Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"He's crushing his testicles in tight trousers for world peace."

Sex Pistol John Lydon, venting about Bono.

950 Iraqis Die in Stampede.

No bomb is needed to kill hundreds of people once they are gathered in a big crowd. Merely yelling that there is a bomb is devastatingly effective. It happened in Baghdad, but it could happen here or anywhere that a crowd gathers in a tight space.
"They started crashing into each other, no one would look back or give a hand to help the ones who had fallen. People started running on top of each other, and everyone was trying to save himself."

Rapex!

We've got you now, rapists! (Via Metafilter.)
A South African inventor unveiled a new anti-rape female condom on Wednesday that hooks onto an attacker's penis and aims to cut one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.

"Nothing has ever been done to help a woman so that she does not get raped and I thought it was high time," Sonette Ehlers, 57, said of the "rapex," a device worn like a tampon that has sparked controversy in a country used to daily reports of violent crime....

The device, made of latex and held firm by shafts of sharp barbs, can only be removed from the man by surgery, which will alert hospital staff, and ultimately, the police, she said.
Who hasn't vaguely envisioned this invention?

I think just knowing some women are wearing these things ought to be enough to deter rapists, a bit like the way some folk's having guns in the house lowers the rate of burglary and benefits all of us.

UPDATE: Complete your ensemble with the "No Contact Jacket."

A Ten Commandments monument survives judicial scrutiny.

The Eighth Circuit, applying the newest Supreme Court cases, says yes to a 40-year-old, stone monument in Plattsmouth. Dissenting judges objected to the lack of a "contextualizing presence of other messages or some indicia of historical significance."

I said it last June.
The rule is: old things carved in stone should be left alone.

"Dead people and live ones mix with bugs and rats in the green, fetid water and the August heat."

The great American city we have loved, New Orleans "is gone: buried beneath the sea, fouled by the waters its levees, canals, and pumps held back over the centuries."

Telephone call.

I am calling for a national coalition of law professors looking for signatures for a letter opposing the nomination of John Roberts...

That would not be me. I support him.

"We have an American refugee situation on our hands."

Said a Red Cross spokeswoman about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
"We have a mass migration of people who are homeless. It is an incredible thing to see and experience, and I don't think any of us in our lifetimes ever thought we would see anything like this."

Why do so many Americans favor teaching creationism?

A new poll shows that almost two-thirds of Americans think public schools ought to teach children about creationism when they teach evolution:
The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.
I don't think it's so much that Americans are anti-science as that they are much less committed to scientific values than to the values of free speech and open dialogue. This is not not as antithetical to science as it may seem at first to people who strongly believe (as I do) that science classes should contain only bona fide science. There ought to be better social studies classes to teach students about the relationship between religion and science.

Looting and charges of racism.

On Metafilter, one member thought he'd found shocking evidence of racism in reporting the news about looting in New Orleans, and many members spoke up to express their outrage. Saner posters stated the plain facts about how Yahoo News collects the stories it displays, which should have led to a massive "never mind," but didn't.

Pictures of looting are stirring up emotions, and I hope these reactions won't take an ugly racial tone. I haven't read much of the commentary yet, but I see that Michelle Malkin is expressing strong outrage against the looters and comparing it to urban riots of the past. The big difference, of course, is that people are stranded in the water in New Orleans and elsewhere. In a riot, you only need the people to calm down. Today, people are struggling to survive, and I would not blame them for taking food and things to drink.

If the news reports show people carrying away televisions and the like, however, a lot of overheated judgments will be made. But it is hard to imagine how terrible the people there must feel. It's almost an invasion of privacy to photograph people doing bad things when they are in such a state. But we've got to also feel sympathy for the rest of the people who are stranded there and frightened by a breakdown in order.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin emails that her "outrage is particularly directed at people looting non-vital items," and says "I have sympathy for moms taking diapers from CVS stores. I have no compassion whatsoever for idiots of all colors stealing Dyson vacuum cleaners and diamond earrings."

Katrina talk, Bush talk.

I haven't gone looking — not very far, at least — but I'm expecting to see the talk about Katrina turn into talk about Bush. There's already been the early blaming: try to find ways to see any problem that may emerge as Bush's fault. On the other side: Bush will be praised for whatever response he takes. Bush's critics will accuse him of exploiting the disaster for photo ops and political advantage. There should be lots of squawking about the stories that are getting overshadowed. Sheehan! Plame! The women's names upon whom such hopes rested are drowned out by the louder name Katrina.

And you know Bush's people are deviously orchestrating that.

UPDATE: A reader notes that Kevin Drum has also come out against politicizing Katrina. But then there are all those comments on his posts (which he can't control). The link in my original post goes to Daily Kos, and I just went over and read some of the hundreds of comments there. Really awful! Well, I'm glad there are blogs with comments right there for all of us to see the kind of things that would otherwise be said outside of our hearing. Funny that the people making the comments don't seem aware of how they look to those outside their insular group.

Anyway, you don't need me to tell you, but Drum's post makes me feel that I should add to the chorus and say it would be good to make a contribution to hurricane relief. Glenn Reynolds has posted what I'm going to assume is a good set of links for that purpose.

"A Marxist Perspective on Darkness on the Edge of Town."

An academic conference on Bruce Springsteen. There are things less cool.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 31.

It's Day 31 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) This is the page of the notebooks that has the least to do with Amsterdam. I was just watching TV, "Oprah," to be exact. Gail Sheehy was on, pushing her then-new book about menopause, "The Silent Passage." Looking back on this drawing, I notice it's lot like blogging. I copy out a (near) quote that happens to strike me and then make my own comment. Sheehy was strongly pushing hormone replacement therapy back then, and subsequent reports about that were very negative. I was struck by the fact that it was testosterone that women needed to preserve their sexual feelings.

Amsterdam Notebook

(Enlarge.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"You should have seen the cars floating around us. We had to push them away when we were trying to swim."

Biloxi.

New Orleans.

Sorry I don't know how to link to this properly, but go to CNN.com and click on "Watch: Screams for help," an emotional and detailed description of the efforts at rescuing people trapped in flooded New Orleans. [LATER: Look for the "unanswered screams" video here.]

NOTE: This is not a link to a video of people screaming for help. It is a phoned in report from the CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve, who is very articulate. The video shown is of property damage, not of human beings suffering.

UPDATE: I'm watching a lot of news shows tonight, seeing all the people being rescued from rooftops. How many people are out there, stranded and afraid, unrescued as night has fallen? How many people are spending the night on rooftops, waiting for the daylight before they have a chance of being helped? So sad!

A word of advice to Bill Maher and Jon Stewart.

You need to restock your audiences. It's too packed with fans who are inflating your sense of how smart and funny you are. They may love you, but they are ruining you. And they are making you seem like a rude host to your guests, even when all you're doing is debating with them.

IN THE COMMENTS: A lot of comments! What's happening in there? Oh, people just got going...

Interview with a "Six Feet Under" writer.

Television Without Pity has an interview with Jill Soloway, one of the "Six Feet Under" writers.

Re the pregnant Rachel Griffith:
Before we found out Rachel was pregnant there were three pregnancies [planned for the final season]. And the middle one was, I think, a second miscarriage, and then the third one was gonna be, like, some of these problems and an abortion. And it was just going to be a lot more complicated...

And, uh, she did not want to play an abortion scene. She was willing to play the first miscarriage, because, you know, certain stuff. It was early on. But she didn't want to be playing anything involving the death of the baby.
I'm surprised actors have so much say in what happens to their character.

I'm not surprise to read that lack of money to build a set might lead to a decision to make a fact about a character be that she lives in her car.

I'm not surprised that TV writers read and obsess over Television Without Pity.

I like this, about the NYT TV critic Virginia Heffernan:
I look and I'm just like, What is she saying? "This breathes sincerity and authenticity" and I don't know what she's talking about, you know? I really don't. I don't know if you read those things that she writes in the New York Times, but she also writes really sort of complicated, interesting, you know, academic-y foundation takes on the show. I mean, I can barely follow what Heather's talking about? I like what she's talking about and I get it and sometimes she goes into tangents where I go, "I have no idea what you're talking about anymore." And, with Virginia Heffernan I have no idea. I mean, I cannot make heads or tails of her commentary at all. She seems very, very, very smart. I mean, I read stuff like that and I go, "Wow, this person's brilliant. Don't know what they're talking about."
Ha, ha. I love Heffernan, though, let me say.

Soloway promotes her book, "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants," which she characterizes as herself ranting away. She lets us know that her voice is basically Claire. So, with that, I click on the link and order the book.

Must — should — the man witness childbirth?

Here's an interesting piece in Slate about how harshly people reacted to the news that witnessing childbirth destroyed some men's sexual attraction to the woman who had given birth. Since men can't control whether they feel sexual desire or not, shouldn't women want to hear what the real facts are, even if those facts interfere with the sentimental birthing room dreams they have in mind? It's much more important to preserve your future sex life then to try to live up to some idealized picture of childbirth. If having your partner in the room really does endanger that sex life, women should think clearly about whether they want to take that risk.
For most of human history, of course, men didn't go anywhere near women in labor, and any expectation that they would is relatively new: In Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, set in the 1940s, a father is sent off to the bar by the household women so he doesn't have to hear his wife's cries of pain. This changed in the 1960s, when a doctor named Robert Bradley put power in patients' hands, reducing the number of Caesarean sections and episiotomies he performed and playing up natural ways of making childbirth less painful. One method, he discovered, was to invite the husband in to have him talk to his wife—a practice popularized in the 1970s. Putting husbands in the delivery room not only coincided with feminism but was intimately wrapped up with the natural childbirth movement and its effort to see the modern body in a more holistic fashion. (Bradley himself was no feminist; he told husbands to enforce a natural-foods diet he designed so that their "statuesque" wives wouldn't pack on pounds.)

The idea that childbirth was natural and therefore beautiful wasn't actually embraced by all feminists. Shulamith Firestone insisted that modern feminism shouldn't celebrate childbirth, but hope that science could soon render women's role in it obsolete. She writes, "Pregnancy is barbaric. … The husband's guilty waning of sexual desire, the woman's tears in front of the mirror at eight months are all gut reactions, not to be dismissed as cultural habits. ... Three thousand years ago women giving birth 'naturally' had no need to pretend that pregnancy was a real trip, some mystical orgasm."

Today's women aren't celebrating pregnancy as a mystical orgasm, but they do see having the father in the delivery room as a necessary component of a healthy marriage, one in which both partners contribute equally to collective partnership.
The ancient tradition of excluding the man might well have reflected deep understanding of sexual happiness. The 1970s feminist idea had some intellectual interest to it, but always seemed off and ideological. And now that view has morphed into the bland present day concern for healthiness.

I'd say get the facts and make a sound decision for yourself. And don't focus on the childbirth experience so much. It's like focusing on the wedding and not the actual married life that will follow. The wedding is not the marriage, and the childbirth is not the family. The real happiness is to be found (or lost) in marriage and family, not in weddings and childbirth. Real life is lived in all those ordinary days, not on those big occasions that seem to matter so much when you're starting out.

UPDATE: A reader writes:
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is emphatically not set in the 1940s; I know you didn't write the paragraph which contained that error, but merely excerpted it. However, I thought you might wish the correction, just the same.

Betty Smith's classic novel opens, if I recall correctly, in 1912 (although it flashes back to a number of years earlier) and extends into--again, if I recall correctly) the early '20s, or at least post-World War I). There was, however, a movie made from the book, and that movie dates to the mid-1940s, so that's perhaps the source of the wrong date.

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" .... aaahhhhhh. That happens to be one of the books which had the greatest impact in my childhood (I first read it around 1970 at about age 9--yeah, yeah, I'm one of those precocious readers--and have re-read it many, many times since) in more ways than could possibly interest you, from history to the developing writer's early mind to issues of class, religion, and poverty etc. Most special to me is that the copy I first read--and still read, despite its falling-apart state--belonged to my maternal great-grandfather, whom I never met, but who belonged to a potato-famine Irish-immigrant family that settled in--you guessed it--Williamsburg, Brooklyn and lived in poverty there before, and during a good chunk of, the time depicted in the book (my own grandmother started school about 10 years after Francie would have, but under depressingly similar circumstances). His annotations in margins and general underlinings are priceless to me.

Sorry for the digressions, but it was so lovely to see this book, mostly unknown to my contemporaries, pop up in your blog! Even in the unexpected context in which it was raised...

"The major problem is one of who is agreeing, not what they have agreed on. "

NYU lawprof Noah Feldman, who was a senior adviser for constitutional law to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, has an important op-ed in the NYT today:
THE completion of Iraq's draft constitution, which will be submitted to the people for ratification in October, should have been an occasion for celebration. As most Americans are aware, it has not been. But while much of the criticism has focused on such areas as women's rights, federalism and the role of Islam, such concerns are largely misplaced. In fact, the text strives to balance democratic equality with the Islamic values that are popular with many Iraqi voters, and it sketches a workable if vague compromise on power-sharing between the center and the federal regions.

The major problem is one of who is agreeing, not what they have agreed on. The flawed negotiations of recent weeks, driven at breakneck pace by American pressure to meet an unnecessary deadline, failed to produce an agreement satisfactory to the Sunni politicians in the talks. It appears that the draft will be put before the people with their strong disapproval. The paradoxical result is a looming disaster: a well-conceived constitution that, even if ratified, may well fail to move Iraq toward constitutional government.

"He's a home wrecker. He's trying to rip a father away from a child, and rip a husband away from a wife."

So says a 22-year-old man who married the 14-year-old girl he impregnated. He's being prosecuted for statutory rape. (To marry, they crossed from Nebraska, where one must be 17, to Kansas, where 12 is considered old enough.)
[The prosecutor's] office has been deluged with letters, the vast majority angrily urging that he leave the couple alone. One, from a woman named Patricia, said, "I'm sure your time can be better spent putting away real criminals."

Why shouldn't this man be prosecuted? You could say, he's been selected for prosecution not for his sexual act — which is far more common than statutory rape prosecutions — but for committing to marriage — which is a conspicuous, public act. The linked article, on the front page of the NYT, seems fairly sympathetic to the man, but I don't see it.
Matthew and Crystal met when she was 8, and he played video games with her half-brother. Mr. Koso, who was in special education classes for attention deficit disorder and other learning problems, graduated from high school in 2001 and joined the Marine Corps, but left after four months on a medical discharge. When Crystal's mother had no car, Mr. Koso drove her to the doctor and the grocery store.

"He's always been friends with people that were younger," said Peggy Koso, recalling her son at age 5 or 6 passing hours with building blocks and racing cars with a neighbor of 3 or 4. "His own peers never accepted him."

The two became a couple, according to Crystal's "Happy Anniversary" drawing on the wall, on Sept. 17, 2003. She was 12 and he 20. Exactly a year later, Crystal's mother, Cecilia Guyer, who is divorced from her father, filed for a restraining order against Mr. Koso, writing of him: "He's too old for early teens. He needs to stay away."
It seems that if Crystal were 10 years older, she would not find Koso to be an adequate partner, and that Koso himself lacks the ability to deal with the adult woman Crystal will be in 10 years. The fact that she may have loved him the whole time is no excuse. Surely, many pedophiles are capable of getting children to fall in love with them.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 30.

It's Day 30 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) Not much happening on this page. Just walking around, hanging out in a café. I notice and draw a small building the purpose of which I don't understand. It has potted plants on top and a little door, but no windows. In the café, I jot down the first names of the Motown singers I hear them playing.

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook

Monday, August 29, 2005

An eerie wall.

This odd mural is a familiar sight in Madison, Wisconsin.

Madison.

Madison.

Madison.

"The Comeback."

Did you enjoy the second-to-the-last episode of "The Comeback"? There were some richly satisfying moments this week, especially regarding my favorite villain, Paulie G. And I loved Valerie's song in the end, after she cast off the "plain vanilla" style.

Hoping for better written Supreme Court opinions.

Stories like this, about John Roberts's attention to editing and writing style, have inspired me to hope for far better written Supreme Court opinons in the future. I've also gotten in touch with depth of my displeasure over the writing in Supreme Court opinions, which it is my job to read and to make other people read.

From the linked article:
Careful wording is "part of his approach to the practice of law," said David G. Leitch, the general counsel to the Ford Motor Company, who overlapped with Mr. Roberts at the law firm Hogan & Hartson and at the Justice Department in the 1990's. Something as minor as punctuation style could cause Mr. Roberts to demand revisions; longer debates "over the way certain sentences were phrased and the possible unintended meaning of certain phraseology" were a hallmark of his style, Mr. Leitch said.

"Judge Roberts always viewed it as a point of pride that we really strived to make everything in our briefs perfect," Mr. Leitch said. "Not that we always achieved it. But he was a stickler for everything, from spacing errors to the formation of quotation marks to grammar, and to the actual construction of arguments. So it was definitely an intense process."

In Judge Roberts's view, he said, "your brief writing conveys not only your argument to the court, but it also conveys a sense of your credibility and the care with which you put together your case."

The writing of lawyers does indeed convey an important message about the quality of their argument to the court. By the same token, the writing of judges conveys an important message to the lawyers and others who are thinking about how much to respect the work of the courts.

The bloated, flabby, obfuscatory writing, strewn across multiple opinions has wearied readers for two decades. Justice Roberts will bring us crisp phrasing, clear reasoning, and single opinions for the Court — I hope.

"This is a living document, as all constitutions are."

Here's an interesting part of Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" interview with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad:
Mr. Russert: Mr. Ambassador, let me read for you and our viewers this morning something that exists in this draft Constitution. Islam is the official religion of the state, and it is a main source for legislation. No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam's rulings.

Do you believe that the 1800 American men and women who have died in Iraq died for the creation of another Islamic republic in the Middle East?

Amb. Khalizad: No. Those were exactly the same words that were in the constitution of Afghanistan which we celebrated. And also do not forget that immediately after what you just read, there are two other requirements that the draft mentions, one, that no law can be against the practices of democracy and also that no law can be in violation of the human rights enshrined in that constitution.
The requirement of being consistent with three such different sources of law is quite amazing. What happens when there is a conflict? There is no principle of hierarchy as far as I can tell, so is there a requirement that the three things be harmonized? If there is, won't it be necessary to distort and reshape to make the three things fit together?
Amb. Khalizad: What you have, Tim, is a new consensus between the universal principles of democracy and human rights and Iraqi traditions in Islam. And in that, it is an agreement, a compact between the various communities and it sets a new paradigm for this part of the world, a reconciliation, a consensus between the various forces and tendencies that are at work here in Iraq.

Mr. Russert: As you well know, some secular Iraqi leaders disagree with you in terms of the effect of the so-called Islamic influences. This is how The New York Times reported it on Wednesday. "Secular Iraqi leaders complained that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women. The secular leaders said the draft contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court. The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy. The courts would rely on Shariah, which under most interpretations grants women substantially fewer rights than men."

Amb. Khalizad: Well, let me say several things on each of the points that you've raised. One with regard to women first. This constitution, this draft, recognizes equality between men and women before the law and disallows any discrimination. It also disallows violence in the family. It encourages women's political participation. And it grants a 25 percent minimum women's representation in the National Assembly.

With regard to family law, which is a controversial article, it recognizes the freedom of choice, that people can choose which law, whether secular or religious, can--will govern their personal matters having to do with marriage, divorce, inheritance. This is no different than what is the case in Israel.

With regard to the role of the Supreme Court, I think your comments reflected an earlier draft. The current draft does not establish a separate constitution review court but gives the responsibility to the Supreme Court here and it doesn't call for Shariah judges. It calls for experts in law, which includes expertise in Islamic law, but also expertise with regard to democracy and human rights, to be represented in the Supreme Court and it allows the next parliament to legislate on that.

Mr. Russert: So if a Shiite man decides to bring his wife to a Shiite religious court, you believe that woman will have equal protection?

Amb. Khalizad: Well, first, exactly how this will be done will be regulated by law. What the constitution says is that it's freedom of choice. And it directs the next legislator to regulate. What I've heard from the conversations that we've had with various members of the commission is the concern that if someone was of strong faith and wanted to go to a religious court or to get an affair settled, he should not or she should not be disallowed from doing that by the state. But how they will do it exactly, that will depend on the legislature.
That doesn't answer the question of which party gets its way! What if one wants secular court and the other wants religious court? That concept of "choice" is opaque. Again, there seems to be an interest in including the things people care about without committing to which principle supersedes another. The answer seems to be that the legislature will determine these important details. The ambassador continues, suggesting as much:
Amb. Khalizad: I have encouraged many groups who have concern about this that they ought to make this a campaign issue and run against ideas that they find unacceptable with regard to what their legislation might be. This is a living document, as all constitutions are, Tim, and as Iraq evolves and changes, this constitution will also change and adapt to the circumstances. Our own Constitution, as you know, had to change in order to remain relevant. And this will be the case with Iraq as well, as it will be the case with other countries. Constitutions are not just one-time documents. To be relevant, they will have to adapt.
Surely, anyone interpreting a constitution will recognize that it is a living document and must be interpreted to adapted to "remain relevant."

Well, three members of our Supreme Court don't, but other than that....

Surely, the Iraqi judges will get the point. And when the Koran is interpreted to fit with the times? No one's going to have a problem with that, will they?

6 foot holes open in the Superdome.

With 9,000 people inside waiting out the hurricane.

Two things I started to watch on HBO but didn't finish.

1. "Rome." (First episode of the series.)

2. "Real Time With Bill Maher." (First episode of the new season.)

"Rome" had a lot of people bustling about in costumes, amidst scenery, declaiming various things in English accents. Violence and nudity don't really stimulate my interest in a story, though I was mildly intrigued by the perfect bikini wax jobs the women had. But — who knows? —maybe all that historical research they were bragging about in the promos actually revealed that the women had their pubic hair plucked into narrow vertical rectangles.

Bill Maher drove me up the wall — and I watched every episode of the show last year, so I am not a Bill Maher hater. His comic style of speech conveys an extremely smug attitude and certainty that he's the smart one who's been right about everything all along. (Jon Stewart uses nearly the opposite tone and is much more watchable.) Among the guests on Maher's show was Chris Rock, who was coasting on a single comic idea: you can connect anything to the subject of the high cost of gasoline. Why am I just getting to the point where I find Maher's speech intolerable? Maybe I've gotten more thin-skinned or maybe it's just the state of the world these days and the way so many people are so eager to point at everything that doesn't go smoothly and to say see I told you all along it was a big mistake.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pencils.

Here's a blog that's charmingly and prettily about pencils. I noticed it just now as linked on Drawn! and then realized I'd also seen it on Metafilter.

On Metafilter, somebody links to a 1988 Apple animation — a classic of some sort — called "Pencil Test." You just know guys came up with that title, because for women, "pencil test" means something (which the animation is not about). Or are my female readers going to tell me they don't know what the "pencil test" is?

Anyway, me, I don't like to use pencils. Too much friction. And never dark enough — unless you go with a very soft pencil, which is going to be quite smudgy. Even if you want something to draw with, and you'd like to use smudging as a technique, a pencil is inferior. If I want to smudge up a drawing, I'm going to use charcoal. It's blacker and it's not all shiny and metallic.

I like the idea of the physical object, the pencil. It's perfectly lovely that they figured out how to get graphite inside of wood, the pink erasers are cute, the sharpeners make a satisfying grindy noise, the shavings curl touchingly and smell nice, and they're wonderfully biteable. But they are not for me.

Sorry, pencils!

Yet another Piano Man update.

From The Independent:
He was, in fact, 20-year-old Andreas Grassl, a farmer's son from a small village on the German-Czech border. His family lawyer has categorically denied that he faked his illness. It is thought that his problems may stem from his fear of being the only gay in his village. German newspapers, who had given the myth of Piano Man the same attention that he had received the world over, appeared positively disgusted to discover that the mystery patient was from Bavaria. "It's all over," sighed the Frankfurter Rundschau. "The truth is often so awfully banal." One left-wing newspaper remarked that it was better to be "half-dead and playing the piano in a British psychiatric hospital than living as a homosexual in a Bavarian village".
Interesting, this loathing of Bavaria. Is there a state in the U.S. that Americans would react to this negatively?

There's also this from The Australian:
Andreas Grassl, 20, had bombarded German television stations with requests to appear on their shows. He also wrote to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and singer Robbie Williams asking them to help him launch a career in the media.

Grassl eventually got a column in a local newspaper in which he dwelt scornfully on the instant fame of pop stars and reality TV contestants and said he would "so love to be a millionaire". He achieved a different kind of fame during four months of psychiatric treatment in Britain. He refused to speak, expressing himself only by drawing and playing pianos. The mystery prompted a hunt across Europe to identify him.

A selection of Grassl's writing, including articles and letters in his school magazine and his columns for the Bayerwald Echo in the Bavarian town of Cham, reveals his preoccupation with celebrity....

From the age of 10, Grassl begged regional and national television and radio for the chance to take part in shows. He reported every triumph, no matter how small. "On December 6 my voice was heard for approximately 20 seconds on the Czech radio station Cesky Rozhlas 7," he boasted in one edition of the school magazine.

Grassl's first break came at the end of 2000 when the Bayerwald Echo agreed to let him write a column entitled Cult aimed at teenagers.

His subjects ranged from Britney Spears to a US election campaign. A former Echo journalist described him as scatter-brained. "He'd suddenly get hyperactive, pouring out one idea after another so you couldn't get him away from your desk," he said. "But he obviously had creative talent."

In one column he criticised the effortless fame acquired by others through programs such as Big Brother. "It's suddenly the fashion to shove people inside a container, pull them out one after the other and then turn them into pop stars for a week," he wrote....

Carey Cooper, a psychologist at Lancaster University, said Grassl may have been suffering from "Hollywood syndrome".

"It's a real problem among all the failed actors in Hollywood when they get to the point where they can no longer accept that they've failed," Professor Cooper said. "They begin to act as if they are famous or find means unconsciously or consciously to attract attention."
Seems a little like Rupert Pupkin, doesn't it? Well, I hope he's enjoying his fame.

"Cleavage, erotic as it is, does not occur in nature."

In case you didn't read the NYT Style Magazine, here's a link to the article about the hot topic: cleavage — and its dependence on undergarments:
Although brassieres first appeared in the United States around 1904 (the word itself first appeared in Vogue in 1907), it seems the impulse to improve on nature's deficiencies goes all the way back to the Greek goddess Hera. According to Teresa Riordan in her excellent account ''Inventing Beauty,'' Hera wore an early version of a push-up bra, described in the ''Iliad'' as festooned with ''brooches of gold'' and ''a hundred tassels,'' the better to divert Zeus from the Trojan War. With the development of Vulcanized rubber in the 1840's, the idea of pneumatically improved breasts came into being, but they were scoffed at as ''ridiculous contrivances'' by no less a connoisseur than Lola Montez in her ''Arts of Beauty, or Secrets of a Lady's Toilet.'' Inevitably, corsets and the like impeded access to the very delights they served to highlight, leading at least one redblooded male to make witty protest. ''Please leave off that breastplate,'' James Joyce wrote to his future wife, Nora Barnacle, during their courtship. ''I do not like embracing a letterbox.''

Closet editing.

Do you ever edit you clothes closet? Just take everything out of it and judge each item: throw out, give away, or put back in the closet?

If you do that, do you have a rules of thumb like: if I haven't worn it in [a particular number of months or years], it cannot go back in the closet? What is the length of time in your rule?

Can you really follow that rule, or do you make exceptions? Is there some length of time that for you signifies vintage, which supersedes the original time-length rule of thumb?

What really old clothing items — jewelry doesn't count — do you have that you would seriously defend as vintage? And of the things you can't call vintage, what has remained unworn in your closet for the longest time (and how long)? My vintage entry: a beautiful (and comfortable) pair of black suede Perry Ellis high heels from 1981. My nonvintage item that I can't wear or part with is a long chartreuse dress made of scarf-like silk, not worn in nearly 15 years.

And yes, I'm trying to clean my closet — trying, in the sense of blogging about it, meaning to do it... sometime.

UPDATE: I'm actually doing it! In the real world! I am going to be so organized.

Warning!

Signs

Are all the lawprofs Democrats?

Nearly all are, per Adam Liptak, writing in the NYT:
[A] study, to be published this fall in The Georgetown Law Journal, analyzes 11 years of records reflecting federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contribute to campaigns, but of them, the study finds, 81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.

The percentages of professors contributing to Democrats were even more lopsided at some of the most prestigious schools: 91 percent at Harvard, 92 at Yale, 94 at Stanford. At the University of Virginia, on the other hand, contributions were about evenly divided between the parties. The sample sizes at some schools may be too small to allow for comparisons, though it bears noting that by this measure the University of Chicago is slightly more liberal than Berkeley.

For what it's worth, I haven't given any political contributions in a while, but when I did, it was to Democrats — mostly Russ Feingold. I'm actually surprised by how many lawprofs — 15% — the study found had contributed to Republicans.

Anyway, I haven't read the law review article, but this seems to be a key point:
Law schools that take race into account in admissions decisions, the study says, "open themselves to charges of intellectual inconsistency" if they do not also address the ideological imbalances on their faculties.
Charge a lawprof with inconsistency. Really. Go ahead. I strongly encourage you. You'll have lots of fun.

UPDATE: Pandagon accuses me of making just making a joke about this and not "challenging" it. I will therefore have to accuse Pandagon not really getting the point of the Althouse comments section. I'm opening a discussion here. I could say more, but I'm waiting for the commenters to run with it. Then, I join in the comments. But suffice it to say, lawprofs will not agree that supporting affirmative action in admissions is inconsistent with lawprofs being nearly all liberals. Tell me why you think it's inconsistent and I'll respond.

MORE: Why did my flippant attitude rile Pandagon (and others)? Are they really put out that I'm not more substantive? Of course not. Their real problem is that they know very well that affirmative action and a liberal faculty are two things lawprofs generally want very much and that lawprofs really will come up with the arguments that are needed to harmonize these two policies. Chiding me for not saying more is just a smokescreen. They know what I'm saying and they know they'd do what I'm saying if they were put on the spot. But go ahead. Try to put a lawprof on the spot. Go ahead. I strongly encourage you. You'll have lots of fun.

Not "Walking on Sunshine."

I guess we'll never think of Katrina and the Waves the same way again. Say a prayer for New Orleans:
"This is a once in a lifetime event," the mayor said. "The city of New Orleans has never seen a hurricane of this magnitude hit it directly."

The mayor said Katrina's storm surge would likely top the levees that protect the city from the surrounding water of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and marshes. The bowl-shaped city must pump water out even during normal times, and the hurricane threatened electricity that runs the pumps.

Afraid to go out in your own $10 million yard?

Well, what do you expect? You moved into the ecotone.

Hitchens on "The Daily Show" and in The Weekly Standard.

Did you see Christopher Hitchens on "The Daily Show" show this week? It was a rather strange little interview in which Jon Stewart did most of the talking, asking really long questions that ostensibly begged Hitchens to explain things about the war in Iraq but left Hitchens with little time to attempt to do it.

Hitchens did manage to say he was going to have an article in The Weekly Standard on the subject. Now, the article is available.

An excerpt:
I am one of those who believe, uncynically, that Osama bin Laden did us all a service (and holy war a great disservice) by his mad decision to assault the American homeland four years ago. Had he not made this world-historical mistake, we would have been able to add a Talibanized and nuclear-armed Pakistan to our list of the threats we failed to recognize in time....

The subsequent liberation of Pakistan's theocratic colony in Afghanistan, and the so-far decisive eviction and defeat of its bin Ladenist guests, was only a reprisal. It took care of the last attack. But what about the next one? For anyone with eyes to see, there was only one other state that combined the latent and the blatant definitions of both "rogue" and "failed." This state--Saddam's ruined and tortured and collapsing Iraq--had also met all the conditions under which a country may be deemed to have sacrificed its own legal sovereignty. To recapitulate: It had invaded its neighbors, committed genocide on its own soil, harbored and nurtured international thugs and killers, and flouted every provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty....

I have a ready answer to those who accuse me of being an agent and tool of the Bush-Cheney administration (which is the nicest thing that my enemies can find to say). Attempting a little levity, I respond that I could stay at home if the authorities could bother to make their own case, but that I meanwhile am a prisoner of what I actually do know about the permanent hell, and the permanent threat, of the Saddam regime. However, having debated almost all of the spokespeople for the antiwar faction, both the sane and the deranged, I was recently asked a question that I was temporarily unable to answer. "If what you claim is true," the honest citizen at this meeting politely asked me, "how come the White House hasn't told us?"
Read the article.

I would love to have heard what Hitchens said about Jon Stewart after that interview. I wonder if it would have been something like this passage from the article:
There are an astounding number of plain frauds and charlatans (to phrase it at its highest) in charge of the propaganda of the other side. Just to tell off the names is to frighten children more than Saki ever could: Michael Moore, George Galloway, Jacques Chirac, Tim Robbins, Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson . . . a roster of gargoyles that would send Ripley himself into early retirement. Some of these characters are flippant, and make heavy jokes about Halliburton, and some disdain to conceal their sympathy for the opposite side.
Too harsh for Stewart? Perhaps, but if he were interviewing any of Hitchens's gargoyles, I think he'd treat them far differently from the way he treated Hitchens.

UPDATE: Here's the video of the Hitchens interview, available at Crooks & Liars, which opines:
Jon was very focused tonight and made Hitchins lose his place a few times. (How did he ever do that?) When intelligence is met against blind ideology, intelligence usually wins. (I just made that up)
Gargoyles, indeed.

The new TV season — do you care?

Throwing Things lists some things they care about. Here you can see which new shows Television Without Pity is going to recap.

And, hey, the recap from the final "Six Feet Under" is up already. The recapper, M. Giant, reveals on the last page that he's moving on to recap that big new HBO series, "Rome," which starts tonight. Are you going to watch? Can we transfer our "SFU" habit onto "Rome"? Are we going to try?

MORE: I cared deeply about the new TV season when I was a teenager — and so did all my friends. We eagerly awaited the TV Guide issue that described all the new shows and talked a lot about which ones we thought we're going to be good. We made a point of trying nearly every one. That was back in the days when shows like "Bewitched" and "That Girl" were coming out. We were so into TV. Half of us started affecting the vocal mannerisms of Elizabeth Montgomery and Marlo Thomas!

UPDATE: I watched "Rome" for about 20 minutes. It was the sort of roiling, writhing ancientness I expected. I found I just didn't care.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 28.

It's Day 28 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) I'm still at the Stedelijkmuseum, where we saw that video installation yesterday. Today, I look at a huge collage by Henri Matisse and draw a tiny detail, and then I go on to the sort of thing that makes people think sculpture is just terrible:

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook

This sculpture was room size and not made of any fine material like marble or wood. It was just a shoddy assemblage. And, yes, the devil is sitting on a toilet. The angels are holding it aloft. It's called "The Triumph of Love." Doesn't that give you a wonderful opportunity to think deeply about... what? How crappy your last relationship was?

Easy to dance to, easy to blog to.

How Madonna picked the songs for her new album:
The tunes, with her distinctive vocals removed, were played in clubs from Liverpool to Ibiza throughout June....

"Whenever I was DJ-ing I'd take dub or instrumental versions out with me and test them at the club that night," [said Stuart Price, 28, the DJ and producer who is collaborating with Madonna on the record,] "I had my camera with me and the next day I'd tell Madonna, 'This is what a thousand people in Liverpool look like dancing to our song' ."

He added: "You can work on a song for 12 hours but I guarantee you'll know within just 10 seconds of putting it on at a club whether it works or not. So these songs were tested on unwitting subjects throughout Europe."
Some people are tweaking her, saying it's like an advertiser using a focus group or ooh, looks like the most famous female pop star of all time is having a crisis of confidence. But I think:

1. It's clever to do research specifically into what's danceable. Remember when they used to rate new singles on "Bandstand" and the main thing anyone talked about was how easy it was to dance to? It's a good thing to test separately and get right.

2. The revelation gets publicity. Why you could even get people to blog about it. Everybody, come on, blog.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

"I think the piece isn't ghastly."

From the Boston Globe:
A Connecticut artist plans to exhibit a sculpture of Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams' severed head at a New York gallery next month.

Daniel Edwards of Moosup, Conn., said the inspiration for the sculpture came to him when it was revealed that the Hall of Famer's head was removed and cryogenically frozen with his torso at Scottsdale's Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

The sculpture shows Williams resting his chin on a baseball.

"I think the piece isn't ghastly," Edwards said.
Art, art, art. Remember it's art. Yet I find myself drawn into thinking not about art but about why they severed the head if they were saving the torso. But at least the sculpture isn't actually made out of Ted Williams' real head. That would be like this.

Another face and some meandering about unreadable words.

Yesterday, we saw the Face on the Barroom Floor. Here's a face I saw today, stenciled on a curb. What does it say?

Signs

(Enlarge.)

I'm fascinated by the almost legible. Have you ever imagined there were words somewhere that you could almost read? That's a theme in the movie "Waking Life," by the way. Did you like that movie? Did you like it as much as "Slacker"? I ask, deviating from the theme in a Slackerish way. In "Waking Life," the subject is the way you can't read in a dream. If you try, you won't be able to make out the words.

Maybe if you're getting a bit psychotic — struggling with that brain asymmetry — or using some psychotropic drugs, you'll think you're seeing letters rising up out of textured surfaces like that curb. Don't lose yourself trying to read those nonexistent words.

This subject is making me think of "The Shining," where the little boy keeps trying to read a word on the wall until finally he can and it's very shocking. Good horror idea! There must be many other stories about mysteriously nearly readable writing.

Here's a picture of my ex-husband from long ago. He's reading a book, and you can almost read the title of the book. Why does near legibility make the book seem so important? Why such fascination with things we can't quite see or understand?

Is there a theme of the day on this blog??

"Schizophrenia is the price that homo sapiens pay for language."

Here's the theory:
People with these [pychoses] may hear their inner thoughts as external voices, or believe thoughts have been inserted in their head, suggesting the normal divisions do not exist.

The reason for this, he says, is that their brains do not have the bias, or asymmetry, seen in healthy people.

Brain asymmetry means that areas control certain things, so the left-hand side controls language.

He said: "Asymmetry appears to be less pronounced in people with psychoses."...

Professor Crow suggests there is an "asymmetry gene" on the sex chromosomes, that gives human brains the capacity for language.

He suggests that variation in an "asymmetry gene" in one of these areas could be the factor which determines if someone is going to develop schizophrenia.

It's this brain asymmetry that allowed human beings to develop language, supposedly, and some weakness in the asymmetry that is at the root of schizophrenia. So says Crow anyway.

Why does he locate this "asymmetry gene" on the sex chromosomes? Hmmm.... look out, Professor Crow! Don't forget to say that whatever tendency you find in women is better! Don't be saying we're closer to crazy.

A Madison truck.

From today's photowalk.

A Madison truck

(Front view.)

Anti-marijuana, anti-science.

John Tierney blasts the Drug Enforcement Administration for standing in the way of research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. Currently, there is only one legal source of marijuana — of terrible quality — and the DEA resists authorizing the production of a better grade of marijuana. This makes it look as though the DEA is trying to prevent scientists from proving medicinal benefits.
Phillip Alden, a writer living in Redwood City, Calif., told me that marijuana was a godsend for him in dealing with the effects of AIDS. He said it eased excruciating pains in his fingertips, controlled nausea and enabled him to avoid the wasting syndrome that afflicts AIDS patients who are unable to eat enough food.

But Mr. Alden said only some kinds of marijuana worked - not the weak variety provided by the federal government, which he smoked during a research study.

"It was awful stuff," he said. "They started out with a very low-grade plant, rolled it up with stems and seeds, and then freeze-dried it so that they probably ruined any of the THC crystals. All it did was give me headaches and bronchitis. The bronchitis got so bad I had to drop out of the study."

Mr. Alden was scheduled to testify at this week's hearing, but he told me he had to withdraw because the D.E.A. refused to give him legal immunity if he admitted using marijuana not from the government. It's a shame the judge will be making a decision without hearing him, but I can understand Mr. Alden's hesitancy.

It's one thing to be against marijuana, quite another to be against scientific research.

About Roberts, "states' rights," and that toad.

Adam Cohen begins his NYT editorial this way:
There could be a lot of talk about toads at the confirmation hearings for John Roberts Jr. In one of the few revealing opinions he has written in his brief time on the bench, Judge Roberts voted to reconsider a ruling that said the Endangered Species Act protected the arroyo Southwestern toad from being wiped out by a real estate development. He strongly suggested that Congress could protect only a species whose demise would affect "interstate commerce" - but that toad, he wrote, is a "hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California."

Judge Roberts's opinion, with its wry reference to the possibility that an entire species could be destroyed, disturbed environmentalists.
As if Roberts's humor had to do with the loss of a species! As anyone familiar with the case and with constitutional law knows, Roberts is referring to what is matters in a question about the scope of the Commerce Clause: the fact that federal law attempts to reach to something that is entirely intrastate.

Is humor forbidden because the case is about the environment and the environment demands solemn reverence? In any event, the words Roberts applied to the toad seem rather affectionate. Congress is trying to protect endangered species, and here's one that's having trouble staying within the range of Congress's power because it has chosen such a narrow range for itself. The hapless toad! That is, the poor toad. Had a liberal expressed sympathy in that form, I suspect Cohen would have perceived a big, beautiful heart. Look at how Justice Blackmun is endlessly adored for writing "Poor Joshua," when he saw how federal law failed to protect a child.

Cohen continues his thoughts about the arroyo toad case:
But its implications go far beyond the environment. It suggests that Judge Roberts - who broke with even a majority of the conservative judges on his court - may hold extreme states' rights views, the kind that could sharply limit Congress's power to protect ordinary Americans from discrimination, pollution and unsafe workplaces.
"Extreme states' rights views"? Please. The view of the Commerce Clause reflected in that Roberts opinion is that there is some limit to it, that some things that are entirely intrastate and that are not economic activities at all cannot be regulated by Congress. The alternative view is that the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to regulate anything it wants as long as it doesn't violate any constitutional rights. That alternative view is so common that it rarely gets called "extreme," but backing away from it a little and seeing some limit to congressional power is scarcely extreme. Predicting a "sharp[] limit" to Congress's power over commercial activities like unsafe workplaces is either a deliberate distortion of the recent Commerce Clause cases or an embarrassingly incompetent misreading.

More from Cohen:
Having one more justice who supports weakening Congress could make an enormous difference. Last year, Sandra Day O'Connor, whose place Judge Roberts would take, cast the deciding vote to allow a man in a wheelchair to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act after he was forced to crawl up the steps of a county courthouse. Four justices insisted that his suit was barred by the 11th Amendment, a modest limitation on the power of federal courts that conservatives have distorted into a sweeping "sovereign immunity" shield for states.

But Justice O'Connor voted with the majority that imposed a limit on Congress's commerce power in the cases about the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, Cohen is not talking about a Commerce Clause case here at all, something I doubt many NYT readers will notice. He's talking about a case about the scope of Congress's power to enforce 14th Amendment rights. And the crawling-up-the-steps case, despite its emotion-stirring facts, is about a very particular and limited issue. But go ahead and use it to bolster the myth of Justice O'Connor as a giant bulwark protecting the weak from the strong.

I detest the exaggerated statements about federalism and "states' rights" that typify the NYT coverage of the Supreme Court. You can legitimately take a very broad view of congressional power, interpreting the Commerce Clause so broadly that Congress has an unfettered choice in what to regulate. Justice Breyer does an excellent job of articulating that viewpoint on the Court. No one expects a Bush appointee to go to that end of the spectrum. Roberts will surely have some interest in federalism-based limits on congressional power. I wish the NYT could calm down and take the trouble to explain exactly what these limitations are likely to be.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 27.

It's Day 27 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) Yesterday, I felt deprived of language. Today, at the Stedelijkmuseum, I suddenly encounter a way too much language. This is a video installation with two TVs playing simultaneously and continuously. I've written in the audio portion in comics fashion:

Amsterdam Notebook

(Enlarge.)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Things I've resisted talking about.

I was thinking I'd been pretty tough resisting getting sucked into talking about Cindy Sheehan, but then I Googled my blog for her name and got this. Still, in proportion to the press coverage that she's gotten, I'm going to call my bloggage light.

My record is totally clear, however, when it comes to ignoring Pat Robertson.

The face.

Here's the Face on the Barroom Floor:

Teller House

And here are all 100 photos from Colorado.

Evil kitty?

Yaaaaaggghhhh!

Another Piano Man update.

From The Independent:
Andreas Grassl, 20, whose identity remained a mystery for four months after he was found on a beach in Sheerness, Kent, left his family in Bavaria last year because he feared revealing that he was gay.

His anguish was recounted yesterday by a former classmate as a picture began to emerge of the recent state of mind of Mr Grassl, who remains in hiding after returning to Germany at the weekend from a hospital in Dartford, where he was treated for an apparent nervous breakdown until he broke his silence on Friday....

"He was a good friend of mine. He had different interests and there was something a bit special about him. His parents didn't really understand him - I don't know if they thought he was gay. Neither his parents nor his two sisters really understood him. He spoke very little about his family. When he was identified it was a big shock, I didn't think he would do something like that. I didn't recognise him immediately [from the picture] because he had put on weight and his skin, which used to be spotty, had cleared up."

"Red hair is smart, sexy comedy."

That's the opinion of Valerie Cherish, channeled by Lisa Kudrow, as told to WaPo fashion theorist Robin Givhan, who writes:
All of ["The Comeback"]'s nuances are reflected in Cherish's most distinctive physical characteristic, her long red hair with its painstakingly organized curls that have been flipped back and away from her face. That hair is gloriously thick and the waves fall with an unnatural precision. The hair appears Breck Girl clean, devoid of the styling products now used to give hair an informal, slightly messy appearance. Hers is hair meant to be tossed in slow motion during the opening montage of "Baywatch."

In constructing the character, Kudrow has said that Cherish's hair color was a calculated decision. In Cherish's mind, "blond is dumb comedy, red hair is smart, sexy comedy." And, presumably, brunette isn't funny at all.
Givhan doesn't mention it, but red hair and comedy are indelibly associated with Lucille Ball. But of course, Cherish is wrong about a lot of things, so Kudrow's analysis of how Cherish thinks must be understood in that light. But I have a feeling Lisa loves Lucy.

Red hair is a touchy topic with me. My natural hair color is red — see it here — but not so red that I couldn't spend my entire childhood insisting that my hair was in fact not red, despite the tendency of strangers to call me "Red" and even "Carrot Top." As an unstably pigmented American, I had to endure both freckles and the early loss of hair color. Anyone fighting the latter problem should know that going lighter makes it less noticeable. If you see me today, you may consider me blonde, but I am incapable of seeing myself as a blonde. Though I spent my entire childhood denying that I had red hair, I now insist that I have it. I know it's a delusion, but the mental imprint is too strong to shake.

Why is red hair so meaningful?

Historic underpants.

In the bedroom of the Thomas House museum (in Central City, Colorado):

Thomas House Museum

I took a picture of a 19th century man's underpants:

Thomas House Museum

Central City, Colorado.

A gold-mining town, turned gambling town:

Central City.

Central City.

Central City.

The term "the War Between the States."

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts used it in a draft of an article he wrote for President Reagan to be published in a scholarly journal:
A fastidious editor of other people's copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words "Until about the time of the Civil War." Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words "Civil War" and replaced them with "War Between the States."
What significance should we give to this? Do you think it wasn't worth writing an article in the Washington Post about? Or do you think it really reveals something about the mind we're being asked to trust for decades?

If it reveals something, what does it reveal? I note that it is certainly possible for a person in the 1980s to be interested in the federalism revival and the respect for state autonomy that it expresses, without having any enthusiasm for slavery, segregation, and other retrograde practices that the Civil War calls to mind.

M-ness.

If you've mastered yesterday's lesson and learned that you actually do need to wear pants, then let's move on to M-ness. (Via A&L Daily.) Do you have it? Do you want it?
“What needs to happen is that the genders need to move closer together, not necessarily to be like each other but to respect each other . . . not be threatened by each other and achieve proper mutuality.”

M-ness (also known as my-ness) is defined thus: a masculinity that defines the best of traditional manliness (strength, honour, character) with positive traits traditionally associated with females (nurturance, communicativeness, co-operation). A lifestyle that emphasises higher-quality emotional and physical pleasures, male pleasures, that come from knowing oneself and one’s potential.

Confused? Well, according to [author Marian] Salzman, a classic example of M-ness man is Guy Ritchie. He is the alpha male tough guy who married an even tougher woman. But have his masculinity and identity been diminished by Madonna, arguably one of the biggest female icons in the world? No, says Salzman.

If anything they have been enhanced because Ritchie is so comfortable in his own skin. Here lies the essence of M-ness.

Ditto Bill Clinton, believe it or not, who scored M-ness points for apologising publicy for his infidelity (admitting you were wrong is a very feminine trait) and has not been threatened by taking a back seat to Hillary. See also the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, in marrying Maria Shriver, a famous Democrat, showed simultaneous respect for her beliefs and absolute confidence in his own. You could argue that Sir Paul McCartney demonstrates M-ness in his support for the career of his wife, Heather Mills. And might there not have been a touch of M-ness at the heart of Sir Denis Thatcher, whose sense of self was never compromised despite being married to the most macho female in living memory?
Side notes:

"Arguably one of the biggest female icons in the world"? I think you need to cut either "arguably" or "one of" (and drop the "s" on "icons").

"Comfortable in his own skin" — I'm tired of that expression and not just because I hear it so often. It's that I feel compelled to picture someone who somehow feels that his skin is too tight and binding, like an ill-fitting suit of clothes. It's distracting! Really, everyone — other than a serious burn victim — feels comfortable in his own skin. Can we come up with a more accurate cliché?

"You either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing."

The unfortunate dynamics of hunger relief:
Once an emergency is identified, [said Tony Vaux, a former official with Oxfam], the NGOs' public relations machine takes over and "there is a terrible temptation to look around for the very worst stories".

"My concern about this is you either have an aid bonanza or you have nothing. There does not seem to be a middle ground," says Mr Vaux, author of the book The Selfish Altruist.

One problem with dramatic appeals, [Professor William Easterly of New York University] notes, is that they do not give you a big bang for your aid buck.

"The payoff is disappointingly low," he says. Getting the relief effort up and running takes time, and when the food arrives it is often too late - or the crisis has eased on its own, as appears to be the case in Niger.

Emergency aid may relieve the situation - but the same amount spent before children starved in front of the cameras would have saved many more lives.

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 26.

It's Day 26 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) I'm in the museum, but passing the time by reading. If you're following the series, you already know, the book I'm reading is "Walden." Why should I feel lonely?

Amsterdam Notebook

Amsterdam Notebook

(Enlarge.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Teen Beat" by Sandy Nelson.

Heard on the 50s channel on XM radio today. Wow! Rock Instrumental Classics. Perfect!

"Men are simply more intelligent than women."

I saw that was a headline in the Times of Oman and had a few outraged thoughts on my way to the link, then was surprised to find an article from London about some British research:
In a paper to be published in a leading research journal, one of Britain’s most outspoken academics will argue that men have larger brains and higher IQs than women, to such an extent that they are better suited to “tasks of high complexity”.

Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, who has caused outrage in the past with claims that white people are more intelligent than blacks and that criminal traits are genetic, will publish the work with Paul Irwing, senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University.

The study, due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology in November, concluded that men not only have larger brains but also higher IQs, on average by about 5 points, than women....

Dr Irwing said that he had initially been reluctant to take part in the study arguing that he would have personally preferred not to have discovered that men had a biological advantage.

“I came from a perspective that I would like to believe that all people, whether men or women, were equal in potential achievement,” he said.
Why does Irwing assume performance on an IQ test is the result of biology as opposed to, say, a stimulating intellectual environment?

UPDATE: Here's the BBC link for the article.

Ferreting out the female fetus.

Doctors in Belgaum, India work around legal restrictions barring them from revealing the sex of a fetus. Expect to pay more to compensate the doctors for the risks they take:
"Those who were charging Rs 200 to Rs 500 are now charging as much as Rs 2,000 for the scan alone. It is done very secretively. The result of the test is not put on paper, nor is it told over the phone, for fear of prosecution," says a doctor who did not want to be named.

"They have also started using sign language to convey the sex to the patient. They are very careful nowadays, as NGOs and journalists are conducting sting operations to catch doctors practising sex determination tests," he adds.'''

It is no coincidence that Belgaum, which has the lowest child sex ratio in the state, ranks second only to Bangalore in terms of the number of centres with ultrasound machines.

The district has a whopping 142 registered ultrasound machines. The tiny taluk of Gokak has 20 machines and Chikkodi 17. The ultrasound business in Belgaum had a humble beginning...

Ultra-sonography, which is a great boon to a pregnant woman as it can detect congenital deformities in foetuses, is misused to detect the sex of the foetus and systematically get rid of the female child.

I wonder what the sign language is. A raised finger when a penis has been detected?

What do you think of the use of sonography to assist a woman who intends to abort a female? Is it worse in a region where women who have female children are treated badly and where the female children themselves are treated badly or worse in the United States?

How often is abortion for sex selection done in our country? Does your response to it here depend on whether females are consistently targeted? If sex selection abortions are aimed at both male and female fetuses, is it more acceptable?

Do you have a different opinion of an American woman who has an abortion because she wants her second child to be the opposite sex from her first child and an American woman who believes males are superior or thinks a female child will prove more loving and tractable?

Design the new BlogAds logo and win $1000.

And tell them I sent you and cause me to win $300. That would be pretty nice.

Milk chocolate.

I love this kind.

Feel free to take the position that some other brand is better, but it will be hard to convince me.

"How easy is it to fool the medical establishment into thinking that you are mentally ill, if you are not?"

We've debated this topic here before — a propos of the Piano Man — with me saying it would be hard to fool them and a commenter insisting Piano Man was a big phony. Consider this, by someone who works with homeless people with mental problems:
The theorist Talcot Parsons, in the 1950s, described what he called the "sick role". He argued that illness is a temporary, medically sanctioned form of deviant behaviour. He went on to suggest that there was a conflict for people labelled "ill" to, on one hand, get better, and on the other, to continue to enjoy the "secondary gains" of attention and exemption from normal duties.

Doctors act as the gatekeepers to the sick role, in that they are the ones who decide whether or not a person enters this role. While society must show compassion to those deemed unwell, it must also make sure that the gains are not so great that everyone wants to join in.

The difficulty for doctors is to identify those that are faking, and those that are genuinely unwell. It's a surprisingly common difficulty, and with mental illness, it's especially tricky because psychiatrists aren't mind readers - diagnosing exactly what is going on inside someone's head relies on them exhibiting certain symptoms.

Mutism, for example, is a symptom in a number of serious mental illnesses, but is also fairly easy for sane people to mimic. However, living a lie isn't easy and the impressive thing is maintaining the charade, because there is something inherent in us that seems to make us want to come clean. It occurs to me that you'd have to be pretty mad to want to stay in a psychiatric hospital in the first place, but perhaps this shows how desperate the Piano Man was. Then again, being ill means you get attention, and when in hospital, shelter and food. If you are actually well, in some ways it's like a trip to Butlins, but with white coats instead of red ones.

There's a fine line between what's classed as malingering and what is accepted as genuine illness. When someone has a breakdown, for example, what they're saying is that they've had enough, that they can't cope any more and that things have got to change in their lives. They enter the sick role, which facilitates the attention and change that is needed. But when does this become manipulative?

What surprises me is that more people don't do it.

Have you ever played sick to take a break from the pressures of life — not just called in sick to a job, but tried to fool people whom you took advantage of for care and support? Have you ever wondered whether you were really sick — physically or mentally — or whether you were indulging yourself and exploiting other people?

Has anyone ever done it to you, or have you ever suspected anyone of doing this? How much would it upset or outrage you if someone who wasn't really that sick, let himself droop into a sickly way of being and let you take care of him? How long would it take you to feel suspicious and stop providing your services?

Or are you the sort of person who suspects people who actually are sick are just faking it to get attention?

Why the fixation on abdomens?

I've got two fashion posts today, so let me go with a third, which is already bulging out in the comments to the shorts post. Haven't we seen enough of the female midsection for a while? The look-at-my-abs style has lasted way longer than was ever justified. I understand a fixation on breasts or legs, by why are we going on for years and years looking at ladies' tummies? It's rather strange, isn't it?

IN THE COMMENTS: More discussion of Barbara Eden than you might have predicted. I'm thinking there are a lot of boomerish men out there who have Jeannie deeply imprinted on their brains.

Men in shorts?

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

That's the short answer about shorts. Men in shorts? No such thing. If you are in shorts, you are not a man. I'll make a small exception for certain sports, or if you are staying at home or in your own yard. But if you're going out in public in a non-sports capacity, put on some pants! This includes the postman!

This outburst was provoked by Prof. Yin, who wrote this, about what a lawprof ought to wear:
The specific question about jeans isn't relevant to me, since I don't own a single pair of jeans. While I do show up in shorts and a T-shirt on the typical summer day (and truth be told, even right now, since I am on pretenure leave and therefore not teaching at all this semester), during the regular school year I tend to wear slacks, a button-down shirt, and a tie.
Well, at least he doesn't teach in shorts. I recently attended a talk led by a male lawprof who wore shorts (with a T-shirt and sandals). He stood up too, putting his boy-clothes on full display.

This isn't just some special, quirky little view of mine, guys. Women are on record on this one. I've posted on this topic before — here. Please don't make me tell you again.

"They make you feel taller and thinner and smarter and cooler, like your whole leg is one spring-loaded force."

Power boots are in. Should we credit Condi?

"The U.S. has orchestrated a document that is organically Iraqi."

Quoting two experts who usually disagree about Iraq, David Brooks takes a positive view of the Iraqi Constitution.
"The Bush administration finally did something right in brokering this constitution," [Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia] exclaimed, then added: "This is the only possible deal that can bring stability. ... I do believe it might save the country."...

Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing up a constitution that would artificially bind three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. "It's not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently," Galbraith says. "Iraq wasn't created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill."...

It's crazy, [Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht] says, to think that you could have an Iraqi constitution in which clerical authorities are not assigned a significant role. Voters supported clerical parties because they are, right now, the natural leaders of society and serve important social functions.

But this doesn't mean we have to start screaming about a 13th-century theocratic state. Understanding the clerics, Gerecht has argued, means understanding two things. First, the Shiite clerical establishment has made a substantial intellectual leap. It now firmly believes in one person one vote, and rejects the Iranian model. On the other hand, these folks don't think like us.

What's important, Gerecht has emphasized, is the democratic process: setting up a system in which the different groups, secular and clerical, will have to bargain with one another, campaign and deal with the real-world consequences of their ideas. This is what's going to moderate them and lead to progress. This constitution does that. Shutting them out would lead to war.

"A remarkable spirit of compromise — and even enlightenment."

Taking a positive view of the Iraqi Constitution:
Americans also shouldn't be too quick to conclude that anything that sounds odd or unfamiliar to liberal ears is evidence of failure. While this constitution does indeed contain general appeals to religion, it is fundamentally a document that empowers legislators, not clerics.

Take the role of Islam, which is designated as "a" (not "the") "basic source of legislation." Some critics see this as evidence of incipient theocracy. But in what Western democracy are laws not generally in accord with the Judeo-Christian moral heritage? In any case, interpretation of that clause will be up to elected representatives.

The Beloit College Mindset List.

It's time, once again, for the Beloit College Mindset List of things about the world today's college freshmen have known — time for us older folk to feel older. On the list:
• They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

• They never had the fun of being thrown into the back of a station wagon with six others.

• "Whatever" isn't part of a question but an expression of sullen rebuke.

• They've grown up in a single superpower world.

• Salman Rushdie has always been watching over his shoulder.

Why does this list leave me feeling it could have been a lot better? It seems as though they just went over some newspapers from 18 years ago and extracted some events. The bigger cultural shifts are harder to see. Aren't there much more interesting differences between the world that preceeded today's freshmen and the world they grew up in?

"He doesn't have a sexist bone in his body."

Said Linda Chavez about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. She's one of the "Women for Roberts," who are trying to prevent what they call "feminists on the left" from dominating what gets said about Roberts and women.

Groups opposing Roberts have made way too much out of his opposition to the "comparable worth" theory, and it's important to counter that. At the same time, the question isn't whether Roberts is "sexist," but how he will resolve various legal issues once he's on the Supreme Court. Interpreting constitutional rights narrowly and limiting the ability of women to seek judicial remedies are things that a judge without "a sexist bone in his body" could easily do. By the same token, I'll bet many of the votes cast in favor of women's rights on the Court over the years came from Justices who were big sexists.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Amsterdam Notebooks—Page 25.

It's Day 25 of this 35 day project. (The set thus far.) I'm in the Rijksmuseum.

First, I draw some details from a nice "Temptation of St. Anthony" painting by Teniers — with my word balloons):

Amsterdam Notebook

Next, I record a little drama about the relationship between human beings and artwork... and between Dutch and German:

Amsterdam Notebook

(Enlarge.)

Stevens admits what happened in Kelo is unwise.

Justice Stevens does the typical judicial thing of saying that he doesn't like the outcomes of the cases he decided. Re Kelo:
In ... the eminent domain case that became the term's most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government's "taking" of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result "entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program" that was under constitutional attack.

His own view, Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association, was that "the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials." But he said that the planned development fit the definition of "public use" that, in his view, the Constitution permitted for the exercise of eminent domain.
Of course, you understand, that a judge who talks like this — Scalia does it too — is really bragging about how principled he is.

IN THE COMMENTS: A reader chides Linda Greenhouse for writing, in the linked article, "Justice Stevens is the only member of the court to have addressed the issue in a speech" — when in fact, as I noted in the original post, Justice Scalia makes this point in his standard speech. In fact, it's an awfully obvious, clichéd observation for a judge to make. And, as I noted in the original post, it's essentially a brag. It's also a handy defense to critics. What a terrible decision! the critics exclaim. The judge's eternal answer is: I was forced to do what the law requires.

About that "Six Feet Under" finale.

After driving 1000 miles yesterday, I sat down at midnight to watch the "Six Feet Under" finale (available on HBO on Demand). I'm going to watch it again and come up with some more comprehensive comments, but let me go ahead and give you some preliminary observations.

Spoiler alert
.

1. If Claire was moving to NYC to be an artist, why did she buy a new car? Where was she going to park that thing? It seems to me that the only reason she bought that car was so they could have that artsy montage in the end with her driving the car across the desert. That was nice and all, but I was distracted by the ridiculous impracticality of the car. And what kind of car was that — a Prius? I guess maybe that fits with Claire's political rants, but it's such a dorky car for a cool young person. It's Larry David's car. And even assuming Claire would buy a Prius, why would she buy a blue one? That medium light blue color is THE most suburban-minivan color for a car. That's just an incomprehensible color for Claire to choose. Did she ever wear blue clothing for the entire series? Maybe it was supposed to represent new hope — blue skies ahead — but I so completely detest that color for a car that I can't accept ANYONE choosing it. It's better than teal, but nothing else.

2. Judgments about how great the finale was need to distinguish between the final montage and the portion of the show that proceeded it. The final montage was a nice idea, but basically the same idea George Lucas used at the end "American Graffiti,"suddenly telling you the entire future of all the characters. And that ending is one of the big clichés in all of moviedom. There were no freeze frames with text as in "American Graffiti," but the white screens with names and dates were rather similar. It was interesting that all the Fishers who survived to the finale were granted long lives. Ruth and Claire looked fabulous in an extreme way, lying on their deathbeds. Brenda — who was a rather grand character — was given a comical death. And poor Keith had a death less elegant than a "corpse of the week" death from the regular series.

3. How good was the drama that preceded the montage? It was pretty schmaltzy. Nothing bad happened. Lots of reconciliations. Ruth's freak out over the stuffed monkey was impressive, and nicely paired with the okapi scene. The finale matchup between Ruth and Brenda must have pleased those who long for happy endings, but it lacked any edge at all. Claire just getting a job was a rather dull ending for her, and the need to leave Los Angeles seemed to be a concoction to provide some drama for her (and to set up that montage). That ending didn't really grow out of her character. As manifested in the shows of the last few weeks, Claire's problem was substance abuse and emotional instability, not overconnection to Ruth. So the problem resolved in the finale wasn't the problem she had! After all that craziness, she just got sensible (not counting the car thing). Similarly, in the last few episodes David had been having a total breakdown, but then he just — I don't know — ate a bowl of Trix and got better. The raise-a-toast-to-Nate dinner table scene relied heavily on swaying the camera around to let us know something special was happening. Oh, okay, I guess everyone's come to terms with Nate's death. And the Maggie-on-the-telephone scene? Lame! So Ruth just needed to know that Nate was happy on that last night? And that's it for Maggie. All is resolved, all is reconciled, everyone will just slide on uneventfully to their graves. Life is beautiful! Love everybody! Kiss! Kiss! Cry! Cry! Drop dead. Looking at the last episode without counting the final montage, I'd say it was not as good as at least four other episodes this season.

4. Maybe I'll take some of this back when I rewatch the show. I did see it while mentally frazzled from a hard day's drive and at a time of night when I'd usually be asleep.