Thursday, June 30, 2005

"It's mercy, compassion and forgiveness I lack... not rationality."

What movie are we watching?

Product niche.

I think if more women were involved in deciding what products to design, what I've been looking for would already exist. I want a very small bag on wheels -- not something that looks like carry-on luggage, but a small, sleek case with a compartment for a laptop and room for one book and a few personal items. There are lots of larger cases, but they don't make them small enough, because -- I think -- men find it easy to carry a small bag (and would be embarrassed to wheel one). But, believe me, women want wheels for a simple laptop case.

And don't make it out of that coarse "technical nylon" with thick velcro-y flaps on the outside. Don't make it multicolored or shape it like a dorky backpack with those ugly padded backpack straps. Make it simple, black nylon and put two zippers on the top. Make the handle slim and the wheels small. There! It's such an obvious product! Somebody needs to start making this. Please. You'll get rich.

Not so big anymore.

For the first time since before the Civil War, Milwaukee is not one of the twenty largest cities in the U.S. They seem pretty upset about it.

And Detroit's awfully sad about falling out of the top 10. Its place was taken by San Jose.

Only one midwestern state left in the top 10: Chicago.

CORRECTION: I mean to say that only one midwestern state is represented in the top ten. I realize Chicago's a city...

"With every passing hour, it becomes clearer and clearer that nothing is going to happen."

The news of no news.

A door with attitude.

This is the door of a shop here in Madison:

Shopkeeper attitude.


"#Through the nose, #High voice, #Nose broken early in youth to account for difficulty."

Brando's notes on the "Godfather" script -- along with other personal effects up for auction -- pictured here.

And here's "the only item relating to his film career that he displayed in his Mulholland Drive home." (Some nudity.)

Here's his typed letter to Marilyn Monroe advising her to experience her depression as an opportunity for personal growth:
Be glad for it and don't be afraid of being afraid. It can only help. Relax and enjoy it.

Maybe if she'd just eaten a lot more ice cream. Marilyn and Brando were very similar at that time. Highly sexualized movie icons running into mental problems. What if Marilyn had just put on weight, like Marlon, and lived a long time? Picture incredibly obese, old Marilyn, turned into a figure of fun over the years. Kind of sweet!

REVISED UPDATE: Links are good now!

"Get Out, You Damned One."

That's the title of Saddam's novel, banned, then bootlegged in Jordan, where "a lot of people still like him, and he still commands popularity."
The novel, which Mr. Hussein is said to have completed on the eve of the American invasion in 2003, is seen as a prescient picture of the occupation of Iraq.

It opens with a narrator who appears to be modeled on the story of Abraham warning his grandsons of Satan's hold over Babylon.

The story tells of Ezekiel, a greedy schemer who plots to overthrow the sheik of a tribe with the help of a powerful enemy aiming to conquer and annihilate all Arabs but is ultimately defeated by the sheik's daughter with the help of an Arab warrior. This is viewed as a metaphor for a Zionist-Christian plot against Arabs and Muslims.

"Only those who refuse his nation and are faithful to God can be victorious," the narrator warns of Satan, the superpower.
The book is obviously dumb trash. Banning it makes it seem valuable.

Mexico? Exactly how...

... do you make a mistake like this?
"Memín Pinguín is a character like Speedy González, created in the 1940's," the spokesman, Rafael Laveaga, said in a statement. "Just as Speedy González has never been interpreted in a racial manner by the people in Mexico, because he is a cartoon character, I am certain that this commemorative postage stamp is not intended to be interpreted on a racial basis in Mexico or anywhere else."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"A monument to a society that has turned its back on any notion of cultural openness."

Criticism of the new World Trade Center Freedom Tower.
The most radical design change is the creation of the base, which will house the building's lobby and some mechanical systems. Designed to withstand a major bomb blast, the base will be virtually windowless. In an effort to animate its exterior, the architects say they intend to decorate it in a grid of shimmering metal panels. A few narrow slots will be cut into the concrete to allow slivers of natural light into the lobby.

The effort fails on almost every level. As an urban object, the tower's static form and square base finally brush aside the last remnants of Mr. Libeskind's master plan, whose only real strength was the potential tension it created among the site's structures. In the tower's earlier incarnation, for example, its eastern wall formed part of a pedestrian alley that became a significant entry to the memorial site, leading directly between the proposed International Freedom Center and the memorial's north pool. The alley, flanked on its other side by a performing arts center to be designed by Frank Gehry, was fraught with tension; it is now a formless park littered with trees.

UPDATE: The Anchoress is very hard on the Times's architecture critic. Myself, I admire the people who are able to find words to write about music, painting, and architecture. It is not easy. And the change to the tower really is a shame. I'd say the writer, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has expressed in words the disappointment many of us feel on seeing the pictures of the new design. And before reviling the New York Times, let's remember the good work the newspaper has put in over the past few years keeping up the pressure to make the new architecture at the World Trade Center site beautiful. Remember the originally proposed designs? The Times has done a lot here, and its method has been to stir the public's emotions about architecture, the city, politics, and physical security. There are some statements in this article that can rub you the wrong way -- the Times pictures its readers as liberals -- but overall, I think, this piece reads as a cry for strength and beauty in the city.

And then there's the "adrenosexual" man.

Replacing the metrosexual.

The Leo Burnett Man Study.

The Leo Burnett ad agency recently released a study, based on interviews with over 2,000 men in 13 countries, about attitudes about masculinity.
Overall, findings from the Leo Burnett Man Study highlight the disruption of men’s sense of identity due to profound social and structural changes taking place across the globe. The study confirmed that men in most parts of the world are unsure of what’s expected of them in society, with half of those surveyed saying they felt their role in society was unclear. Additionally, a stunning 74 per cent said they believe the images of men in advertising are out of touch with reality.

"As the world is drifting toward a more feminine perspective, many of the social constructs men have taken for granted are undergoing significant shifts or being outright dismantled. It’s a confusing time, not just for men, but for marketers as well as they try to target and depict men meaningfully," said Bernardin.

The study revealed the existence of a "New Male Spectrum," characterised on one end by enlightened, evolved, modern men - or what have been popularly dubbed "metrosexuals," and on the other end, entrenched, more traditionally masculine "retrosexuals" who cling steadfastly to stereotypical male behavior. Both groups are engaged by the gender debate and see themselves in terms relative to women: either they’re more like women (Metros) or they’re aggressively asserting their difference from women, (Retros).

The agency cautioned marketers against becoming fixated on these men who are adapting - or not - to women’s new power and influence in society. According to the Man Study, fewer than 40 per cent of men define themselves this way: the majority of men surveyed (60 per cent) aren’t caught up in this gender debate and live by a more traditional set of standards for assessing their masculinity.

"What do actresses see in their scruffy men?"

The International Herald Tribune inquires:
The once glamorous Hollywood of Cary Grant and Steve McQueen has been taken over by greasy-haired, scruffy-bearded, baggy-pants-wearing men who could be mistaken for vagrants if their $30,000 watch didn't give them away.

The obvious example of this frog mentality is Mr. Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, whose arrival in the city of angels set the stage for this latest Hollywood trend. Granted, Spears was never a leading lady in film or fashion. But even classic beauties with fashion know-how like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner, and Kate Hudson are all being squired about town by men (Chris Martin, Ben Affleck, and Chris Robinson respectively) who wouldn't make the dress code if they showed up alone.
Here's my theory. Only someone genuinely young and good-looking can get away with with the look. So it's very daring and exciting to be one of the few people who can do it. Let ordinary men attempt to get in on the super-elite trend and they will humiliate themselves.

Theme of the day detected.

Quite by accident, today's posts seem thematically linked. Something about expressing masculinity.

"We really slobbered over the old witch."

That was Richard Nixon's statement after meeting Indira Gandhi in 1971 -- according to recently released documents. And the charming Henry Kissinger chimed in: "The Indians are bastards anyway."

"Egyptians ate lettuce to boost sex drive."

That's what it says here. Something to do with the god Min, who is "invariably depicted with a large, erect" -- and probably lettuce-y -- penis.

Remember the men's movement?

With the drumming circles and everything? The Boston Globe seeks out the present-day remnants (via A&L Daily):
So what happened to [Robert "Iron John"] Bly's mythopoetic movement? The negative media coverage, such as Esquire's ''Wild Men and Wimps" spoof issue in 1992, didn't exactly help. But there were other factors, too. For one thing, even many of the men not inclined to dismiss Bly-style gatherings as silly found themselves mystified by the rarefied Jungian concepts tossed around the campfires like so many marshmallows. ''Many of the men I saw worked really hard at trying to figure out the mythology, but they just weren't getting it in the belly," says Byers, echoing the title of Sam Keen's bestselling book....

Part of the problem ... was the mythopoetic movement's complex relationship to feminism. On the one hand, some feminists construed Bly's attack on feminized males as reactionary. ''I'd hoped by now that men were strong enough to accept their vulnerability and to be authentic without aping Neanderthal cavemen," Betty Friedan told The Washington Post back in 1991. (Bly denied that there was anything anti-woman about his ideas.) What's more, the movement itself could never get beyond the fact that unlike the feminist movement - which itself had lost steam by the 1990s, as women achieved more economic and financial power - Bly and his followers never had any clear political agenda to drive them forward.

According to the article, these days, men actually want to be more involved in family life. And the men's groups of today tend to be centered on traditional religion, not Bly's "mythopoetic" antics.

Yelling in a quiet neighborhood.

I live in a very quiet neighborhood. It's summertime and there are lots of windows open. Every once in a while I hear a guy yell. Just: "arrrggghhhh!" I don't know where he is. Maybe he's one of those grunting weightlifter types. It's only just mildly disturbing. Or should I worry that somebody has a problem? But I don't quite know where. It just floats over the whole neighborhood.

"I can get pretty worked up being a Lisa Simpson in the Bart Simpson world of the SEC."

Says Christine Hurt -- picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Prawfsblawg.

Stagger Lee shot Billy Lyons over a brand new Stetson Hat.

And now Bono is suing Lola Cashman over an old Stetson hat.

(Stagger Lee link.)

On sending your sons.

Here's a great Christopher Hitchens piece saying something that needs to be said: parents don't send their sons to war. Those who serve are of age and making their own choices. Some of those who don't support the war are not above slamming a person who does for not "sending" their sons, and if you think this is good rhetoric, read Hitchen's piece, and, among other things, take into account that you don't know whether the sons of the person you're scolding are heterosexual and not disabled.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"I have been looking for some nice triangles."


Do you ever get nostalgic for the early days of your blog?

Remember how it felt back then? So obscure... and illicit!

"She wears her lakes like a diamond tiara/Her necklace is known as the mighty Yahara/Around her the Beltline is draped like a garland..."

"...And brings in commuters from way past McFarland."

Should "Wonderful Madison" be the official Madison song?
Sweet mother Madison full of compassion
A liberal community after a fashion
You don't have to worry if you do annoy her
'Cause for every person there's more than one lawyer.

Oh, jeez, I don't know. Doug Moe says yes. But they're taking a vote.

"The Comeback."

Are you watching "The Comeback" -- the HBO comedy series that stars Lisa Kudrow? I just discovered it on HBO On Demand yesterday and proceeded to watch all four available episodes. It's excellent. Kudrow's a terrific comic actress -- you really sympathize with her as she's being humiliated, even when most of her problems are in her head or a result of her own doing. When she names her puppy "Lucy," you don't need her to say she loves Lucille Ball. You could already see that.

Anyway, she plays an actress from a once-popular sitcom who's being relegated to a secondary, older-woman role on a new sitcom and who's simultaneously making a reality show about her comeback. We see a lot of the "raw footage" for the reality show and the behind-the-scenes work on the sitcom, so there is a lot of mockery of two types of TV shows.

Note: I've only watched one episode of "Friends."

MORE: Here's an interview with Kudrow about the show.

Hollywood comes to Madison.

I hear:
"The Last Kiss" starring Scrubs actor Zach Braff is scheduled to begin filming in Madison tomorrow....

"The Last Kiss" is about a group of 30-year-olds struggling with adulthood.

Zach Braff? Never heard of him. What the hell? I can't even remember what "Scrubs" is. Anyway... big excitement and road blockage. But Madison's a good choice for a place to be 30 and struggling with adulthood, isn't it?

UPDATE: More here:
Late Tuesday morning there's a whole lot of pacing on a Bascom Hill. Every time someone shouts "background!" people start moving in well- orchestrated lines around a couple that includes a blond woman in a long ivory jacket.

The woman in question is Blythe Danner, the Tony Award-winning stage actress also known for "Meet the Fockers." The man she's filming the scene with is Harold Ramis, of "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters" fame.

Hey, I looked out my window today and saw two weird park benches bolted onto the Bascom Hill walkway. That's got to be for the movie. I look forward to looking out my office window tomorrow and seeing Blythe Danner and Harold Ramis emoting in exactly the same spot where I looked out the same window twenty years ago and saw Rodney Dangerfield.

A nominee to satisfy business and social conservatives.

Stephen Bainbridge covers a subscribers-only article in the Wall Street Journal that I hadn't been able to get to myself. The subject is the way business and social conservatives disagree about various legal issues, and the bottom line is that Bush ought to nominate Michael McConnell for a Supreme Court vacancy.

UPDATE: A reader sends a link that will work for nonsubscribers for the next seven days.

Music question.

CHRIS: If you could go back in time either to the 50s or the 60s and you could bring a CD of songs from the 90s -- burn a CD...

ME: They don't have CD players...

CHRIS: You bring a CD player...

ME (thinking but not saying): People would be fascinated to see such a device.

CHRIS: And the goal is to to demonstrate what the 90s were about and that the 90s were a great decade musically. Because I think the 90s were one of the best decades. Better than now or the 80s or the 70s.

ME (aloud again): But you specifically want to prove this to people in the 50s and 60s.


ME: Because you think people are always acting like music from the 50s and 60s is the best? Or are you just trying to prove it to me?

CHRIS: Why do you think it's about you?

ME: Because I'm always acting like the music from the 50s and 60s is the best.

CHRIS: It's not about you, okay? Anyway, you've got to burn a CD or make a tape or whatever. You can pick 10 to 12 songs -- and they all have to be by different artists -- and the point is to prove the 90s are the best. So what would the songs be?

ME: Let me ask my readers to help us.


"Seldom has the capital been so spoiling for a fight."

Here's the NYT front-page piece on the (non)retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist. You just know everyone had articles like this ready to go and reframed them to account for the fact that there was no news. I just did a radio show on the retirement (that wasn't).

I talked about the strange vulturishness we somehow think is okay to let show when we're talking about Supreme Court Justices (and no one else). I think this odd departure from decorum is a natural consequence of giving judges life tenure. They're holding powerful positions and don't have regular terms: that's going to affect how we talk about them.

Still, I hope the Chief is doing well and laughing off the premature talk of his demise. May the rough treatment give him new strength.

From the Times piece:
Seldom has the capital been so spoiling for a fight, and seldom has the only person with the power to ring the opening bell been so Sphinx-like. The combination has put senators and interest groups into a strange state of suspended animation.

And how are we predicting they'll behave when that bell rings? My prediction is the Democrats will fight like mad, whoever is chosen, though they know they'll lose in the end. They've got to make a show for themselves. They'll try to use the occasion to present themselves to constituents as champions of individual rights and opponents of extremism. (The phrase "out of the mainstream" will be heard ... a lot.)

Will the Democrats emerge from this fight looking good? My prediction is no. I'm guessing various Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee (and elsewhere) will garble their attempts at characterizing the nominee as extreme and the other side will play each misstep and make them look quite foolish.

I await the juicy bloggables.

Don't comp dessert! Comp the wine!

Nina has the scoop on last night's dinner at the Macaroni Grill, where they screwed up seating us at different tables, leaving me to draw on the butcher paper with the crayons they put out for kids.

It's really hard to do links to Nina's blog when she has photos, because she uses a system that produces a new link at each photo, but here's the beginning of the post.

Nina writes:
The hostess is most apologetic. The waiter is most apologetic. The manager is most apologetic. They offers us free dessert. What, we will then be forced to eat something for free that we wouldn’t have otherwise ordered??? My companion will have none of it. You want to comp something, comp the extra wine we’ve had to drink waiting for each other.

They do. M.Grill rules!

Here's the photo I took while waiting for Nina. I'd already ordered a whole bottle of wine -- $30 -- and was wondering how much of it I'd drink if Nina never showed.

Crayoned bottle shadows.

UPDATE: Oscar and I do an intervention and get Nina off Hello and onto Flickr, at which point she does a big post about Poland with lots of pictures.

"The media lived on borrowed time for a long time."

Adam Liptak has this piece in the NYT about the decline of the notion that mainstream journalists are entitled to special First Amendment protections:
"We're seeing outright contempt for an independent press in a free society," said Jane Kirtley, who teaches media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "The fact that courts have no appreciation for this is new, is troubling, and you cannot overestimate the impact it will have over time."...

Professor Kirtley said the legal turning point came in 2003 with a decision written by Richard A. Posner, an influential federal appeals court judge in Chicago. Judge Posner wrote that lower courts had often misread and failed to follow the holding of a 1972 Supreme Court decision, Branzburg v. Hayes, which rejected First Amendment protection for reporters facing grand jury subpoenas.

Professor [Rodney A.] Smolla said news organizations had for 30 years managed to convince lower courts that Branzburg, decided on a vote of 5 to 4, held the opposite of what its majority had decided. While the majority opinion had been fairly clear, lawyers for news organizations had seized on a brief and enigmatic concurrence by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. to convince the courts that they should recognize some level of protection.

That seemed to end yesterday in the Supreme Court, which upheld without comment lower court decisions ordering that Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine be jailed for refusing to testify about their sources in an investigation into the disclosure of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity.

"The media lived on borrowed time for a long time," Professor Smolla said, "as very able media lawyers managed to spin a loser into a winner."...

"The federal judiciary, from the Supreme Court down, has grown very skeptical of any claim that the institutional press is deserving of First Amendment protection over and above those of ordinary citizens," Professor Smolla said. "The rise of the Internet and blogger culture may have contributed to that. It makes it more difficult to draw lines between the traditional professional press and those who disseminate information from their home computers."

Early morning radio.

I'll be on Wisconsin Public Radio (the "Ideas Network") at 8, talking about the "legacy of Chief Justice Rehnquist" -- as they put it (even though the man hasn't announced his retirement).

UPDATE: Show over. Did any readers listen? Any comments?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Putting aside the "brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular."

(Also posted on the SCOTUSblog Ten Commandments discussion.)

In Van Orden, Justice Breyer quotes Justice Goldberg:
[U]ntutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious.

“Brooding… devotion to the secular” – that’s a phrase that has always struck me too. What do we really think we are doing with the Separation of Church and State? It should be that we are invigorating our culture, not grimly purifying it, squeezing out the heartfelt expressions of real people, scrubbing away traditions perceived as tainted.

In McCreary, Justice Scalia begins with a story about himself:
On September 11, 2001 I was attending in Rome, Italy an international conference of judges and lawyers, principally from Europe and the United States. That night and the next morning virtually all of the participants watched, in their hotel rooms, the address to the Nation by the President of the United States concerning the murderous attacks upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, in which thousands of Americans had been killed. The address ended, as Presidential addresses often do, with the prayer “God bless America.” The next afternoon I was approached by one of the judges from a European country, who, after extending his profound condolences for my country’s loss, sadly observed “How I wish that the Head of State of my country, at a similar time of national tragedy and distress, could conclude his address ‘God bless ______.’ It is of course absolutely forbidden.”

Even as the Establishment Clause is fundamental to our national identity, we have not taken it to have a thuddingly heavy meaning. We have found some air in it, some room for the expression of human beings who, despite their placement in government positions, naturally speak of God. They could learn to watch themselves and avoid such expressions, but we haven’t required it.

Installing a big permanent stone monument is scarcely the same as speaking “God bless America.” It’s the very opposite of spontaneous human expression. But it’s an old stone monument, and most people either don’t notice it, don’t mind it, or get a positive feeling from it. To take it down now is so inexplicably intrusive to ordinary people who’ve gotten used to it or who never noticed it before but would surely notice the removal. I find it easy to align myself with Justice Breyer and say surely tolerating this old monument can be part of what it means to get along in a pluralistic society and therefore part of the real meaning of the Establishment Clause.

I can accept McCreary too. The framed document inside the courthouse, put up recently, is different enough. It's odd to have two different outcomes, and part of me would prefer a crisp rule, if for no other reason than to convey to ordinary people that there really is law here. But continuing the complicated analysis of what Justice Breyer calls the "borderline" cases is not going to destroy us. We can tolerate some complexity if we must.

Maybe it's better that it's not so easy to see what's permitted and what isn't, and those who make the decisions whether to file lawsuits can exercise a little discretion about what is worth fighting for. Clearly, old things carved in stone should be left alone. (A rule that rhymes.) Recent stunts by political panderers: go after that.

"If you've read much about serial killers..."

I have never seen anything more horrific on television than the 9/11 attacks. The shocking, spectacular images of fire and collapse are deeply imprinted on my brain. But in a different way, the appearance of Dennis Rader on television this morning was unbearably horrible. Here was this neatly groomed man, speaking in a rational-sounding calm voice, detailing the ten, coldly planned and executed murders he committed over his years as the "BTK" murderer. At one point he spoke of himself from a detached, third-person perspective:
"If you've read much about serial killers, they go through what they call different phases. In the trolling stage, basically, you're looking for a victim at that time. You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker. There might be several of them, but you really hone in on one person. They basically become the ... victim. Or, at least that's what you want it to be."
How can a person who would do such things tell all of the details without showing any sense of pain or sorrow or regret? This man is beyond evil, not even feeling sorry for his own miserable condition or showing any sign of an inner anger that pushed him over the edge. To watch him was to feel thoroughly confounded. How can that be a human being -- even the most evil human being? How can anyone be like that?

Why Justice O'Connor opposed both Ten Commandments displays.

As described in the previous post, in Van Orden (the Texas Ten Commandments monument case), Justice Breyer purported to adopt the approach to the Religion Clauses that Justice O'Connor articulated in McCreary. But in Van Orden, Breyer, unlike O'Connor, approved of the Ten Commandments display. Let's look at O'Connor in today's two cases. In the monument case, she writes only briefly and says she "essentially" agrees with Justice Souter -- even though she doesn't actually join his opinion. Here's a key passage from Souter's opinion:
[A] pedestrian happening upon the monument at issue here needs no training in religious doctrine to realize that the statement of the Commandments, quoting God himself, proclaims that the will of the divine being is the source of obligation to obey the rules, including the facially secular ones. In this case, moreover, the text is presented to give particular prominence to the Commandments’ first sectarian reference, “I am the Lord thy God.” That proclamation is centered on the stone and written in slightly larger letters than the subsequent recitation. To ensure that the religious nature of the monument is clear to even the most casual passerby, the word “Lord” appears in all capital letters (as does the word “am”), so that the most eye-catching segment of the quotation is the declaration “I AM the LORD thy God.” What follows, of course, are the rules against other gods, graven images, vain swearing, and Sabbath breaking. And the full text of the fifth Commandment puts forward filial respect as a condition of long life in the land “which the Lord they God giveth thee.” These “[w]ords … make [the] … religious meaning unmistakably clear.”

To drive the religious point home, and identify the message as religious to any viewer who failed to read the text, the engraved quotation is framed by religious symbols: two tablets with what appears to be ancient script on them, two Stars of David, and the superimposed Greek letters Chi and Rho as the familiar monogram of Christ.... It would therefore be difficult to miss the point that the government of Texas is telling everyone who sees the monument to live up to a moral code because God requires it, with both code and conception of God being rightly understood as the inheritances specifically of Jews and Christians.
And here is O'Connor's concurring opinion that determined the outcome in McCreary, the case that involved a framed copy of the text of the Ten Commandments, displayed on a courthouse wall. It's nicely short. Here's a key passage:
The First Amendment expresses our Nation’s fundamental commitment to religious liberty by means of two provisions–one protecting the free exercise of religion, the other barring establishment of religion. They were written by the descendents of people who had come to this land precisely so that they could practice their religion freely. Together with the other First Amendment guarantees–of free speech, a free press, and the rights to assemble and petition–the Religion Clauses were designed to safeguard the freedom of conscience and belief that those immigrants had sought. They embody an idea that was once considered radical: Free people are entitled to free and diverse thoughts, which government ought neither to constrain nor to direct.

Reasonable minds can disagree about how to apply the Religion Clauses in a given case. But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat....

Given the history of this particular display of the Ten Commandments, the Court correctly finds an Establishment Clause violation. The purpose behind the counties’ display is relevant because it conveys an unmistakable message of endorsement to the reasonable observer.
We need to consult the main opinion in McCreary to see the particular details that led her to this conclusion, but we can see that the main concern is the purpose in setting up the display. The majority opinion -- written by Justice Souter -- basically adopted the district court's view that the state had a religious purpose when it posted the Ten Commandments in two courthouses. The additional historical documents that were put up alongside the original posting did not transform the display into a history lesson. They were simply a sham, meant to avoid the original problem posed by the posting the Ten Commandments in isolation.

So now we've looked at the two most interesting Justices in the two cases. The rest of the Justices did pretty much what we expected them to do. I'll have a little more to say about them later.

It's Breyer and not O'Connor determining the outcome in the Ten Commandments monument case.

All eyes turn to Justice Breyer, who voted with the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas, to produce a victory for the state in Van Orden, the second of the two Ten Commandments cases handed down today.

I would have thought, with each of the two cases being decided by a single vote, and the Court finding an Establishment Clause violation in one case (McCreary) and not the other (Van Orden), that the Justice who shifted sides would be O’Connor. For it is O’Connor who has determined so many of the recent Establishment Clause cases and left the law in its multifactored disarray. But, no. It’s Breyer. O’Connor stayed put, taking the stronger Establishment Clause position in both cases. So the first opinion I wanted to read, in my hope that the Court has given us some crisp clarity today, is Justice Breyer’s.

Breyer emphasizes the “basic purposes" of the two religion clauses -- Free Exercise and Establishment -- taken together. We need to think about promoting tolerance and freedom, he says, referring to the “basic principles set forth today by Justice O’Connor in her concurring opinion" in the McCreary case. In this light, Breyer rejects the idea that government must “purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious.” Such an extreme approach would “promote the kind of social conflict the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid … [and reflect] ‘a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious.’”

But if we don’t take a strict separation of church and state approach, how are we going to articulate a clear, workable rule? Breyer doesn’t solve this problem. We will “inevitably find difficult borderline cases," he says, and "no test-related substitute" is going to spare us from needing to engage in "legal judgment.” The word “legal” with "judgment" is notable. Those who like crisp rules tend to think rules are needed to have real law and think ruleless “judgment” is not law. But Breyer defends complex judgment as law:
That judgment is not a personal judgment. Rather, as in all constitutional cases, it must reflect and remain faithful to the underlying purposes of the Clauses, and it must take account of context and consequences measured in light of those purposes. While the Court’s prior tests provide useful guideposts–and might well lead to the same result the Court reaches today, no exact formula can dictate a resolution to such fact-intensive cases.
Applying this judgment, the details about a particular display in a borderline case are going to matter a lot:
In certain contexts, a display of the tablets of the Ten Commandments can convey not simply a religious message but also a secular moral message (about proper standards of social conduct). And in certain contexts, a display of the tablets can also convey a historical message (about a historic relation between those standards and the law) -- a fact that helps to explain the display of those tablets in dozens of courthouses throughout the Nation, including the Supreme Court of the United States.

Here the tablets have been used as part of a display that communicates not simply a religious message, but a secular message as well. The circumstances surrounding the display’s placement on the capitol grounds and its physical setting suggest that the State itself intended the latter, nonreligious aspects of the tablets’ message to predominate. And the monument’s 40-year history on the Texas state grounds indicates that that has been its effect.

The group that donated the monument, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a private civic (and primarily secular) organization, while interested in the religious aspect of the Ten Commandments, sought to highlight the Commandments’ role in shaping civic morality as part of that organization’s efforts to combat juvenile delinquency.…

The physical setting of the monument, moreover, suggests little or nothing of the sacred. The monument sits in a large park containing 17 monuments and 21 historical markers, all designed to illustrate the “ideals” of those who settled in Texas and of those who have lived there since that time….

40 years passed in which the presence of this monument, legally speaking, went unchallenged (until the single legal objection raised by petitioner)….

The display is not on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state. This case also differs from McCreary County, where the short (and stormy) history of the courthouse Commandments’ displays demonstrates the substantially religious objectives of those who mounted them, and the effect of this readily apparent objective upon those who view them. That history there indicates a governmental effort substantially to promote religion, not simply an effort primarily to reflect, historically, the secular impact of a religiously inspired document. And, in today’s world, in a Nation of so many different religious and comparable nonreligious fundamental beliefs, a more contemporary state effort to focus attention upon a religious text is certainly likely to prove divisive in a way that this longstanding, pre-existing monument has not.
This fact-specific analysis, in light of the purpose of the religion clauses, leads Breyer to conclude, tapping the terminology of the old Lemon case, that the Texas monument has a “primarily nonreligious purpose,” does not have the primary effect of “advancing religion,” and does not create “excessive government entanglement with religion.” To decide the other way would “exhibit a hostility toward religion” and “might well encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments from public buildings across the Nation.” In short, leaving this monument alone is more likely to avoid religious “divisiveness” than taking it down.

Breyer explicitly disagrees with the plurality opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. He most strongly affiliates himself with Justice O’Connor’s concurring opinion that decided the outcome in McCreary. Her basic approach is correct, he thinks, even as he disagrees with how she applied it in this case.

So multifactored, contextualized judgment continues to be the rule about government displays with some religious content, and there will be borderline cases where the outcome is uncertain and reasonable judges will disagree.

Maybe the best advice is for the strict separationists to choose their battles well. And certainly, one thing is clear: leave the old monuments and courthouse friezes alone.

The first Ten Commandments decision.

CNN reports:
The 5-4 decision, first of two seeking to mediate the conflict over religion's place in public life, took a case-by-case approach to this vexing issue. In the decision, the court declined to prohibit all displays in court buildings or on government property.

The justices left themselves legal wiggle room on this issue, however, saying that some displays -- like their own courtroom frieze -- would be permissible if they're portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history.

But framed copies in two Kentucky courthouses went too far in endorsing religion, the court held.

"The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.

"When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality," he said.

UPDATE: And the second case goes the other way. It makes sense, but I can't explain why until after class, which I've got to run to.

"Reality now is very strange."

So Iraqis are reading books.
Intellectuals and writers seem particularly disoriented in the new Iraq. Many were alive in the decades before 1968, when the Baath Party took control, which was a time of cultural renaissance in Iraq. But in 1979, when Mr. Hussein became president, he began banning books, singling out writers and intellectuals, jailing them and blocking publication of their work.

The employees of the Dar al-Bayan bookstore used a small crawl space in an attic area to hide favorite books that were banned. Some writers left the country, but many stayed, surviving by meeting secretly and circulating photocopies of banned books....

As far as reading about the ousted government itself, the period is still too raw for most. However, Mr. Khakhani said a book by Mr. Hussein's former doctor, Ala Bashir, called "In the Name of Terror," had been selling well.

Some abandon modern history and escape to ancient times. Suha Turaihi, an intellectual in Baghdad, said she was reading a book about Sabians, an ancient religion of Mesopotamia that dates to hundreds of years before Christ and still exists....

Young Iraqis are making different choices. At a bookstore in Mustansiriyah University, a large public university here, students flipped through romance novels and books on astrology.

Religious books, mostly on Shiite themes, which were banned under Mr. Hussein but have streamed into Iraq since his fall, were also in abundant supply.

Though college students remain relatively secular, said Zaid Hadithy, the shop owner, young people in the broader population "are going in a religious direction" as they search for a structure for their lives in an environment where the rules have fallen away....

[Mufeed] Jazaery [who was culture minister in the recent interim government] said he worried about the power of religion among young Iraqis. Anyone who was born after 1980 grew up during Iraq's decline into war and economic sanctions. Corruption and poverty have eroded the once-strong educational system, leaving young people vulnerable to populist leaders like Mr. Sadr.

"They can read, they can write, but they can't understand," Mr. Jazaery said. "That's good for dictatorship and dangerous for democracy. It's a spare army for all hard-line elements."

The dreaded Justice Kennedy.

Here's a front-page NYT piece on Justice Kennedy, whose nomination to the Court was sold to conservatives as "Bork without the beard" and who, 18 years laters, has conservatives fuming about impeaching him.
For more than a decade, Justice Kennedy has infuriated the right, writing decisions in cases that struck down prayer at public school graduations, upheld abortion rights, gave constitutional protections to pornography and gay sex and banned the death penalty for juveniles.

With talk of a possible court resignation to follow the term that ends Monday, Justice Kennedy is looming in many conservatives' minds as just the kind of painful mistake they hope President Bush avoids. Showing few sharp edges in life or in law, the justice emerged as a consensus third choice, after President Ronald Reagan's first two selections failed. Demanding more ideological clarity in what could be the first Republican selection in 14 years, the right is now mobilized with a cry: "No more Tony Kennedys."
I thought the cry was "No more Souters." But Souter, appointed by the first President Bush, veered all the way to the liberal side of the Court. Kennedy just took up the middle position. It's not enough, I suppose, to avoid a Souter. You've got to avoid a Kennedy.

I tend to think that if O'Connor retires, vacating one of the center spots, the new Justice will feel drawn to play the centrist role -- and if he does not, someone else will move toward the center. There's a certain small group dynamic going on here.

But there is a more pervasive problem that has dogged conservatives over the years:
Ever since the elevation of Earl Warren, Republican presidents have picked justices who disappoint the Republican faithful: William J. Brennan Jr. (President Dwight D. Eisenhower), Harry A. Blackmun (President Richard M. Nixon), John Paul Stevens (President Gerald R. Ford), Sandra Day O'Connor (President Reagan) and David H. Souter (the first President Bush).

One result is rage at what [rejected Reagan nominee Robert] Bork sees as subverted democracy. Even though Republicans keep winning elections, he said, the court "can say that the majority may not rule" in areas where permissiveness reigns, including abortion, gay rights and pornography. Calling most justices "judicial oligarchs," Mr. Bork said they reflected "the intelligentsia's attitude, which is to the cultural left of the American people."

Some conservatives blame the judicial selection pool, which is largely confined to graduates of elite law schools that they describe as liberal (Justice Kennedy studied law at Harvard). Some say the Senate confirmation process weeds out strong conservatives. Many critics argue that justices drift left after reaching the court, in the hopes of pleasing "liberal elites."
Much more in the article about Kennedy. And much more carping by Bork.

Myself, I like Justice Kennedy. He's a moderate who takes some strong positions on individual liberty.

If Justice O'Connor retires, must her successor be a woman?

"Sources report Rehnquist is not ready to resign and that O'Connor is readying the way for a return to Arizona with her invalid husband." So reports Robert Novak today.

No woman has ever vacated a seat on the Supreme Court. Every woman who has ever served on the Supreme Court is currently on the Supreme Court. We have yet to discover the extent of the political feeling that a woman must be replaced by a woman.

Novak writes:
While Bush would consider replacing one of the court's two women with its first Hispanic justice, neither Roberts nor Luttig for O'Connor would be politically correct.

Accordingly, White House judge-hunters are looking for a woman. They have interviewed Appellate Judge Edith Brown Clement (5th Circuit, New Orleans), a conservative who flies under the radar. She was confirmed as a Louisiana district judge in 1991, seven weeks after her nomination by the first President Bush, and was confirmed as an appellate judge in 2001, two and a half months after George W. Bush named her.

Clement would be subject to far more scrutiny as a Supreme Court nominee. So would any other conservative named by Bush, though Democrats may have exhausted scrutinizing Gonzales.
It's funny that members of minority groups should be thought to be exchangeable with women. I suppose there's an idea that it isn't right for the Court to consist almost entirely of white men, and the one thing you cannot do is move any closer to that extreme. But if we're concerned about representation, women are more than fifty percent of the population, and there are some important legal issues that have a special impact on women. For only one ninth of the Court to be female, after so many years of two ninths, should disturb us, unless we cast the notion of representation aside altogether. Equating a Hispanic man with a woman should be regarded as kooky. But it is really a smokescreen. Look, I'm doing a first! Sorry, that irks me.

Either replace a woman with a woman or don't talk about representing groups on the Court.

Fussing over symbols.

Here's the SCOTUSblog discussion group dedicated to McCreary, the Ten Commandments case that will be announced very soon. I'll be participating in the discussion over there, along with a bunch of other lawprofs. Amusingly, Marty Lederman, a SCOTUSblog regular, has gotten the discussion going with a quote from me -- the one that says I don't care which side wins. No one else has posted yet, but they've all been invited to react to my "provocative take."

He also asks:
Have liberals and progressives made a significant error -- in terms of their long-term interests -- in expending energy on such "government religious symbolism" cases over the past generation or two, even if such cases have (from their perspective) resulted in improved Establishment Clause doctrine?

Here he quotes Burt Neuborne (a lawprof who'll be participating in the discussion):
"[O]ne final staple of the progressive judicial agenda may not be worth defending at all -- the religious symbolism cases may do nothing but enrage voters who might be [our] natural economic allies."

That's certainly true. There's a corresponding mistake conservatives make, pushing for symbolic things that some of them care about (like the anti-flag-burning amendment), that are off-putting to people who'd otherwise be attracted to the conservative side. Politics would make more sense if both parties stuck to the economics and security issues that actually matter. But ordinary people might tune politics out, so they just can't resist prodding and stimulating us with those symbolic things. Somehow people get so fired up about symbols.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Some believe the lost souls try to drag living beings into their spiritual limbo land."

Fear of the haunted beach, after the tsunami.

"I started my band for all the right reasons, and we did what we did for all the right reasons, and somewhere along the way it got sort of taken away."

So says Billy Corgan, as he announces Smashing Pumpkins is regrouping. Interestingly, he's selected the release date for his solo album to make the announcement.

"Teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible."

Because we teachers are compelled to patronize you students.


Today, I sent my older son off to Paris. He's studying law, and Cornell Law School runs a five-week program there. I've been to Paris twice, and I haven't been to every city in the world, but, with my limited experience, I think Paris is the most beautiful city. What is more wonderful than to travel to a great city and just walk around and see? I wait for John's photographs and messages. I'm thinking about Paris today.

Chief Justice Luttig?

The Chicago Tribune's Jan Crawford Greenburg thinks so, and seems to have good access to inside source.
As a judge, Luttig is widely considered an ardent conservative, but his record reveals his independence, as do recent analyses of his opinions by several political scientists. He has stressed, to his law clerks and in a recent speech, intellectual honesty and adherence to precedent. He tells law clerks they will be fired if they fail to show him contradicting authority on a particular issue or tell him exactly how they view the case, even if they do not share his views. His clerks praise him as a teacher--and 40 of 42 have gone on to clerk at the Supreme Court, an unparalleled placement record.

Luttig has been highly critical of judicial activism on both sides of the ideological spectrum, in which he believes judges have decided cases based on a desired outcome instead of adhering to established law and taking that where it leads.

"At the end of the day, other than conscience, it is only analytical rigor, and the accountability that such renders possible, that can restrain a judiciary that serves for life and is at the pleasure of no one," Luttig wrote in a 2001 case.

As a result of that approach, Luttig sometimes reaches decisions that cannot be called conservative. In one recent case, for example, he departed from conservative colleagues to find that some people convicted of serious crimes had a constitutional right to get DNA evidence if it could prove their innocence.

His opinion writing is crisp and clear, and he is willing to confront colleagues--usually conservative ones--head on. He has parted ways with Wilkinson quite vehemently in several cases, prompting criticism that Luttig can be too sharp in disagreement.
Can't filibuster that, can they? I mean, the filibuster compromisers can't legitimately say "extraordinary circumstances" here, can they?

I found the Tribune article via The Supreme Court Nomination Blog, one of the SCOTUSblog sub-blogs, which should heat up like mad tomorrow, along with the entire blogosphere, if Chief Justice Rehnquist retires. And if O'Connor retires too -- well, the excitement will be unbearable. Perhaps, Justice Stevens will bow down too. No, no, that would just kill us.

Anyway, keep an eye on the SCOTUSblog Discussion sub-blog, where they've been discussing Kelo all week, and where, tomorrow, they'll be discussing the Grokster case and the Ten Commandments case. Or I should say we, because I'll be joining in the Ten Commandments discussion.

UPDATE: You know what my favorite word was in the description of Judge Luttig's style? I use it in my "What I hope the Supreme Court will do in the Ten Commandments case" post.

"A female interrogator took an unusual approach to wear down a detainee, reading a Harry Potter book aloud for hours."

Such are the conditions at Gitmo. The detainee, it must be noted, had to endure significant stress to his upper extremities as he needed to hold his hands over his ears to avoid hearing the story.

"There's something very refreshing about her cynical sexual frankness."

The Washingtonienne's novel/memoir is out. Here's the NYT review -- kind of a good review:
What is surprising about the Washingtonienne is what tolerable company she turns out to be. With much of the ubiquitous chick-lit genre still primly obsessed with the marriage plot, there's something very refreshing about her cynical sexual frankness, her shrugging irreverence toward the buffoons with whom she is intimate, her Scarlett O'Hara tenacity. Sure, she's unrepentantly, appallingly shallow -- callous toward the homeless (''so rude!''), uninterested in reading a newspaper (not even the Sunday Styles section of the newspaper you're holding) -- but there are hints that Cutler, at least, has matured enough to regard her alter ego with a wry knowingness. ''It was worse than Twilo closing,'' Jackie whines, referring to the New York nightclub, when she discovers that her parents are divorcing (the novel's one excuse for a subplot). ''I felt myself getting old, my youth and beauty fading,'' she sighs in Chapter 2. ''I was 25 years old.''

Okay, then. No reason to hate the sex-having, book-contract-snaring Washingtonienne, but no reason to read the book either, unless you're already a chick lit fan but you're tired of "the marriage plot." There's nothing much about politics in the book, apparently, other than that people in politics have illicit sex. Scarcely news.

Is foie gras evil?

Ever since I saw the movie "Mondo Cane," back in the 1960s, I've believed the methods used to make foie gras were truly evil. In the nutty old documentary -- which displays all sorts of human follies -- we see a close-up of a goose's eye as it's being force-fed. I don't know what the goose really felt, but as a human being, looking at that eye, I had to read: terror.

But consider this, written by Lawrence Downes in the NYT:
To animal welfare groups, the obscenity of force-feeding, known by the French word gavage, is self-evident. But Mr. Ginor and his partner Izzy Yanay, who runs [the country's leading foie gras producing] farm, accuse their critics of anthropomorphism and ignorance of duck anatomy and behavior. They say the practice is as benign as it is ancient, since waterfowl lack a gag reflex and have sturdy throats that easily tolerate grains, grit, stones and inflexible gavage tubes. To understand gavage, they say, is to accept it - as they insist poultry researchers have, after examining birds for signs of undue stress and suffering during gavage and finding none.

I visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras last week, seeing gavage for the first time. I saw no pain or panic in Mr. Yanay's ducks, no quacking or frenzied flapping in the cool, dimly lighted open pens where a young woman with a gavage funnel did her work. The birds submitted matter-of-factly to a 15-inch tube inserted down the throat for about three seconds, delivering about a cup of corn pellets.

The practice, done three times a day for a month, followed by slaughter, seemed neither particularly gentle nor particularly rough. It was unnerving to see the tube going down, and late-stage ducks waddling bulkily in their pens, but no more so than watching the epic gorging at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Shoney's, where morbid obesity is achieved voluntarily, with knife and fork.
Downes compares the ducks' interests to the interests of the farm workers: "175 people, mostly Latino immigrants [many of whom] live in trailers on the grounds and worship in a tiny chapel of crepe-paper streamers and candles in a corner of a warehouse." He also notes that their are far more brutal things going on in the production of the ordinary beef, pork, and chicken that most of us eat. We focus on the bizarre and not the ordinary, however, and deliberately producing an enlarged liver seems pretty bizarre. And most of us don't eat foie gras, so opposing it is a sacrifice-free virtue. I don't know if Downes is a shill for the foie gras industry, but it's obviously important to get all the facts and think straight about these issues.

A very conservative, pro-Kelo voice.

John Derbyshire on Kelo:
As conservatives we are of course all watchful for, and suspicious of, overweening state power. Governments do sometimes need to be able to act, though. The Tory in me appreciates what a British Prime Minister (though not a Tory) once called "the smack of firm government," when it's appropriate.

There are quite large areas of public life where the problem is not the govt doing too much, but govt frustrated in doing anything at all. The state of public works in New York City illustrates the point. It's little short of miraculous when govt here gets ANYTHING done, let alone a major public works project. (Look at the decades-long struggle to set up public toilets for the use of New Yorkers.) Yes, yes, I know, the Connecticut decision involved private development, not public works, but the eminent domain principle apparently comes in to both cases. Consider the paralysis over the World Trade Center site. If use of urban land were not such a tar pit of regulation & litigation, surely a vigorous govt, exercising eminent domain, might have done something with the site by now.

Yay for private property rights and down with govt usurpations. No argument about that as a general principle. When govt needs to act, though, it ought to be able to do so without unnecessary impediments & infinite delays, & private citizens, properly compensated, should yield their rights.
Well put.

What I hope the Supreme Court will do in the Ten Commandments case.

The AP's Gina Holland writes:
The Supreme Court ends its work Monday with the highest of drama: an anticipated retirement, a ruling on the constitutionality of government Ten Commandments displays and decisions in other major cases.
You know, I teach "Religion and the Constitution," and I'm especially interested in all the Supreme Court cases about the Religion clauses, but I've got to tell you, I think it's very bizarre of us to regard the Ten Commandments case as the big case. I understand that we are drawn to symbols and that it's especially easy to feel that you're up-to-speed on an issue like this and have a lot to argue about, but it really just isn't that important whether there's a monument amid other monuments somewhere on the state capitol grounds or a framed text amid other framed texts on a courthouse wall.

I'm sure people will get very excited about this case whichever way it comes down, and I'll be excited too, and I plan to write lots of posts about it here tomorrow. But I'd just like to tell you in advance that I really don't care which side wins. I don't think it's the sort of thing that matters much at all. These are inconsequential displays, which is why they'll be approved if they are approved and why it won't make much difference if they are taken down either.

What I'm hoping for is a crisp, useful opinion clarifying the law in this area.

IN THE COMMENTS: I explain my support for a middle position on the Establishment Clause (responding to three different commenters):
There are ideologues who want to purge religion from the public eye who care [how the Court decides this particular case] and religionists who want to intrude a lot more of it who care. If either of these groups were getting very far, I would care about the outcome in the cases that would arise. But the displays at issue in this case are inconsequential. Still, they are too much for the extreme secularists and just the beginning of what extremists on the other side would like to see. The Court needs to draw a good line that fends off both extremes. I don't care which side of the line the particular displays at issue in this case end up on....

I ... think the [Establishment Clause] extremists are blowing [this case] out of normal proportion. Everyone needs to learn to get along, and those who want to purify things too much don't impress me. Sure, they'll be put out if the government wins in these cases. I don't think people who take great offense easily should be driving the outcomes....

I think most atheists ... and many religious people ... accept and even enjoy seeing evidence of other religions around them. It's part of art and history and culture -- part of the beauty of the world that we live in (either by the grace of God or by pure, weird chance).

''This is only the second show that's a comedy about the South -- this and 'Andy Griffith' -- that doesn't make fun of Southerners."

Who watches "King of the Hill"? According to this NYT piece: "men between the ages of 18 and 49, and almost a quarter of those men own pickup trucks." The theory of the article is that "King of the Hill" offers Democrats insight into how to appeal to young Southern/rural voters -- sort of like the way "South Park" gives Republicans insight into how to appeal to young, non-socially-conservative voters:
[The Democratic Governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley,] says he thinks that understanding the show's viewers might resolve some of the mysteries confronting his party about the vast swaths of red on the electoral map.... When the governor, a former prosecutor, prepares to make his case on a partisan issue, he likes to imagine that he's explaining his position to Hank -- an exercise that might be useful for his colleagues in Washington too. For instance, Easley told me that Hank would never support a budget like the one North Carolina's Senate recently passed, which would drop some 65,000 mostly elderly citizens from the Medicaid rolls; Hank, after all, has pitched in to support his own father, a brutish war veteran, and he would never condone a community's walking away from its ailing parents. Similarly, Hank may be a lover of the environment -- he was furious when kids trashed the local campground -- but he resents self-righteous environmentalists like the ones who forced Arlen to install those annoying low-flow toilets. Voters like Hank, if they had heard about it on the evening news, would have supported Easley's ''Clean Smokestacks'' law, which forced North Carolina's coal-powered electric plants to burn cleaner, but only because industry was a partner in the final bill, rather than its target.
Well, then, Easley's use of "King of the Hill" is to figure out how to sell the Democrat's usual policies to people like this, not to critique any of his party's settled assumptions. Is that the way "South Park" is used by conservatives? It seems to me "South Park" criticizes all sorts of adult follies, and any Republicans watching that show for insight into how to appeal to its young audience ought to be learning that they need to become more libertarian and less socially conservative. "South Park" has plenty of advice for Democrats too -- but it's advice about changing yourselves, not just how to improve your rhetoric.

The Democratic interest in "King of the Hill" is that it portrays voters in a region where the Democrats have a big problem. So then, tell me, what does "King of the Hill" have to say about how Democrats should actually change their policies? I haven't watched enough of "King of the Hill" to be able to answer that question, so help me out in the comments if you can.

In the meantime, here's a post from Half-Bakered that says the NYT got the show all wrong:
[The show is] about renewal of traditional values in the face of the transformative. Every time Hank encounters the kind of "transformation" that Democrats and bureaucrats and the PC peddle, he defeats them -- often using their own internal problems and philosophies against them...

Hank is a rock-ribbed Republican, I tell ya whut. Dale Gribble, his neighbor, is a Libertarian. Boomhauer is a Republican, but doesn't much care, I'm sure. Only Bill will likely vote Democrat sometime, but only because he's a softie who falls for a good line; if he admitted it to his friends, they'd blast him.

Bai [the NYT writer] also somehow manages to quote or mention pretty much only Democrats in the piece. Go read it; it's a hoot. He's either clueless or delusional.

Or as Hank would put it, "That boy ain't right."
(Via Signifying Nothing via Memeorandum.)

UPDATE: Lot's of good discussion in the comments. Makes me decide to TiVo "King of the Hill."

Also, here's the NYT review of the book "South Park Conservatives." The reviewer, Liesl Schillinger, an arts editor from The New Yorker, doesn't seem to know much about "South Park." She seems to think it represents "a new generation of Americans who refuse to accept public censure for their scornful attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, Native Americans, environmentalism and abortion rights." I say "seems" because she seems to attribute this characterization to the author of of the book. Actually, I'm really not sure what Schillinger is babbling about here. She doesn't seem to have put much effort into understanding the things she's criticizing, and the very short review is padded with irrelevant blather about "Monty Python."

Schillinger sniffs:
[T]his book isn't intended for readers of The Times and The Economist and watchers of CNN. It's for the people who are sick and tired of mainstream media and are fans of the blogs and right-wing commentators [the author Brian C. Anderson] cites so abundantly.

Oh, yeah, they're horrible. Horrible!
They just take idiotic unfair slams at the good people who write for mainstream media. Why they'd even slam an arts editor who works at The New Yorker! The New Yorker! Where we know what we're talking about. We know "South Park" is anti-gay... uh, right? Isn't it?

ANOTHER UPDATE: I TiVo'd and watched an episode of "King of the Hill." The episode -- "The Petriot Act" -- involved taking care of a pet for a soldier who'd gone overseas. Hank feels the call of duty to take care of a dog, as a friend of his is doing, but he signs a contract that turns out to require him to take care of a cat, which turns out to be annoying and sick, and because he's agreed to use a particular, expensive vet, costs him the money he'd saved for the family vacation. He does his duty, without being particularly grumpy or cheerful about it, and in the end the family settles for a dinner out in a modest restaurant, all they have money left for. This is a very straightforward tale about living up to one's obligations. There is a scene where Hank stands up to the vet who is overcharging him, which is the sort of thing it seems Easley was grabbing onto. Hank gets mad when another man is not being fair and honest, so I suppose that shows that Hank-types can be activated by stories about people who cheat and take advantage. The whole "King of the Hill" concept, based on that episode, seemed to be about being solidly responsible and upstanding.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Jane, you ignorant slut."

I guess Shana Alexander must have known all along that line would appear in her obituary.

Why can't I watch "The Simpsons"?

Every time somebody quotes "The Simpsons" -- like in the comments to this post -- I'm always terribly impressed. How smart and funny the writing is! I think, once again, I should watch that show. But the fact is, for the longest time, I haven't been able to. I just can't stand to see it or hear it.

What is it I hate so much about the look and the sound? I recognize the brilliance of the voice actors. But I don't want to hear them anymore. They just irritate me. And the look of the animation... What is it? Too much yellow?

I could just read the scripts, I suppose.

Anyone else feel the same way?

"Would a man do this to another man?"

Do what?

The death of a local playwright.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:
Joel Gersmann, 62, artistic director of Broom Street Theater since 1969 and one of Madison's most prolific playwrights, died Friday in his home. He had been in poor health for some time.

The theater has a reputation for producing experimental, avant-garde plays, many of them controversial.

Currently, the theater is featuring "Oklahomo, a Gay Comedy About Curley, a Resident Drag Queen, a Transsexual Cow and Homophobia."...

Gersmann's own plays included subjects ranging from Nazis to Nancy Drew, and from abortion to pedophilia.
Anyone who's ever lived in Madison knows that the Broom Street Theater is one of those distinctive things that make Madison Madison. Goodbye, Joel!

Today's word challenge.

I'm looking at my old copy of "The Book of Lists," which has a list of the "10 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language" and a list of "The 10 Worst-Sounding English Words." (The lists are from different sources, in case you're wondering about the lack of parallel titles.)

10 Best: chimes, dawn, golden, hush, lullaby, luminous, melody, mist, murmuring, tranquil.

10 Worst: cacaphony, crunch, flatulent, gripe, jazz, phlegmatic, plump, plutocrat, treachery.

With the exception of "jazz" -- which just doesn't belong on the "worst" list -- all of these words align sound and meaning. That is, the words that sound beautiful mean something beautiful, and the words that sound ugly, have a negative meaning as well.

So here's the challenge: come up with words that sound beautiful but mean something ugly, or sound ugly but mean something beautiful.


Is there something wrong with you if you call your father "Daddy"? Jeremy posits that there is.

Here's the comment I put over there:
Jeremy, in my family, we kids always called our father "Daddy." He was Daddy. We stopped calling our mother Mommy (switching to Mother), but Daddy was always Daddy. We never called him Dad. Not once. We disrespectfully called him "the O.M." (for "the old man") for a while -- though not to his face. My mother always referred to him to us as "your father." It's hard to convey the deep sense in which "Daddy" was just exactly what he was. No matter how mature or immature I was at any given point, it would not have shaken that belief. This was not a matter of sentimental love either. The tone could be quite negative, yet he'd still be Daddy.
As I got older, I recognized that it seemed a bit oddly babyish to call him Daddy, but somehow it just wasn't possible to stop, even though it had not been a problem to drop the use of "Mommy." Jeremy raises the theory that there's a matter of regional usage here and that "Daddy" is a Southern thing, so let me add that we were raised in Delaware. My father was from Delaware but my mother was from Michigan, so it's possible that we kids followed the regional usage for each parent's place of origin, but that seems awfully weird. I have no memory of either of them telling us what to call them.

A fine point in my family is that early on my father's mother established that grandkids would call her "Mom." My father's father at that point became "Pop." So the paternal grandparents in my family were always "Mom and Pop," and neither of those words would ever seem to be a normal thing to call parents. Thus, we couldn't get to "Mom" from "Mommy," but needing to throw off the babyish "Mommy," we resorted to the oddly formal "Mother." Somehow, the corresponding "Father" never seemed right. And the way to "Dad" was also obstructed. So for the rest of their lives I called them "Mother and Daddy."

Now both are dead, and when I talk about them, I only say "my mother and my father."

An invitation to Moyers and Watt, accepted by one. Which one?

Bill Moyers embarrassed himself by slurring from former Secretary of the Interior James Watt. Patricia Nelson Limerick describes the incident this way:
Mr. Moyers gave a speech last winter at Harvard, criticizing the Bush administration's environmental policies and making the case that an unfortunate theology, particularly a belief in an imminent Second Coming, was the driving force behind these policies. At the start of his speech, to illustrate this theology, Mr. Moyers shifted back in time and quoted Mr. Watt. Mr. Moyers said that Mr. Watt "had told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony, [Watt] said, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' "

But there is no evidence that Mr. Watt ever said this improbable thing, and Mr. Moyers acknowledged his "mistake" in quoting a remark that he could not confirm....

By casting many evangelical Christians as enemies of the earth's well-being, Mr. Moyers has made a not entirely strategic move to alienate people who could, should they be persuaded to recognize the hand of the Creator at work in the creation, prove to be remarkable and effective supporters for a cause that he considers urgent and crucial.
Limerick frets about the way people are so contentious in these days of the endlessly yammering internet, and thinks if Watt and Moyers would just sit down to a nice meal together -- she offers to host them -- they'd learn to work together. She notes one of the two has accepted her invitation but doesn't say which. Given the way she's phrased the proposal, I've got to assume it's Moyers. Here's why.

Moyers used a quote that he had "no evidence" of and that is so bizarre that he can't even fall back on the fake-but-true characterization that it seems like the sort of thing Watt would say. And -- I'm just using the facts as stated in this column -- acknowledgement of mistake lies only in "in quoting a remark that he could not confirm." But if there's "no evidence," in what sense are you "confirming" a "quote"? There's nothing to confirm. Limerick is toning down Moyers' offense here, and it's an offense not only to Watt but, more generally, to evangelical Christians. It portrays them as dangerous and evil.

As Limerick puts it, Moyers has made "a not entirely strategic move" by alienating people who "could" be persuaded to join him in his cause. Note the assumption that evangelical Christians do not now care about the environment and that they haven't yet learned to see the hand of God in creation. Moyers is the dominant character here. He already knows the right answers, so he needs to adopt good strategies, and he made a mistake not to get the evangelicals on his side. But he could win them over to his cause -- the cause is his -- if he persuaded them with religious insight that they somehow aren't supposed to have on their own. Yet this observation is a plainly obvious one to a believer. To think otherwise is to think the fake quote really is the sort of thing an evangelical would say.

I agree with Limerick that people shouldn't be so contentious and that there's too much arguing. We never seem to reach the end of calling someone's statement outrageous and demanding another apology. Too many people are promoting themselves by acting all aghast about one thing or another and trying to divide Americans into stark politically partisan factions. But something about this proposed Watt-Moyers sitdown in front of a beautiful landscape rubs me the wrong way.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Did you hear the one about the lower-tier law school appointments committee that rejected a candidate out of hand for clerking for Justice Thomas?

Gordon Smith writes about the politics (and religion) of law school hiring.

''Matt, Matt, you don't even -- you're glib. You don't even know what Ritalin is."

Did you hear the Matt Lauer "Today Show" interview with Tom Cruise today? I happened to catch it on MSNBC radio this afternoon. Cruise is so recklessly passionate about psychiatry and psychiatric medications that he ... well ... kind of seemed to need psychiatric medication.

Lauer remained poised through the whole thing and was the very soul of moderation. If Brooke Shields believes that anti-depression medicine has helped her, why isn't that good enough? But Cruise would not back off. He kept pounding on Lauer and insisting that he knew everything because he's studied "the history of psychiatry" and because Scientology is the true religion.

Jeez, isn't anyone telling him he's going to lose a lot of fans acting like that? He seems truly deluded and must think this will actually win people over to Scientology, when, in fact, it's quite the opposite.

ADDED: Oh, here's the TiVo of last night's "Letterman," with Cruise. When he comes out, the band plays "Jump." Ha ha. Tom was just fine. Nothing strange at all. Dave is very good with him.

MORE: Here's the full text of the interview -- with a few helpful illustrations.

Screaming in the theater.

At a horror film, do people in the audience scream? Usually not, right? Today, I screamed three times -- out loud -- seeing "Land of the Dead." Each time, I felt embarrassed, because no one else screamed.

So, what do you think: is it idiotic to scream? Do you like when people scream or is it annoying? Or is it good if a lot of people scream but annoying if only one fool is a screamer? In my case, it was genuinely involuntary. I was not trying to be cute.

(Go back two posts for my comments on the film itself.)

The tobacco warehouses.

The graffiti'd walls of the tobacco warehouses in Madison:



Inside: beautiful loft apartments, in the final stages of preparation. Presumably, a sandblaster will blow away this graffiti. I'm told the courtyard between the two buildings will contain, in addition to lovely landscaped greenery, a bocce court.

UPDATE: Here's Nina's photograph of the interior of the building, and click to her main page and scroll (today) to see the whole set of shots.

The politics of the zombie.

Manohla Dargis writes about "Land of the Dead":
With each of Mr. Romero's zombie movies, the walking dead have grown progressively more human while the living have slowly lost touch with their humanity....

[T]he greatest shock here may be the transformation of a black zombie into a righteous revolutionary leader (I guess Che really does live, after all).

With "Revenge of the Sith" and "Batman Begins," "Land of the Dead" makes the third studio release of the summer season to present an allegory, either naked or not, of our contemporary political landscape. Whatever else you think about these films, whether you believe them to be sincere or cynical, authentic expressions of defiance or just empty posturing, it is rather remarkable that these so-called popcorn movies have gone where few American films outside the realm of documentary, including most so-called independents, dare to go. One of the enormous pleasures of genre filmmaking is watching great directors push against form and predictability, as Mr. Romero does brilliantly in "Land of the Dead." One thing is for sure: You won't go home hungry.

Hmmm.... should I bite? I'm interested in politics. And I like a brainy film.

UPDATE: I saw it! Very good! High quality photography. Exciting narrative. Great villain (a Donald Trump-ish Dennis Hopper). Nice band of good guys (always in danger of getting bitten and going over to the other side). Some sympathy for the zombies, who, despite their impairments, are trying to figure things out and act in their own interest.

I must say, though, that I was surprised they gave the Dennis Hopper character a distinctly Jewish name (Kaufman). At one point, someone declares "jihad" on him too. Kaufman was a very greedy rich man, very attached to his bags of money. It isn't hard to put together the case that there was some serious anti-Semitism here. I'm surprised the commercial backers of the film didn't nix the Jewish name. Wonder what was going on there.

(A little spoiler follows.)

The zombies in the beginning are controlled by fireworks, which dazzle them into a staring daze. When they get a little smarter, they overcome this tendency and become much more effective. So a political interpretation would be: staring at the fireworks equates to being blinded by appeals to patriotism. When the zombies/workers stop being dazzled by the show, they can overthrow the rich and powerful.

"What exactly goes on in the Hoegaarden?"

Just one of the questions Oscar has about Amsterdam.

The two novelists dialogue.

Which one did you side with?

UPDATE: Another round of two novelists.

It's a trap!

Fascinating! So Karl Rove really is a genius.

The South Bronx becomes So Bro.

I guess this front-page NYT article about how the South Bronx -- now So Bro -- is the hip new place will change the whole dynamic. Quick everybody, move the Bronx!

And what about all the people who have been living there all along, through the hard times? They provide the ambience in which the trendy newcomers bask:
There are also the allures of the longstanding Latino and African-American culture - sidewalk dominoes games, flamboyant murals, lush vacant-lot gardens and restaurants with fried plantains and mango shakes - that give the neighborhood a populist authenticity that cannot be matched in the more decorous precincts of Manhattan or Brooklyn.
But don't hate the young people. They are most attracted to the factory buildings, the lofts, which were "were forsaken with the decline in American manufacturing, and in the 1970's the neighborhood went into a tailspin of arson, foreclosures and rampant crime." Repopulating these spaces makes things better for the traditional residential buildings nearby.

On the other hand, this is the "first wave of gentrification," and the "second wave" is inevitable, right? The South Bronx is a quick subway ride into Manhattan. Won't all sorts of nonadventurous, nonartist types go looking for cheaper rents, especially now that this article is out? The article is the marking point for the beginning of the second wave, I would think.

Has the Court "erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution"?

That's what Justice Thomas wrote in dissent in Kelo v. City of New London, yesterday's Supreme Court Takings Clause case. Much of the criticism of the case that I've seen taps the stimulating rhetoric served up by Justice Thomas. Is the outcry justified?

You have to accept that government can take property. The power of eminent domain is ancient. What the Constitution requires that "just compensation" be paid to the owners and that the taking be for a "public use." This case was about what counted as a "public use." What was the questioned use in Kelo? As described by Linda Greenhouse in the NYT: it was "a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian 'riverwalk' along the Thames River."
The project, to be leased and built by private developers, is intended to derive maximum benefit for the city from a $350 million research center built nearby by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

New London, deemed a "distressed municipality" by the state 15 years ago, has a high unemployment rate and fewer residents today than it had in 1920.
Some people would like to say that the city should have had to run the development project itself for it to count as "public use." Should that be an absolute rule? No private developers? The public benefit is still there:
"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government," Justice Stevens said, adding, "Clearly, there is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose."...

Justice Stevens ... said the plan "unquestionably serves a public purpose," even though it was intended to increase jobs and tax revenue rather than remove blight.

He described the plan as "carefully formulated" and comprehensive. Sounding a federalism note, Justice Stevens said that state legislatures and courts were best at "discerning local public needs" and that the judgment of the New London officials was "entitled to our deference.".
So we're left wondering what would overcome this deference to the choices of the local political processes, but the strength of the dissenters, who would have adopted a hardline rule against private development, cautions against overreliance on judicial deference:
Both Justice O'Connor and Justice Thomas ... said the decision's burden would fall on the less powerful and wealthy.

"The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more," Justice O'Connor said. "The founders cannot have intended this perverse result."

Justice Thomas, who called the decision "far reaching and dangerous," cited several studies showing that those displaced by urban renewal and "slum clearance" over the years tended to be lower-income minority residents.
It's interesting -- isn't it -- that the Court's liberals stressed "federalism," which the conservatives often praise, and the Court's conservatives stress the oppression of the poor by the rich, usually the plaint of the liberal.

The question is how much courts should involve themselves in reassessing the work of local government. If the local political processes result in spending tax money in an effort of this sort, replacing one land use with another, how much should courts scrutinize that choice? How much should local government need to pour its resources into litigation in order to get something done that elected officials believe is worth doing? Whatever you think of the wisdom of the project in this case, the standard the Court sets will affect all sorts of other cases.

Reading the various commentators, I was impressed by this post from lawprof Tom Merrill (at SCOTUSblog):
I think the case sends just about the right message. The Court is not prepared to adopt a per se rule against takings for economic development. But the amber light is flashing. Stevens and Kennedy seem to say that careful planning and lots of community input are important in sustaining the use of eminent domain for economic development. Kennedy ... warns that he may come up with a theory in the future which would allow him to go the other way -- so watch out! The Court is closely divided 5-4, which means another, more egregious example of condemn-and-retransfer might get struck down. So the message to state courts is: go ahead and use eminent domain for economic development, but please try to take property rights more seriously in the future. I think this is exactly the right message. it preserves federalism in this area, but tries to re-shape values and attitudes to be less casual about overuse of eminent domain, which can be a wrenching experience for people.
There is a message here for local government: if you go further than the City of New London did in Kelo, you will get tied up in litigation. Thus, the case doesn't unleash local government to condemn property willy-nilly and shift ownership around lightly. Merrill describes the kind of case that might turn that amber light red: "a case in which it looked like some politically unaccountable development authority had sold out to a private developer or big box store."

I'm not an expert in this area of law, but readers requested my opinion -- perhaps hoping I would join the outcry about the Court "erasing" the Public Use Clause. It seems to me the Court struck a reasonable balance between property rights and government power. The Public Use Clause still has meaning -- just not an absolute meaning. I realize that people who like to give constitutional language crisp meaning are disappointed, as you frequently are, but there are good reasons why the majority of the Court is drawn to these nuanced interpretations you find so frustrating.