Friday, March 31, 2006

"You'll pretty much say anything to stay alive because you expect people will understand these aren't your words."

The hostage point of view. We can't ask for more. We can imagine a bolder hero who would do more. But we should speak no ill of the person who does less.

" This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman."

Said Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who may be criminally charged for slapping the police officer who blocked her entry into the Capitol when she refused to stop after being asked three times:
Her lawyer, James W. Myart Jr., said, "Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, like thousands of average Americans across this country, is, too, a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin."

"Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress while black," Myart said.
He's making the police officer sound like Matt Dillon in "Crash"!

We're asked to picture the member of Congress as the poor underdog here? Before working on this self-presentation as a victimized black woman, McKinney had a earlier draft that said: "It is ... a shame that while I conduct the country's business, I have to stop and call the police to tell them that I've changed my hairstyle so that I'm not harassed at work." The arrogance really comes across in that version. How dare you not recognize me! How dare you stall me as I go about work that is so much more important than yours!

Fear and hope among the Afghan apostates.

Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Christian who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam, now lives in exile in Italy. But what of the hundreds -- thousands? -- of apostates who remain behind. How has Rahman's case affected them?

Terri Schiavo died a year ago.

How is the press marking the anniversary? Some are running with the "living wills" theme. Others are revisiting the husband and parents who fought so hard over her fate. Still others reargue the issues of life and death.

Thinking about your muscles makes you stronger.

Really.
The team wired their subjects up to weight machines which monitored levels of electrical activity in their biceps and asked them to think in two different ways while exercising.

The more electrical activity measured - the more the muscle is doing.

When subjects were asked to focus on what their muscles were doing and how they were working there were significantly higher levels of electrical activity.

But when they were asked to visualise lifting the weight, electrical activity was lower.
So much for your Zen philosophy!

"It's not like grabbing your crotch, not that bad an obscenity."

But it's an obscenity, says Vito, from "The Sopranos" (Joseph Gannascoli), about that notorious hand gesture of the American jurist Antonin Scalia. Oh, go eat a big bag of small carrots! (Is that an obscenity?)

The Democrats announced their national security plan the other day.

Did you notice? Me neither. Are the media to blame for our inattention to this?

"AI" fashions, critiqued.

Robin Givhan -- the WaPo's fashion analyst -- takes on "American Idol." She doesn't like the sexing up of the women:
Dressed in tight blue jeans, a tight yellow tunic, a tight purple suede jacket and a pair of ivory jeweled showgirl pumps, [Paris] Bennett seemed to have taken all her styling tips from a Baby Phat runway show -- an unwise decision unless one's intention is to resemble what might affectionately be called a hussy.
Well, I think it was. You might want to mention that she's only 17.
Chris Daughtry is a man who knows that a beautifully bald head always looks better than a comb-over. This week, Daughtry was dressed, as usual, like a nonchalant rocker.... Daughtry has a consistent style, and that makes him stand out, since most of the contestants seem to wear just about anything that gets handed to them. Fit, taste, logic, who cares?
I think the biggest problem is inconsistent style. It may take a few weeks (or months) to arrive at a style, but once there, stay approximately there. Daughtry has a consistent look. Well, that is, he has a bald head. He has it every week. And when you look at him, that's what you notice. You can tell all the men with minimal hair that the completely shaved look is best -- and it is! -- but it takes a lot of nerve to put yourself out there like that.

Givhan complains a lot about the women in their elaborate outfits styled around tight jeans (especially on the giant-legged Mandisa), but it's much worse when they put the women in those dorky cocktail dresses that all look to me like crap made by Halston in the 1970s.

Ranking the law schools.

Paul Caron has figured out which law schools have moved up and which have fallen in the new U.S. News ranking. (Wisconsin stayed the same.) He's also pointing us to the rival rankings from the Princeton Review. Can Princeton Review challenge the market dominance of U.S. News? I don't think so. They are based so much on student surveys that the ranks seem mostly to reflect how eager the students are to help their school look good (and how uncritical the students are). Or do these lists just look all wrong to me because of their failure to resemble the U.S. News rank?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"This is the first time that anyone has shown that the brain grows differently in extremely intelligent children."

Okay, all you narcissistic parents: Time to run out and get a brain image done on your little genius. And all you IQ doubters: Time to fret about a future of imaging and classifying our young brain-containers.

Massachusetts is not exporting gay marriage.

If gay marriage isn't legal in their home state, a gay couple can't get married in Massachusetts, says the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court:
In an opinion written by Justice Francis X. Spina, the court upheld a 1913 statute that says that no out-of-state resident can get married in Massachusetts if the marriage would be void in the person's home state, unless the person intends to live in Massachusetts....

The original lawsuit was filed by eight out-of-state couples and 12 cities and towns, claiming the 1913 statute was discriminatory and had been invalidated by the legalization of gay marriage in the state....

[Governor Mitt] Romney said in an interview: "This is an important victory for traditional marriage and for the right to each state to be sovereign as it defines marriage. It would have been wrong for this court to impose it's same sex ruling on the other 49 states of America."

Only one justice, Roderick L. Ireland, dissented, writing that "the commonwealth's resurrection of a moribund statute to deny nonresident same-sex couples access to marriage is not only troubling," but "also is fundamentally unfair."

Scientifically testing the power of prayer.

It failed! Whoops!
While many studies have suggested that praying for oneself may reduce stress, research into praying for others who may not even know they are the subject of prayers has been much more controversial. Several studies that claimed to show a benefit have been criticized as deeply flawed. And several of the most recent findings have found no benefit.

The new $2.4 million study, funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, was designed to overcome some of those shortcomings. Dusek and his colleagues divided 1,802 bypass patients at six hospitals into three groups. Two groups were uncertain whether they would be the subject of prayers. The third was told they would definitely be prayed for.

The researchers recruited two Catholic groups and one Protestant group to pray "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for 14 days for each patient, beginning the night before the surgery, using the patient's first name and the first initial of the last name.

Over the next month, patients in the two groups that were uncertain of whether they were the subject of prayers fared virtually the same, with about 52 percent experiencing complications regardless of whether they were the subject of prayers.

Surprisingly, however, 59 percent of the patients who knew they were the targets of prayer experienced complications.

Because the most common complication was an irregular heartbeat, the researchers speculated that knowing they were chosen to receive prayers may have inadvertently put them under increased stress.

Maybe God doesn't like being tested.

"I've lived in my face."

Says Ali MacGraw, who's 67 and comfortable with a face like "a road map." An excellent road map:



There, now. It's nice to be elegantly, comfortably old, perhaps. Don't you think?

UPDATE: By contrast, consider Sharon Stone, as she appears in "Basic Instinct 2." As Manohla Dargis puts it, "man, does she look weird here." She sure doesn't look like Sharon Stone anymore:

A late morning fixation.

Tulip

"40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old."

New York Magazine discovers a non-new nonproblem -- and pads the story to death. Could you name any more bands or items of clothing in one story? There's 8 screens of this?

"The growing interest in making Scalia newsworthy reflects a change in the political fortunes of liberal causes and of the Democrat Party. "

Ronald A. Cass decries "Stalking Scalia."

(If that phrase is making you picture Scalia lumbering along after you, please clear that image from your mind. The American jurist is the stalkee.)

Prius/Pious.

Is driving your hybrid car causing you to talk with your eyes closed? The new "South Park" episode -- "Smug Alert" -- had lots of great details. I loved George Clooney's Oscar speech as a cloud of smugness that became part of a weather system, leading to a Perfect Storm. But my favorite thing on the show was the depiction of the San Francisco kids, who had such a precise reason for feeling aggrieved.

Brian Wilson's "new lease on life came with a deed restriction."

And now that landlord is dead:
Eugene Landy, the psychotherapist who was variously called a savior and a snake oil salesman for his unorthodox, round-the-clock treatment of Brian Wilson, the famously dissolute leader of the Beach Boys, in the 1970's and 80's, died on March 22 in Honolulu. He was 71....

"Landy definitely transformed Brian's life and knocked him off of what was a suicidal death spiral in the early 1980's," Peter Ames Carlin, the author of a forthcoming book about the Beach Boys, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But his new lease on life came with a deed restriction, which was that Landy wanted to be part of Brian's creative and financial lives."
You can find more lurid versions of the story than this NYT obituary, but the man just died, and I'm not going to go looking for them.

The murderer's memorabilia.

He wants it back. And he's suing his former lawyer, Hugo R. Harmatz, to get it:
[David] Berkowitz is serving six sentences of 25 years to life for killing six people and wounding seven in New York City in 1976-77.

He said he gave the materials to Harmatz for safekeeping and for use as props for a youth offender program. He sued Harmatz last June after learning the lawyer planned to use them as material for a book.

The lawyer claims letters from Berkowitz show the killer intended the materials as gifts. But the judge wrote in her decision that the letters do not "unequivocally establish" that.
Yikes! I just found myself siding with the serial killer. Compose your own lawyer joke.

"I was never hurt, ever hit... I was kept in a safe place and treated very well."

Says Jill Carroll, complimenting her kidnappers, after her release.

ADDED: Let me be clear that I'm not slamming Carroll. She was giving an interview at the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Baghdad, shortly after her release. She's right to be ultra careful, and she lived through the ordeal, unlike others, so I'd assume she has good sense about how to act.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If you had to accept gay marriage or gays in the military...

Which would you pick?

(A question aimed, obviously, at readers who are opposed to both.)

Explain your reasons.

ADDED: Feel free to comment if you're in favor of both or one but not the other. Feel free to talk about the relative importance of the two goals, as well as the relative damage -- if that's the way you see it.

"American Idol" -- results.

ADDED: If you're looking for the newest results show, click on the banner at the top -- Althouse -- and then scroll down to the most recent "Amercian Idol."

ORIGINAL POST: "Hips Don't Lie"? Is that really anything to brag about, Shakira? Wouldn't it be more impressive if your body parts could dissimulate?

Is it going to be the predictable bottom three? Lisa, Ace, and -- no, it's not Bucky! -- Katharine! I cheered. Great! Something exciting happened. Ooh! I hope she's sent home. I've had enough of her dissimulation.

Interesting to see the three of them lined up there: they are the three most physically attractive of the final 10. America can take some pride in our depth.

Ryan's going to send one back. I'm all let it be Ace. And it is Ace.

Ryan asks Katharine how she feels about being in the bottom two. She says, "Whatever -- uh -- God planned for me, that's all I have in my mind right now." Now, I've really had enough of her dissimulation. We see Simon with his face in his hands. He's digging his thumbs into his temples as if he's pushing back a migraine. He's a good barometer of phony.

"Leaving us tonight is" -- long pause, during which Lisa nods, with a full sense of her fate -- "Lisa." Aw. Lisa love.

UPDATE: For comments on the newest results show, click on "Althouse" at the top of the page and scroll to the newest "American Idol" post.

Go ahead and choose C-section!

There's no reason to discourage women from giving birth by Caesarean section, says the National Institute of Health.
As the number of Caesareans increased through the 1970s, in part because of rising malpractice suits, medical groups launched campaigns that reversed the trend. Many medical authorities viewed the procedures as unnecessarily expensive and risky, and advocates of "natural childbirth" saw them as turning a natural experience into a "medicalized" one.

But the number of Caesareans began to increase again in 1996, reaching an all-time high of 29.1 percent of all births in 2004. The trend was fueled by factors including doctors' concerns about the safety of attempting a vaginal delivery after a previous Caesarean, women's fear of the pain and physical trauma of traditional labor, and the convenience of being able to schedule deliveries.

The rapid increase triggered an intense debate and prompted the NIH to convene the panel to make the first new assessment of the procedures since 1980, when the focus was on preventing Caesareans....

The panel concluded that Caesareans increase the risk for some serious, potentially life-threatening complications, particularly devastating uterine ruptures during subsequent vaginal deliveries. For that reason, women planning large families should avoid them, the panel said. And the procedure should not be done before the 39th week of pregnancy unless the baby's lung development has been verified. But there was also evidence that the surgical deliveries reduced risks such as bleeding by the mother and possibly brain damage to the baby.

The evidence on other complications is mixed. The risk of infection, for example, appears to be lower after vaginal deliveries, and the risk of incontinence may be lower following Caesareans, the panel found.
The right to choose! You decide! What would you rather have, an infection or incontinence? A uterine rupture (avoidable by not having a subsequent vaginal delivery) or a baby with brain damage (permanent and irreversible)?

And all these years people have been trying to guilt trip women into having "natural" births! Ha!

"I am, by the way, an American jurist."

Wrote Justice Scalia, chiding the Boston Herald for referring to him as an "Italian jurist." It's all part of today's best tempest in a teapot -- better than boiled babies -- that little scuffle we might call Italianhandgesturegate:
"Your reporter, an up-and-coming 'gotcha' star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people. . .," Scalia wrote to Executive Editor Kenneth A. Chandler. “I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said, 'That’s Sicilian,' and explained its meaning."

In his letter, Scalia goes on to cite Luigi Barzini's book, "The Italians": "'The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: "I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out."'"

"From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an 'Italian jurist.' (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)"
(Do you think Scalia watches "The Sopranos"?)

Anyway... "I responded, jocularly, with a gesture..." If a reporter asks a question and gets only a hand gesture as a response, what exactly makes it read as "jocular"? Isn't there something inherently brusque if not rude about only gesturing? It's a dismissive gesture too. And he concedes she asked "sweetly" -- though perhaps he's only keen about wordplay and he did not know how to restrain himself. Couldn't she justly have been taken aback at getting a gesture? Is it fair to peg her as playing gotcha?

As to the explanation, "That’s Sicilian" -- that's more complex. If a person hears that as threatening, is she being prejudiced, thinking too quickly of Mafiosi? How did he say it? Was he giving it a tough guy nudge? He chose to say "Sicilian," not "Italian." Are we wrong to pick up a Sopranos vibe?

I'm not saying Sweet didn't have to research the meaning of the gesture, and I'm not saying Scalia shouldn't have written the letter. I love the letter! It's hilarious!

CORRECTION: I originally wrote that the Boston Herald called Scalia an "Italian-American jurist," which I read here. They called him an "Italian jurist," much worse, of course.

UPDATE: Well, now the Herald has a photograph and, though Scalia lookes reasonably "jocular" in the picture, the photographer is saying "'The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, 'To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo.'" Sweet won't confirm that Scalia said that word, which really is an obscenity. Remember when Scalia was saying his kids said he should get out more because it "it makes it harder to demonize you"?

The "boiled babies" remark.

So Berlusconi insulted Mao? Find something more substantial to get mad about -- even if you are celebrating the "Year of Italy."
[Berlusconi's] comments on Maoist China were first made at a rally on Sunday.

"I am accused of having said that the [Chinese] Communists used to eat children," he said.

"But read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields."

He tried to calm the furore on Wednesday, telling Italian TV: "It was questionable irony, I admit it, because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself."
"It was questionable irony, I admit it, because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself" -- I love that. Our politicians should try that apology format: I did not know how to restrain myself.

"The 'War on Christmas' has morphed into a 'War on Christians.'"

Presumably, these "War on Christians" people have some valid complaints, so why are they adopting a label that is so offputting and makes them look like idiots and paranoids? The answer is obvious: They're only talking to each other.

The new U.S. News law school rankings are out.

So what's going on at your school over these things? Wailing and gnashing of teeth? Jubilation? Smug boredom? Sighs of relief? A small twinge of satisfaction followed by the cranking forward of the mental gears -- how can we squeeze out another point next year? Kicking yourself because the school you picked because of the rankings is now below the school you assumed it was better than? A quick stab of pain followed by immediate retreat to the usual painkiller thoughts about how the rankings don't really mean anything -- soft variables and intangibles!

UPDATE: The rankings at the link are not yet the new rankings. I'm responding to leaked rankings that I've seen, which I won't link to.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"American Idol" -- the final 10.

Without a pause to explain the theme and, apparently, no guest star, they just spring Lisa Tucker on us. She sings a big Kelly Clarkson hit song -- "Because of You" -- and it's a ragged, ugly song in Lisa's hands. The judges savage her. Ryan comforts her. Now she can sit out the rest of the show and hope that somebody falls on his/her face.

Kellie Pickler lays it on thick with a country song, "Suds in the Bucket." (I think the theme is "Songs of the 21st Century," in other words, songs of the last few years.) Her voice is irritatingly thin and harsh. The judges hate the song. "You choose some gimmicky, rodeo, lassoing -- whatever -- novelty song," says Simon. He should add that she sang that crappy song crappily.

Ace Young sings a kind of cool Elton Johnish song called "Drops of Jupiter." He keeps his voice up high and sounds pretty good, even though he seems ackward and, actually, scared. We see his hand shaking like mad in a closeup. He pulls his shirt to the side at one point, and I just think he's being a little spastic, but talking to Paula, he reveals a big, horrible scar there! I go back to see what the lyric of the song was at the point when he drew attention to it: "Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star/One without a permanent scar/And did you miss me while you were looking at yourself out there." So! That was a crafty, intriguing song choice. It's not a surgery scar, because it's an inch wide. None of the judges like him, but suddenly I do. Am I a sucker for scars? No, I like the old candy-pop Elton John sound. Ryan asks him about the scar: it's a basketball injury!

Taylor Hicks knows he's got fans, like that kid in the audience who's spray-painted his hair gray. He sings "Trouble." "I've been upSET by a woman." Simon complains about his leather jacket and jeans outfit. He's becoming generic? Simon wants to keep Taylor in his box: slightly square and inexplicably weird. But Taylor sexed up tonight, and I don't think he'll lose any fans this way.

Mandisa, God bless her, is going to sing a straight out gospel song, "Wanna Praise You." She's been singing it in church for years, she tells us, and it's a testimony that there's nothing too hard for God. "God has broken every chain." Frankly, she could have sung that more gloriously. Paula, blasphemously: "There's a new religion, and 40 million people have now joined the church of Mandisa." Simon: "I thought that was a bit indulgent. I just didn't get that. Not for me." The atheist!

Chris Daughtry gets an interview to start, and the point is made that his version of "Walk the Line" last week was Live's. He is required to genuflect to Live: "You worship them, actually, don't you, kinda?" He's doing "What If," by Creed. It's hard to sing-yell like that. It's the heaviest song anyone has ever sung on "American Idol." If they don't pay him respect, they are simply admitting that rock doesn't belong on the show. And Simon admits it! "There is a line you don't cross. Creed would not be seen dead on this show. The show is 'American Idol.'" Dammit, do I actually have to start voting?

Katharine McPhee, "The Voice Within." "Life Is a Journey." Give me a damned break! Horrendous! She has completely alienated me with this song. Hate, hate, hate.

Bucky Covington. "Real Good Man," a country song. He's got a cowboy hat and a western-style shirt. The song is a complete mess, you know, the kind of thing where you feel you can't even find the song in all that.

Paris Bennett interviews that she's going to be young. "Work It Out." And then she beats us over the head with young. It's desperate. "I can't wait for the bedroom." Wait! She's 17! Please, it's not worth it. She does this jerkily sinuous thing with her body. Is this her or what someone told her she needs to be? It's painful. The worst thing about the show is pushed in our face here. Judges? Randy: "The bomb!" Paula: "Awesome." Please, Simon? "Like a little girl pretending to be Beyoncé. Whoopee." Simon is utterly right here, I have to say, even though what he said about Chris irked me. The fact is, Simon has his feet on the ground. America, listen!

Elliott Yamin. They put him last. That means something. "I Don't Want to Be." He bobs up and down. I detest this song. It just seems sloppy and pointless. But he has soul. They told us that. I take it on faith that he can sing.

Who will leave? It's Bucky and Lisa on the line. One goes this week, and one goes the next. But maybe we'll get lucky and Kellie will be excised.

ADDED: I'm thinking that at this point it has become a contest about maintaining a grip on one's humanity. In that light, who is not lost? The women are losing it faster than the men. Perhaps only Mandisa retains her grip, but even that is questionable. The men are slipping. Chris and Taylor might still have a hold on what is left of themselves. But perhap the only person left is Elliott.

The amazing comments thread.

Have you noticed that this post from last Thursday has over 350 comments and that people with strongly opposed views on the hot topic of gay marriage are keeping up a substantive debate that has not deteriorated into abuse? A similar debate took place the previous Friday, going up to 290 comments.

The argument in Hamdan.

SCOTUSblog describes today's oral argument in the Hamdan case:
For the most part, the session was subdued and understated, especially given the historic dimensions of the dispute before the Court -- a major test of Executive power in the midst of vigorous presidential responses to a proclaimed "war on terrorism." But there was definitely an emotional high point, and that came when Breyer, then Souter, focused on the law that Congress passed late last year that threatened to scuttle the Hamdan case, and all other pending court cases filed by foreign nationals now being detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That law, the Detainee Treatment Act, is a court-stripping measure that raises serious questions about whether President Bush's orders dealing with captured foreign detainees will ever be fully tested in court.
Much more at the link.

Here's Gina Holland's description of the argument (for AP):
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy questioned Solicitor General Paul Clement about the legal safeguards for the trials. Justice Stephen Breyer also asked what would stop the president from holding the same type of trial in Toledo, Ohio, not just at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hamdan claims the military commissions established by the Pentagon on Bush's orders are flawed because they violate basic military justice protections.

"This is a military commission that is literally unburdened by the laws, Constitution and treaties of the United States," [Hamdan's lawyer, Neal] Katyal told justices.
UPDATE: Here's Linda Greenhouse:
Justice Souter interrupted [Solicitor General Paul Clement]. "Isn't there a pretty good argument that suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is just about the most stupendously significant act that the Congress of the United States can take," he asked, "and therefore we ought to be at least a little slow to accept your argument that it can be done from pure inadvertence?"

When Mr. Clement began to answer, Justice Souter persisted: "You are leaving us with the position of the United States that the Congress may validly suspend it inadvertently. Is that really your position?"

The solicitor general replied: "I think at least if you're talking about the extension of the writ to enemy combatants held outside the territory of the United States —"

"Now wait a minute!" Justice Souter interrupted, waving a finger. "The writ is the writ. There are not two writs of habeas corpus, for some case and for other cases. The rights that may be asserted, the rights that may be vindicated, will vary with the circumstances, but jurisdiction over habeas corpus is jurisdiction over habeas corpus."

Flipflopping on celery.

The Smoking Gun has some documents showing the John Kerry's demands when staying at hotels when he was campaigning for President. On the first document, there's a list of various foods, and then "Note: JK Hates Celery!" But then on the fourth page of documents, we see that he wants "Vegetables -- preferably organic, not the precut ones" and the first thing on the list of vegetables is "Celery." He's flipflopping on celery.

UPDATE: I can see I'm being unfair. The intro to the documents indicates that the later pages include things for his wife, so the celery is for her. Sorry! And let me add that I have no problem with people making detailed requests like this. His staff should be taking steps to preserve his health and mood. And I'm impressed by how healthy these choices are.

"He was eventually diagnosed with A.D.W., or Attention-Deficit What; then A.D.H.S.T., or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Stop That..."

"... and, after that, A.D.P.O.Y.P., or Attention-Deficit Put On Your Pants. Finally, I realized that Billy is a Dandelion Child, a term used for unusually bright and active children whose special powers will someday change the world."

Paul Rudnick takes on the Indigo Child delusionals.

Finding the crack...

... in Northern Wisconsin.

Watching real polygamists watch fictional polygamists.

The NYT watches some real polygamists watching HBO's fictional polygamists on "Big Love":
"This is a glimpse of a family that is mainstream," Mary Batchelor, a 37-year-old mother of seven and director of "Principle Voices," a leading polygamy advocacy group, said of the Henricksons.
Batchelor. I love when the real life names seem like a screenwriter's concoction.
"There are hundreds of these families. It shows an aspect of polygamy nobody ever sees. Before, you saw families in crisis." She referred to media images of men being carted off to jail for beating women or children or marrying child brides.

"This is making all of America say 'Why is there a law against polygamy?' " said a 55-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Doris, because she feared repercussions at her new job after years of staying at home with her 14 children in suburban West Jordan. "This guy is just trying to support his family, and the family is just trying to make it."

While the women said "Big Love" had too much skin and not enough religion or humor for their taste, they agreed that it portrayed the Henricksons like any other American family, especially in an era of mixed marriages of all sorts, gay partnerships, single parents and serial monogamy.
Uh-oh, the NYT is helping the anti-gay marriage crowd with its slippery slope argument!

The show is written by two gay men, by the way, which makes us tend to assume that they want the show to bolster the argument for gay marriage. From the Times article:
The creators of "Big Love," Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer (who along with the actor Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are the executive producers of the series), said in a telephone interview that they were hearing all the criticisms and compliments. The show was conceived as a prism through which to look at the "struggle for the common good over the individual good" that exists in any family, Mr. Olsen said. He and Mr. Scheffer are partners in real life.

"The pro-polygamists think it's too dark," Mr. Olsen said. "The anti-polygamists don't think it's dark enough. I think we've split the baby down the middle." The men said they spent almost three years researching the show, talking to experts and reading everything from sociological tracts to official Mormon records.

Mr. Scheffer said future episodes would explore some of the darker aspects of polygamy, like the abuses of patriarchy.
It sounds to me as though they are trying to write a complex story. You can't make good shows if the main thing you are thinking about is your political agenda. Olsen and Scheffer have created a great set of characters, with immense dramatic potential, and they need to let things happen without paying too much attention to how everything will affect various political issues.

In the most recent episode -- the third one -- they had a character who was explaining polygamy say "We're like the homosexuals." But I didn't get the sense the writers were trying to sell us that argument. When a fictional character says something, we always have to wonder whether that's something to believe or resist. If we didn't, it wouldn't be art.

The politics of old signage.

The historic preservation of large industrial neon signs is a political battlefield. Consider that big Wonder Bread sign in Seattle:
The San Diego company that is developing the 1.6-acre property said the sign would be donated to the nearby Pratt Institute of Fine Arts. But that has some neighborhood residents worried that Pratt will auction it off to wealthy collectors. They strongly suspect that "Wonder Bread", or "Wonder" or "Bread" — or just "W" or "B," for that matter — would be a hot commodity for the growing set of neon industrial art aficionados....

Bill Bradburd, an artist who moved here from San Francisco, said the Wonder Bread sign was really a symbol of a "bait and switch" on the part of city officials. Mr. Bradburd, who lives near the bakery and is a co-chairman of the Jackson Place Community Council, said development was moving at such a fast pace that city officials who had promised to protect the character of Seattle's neighborhoods were instead seizing on the dollars flowing in.

Mr. Bradburd and others on the council want the sign displayed publicly near the site of the bakery. He is at odds with some, though, by proposing the sign be split up, putting "Read" over a local library and perhaps "Wonder" over a new elementary school.

But is the tension over these 11 red letters, each six feet tall, really about the sign?

"These battles over saving something old are proxy battles," said David Brewster, the founder of Town Hall, Seattle's cultural center, who is writing a history of the city since the 1962 World's Fair here. "They are really battles against traffic, although of course gentrification weighs in."
Interesting. But what made me want to blog about this NYT article when I saw it in the paper version was a quote that doesn't appear on-line. Between the second and third paragraphs of what I've quoted, there's this quote from Bradburd:
"I think it's part of the rightward movement, at least perceived rightward movement in the country," he said, "where a developer in sheep's clothing turns into a corporate pig."
Why take that out? It's the spiffiest quote in an article about the politics of old signage.

These signs must have been considered quite ugly for a long part of their existence. And look at the Wonder Bread sign:



It actually is ugly, especially if you take into account all that metal junk holding it up. It's funny that it's Wonder Bread that symbolizes the rich goodness of the past, when Wonder Bread has traditionally symbolized the sterile blandness of the present.
"Seeing the cookies and bread on the assembly belts, it was a show," said Adrienne Bailey, who grew up near the factory and is now secretary to the Central Area Neighborhood District Council. "It was a smell blocks before you got there. Oh, I have beautiful childhood memories of Twinkies and pies, and a beautiful big red neon sign, all lit up."
That reads like a satire, written in the 1960s, about what nostalgia would be like in the future.

Americans used to have memories of mom's homemade pies and now there's the love of the old factory that cranked out processed foods. And, strangely, those who favor the historic preservation of the site paint their opponents as corporate pigs.

IN THE COMMENTS: More ideas for how to break up the Wonder Bread sign to make other signs for other places.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"The Apprentice."

Was it a little dull tonight without Brent to kick around?

Another make-a-commercial task. I'm tired of that. And for a cruise ship! Ugh! Don't you detest cruise ships? Trying to make them appealing? I'm against it.

And that diamonds reward? We can't tell you how much this stash is worth, but it's more than $100 million. Now, hold these diamonds in tweezers so they can slip out and fall on the floor. That's entertaining. The Apprenti are told to pick a diamond to keep, and we get to see one woman decide that bigger is better, but we never hear whether she really did pick the most valuable one. So what was that all about? Just: diamonds are expensive! And this is a show about expensive stuff, so why not diamonds?

"Everybody used to refer to me as the 20th hijacker and it was a bit of fun."

Zacharias Moussaoui explains why he signed the confession. Now, he only admits to knowing that the 9/11 attacks would take place. But he reveals that there was a plan for him -- along with the shoe bomber, Richard Reid -- to hijack a fifth airplane to attack the White House.

MORE: From the NYT:
Mr. Moussaoui said there were times when a Muslim can lie without being immoral: to reconcile Muslims, to answer "yes" when a wife asks, "Am I beautiful?" and to carry out jihad.

When Mr. Spencer asked if his refusal to tell the truth after his arrest in August 2001 reflected his refusal to give up his jihadist dream, the defendant did not disagree. "You're not dead until you're dead," he said.

"Go to the far corners of the Earth... they don't really know what Mount Vernon or Monticello or Hearst Castle are, but they know what Graceland is."

Graceland, Gracelandmark.

Hamdan and the arcana of jurisdiction stripping.

Linda Greenhouse writes about the Hamdan case, to be argued in the Supreme Court Tuesday:
In the face of a measure that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in late December to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over cases brought by detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where Mr. Hamdan has been held since 2002, the court must decide whether it retains the right to proceed with this case at all.

For a court that has been highly protective of its own prerogatives, but at the same time notably attentive to the often arcane limits on federal court jurisdiction, the question is one of great delicacy, infused with historical resonance.
In my modern "Dictionary of Received Ideas," the entry for "Federal Jurisdiction" is: call it arcane. Being arcane, it's can be a good way to dispose of pesky problems. If you want to do a little sleight of hand, jurisdiction is a good move. We Federal Jurisdiction lawprofs make it our business to detect the fakery. But it's not all fakery, and the Constitution gives Congress some powers to check the courts, including the power to cut back their jurisdiction. The questions here are whether this statute cuts even pending cases, like Hamdan's, and whether that cut back goes beyond the scope of the power.

If there is jurisdiction, then the Hamdan case will deal with the validity of using military tribunals for the Guantanamo detainees.

More on Hamdan after the oral argument.

ADDED: SCOTUSblog has a good preview, including details about a possible 4-4 split vote and what it would mean. (John Roberts has recused himself, because he participated in the case at the Court of Appeals level. There's also a controversy about whether Antonin Scalia should recuse himself, given some remarks he made about the issue recently.)

MORE: Captain Ed is pretty hard on Scalia. You know, what bothers me the most about Scalia's statement is: "I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son, and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial." Much as I respect the son's service and the father's pride in it, the interests or activities of your friends and family should have absolutely no effect on how you decide a case. Are we to think that if the enemy were only shooting at someone else's sons, he'd take a different view of the issue?

CORRECTION: I've corrected the original text to show that the argument is on Tuesday, not Monday.

"The Sopranos."

There's an excellent Television Without Pity forum on last night's new episode of "The Sopranos." (Spoiler alert.)

Everyone is quite taken with the scene at the well-lit house in the woods. It reminded people of "Titanic" and "The Shining" -- that elegant invitation to join the dead in a beautiful place. Was it hell? Did we see Livia inside? Then it can't be heaven! Why was Steve Buscemi listed in the credits as "The Man"? Tony didn't recognize him, though he seems to have recognized his mother.

What does the briefcase symbolize? It's Finnerty's briefcase, but now it seemed to contain Tony's life or his identity. We all get the "infinity" reference by now: Kevin Finnerty (who "drives a Lexus," the guy at the bar joked last week, alluding to that non-Lexus, Infiniti). I think the briefcase is his soul, and if he goes into death with the wrong soul -- Finnerty's/sin-burdened -- he will go to hell. He needs to take his baggage back into life and make things right.

Lots of folks can't stand Vito. Why has he become such an important character? Surely, not merely because the actor has "slimmed" down. (He's still very fat!) It must be that they are setting him up for slaughter. (He should be fattened for that, though!) The TWoP commenters are rooting for killing Vito, because they find the character boring. And he is too boring to become a main character. So, it's true: he's got to go. There's the homosexual theme with Vito, and that seemed to have something to do with his wolfing down a bagful of little carrots. Oh, the symbolism is rampant!

Some commenters complained about the revival of the Christopher-as-a-screenwriter theme. But then someone pulled that together with everything else that was going on in the episode. Christopher's ridiculous movie plot has a murdered mob boss reassembling his body and coming back from the dead to take revenge on those who betrayed him, and Tony is about to come back from the dead, and we were just seeing how his various underlings are scheming to take over. Therefore, we'll see Tony go after these guys, right?

Everyone loved the scene where Paulie and Vito give Carmela the envelope and she takes a second look at them as the elevator doors close. Edie Falco did that well, don't you think? You understood that she understood. The fat envelope that Carmela was eager to set down resonates with the wrong briefcase that Tony gripped.

Someone raised a really good question that was bugging me too. Why were they acting like they were trying to talk Tony out of a coma when last week we heard that the coma was induced coma to deal with the fever and sepsis? The coma wasn't the problem! Now, suddenly, it is?

Anyway, great episode. I need to watch it a second time to appreciate all the details. For example, what is the writing teacher talking about to that class just before he's rousted out of it? Nuggets of insight must be embedded there. What is Meadow's role? Her lying in bed next to her father seemed important, and it was her voice that warned him not to enter the Death House. Will she be the only one in the end who can run the family?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Audible Althouse #42.

Here. A mere 26 minutes. Topics: the movie "Open Water," whether one ought to do physically adventurous things, marriage (a physically adventurous thing?), HDTV, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "My Dinner With Andre," the 1972 book "Open Marriage" and what it seemed to say about what would happen to marriage in the future, how tradition keeps its hold on us and on the Afghan courts with their case against the Christian convert Abdul Rahman, how Rahman's case challenges our thinking about independent courts and the rule of law, and -- finally -- some thoughts on podcasting.

(You don't need an iPod -- you can stream it on your computer here.)

The blogginess of blogs.

Isn't a blog just writing? Is there some style of writing needed to make a blog good? A propos of the Clooney-HuffPo affair, NYT writer Tom Zeller Jr. has a go at the hot issue of blogginess:
The best blogs ... aren't supposed to feel processed and packaged, or appear worried-over, even by the egos from which they spring. Reasoned, syntactic arguments and short, stately essays are for newspaper op-ed pages. Wry, bleary-eyed, observational ramblings make for the most dynamic — and believable — celebrity blogs....

[Alec] Baldwin ... in his latest "blog entry" at huffingtonpost.com, blows a mighty, stately and imploring wind — one that would be at home on any opinion page in the mainstream media. Nothing wrong with that, but then, what makes it a blog? "Help end these horrible and corrupt times in this country," Mr. Baldwin writes. "Give your contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee."

Yeesh. Might as well be an ad for the World Wildlife Fund. Even Rosie O'Donnell's inscrutable, stream-of-consciousness postings at rosie.com capture the spirit of impromptu electronic nakedness that makes "blogging" something new and rangy and interesting.
Wouldn't Baldwin's essay be a crappy op-ed piece too? Zeller insults op-eds a lot more than he needs to as he tries to get to his point, which he does in an "impromptu," "rangy" way, even though he's writing in a newspaper.

Is there a key to blog writing? I think there is a lot of room for all sorts of writing on blogs. It's a form that we are inventing right now. Free-swinging stream-of-consciousness may characterize the early stages of this writing form, but there will be other developments, and some things that were cute will become tiresome.

"To strip marriage of its antiquated ideals and romantic tinsel and find ways to make it truly contemporary."

Remember "Open Marriage," that 1972 self-help-ish book? Well, let's reminisce about it, on the occasion of the death of one of its authors, Nena O'Neill:
"Open Marriage," as the book's champions said emphatically and often, was never intended to be a guide for swingers. Indeed, the book embraced marriage.

Its purpose, the authors wrote, was simply "to strip marriage of its antiquated ideals and romantic tinsel and find ways to make it truly contemporary."

Read today, "Open Marriage" is a period piece, a window onto a distant age of experimentation and abandon. Its ideas can appear shockingly ordinary, even quaint....

Three of the book's 287 pages explore, ever so tentatively, the elastic properties of marital fidelity. Forever after, those pages were all anyone seemed to remember about "Open Marriage."...

When "Open Marriage" appeared, some readers interpreted its choicest lines ("Sexual fidelity is the false god of closed marriage") as a license to cheat.

But on the very next page, the O'Neills seemed to back away from that provocative stance: "We are not recommending outside sex, but we are not saying that it should be avoided, either. The choice is entirely up to you."...

"The whole area of extramarital sex is touchy," Ms. O'Neill told The New York Times in 1977. "I don't think we ever saw it as a concept for the majority, and certainly it has not proved to be."
Only the elite few can pull it off with the requisite taste and élan. Surely, you don't think you're one of them! And yet the book was a huge best-seller, and even if you didn't read the book, you knew the phrase "Open Marriage." You read about it everywhere. "Open Marriage" would be the way of the future, life after the Sexual Revolution. Better get up to speed!

A dialogue from the era:
"I'm married."

"Don't you believe in Open Marriage?"

"Yardlong, spaghetti-thin worms erupted from the legs or feet — or even eye sockets — of victims."

The horrendous, ancient disease called Guinea worm:
[The worms] forc[ed] their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbled and burst. The searing pain drove [victims] to plunge the blisters into the nearest pool of water, whereupon the worm would squirt out a milky cloud of larvae, starting the cycle anew.
Eliminating the disease only required disrupting this life cycle, mainly by putting a mild pesticide in various ponds. But it wasn't easy to do. Read about the efforts to treat one pond that people regarded as sacred:
[Those who came to treat the pond] found many of the village's women forming a human wall around it....

[T]he women shouted: "This disease is a curse from our ancestors, it has nothing to do with the pond water! If we let you touch anything, the ancestors will deal with us. We heard them crying all night!"
The good news is that the disease is on the verge of complete elimination. And, as the article explains, Jimmy Carter deserves much of the credit.

"What sociologists call the 'cool-pose culture' of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up."

Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson writes a powerful op-ed:
Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think.
Read the whole thing. Much of the piece is about the way sociology professors resist cultural explanations.

"A lack of information and a lot of legal gaps."

So says an anonymous official "closely involved with the case," giving the reason for dismissing the case against the Abdul Rahman, who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. An authorized speaker for the court pointed to "problems with the prosecutors' evidence," specifically, Rahman's mental fitness to stand trial.

Should we look closely at this to determine whether the court caved to political or moral pressure? Or should we keep our distance and feel vaguely good that the court found a way to reach a satisfying outcome? We sometimes ask ourselves these questions about our own courts. But our courts can bear intense scrutiny. The Afghan court had a hard task before it, and the human beings who hold the public trust made their way through it.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ... stressed the U.S. needs to respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan, which she called a "young democracy."

"We have our history of conflicts that had to be worked out after a new constitution. And so the Afghans are working on it. But America has stood solidly for religious freedom as a bedrock, the bedrock, of democracy, and we'll see." Rice said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Aptly put.

ADDED: Was Rahman mentally unfit?
Rahman, [before his release], said he was fully aware of his choice and was ready to die for it, according to an interview published Sunday in an Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die," Abdul Rahman told the Rome daily, responding to questions sent to him via a human rights worker who visited him in prison.

"Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us," he added in a clear reference to Jesus.

Rahman also told the Italian newspaper that his family - including his ex-wife and teenage daughters - reported him to the authorities three weeks ago.

He said he made his choice to become a Christian "in small steps," after he left Afghanistan 16 years ago. He moved to Pakistan, then Germany. He tried to get a visa in Belgium.

"In Peshawar I worked for a humanitarian organization. They were Catholics," Rahman said. "I started talking to them about religion, I read the Bible, it opened my heart and my mind."
Ah, but I just said, don't look too closely....

IN THE COMMENTS: Twwren writes:
It's Sharia Catch 22. He must be insane because any sane Muslim would reconvert to Islam therefore he cannot be executed.
I like having that part of the law and note that, extended, it would mean that anyone who embraces martyrdom for religion is insane. That's a useful idea. I hope they propogate it.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"Open Water."

I avoided this film when it was in the theaters. I avoid most films, so my avoidance means little. But I suppose I lacked the confidence that the story of two divers, abandoned in the ocean, could have enough substance to interest me. Of course, in some ways, the movie must be slight. Just two heads bobbing up and down in the immense blue expanse. What can two people say in this situation? They must bicker, then blame, then alternate between despairing and saying "I love you."

But tonight, I wanted to watch a movie, and what was there? HBO was showing "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," an appealing choice. I remember when that movie first came out on video. It was back when I was married, and my husband and I picked it out to bring home to a big family group, who ravaged us for picking popular fare. Yet we were right, were we not? History has proven us right!

But "Open Water" was on HDTV and "Ferris Bueller" was not, so we went with "Open Water." How do you film a movie full of waving, rippling water and two bobbing, wet actor-heads? Quite a challenge! How do you pitch the relationship? Will the man and woman bicker shallowly or emote hammily? Get somewhere interesting that avoids all that! There's a moment when the woman discovers a few hard candies, and they can finally soothe their dried out mouths. The luxuriating in the ordinary is cut short. This is the place for the shark.

I didn't know how the movie ended. And I won't reveal it, even though I think everyone else has already seen this film. But the story worked its way through to a satisfying ending.

It's not "Aguirre the Wrath of God," my favorite floating-on-water-'til-the-bitter-end movie, but it was solid. Artistic. I approve.

IN THE COMMENTS: Spoilers!

"You know, I wouldn't put it past him... He's a pretty sneaky guy."

"Might Mr. Dylan alter his set lists just to mess with the pool?"

"The Quran is very clear and the words of our prophet are very clear. There can only be one outcome: death."

So said cleric Khoja Ahmad Sediqi, a member of the Supreme Court in Afghanistan, speaking about the case against Abdul Rahman, who converted from Islam to Christianity. What is the specific text that is supposedly so clear? And where is the vigorous debate from people who know the Quran and have other interpretations? We keep hearing about how the charge of apostasy offends Western religious freedom values and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which the Afghan constitution adopts), but why are we not also hearing questioning of the asserted interpretation of the Quran? Why is this controversy allowed to appear to be only a conflict between Western values and Islam? In American law, if a jurist insisted a constitutional clause was very clear, and we didn't like his answer, we'd look at the clause for ourselves and debate about it.

What do parents say to kids who announce that they want to become teachers?

Here's a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (via A&L Daily):
In focus-group interviews that I conducted, candidates enrolled at the most-selective education schools reported having been told, "You are too smart to become a teacher" and feeling as if "I would probably end up living in my parents' basement with my wife and children." On another occasion, even a foundation executive who worked in urban-school reform told of having to bite his tongue when his son, who attended a top college, announced with pride that he was going to become a teacher. The executive was about to say, "Is that all you are going to do after all the money we spent on your education?"
I remember a print ad from quite a while ago, which must have been placed by the NEA. It showed an empty classroom and the line: "The sale is over." The "sale" was the cheap price society paid to hire teachers, back in the days when when other lines of work were closed or hostile to women and when women expected to receive lower pay. We've never really adjusted to the end of the sale on teachers, have we?

But beyond economics, I think it used to be much more ingrained in women that we should be unselfish and unmaterialistic. It was common to the point of mind-numbing triteness for girls, asked about careers, to answer, "I want to help people" or "I want to work with children" and, of course, "I don't care about money." Girls that didn't feel that way would disguise that fact, for fear of being thought not a good person. That's the way I remember it.

Should we sneer at arranged marriages?

Masuda Sultan, despite being divorced from an arranged marriage, defends the tradition in her book, "My War at Home":
"It's upsetting that people see your culture as backward, who say to me 'You poor victim,' " she said. "I think Westerners have a simplistic idea about arranged marriage. Mine didn't work out, but that was not the case for everyone, and it's not necessarily backward to do that."...

Within the United States, Afghans have been subversively transformed. Boys and girls court furtively or in Internet chat rooms. When suitors hit it off, they may ask parents to arrange the wedding, pretending they barely know each other. Still, Ms. Sultan said she would marry only a Muslim and might even allow her parents to introduce her to a prospective mate, though only on the condition that she get to know him.

"I have to believe there are people out there who can appreciate traditional values around family and community, but who can also appreciate me in my assertive, outspoken manner," she said.
All of the usual ways of getting human beings into marriage are flawed. I could be convinced that some approaches to arranged marriage are decent enough. But somehow, this article did nothing for me. Here is an author who is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government and rather antagonistic toward the American policy in Afghanistan. Why is she writing in the memoir form?
In telling her story, she has joined the growing ranks of Muslim women who are offering an insider's view of Muslim life at a post-9/11 moment when anxious Americans are curious, as Ms. Sultan says, about "what drives Muslims, how do they operate behind closed doors."

In the memoir "Reading Lolita in Tehran," Azar Nafisi describes a women's book club that debates the painful conflicts of living under Islamic law. In the novel "Brick Lane," Monica Ali writes affectingly about a Bangladeshi in London in an arranged marriage whose sister elopes in a "love marriage." And a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Asra Nomani, published "Standing Alone in Mecca," about her pilgrimage to Islam's most holy site last year.

More are on their way: Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize-winning Iranian human rights champion, will have a memoir out in May. And Ms. Ali's editor, Wendy Walker, is publishing a memoir in the fall by Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang-raped by order of a tribal court to avenge her brother's supposed misconduct.

David Ebershoff, an editor at large at Random House who edited Ms. Ebadi's book, said that these books have struck a chord with American readers because "the personal is a prism into the larger geopolitical story." Americans, he said, also respond to the conflicts of women having to juggle their working lives with more traditional roles of wife and mother — however perilous their experiences might be. In her memoir, Ms. Ebadi writes of the night that she was summoned to jail. On the way out the door she tells her daughters to order a pizza for dinner.
It seems that she's chosen the memoir form, despite the mismatch between her personal story and the message she wants to convey, because there's a good market for books like this. So the better question is perhaps not why is she writing a memoir, but why do Americans -- American women? -- love memoirs so much?

ADDED, to answer that question why we love memoirs: we like those parasocial relationships.

Bob Newhart tells a 9/11 joke.

You can joke about 9/11, can't you? You just have to find the right way to do it:
Reading recently about the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, his "button-down mind" found an angle on the 9/11 pilots, and he has been toying with it as a possible stand-up bit.

"They didn't want to learn to take off and land," he said. "They just wanted to fly. Some have criticized the F.B.I. because that should have been a red flag. But I saw it as a case of —" he studied his coffee table it as if it were a weekly planner — " 'O.K., well, I don't have to come in Monday; I can come in late Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday, O.K., that's flying; and then I don't have to come in Friday.'"

"How predictable sociology is."

Jeremy complains.
[W]ithout looking at anything else, I flipped ahead to the last page of the comment because I knew what would be there, and, lo, it was....

"He thought the man had an 'attitude,' then noticed the driver had no arms."

The news from New Zealand:
Senior Constable Brent Gray approached the driver's window, saw a foot on the dashboard and noticed the seat was reclined.

Mr Gray told colleagues he thought the man had an "attitude," then noticed the driver had no arms.
The man, who was born without arms, drove by using one foot to steer. He was caught driving 75 in a 60 mile an hour zone.
The driver told police he had never held a driving licence.

Ms Lack said the motorist had been a danger to fellow drivers because he was breaking the limit.

"Obviously, driving at a speed like that, arms or not, you're just waiting for an accident," she said.
"Arms or not" -- I love that. In any case, every time I drive in a 60 mile an hour zone in the U.S., pretty much everybody is going 75 or so. Arms or not.

Don't plagiarize.

What shortcuts are you taking now, that you might live to regret?

"You see all these pockmarks in his cheeks and he looks like an entirely different person -- and you go, 'Wow, is that Brad Pitt?'"

HDTV looks so good, it makes mere mortals look bad. Actually, the HD camera makes the picture so sharp, it's not just clearer than old-fashioned TV, it's clearer than what you see looking at the real world with your human eyeballs. It's exciting, but also distracting. You fixate on details of the set or some minor feature of a face. Don't succumb to that crazy absorption! Don't sit so close! That's what mothers have long said to kids watching TV, and there really wasn't any problem that needed solving. Now, with HDTV, we should sit farther back, to keep in touch with reality and to stave off that autistic focus on the unimportant.

"Window cleaner Ira Clemons put down his squeegee in the lobby of a city mall and stroked his goatee...."

Guess the topic of the MSM news article that begins its third paragraph thusly? It's: Do people want President Bush impeached? The goatee-squeegee guy does.

I don't know, do you spend any time thinking about the bubbling, fledgling impeachment movement?
It would be a considerable overstatement to say the fledgling impeachment movement threatens to topple a presidency -- there are just 33 House co-sponsors of a motion by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to investigate and perhaps impeach Bush, and a large majority of elected Democrats think it is a bad idea. But talk bubbles up in many corners of the nation, and on the Internet, where several Web sites have led the charge, giving liberals an outlet for anger that has been years in the making....

Democrats remain far from unified. Prominent party leaders -- and a large majority of those in Congress -- distance themselves from the effort. They say the very word is a distraction, that talk of impeachment and censure reflect the polarization of politics. Activists spend too many hours dialing Democratic politicians and angrily demanding impeachment votes, they say....

"Impeachment is an outlet for anger and frustration, which I share, but politics ain't therapy," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts liberal who declined to sign the Conyers resolution. "Bush would much rather debate impeachment than the disastrous war in Iraq."
Frank is right, obviously.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"It is the dirtiest little secret in higher education..."

That's a quote from one of the letters responding to that article about discriminating agains women in college admissions that we were just discussing. One Vaughn A. Carney writes:
Having served as an educator, administrator and admissions officer, I am obliged to note that the practice of "gender norming" in college admissions is hardly new.

It is the dirtiest little secret in higher education, primarily because it operates in favor of young white male applicants in the form of quotas. Without this practice, nearly all of the elite, historically male colleges would be more than 80 percent female.

"Unless something radical and imaginative is done Squirrel Nutkin and his friends are going to be toast."

Said Lord Inglewood.

A 250-year-old tortoise...

... has died. The animal was older than the United States. It doesn't seem that there now exists any animal in the world who is anywhere near as old as was dear Addwaita, "the one and only." Goodbye!

"In an environment where people are disgusted with politics in general, who represents clean and change?"

"Women."

So says Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He's a male, but he's hoping to harness the power of women candidates for the sake of the "Mommy Party," to use the term chosen for the subheadline for the paper version of the linked article that appears on the front page of today's NYT. The headline, by contrast, is "Women Wage Key Campaigns for Democrats," which sounds rather warlike and unmommyish.
The seats for which Democratic women are running this year are among the 24 held by Republicans that are classified by the Cook Political Report, an independent analyst, as either "tossups" or "lean Republican" — a key measure of competitiveness....

...Democratic strategists hope to frame these midterm races as a classic change-versus-status-quo election — which, they say, makes women, running as outsiders against a "culture of corruption," the perfect messengers.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster working for three female House candidates this year, said, "If you want to communicate change, honesty, cleaning up Washington, not the same old good old boys in Washington, women are very good at communicating that."

Officials at the Democratic campaign committee said that along with Emily's List and other women's groups, they had made a point of encouraging and recruiting women as candidates this year.

"This didn't just happen," Mr. Emanuel said.
Do we women really have such a strong image of cleanliness and honesty? Image unavoidably plays an important role in political campaigns, but are we happy about blatant stereotyping like this? And is this another one of those places where you think it's acceptable as long as you express your stereotype about women in positive terms?

There is negative implicit in every one of your positives. You say "clean" and "honest" and "change," and I hear "naive" and "inexperienced" and "ineffectual." Spare me your patronizing blather.

What do we think of political pressure on independent courts and the applicability of international norms...

... in the context of a case like this?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Distinguishing gay marriage and polygamy -- part 2.

We were just talking at great length on this topic, but William Saletan has a new piece in Slate, so let's do it again. As you may remember, I said the solid basis for distinguishing gay marriage and polygamy is economic: those seeking gay marriage only want the same set of economic advantages that is available to heterosexual couples, but polygamous groups seek more than the traditional share. Saletan takes a different approach:
The number isn't two. It's one. You commit to one person, and that person commits wholly to you. Second, the number isn't arbitrary. It's based on human nature. Specifically, on jealousy.
An obvious problem with Saletan's idea is that it relies on nature, which has long been a favorite source of argument for opponents of gay marriage. What do you say to the people who claim not to share what is the predominate characteristic that appears in nature? Most people are heterosexual, and most people are jealous if their partner isn't monogamous. Gay marriage proponents need to be able to say that the minority condition deserves respect.

***

By the way, in the third episode of "Big Love," polygamy is compared to homosexuality more than once: We're like homosexuals. Why was I able to watch Episode 3? For some reason, it was on HBO on Demand -- by mistake, I assume.

Hey, Margene -- the youngest wife on the show -- has a blog!
Thumbs Down. Was "Pirates of the Caribbean" supposed to be funny or not? It wasn't. It was annoying.

Panda bears or Koala bears? Who's cuter? A debate for the ages...
And I know this is a device to get bloggers to link and give them publicity, but I'm constantly giving them publicity anyway, and I think it's nice that HBO is speaking to us bloggers in our own language.

"There's blogs."

Says Bush.

Beards.

They're back!
[Vice magazine's ad director John] Martin's idea of a style symbol, seriously, is Ulysses S. Grant, whose beard he came to admire after watching the 2003 Civil War-era drama "Cold Mountain." Two years ago, when he began experimenting with different beard styles, which he described as ranging from neat to burly to unkempt, his facial hair was an expression of individuality in a tide of metrosexual conformity. Now 10 of his 15 co-workers at Vice wear full, bushy beards. In that, they vie with the pro-facial-hair contingent of an editorial rival, Spin, where a rash of new beards has broken out.

"It's a sign of the times," Mr. Martin said. "People are into beards right now."
NOOOO!
No survey ever conducted about women's attitudes toward beards, even those not underwritten by the Gillette Company, has indicated that more than 2 or 3 percent of women would describe a full beard as sexy. ("I hang out with those girls who are in that 2 or 3 percent," Mr. Martin, of Vice, said.)
Can we have a little sanity? Martin's found the girls who are into this?

"Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit."

The dean of admissions at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, writes a NYT op-ed blatantly admitting to a policy of discriminating against women:
The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men....

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women that they must, nearly 25 years after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, be even more accomplished than men to gain admission to the nation's top colleges? These are questions that admissions officers like me grapple with.
Questions, indeed. But any answers? Britz has none. She does apologize, however, and seems to think that the fact that her daughter faces the same obstacles makes the apology more sincere.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Reveal[ing] the strains behind the surface placidity and collegiality of the young Roberts court."

The first dissenting opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts provides an occasion for Linda Greenhouse to portray the mood of the Court.

UPDATE: Orin Kerr -- who promises much more blogging on the case, Georgia v. Randolph -- theorizes about four models of Fourth Amendment interpretation.

"South Park" -- "The Return of Chef!"

So?

That ended awfully abruptly! Were you satisfied? Isaac Hayes is, I think, honored, and the hatred is directed at the organization that took him away from us, the "Super Adventure Club." The grisly near-death scene was finely detailed, and the final "salty balls" punchline well-placed. The strip club interlude was genuinely poignant, as the kids beg poor Chef to remember his real self.

Taking the broader view, answer the question: Is religion a super adventure club?

UPDATE: Here's the AP description of the episode, quoting key lines:
''A lot of us don't agree with the choices the Chef has made in the last few days,'' one of the children eulogizes him at a funeral. ''Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can't let the events of the past few weeks take away the memories of how Chef made us smile.

''We shouldn't be mad at Chef for leaving us,'' the eulogy concludes. ''We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains.''
Scientology was not named. Standing in for it was "that fruity little club," the "Super Adventure Club," which is all about child molestation. Chef's membership in the club was revealed in scenes that use spliced-together dialogue from past episodes that were voiced by Isaac Hayes.

"American Idol" -- the results.

Well, I was surprised. I thought sure Lisa would go, but if not Lisa, then Bucky. Yet it was Kevin Corvais who came out on the bottom. I can only think that Simon's devious trick of embracing him proved to be the kiss of death.

When terrorists deter terrorism.

BBC reports:
The Basque separatist group Eta has declared a permanent ceasefire.

Eta is blamed for killing more than 800 people in its four-decade fight for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and south-west France....

Some analysts said its campaign became virtually untenable after the bomb attacks on Madrid in March 2004, blamed on Islamic extremists, that killed nearly 200 people.

Widespread revulsion at those attacks made deadly violence politically unthinkable for Eta, they said.
So great is the ugliness of Islamic extremist terrorism that it has destroyed the charm of terrorism to those who once believed in it.
In a statement released to Basque media, the group said its objective now was "to start a new democratic process in the Basque country".

Maybe you can amnesia-fake your way into a more glamorous lifestyle.

Doug Bruce, the subject of the documentary "Unknown White Male," claims to have complete amnesia, but how do we know he's not a fake?
Soon after [he showed up at a Coney Island police station professing to know nothing about himself], Bruce became hipster Manhattan's answer to the Elephant Man, an ingratiating medical marvel, except hunky and with an adorable British accent. A crowd of accomplished artists, models and producers orbited in awe. He met the singer Bjork, the director Spike Jonze, the actor Vincent D'Onofrio. He was invited to parties and dinners where he told his story pretty much nonstop....

In the movie and in phone interviews, friends and family say that the pre-amnesia Bruce was a slightly arrogant, hard-edged cynic, and had been his whole life.... [but afterwards, he became nice and childlike.]...

According to friends, Bruce's life pre-amnesia was hardly miserable, but he was trolling for dates on the Internet and communing with a crowd far less glamorous than the one he wound up in. Today, he's dating a knockout of a model -- she appears in the movie and calls him a man without flaws -- and he has a ready-made excuse to break with anyone in his previous life he doesn't consider up to scratch.

"There are good friends that I've had in the past who, I've met them and I just don't get them," Bruce says at one point in the film, sounding like Old School Bruce. "I don't feel it, and so I don't hang out with them, which for them is tough."
Oh, it wouldn't be the fakest way anybody ever gained admission to hipsterdom. In fact, isn't fakery the norm? He deserves his place there even more if he's pulled off this scam. The faker he is, the less fake he is. If he was an arrogant, hard-edged cynic, and had been his whole life, and he still is, he's a man of ravishing consistency.

European-style regulation and the dangerous pipe organ.

The NYT reports:
The new [European Union] directive, to come into force in July, limits the proportion of hazardous substances like lead, mercury or cadmium to 0.1 percent of a finished product that works on electricity.

"We are caught in an absurd anomaly," said Doug Levey, a spokesman for the Institute of British Organ Building, which says it represents most of the country's 400 organ builders in about 65 companies.

The directive, approved by European governments four years ago, was intended to address problems caused by the disposal of products like cellphones or computer circuit boards. Dumped in landfills, the argument goes, discarded items of consumer electronics pollute groundwater as hazardous substances are leached from them.

But no one, it seems, had thought of the organ builders, whose products make unlikely candidates for landfills. Disused organ pipes, some of them containing 50 percent lead or lead-tin alloy, are usually melted down for reuse, Mr. Levey said. New pipe organs, he said, can cost from $85,000 to $850,000 and upward.

A manually powered organ, Mr. Levey pointed out, would not be covered by the directive, no matter how much lead was used. However, he said, "if in the name of progress you use an electronic fan to provide the wind, the same organ with the same amount of lead falls within the restrictions."
But I'm thinking the pipe organ folks are making a big, windy noise, since there is a way to apply for an exemption. Instead of doing that, they're going to the press and complaining, stirring up the usual antipathy toward government regulation. Obviously, the concern about lead in landfills is valid. Just go get your exemption. And pipe down.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"American Idol" -- the final 11.

"She has no range," says Barry Manilow about Mandisa. He means that she can sing well throughout her large range. Apparently, he uses words to mean the opposite of what they mean. Tonight should be amusing, with Barry guiding the kids through the songs of the 1950s. And Mandisa was thrilling! "A very sexy performance... like a great stripper's song," says Simon. "I absolutely loved it."

Bucky Covington sings the great Buddy Holly hit "Oh Boy," and Simon calls it "a pointless karaoke performance," which makes John come out and say "That's true of every 'American Idol' performance," and I'm all, "Did you hear Mandisa? Do you want to hear Mandisa?" Answer: "No."

"You give me fever... fever all through the night." Paris Bennett, she's 17, people. Barry's uneasy with that. But she does it well.

Chris Daughtry -- my favorite -- sings "I Walk the Line." Wow! The judges don't wheel out their stock phrase "You made it your own," but in this case, he really did. He got all alternative, really Ed Kowalczyk, I think. Simon: "You are the first artist we've had on the show who's actually refused to compromise." Ha! Who is most insulted by that line? I'm going to say Bo Bice. [UPDATE: Reading Television Without Pity, I see that Live actually did a version of "I Walk the Line." At least last week, when Chris did the Chili Peppers version of "Higher Ground," the band was mentioned. I tend to think that Live was mentioned in the practice session, but edited out for the show, so I wouldn't accuse Chris of wrongly taking credit.][IN THE COMMENTS: The question is raised whether Chris did the Live version, which I have never listened to myself. Nevertheless, I think it's damned strange that Chris's version made me think of the lead singer of Live if he wasn't doing the Live version! Admittedly, both guys have bald heads and sing in the grunge mode.]

Katharine McPhee, they love her. I thought it was a little screetchy and unsubtle, but she's good, and she's very pretty.

Barry gives some insight into what's so exciting about Taylor Hicks: he sings way high, but it doesn't sound like it's high. Hicks is doing a Buddy Holly song too: "Not Fade Away." "My love is bigger than a Cadillac."

Lisa Tucker is in serious danger, I think. She's too young to make enough of an impression in this group. When she tries really hard -- and she does -- she ends up seeming like a little hypercharged robot. I like the song, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?," but I hear the original playing in my head, and by comparison, she seems weak.

Oh, but wait, there's still Kevin Covais. He needs to go soon. And yet, he does amuse us so much. Aw, but he sang "When I Fall in Love" so sweetly (after Barry told him to be vulnerable, and he got it). Even Simon accepts this. Poor Lisa!

Elliott Yamin. He sings "Teach Me Tonight." It's very complex and difficult, and he sings it quite well. How far can he go if he is the best singer, but the worst looking?

Barry Manilow doesn't know the song "Walking After Midnight"! Bizarre! It's Kellie Pickler's song tonight. Barry tries to get her to find the deep emotional meaning in the song, and she doesn't really find it. But they all love her.

Ace Young strains desperately through "In the Still of the Night." They're trying to help him. They've put him last, and they've found a 7-year-old girl to introduce him. He does a sweet long falsetto "niiiiiiightttt" at the end that might just save him.

Summary: Lisa's leaving.

ADDED: I just want to say how much I like Barry Manilow. Not his music, which isn't to my taste, but him as a person. Unlike Stevie Wonder and various other guests, he did not do the show to get the kids to sing his songs, and he took his role as a music teacher seriously. He really analyzed each performance and came up with concrete help and never seemed to be at all about self-promotion. I know you could say that this nice-guy thing is just his gimmick, but if it is, it works well, and maybe more people ought to try it.

"I was born in America and I love my country."

That's nice, but should you have your own reality show, when the only reason for any interest in you is that you are Osama bin Laden's niece?

Googling in the billions.

Which words, searched in Google, yield over a billion hits? "Blog" is one. What has more? "Internet." What word has the most? I don't know. It isn't "sex." "Love" has more than "sex," though still painfully less than "blog"! Is there a name that hits a billion? Not "Bush," and it has two Presidents, not to mention all the shrubbery.

"O’Reilly has become baroque, and 'The O’Reilly Factor' is complex affair, dense with self-references...."

So says Nicholas Lemann, quite strangely. I don't watch O'Reilly, though I used to, so I can't say for sure. I do watch "The Colbert Report," so I get some indirect information about what's going on in the world of O'Reilly. I prefer my O'Reilly taken through the filter of the sublime Stephen Colbert, don't you?

Lemann also talks about Colbert:
Stephen Colbert has obviously made a close study of O’Reilly’s mannerisms and opinions, just as Colbert’s producers have made a close study of the overblown red-white-and-blue swirled graphics that open “The O’Reilly Factor.” (Colbert adds eagles and flags.) But Colbert is too young and too thin to mimic the physical presence of the six-foot-four O’Reilly, and he appears to realize this. So he delivers O’Reilly’s brusque, jabbing hand gestures, and his primary-colored opinions, with a goofy half-smile, as if he were a kid playing dress-up in his dad’s clothes.
Why is Lemann disrespecting Colbert? I think it is to make room for his own critique, laid out extensively, in The New Yorker. Would you rather have your O'Reilly filtered through Colbert or Lemann? Or are you hardcore, taking your O'Reilly straight?

"A preference for talk shows and soaps 'is a marker of something suspicious.'"

According to Dr. Joshua Fogel of Brooklyn College of the City University of New York:
He said it's not possible to tell whether the programs somehow contribute to cognitive decline or whether women in the early stages of decline gravitate toward those shows. Preferences for daytime TV could also be a marker of a sedentary, homebound lifestyle, and research suggests that staying physically and socially active can help stave off mental decline....

According to Fogel, a potential explanation rests in the fact that talk shows and soap operas involve so-called "parasocial relationships," where viewers feel a connection to a show's characters or host. Such shows may, for instance, be better able to hold the attention of older women with some cognitive impairment.

"This doesn't mean 'Oprah' is bad for you," Fogel said. However, an older woman's fondness for the show could signal a possible problem, according to the researcher.
It's an interesting study, focusing on cognitive decline in older women. I would like to know which way the causality works. Fogel seems to lean toward thinking that people experiencing mental decline gravitate toward shows that provide "parasocial relationships," rather than to think that the shows cause the mental decline. Researchers have tried for years to prove the TV is bad for you, and they never seem to come up with anything substantial.

Anyway, I'm fascinated by this subject of parasocial relationships. They are quite rampant in our modern world, for all of us, not just old women, don't you think? What are your parasocial relationships? Have they changed over the years? At what point do you think a person has has a parasocial relationship problem? In the future, will there be specialists helping us with our parasocial relationship problems? Will the day come when we will turn on Oprah for a little parasocializing and find the guest is the Dr. Phil of pararelationships?