Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"American Idol" -- Las Vegas.

42 minutes into it -- has anyone been good yet? Las Vegas is all about delusion, apparently.

"I came to realize my life in this audition," says Haggai Yedidya, who's wearing a shirt covered in American flags. He sings "God Bless the U.S.A." in a heavy accent -- and a terrible, out-of-key voice. Afterwards, he claims to have perfect pitch and slams the judges for failing to make eye contact.

"I'm conceited, and I am good at what I do," says Princess Brewer, who compares herself to Aretha Franklin. She's loud, but horrendous. "Stop it, stop it," chants Simon. "There were sweet moments in there," says Paula. "Those high notes were just... whoa!" says Randy.

"I am good. If they would just let me sing another dang song," says one unnamed crying fool.

They save Taylor Hicks for last. He's got prematurely gray hair. "A Change Is Gonna Come," one of the best songs ever. He sings with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes closed. He does a second song, clapping and contorting almost like Joe Cocker. Simon says personality is important, which Paula takes as a cue to praise him for his nice personality, but that's the opposite of what Simon had in mind. [ADDED: He gets through, without Simon's vote.]

Oh, now they are reminding of the one good singer from the beginning. There was this tiny girl with the names of two cities: Mecca Madison. She sings "Hey Big Spender" -- a prostitute's song and gets through.

That's all for Las Vegas!

"The State of the Union is strong."

You knew he'd say that, and he did.

There's John Roberts, chatting and laughing with Condoleezza Rice. On his other side is Clarence Thomas, then Stephen Breyer, who's looking happy if wizened, and he's next to Samuel Alito, who's looking truly vibrant. He must feel great. He's hanging out with Breyer. We see a close up of Alito, and he seems to be pulling in his smile, as if maybe it's in bad taste to over-beam right now. No Sandra Day O'Connor, unless she's stashed away somewhere else. No Scalia. No Souter. No Stevens. No Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

There's Laura in a pink suit.

Bush's first words are about Coretta Scott King.

He speaks of bipartisanship, and then confidence pursuing American interests, as opposed to timid withdrawal. "The only way to protect our people... is by our leadership." Bipartisanship, but we're not pulling out. "We seek the end of tyranny in our world."

"We will act boldly in freedom's cause... We're writing a new chapter in the history of self-government." Security demands freedom everywhere, including Iran.

Bush decries "radical Islam, the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death."

"The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil." Applause. We see John Kerry giving a very quick standing ovation.

Progress in Iraq. Some grim faces in the audience, but there's Lieberman clapping. Bush looks happy, with a sneaking smile and crinkling eyes. "We are winning."

He accepts "responsible criticism": "Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy." After he says that, there is applause and his face is set, then suddenly his jaw rotates in a truly bizarre way. What was that? What emotion, held in, burst out right there? He's pissed at his opponents! "A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison." The camera fixes on John Kerry, who's looking down, perhaps following the script, perhaps wondering when this part would finally be over. Anything domestic coming up? Because this is getting old.

He processes the disheartening news of the Palestinian election: "The Palestinian people have voted in elections – now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace." He sticks to his beliefs in democracy: "Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity." He speaks to the people of Iran: "Our Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

He defends his surveillance program. After 9/11, there was criticism of failure to "connect the dots." "This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaida, we want to know about it – because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again." He says this last part with angry conviction. He is confident in this position, and I think this expression will be convincing to most listeners. There's a rousing standing ovation on one side of the aisle. On the other side, everyone's seated. We see Hillary Clinton, smiling quite brilliantly, but shaking her head in a Bush-is-wrong-as-usual way.

He's against "economic retreat." Being against retreat is the night's rhetorical device. His opponents, we're to think, want retreat.

"Make the tax cuts permanent." To let them end would be retreat, after all.

John McCain has been looking grim all night, but when Bush says "earmark reform" he beats his hands together wildly.

Is every female member of Congress wearing red? Nearly. Condi's in beige.

Social security... borders... health care. The health care topic includes medical malpractice reform.

"America is addicted to oil." Solution: technology.

Education.

Crime... welfare.... drugs... abortion. Things are getting better: "These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation – a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment." People need to be ethical, with some help from government, and correspondingly, government needs to be ethical: people are "concerned about unethical conduct by public officials, and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage." Wait! That's a strange linkage! Corrupt elected officials and "activist" courts? Courts finding too many rights aren't being immoral or unethical, though they are disappointing people with a conservative social agenda. These folks want moral elected officials. But those of us who favor strong judicial support for individual rights are also opposed to government corruption. It's a slap in the face to put these things in the same category.

"The Supreme Court now has two superb new members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito." We see each justice as he is named. Roberts has a clenched jaw and a downturned mouth that somehow reads as a proud smile. Alito has a similar serious face to start but then he breaks into a nice grin. Bush expresses thanks to Sandra Day O'Connor. But she's not there.

"Human life is a gift from our Creator," so don't mess with embryos. Interesting that this topic follows the part about the Supreme Court, isn't it?

Children... hurricane relief... poverty... bring hope to everyone. HIV/AIDS... end the waiting list for medicine.

Human beings determine the course of history. We have choices to make. "And so we move forward – optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of victories to come."

A nice, vigorous speech. Full of optimism and courage. Ack! Now the NBC commentators come on and talk first about the "deep divisions" in the room. The Republicans applauded a lot more than the Democrats. Isn't that disturbing? "We just plain disagree on every fundamental issue that is confronting this country," Tim Russert says in a dire tone. What can Bush get done? Very little! Hey, forget your damned optimism and get depressed fast, people.

Enough for me. I'm switching over the the TiVo'd "American Idol."

A perspective on moving.

If you faced the question today whether you would buy the house you live in now at its current market price or that other place you're thinking of:

Condo

Which would you pick? If it would be completely absurd to buy your current house today, does that mean you should move?

DSC08944.JPG

Alito is confirmed.

The Court's new era begins. Goodbye to Sandra Day O'Connor. I have long been a great admirer of hers. This is the first moment in history when the number of women on the Court has declined, unfortunately. But Samuel Alito and John Roberts are brilliant newcomers, and they should serve us well.

The Oscar nominees.

Here. Comments?

UPDATE: The nominated films are unusually dark and dreary this year, aren't they? Of the films with major nominations, I've only seen "Capote" and "A History of Violence," both of which I thought were reasonably good, but not that good. Seeing these nominations scarcely makes me any more likely to go to the movies than I was before. And I'm much less likely than usual to watch the awards show. There's nothing awardsy about these films, nothing big and glamorous. And where are the women? Mostly, it looks like a parade of trudging, depressing men. The only note of feminine charm is "Pride and Prejudice."

MORE: Seeing the nominations did cause me to buy a DVD: "Crash." I think it may have the momentum. I'll try to develop an opinion about whether it deserves it. And I watched a new DVD yesterday -- it's like I'm on a film-watching spree -- "The Aristocrats." A pretty good documentary about what it means to tell a joke.

"It was the right battle at the right time, and the right cause."

Senator Kennedy defends his futile filibuster attempt.
Mr. Kennedy and Senator John Kerry, both of Massachusetts, argued for an effort at a filibuster during a Democratic caucus meeting last Wednesday, provoking a passionate debate. Many Democrats have grumbled privately since then that mounting a doomed filibuster would only expose senators from conservative states to political heat....

"There was a difference in terms of strategy," [Kennedy] said, "but not on the substantive issue, which is the overriding issue, Judge Alito."
Here's something Kennedy said while arguing for the filibuster:
"We have a responsibility to try to present this to the American people"...

"What's the next measure on the calendar? Asbestos? Isn't that interesting?" he continued. "Anything more important than spending time and permitting the American people to understand this issue? I don't believe so."
Yeah, the asbestos litigation problem is a big bore. Why rush to try solve a difficult problem that we've gotten away with ignoring for decades when we can pontificate about a lost cause? But the fact is there's no rush at all to get to the subject of asbestos, because, for the Democrats, it's just another matter for filibuster anyway.

"The four things that I look for in a wife are character, personality, intelligence and beauty."

"And you have them all," said the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

RIP Coretta Scott King.

Requiring health care professionals to report underage sexual activity?

The NYT reports:
A federal trial opened here Monday over whether a Kansas law prohibiting virtually all sexual activity by people under age 16 means health care professionals and educators must report such behavior to state authorities, which some say would stop many teenagers from seeking contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The class-action lawsuit stems from a 2003 opinion by the Kansas attorney general, Phill Kline, a conservative Republican who has developed a national reputation for fighting abortion....

Mr. Kline's interpretation of the law focused mainly on the reporting duty of abortion providers, arguing that any pregnant, unmarried minor had by definition been the victim of rape or abuse. But it included a broad mandate for reporting whenever "compelling evidence of sexual interaction is present."...

"If they know what they tell me is reported, they simply won't talk," said Beth McGilley, a Wichita therapist who is among the plaintiffs, referring to both teenage clients and adults who often consult her about their children's sexual exploration.
It's a harsh policy, but is it unconstitutional?
Bonnie Scott Jones, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in her opening statement that Mr. Kline's "dragnet approach" to amassing information on under-age sex violated minors' privacy rights and the Constitution's equal protection clause, and that it "seriously endangers the health and well-being of adolescents."...

Steve Alexander, an assistant attorney general defending the suit, said the Kansas statute meant that those younger than 16 could not consent to sex, and that those violating the law forfeited any privacy rights.

"Illegal sexual activity by minors can lead to S.T.D.'s, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, depression, mental illness," Mr. Alexander said. "To pretend otherwise is foolish."
Surely, you don't want to pretend anything foolish.

Actually, I'd like to see more of what the legal arguments are here. It looks as though the case is mostly about interpreting a state statute, but there is also a constitutional attack. Presumably, the constitutional attack is both part of the argument for narrowly construing the statute and a device to get the case into federal court. Shouldn't the federal court abstain and let the state court interpret the state statute?

"This cheap and tawdry imitation of English royalty."

That's what Woodrow Wilson said [CORRECTION: caused a senator to say] about the State of the Union address, as quoted in this NYT op-ed by Francis Wilkinson, who says the President's constitutionally required annual message ought to be delivered in writing. That was the way Thomas Jefferson did it. It's not that Wilkinson's against speeches. In fact, he's a speechwriter. But:
When presidents exhale the breath of history — "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" — they invariably do it someplace other than in the State of the Union. A rhetorical omnibus making all local stops, the speech conveys a year's worth of departmental hackwork. In "Lend Me Your Ears," William Safire's compilation of great speeches, not one State of the Union address makes the table of contents.
And then there's the way the State of the Union isn't about the state of the union:
The State of the Union is all about His Majesty, the president. Is he master of Congress or supplicant? How far will his poll numbers rise? How did he perform? Mr. Bush may not like French, but the address is the embodiment of "L'état, c'est moi," transforming citizens into subjects, much as Jefferson feared....

Manipulation is the essence of the game, after all, and because no one ever stops playing it, the president is expected to exploit his free shot at the goal for all it's worth.
But what's the problem, really? I know a perfect way to force the President to deliver his speech in writing, in my little world. I leave the TV off, and I read the text in the paper. You can do it too. So let George Bush have his fun tonight making a roomful of erstwhile blabbermouths sit there and listen to him for an hour and perform the tedious clapping/not clapping ritual. And skip the commentators. You don't need to know the precise number of times they clapped and the lengths of the various clappings.

I see there's a second State-of-the-Union-is-no-damned-good op-ed. It's got a hilarious quote from one of Warren Harding's SOTUs:
"The motor car reflects our standard of living and gauges the speed of our present life. It long ago ran down Simple Living, and never halted to inquire about the prostrate figure which fell as its victim."

A "trashily facile" novel about "the rich and overprivileged, grotesquely set against the backdrop of 9/11."

Jay McInerney -- that 80s hipster of a novelist -- has a new novel. Michiko Kakutani has a review:
"The Good Life," in contrast, is at its most powerful in chronicling its characters' romantic and familial travails, and at its most ham-handed in its attempts at social satire. Indeed the novel is a bizarre mix of the genuinely moving and the trashily facile, the psychologically astute and the ridiculously clichéd; part of it aspires to create an F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque romance, and part sags to the level of a Judith Krantz tale about the rich and overprivileged, grotesquely set against the backdrop of 9/11....

These sections of "The Good Life," which often lie submerged amid pages and pages of embarrassing writing, suggest that the author has both the desire and the ability to move beyond the glibness of his recent fiction and to tackle more than facile chronicles of fizzy life in the fast lane. In fact, this flawed novel suggests that just as so many of Mr. McInerney's characters dream of reinventing themselves, so, perhaps, is the author struggling to find a way to reinvent himself as a writer.
Too bad these author struggles don't take the form of doing another draft -- I say glibly, from the safety of my place in a writing form that is all about forgoing drafts.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"I want those 19 Democrats' heads on a platter!!!"

Here's the DailyKos live comment response to the cloture vote on Alito, which was 72-25. There's a lot of outrage:
WTF?! I was expecting a close call. Not a mere 25. What happened?

i'm pissed. ...everyone of those dems who voted for cloture should be brought down

Blook making.

RLC has gotten a book made out of 90 of his blog posts -- mainly his fiction posts -- using a service called iUniverse. The fiction posts should work especially well redone in book pages, because they don't depend at all on links. A key problem with making a book out of your blog is that the bloggiest things can't be ripped away from their links. It's a good idea for some bloggers to defy some blogging conventions so that their posts are bookifiable. I know RLC realized this from the start.

Radio: "Generation Alito."

I'll be on Open Source Radio tonight at 7 ET/6 CT, doing a show I mentioned before, that got rescheduled. Go here to see all the stations or to stream the audio.

UPDATE: You can stream the audio here. The students do a great job. They're articulate, passionate, and idealistic -- from both the conservative and the liberal side. I'm there too.

Why is "American Idol" even more popular now?

You'd think people would tire of the formula. But no. The popularity of the already top-rated show is way up. The linked article doesn't offer any real ideas about why this is happening. I'm in too much of a hurry to come up with anything at the moment, so comment away.

How to use the little time you have left.

A man given just months to live writes a guidebook on how to die:
[Eugene O'Kelly] knew it was strange to be making a to-do list two days after learning he had three brain tumors; he also knew it was strange to count nearly a thousand people to whom he needed to say goodbye. But he clung to the role of good, methodical business manager because it worked for him. He would rethink dying from the ground up, so to speak. Then he would live differently during 1 percent of the 10,000 days he thought he had coming, having assumed he would survive into his late 70's. About 100 days were all he had left....

But "Chasing Daylight" is far from uniformly flattering. It reveals a chilly, manipulative side to Mr. O'Kelly — or, as Mrs. O'Kelly puts it, "a 'cut to the chase' approach that had made him so successful in business but could sometimes come off as abrupt in personal interactions." When he set out to bid farewell to everyone he knew, one at a time, the meetings were arranged strictly on his terms. But it is the crumbling of this very rigidity that makes the book affecting. The author taught himself new survival strategies when the habits of a lifetime failed him.
Saying goodbye individually to a thousand people? That strikes me as a very strange way to use a small amount of time well.

Sane talk on the NSA controversy.

Texas Lawprof Philip Bobbitt has a NYT op-ed on the NSA spying controversy:
IN the debate over whether the National Security Agency's eavesdropping violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we must not lose sight of the fact that the world we entered on 9/11 will require rewriting that statute and other laws. The tiresome pas de deux between rigid civil libertarians in denial of reality and an overaggressive executive branch seemingly heedless of the law, while comforting to partisans of both groups, is not in the national interest....

This is not to play down the damage done to our war aims by the executive branch's repeated appearance of an indifference to law. A president does have an obligation to assess the constitutionality of statutes, but when he secretly decides a measure is unconstitutional and neglects to say so (much less why), he undermines the very system of public consent for which we are fighting. Having said that, we also must not be so absorbed by questions of statutory construction that we ignore the revolutionary political and technological events that are transforming the world in which our laws must function.
Well said.

"We call on you ... to direct all aid to the Palestinian treasury so it can be used in keeping with the priorities of the Palestinian people."

Says Ismail Haniyah, a prominent member of Hamas. Nothing like phrasing your requests to generate the maximum amount of resistance.

SAG awards and politics.

Here's an article about the Screen Actors Guild awards, which is linked at Drudge with the line "'BROKEBACK' SHUT-OUT AT SAG..." Why is what happened to "Brokeback Mountain" the story? Isn't it nice that the ensemble cast of "Crash" got some recognition? Do we find politics so much more interesting than art? We're obsessed with the politics of sexual orientation, aren't we? Don't forget to note that Reese Witherspoon beat out Felicity Huffman for the best actress award, after both women won Golden Globes (the Globes have two categories, for drama and for comedy/musical). Huffman played a transexual in "Transamerica," while Witherspoon played a good wife in "Walk the Line." Witherspoon even went on at some length, in her acceptance speech, about all the wonderful wives who support their husbands and get little recognition for the fine lives they have lived in that role. It's all so meaningful, isn't it?

Social psychology and politics.

Social psychologists examine political behavior:
Studies presented at [a conference last week] produced evidence that emotions and implicit assumptions often influence why people choose their political affiliations, and that partisans stubbornly discount any information that challenges their preexisting beliefs.

Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy -- but only in candidates they opposed.

When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it, Westen said. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats -- the scans showed that "reward centers" in volunteers' brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. We process new information by incorporating it into what we already understand. How could we possibly think and get on in the world if we didn't?
Another study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes -- subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.
Not surprisingly, given that first study, Bush partisans find ways to discount this study:
Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he disagreed with the study's conclusions but that it was difficult to offer a detailed critique, as the research had not yet been published and he could not review the methodology. He also questioned whether the researchers themselves had implicit biases -- against Republicans -- noting that Nosek and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji had given campaign contributions to Democrats.

"There are a lot of factors that go into political affiliation, and snap determinations may be interesting for an academic study, but the real-world application seems somewhat murky," Jones said.
So how did they do the study? Actually, it was an on-line test that I'm sure many of you took. I know I did:
For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
Do you find yourself thinking of lots of ways to discount the study? Is it because you're a Bush partisan? And if you're thinking the study is pretty good, well, aren't you a Bush opponent?

"Power lectures."

The Daily Cardinal -- a student newspaper here -- has a poll today:
Poll Results
What's the earliest class you would take?

8:50, I'm a trooper 48%
11 is doable 45%
Night classes only 3%
Whenever, just no power lectures 3%
"Power lectures"? I've never seen that term. Does it refer to the use of PowerPoint or to some intense, oppressive style of lecturing? Well, the option is only getting 3% so why is there even a special term for this sort of thing, whatever it is?

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm told a "power lecture" is just an extra long class. Not a very descriptive term then. "Endurance lecture" or something would be better. As a lawprof, I don't even like the use of the word "lecture," unless the teacher actually opts to lecture.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

That building.

Here's that café I like so much:

Barriques

And here's the view from the 8th floor:

A view.

And view of the street outside:

Madison

Audible Althouse #34.

Finally, it's time for the 34th entry in this series of podcasts. I've made a significant sonic improvement, I think. Key posts that I've mined for this one are:

The return of Eggagog
Contemplating change
The Winfrey-Frey fray
When a judge writes a memoir
Colbert and the dissonance between religion and comedy

You can subscribe over at iTunes, but you don't need an iPod. You can stream the audio here.

Contemplating change.

I'm contemplating selling my big old house, which I've lived in for 20 years, and moving into a condo very near the Capitol, in a beautifully renovated old building that was once a glamorous hotel. (President Kennedy stayed there. So did Mae West.) I'm rather entranced by the idea of living up off the ground, in a very solid, substantial place, with a view of the Capitol and a cathedral and, at street level, a cool café (where they sell lots of wine by the glass as well). I like the idea of a one mile walk to work that takes me down State Street, past dozens of cafés and restaurants and shops. Who wouldn't walk if that's the walk? If you get cold (or hot), there's always a place to step inside. My house is only a little over a mile from the Law School, but the walk -- which I've already walked thousands of times -- is through a residential area and campus, and there's nowhere to stop along the way.

Should I make this move? What's the downside? The work of dismantling my house, editing my possessions down to fit in half the space, seems overwhelming. I have an attic that I haven't entered in years, even though I used to stash things up there all the time. Then, I discovered a bat problem that freaked me out. I got the bat man to correct the problem long ago, and there hasn't been a bat in the house since, but I haven't been up there in all this time. Then there's a basement full of stuff, including lots of musical equipment from the bands that used to practice there. There are two speakers that are the size of armoires. There are thousands of paperback books, which we bought by the stack over all those years when hanging out at Borders was a major pastime. There are a thousand vinyl LPs, not just ones that I bought but ones that my parents bought. (I'll bet I have more Ray Conniff records than you. More Julie London too!) There are large paintings on wooden stretchers and lots of unused stretchers and a giant roll of canvas. There are a hundred sketchbooks and innumerable loose drawings.

What an overwhelming task it would be to deal with all these things!

And yet....

I could blog about it.

When a judge writes a memoir.

Jeffrey Rosen writes about judicial memoirs, which are difficult to write, because they're either going to be bland -- like Justice O'Connor's, in his view, despite the incident with the testicles -- or embarrassingly revealing -- like Justice Douglas's:
From his boastful opening sentences ("While I have been blessed with a photographic mind...") to his concluding screed against President Nixon ("This attitude toward enemies ... marked the essence of Nixon's Mein Kampf"), Douglas offered a combination of political ranting and gossipy score-settling that still leaves readers slack-jawed. As his biographer, Bruce Allen Murphy, argued recently in "Wild Bill" (2003), many of Douglas's stories were made up, perhaps because his insatiable political ambition led him to write what were essentially campaign autobiographies for the presidential bid that never materialized. Douglas claimed to have had polio as a child, for example; in fact, Murphy writes, he had intestinal colic. And he claimed to have graduated second in his law school class, when, at best, he was fifth.
Ha. Too bad Douglas didn't have a chance to get chosen for Oprah's Book Club. It would have been cool to see her scold him on TV.

And now Justice Thomas is working on a memoir. The man has fabulous material -- he grew up in poverty and his confirmation battle was a political and cultural event unlike any other. Does he dare to really use this material, to risk his slowly accumulating somber reputation by writing a real book for us to read? Rosen cautions him not to:
[L]ike Douglas, Thomas may inadvertently harm his judicial reputation among moderates (which is, at the moment, unfairly underrated) by revealing more than he intends.

"Judges wear black robes because it doesn't matter who they are as individuals," John Roberts said during his confirmation hearings. "That's not going to shape their decision." Few people today, of course, believe that judges' personal experiences have no influence on their judicial decisions. But taken as a warning, Roberts's statement was prudent and wise. Too much revelation may undermine the public's respect for judges as apolitical authorities. And judicial celebrity can backfire: as any celebrity knows, those who live by publicity have to avoid overexposure, which can lead to the worst fate of all - oblivion.
I say: either write a book or don't write a book, but don't write a fake book. Don't put your name on a book-shaped object just because you're a celebrity and you can get publishers to publish it and publicists to get you on talk shows and lure readers to give up their money and time. If you're going to write a book, you owe your allegiance to the reader above all. If you've got a conflict of interest, recuse yourself!

(Please read David Foster Wallace's essay on Tracy Austin's memoir in "Consider the Lobster." He faults her for her allegiance to friends, family, and everyone else, and lays down the rule that the writer's duty is to the reader.)

It's one thing to embarrass yourself by making things up, like Justice Douglas and James Frey, quite another to put yourself out there and let readers see who you really are. I think the memoirist who fails to do that is the one who has embarrassed himself.

I said something similar back when Bill Clinton's book came out:
I see Clinton is getting a lot of grief for writing a boring book. But what did people expect? If you want to read a great memoir, read a memoir by someone who is in a position to follow the number one rule for writing a great memoir: tell your story without a trace of personal vanity. You have to be willing to make the character that is you look foolish, mean-spirited, selfish, petty, and everything else. There is simply no way that Clinton or any other political figure can follow this rule. So if you want to read a good memoir, read Augusten Burroughs' "Running With Scissors" or Mary Carr's "Liars' Club." If you want to read about grand historical events, don't read the story told by one of the key figures. How could that possibly be good? It would make more sense to read this as a memoir of the Lewinsky-impeachment events.
I guess, according to that, I don't really think there's much chance at all that Clarence Thomas will meet my standard. But wouldn't it be incredibly cool if he did?

And by the way, do you think all those things in "Running With Scissors" really happened?

The mystery of a TimesSelect blog... and whether Hillary should run.

"Link to this" it says at the bottom of a post by "The Opinionator" by Chris Suellentrop. It looks like a blog, but it's in TimesSelect. I just don't understand the concept. Link so some small fraction of your readers can go there? Or did the link function to pierce the wall, allowing me to let my readers see the thing? Let me know if by chance that link worked some magic, but I'm going to talk about the post anyway. It's titled "Hillary, Don't Run."
In a bitterly divided and partisan nation, is there anything conservatives and liberals can agree on? Yes: Hillary Clinton, please don’t run for president. Lone Star liberal Molly Ivins kicked off a wave of anti-Hillary commentary with a column last week that began, “I’d like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.”

Sen. Clinton’s primary shortcoming? Ivins believes she isn’t liberal enough: “Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.”...

Conservatives are delighted about liberals’ newfound anti-Hillary animus. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg attributes the sentiment to Sen. Clinton’s recent moves to the right. “To be honest, I never understood what they saw in her in the first place,” he wrote in his weekly Los Angeles Times column. “[T]here’s something oddly satisfying in the possibility that Clinton being herself is politically disastrous. And, if she’s really just playing one more role according to some classically Clintonian political triangulation, there’s something equally satisfying to the prospect that even her fans aren’t falling for it anymore.”
Oh, wait, Suellentrop didn't take a position anyway. He's really only collecting links -- to Ivins and Goldberg and also to Arianna Huffington and Josh Marshall. I guess I should just copy his links and talk about the same subject myself. If so, should I put a "via Suellentrop" link? It's kind of screwy to do that if it doesn't get people to the post but just gives them a little experience of exclusion. And the main reason you do a "via" link is to send a fellow blogger some traffic. How can I be guilty of denying a blog something it's already denying itself?

A TimesSelect blog doesn't function in the blogosphere, but maybe that makes some sense for TimesSelect folks. They aren't really ready to read blogs, and it's nice to have a trusted voice to categorize and summarize what's being said by various commentators on the web, some of whom might actually even be bloggers. Look, I found Josh Marshall and Arianna Huffington for you!

Anyway, what do I think of these voices on the left and the right who are saying Hillary shouldn't run? Is the opinion trustworthy because it's on both sides? Not at all!

Those on the left don't like her -- as Suellentrop acknowledges -- because she's not far enough to the left. They ought to know that an excessively left candidate is doomed, but they don't want to face that horrible reality. These people were against Bill Clinton too, back before he actually did that thing that Democrats seem almost never to be able to do, win a presidential election. On the right, you've got folks who've loathed Hillary all along and who, of course, don't want the Democrats to win an election.

So how should Hillary hear these voices on the left and right who don't want her to run? As strong encouragement! But she's got to find a way to keep her hawkish credentials, or we'll be stuck once again with a Democratic candiate with an incomprehensible attitude toward national security who will push those of us who vote almost entirely on that ground to go with the Republican again.

But maybe it's already too late for Clinton. She's already lost too much credibility catering to the Ivins crowd. Being the front runner, she's got them at her all the time, making demands -- demands that she sacrifice all her potential to win in the end. Poor Hillary! If she finds a way through this ordeal, maybe she is good enough to be President.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

"There's no reason for it to exist in English..."

... this "sort of book," by a Frenchman, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who did some traveling in America and then "worked up his notes," to be witheringly reviewed by Garrison Keillor in the NYT:
In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
The book is called "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville." (You can read the first chapter here.)

Keillor:
Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions....

America is changing, he concludes, but America will endure. "I still don't think there's reason to despair of this country. No matter how many derangements, dysfunctions, driftings there may be . . .
No matter how many words beginning with D in a sentence there may be...
"no matter how fragmented the political and social space may be; despite this nihilist hypertrophy of petty antiquarian memory; despite this hyperobesity - increasingly less metaphorical - of the great social bodies that form the invisible edifice of the country; despite the utter misery of the ghettos . . . I can't manage to convince myself of the collapse, heralded in Europe, of the American model."

Thanks, pal. I don't imagine France collapsing anytime soon either. Thanks for coming.
Ha. This reminds me of a book in my half-read books collection: "America," by Jean Baudrillard. I got some ways into it -- I was seriously trying to read it, you know, doing that thing readers do where we submit to merging our mind with the mind of another human being -- and I just had to shake myself out of it and say nothing here rings true.

Hmmm.... "America" has a blurb from a NYT book review on the back. "Since de Tocqueville...."

IN THE COMMENTS: An interesting process of melllowing on Lévy!

"Judge Alito's nomination is the tipping point against constitutionally-based freedoms and protections we cherish as individuals and as a nation."

So "[h]istory will show," predicts Senator Hillary Clinton, who's announced her support of the filibuster.
Her move seems to put her at odds with New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, who spent last week privately arguing that a filibuster would damage Democrats' chances of taking back the Senate this year, according to party sources.
Is Schumer a savvier political analyst than Clinton? Or is Clinton just in a different political position?
Analysts said Clinton had little choice but to back the filibuster, given Kerry's Thursday announcement that he was reviving the stop-Alito movement. For all the talk of Clinton's shift to the center on abortion, she can ill-afford to let a possible adversary outflank her on the left among liberals who favor abortion rights, according to Jennifer Duffy, who monitors the Senate for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

"It's an empty gesture," Duffy said of Clinton's announcement. "What Democratic primary voter is going to vote for her if she didn't do everything to oppose Alito? ... She had to join John Kerry."
She's taking precautions against Kerry getting the jump on her in the '08 campaign? How incredibly lame that would be -- especially if this silly fear of him as a candidate is expressed by following him.

Are bloggers making things difficult for Democrats?

The WaPo observes the way bloggers who are trying to help the Democrats are posing a problem for them:
Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.
But it's the same old story, as the article acknowledges. The most activist members of a party want something stronger than what ordinary people like. How have bloggers made this any worse? One of the examples in the story is the demand for a filibuster of the Alito nomination, which was made on DailyKos -- but it was made by John Kerry, who, for whatever reason, decided it was a good idea to be writing there. Whether that counts as bloggers putting on the pressure, I don't know. Kerry could have found a forum in any number of places. And the fact is, the NYT was calling for a filibuster too.

Colbert and the dissonance between religion and comedy.

Steve Colbert describes the set of "The Colbert Report":
Everything on the show has my name on it, every bit of the set. One of the things I said to the set designer—who has done everything, I mean even Meet The Press, he does that level of news design—was "One of your inspirations should be [DaVinci's painting] The Last Supper." All the architecture of that room points at Jesus' head, the entire room is a halo, and he doesn't have a halo." And I said, "On the set, I'd like the lines of the set to converge on my head." And so if you look at the design, it all does, it all points at my head. And even radial lines on the floor, and on my podium, and watermarks in the images behind me, and all the vertices, are right behind my head. So there's a sort of sun-god burst quality about the set around me. And I love that. That's status.
Speaking of Colbert and religion: Did you see his show on Thursday, with Paul Begala as the guest? Begala is going on about how he needed to teach Bill Clinton how to get his ideas across in short, simple form for the news. Begala describes how he made his point to Bill Clinton, who was bellyaching about how his wonky policies couldn't be condensed into sound bites. Begala reached in his back pocket and pulled out a copy of the New Testament that he's been carrying since 1979. At this point on the show, Begala actually pulls out the tattered, taped-together book and says he highlighted John 3:16 and handed it to Clinton. Begala hands the opened book to Colbert, points to the verse, tells Colbert to read it, and says he's going to time him to prove -- as he proved to Clinton -- how much can be said in 5 seconds. Colbert takes a slight glance at the book, flips it shut, looks straight at Begala and says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that those who believe in him shall not die but have eternal life." Begala says, triumphantly, "Four and a half seconds!" And Colbert says "That's the Christian sound bite."

I was struck by this moment on the show. The interview was going very well -- Begala speaking crisply (about speaking crisply) and Colbert slipping in perfect zingers. And then Begala wants to use the New Testament to prove a point about how he got through to Clinton. I felt that, reciting the verse, Colbert was not being the Colbert Report character but that his own religion was dictating that he had to say the verse as a demonstration of his own faith, and it wasn't right to fool around with that. I can't say why I feel so sure. The Colbert character would, I think, have been more pleased with himself to know the verse. You'd have felt the preen. I experienced this moment as a startling statement of faith, the kind of thing you don't normally see on TV.

The subject of Colbert and religion is an interesting one. He used to do "This Week in God" on "The Daily Show." When he was on "Fresh Air" a year ago, he talked about religion with Terry Gross:
Mr. COLBERT: This Week in God is--you know, This Week in God is, for me, a tightrope, because I--while I'm, you know, not a particularly religious person, I do go to church, which makes me kind of odd for my profession. You know, most people can't understand why I do, other comedians. And I have to walk that thin line because I don't want to criticize anyone's religions for the fact that it is a religion, and what's funny to me is what people do in the name of religion. ...

GROSS: Now you grew up in a family with--What?--11 children?

Mr. COLBERT: Yeah, I'm one of 11 kids. I'm the youngest.

GROSS: And was it a religious family? You say you go to church and...

Mr. COLBERT: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. COLBERT: We're, you know, very devout and, you know, I still go to church and, you know, my children are being raised in the Catholic Church. And I was actually my daughters' catechist last year for First Communion, which was a great opportunity to speak very simply and plainly about your faith without anybody saying, `Yeah, but do you believe that stuff?' which happens a lot in what I do.

GROSS: Can I ask you a kind of serious question about faith?

Mr. COLBERT: I've been turning all of your funny questions into serious things for an hour or so. I don't see why you can't do the same to me.

GROSS: In the sketch we heard earlier from "This Week In God," you talked about the Christian pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control.

Mr. COLBERT: Right.

GROSS: Now the Catholic Church opposes birth control, which...

Mr. COLBERT: They do.

GROSS: ...I presume you do not and...

Mr. COLBERT: Presume away.

GROSS: ...so how do you deal with contradictions between, like, the church and the way you live your life, which is something that a lot of people in the Catholic Church have to deal with?

Mr. COLBERT: Well, sure. You know, that's the hallmark of an American Catholic, is the individuation of America and the homogenation of the church; homogenation in terms of dogma. I love my church and I don't think that it actually makes zombies or unquestioning people. I think it's actually a church that values intellectualism, but certainly, it can become very dogmatically rigid.

Somebody once asked me, `How do you be a father'--'cause I'm a father of three children--`and be anti-authoritarian?' And I said, `Well, that's not nearly as hard as being anti-authoritarian and being a Roman Catholic,' you know? That's really patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. I don't know. You know, I don't believe that I can't disagree with my church and I'll leave it at that.
I don't have a conclusion I'm driving at here. I love Steve Colbert and "The Colbert Report," and I'm fascinated by religion and comedy and the way the dissonance between the two affects a performer who is actually a believer.

UPDATE: Ambivablog questions my use of the word "dissonance." So let me say that I mean it in a good way. It's more difficult to be comical around a subject you respect, and working through a difficulty makes what you do more interesting. By contrast, when George Carlin jokes about religion, his comedy on the subject feels cheap and thin, because it's just flat-out obvious that he hates religion. I'd much rather listen to Colbert on the subject, and not just because I'm not entertained by hate. Colbert has to struggle with a problem, and he chooses to make comedy out of a subject that is complicated for him. I love that.

ADDED: You can listen to the great interview with Terry Gross here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

After that embarrassing phone-in approach, Kerry leaves Switzerland...

... to come back to the Senate to continue his futile filibuster-fomenting.

"Not everyone -- male or female -- belongs in a skirt. "

Says Robin Givhan on the occasion of a high school boy's fight for the right to wear a skirt to school as long as the girls are allowed to wear skirts. The ACLU helped Coviello get the school to agree to let him wear a skirt. No court announced a right here. But even if there were such a right, you don't want to be doing everything you've got a right to do. It's in the exercise of discretion that you prove your character -- and your fashion sense. So the boy, Michael Coviello, really ought to refrain from wearing a skirt, and so -- Givhan blurts out -- should Hillary Clinton:
After eight years as first lady wearing innumerable skirt suits that did little to flatter her physique, she now wears pants almost exclusively. As a matter of personal style, this is a good thing. The senator looks more streamlined and elegant.
Back to Coviello, whose real complaint was that they wouldn't let him wear shorts after October 1st and before April 15th:
It is tempting to chuckle at the image of Coviello in his skirt. And truth be told, there was a bit of tittering on our part. It is also tough to get riled up and indignant about students being denied the right to wear shorts to school once the temperature drops. Wouldn't they get cold anyway?
Givhan should come to Wisconsin. It's January yet it is 50°. I guarantee you the campus area is full of young guys in shorts. The desire to wear shorts is really out of control. I would ban the damnably inadequate pants year round, myself. These are manly boys, though, and cold isn't going to stop them.

But should we laugh at a boy in a skirt? It's a kilt:


Do you seriously think he'd look better in something else? Leave him alone!

Note about me: I used to get in trouble, back when I was in junior high school, for wearing mini skirts. I can remember the teachers expressing concerns about my getting cold and predicting the fad of the moment would have to be abandoned when the cold weather set in. That only hardened my fashion choice into a matter of principle. And I am still pissed off at the teachers who sent me to the vice principal's office and at my Chemistry teacher who tried to block me from getting onto the Honor Society for having a character flaw.

IN THE COMMENTS: I reveal an additional reason I got sent to the vice principal's office when I was in junior high school. And there's some talk about tartans, prompting me to reveal my clan. Clue: it's rather Shakespearean. Laughing Wolf responds here with rival clannage.

The return of Eggagog.

I'm feeling uninspired this morning. Maybe I shouldn't have used up my Winfrey/lose Frey and Kerry phoning in material yesterday. How would I know today would be the day when nothing jumped off the page/screen and said Bloggable!? Ah, yeah, well this sort of interested me. (Via Adorablog.) I mean, can you do that? Some days, you just have to wonder, will Eggagog ever come back? He hadn't posted since September 28, that "WHAT ABOUT THE SPIDER-PLANTS?" post that has accumulated over 500 comments in its thread, which went through a sad story arc, from the usual dialogue with Eggagog, to where is Eggagog, to that sad long death train of spam comments that awaits all of us bloggers-with-comments some day, when we have posted our last post. But, lo, Eggagog has returned. Surely, there is hope for mankind.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Judge Alito's confirmation would be an ideological coup on the Supreme Court."

So says Senator John Kerry, and I get the feeling -- because of the use of the word "on" -- that he means "coup" in the sense of "coup d'état" rather than simply a brilliantly executed strategem. Kerry, as reported at that first link, is lobbying Democrats to filibuster.
Sources close to Kerry, who lost to Bush in the 2004 race, told CNN that the senator was calling colleagues from Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.....

The White House believes Alito's supporters have the 60 votes they need to block any filibuster, spokesman Steve Schmidt said, and suggested that Kerry's move was designed to buttress a possible 2008 presidential run.
It seems unlikely that there will be a filibuster, of course, as 3 Democrats have already said they'd vote for Alito and one has said she will oppose a filibuster. Only one more Democratic vote is needed to add to the 55 Republican votes to reach the 60 votes needed to close debate.

But isn't it nice to get a chance to think about Kerry again? I love the image of him phoning from Switzerland.

UPDATE: The NYT is saying Kerry is getting a "cool response." It must be quite cold, I'm thinking, given that the Times was hotly promoting the filibuster only yesterday. The hapless Kerry stepped up to that challenge and today must read:
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts could not attend the Senate debate on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Thursday. He was in Davos, Switzerland, mingling with international business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum.

But late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kerry began calling fellow Democratic senators in a quixotic, last-minute effort for a filibuster to stop the nomination.

Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of his gesture, which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed.
Ouch. Oh, but that's our Kerry: awkward. What? You don't find it endearing anymore?

IN THE COMMENTS: Dave points out that "coup" is a French word, and the French use "sur" with "coup," making "on" a natural choice for a French-speaking person like Kerry. I respond:
I thought "on" was a weird choice of preposition, but if the French use "sur," maybe that's why he said it. To me, as an English-speaker, it sounded awkward. And with the use of the passive voice, I'm left thinking WHO is delivering a blow to the Supreme Court? What I think he meant is that once Alito is there, an "ideological coup" will take place. That is, the institution of the Court will be illicitly taken over by a group of ideologues.

Oh! The pain! I'm having a flashback to the last election campaign, when I spent a bizarre amount of time parsing Kerry statements. The meaning would seem almost to be there, but as I reached out to try to grasp it, it would slip away in one direction or another, and we'd be down here in the comments debating what they hell he actually meant.

Ethiopians "are too timid, we are afraid of our talent."

Solution: "Ethiopian Idols"!

The Winfrey-Frey fray.

Reader IAm simulblogs today's Oprah show:
Man, the [WaPo] article did not do this show justice (not its fault--it's a visual and auditory thing)! Oprah's as pissed as I've ever seen her--even during the whole beef trial thing, if I'm recalling correctly. She's clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, and she's actually having a hard time, from what I can see, looking at Frey.

From the linked WaPo article:
"I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that," Winfrey told viewers of her syndicated show. "That is not what I believe." She added: "To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right."

Now, she's for truth, now that she got slammed for saying: "the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book." Truth seems more like a strategy for getting out of a jam.

Jonah Goldberg to speak in Madison.

February 1st, 7 pm, Grainger Hall. (And there's WiFi!)

If you don't know who Jonah Goldberg is, read some of his columns.

Me and Google.

It's nice to be number one for a Google search. But sometimes.... And then....

"He is a Bird of bad moral Character."

Benjamin Franklin disrespected the eagle, 222 years ago today:
"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

"When you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls . . . "

"... and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know."

--President Bush, searching for positive things to say about the Palestinian election.
"What was also positive is that it's a wakeup call to the leadership," he said. Palestinians are demanding honest government, services, decent education and health care, he said. "And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories." He said there was "something healthy" about the "competition of ideas" that the elections embodied.

"On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," Bush said. "And I know you can't be a partner in peace . . . if your party has got an armed wing."

"A judicious rearrangement of the deckchairs on the Titanic..."

"...with the cloth part torn into strips and used to lash many deckchairs together, might have made some very serviceable rafts, and saved many lives."

John Derbyshire, taking a new look at an old cliché.

Question.

Is my blog looking different today? It shouldn't be, but one reader is seeing a weird template change (though I've done nothing to change it). Please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Blogger was down for 15 minutes about an hour ago. And yesterday there was some scheduled downtime. I don't know if these things are connected.

51% "definitely will not vote for" Hillary Clinton.

According to a Gallup Poll. (via Powerline.) The linked poll also has 46% saying they would "definitely not vote for" Condoleezza Rice. Let's look at the graph:



Why is Rice 9 points less popular than Clinton among independents? Each woman is equally unpopular within her own party. But Clinton is much more unpopular with Republicans than Rice is with Democrats.

I question whether people who say they will "definitely not vote for" someone really are completely hardened into that position. The question doesn't say "if the election were held today," but I suspect people think that way, because they like to give a firm answer, especially if they have solid affiliation with their party. What I'd like to know is whether Republicans disfavor Clinton more than they disfavor other Democrats and whether Democrats disfavor Rice more than they disfavor other Republicans. What if Republicans are more likely to express instantly aversive reactions to Democrats than Democrats are for Republicans? That might just say something about the personality types that are attracted to one party or another. And, of course, these polls don't take account of the Electoral College. I'm thinking that Hillary-loathing is concentrated in states the Democrats never win anyway.

And, by the way, what's with pairing up the two women like this? They are just two possible candidates. Why compare these two as if there is a separate women's category? Because we just can't help it. Well, maybe media would try to control this urge if we complained enough. Should we?

The NYT wants a filibuster.

Here's today's editorial:
The judge's record strongly suggests that he is an eager lieutenant in the ranks of the conservative theorists who ignore our system of checks and balances, elevating the presidency over everything else....

Judge Alito's refusal to even pretend to sound like a moderate was telling because it would have cost him so little....

Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster — particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito's supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.

A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
There's something missing from this argument, even if you accept the premise -- which I don't -- that Alito's an eager ideologue. What good would the filibuster do? How is it a remedy for the problem? So it's a "radical tool." Quite aside from the "radical" part, a tool is supposed to function for a particular use. Is the NYT just recommending a foot-stomping routine? How would more senatorial talking advance the cause of the Democrats? They've already talked so much, and they haven't budged public opinion about Alito. They need to make us like them for the next election, and I can't see how filibustering Alito gets them any closer to that goal, which, unlike stopping Alito, is not a lost cause. Is it?

"Generation Alito."

Don't miss "Generation Alito" on Open Source Radio tonight:
[Yesterday] morning the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Samuel Alito by a 10-8 vote. Now the nomination will move to the full Senate, with a vote expected as early as tomorrow. So as early as tomorrow we may have a new SCOTUS Justice. And with him, a very different looking court. As we say around here, how are you counting to five?

We’re following up our November SCOTUS show. But rather than talking to the usual grey-hairs, we’d like to have on a sample bunch of law students about to begin their careers. What does the conversation sound like amongst the next generation of lawyers, judges, and legal scholars, whose careers are about to be reshaped by the decisions the new court will ultimately hand down? They’re going to be the ones to uphold and/or test the law, maybe even before this very court. What are they talking about? And how are they counting to five?
I'm not sure who the students are going to be yet -- possibly some from Wisconsin! I'll be on the show too, to provide whatever suppport from a lawprof that ends up being needed, but it shouldn't be much about me -- the "grey hair"!

I was on the linked November show, by the way, and thought Christopher Lydon did a great job with it, so I'm especially looking forward with tonight's show. You can still stream the audio of the old show, and the new one should be available too, for listening at your leisure.

UPDATE: This show has been moved to Monday evening. They will cover the Palestinian election tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Project Runway"--one week you're in....

Spoiler alert.

Zulema's out! Shocking! She just won last week. Piercing voice of Heidi: One week you're in....

Well, stealing Nick's model... and that "walk off"... and then taking a dress as inspiration for a dress... and then the model you stole hates your dress and is jealous of the model that got to go with Nick....

I thought Kara would get kicked out. She hasn't won yet, and she's seemed like the weakest for a long time. But then I thought Andrae (whom I love) would win, with his water-in-the-gutter, expensive-looking gown.

I love the way sensing the danger of losing has transformed Santino in the last couple weeks. And I loved his imitation of Tim Gunn and his realization of how Tim talks about him when he thinks he's not around.

Great, great show. Don't forget to read Tim Gunn's blog and listen to his podcast.

UPDATE: I've fixed the link to Tim's Blog & Podcast to get you to Episode 8, which I've now listened to. He's quite critical of Zulema, both for the poorly made dress and for taking Nick's model -- Nick's muse. It's hard to adjust to a new model, he says. You get used to your model's measurements, and it's a challenge to start over with someone new. Odd, since last season, they were constantly switching models! As long as I'm here, let me show you Daniel's winning orchid-inspired blossom-blouson:



ANOTHER UPDATE: I was just re-watching the early episode "Clothes Off Your Back," where they first move into the apartment. It's our first look at Zulema. She's taking extra closet space and, when asked to share says "That's not going to happen" and "I don't believe in fairness." She was the Wendy!

"American Idol" -- San Francisco.

Heidi Fairbanks: She looks like Jessica Simpson, and she sings opera! But she's awful on the pop, and they reject her.

"I've been singing since I was 2 years old," says Shawn Vasquez. Why do people think that means anything? Doesn't every little kid sing? Anyway, he's ear-splitting. And he has this season's male affliction: singing like a woman. "Dude, that was the loudest, weidest..." says Randy. "It is almost non-human," says Simon.

Jose "Sway" Penala: He's good. Simon: "Very soulful!" Lots of yesses follow.

Matthew Paulson: he sees himself as "Clay-like." He calls himself Wolfie because he loves wolves. He sings a horrible Clay Aiken song tunelessly. He's stunned to hear he's terrible. Simon adds the exclamation "Hideous!" Gratuitous!

John Williams -- fresh out of the military -- sings weirdly ("Why does he do me that way?") then rips off his shirt and dances weirdly. He gets through anyway.

Katharine McPhee has a voice teacher mom but she sings "God Bless the Child" really prettily. And she's very pretty too. Simon: "Absolutely fantastic." Randy: "Absolutely brilliant." Paula: "Absolutely beautiful." Simon: "Very, very, very what is happening today." Most positive response to an audition I've seen on this show.

Shalicia Carlisle sings badly then launches into a spoken word performance about a baby crying in the ghetto. She's asked to sing something more cheerful, which she does, picking at her hair and flipping it about. She hits on the unfortunate lyric "What did I do wrong?" which cues Simon to stop her. She says she quit her job for the show, and Simon telephones her boss and gets her the job back. Very cute.

16-year-old Shawna White is adorable, with braids. Simon doesn't like her, but she gets through anyway.

Marcus Phillips, an "all-terrain entertainer." But he's all falsetto, even when rapping.

Jayne Santayana seems to set off a fight. Randy to Simon: "Is there a different radio playing in your head?" This leads to an edited together fake-story of fighting among the judges, which culminates when a woman with very large hair auditions. Her name's Deborah Dawn Tilley, and she says she's 27 but she looks 50. The fight ends up being about something Simon said back in Season 2, which Paula reminds him about. He walks out. It looks fake, but Ryan tells us it's not. Randy and Paula carry on without him. I assume he had some other commitment and this was a way to try to make something cool out of losing him on the panel.

Manuel Viramontes drinks hot sauce to warm up and carries a picture of a Saint Manuel which he kisses to get ready. He sings "Riven [sic] in the Sky" in a bizarre voice.

In sum: Katharine McPhee!

If the Democrats vote on strict party lines againt Alito...

... will that give them more or less clout when it comes to the next nominee? I think the answer is less. The split vote on Roberts gained the Democrats something of the appearance that they were really weighing the merits of the nomination. Why would they want to mess up that appearance by voting as one? Perhaps they think, what was the point of supporting Roberts if we just ended up with Alito? But what happens with the next nominee? Perhaps the thought is that Bush has already proved so much about his freedom to pick whomever he wants -- just avoid the Miers mistake -- that there is no point in trying to preserve any influence over his choice. They can only hope that another slot will not open before they have the chance to regain control over either the Senate or the Presidency. Presumably, the analysis of how to vote on Alito reflects a strategy for winning future elections. The Democratic Party stands for something. But what? Based on what the Democratic Senators have emphasized, I'd say it's abortion rights and limiting presidential power.

Smallest fish!



It's very small! The better to live through droughts, swimming in the last tiny puddle.

"There need to be checks and balances."

"There are! When you checked the box to vote for Bush, you gave him the balance of power."

-- Steve Colbert, debating with himself on "The Colbert Report" last night.

Brilliantly written show!

Oh, so we're doing car tests today?

I'm a Porsche 911!



You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.


Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.



Ha ha ha. I got a better car than Instapundit. But dammit, Bainbridge, get out of my car! Was it the "Are you competitive?" question? Dammit, get out of my car!

On voting against Alito after voting for Roberts -- and that phrase "inexorable command."

Todd Zywicki asks how any Senator who voted for Roberts can vote against Alito and still claim to be principled. That question ought to send us to the transcript of Russ Feingold's remarks yesterday:
The Supreme Court, alone among our courts, has the power to revisit and reverse its precedents, and so I believe that anyone who sits on that Court must not have a pre-set agenda to reverse precedents with which he or she disagrees and must recognize and appreciate the awesome power and responsibility of the Court to do justice when other branches of government infringe on or ignore the freedoms and rights of all citizens.

This is not a new standard Mr. Chairman. It is the same standard I applied to the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts. In that case, after careful consideration, I decided to vote in favor of the nomination. In the case of Judge Samuel Alito, after the same careful consideration, I must vote no....

Although he has not decided cases dealing with the Bill of Rights in wartime, he has a very long record on the bench of ruling in favor of the government and against individuals in a variety of contexts. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, this is an important distinction between Judge Alito and Chief Justice Roberts. Our new Chief Justice had a very limited judicial record before his nomination. Judge Alito has an extensive record. There is no better evidence of what kind of Justice he will be on the Supreme Court than his record as a Court of Appeals judge. He told us that himself....

One important question that I had about Judge Alito was his view on the role of precedent and stare decisis in our legal system. At his hearing, while restating the doctrine of stare decisis, Judge Alito repeatedly qualified his answers with the comment that stare decisis is not an “inexorable command.” While this is most certainly true, his insistence on qualifying his answers with this formulation was troubling. Combined with a judicial record in which fellow judges have criticized his application of precedent in several cases, Judge Alito’s record and testimony do not give me the same comfort I had with Chief Justice Roberts that he has the respect for and deference to precedent that I would like to see in a Supreme Court Justice.
To take Feingold at his words but to put it bluntly, he detected a right wing agenda in Alito that he could not detect in Roberts.

I note that John Roberts also used the phrase "inexorable command":
SEN. GRASSLEY: Could you tell us what you believe is the appropriate judicial role describing for us the value of precedent in our legal system?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Certainly. And here again, we're guided by the court. It has precedent on precedents. It has cases talking about when you should revisit prior precedents and when you shouldn't. And of course some of the cases say you should in a particular instance, and others that you shouldn't.

You begin with a basis recognition of the value of precedent. No judge gets up every morning with a clean slate and says, "Well, what should the Constitution look like today?" The approach is a more modest one, to begin with the precedents. Adherence to precedent promotes evenhandedness, promotes fairness, promotes stability and predictability. And those are very important values in a legal system.

Those precedents become part of the rule of law that the judge must apply.

At the same time, as the court pointed out in the Casey case, stare decisis is not an inexorable command. If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable -- they don't lead to predictable results; they're difficult to apply -- that's one factor supporting reconsideration.

If the bases of the precedent have been eroded -- in other words, if the court decides a cases saying, "Because of these three precedents, we reach this result," and in the intervening years, two of those are overruled -- that's another basis for reconsidering the precedent.
Oh, but Alito said it repeatedly. On January 10th, responding to Senator Specter:
SPECTER: How would you weigh that consideration on the woman's right to choose?

ALITO: Well, I think the doctrine of stare decisis is a very important doctrine. It's a fundamental part of our legal system.

And it's the principle that courts in general should follow their past precedents. And it's important for a variety of reasons. It's important because it limits the power of the judiciary. It's important because it protects reliance interests. And it's important because it reflects the view that courts should respect the judgments and the wisdom that are embodied in prior judicial decisions.

It's not an inexorable command, but it is a general presumption that courts are going to follow prior precedents....

ALITO: I agree with the underlying thought that when a precedent is reaffirmed, that strengthens the precedent. And when the Supreme Court says that we are not going...

SPECTER: How about being reaffirmed 38 times?

ALITO: Well, I think that when a precedent is reaffirmed, each time it's reaffirmed that is a factor that should be taken into account in making the judgment about stare decisis.

And when a precedent is reaffirmed on the ground that stare decisis precludes or counsels against reexamination of the merits of the precedent, then I agree that that is a precedent on precedent.

Now, I don't want to leave the impression that stare decisis is an inexorable command because the Supreme Court has said that it is not. But it is a judgment that has to be based -- taking into account all the factors that are relevant and that are set out in the Supreme Court's cases.
Also on that day, responding to Senator Feinstein:
SEN. FEINSTEIN: But I'm asking you for the -- what it would, the special justification that you mentioned this morning, that would be needed to overcome precedence and reliance.

JUDGE ALITO: Well, I think what needs to be done is a consideration of all of the factors that are relevant. This is not a mathematical formula. It would be a lot easier for everybody if it were, but it's not. The Supreme Court has said that this is a question that calls for the exercise of judgment, and they've said there has to be a special justification for overruling a precedent. There is a presumption that precedents will be followed. But it is not -- the rule of stare decisis is not an inexorable command, and I don't think anybody would want a rule in the area of constitutional law that pointed in -- that said that a constitutional decision, once handed down, can never be overruled. So it's a matter of weighing all of the -- taking into account all of the factors and seeing whether there is a strong case based on all the relevant --
On January 11th, again responding to Senator Feinstein, pushing him to use the expression (but mangling it) and interrupting him, thus causing him to repeat it:
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I want to try one more time. ... [W]hat concerns me -- and obviously this is on Roe -- is that despite 38 tests, despite 33 years, despite the support of a majority of America, you also said yesterday that precedent is not "an exorable command." And those are the words that justice Rehnquist used arguing for the overturning of Roe.

So my question is, did you mean it that way?

JUDGE ALITO: The statement that precedent is not an inexorable (sic) command is a statement that has been in the Supreme Court case law for a long period of time. And I -- sitting here, I can't remember what the origin of it is, but I would bet that it's been -- it certainly has been used in cases in which the court has invoked the doctrine of stare decisis and refused to go ahead and overrule --

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I always believe everything I read in The Washington Post. (Laughter.)

JUDGE ALITO: Well, that is an important principle, and I --

SEN. FEINSTEIN: (Laughs.) I don't know about that one, but --

JUDGE ALITO: -- not the principle of believing everything in The Washington Post -- (laughter) -- but the principle that stare decisis is not an inexorable command, because then we would be stuck with decisions like Plessy, and they couldn't be overruled, except through a constitutional amendment.

But when an issue is one that could realistically come up, the people who would be making the arguments on both sides of the issue have a right to have a judiciary of people with open minds. And that means people who haven't announced in advance what they think about the issue and, more importantly, people who are not going to reach a conclusion in the -- not going to reach a conclusion until they have gone through the judicial process. And it's not a facade. It's a -- it's not a meaningless exercise.
On January 12th, responding to Senator Biden:
JUDGE ALITO: Different justices and different judges have different views about stare decisis. But my view is that you need a special justification for overruling a prior precedent, and that reliance and reaffirmation are among the factors that are important. But I've also said it's not an inexorable command. In the area of constitutional law, there has to be the ability to revisit a case like Plessy versus Ferguson. I don't think anybody would want a system of stare decisis that made that impossible.

You begin with the basic recognition of the value of precedent. No judge gets up every morning with a clean slate and says, well, what should the Constitution look like today? The approach is a more modest one. You begin with the precedent. Adherence to precedent promotes evenhandedness, promotes fairness, promotes stability and predictability. And those are very important values in the legal system.

Those precedents become part of the rule of law that the judge must apply. At the same time, as the court pointed out in the Casey case, the stare decisis is not an inexorable command. If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable, they don't lead to predictable results; they're difficult to apply; that's one factor supporting reconsideration.

If the bases of the precedents have been eroded, in other words, if the court decides a case, say, because of these three precedents we've reached this result, and in the intervening years, two of those are overruled, that's another basis for reconsidering the precedent.

At the same time you always have to take into account the settled expectations that have grown up around the prior precedent. It is a jolt to the legal system to overrule a precedent, and that has to be taken into account, as well as the different expectations that have grown up around it.

There are different other aspects of the rules. For example, property decisions are far less likely to be reconsidered because of the expectations that grow up around them. Statutory decisions are less likely to be reconsidered because Congress can fix it if it's a mistake.

It's, again, the court's decisions in cases like Casey and Dickerson, Paine versus Tennessee and Agostini, State Oil Company versus Khan. It's an issue that comes up on a regular basis, and the court has developed a body of law that would guide judges and justices when they decide whether to revisit a case.

The fundamental proposition is that it is not sufficient to view the prior case as wrongly decided. That's the opening of the process, not the end of the process. You have to decide whether it should be revisited in light of all these considerations.
That's seven times, compared to Roberts' one, but Alito was pushed on the question of stare decisis repeatedly and the phrase was part of his stock response. What was there in that response or the way he had occasion to repeat it that was "troubling" to Senator Feingold? Roberts presented the same formulation for stare decisis, relying on Supreme Court case law and taking the phrase straight out of Lawrence v. Texas, where the Court in fact overruled a precedent (to find a more expansive privacy right).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"American Idol" -- North Carolina.

Excellent, funny show tonight. This week's equivalent of the cowboy who sang only for turkeys was the girl who lived with her grandpa because her mother left her and her dad's in jail. Yes, tears were shed, chez Althouse. I also liked the girl with the braid and the girl whose grandma won Grammys. There will be time enough to learn some names later. For now, it's mostly a parade of horrors.

Feingold and Alito.

I've been intermittently watching the vote on C-Span. I'm listing to Senator Feinstein right now. She's voting no, of course. At this point, what I'm interested in is Russ Feingold's vote. He voted yes on Roberts, and he has not -- based on my checking just now -- said how he will vote. I hope Feingold says something that distinguishes him from the other Democratic Senators.

UPDATE: Feingold is speaking now. He's voting no.

MORE:
"I found Judge Alito's answers on the death penalty chilling.... He analyzes death penalty cases as a series of procedural hurdles... He left me with no assurance that he would not analyze these cases with his finger on the scales of justice. Judge Alito left me with no assurance that he would be able to review these cases without a weight on the scale in favor of the government."
YET MORE: Here's the transcript of Feingold's statement. Here's the full quote (which I transcribed somewhat inaccurately at the end, causing some commenters to misinterpret him as wanting the judge to be biased!):
I found Judge Alito’s answers to questions about the death penalty to be chilling. He focused almost entirely on procedures and deference to state courts, and didn’t appear to recognize the extremely weighty constitutional and legal rights involved in any case where a person’s life is at stake.

I was particularly troubled by his refusal to say that an individual who went through a procedurally perfect trial, but was later proven innocent, had a constitutional right not to be executed. The Constitution states that no one in this country will be deprived of life without due process of law. It is hard to even imagine how any process that would allow the execution of someone who is known to be innocent could satisfy that requirement of our Bill of Rights. I pressed Judge Alito on this topic but rather than answering the question directly or acknowledging how horrific the idea of executing an innocent person is, or even pointing to the House v. Bell case currently pending in the Supreme Court on a related issue, Judge Alito mechanically laid out the procedures a person would have to follow in state and federal court to raise an innocence claim, and the procedural barriers the person would have to surmount.

Judge Alito’s record and response suggest that he analyzes death penalty appeals as a series of procedural hurdles that inmates must overcome, rather than as a critical backstop to prevent grave miscarriages of justice. The Supreme Court plays a very unique role in death penalty cases, and Judge Alito left me with no assurance that he would be able to review these cases without a weight on the scale in favor of the government.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, I set out the key interchange (with Sen. Leahy) from the hearings that is the basis for Feingold's comment. I regard the comment as quite unfair. When did Alito refuse to address a situation where a person was proven innocent? When did Alito say that it's constitutionally acceptable to execute a man we KNOW is innocent? Where did he endorse the "horrific the idea of executing an innocent person"? It didn't happen! True, Alito emphasized the procedures that are required before a man can be executed, but he was never asked what would happen if we actually knew a man was innocent and yet the governor refused to pardon him. At that point would there be a right of action in federal court? Alito was not asked. To assert that he refused to address that situation is plainly unfair. It is demogogery of the sort I believed Feingold was above.