the problem is to roll back Bush's tax cuts. There is a tedious assertion about how "rolling back" the tax cuts ought not to be called "raising taxes."

Given a chance to end on a high note, Kerry says he learned a lot running for President and how great the people of the United States are.

Ah! It's over! What a relief!

UPDATE: I've added a link to the transcript and put in the "not" that was missing from that sentence about "rolling back" tax cuts.

Confined to quarters, soaking up atmospherics.

"Meet the Press" is offering an interview about an election, but it's John Kerry, chewing over last fall's U.S. election. Part of the opening teaser for the interview is "What would he do about Iraq?" – the very question I waited to hear him answer for the entire length of the campaign.

But, before the interview, let's have a little news from Iraq. Ooh, Brian Williams is on the scene, with his eyebrows slanting in the circumflex position of worry and his arms in the akimbo position of scolding. He's just had an interview with Iyad Allawi, who was "obviously expressing great confidence that this is the first day of a new era." Yeah, he would, that Pollyanna, so please, Brian, spread some gloom so we can feel good again about our negativism:

We should back up to the overall feeling here, and that I think most here would agree is a kind of general unease … uh … atmospherically … as we have heard many booms and concussions over the past hour … uh … as we have combined, really, over the past few days. A while back the threat of pedestrian suicide bombers had us confined to quarters. And there has been violence. As of air time this morning, fourteen attacks … thirty-six people dead so far. But, Tim, like the election numbers, those will change, and probably the best way to approach all of the numbers we'll be hearing today – you hear turn out at 72% in one precinct, 50 in another, 4 percent in another is with the same caution we exercise in the states with those now-famous first wave exit polls and other early information. This is probably, it's safe to say at this hour, a fairly unquantifiable election so far.

Good set-up for the Kerry interview. Remember how happy Kerry supporters were for a while when they heard the early numbers last November? So, anti-Bush folks, transform that old November disappointment for some new hope for a disastrous election in Iraq. Don't listen to Allawi, whom Williams got an interview with and immediately brushed aside. Listen to Williams, who is there on the scene, confined to his quarters by the threats of violence that the voters themselves defied. Williams is right there in Iraq, squirrely and squirreled away in his hotel room, where he soaks up "atmospherics." He hears some booms in the distance, so he can tell you first hand about the "general unease."

"I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants."

Iraq the Model vividly describes voting in Iraq, including his feeling as he marked his finger with ink. (Via Instapundit.)

Mainstream coverage of the Iraqi election.

I'm struck by the comparison between CNN and the New York Times right now. CNN just has the bland: "Iraqis vote amid violence." The NYT has a series of headlines:
Iraqi Voters Turn Out in High Numbers Despite Rebel Attacks Killing Up to 36

Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets

Rice Says Vote Exceeding Expectations

The Vote, and Democracy Itself, Leave Anxious Iraqis Divided

Yes, it's a subtle mix of positive and negative -- for every good, there must be an ominous undertone. But the NYT at least gives a sense of the importance of what is happening and doesn't allow the bad to overshadow the good. I note that while those headlines show that the voting is more than expected, they don't say the violence is less than expected. The last headline, "The Vote, and Democracy Itself, Leave Anxious Iraqis Divided," is from a John F. Burns piece that is old enough to have made the paper edition, where the headline is "One Vote, But Many Reactions: Resolve, Discouragement, Joy." The headline change is a bit annoying, because it makes it seem as if the Iraqis are reacting to what happed today, when the article was looking forward to an event that had not yet occurred.

When law is perceived as the embodiment of morality.

Now that Germany has legalized prostitution, brothels seek employees by ordinary methods, and the unemployed may face denial of their benefits if they are not willing to accept the jobs that are available.
"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."...

"Now that prostitution is no longer considered by the law to be immoral, there is really nothing but the goodwill of the job centres to stop them from pushing women into jobs they don't want to do."

What an amazing departure from common sense! To decriminalize an activity, such as prostitution, does not equal a statement of approval, just a concession that it does not deserve suppression or is not worth the government's efforts at suppression. Of course, the Germans are contemptible if they continue in this fashion, but Americans can take a lesson from this too as we think about abortion, gay marriage, drug use, and other issues. You don't have to approve of something to want it to be legal, and legalization should not be read as a statement that there is no moral basis for opposing a practice. Law and morality are not the same thing, and we are fools if we allow the law to take the place of moral reasoning.

UPDATE: Readers, please note that just because a lawyer says certain provisions of law could be put together in a certain way does not mean those applying the law really will reach that conclusion, especially where the conclusion is outrageous and absurd. I don't think it's the case that German officials have actually made the absurd leap the lawyer warns us about, but maybe it would be a good idea for Germany to clarify its law so that no low-end official makes the mistake and bullies an unemployed woman this way. ALSO: The lawyer's name is apparently Mechthild Garweg, not Merchthild Garweg.

After the Iraqi election.

It's great to wake up to the news that the Iraqi elections are already over and a huge success. I skitter around from website to website this morning, checking first to see that in fact it is true that things went brilliantly -- I'm loving all the inked index fingers held aloft by smiling voters -- and next to see what the various bloggers are finding to talk about. It looks like the topic after celebrating the success is observing MSM and anti-war bloggers for evidence of disappointment at the lack of bad news.

Here's my advice to anti-war bloggers who want to avoid embarrassing themselves: express relief that the feared violence did not occur, happiness for the Iraqi people who got to vote, concern about the new government's willingness to be fair to the people in the more violent areas who were deterred from coming out to vote, and reconfigure your anti-war position into concern about the great risk that was taken. Worry about the next war: the more success in Iraq, the more inspiration to take on bolder ventures, and the next one might go horribly. Like a defeated candidate, focus on the next election. I heard one commentator on NPR say that after the great success in voting for the Afghans, the Palestinians, and the Iraqis, it's beginning to "look like a trend." What if the neo-cons are right? Consider it -- without your usual reflexive invective. If they turn out to be right, don't you have to be happy that you were wrong?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Voting in Iraq.

Voting has begun in Iraq. We watch with hope and with admiration at the courage each voter displays.

What if "Plan 9 From Outer Space" were made today?

What would the reviews look like? Like this.

A time-capsule editorial.

The New Republic reprints its editorial about Roe v. Wade from 1973.

A new car! Satellite radio!

Here's my new car:

It's snuggled into the spot in the driveway snow that was made by trusty Li'l Greenie last Saturday when the big snow fell:

The new car is easy and fun to drive. It takes off like mad from a dead stop. It doesn't seem to be going very fast when it is. Here are some little things about it that I like: You can adjust the height of the seat and reposition the steering wheel -- just knowing you can rearrange these things is a psychological comfort. You can set the temperature you want, and it won't even start blowing the fan on you until it's got warm air to blow. You can dial up as much heat as you want to come from the seat and keep warm from that, which lets you set the blowing air nicely fresh. There's a display showing you how many more miles you can drive on the gas that you have -- great for driving on the Interstate when you've got that driving bug and don't want to stop until there are at least three major reasons to stop. Satellite radio! I love satellite radio!

I picked XM over Sirius for a few reasons (including a prediction of its future financial position). I must say I love the "decades" channels. I've listened to all of them, but I am so much a 60s persons, especially musically. I'm happy to hear things like "Please, Mr. Postman" and "Peppermint Twist," and I'm fascinated by top ten lists in which "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was number one last week and has fallen to number three, news reports about the war in Vietnam, and readings of the TV Guide listings from 1962. There are lots of other channels too, and a digital readout identifies the song and the artist. I really appreciate all the news channels: BBC, C-Span, CNN, etc. I look forward to driving across the mountains and deserts with this. Maybe a Spring Break jaunt to Santa Fe -- and a summer trip across the northern strip of American states!

Fantasy coffins.

Check out the fantasy coffins from Ghana, many of which take a form that represents the line of work once pursued by the dead person. Click through the pictures: you don't want to miss the gynecologist's coffin.

Waiting for Silvio.

I'm picking up my new car at 10 a.m. today. But here I am, up at 6, so there are four more carless hours to go. Time to read the newspaper and maybe make a list of all the errands I need to run after going almost a week without a car. Nina nicely gave me many rides, to work and back and to Whole Foods and the bank, but there must be many accumulated errands. I'm actively looking for places to drive, so I want there to be things that need to get done!

"Silvio" is the name I gave my car in a post the other day, though I knew it would cause people to write and tell me you shouldn't give a German car an Italian name. I should give my car a German name? Silvio is the only man's name that came to mind when I thought of the color silver. I looked up how to say "silver" in German. It's "silber." You think I should call my car "Silber"? I also got email on the subject of whether a car should have a man's name or a woman's name. So many cars are given women's names -- beginning with the classic Tin Lizzy. Doesn't that mean cars are female? Please! So many cars have female names because they are men's cars. Silvio is my car! And you men who drive sports cars and other cars designed to appeal to men, take a look at the styling that appealed to you so much. If you're seeing "female," you are in denial.

How much does a car affect your self-image? Especially when a car is new, you have a real feeling that the car's image and your own are merging. I remember how I felt when I got my "cosmic green" New Beetle back in the summer of 1999. The image of the Audi TT Coupe is so different from the Beetle's. The New Beetle had a real childlike, sixties, hippie air about it. I'd gotten used to living in that aura. But, in that first year, it felt great! Now, the new car is exuding an entirely different sensation. What will it do to my mind once I start driving it and can get that feeling and its image merges with my sense of myself? Isn't that what a car is for? I mean, I need transportation, but I'm looking for a new feeling -- from my Silvio!

The ordinary and the extraordinary.

The L.A. Times has this story (via Drudge) about a survivor of the recent train derailment:

As he lay wedged under a train seat and metal debris, with whatever energy he could summon and a heartbreaking economy of words, he scrawled a farewell in blood on the seat. "I {heart} my kids. I {heart} Leslie," he printed. The blood ink seemed to be running out as he got to the second sentence. ...

Everyone wants to know [who the man is]. L.A. Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said that the department has been inundated with inquiries — "about 700 calls," he said Thursday — from people who simply want to know who he is and how he is doing.

The man does not want his name released:

"I'm a private person," he said in a statement the hospital released for him, "and the message that I wrote was a private message to my wife and my kids because I didn't think I was going to make it."


Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Carlos Calvillo said he understood why even strangers were moved.

"The fact that this guy in this situation had the amount of love he had for his family, and for him to realize 'I'm possibly going to die here' — how could any words explain it?" asked Calvillo, who watched as one of the rescuers speaking before the cameras choked up during his account of John's rescue.
It is very touching to think of a person in this situation writing the message, but it is not because the man has an unusually large amount of love. I think "I love my kids" is exactly what nearly everyone with children would want to write if they had one last chance to write a message before dying. Even if you were also thinking "I'm afraid to die" and "I'm in horrible pain," that isn't what you would choose to write. It is the rock solid ordinariness of the message that ought to touch us.

The extraordinary thing is that this man with an opportunity to be paraded about in the public eye has chosen to remain private.

"Rarely does a comedy come along that deserves to be taken seriously."

Chris sends a link to this Oscar ad he finds offensive. It's not only offensive, it's stupid. Presumably, the Academy members who will be voting for the winner have worked hard making comedies, and they're being told all those movies they worked so hard on are mere fluff. I'm sure the ad writer was thinking something along these lines: Comedies rarely get the Oscar, because people assume they aren't as momentous as dramas; we want the voters to remember to give respect to comedies; let's remind them of the greatness of the few comedies that have won the Best Picture award in the last 45 years; and let's try to create the feeling that "Sideways" belongs in that group. So they write the slogan, and they never step back and ask whether they are saying anything else that they don't mean to say. How inept!

Friday, January 28, 2005

"The Apprentice."

I watched the TiVo'd "Apprentice" today, and I have to say it was pretty good. The new season is much livelier than last season. I should have simulblogged, but I didn't, so let me just list the things that were striking enough for me to remember. (For those who didn't watch the show, there are two teams, the college educated and the non-college-educated, and they had to renovate seaside motels, with the winning team determined by the ratings of the motels' guests.)

I couldn't understand why the contestants didn't wear work clothes to the site. The women in their fancy clothes and high heels seemed like hopeless divas as they exclaimed about the shabbiness of the motels.

The non-college grad team somehow decided to assign the one black male contestant the role of shoe shiner!

One contestant so could not put down her purse that she painted motel rooms with that pink suede purse slung over her shoulder.

The winning team's reward was a nice cruise around New York harbor in a big, swank yacht, with a fancy dinner, but the host was Steve Forbes, who spoiled any fun it might otherwise have been by drooling out business platitudes nonstop. Finally, he left from the deck of the yacht in a helicopter, and the team was photographed gazing adoringly as he ascended like Jesus or E.T. returning to his home planet.

The team that didn't go to college suddenly seemed to be made up entirely of annoying people who have no awareness that they need to work as a team and seem to think one can be professional while cursing out every single person you work with. I was hoping Trump would fire the whole team, but he didn't. He just [spoiler alert!] did the usual thing of firing the project manager. Who richly deserved it.

Top ten cars lists.

Stephen Bainbridge approves of my car choice and is impressed that I didn't buy any of the cars on the Top Ten Cars For Women Executives or the Top Ten Cars for Soccer Moms. I've never been either an executive or a soccer mom though. (I've never even been to a soccer game.) Where's the Top Ten Cars for Women Law Professors? I agree with Bainbridge that most of the cars on these lists are boring. But then most cars are boring.

Tomorrow, I'm picking up my car, and I plan to have some nice photos of it. One of the errands I need to do once I've got a car is to drive over to Schmidt's Towing and get the last few things out of the old car. There are some maps I might as well salvage, and somewhere on the floor are Tonya's good sunglasses. Also, there are six CDs in the CD player, but after the accident the button that ejects the cartridge stopped working. Any idea how to get it out? Is it acceptable to break it out with pliers or something? Well, how valuable are the CDs? Two are from the audio book "Peace Kills" by P.J. O'Rourke. The others are the four CDs we put in to drive to Milwaukee a few weeks ago: Stevie Wonder, Prince, Radiohead, and Green Day. I would like to get them out, but I don't know how. Anyway, I want to take a couple pictures of the wreck. I took a good look at it before they towed it away, but I was kind of in a daze at the time, and I'd like to see just how far in it crumpled.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. Let me invite you over to my blog's home, where you can scroll down to Sunday, January 23, and read about the accident, then scroll up through the week, for quite a few car posts.

"I can't think of any examples where I said, 'Gosh, I wish I had more power.'"

A memorable quote from President Bush, from the NYT interview. Here's the context:

On whether the powers of the presidency are adequate to deal with the threat from terrorism:

I felt the powers were adequate. The - obviously, one area where the power of the president is in dispute is when it comes to how you deal with illegal noncombatants. That's a the new area of law.

And that will be adjudicated in the courts over time.

As you know, I made a decision based upon presidential power. I think - no, I can't think of any examples where I said, 'Gosh, I wish I had more power.' I felt like I had plenty to do the job.

Of course, he has his interpretation of the scope of presidential powers that not everyone agrees with. But under that interpretation, he has "plenty to do the job."

One look at the NYT attitude toward President Bush.

The NYT has an nice interview with President Bush, along with a cropped version of the photograph that appears in black and white on page A7 of the paper copy. The full-size version includes a wide sweep of the Oval Office and has an idealized quality that is missing in the color bit of it that appears online. There must be a lamp of some kind behind Bush's head, because there is a halo-like glow around his head -- visible only in the black and white photo. With the large bowl of roses, the fire at his right hand, the portrait of George Washington above his shoulder, and the grandfather clock at the far left, the elements of the portrait seem to have been assembled with careful symbolic intent, as in an oil painting by Jan Van Eyck.

UPDATE: As an emailer points out, there is a click-to-enlarge button above the small picture at the link. If you click, you'll see more of the horizontal composition, though still not as much as in the newspaper.

Razing campus eyesores of the 1970s.

I was surprised and delighted to read of the plan to demolish Van Hise, the tallest building in Madison. There are uglier buildings on campus, many of them built during that historical lapse of taste known as the 1970s, but Van Hise looms right behind Bascom Hall, the beautiful, historic building that tops Bascom Hill, the heart of the UW campus. For those who don't know Madison but do know NYC, Van Hise is to Bascom as the old Pan Am building is to Grand Central Station. One building is elegant but relatively short, and the other building occupies the visual space above it, greatly diminishing the aesthetic impression from crucial vantage points in the city.

Gary Brown, the director of UW's Office of Planning and Landscape Architecture, told The Capital Times that Van Hise - along with many other buildings that date from the 1960s and 1970s - has such basic problems that it would be cheaper to tear it down than to try to fix it.

As I read, I can't wait to see what else is on the list. I know it won't be in order of ugliness, but they've got their eyes fixed on the Era of Ugliness buildings. How I would love for them to take down the Humanities building and that concrete pedestrian bridge that connects it to campus! I read further into the article. My heart leaps with joy! The Humanities building is on the list! Also the pitiful Peterson and the oggly Ogg Hall. Hooray!

Not only did these buildings always look bad -- though perhaps some aesthetic blindness prevented people from having any awareness of the fact -- but they also always were bad structurally. The 100-year-old buildings on campus are not on the demolition list: "they "have 'good bones' - good structure and viable floor-to-floor heights and can be renovated to last another 100 years." They are also beautiful. And it is perhaps not just a lucky coincidence that the beautiful buildings are the structurally sound ones. Attention to structural soundness is part of the process of making a building beautiful.

UPDATE: Here's a photograph showing Van Hise (the squared off building) behind Bascom Hall (the peaked roof in front):

Thursday, January 27, 2005


You're just not fidgeting enough. Maybe you're calm and centered. Nothing attractive about fidgeting! And yet, the newest study reveals (supposedly) that this whole skinny and fat thing we've been so worried about is all about fidgeting.

"The bad news ... is that you cannot tell people, 'Why don't you sit less and be a little more fidgety,' because they may do it for a couple of hours but won't sustain it for days and weeks and months and years."

What's more irritating, fidgety skinny people or scientists? Before answering, consider that the scientists in this particular case designed elaborate underwear:

For 10-day periods, the subjects in the study wore suits of special underwear fitted with devices that measured their posture and movements, taking them off for only about 15 minutes a day to shower and get a fresh set from the researchers.

The top was either an undershirt or a sports bra made of Lycra, and the bottom was a risqué-looking pair of shorts with openings at the crotch and backside so that the garment would not have to be lowered during the day, which would have disturbed the sensors.

Vicissitudes of pop.

Where is Fiona Apple? She was once a big thing, but she hasn't released an album in six years. Here's a VH-1 report:

Apple's third record, Extraordinary Machine, completed in May 2003, has been gathering dust on Sony's shelves, according to Jon Brion, the album's producer. Label executives allegedly don't consider it commercial enough for release, and thus a long and mostly uneventful silence has followed....

She was once annoyingly everywhere, super-commercial. Now, perhaps she's an artist, oppressed. Who knows? Maybe it's just a crappy record. Well, check out Free Fiona.

"The record company wants 'Criminal' junior and Fiona doesn't offer that up," Brion said. "She wrote that stuff when she was 16 and she's now in her mid-20s. She's extremely intelligent and writes this beautiful, really emotionally involved stuff that's very musical — lots of chord changes, very involved melodies, intensely detailed lyrics. It's just not the obvious easy sell to them."

The link to the article was sent to me by my son Chris, who writes:

I've heard two leaked songs from the unreleased album, by the way, and I think they're both excellent (and I'm generally not a Fiona Apple fan). They're heavily Tom Waits influenced and jazzier than her other stuff.

Li'l Greenie and Silvio.

Li'l Greenie was my car. And Li'l Greenie served me well. Many fun times were had, up until that last day, last Sunday. Today, when I got back from Fedjur class, there was a message on my answering machine, from my insurance company, and the woman identified herself as a member of the "total loss" department. That was enough to let me know my car, my Li'l Greenie, had been pronounced dead. All week he'd been on life suppport, over at Schmidt's Towing, but now the plug had been pulled, and Li'l Greenie was a soulless hulk. A tear came to my eye. Li'l Greenie gave his all and saved our lives on Sunday. So let this post stand as a tribute to Li'l Greenie.

My new silver Audi TT Coupe -- Quattro! -- is coming to me, over the ocean. He arrives on Saturday. A thrilling new relationship begins. My new car needs a name. I call him Silvio!

Movie aftereffects.

Sometimes a movie leaves an incongruous aspect of itself in your head. On Sunday, after the accident, we watched "Serial Mom" to cheer us up. This is a black comedy about a squeaky clean suburban mom -- a veritable June Cleaver -- who turns out to be a serial murderer. (Hmmm ... June Cleaver would be an appropriate name for a murderer!) In one scene, a victim is taken by surprise while happily watching a videotape of "Annie." Four days after watching the movie, I'm still hearing "The sun'll come out tomorrow..."

I'm not really sure why I thought "Serial Mom" would be a good post-car-crash movie -- surely not because the first murder we see Mom commit is running down someone with her car! There's nothing cheerful about murder, though perhaps there's something cheering about laughing at death. But the movie -- which I've seen many times -- does embed the world's most optimistic song in the minds of the sort of jaded, cynical people who watch black comedies. Days later, the film is out of my consciousness, and that song, which I'd never have sought out, is still playing in my head, still "clear[ing] away the cobwebs and the sorrow."

ADDED: Maybe you think there's a more optimistic song. "Some Day My Prince Will Come"? Let me know.

UPDATE: A reader suggests two other songs which are also prominent in movies: "We'll Meet Again" (used at the end of "Dr. Strangelove") and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (from "The Wizard of Oz"). While both of these songs express hope, they are quite wistful and really rather sad. Does the singer really think things will work out well? Obviously, in "Dr. Strangelove," all hope is over when the song plays, but that is very much like the use of "Tomorrow" in "Serial Mom" (as opposed to the original use in "Annie"). The character in "Serial Mom" dies and has no shot at any tomorrow, sunny or cloudy. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" ends with "why, oh, why can't I?" and expresses the characters feeling of helplessness. There's the dreamy wish for a land somewhere else, which seems beautiful but feeble and unlikely to come true.

By the way, I first head "We'll Meet Again" -- and loved it -- on The Byrds' first album "Mr. Tambourine Man." The Byrds sang it because of "Dr. Strangelove," but I did not see "Dr. Strangelove" until years later. The Byrds did a nice job of using phrasing to convey the irony that accompanied the song in the movie.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For the most optimistic rock song, I'm going to suggest The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

Let me note that it isn't just the lyrics that makes the song optimistic, it's the music and the way a singer sings it. "Tomorrow," on the lyrics alone, could be seen as depressingly pessimistic: good times are "always a day away," which means they never actually get here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: One reader says the best answer is "What a Wonderful World" -- the Louis Armstrong song. I always think of the Sam Cooke song when I read that title, but the "Don't know much about history" Sam Cooke song is called "Wonderful World." Another reader offers religious lyrics as the most optimistic -- "The Messiah" is suggested -- and pooh-poohs the delusional optimism of "All You Need Is Love." But it's the delusion of "All You Need Is Love" that I find so optimistic.

Another reader poses the question: What is optimism? Define your terms! Where does mistaken cheeriness fit in? "What a Wonderful World" is a great example of looking at the world that exists now and perceiving it as beautiful. There's no reliance on future events that may not happen as in "Tomorrow" and "We'll Meet Again" (and in "The Messiah" for that matter). "All You Need Is Love" also finds the present situation sufficient, but it makes assertions about the present that are quite simply not true and futility is presented as a good thing.

But let's look up "optimism" in the dictionary:
1. A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation: “There is a touch of optimism in every worry about one's own moral cleanliness” (Victoria Ocampo). 2. Philosophy a. The doctrine, asserted by Leibnitz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds. b. The belief that the universe is improving and that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

So, maybe we need three songs to cover the three definitions.

AND MORE: A reader offers "You'll Never Walk Alone," from "The Sound of Music": "At the end of the storm is a golden sky/And the sweet silver song of a lark." That suggestion made me think of "My Melancholy Baby": "Every cloud must have a silver lining/Wait until the sun shines through." And what a beautiful song that is! It's a bit like "All You Need Is Love," but instead of the abstraction "love," the solution for everything is cuddling. That's damn sweet!

AND EVEN MORE: Wait. "You'll Never Walk Alone" is the big finale song by Rodgers and Hammerstein in "Carousel." I was thinking of "Climb Every Mountain," the big finale song by Rodgers and Hammerstein in "The Sound of Music": "Climb every mountain, ford every stream/Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream." Walking, climbing ... life is a journey. At least in "You'll Never Walk Alone," you have help. In "Climb Every Mountain," you're pretty much on your own. And it's not even a level surface!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"American Idol," the Las Vegas auditions.

They're in "Vegas" tonight. Kenny Loggins is the guest judge. That adds less than zero to the excitement of the evening.

"I bit off my acrylic, so I'm way sick," says Mikalah Gordon, who's just 16. She sings "Lullaby of Birdland." Everyone loves her. "You're just cool," says Simon. Randy says "100,000 percent yes." Afterwards, she's asked what it means, and she says "It means that maybe one day I can buy my mom the implants she's always wanted."

A wild-eyed man who worships Neil Diamond and was deaf as a child is second. He seems wedded to a single note.

"I know you're used to rejection, which makes this easier" – a classic turndown from Kenny.

A Las Vegas showgirl sings "I Want to Love You Forever" in that groany pop-singer way. She's pretty good. The guys love her and Paula says "I'll let you guys have fun" and agrees with the yessing.

A nerdy guy sings "Heartbreak Hotel," which, if you're going to do Elvis, really is the best Elvis. Unfortunately, he's not good. He's "appalling."

Now, a Molfetta twin from last night is back. He's gone solo. He sings "I Who Have Nothing." He fancies it up as much as possible. "You gotta lose some of the act," Randy says. "I thought it was incredibly corny, " Simon says. Paula tries to claim control on the theory that she's the woman. And the solo Molfetta gets through!

A cute, high energy girl named Emily Neves comes out. They tell her she seems like Cyndi Lauper, and she launches into "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" but it's bad. Try something else, Paula says, so she does "Different Drum" and points at Simon when she says "you can't see the forest for the trees." Her adorable cuteness comes out, and everyone says yes.

The next guy claims to be 28, the age limit for the contestants. But he looks ancient, and they toy with him. He sings that dreadful Gary Puckett song about a girl lying about being old enough to have sex. They give him the boot.

Desi Yazzie shows up. His brother Dino Yazzie was a disaster in Season 2. Desi is nearly as bad. It's sad, but it's cute that the parents must have loved Dino, Desi, and Billy.

A cocktail waitress , Sharon Galvez, sings "I'm Saving All My Love For You." She's thrilling! She can sing Whitney! "You owned it," says Paula. Yeah!

A very unattractive psychic comes out and predicts she's going through. "I'm gonna sing Elvis Presley, 'Can't Help Fallin' in Love Witchoo.'" She's tone deaf. She doesn't really belong on the show, but they included her because they think it's funny that she claimed to be a psychic but couldn't predict her own rejection. I'm sorry, that's just not good enough.

A 27-year-old fat "homemaker" named Jennifer Todd is next. She sings some Alicia Keyes ("If I Ain't Got You"). She's warm and soulful. Full, beautiful voice. We wait for her transformation into a glamorous performer. I'm touched. I wipe away tears.

Mario Vazquez: wow! Paula: "Wow." I say: "That's what I wrote, wow."

The Audi TT Coupe.

Today, I heard that my car will be here on Saturday, and that activated my visualization powers. Is there a more beautiful car that can be driven year 'round in the north? Sure, I think a Porsche is beautiful, but quite aside from the expense of the thing, it cannot be driven year 'round in the north! The Porsche salesman volunteered that without prompting. So here I am, about to drive, as a day-to-day ordinary matter, the car I see as the most beautiful car! I can't wait to drive out into the rolling Wisconsin backroads this Saturday. This Sunday! Just to be able to sit in that car and drive -- what an exquisite pleasure! Where will I drive it on spring break? Into the incomparable Southwest! Where will I drive it this summer? Up through Canada to Alaska! A car! A car! A car! A car! Finally, a real car that completely thrills me!

Another post where I try to save your life.

My posts about my car wreck have caused some readers to write in about driving safety. Here's a very striking one:

We lost a dear friend because he didn't have his seatbelt on.

It was just before New Years, 1990. He was a veterinarian, casual and stubborn and compassionate, and not wearing his seatbelt when his girlfriend wasn't with him to nag him about it was kind of a guy thing with him. He was at his country house in Pennsylvania with his beloved girlfriend, whom he was soon to marry. He went out at night to do a few errands, and coming around a curve on the dark country road, saw a deer right in front of him. He swerved reflexively, right into a telephone pole. The cops said if he'd had his seatbelt on he would have had his choice to walk or drive away from the accident. Instead, he went through the windshield, was in a coma for ten days and died at the age of 44.

Ever since then, I fasten my seatbelt religiously and insist that my passengers do likewise. (It's guys who really need to hear this.)
There's sometimes a strange delusion that you're safe because you're near home. I've been in three car accidents in which the car I was riding in was completely destroyed. Each accident was within five miles of home, just a trip to the movies or shopping. Each time, I had my seatbelt on, because I always put my seatbelt on. I'm still here.

UPDATE: A reader sends this link to Best of the Web from a few days ago -- scroll down to "The Jerk that Flirts With Death" -- which is about as simultaneously funny and sad as something can be. Actually, I can understand hating the mandatory seatbelt laws. You may well object to the government forcing you to do what is best for you. But you still ought to wear that seatbelt!

Pictures of Madison.

I know a lot of readers like to see pictures of Madison on this blog, but in the winter, I'm much less likely to have them -- other than in the form of pictures of my own yard. I did head out for a lunchtime walk today. I'm not the sort of person who's inclined to think one "needs to get some fresh air." It seems to me that indoor air is entirely breathable. If it weren't, I'd be suffocated by now, because I've spent the vast majority of my hours on earth indoors. Yet today, I really did have that feeling that I needed to get out in the fresh air. It looks pretty and sunny through the window, so I was hoping it would be somewhat warm, like in the high 30s. No, it's in the low 20s, but I went out anyway, taking the usual path down Bascom Hill, through Library Mall, and up State Street. I got my camera out and was going to get a shot of some dried flowers poking up through snow, but my camera battery was dead. Sorry.

Was anything interesting going on in the Mall?

There was a man, standing alone, with no one near him, by the Library. He was holding open a Bible and bellowing out the Ten Commandments. When he got to the end, he went to "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." A little further on, there was a young man from a Spring Green church who had set up large dispensers of coffee and cocoa. The sign said "free." He had a group of people around him both times I passed him. In addition to giving them hot drinks, he was answering their questions. On the way toward State Street, I heard him telling people that his life was good because he allowed Jesus to guide him, and on the way back toward Bascom Hill, I heard him restating their question: why should I follow the teachings of a man who lived two thousand years ago?

Old Testament man and New Testament man.

It's not fair to say that this particular Old Testament man embodies the spirit of the Old Testament and this particular New Testament man embodies the spirit of the New Testament, but, clearly, this particular New Testament man was infinitely more appealing.

Car thoughts.

Where have you been all morning? I actually did post something this morning. It's that update on the last post from last night. But mostly, this morning was consumed by sleeping late, almost until 8, finally getting that full-night's sleep I'd been going without since the accident, and preparing for and teaching my 11 o'clock class in Constitutional Law.

I have not even had time to read the newspaper yet. When I went out this morning to pick it up from the front walk, I looked over at the driveway and stared at the tire marks in the snow that were made by the car that I don't have anymore. I caught myself staring at the snow too long. I am looking at the absence of my car.

Some day soon, a different car will be right there, and whenever I look at it, I will look with amazement. Wow! That's my car! Even now, when I happen to scroll down on my blog, I am struck by the photographs of the showroom car. I'll have one of those.

I remember how wonderful it felt to have the New Beetle, which I got in July 1999. Every time I drove it, for quite a while, it felt very exciting. It seemed there were always people by the side of the road smiling at it. Little kids would tug at their mother's sleeve and point it out. I guess it looked like a cute toy had become a part of the real world. People working in toll booths would exclaim "I love your car" and "The color goes great with your hair." I drove it wearing leather gloves that were the same "cosmic green."After the accident, the vase by the steering wheel was suddenly empty, and, somewhere on the floor, there was big gold silk flower.

UPDATE: "Some day soon" = this Saturday at 10 a.m. Color: silver, with black interior, just like the one in the photographs below. Cool!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

About those Oscars.

I haven't blogged about the Oscar nominations. I've been a little distracted! Scroll down if you're new or just checking in after a long while. I feel it's my obligation to say something about the Oscars. I was all over the Golden Globes quite recently. But the truth is, the only movie I've seen of the ones in contention is "Finding Neverland" and I didn't think it was very good. I did see "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and wish Kate Winslet well. I've only seen a few movies this year. My favorite was "Kill Bill -- Volume 2" which doesn't seem to have gotten anything, nothing significant anyway. The Academy stays in its same old rut, genuflecting at historical dramas and biopics. How tedious! Where is the nomination for Uma Thurman? Why should I care what you people think?

Looking for a standard Oscar nominations link, I ran across this article from Stephen Holden in tomorrow's NYT:

I wonder if I'm the only moviegoer who was suffering from Oscar fatigue even before the Academy Awards nominations were announced yesterday morning. After the Golden Globes, the People's Choice awards, the critics' awards and the guild nominations, any savvy handicapper could have boiled down the information and come up with a list of 95 percent of the nominees in the major categories.
Yet that doesn't say quite what I'm feeling. I'm tired -- and I feel as though I've been tired for decades -- of the Oscar-worthy projects that extract Oscar recognition from the Hollywood fossils. If you have your wits about you and you think about what you really want, maybe you won't want to go to the movies. It's all so overplanned and artificial. Actors! Do I even like them at all anymore?

UPDATE: I wrote this post at 10 at night after having had only 2 hours of sleep the previous night and still feeling the after effects of my car crash on Sunday. Now, I'm reading it on Wednesday, after a great long night's sleep. First thing I notice: I said I liked Uma Thurman, but I spelled her name wrong. Corrected. Second, I meant to express irritation "for the Oscar-worthy projects that extract Oscar recognition from the Hollywood fossils," but I wrote "Oscar-worthy projects that extract Oscar recognition for the Hollywood fossils," which is an even worse sort of mistake because it makes sense and just means something I didn't intend to say. Looking at the statement this morning, however, I'm thinking I could intend that statement to some extent. There seems to be an attempt going on to extract Oscar recognition for the "Hollywood fossils" Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, but I wouldn't have used that epithet against them intentionally.

I will say though that Clint Eastwood looks horrible on the cover of the new Entertainment Weekly. When I saw it, I exclaimed "he looks like a snake head" about five times. Would grizzled old Clint get a face lift? Instead of a face full of interesting lines and crags, his thinned out skin is stretched back, forming a taut, glossy surface that does not look human. And it sure doesn't help that his ears are so far back that they are scarcely visible in the full frontal view. Why? Why? Why would someone that old do something that can't make him look young, but only make him look very weird? Why would an actor who is only suited to play weathered old men ruin his face -- his instrument -- in search of an unattainable look that belongs to men who belong in roles he could never have anyway? And why did Clint Eastwood get a nomination instead of Paul Giamatti? Maybe the old fossils look at his new, old snake head and see themselves.

"American Idol," simulblogged.

I fry up some meat and pour a glass of wine, and sit down to "American Idol." I say "I bet we see the winner tonight and some of the other finalists, because we're in New Orleans, and the best singers are always from the south."

Gene Simmons is the guest judge. "Why do you want to do this?" he says to the 19-year-old David Brown. Brown looks perfect. He belts out "Long Time Comin'" beautifully. Randy tells him he's the best audition he's seen in four seasons of the show. Wow! He's suddenly the favorite to win Season Four. [UPDATE: As a reader reminds me, the title of this song, which does contain the words "long time comin'," is "A Change Is Gonna Come." I've written about that song before and especially regret the mistake, for it is surely one of the most beautiful songs ever, and I adore its composer, Sam Cooke.]

Next up is a yodeler. He yodels well. Paula: "That's not easy to do." They make him go behind a screen and try a Stevie Wonder song. (Stevie has long been the show's standard of perfection for the male pop singer.) He's not too bad, but he's still rejected.

Lindsay Cardinale is beautiful and sings beautifully. She makes it.

An earnest and very tall accountant named Sandeep sings "Eye of the Tiger" and is asked how he thought he did. He says he got the lyrics. He's rejected. His after-analysis: "The voice was in one tone. I needed to kind of mix it up with the tones. So … sorry."

Michael Liuzza wants to be the American Idol because "The world's a evil place. They got a lot of bad people. I'd like to give some good love around, you know." He sings "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" – the Louis Armstrong version. It's elegantly modulated, but has a bit of a weird affectation some of the time. He reminds Gene Simmons of Rosemary Clooney, and he says that's all out of style. Randy says no, Simmons says no, Paula says yes, Simon makes a sound that causes Paula to say: "You take the joy out of me having fun and showing love." Then Simon gives him the chance, and Paula still calls Simon "obnoxious." The Simon-Paula thing is part of the game, part of the act. We see Liuzza running out into the street, exulting.

At every break, they promote Leroy Wells. They've preselected him as this year's William Hung. He'd better be damned funny. Okay. Here he is. He's happy. He's a clown. Dances. Talks, but you can't understand a word he's saying. Wait. I did understand when he got down on his knees and said, "Thank you, Jesus. 'Cause you gotta put Jesus first." Randy: "Yo, dawg. But can you sing? … Sing something!" They suggest James Brown. He tries to sing "I Feel Good," and can't do it. He has gold teeth that he puts in and out. They love him, but he can't go through. Yet, media-savvy, he understands that he's on TV right now! Success! "It's all good!" He walks out saying "Can you dig it?" And they all say "Yes!" America is entertained. He's raving, happy. He knows he's going to be on TV.

Next is a minister from Dallas, Jeffrey Johnson, who's shocked by New Orleans. He sings "In the Still of the Night." Simmons thinks he's a country artist, because of his ministry. Rock is about sexuality, he says. Simon says the public will love him. Randy's the deciding vote and he says yes. He's through.

Back to David Brown, in his Baptist Church. We see a closeup of him with a tear rolling down his cheek. We love this guy. Fox TV wants us to love this guy, and, yeah, it's manipulative, but we do love him.

After the commercial, it's all about twins. The first two -- the Jefferson twins -- are pronounced "good" by Simon and they make it. The second two … you get the vibe they're going to be bad. The Molfetta twins. They sing "I'll Make Love to You," and Paula is seduced. Simmons refers to "the oozy, oozy white boy thing." Simon thinks it's only the twinning that makes them seem approvable: "I don't think individually, you're good enough." But maybe one is better than the other? Judged individually, it's still a no. Randy and Paula get pissed and walk out. In the promo for tomorrow night, we see one of the Molfetta brothers returns in the Las Vegas auditions.

"They sure signaled to us that the guy to watch is David Brown," I say. Chris says: "I don't like when they give an unfair amount of air time to someone no one has voted on."

Still a bit fried, part 2.

Last night I couldn't sleep at all. Maybe two hours, total and nonconsecutive. I had an elaborate Fedjur class to prepare and an hour and a half of teaching, beginning at 9:30. I considered cancelling my class and taking a sick day, even though I have never cancelled a class for sickness in twenty years, and failure to get enough sleep is not a sickness. It was an aftereffect of the car accident, however, and one could properly cancel a class for a physical injury. My leg did still hurt. But lack of sleep seemed an inadmissible reason to cancel class. Who calls in sick with insomnia?

I got the class prepared somehow and began by confessing my predicament. Adrenalin got me through at the usual energy level. Teaching some of the peskiest doctrine (reverse-Erie, Tarble's case), I seemed coherent enough to myself. After class, I went to my office to hit the wall. There was a message on the phone from the insurance company about inspecting the wreckage of my car. Two deans paid a visit to see how I was doing. I said I was feeling a bit frazzled and talked a bit about the car I'd ordered the day before. Soon enough, I accepted a ride home from Nina. We stopped at Whole Foods, where I weaved my way past banks of multicolored tulips and pyramids of oranges and cheeses and loaded up on meat, milk, salad, eggs, and red wine.

Back home, I read for a while, meaning to remain awake. I wanted to stay up until at least 9. At 4, I started to watch TiVo'd "Daily Show" from Monday night. Realizing I was nodding off, I went upstairs to lie down.

I woke up and looked at my watch. It was 5:30. Ah! I'd slept through the night, in my clothes, in my makeup, without even lowering the blinds. That's never happened. It's still dark out, and I feel great, pleased with myself that I'd slept so long, ready to have some coffee, check out the NYT, and prep my 11 am class. And I'd been looking forward to watching "Amercian Idol" last night. Now, there will be two episodes for Wednesday night.

The phone rings, and a man asks me if I would like to take a survey. I'm quite surprised. Who would do survey calls at 5:30 in the morning? "It's not a good time," I tell him. I pick up my Conlaw book and head downstairs. Wait a minute. Is it 5:30 in the morning or 5:30 at night? You can't tell from looking at the clock or from what it looks like outside or from the fact that it's news and not classical music on NPR right now. I genuinely do not know if it's 5:30 in the morning or 5:30 Tuesday night. Could it still be Tuesday? How do I find out? I open up my computer and look at the NYT homepage to see the date. It's the 25th. Tuesday night. I've only slept for an hour and a half on top of my previous night of two hours sleep, and I feel fine and ready to launch into a new day. How terribly strange! Now, I'll need to wind down, get to bed again in a few hours, and hope to create a sleepful night for myself.

How terribly odd! Time to fry up some meat not eggs, pour some wine not coffee, and settle in for an evening of "American Idol" and whatever the TiVo dragged in last night.

The post where I try to save your life.

In response to my car accident, a reader writes:
I fly a helicopter ambulance in St.Louis, and respond often to accidents much more serious than yours. I'm glad you and Tonya were no worse than banged up a little....

Your VW apparently did a good job of protecting you. I know you loved the's easy to get attached to machinery that serves us well. They have idiosyncrasies that we perceive as personalities. The VW may have had some foibles, but when it counted it acted as a protector!

It is amazing to me how well the seatbelt/airbag system works....most folks that are hurt in accidents we respond to are not using the belts and either are ricocheted around the interior, or are ejected and maybe squashed by the following rollover.

Please educate others about how important it is to wear the keeps you in the living space, keeps you in place near the controls so you can possibly have an effect on the accident outcome, and allows the airbag to most effectively do its job!

Yes, really. The airbag totally worked. And it didn't hurt. It stung/tingled for maybe twenty minutes, and I have a slight red mark on my chin, but I'm fine. The police officer who drove me home after the accident was talking about airbags too. He said he really thought it was a shame people disabled their airbags. I assume he's seen some bad car accident injuries too.

Reaching out on abortion.

Addressing a crowd of abortion-rights supporters yesterday, Hillary Clinton made an attempt to reach out to abortion opponents. She called abortion a "sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," and spoke favorably of the role of "religious and moral values" in helping teenagers keep celibate. This reaching out counts for something. It is extremely hard to articulate a middle position on abortion, even though, I think, the majority of Americans actually occupy that position.

We want abortion to remain legal, but we also believe it to be morally wrong. Those who are vocal in the debate about abortion are almost always the people who hold the polar positions and therefore find it easy to say what they believe. While I give credit to Hillary Clinton for attempting to explain the middle position, I am well aware that she is choosing her positions with an eye toward future political advantage and that her statement has a flaw that antagonizes abortion opponents:

"There is an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate - we should be able to agree that we want every child born in this country to be wanted, cherished and loved," Mrs. Clinton said.

Every child born -- and aborted -- in this country is "wanted, cherished and loved" -- just not necessarily by the woman carrying that child. Supporters of abortion rights don't think it is enough that someone else stands ready to love and cherish that unborn child. They want to put the decision in the hands of the person who must go through the pregnancy.

UPDATE: Spelling corrected. "Celibate" does not have the same root as "celebrate," unsurprisingly. "Celibate" is from the Latin "caelibtus, from caelebs, caelib-," meaning "unmarried."

Historically, celibate means only “unmarried”; its use to mean “abstaining from sexual intercourse” is a 20th-century development. But the new sense of the word seems to have displaced the old, and the use of celibate to mean “unmarried” is now almost sure to invite misinterpretation in other than narrowly ecclesiastical contexts. Sixty-eight percent of the Usage Panel rejected the older use in the sentence He remained celibate [unmarried], although he engaged in sexual intercourse.

"Celebrate" comes from "Middle English celebraten, from Latin celebrre, celebrt-, to frequent, celebrate, from celeber, celebr-, frequented, famous."

But you can celebrate celibacy, as apparently Hillary Clinton does. And you can be a celebrated celibate -- or you can just keep it to yourself. Who knows which celebrated celebrities are celibate?

And none of this has anything to do with "celery," which is "from Italian dialectal seleri, pl. of selero, alteration of Late Latin selnon, parsley, from Greek." Celibates and celebrities alike can eat celery.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Still a little fried.

Sorry I missed all the news and political doings today. I'm still a little fried from the accident. I managed to do the car transaction anyway, with Nina's great help. Presumably, the car will serve me well. I went with a three-year lease, so if I made the wrong choice, it will all be over in three years anyway. (Not sooner, I hope!). There's no looking back, anyway. The old car is gone. What are you going to do? Sit around and whine about how you wish that hadn't happened? It happened. It's just a fact. Ditto the car transaction. Will driving a sportscar instead of a Beetle transform me in some way? Who knows? I'm already a bit transformed from the crash. I'm a bit fried. I'm still living in that burnt atmosphere of an exploding airbag.

Here's Tonya's account of the ordeal, a middle-of-the-night transcription of racing thoughts.

UPDATE: And here's Nina's post on the car-buying trip, including pictures of me in and around the car and signing the papers and some pretty damned amusing observations about my conversation with the salesmen, like my concern about getting NPR on the satellite radio in the middle of the desert. You know, when I think of myself driving, I always picture myself driving through the desert -- maybe down the "Loneliest Road" in Nevada.

The car!

Thanks for all of the advice everyone. I've gone with the Audi TT Coupe (the 6-speed Quattro). Here's how the showroom car looked:

Car shopping!

As you know, I wrecked my car. I don't know if it will be declared a total loss yet or not, but whether it is or not, I'm going to get a new car. If the old one is to be repaired, I'll repair and sell it. It is time for the new car. I blogged about replacing my cosmic green New Beetle not that long ago, but then I decided to keep it. I'm getting some email saying now I can get that Corvette. I know people are into the idea of my buying a Corvette. Do you really want someone who just squashed a Beetle driving around in a Corvette? I think it's time for the Audi TT. If you think I'm making a mistake, now's the time to stop me.

Nina was kind enough to give me a lift to work and is coming back to pick me up later, when we will head out to the Audi dealer. Not only do I need a ride to the place, but I am well aware of how having a shopping companion helps overcome inhibition. Remember when Tonya, Nina, and I all went into Tiffany's and caused each other to buy jewelry, when, it seems, if we'd been alone, we'd have browsed around a bit and breezed out. I tried to get Tonya to come with us car shopping too. Wouldn't it have been cool if we'd all gone to the car dealer today and come out with spiffy Audi TT coupes? It would be just like us with our matching Paloma Picasso zigzag hoop earrings.

UPDATE: A reader writes: "Consider that here in Madison the two newest car dealerships are: (1) Hummer; and (2) Jaguar/Land Rover." That doesn't sound like the Madison you non-Madison readers have been picturing, now does it? Maybe I do need something up off the ground to get through the deep snow? What do you think?

The morning after the car wreck.

Here's Tonya's account of the aftermath of the car wreck. She uses the word "hemotoma" and acknowledges the healing effects of chocolate ice cream. Unlike me, she not only considered photographing her injury for the blog, she did photograph it. Refrained from blogging it though.

Here's Nina's account of the aftermath, which includes her recipe for chocolate crepes with sauteed strawberries. There's some talk of why "Serial Mom" was the right movie to watch after the accident. She notes that irony that we talked about the way an accident commits us to taking more care in the future and that, after dropping off Tonya last night, she backed her car into a snow bank.

I've gotten a lot of nice, sympathetic email from readers. Thanks to all for your kind thoughts. One thing about blogging is that you enlarge the circle of people who care about you, and I appreciate that.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

After the wreck.

After the car wreck, the police officer gave me a lift home. I thanked him and wished him well, and he was completely nice to me too. I went in the house and talked to Chris and got a hug and emailed Nina: call me! We email each other all the time, and I didn't know her phone number. When we had our plans interrupted by a car crash, Tonya and I had been on our way over to pick up Nina and go to see the 3:55 show of "Sideways." I guess we went sideways. Tonya ended up going to the hospital in the ambulance with the driver of the other car, and I signed the release refusing treatment. I'll go to the hospital later if I have to, but right now I just wanted to go home.

Nina called me up, and I told her the story. She asked me what she could do, and I said to go over and help Tonya at the hospital. Later, Nina called from the hospital. The place was busy, and she was afraid they'd be there a long time. I invited them to come over afterwards and said I had a lot of steak in the refrigerator. I'd make a dinner. Nina was into that and said both she and Tonya had been talking about going home and making scrambled eggs -- which would be quite a comedown from last night's glorious dinner.

Not that long after, they came by. Tonya was on crutches! An ankle sprain. I got out the two extra thick steaks and sliced them into thinner steaks, making four steaks for Tonya, Nina, Chris, and me. I had a lot of salad greens, and I opened a bottle of wine. We were going to cook and eat and watch a movie to cheer us all up. And we did cook and talk a lot and blog and watch a movie that really did cheer us up quite a bit. What movie? "Serial Mom"!

Here's how we looked, crutches and all -- in the oft-blogged-about, but never-before-seen Althousian "big room" -- as we were getting set up to eat steak and lift our spirits with a movie about a murderous mother.