Friday, February 28, 2003

Disturbing Google search of the week: Someone came here looking for "David Schwimmer in white socks being tickled."
My little sister was once asked out on a date by a male Starbucks barista. Perhaps it's the female ones that are more notable...
The Ninth Circuit won't reconsider its infamous pledge of allegiance decision.
Well, I had planned this long post about the crossing picket lines, classes, and the strike, but Iris beat me to it.

Here's my take:

(1) Holding classes off campus is definitely not neutral, despite this claim, in an email from a professor, about moving classes.
My decision to move classes off campus was made because I believe based on my experience that it is the best educational interests of all of the students and it should not be misinterpreted as a gesture of support for or against anyone's positions in the current labor negotiations.
Moving class off campus places a burden on neutral or pro-administration students and facilitates the desired actions of pro-union students. One example: this email from a "point person":
3. Please try to arrive EARLY so as to minimize settling in time.

4. Try to bring SURGE PROTECTORS and EXTENSION CHORDS, so that we can have as many power sources as we need. Be aware that there will be WIRES on the floor.

5. Just in case: will someone with a GOOD BATTERY volunteer to take notes to be distributed to students who do not have power sources? Email me if you are willing to do so.
These are, plain and simple, burdens. And they make off-campus classes decidedly not neutral.

(2) Going to class is not crossing the picket line. As I understand strikes, the point is to demonstrate, by not working, that the work is far more valuable to the administration/management than the admin/man is claiming it is. How does going to class in the building where classes are usually held undermine this statement? Not sure. Replacing the work with scabs--now that is "crossing the picket line." I suppose one attenuated argument could be that our attendance "uses" the scabs. Not only is that attenuated, however, but it doesn't hold much water when you look more closely. How does "using" the scabs undermine the union cause? I suppose it might if the union's purpose is to shut down the school simply for the sake of shutting down the school. But that is not, as I understand it, the reason for a strike. And it shouldn't be--that isn't using the strike to demonstrate anything. Rather, that is simply showing the power of the mob. And if that's what's going on, well, that's just plain wrong. This country was designed to be governed by reasonable majorities, not cowed into action by the tyranny of the majority.

(3) Crossing the picket line is not a show of support for the administration. I am simply saying I want to go to class. I can't think of why this would be true. I suppose there is again, the attenuated argument that I am "using" the scabs. But that is far from saying that I think the administration is right. Perhaps it is insulting to the picketers for me to go about my business when they are sacrificing their wages. That I can understand. But that is not support for the administration. It is staying neutral. (Nor do I wish to insult people--but if staying neutral means being insulting, I'm not sure what to do.) The problem is that the union is making neutrality the same thing as support for the administration. That is simply fallacious logic.

Today's Yale Daily News op-ed says that there is no such thing as neutrality. Fine, but why? The Daily does not answer that question.
Put simply, undergraduates will not be able to occupy a neutral ground because we do not exist in a bubble on campus. We may have had nothing to do with events leading up to the strike. But as the recipients of workers' services and of the education that may well be disrupted, we play an implicitly central role in the situation.
But that is a normative argument. What if I don't buy it? Tell me instead why going to class is, as a positive matter, not neutral.

For more information on the strike, check out Yale's position and the union's position.
Two Georgia state lawmakers want to ban "South Pacific" and other theatrical works "offensive to Southern tradition," reports The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Rep. David C. Jones of Sylvester and Sen. John Sheppard of Ashburn said in a written statement they would ask the next legislature for a bill to prevent the showing of "theatricals which have an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow."

Jones said the play "justifies intermarriage of different races" which "produces half breeds which are not conducive to the higher type of society... We in the South are a proud people and have pure blood lines. We want to keep it that way."
In a somewhat related note, I found this site (via Eve Tushnet) that lets people tell what they love about each of the 50 states. Go say something nice about The Peach State, because these guys sure aren't doing her any favors.
Speaking of cosmetic, a friend from the South complained to me yesterday about how chapped her hands get in the winter. Mine used to chap until they cracked and bled, until a dermatologist friend told me the best solution. A lot of people use lotion, but the dermatologist said that water-based lotions actually dry the skin out as they evaporate. They are in that sense, and from the manufacturers' perspective, a perfect product: one whose use perpetuates your need for it. It's as if they could make beer from salted peanuts. The solution is to use mineral oil. Dab it on your skin with cotton balls, massage it in, and use a tissue to take off the excess. It doesn't evaporate and seals the moisture in. Plus, the generic drugstore brand is fine, so for three or four bucks you'll have soft, supple skin all through the trying cold months.
As for the crossing-the-picket-line debate at Yale Law School, if a student's attending class in the law school building constitutes crossing the picket line, then doesn't attending class at an off-campus location as well? The students cannot in either case be considered scabs since they won't be doing the striking workers' work. So whatever it is that students who support the workers think they shouldn't be doing by going into the building--keeping the law school functioning normally despite a strike--they'll simply be doing off site. You might wonder if it wouldn't help the workers more by going into the building and putting demands on the staff in order to show the administration how much the school relies on the workers. But that is not how people seem to be reasoning in this situation. In an ungenerous light, having class off campus, or watching videotapes of classes held in the building, just seems like the work of upper middle class sympathizers who don't really want to sacrifice anything. Cosmetic. Here's a suggestion: if having class off campus is in essence crossing the picket line, wouldn't it be more efficient to hold classes in their usual locations in the law school and have all the striking workers picket at a single off-site location?
Dahlia Lithwick comments on the racial ugliness surrounding the Estrada nomination:

[T]he worst feature of this confirmation is the backbiting among Hispanic-Americans, who can't make up their minds whether it's more important to get a certified Hispanic judge onto the bench — regardless of his views or ideology — or to make sure that their Hispanic judge meets some idealized standard of authentic Hispanicness (preferably demonstrated by mentoring Hispanic children and rising up out of squalor). As the debate grows uglier, it's now becoming a contest among Mexicans, Cubans, and Hondurans about who — to paraphrase Snow White — is the most Hispanic of them all.
Lithwick notes astutely that the claim that Estrada's relatively privileged upbringing makes him "not Hispanic enough" cuts against the claim that race is always a good proxy for diversity.
Quote of the Day:
"There is more difference within the sexes than between them."
~ Ivy Compton-Burnett

Song of the Day:
Jimmy Eat World, "Sweetness"

Happy Birthday:
Mario Andretti
Frank Gehry
Linus Pauling
Bugsy Siegel
Dean Smith

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Bashman reports that the Estrada cloture vote has been scheduled for next week. Also, the Fox News article he's picked up says that DoJ turned over Estrada's memos. Like Bashman, I wonder if that's true or if the Fox News reporter committed a big blunder...
Yale braces for a labor strike. Questions of the moment: Is going to class actually crossing the picket line? Is crossing the picket line, as a student, a show of support for the administration?
China Watch:

Never taken as seriously as they need to be taken . . .
Until now, only the United States and Russia have put people in orbit. Assuming the Shenzhou 5 succeeds, China will become the world's third spacefaring nation. There will be astronauts, cosmonauts-and taikonauts. This event, in turn, will mark China's emergence as a major space power, a prospect that is at once admirable and worrisome.

....

The fact that China will put people in orbit does not in itself represent that threat. The Shenzhou 5 may be nothing more than an exercise in regime-boosting nationalism that actually diverts resources away from more menacing applications, such as space mines and anti-satellite lasers. Yet the orbiter does demonstrate an impressive technical capability with undeniable military potential. Civilians run NASA, but generals are in charge of China's space program. The United States must take their foray into space seriously-and also look for the hidden opportunities it provides.

....

The Pentagon is already planning for space warfare. On Thursday, the largest space-oriented war game yet held was launched at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. (It concludes this Friday.) The scenario, set in the year 2017, has the blue team (the United States) squaring off against the red team, which is defined as a ''credible space opponent.'' During the Cold War, the red team was always based on the Soviet Union, even though officials would never say so publicly. Now the red team has a new model. And judging from the sketchy descriptions released to the public, it's China.
Why is it that they are never on anyone's radar? How do they continue to convince people that they aren't anything to worry about?
Quare blasts Segway. I agree.
China Watch:

Fidel Castro emerges from Cuba, shocked to find world has changed.
Fred Rogers was one of the last good things in children's television. He will be missed. This is a fascinating little tribute to the ultimate "nice guy."
Tim Schnabel has a nice post about the death of Fred Rogers.
Two couples — one black, one white — are trying to conceive, using the same fertility clinic. Mrs. A., the white woman, undergoes treatment and gives birth to twins, who, it turns out, do not particularly resemble her husband. They are in fact the biological children of Mr. B, the black man.

This is a real case. An English court just awarded custody of the twins to Mr. and Mrs. A. The ruling leaves the door open for Mr. A. to legally adopt them, which could terminate Mr. B.'s right to play any part in their upbringing.

For their part, the black couple, who have been trying for more than a decade to have their own children, without success, thanked the white couple for their "sensitivity and understanding," but said in a statement that they needed "time to reflect on where the judgment leaves them."
A gracious statement, given the pain they must be feeling.

The British government has recently toughened regulations on the country's fertility clinics. Now there must be two witnesses for every step in each procedure.

The article also mentions a similar case:

[I]n New York in 1999, a 40-year-old white woman gave birth to two babies — one black, and one white — after fertility treatment. It was determined that one of the embryos with which she had been implanted was produced with the eggs and sperm of another couple. She agreed to give the black infant to its biological parents.
Amazing stories. I wonder if those children, who shared a womb, will ever see each other again.
Quote of the Day:
"This was what we Japanese called the 'onion life' – peeling away a layer at a time and crying all the while."
~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Song of the Day:
Sixwire, "Look at Me Now"

Happy Birthday:
Lee Atwater
Hugo Black
Constantine the Great
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ralph Nader
Arthur Schlesinger
John Steinbeck
Elizabeth Taylor

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

A reader sends in yet another use for duct tape! (These are prettier.)
This Newsweek cover story on black women would be unremarkable if it weren't so atrociously written. Good grief.

In other news, I recently let my last two magazine subscriptions run out. I just wasn't reading them thoroughly enough to justify the expense. There's so much good stuff online for free.

Of course, I still get the best one. It's a quasi-gift for my mother, so it arrives there and she gets to peruse it first.
Katie Roiphe asks whether The Quiet American is anti-American. Our own Alan Dale has addressed that question at great length here.
Here's an article about the business of book reviewing, which apparently requires only the most casual of encounters between reviewer and object being reviewed. Said Sidney Smith: "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so."
Nevada is considering a special tax on prostitutes. People are complaining, for various reasons:

"What are the girls going to do?" asked Geoff Arnold, president of the Nevada Brothel Association. "Have a calculator in the room? The girls aren't the best at math."
I just searched in vain for the Nevada Brothel Association website.
The Arizona Republic reports that the number the Environmental Protection Agency lists as its toll-free line for information on hazardous-substance releases is actually a chat sevice called Intimate Encounters featuring "girls waiting right now to talk to you."

The EPA spokeswoman was "aghast" when a reporter informed her of this.
Quote of the Day:
"A thick skin is a gift from God."
~ Konrad Adenauer

Song of the Day:
Madonna, "Crazy for You"

Happy Birthday:
Johnny Cash
Fats Domino
Jackie Gleason
Victor Hugo
Robert Novak
Robert Taft
Movie Review

At the beginning of Pedro Almodóvar's Spanish film Talk to Her two men are seated next to each other at a performance of Pina Bausch's Café Müller, a modern dance piece from 1978 set to music by Purcell in which two women in slips move quickly but with somnambulistic helplessness across a café set while a man pushes chairs out of their paths. (The movie ends at a performance of Bausch's 1986 work Masurca Fogo.) Benigno notices that Marco is moved to tears by the performance, which turns out to be symbolic of the movie's own story.

Benigno is a nurse assigned full-time to the care of Alicia, a young dancer who has been in a coma for four years. Benigno seems gay, but is actually a virgin who became obsessed with Alicia before her accident; by luck he's ended up with the job which includes intimate care to keep Alicia's skin and muscles and eyes, etc., from deteriorating. (He learned these spa skills while taking care of his own inert mother.) As he works on Alicia he talks to her as casually as if she were awake and listening with total absorption. He tells her about the Bausch performance, which he attended because she would have been interested, about the silent movies he goes to because she loved them, about Marco, though we're not exactly sure why.

Marco is a middle-aged journalist who sees Lydia, a female bullfighter, on a talk show, and asks to be assigned to interview her. His entrée is that she's plainly desperate about being dumped by a male fellow bullfighter. Marco gets more than an interview, however, after he kills a snake in Lydia's kitchen. It brings them together but also puts a space between them because it reminds Marco of a similar situation with his ex-girlfriend of ten years (whom he got off drugs by taking her back to her parents who then refused to let her see him anymore). Marco weeps at the memory, which Lydia registers. At the ex's wedding Marco feels ready to commit to Lydia; she doesn't get a chance to tell him she's back with her own ex before she's gored by a bull later that day and put in a coma, ending up on the same hospital floor as Alicia. The two men become friends, though Marco is resistant to the idea that there's any point in talking to a comatose woman.

Up to a point Benigno the virgin seems to have the ideal relationship. His chatting while tending to Alicia, who remains totally silent and passive, is so much less messy than even the brief relationship between Marco and Lydia, with all its stormily confused sexual symbols--snakes, bulls and bullfighting, tears. One night Benigno tells Alicia all about a silent movie he went to called The Shrinking Lover (a stylistically sensational fake on Almodóvar's part). In this movie a female scientist develops a potion for weight control; before she can test it, however, her portly male lover drinks it down to prove that he takes her seriously. Unfortunately it makes him shrink until he can fit in her purse, and other places. At the end of the excerpts we see, after the scientist has rescued him from his domineering mother and taken him into her bed, the tiny lover climbs up on her breasts and then down to her vagina where he experimentally sticks his arm in before heading on in for good. For Benigno and Alicia it seems the mess can be contained in a work of art.

Up to this point the movie appears to be a work of comic irony about heterosexual relationships. Benigno, whose name implies good intentions, comes off as an ideal lover if you don't like drama. In a crazy way, he and Alicia are lucky. But Benigno has his issues as well, it turns out, and isn't quite as harmless as we thought. The movie quickly brings us out of the suspended fantasy world in which we were amused by the conceit of Benigno's devotion to Alicia with a page stolen from the great romantic ironist Heinrich von Kleist's 1810 novella The Marquise of O. Harmless Benigno harms Alicia, though to her ultimate benefit. Almodóvar doesn't switch gears in an abrupt manner or with didactic intent; he just subtly reminds us that movies are movies and what we're seeing isn't (though of course it is). There's no way around the mess in human relationships; our drives don't permit it.

Talk to Her is a superbly crafted movie, both more particular and more elliptical in its storytelling than almost all American dramas. It makes something like The Hours, or worse, Far from Heaven, look very clodhopping indeed. The way those movies exemplify their themes, they're like used textbooks covered with highlighter. Almodóvar's integration of dance and music (including a haunting live performance by the Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso of the song Cucurrucucú paloma) and design and movies has become extremely fluent since he burst on the international scene with his bad-boy lunacies in the '80s. But I have to say, it's the naughty poofter who made What Have I Done to Deserve This?, Matador (with Antonio Banderas as the pathetic, immature rapist), Law of Desire, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown that many of us fell in love with. Those explosive comedies were so distinctive because they seemed to place no limit on Almodóvar's access to his subconscious and yet they weren't interior, hushed, private. He gave parties in his head and everybody came. But his style was so marked that he had a legitimate fear of imitating himself and so struck out in other directions. A decade before Todd Haynes tried to put some dramatic fiber into a Douglas Sirk movie in Far from Heaven, Almodóvar tried it. He hasn't become earnest, going for settled prestigious "big" subjects in the manner of American entertainers like Steven Spielberg and Jonathan Demme (and George Stevens before them) who decide it's time to win some awards. But he does lay out his themes in a slightly too-skillful manner.

Talk to Her does have some very funny-irreverent moments--in addition to that wild silent movie, which echoes the heterosexual bad boy Bertrand Blier's 1976 sci-fi sex war comedy Calmos, there's a little discussion about whom missionaries in Africa rape nowadays--but altogether it's a very placid, controlled movie about the inevitability of emotional torment in relationships. Even a stunning overhead shot of the sleek back of a charging bull is a thing of beauty for our contemplation. Is it because the characters aren't gay? Maybe aesthetic detachment would come less easily to Almodóvar if he were making a movie about drives he shares. (And between Benigno's sexual immaturity, the dominant mothers, the reversion to the womb fantasy, Almodóvar by implication invokes many of the psychiatric tropes about homosexuality.) All the same, it's easy to recommend Talk to Her but I hope it would lead people back to Almodóvar's early work to see what he was like when he was less constrained by his own skill as a moviemaker.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"Live as you will have wished to have lived when you are dying."
~ Christian Furchtegott Gellert

Song of the Day:
Color Me Badd, "All 4 Love"

Happy Birthday:
Sean Astin
George Harrison
Zeppo Marx
Sally Jessy Raphael
Pierre Auguste Renoir

Monday, February 24, 2003

From the Hotline's "Last Call" today:

SHOT...: "More than 186,000 people have signed the Mirror's anti-war petition" -- London Daily Mirror Web site (2/24).

...CHASER: "More than 390,000 people wrote 'Jedi' on their 2001 census form" -- Reuters report on Star Wars fans and the British census (2/13).
Richard Posner, who clerked for Justice William Brennan, had the occasion to observe Justice William O. Douglas up close and personal. At the time, Posner thought Douglas was "the most charismatic judge (well, the only charismatic judge) on the Court," but it was a bad sort of charisma -- Douglas was so sadistic his own clerks referred to him behind his back as "shithead." Posner has a fun review in The New Republic of a new biography of Douglas; you can tell he got a big kick out of the "gamy bits" in the book:

Little did I know that this elderly gentleman (he was sixty-four when I was a law clerk) was having sex with his soon-to-be third wife in his Supreme Court office, that he was being stalked by his justifiably suspicious soon-to-be ex-wife, and that on one occasion he had to hide the wife-to-be in his closet in order to prevent the current wife from discovering her.
Posner describes Douglas as "[r]ude, ice-cold, hot-tempered, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed, and devoured by ambition," but he notes that "[o]ne can be a bad person and a good judge, just as one can be a good person and a bad judge."
The Captain is back, and posting up a storm on Bruce Springsteen, misspelled celebrity porn, and more.
Saturday Night Live kicked off this weekend's show with a Hardball parody:

"Chris Matthews": "In the last week, millions of Americans have gathered to protest the impending war with Iraq. Listen, protesters, I've got news for you. Bush is ignoring France, Germany, China and Russia -- He's definitely not going to listen to some white kid with dreadlocks banging on his frat buddy's bongo drums ... Can anything stop this red, white and blue freight train, or is Baghdad about to have more craters than Edward James Almos' face?"
"Matthews" to French Foreign Minister "Dominique De Villepin": "Inspector Clouseau, your thoughts?"
"De Villepin": "Chris, France does not oppose this war because we are pro-Iraq. We oppose it because we are anti-America. I mean, let's face it, you guys are ridiculous. You are loud, greedy, bloodthirsty, boorish. You're a bunch of fat, oil-guzzling ham faces."
"Matthews": "That's big talk from a country whose only contributions to world culture in the last 50 years are Gerard Depardieu and that horny skunk."
Sorry I missed it.
George Will says that in Europe today, anti-Americanism is the new anti-Semitism:

From medieval times until 1945, Jews often were considered the embodiment of sinister forces, the focus of discontents, the all-purpose explanation of disappointments. Now America is all those things.... The demonstrators simultaneously express respect for the United Nations' resolutions and loathing for America, the only nation that can enforce the resolutions. This moral infantilism -- willing an end while opposing the only means to that end -- reveals that the demonstrators believe the means are more objectionable than the end is desirable.
He also makes the point that all this talk about anti-Semitism being the socialism of fools is "confusing, because socialism is the socialism of fools."
Howard Bashman notes that today is the 200th anniversary of Marbury v. Madison.
Tim Schnabel has a report on his weekend at the Federalist Society's annual national student symposium, including Judge Kozinski singing a parody of "Strangers in the Night."
Quote of the Day:
"I'm a man more dined against than dining."
~ Maurice Bowra

Song of the Day:
R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts"

Happy Birthday:
Barry Bostwick
Alex Gordon
Winslow Homer
Alain Prost

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Punditwatch is up, and he's tough on the anti-war celebrities who were all over the political shows this morning:

When the questioning gets tough, "peace" advocates change the subject. Someone else in the world is as bad as Saddam, a war will cost too much, or a war will spawn new terrorist attacks.
He also reports that pundits seemed to have a renewed enthusiasm for Gephardt's candidacy.
In honor of one of the birthday boys, here's a site that posts the diaries of Samuel Pepys in blog form, one entry per day.
Quote of the Day:
"Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash."
~ Winston Churchill

Song of the Day:
The Spice Girls, "2 Become 1"

Happy Birthday:
W.E.B. Du Bois
Peter Fonda
Samuel Pepys
Meyer Rothschild

Saturday, February 22, 2003

A snow-sculpture of a phallus in Harvard Yard was smashed soon after its, er... erection last week.

Here, one of the penis-bashers explains why she did it:

It was perfectly within my rights to take down this object which was incredibly offensive to me. As a student of Harvard University, neither I, nor any other woman, should have to see this obscene and grossly inappropriate thing on my way to class. No one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent.
"Oh, please," says Andrew Sullivan. "Is the Washington Monument safe?"
This article describing a visit to IKEA headquarters in Sweden reminded me of one of my few provincial-American beefs about Europe. One of IKEA's designers tells the author that while most of IKEA's products are uniform worldwide, "Americans do get bigger couches, bigger glasses, and softer beds."

Okay, so we Americans are big softies and like comfy sofas. But what's wrong with drinking a lot of fluids? Or, more to the point, why do Europeans drink so little, especially with meals? When I was a student in England, the dining hall had these little shot-glass-like cups for water with dinner that we refilled from pitchers on the tables, and the Americans were always fighting each other for the last drops of water halfway through the meal. Ice is also hard to come by.

Someone once explained to me that Europeans drink less with meals because they drink between meals. Maybe, but I still doubt they consume as the same amount of fluids as your typical American. Even their canned and bottled drinks generally come in slightly smaller sizes than in America. And I drink a lot between meals, too -- but I still like a large, cold beverage with my food.

So, what's the deal? Do they drink less because they eat less? Is it because they drink more beer and wine? Is it just a matter of what they're used to? Is either way healthier? I wish someone would explain this to me. In the meantime, I'm going to continue to keep my water and Diet Dr. Pepper consumption at kidney-overdrive levels -- and pack a nice big water bottle the next time I go to Europe.
The WP has this review of what it calls "the worst novel ever published in the English language." The plot -- remember, it's a novel -- centers around the Bush tax cut and a secret giant parade honoring the wealthiest people in America, who march in order of their net worth.
Howard Mortman is pro-SUV following last week's big snowstorm:

The New York Daily News noted this sign at a weekend anti-war rally: "If war is inevitable, start drafting SUV drivers now." Perhaps. But first, encourage them to keep volunteering to save lives when it snows.
Link via InstaPundit.
Quote of the Day:
"The dark is light enough."
~ Christopher Fry

Song of the Day:
Soul 4 Real, "Candy Rain"

Happy Birthday:
Frederic Chopin
Julius Erving
Ted Kennedy
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Arthur Schopenhauer
George Washington

Friday, February 21, 2003

Movie Review

David Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard on 6 April 2002 that much of the European reaction to the American response to September 11 "has been straight out of Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American," and went on to paraphrase European criticism of the U.S.: "They will go marching off as they always do, naively confident of themselves, yet inevitably unaware of the harm they shall do." The reference is to Greene's Alden Pyle, an American government secret operative in Vietnam whose support for a political leader who commits a terrorist bombing causes Thomas Fowler, an apolitical British journalist, to conspire in Pyle's murder by Communists in order to prevent Pyle from innocently causing more harm. And Phillip Noyce's current movie version, starring Michael Caine as Fowler and Brendan Fraser as Pyle, has been reviewed in this country as prophetic of the inevitable disaster of the American involvement in Vietnam. The novel was criticized in America upon its publication in 1955 for being anti-American, but a little digging into Greene's biography raises the surprisingly slippery question to what degree and in what way Greene intended this condemnation of American foreign activity.

Part I: Culture

To begin with the most obvious anti-American element: the word "quiet" in the title should be italicized because the point is that the American Pyle isn't your typical, brash, noisy, moronic American. The son of a professor, Harvard-educated, and intensely idealistic about his undercover work to set up an indigenous Third Force to battle both the fading French colonialists and the Communist Vietminh, he's nevertheless so inexperienced he's more dangerous than his stupid, obnoxious countrymen. (Fowler thinks of him: "[Y]ou can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.") Pyle is as good as this country can produce and yet it comes across as a form of redemptive political engagement for Fowler to conspire in his murder.

Fowler's motive is mixed, to be sure, grounded in Pyle's forthright, gallant competition for Fowler's teenaged Vietnamese mistress Phuong. Fowler is married to a Catholic woman who won't give him a divorce, whereas Pyle wants to do the honorable thing by Phuong. But that doesn't make the anti-Americanism an inaccurate statement of Greene's feelings, it just gives its voicing a personal motive in the story. What Fowler says about Americans feels grounded in Old World snobbery, especially against crusading Americans like Henry Luce whose Life magazine sponsored Greene's first trip to Vietnam. Greene gives Fowler, his alter ego as detached-but-aroused journalist in Indochina, swipes at American culture of the kind that Europeans often take to be devastating: we have air-conditioned lavatories; women's lunch clubs that play Canasta; grocery stores where the celery comes wrapped in cellophane. Fowler refers to our "sterilised world," so different from the real world of "rumpled sheets and the sweat of sex," and wonders if American women take deodorants to bed with them. Even the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French, is blamed on us--it may not be our fault that it's "ill-designed" but it is we who have rendered it "meaningless."

Nowadays this level of critique can be summed up in one word--"McDonald's"--or even the initial "Mc." And though Greene makes Fowler self-conscious enough to be aware that sexual rivalry with Pyle had made him a "bore" on the subject of America, that just means he's talking about it more than his auditors care to hear, not that he's wrong. After all, Greene called his American Pyle for the connotation with hemorrhoids--Americans give Greene a pain in the ass. Hearing about the awfulness of American culture from an English screenwriter of this era is especially odd seeing as so many of the interesting English movies, of all genres--The Stars Look Down, Odd Man Out, Outcast of the Islands, The Man in the White Suit, The Belles of St. Trinians, Room at the Top, I'm All Right, Jack, Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The L-Shaped Room--were peeling back the aristo-colonial-high-literary veneer of British movies to expose the full range of their dysfunctional society.

I suppose it's the price Americans pay for having come from behind, for offering opportunities to a world of immigrants and having developed unprecedented general wealth, not to mention having invented an internationally triumphant popular culture. And it's not as if there's no connection between American materialism and what we stand for politically. The protections of property are not merely coincident with American freedom; as Milton Friedman has pointed out, one makes the other possible. The promise of rewards to ingenuity and freedom of thought, speech, and enterprise go hand in hand, and the more that opportunity is evenly distributed the more social value is created overall. Usually social value takes the form that ordinary people, not cultural mavens, want. What can you do? They want it. It's because all and sundry have been able to come here and prosper under such protections, as they could not in their homelands, that we have our great, big, expanding-but-stable, tacky-comfortable middle class. Why do you never hear of people risking their lives at sea in overcrowded boats to get into Vietnam or Cuba? (Isn't it also fair to wonder why there are so many Europeans in American graduate school programs?) It isn't that there aren't plenty of ludicrous aspects of American culture. What's irritating is the smug assumption that all Americans are blind to them, and that those aspects are indicative of a bigger American bullying soullessness--we're not just a bunch of plastic soldiers, but soldiers in the cause of plastic.

The question of snobbery about American culture is especially relevant here because Greene was not only a popular screenwriter but an interesting movie critic, and a certain amount of high-browism can improve anyone's view of movies. It can discipline readers' minds to have a critic put pop artists on a continuum with literary and visual artists. At the movies, the lights go down and larger-than-life beauties fill the screen and act with an abandon and a remoteness from consequences that's utterly seductive. We're susceptible to this fantasy world in highly erotic, personal ways; almost all sex and violence in movies are inescapably pornographic at some level. That's fine, as far as it goes, but you want a movie critic who instinctively gets the appeal of pop and yet has a resistant mind. In Greene's 1939 novel The Confidential Agent, an agent for the Spanish Republican government takes a British industrialist's daughter to a movie theater to see a musical, which Greene describes in this passage:

They sat for nearly three hours in a kind of palace—gold-winged figures, deep carpets, and an endless supply of refreshments carried round by girls got up to kill: these places had been less luxurious when he was last in London. It was a musical play full of curious sacrifice and suffering: a starving producer and a blonde girl who had made good. She had her name up in neon lights on Piccadilly, but she flung up her part and came back to Broadway to save him. She put up the money—secretly—for a new production and the glamour of her name gave it success. It was a revue all written in no time and the cast was packed with starving talent. Everybody made a lot of money; everybody's name went up in neon lights—the producer's too: the girl's of course, was there from the first. There was a lot of suffering—gelatine tears pouring down the big blonde features—and a lot of happiness. It was curious and pathetic; everybody behaved nobly and made a lot of money. It was as if some code of faith and morality had been lost for centuries, and the world was trying to reconstruct it from the unreliable evidence of folk memories and subconscious desires—and perhaps some hieroglyphics upon stone.
Greene sets down the intelligent critic's double feeling of awe and disdain for mass entertainment as exquisitely as anyone ever has. (I think he was wrong descriptively in writing that Shirley Temple coqueted with "dimpled depravity" to appeal to "middle-aged men and clergymen," in an infamous review over which he lost a libel suit--if any star ever pointed up the American audience's taste for amateurishness, it was Temple--but I still understand his desire to defile what she represents.)

But it's one thing to let your disdain for mass entertainment push you to write better than average screenplays, and another to write popular fiction, as Greene did, and think that you're accomplishing more. When G.L. Arnold reviewed The Quiet American in the January 1956 issue of the British periodical Twentieth Century, he wrote that Fowler

exists only by virtue of his descent from a long line of 'tough' characters in modern American fiction…. Put [him] down in Hollywood, and you have the ideal part for Humphrey Bogart, down to the cynical wisecracks about women and the verbal fencing with the police. The final joke then is on Mr. Greene, for if the Americanization of the English novel has reached the point where even a Yankee-hating character like Fowler can only be presented in terms of the hard-boiled school of American fiction, the literary war has really been won by the Americans, however much this result may be concealed by Greene-Fowler's sarcastic comments on their manners, morals and ideals.
To get one central issue out of the way: Greene is almost always referred to as a Catholic novelist, and given credit for depicting minds struggling with evil--not just countering its activities in the outside world but, more importantly, writhing with it internally. Fowler, though not a Catholic, is the tormented character in The Quiet American, sensitive to the evil Pyle represents while still aware of his own unsavory motives in wanting to kill Pyle to keep Phuong, and also in what's unsavory about keeping her. Some of Fowler's ruminations are succulently morbid. This also means that Fowler is the only developed novelistic character in the story; Pyle and Phuong are both political-allegorical types. (And anyone who wants to give Greene credit for political insight should read the colonialist-tourist generalizations about the passive Phuong again: "To take an Annamite to bed with you is like taking a bird: they twitter and sing on your pillow." The movie alters this as much as it can by making her more proactive sexually.)

You want to keep in mind that Greene converted to Catholicism as an adult, in part to get his first wife to marry him. At times, then, it can seem perverse for an adult convert to make a literary reputation out of being a bad Catholic, but then you can also say that conversion was a way of bringing his fascination with evil into recognized, solid confines. As for the literary results, Orwell wrote of Greene's 1948 novel The Heart of the Matter that Greene "appears to share the idea, which has been floating around ever since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingué in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class night club, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only, since the others, the non-Catholics, are too ignorant to be held guilty, like the beasts that perish."

Considering its derivation from pop fiction and movies, Greene's writing is better than it needed to be. Though it may be due only to the cosmopolitan glamor of a cultivated disillusionment, good Greene is more piquant than mediocre Hemingway. But The Quiet American is not Greene at his best. Fowler's weirdly passive torment is well done, for what it is, but the story itself is melodrama. It's ironic melodrama in the sense that the courtly, idealistic American is the villain and the opium-smoking, lying-and-cheating man who kills a friend in part so that he may get his girlfriend back is the unlikely hero, saved from political indifference by his vices, but melodrama nonetheless. (It is also, as Greene biographer Michael Shelden shows, a recycling of Greene's early novel Rumour at Nightfall, which he had suppressed, and in part a rehash of his screenplay for The Third Man, but even if it were brand-spanking new the irony would be tinny.)

Noyce's movie is clumsy in a way Greene never would be--for instance, showing Pyle obstructing medical relief for a dying man in order to get a photograph of his agony that he may use as propaganda. (The photographs that appeared in Life that Greene "reproduces" in the text were taken by an independent Vietnamese photographer.) But the movie just points up the basic melodramatic structure. If The Quiet American were not in essence a trashy suspense story then Greene could have focused on Fowler's awareness of Pyle's ingenuously composite personality and dispensed with the murder and detection. Think how much Henry James, Greene's "model of excellence" according to Shelden, got out of the dawning perception of corruption in The Ambassadors simply by having Chad and Madame de Vionnet boat into Lambert Strether's idyllic landscape.

The question is, then, in light of the fact that the book is conventional entertainment, however high-grade, and putting aside the anti-Americanism that's attributable to snobbery, how seriously do we take the political implications of the American as terrorist?

Part II: Politics

In his review of the book in the May 1956 issue of Commentary, Philip Rahv seconded Arnold's perception that the book is essentially detective fiction, and Noyce's movie makes this even clearer, with a closeup of the telltale dogpaw print in cement, etc. Consequently, Rahv didn't think it was worthwhile to get worked up about the political posturing in the book. Diana Trilling responded to Rahv's review in the July 1956 issue by calling the book an example of the kind of neutralism in world affairs that often masked pro-Communism. Rahv answered that it was only a book, and that the opinions of Fowler, the first-person narrator, couldn't be directly attributed to Greene. But if, like Rahv, you think the book is second-rate as a literary matter, then how are you to understand the political payload, which is delivered all the more cleanly?

Greene's actions and statements, on the surface, certainly bore Trilling out. It may seem unfair to judge a book by external events, but in 1948 George Orwell characterized Greene as "a mild Left with faint CP leanings," and went on, "If you look at books like A Gun for Sale, England Made Me, The Confidential Agent and others, you will see that there is the usual left-wing scenery. The bad men are millionaires, armaments manufacturers etc and the good man is sometimes a Communist…. According to Rayner Heppenstall, Greene somewhat reluctantly supported Franco during the Spanish civil war, but The Confidential Agent is written from the other point of view." (Noyce's movie certainly invites us to interpret the story in terms of events outside it, by tacking on a series of news stories under Fowler's byline about America in Vietnam in the '60s, and movie critics have obligingly hailed Greene for his prescience.) Greene spent the rest of his public career bolstering the view that he was a sincere leftist: by taking a tour conducted by East German guards of the freshly-erected Berlin Wall after which he, as Shelden puts it, "criticised the materialistic people who went over the wall simply for the freedom of being able to buy more consumer goods"; by having a well-publicized private chat with Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez in 1983; by concluding a 1987 speech in Moscow with the sentiment, "I even have a dream, Mr. General Secretary, that perhaps one day before I die, I shall know that there is an Ambassador of the Soviet Union giving good advice at the Vatican"; and perhaps most infamously by announcing in his 4 September 1967 letter to The Times (London), "If I had to choose between life in the Soviet Union and life in the United States I would certainly choose the Soviet Union." (As a matter of record, he lived in neither the USSR or the US, but preferred Anacapri in Granada, Antibes in Provence, and later Vevey.)

But before getting too worked up, it's necessary to point out that Shelden, writing after Greene's death and with the benefit of a 1993 briefing by the British Cabinet Office about Greene's work for the Secret Intelligence Service ("SIS"), suggests that Greene may well have been a double agent in his capacity as the public radical, using his anti-American works and statements to gain access to Communist countries for intelligence purposes. (His friend Evelyn Waugh wrote in a 5 September 1960 letter, "He is a great one for practical jokes. I think also he is secret agent on our side and all his buttering up of the Russians is 'cover'.") Everyone knows that Greene worked for the SIS during World War II; Shelden presents evidence that he worked for it until the 1980s and that his trips to Vietnam were paid for in part by the SIS. (Remember, however, that his turnaround on the question of Spain occurred by 1939, before he went to work for the SIS.)

It gets more confusing. Shelden's description of Greene's presence in Prague during the revolution of 1948, which Greene dishonestly claimed came about by chance, makes Greene sound less like Fowler and more like Pyle using his health relief mission for a cover: "He could pretend to be a harmless author, not a spy, and could easily be forgiven for wandering the streets in search of local colour or of some curious literary connection which only he could appreciate. And there were publishers who wanted to see him, writers who wanted to discuss their works with him, admiring Catholics who wanted him to sign books. With so many reasonable excuses available, he could go almost anywhere and talk his way out of a tight spot." Greene doesn't come off as much more successful than Pyle, either, and far less idealistic, though he managed not to get himself killed over a girl. The overall assessment of his spying work is that he was "amateurish but useful," a "dilettante," and certainly interested in having his expenses paid after being flown all over the world. As another SIS officer stated: "Despite the money he makes out of making the great British public worry about its soul, he is extremely mercenary."

This raises the possibility that Greene had reason to identify to some degree with both Fowler and Pyle, and yet reception of the book and of Noyce's movie have not reflected that. For instance, the book was very well reviewed in Pravda, and the website dealmemo.com reports of the making of the movie, "The script has clearly struck the right note with the communist authorities in Vietnam, who gave approval [for location filming] on the grounds that 'it condemns the manoeuvres of hostile forces and foreign aggressors against the Vietnamese people'." It seems certain that Greene at the very least enjoyed the mystery and gamesmanship of his life undercover in plain sight.

His usefulness as a spy is another question. How much intelligence could he gather from a chat with a dictator? And could it possibly offset the prestige lent to them and their regimes by his books and public statements? Did he enjoy cloak-and-daggering in the world's hot spots, with occasional access to kahunas, so much that having his name become associated with shameless political pandering was worth it? Oddly, this can't have much effect on our interpretation of The Quiet American: if Greene were working as a double agent as its author that would only confirm his intention to make it pro-Communist if it were to work effectively as bait. In any case, the question of his intelligence activities speaks only to his personal motives; the political meaning of the book is something apart.

In the melodrama of The Quiet American Pyle is the villain because he's complicit in the death of civilian non-combatants, including a child, as a result of a terrorist bombing by the Third Force that he supports. Fowler sneers at the concept of finding a nationalist Third Force, though Jeff McMurdo in the online Front Page Magazine has shown that there was an indigenous ideological basis for it much earlier in the century. One of the things that makes the Americans especially bad in this instance in the book is that they warned other Americans to stay out of the area of the bombing. Greene's sympathetic, painstaking biographer Norman Sherry has shown that General Thé could easily have perpetrated the bombing without American help, and further that the charge that Americans were forewarned is untrue. (The latter is on a par with the claim that Jews knew not to show up for work in the World Trade Center buildings on September 11.) In the context of his handling of this evidence, it's interesting to know that when Greene covered a British campaign against Communist rebels in Malaya in 1950, according to Shelden, he made "no attempt to question the savage tactics of the British troops." Greene's article in Life includes a photo of a dead rebel being carried over a pole like game.

But is this political choice to rest on the swapping of atrocity photos? On this basis you couldn't back the American alliance with the Soviet Union during the Second World War, not after the purges, the assassination of Trotsky, the murder in Washington, D.C. of Walter Krivitsky, the abduction from Manhattan of Juliet Stuart Poyntz, the massacre in the Katyn Forest.

And if we're going to look at The Quiet American with our vision improved by hindsight, how on earth would a terrorist bombing send us into the arms of the Vietnamese Communists? The year the book was published Ho Chi Minh instituted radical land reforms in the north, hauling land owners before "people's tribunals" and executing or sending thousands to forced labor camps. In Casualties of War, an exposé of the kidnap-rape-murder of a Vietnamese girl by American soldiers and so hardly a patriotic whitewash, New Yorker journalist Daniel Lang wrote that the Vietnamese "constantly reported rapes and kidnappings by the Vietcong; in fact, the Vietcong committed these crimes so indiscriminately that the victims were sometimes their own sympathizers." And let's not forget the reeducation camps. At this point you shouldn't have to say it, but whatever you can tot up against the American involvement in Vietnam, and there's plenty, we were not on the wrong side of the conflict.

Supposedly in America we don't believe that the end justifies the means. But ends and means can be evaluated separately. The critique of how America conducts foreign policy is not the objectionable form of anti-Americanism here, as Diana Trilling wrote in 1956: "Europeans, no less than Americans, have the entire right, even the duty, honestly and openly to challenge our country on the many manifest errors in its activities abroad.…" But she properly won't give in to the "reluctance, not only sharply to distinguish between fair and unfair attack upon America, but also to confront and combat whatever bad political intention may inform the attack." It isn't Greene's intention in writing The Quiet American that is subject to attack--whether that intention was duplicitous, frivolous, or deluded--but the conclusion it seems inevitable to draw from the work itself.

So the melodrama in The Quiet American answers only half the question. If you think it means you can't support the US involvement that's one half. But I don't see how this can push you toward the Communists, who everywhere oppress their own citizens with barbarous police state enforcement. If you put the melodrama Greene concocted around the murky bombing aside, you have the fundamental political choice of the 20th century. The Americans are at worst naive, misguided. Anyone who supports the Communists as the lesser evil in Vietnam, or elsewhere, should be made to acknowledge that they're signing off on the other half of the question as well.

In his 1987 memoirs Out of Step, Sidney Hook, the greatest American polemicist of the anti-Communist left, nailed the pro-Communist rhetorical maneuver of assessing the Soviet Union in terms of its ideals and the United States in terms of its reality. But the half-argument that has been taken to be the message of The Quiet American goes farther. It reminds me of the statements of Theodore Hall, the youngest of the physicists who gave nuclear weapon secrets to the Soviets. Hall justified himself in this way: "Maybe the course of history, if unchanged, could have led to atomic war in the past 50 years--for example the bomb might have been dropped on China in 1949 or the early 1950s. Well, if I helped to prevent that, I accept the charge." By all rights, he should at the same time have to accept responsibility for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and China's domination of East Asia, not to mention the havoc they wrought on their own populations, which Communist nuclear capability made possible. (See Ronald Radosh's 20 October 1997 Wall Street Journal review of Bombshell, the book in which Hall's comments appear, for a principled reaction.) People who are opposed to the American involvement in Vietnam should figure out what that means they're for. If not the Communists, then what? Though the characters in the book The Quiet American are meant to be types, there's no satisfactory political discussion. In their dialogue in the watch tower Fowler is given all the snappy comebacks, which Pyle can't answer, though they are answerable. Maybe it doesn't matter if, like Greene, you see the Vietnamese as eternal peasants who every now and then produce an irresistible erotic pet.

To be fair to the movie's fans, they have praised it mostly for Michael Caine's performance. He is a great actor, but the material isn't very well shaped for him to get at what's interesting about the character. Fowler is the first-person narrator of the book and so most of his best material is internal monologue. That's a downside to the book's resemblance to detective fiction that doesn't serve the movie very well. The movie can turn only so much of it into voice-over or dialogue; the rest we have to guess at. You can admire the way Caine can change complexion with self-loathing and be amazed how, by the end of the movie, his eyeballs look as if they've been hardboiled in a cauldron and then reinserted in the sockets. But the movie feels more like an illustration of the complexly simplistic book than a dramatization. The question is an illustration of what? dramatization of what? Greene was such a murky character and covered his tracks so well we may never know what he intended but we can hear plainly enough what he said. I can't let it go without objecting.
Chronicle columnist Faran Krentcil examines a growing trend at Duke University: the Low Maintenance Woman.

"Seriously," sighs the girl, pulling on her Pumas. "The BC walkway is not a runway, and my art history class is hardly Vogue headquarters. But every time I walk into East Duke, these girls stare like I'm another species.... Sometimes I let those stupid girls with their stupid handbags get to me, and it actually sucks."
I considered myself a moderate in the Maintenance department when I was at Duke, but everything's relative, and there's no denying that Duke females tend toward fashion-plateness. Some people blame the school's southern location; I think it's more because the student body is full of people who went to fancy prep schools but didn't get into Harvard and thus are both wealthy and dreadfully insecure.

The worst part of the year was the spring, when one had to haul out the skimpy sundresses and clunky sandals or risk social humiliation.

It's been refreshing to find myself at Yale, where a wholesome crunchiness prevails among the undergrad females and we law school women just dress like... ourselves. I'm glad more Duke women are feeling free to do that.
Virginia Hefferman examines "the love affair between TV viewers and the editing staff of The Bachelorette." She thinks the editors were trying all along to trick us:

Some will say that Trista did sleep with the stuffed Shamu that Ryan had given her, fit awkwardly into Charlie's arms, and seemed to be having sex, often, with Ryan. But the clearest case to be made for why Trista would choose Ryan was that the show had gone so far out of its way to make it seem as if she wouldn't.
I agree; you could tell the show was heavily edited. But you have to wonder how they massaged things like the visits with Trista's family. Charlie's seemed to go so much better:

Both Trista's mother and her stepmother expressed, right off, a giddily erotic preference for Charlie. Trista's father, too, liked Charlie's bluff nature and sentimental fondness for the stock market. Ryan's florid soulfulness, by contrast, freaked everybody out.... Then, the father was achingly evasive when Ryan asked him for permission to marry his daughter.... On Wednesday night, Ryan spoke softly about how nervous he was. He seemed hopeless, desperate. Charlie, bronzed and wetly coiffed, showboated: "Trista has her mind made up on who she's going to choose, and I truly in my heart believe that it is myself."
Kate's favorite line! Meanwhile, Salon wonders if there's any oxygen reaching Ryan's brain.

Okay, there will be no more posting from me about The Bachelorette.
Slate's Marc Fisher says liberals already have an answer to Rush Limbaugh & Co. It's Howard Stern and the other shock jocks:

No, Stern and Don Geronimo and Tom Leykis have no interest whatsoever in having Dick Gephardt on the show, at least not unless he's going to remove his pants. And no, they would say, there's no politics on their shows.... But... their daily diet of searingly intimate conversation with callers hits many of those hot-button issues, and they do it almost unfailingly from a left-libertarian perspective—they are classic social liberals.
Fisher is responding to those wealthy Chicagoans and their $10 million donation to start up a liberal radio operation.

Oh well, he says, "It's always fun to watch millionaires flush their riches away."
The Atlantic reports on "Sex Week at Yale." I hadn't even heard of this.
Here's ex-Senator and current presidential candidate Carol Mosley-Braun this week, in response to a question on C-SPAN:

I don't remember what I majored in in college ... I hate to guess, I'm gonna guess it was political science, but I'm not sure, it might have been history. I'll check, I hadn't thought of that one.
Maybe college was just too recent for me, but I can't imagine forgetting what my major was.
Quote of the Day:
"They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."
~ Francis Bacon

Song of the Day:
Mono, "Life in Mono"

Happy Birthday:
W.H. Auden
Erma Bombeck
John Henry Newman

Thursday, February 20, 2003

It seems the recent military recruiting controversy at YLS is not the first time the on-campus interview program has come under fire.

In 1997, in First Things, Richard John Neuhaus criticized YLS's decision to exclude the Christian Legal Society from on-campus recruiting because CLS wanted to hire only Christian lawyers.

Here, Dean Kronman responds, with a rejoinder from Neuhaus. I think Kronman has the better of the argument, and he frames the issue quite nicely:

The difficulty in this case arises because the Law School’s on-campus interviewing process straddles the line between its internal life (which the School is free to arrange as it chooses) and the life of other organizations -- of the employers participating in the process -- whose governing norms the School has no power, or desire, to challenge.
The difference between that situation and the current one, of course, is that CLS couldn't use massive amounts of federal funding as a bargaining chip -- which is what the U.S. military is doing.

Neuhaus is coming to speak at YLS next week on what role -- if any -- religion should play in shaping law.
This article is the last straw. I officially want a cat.
I shared Kate's queasiness about The Bachelorette at first, but I ended up teary last night when Trista told Ryan that when she looks at him "I see smiles and laughter, I see babies and grandbabies, I see comfort and safety. I see me in a white dress and I see it with you." (Oh, my -- I'm misting up again just reading that.) She definitely made the right choice. (You go, girl!)

In fact, last night was very good all around.
Movie Quote of the Day:
"I'm not gay!"
"What was Streisand's eighth album?"
"Uh, 'Color Me Barbra.'"
"Stud!"
"Everyone knows that!"
"Everyone where? The Little Gay-bar on the Prairie?"
~ In and Out

Song of the Day:
Nirvana, "Heart-Shaped Box"

Happy Birthday:
Ansel Adams
Robert Altman
Charles Barkley
Kurt Cobain
Patty Hearst
Roger Penske
Sidney Poitier
Gloria Vanderbilt
The Bachelorette

Loved it. Well, I felt sick up until the very end. It was like watching a car wreck, in slow motion. It seemed, the whole way, that Trista would pick Charlie. I have, of course, been cheering for Ryan for several weeks now. It was just horrible, since it seemed like Ryan was walking right into certain heart break and it was so clear that he had fallen completely for Trista. I felt the worst when Charlie walked in on his way to his final meeting with Trista and he said that he was looking forward to falling in love with Trista and raising a family. Ryan was already in love. I did have a flash of hope, though, when Trista told Chris, the host, that she was looking forward to it all ending because she would have a chance finally to tell her chosen man everything she'd been unable to tell him for the few weeks. This was promising because Trista had been so reticent with Ryan and so forthcoming with Charlie.

Anyway. Yay.
We are adding Green Gourd to our blogroll. He's got some thoughtful sports posts, and as we know, without sports, there'd be no "next year." Seriously. As I've posted before, one of the reasons I love sports is the eternal hope (except when your team gets contracted, I suppose).
Our friends over at Jens n Frens posted something that even my own low brow self would not post.

Speaking of Jens and low brow, we got a google hit for "Jens Breasts." Nice. We have Steve and Dean Jens to thank for half of that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Urban snow removal. Deathly boring. (Sorry, inside joke)

Blogger's been down all day for me.
This article by Stanley K. Ridgley in National Review slams my alma mater for its University Writing Course, which Duke requires all freshmen to take.

Like every Duke grad of the past decade or so, I can testify to UWC's utter worthlessness. My own instructor -- a hapless first-year English grad student named Joe, if I recall correctly -- wasn't as bad as the radical Marxist types this piece depicts, but the class was a complete waste of time.

Ridgley blames the infamous Stanley Fish, then head of English at Duke, for "destroying the English Department with his dubious and expensive radical faculty hires and recruitment of substandard graduate students steeped in bizarre postmodernist theory."

By my freshman year, Fish had been forced out of English and was head of Duke Press. I worked for the editor of one of Duke's scientific journals, a very conservative and curmudgeonly man who loathed Fish and hated the fact that Fish was now technically his boss. The one time they were introduced, my boss called him "evil" and refused to shake his hand. Ah, the politics of academia.
Quote of the Day:
"In my experience, if you have to keep the lavatory door shut by extending your left leg, it's modern architecture."
~ Nancy Banks-Smith

Song of the Day:
Atlantic Star, "Masterpiece"

Happy Birthday:
Nicholas Copernicus
Carson McCullers
Smokey Robinson
Amy Tan

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Washington Post has a stunningly sensible editorial on the Estrada nomination:

The arguments against Mr. Estrada's confirmation range from the unpersuasive to the offensive. He lacks judicial experience, his critics say -- though only three current members of the court had been judges before their nominations. He is too young -- though he is about the same age as Judge Harry T. Edwards was when he was appointed and several years older than Kenneth W. Starr was when he was nominated. Mr. Estrada stonewalled the Judiciary Committee by refusing to answer questions -- though his answers were similar in nature to those of previous nominees, including many nominated by Democratic presidents. The administration refused to turn over his Justice Department memos -- though no reasonable Congress ought to be seeking such material, as a letter from all living former solicitors general attests. He is not a real Hispanic and, by the way, he was nominated only because he is Hispanic -- two arguments as repugnant as they are incoherent. Underlying it all is the fact that Democrats don't want to put a conservative on the court.
Exactly. The editorial is titled "Just Vote."
The Michigan Review held an "Affirmative Action Bake Sale" earlier this week to protest the University of Michigan's admissions policy. The Review charged $1 per bagel for students of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent but only 80 cents for African-American, Hispanic and Native American students.

There was also a counter-protest. Sounds like things are getting rather ugly up there.
From The Onion: "Pizza Hut Introduces New Meat Sympathizer's Pizza."
A picture of the Axis of Weasels (via Volokh).

Volokh also points us to the pi search page, which allows you to search for your name (or any word) in the digits of pi. Malcolm isn't there, but Lily is.
There's an interesting review of The Emporer of Scent by Chander Burr in the WP. The book is about the history of perfume and the mystery of how our sense of smell operates:

The dominant theory of how we smell is based on molecular shape. Molecules come floating into our nostrils, and receptors identify them based on their physical nature and our brain says, "Aha! Cinnamon." The problem, Burr writes, is that if shape is the explanation for smell, then smell does the impossible. To explain, he points to other processes.... The [digestive system] can recognize shapes instantly, but only a limited number of them. [The immune system] can recognize a limitless range of molecular shapes, but only after a period of time. Yet we can instantly smell something that we've never encountered before, something that our ancestors never knew, something for which evolution never prepared us. Smell is both instantaneous and limitless.
Check out the book here.
Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Tiger Woods

Greengourd has an excellent post about the costs and benefits of rooting for underdogs as opposed to favorites (or dynasties). Some thoughts on this forthcoming, but I've got to switch computers...

Green's got some great points, but I'd like to add one. I think that dynasties (as opposed to favorites) do present the potential for much more excitement if they pull off the win. Consider, for instance, Tiger's bid for the Grand Slam (that he did not get) or his bid for the Tiger Slam (that he did get). There are two reasons for this: (1) Dynasty does not always mean favorite. One can cheer for a dynasty even though that person or team is not favored to win. (2) There is an added element of excitement to a dynastic win. That excitement is similar to the excitement over record-breaking. We're not simply cheering for the "favorite," if indeed the dynastic team/player is the favorite, but for the possibility of seeing something extra, something superhuman. If Tiger is the favorite in the tournament, his win may not result in as much excitement as an underdog win. However, If Tiger is the favorite and he laps the field twice (like he did in the Masters in 1997), that is more than simply the favorite doing what he was favored to do. That is something special, something extra, something superhuman. And that is why I cheer for Tiger.
In the Chicago Tribune (reg. req'd), Leonard Pitts calls for some perspective:
I haven't hit the hardware store yet, but I imagine the scene -- especially in Washington and New York -- is not unlike that in Florida whenever a hurricane takes aim at the peninsula. Plywood sheets take on almost totemic importance and you'd knock down your own grandmother for the last package of D batteries.

It brings to mind memories of childhood in the nuclear age, when the Commies had The Bomb and we were terrified they would use it. If I recall correctly, it was on the last Friday of every month that we students in the Los Angeles Unified School District heard the air raid siren signaling the "drop drill." At the sound, you were supposed to fall to your knees under your desk, head down, hands clasped behind your neck.

This was supposed to protect you in the event of nuclear attack. Of course, the only benefit to be gained from crouching on your knees during a nuclear strike is that it leaves you in a better position to kiss your fanny goodbye.

. . .

History is a wheel that is constantly turning, always revolving through cycles of setback and advance, poverty and prosperity, war and peace. Nothing is forever. Ask the Romans.

We find ourselves delivered into jittery days, an anxious era where things we once took for granted are suddenly up for grabs. . . .

. . .

But we've been here before. Take it from a veteran of many drop drills. We've made our lives here before. Come safely through here before.
How true.

Now don't get me wrong, I think that this elevated awareness is an important thing. Panic, not necessary. Awareness, necessary. As my mother frequently argues, Americans have lived under the blanket of homeland peace for so long that we have become complacent. Those who continue to believe that these alerts are unnecessary--conjured up political scare tactics--live under a delusion. Most every other country in the world understands how unsafe the world truly is. By virtue of our relative geographical isolation, we have been spared that harsh reality. This doesn't mean we can't go on with our lives--I certainly am and I believe we should. Like Pitts, I try to look at the bigger picture. Not only is Pitts right that we have been here before, but America is still, in relative terms, quite safe. We don't need to have weekly air raid preparations like they do in many other countries. But, again, Pitts's call for perspective should not be a green light to keep our heads buried in the sand. The world is not a safe place. This is true. It is a truth that much of the world lives with every hour of every day. The lesson is neither duct tape and plastic sheeting, nor government war-mongering, but simply that Americans must understand this truth. We must internalize it.

Update: Dean Jens says, "If we let our awareness of reality become enervating, we're in real trouble, but if we allow it to open options for us because the ones we were previously willing to accept are off the table, it will help us mitigate the risks that we will never be able to eliminate."

Movie Recommendation

If you've never seen a '30s musical choreographed by the legendary Busby Berkeley, you can catch two of them tonight on TCM: Gold Diggers of 1933 and Gold Diggers of 1935. They're both about putting on a show, which is to say they're about nothing except getting from one insane dance number to another. Berkeley wasn't the kind of choreographer interested in the expressiveness of dancers alone or in pairs. He's at the opposite end of the spectrum from Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan, the choreographer with whom Astaire mapped out the Fred-and-Ginger routines, bringing the lady in only when the two men were done. During World War I, Berkeley served as a field artillery lieutenant and this was more important to his style of choreography than his theatrical heritage. His signature style is to arrange and move dancers in huge groups, militarily, architectonically. He would have them form shapes, a giant violin and bow, for instance, or, more peculiarly, two rollers pressing out a sheet of metal. (He's the dance director of the age of mechanical reproduction.) Or he would famously put the camera directly overhead and have the dancers perform kaleidoscopic movements. Sometimes the regimented tappers will come at the camera as if the point of a musical number were to stomp on the audience's skulls. These movies are backstage musicals, so his production numbers ostensibly take place on a stage--generally people don't just burst into song. But his numbers are often too big to take place on any stage. It isn't just that there are too many dancers and the sets are too extensive, or that it's hard to imagine how a theater audience could see the overhead shots, but he'll cut away to scenes taking place outside the theater. The jaw-dropping, sinister "Lullaby of Broadway" number from 1935, in which Manhattan Baby is danced to death by the chorus, is, to my mind, the furthest reach of Berkeley's kitschy, parade ground genius.

These movies are usually cited as examples of the Depression audience's desire for escapist entertainment, but that's right only up to a point. In Berkeley's '30s movies the dancers are always desperate for work, often literally hungry, and in Gold Diggers of 1933 there's even a tribute to the "forgotten man," the doughboy who fought for his country but by 1933 couldn't find work. (It's in the vein of the great pop lament "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," but as "dazzling" as it is sobering.) In addition, the rivalries among the chorus girls and pressures on the production team are in the same realistic vein as the musical theater scenes in Dreiser's Sister Carrie, even if the realization of them is cornier. These two Gold Diggers movies straddle the strict enforcement dating from 1 July 1934 of the self-imposed 1930 Production Code that shut down sexual frankness and innuendo in Hollywood movies. The first movie is racier, living up to the Gold Diggers title, and the second one is more screwball, featuring an eccentric foreign choreographer intersecting in a resort hotel with a domineering rich widow and her frisky children. (The second one also shows you what Titanic's Gloria Stuart looked like when she was Kate Winslet's age.) Taken together the movies are a weird mixture of daringness and coyness, and the musical numbers have to be seen to be believed. If your parents were in college in the '60s they probably took drugs and went to midnight showings of Busby Berkeley movies. But you can start watching these movies straight and end up feeling stoned.
Quote of the Day:
"The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally."
~ Saki

Song of the Day:
Aerosmith, "Pink"

Happy Birthday:
Helen Gurley Brown
Matt Dillon
Milos Forman
Toni Morrison
Yoko Ono
Charles Schwab
Andres Segovia
Cybill Shepherd
John Travolta
Vanna White
I've been cited in a federal appellate opinion! Well, a law review article I wrote was quoted in a federal appellate opinion. Exciting. But disconcerting. But exciting. Ah!

Monday, February 17, 2003

Movie Recommendation

If you're snowed in with your tv and looking for a movie, the commercial-free pick tonight would be Blake Edwards's original Pink Panther from 1964, showing on TCM. It's the first movie starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, and by far the best--the only one made with a reasonably sophisticated adult audience in mind. It's not the most Clouseau for your money, but that's because the movie has a large cast of thieves, including Capucine as Clouseau's adulterous wife, and an appetizing victim in Claudia Cardinale. Capucine is probably now the least well known of the '60s clothes-horse stars (Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, et al.). God, could she wear clothes, and as a bonus she's that rare beauty who isn't afraid of physical comedy. Plus, her cuckolding of Clouseau adds another, spikier dimension to his obliviousness. Cardinale never could act but sipping champagne on a tiger skin rug she gives you an idea of just about everything that youth and beauty with nothing else to recommend them can do for pop entertainment. There's also David Niven, one of the only movie stars capable of wearing a velvet smoking jacket and ascot without looking a total fool, in his semi-self-parodying phase, and the young Robert Wagner, whose looks, like Alain Delon's, were saved by a straightforward virility from too-prettiness. This means, of course, that the movie has an international cast, which usually indicates that the actors have been chosen for cross-marketability rather than how well they work for the script, but in this case Edwards reduces the jewel heist plot to buffoonery, so it doesn't really matter. The movie works by falling apart, which is why Sellers as Clouseau is able to dominate. (In addition to the fact that he has the only real talent among the actors.) It takes the suspense of a heist movie and turns it into comic tumult, which is so relaxing because you don't engage emotionally in the story. It elicits a different kind of amorality from the glamorous jewel thief pictures of the '30s in which you want the thief-hero to get away with the goods, or the semi-realistic heist pictures of the '50s in which you wince as fate lays its heavy hand on the thieves one by one; watching The Pink Panther you don't care how it turns out as long as the frivolous pleasure keeps coming. Cardinale's champagne goes straight to your head.
Today's WSJ offering from Peggy Noonan mentions an appropriate headline for the past week: "Michael Jackson Admits Plastic Surgery; France Unconvinced."

The storm appears to be at its peak outside. All my classes have been cancelled. I have freshly laundered flannel sheets. Time for a nap.
A review of Richard Dawkins's new book calls Dawkins an "Evangelical athiest."
Got up at 7:45 today to see if classes were cancelled. There was no notice on the YLS website. So I trudged to school in the snow, noticing that there were very few people out and about.

I got to class. Classroom dark and empty. No sign on the door.

Came downstairs to check e-mail. Message from professor, sent ten minutes before class was supposed to start, cancelling class and apologizing because he didn't know till this morning that "individual professors are the only ones who can cancel classes."

I don't know whose fault this is, but I am not amused.

Now I have to venture outdoors again, and risk becoming lost or disoriented.
I am in class, which strikes me as very very wrong in light of this from the National Weather Service:
SNOW WILL BECOME HEAVIER AS THE DAY PROGRESSES. OCCASIONAL BLIZZARD CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED AS WINDS WILL GUST BETWEEN 35 AND 40 MPH AT TIMES. THIS WILL PRODUCE WHITEOUT CONDITIONS WHICH WILL MAKE DRIVING EXTREMELY DANGEROUS IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE. TOTAL SNOWFALL AMOUNTS BY THE TIME THIS STORM HEADS OUT TO SEA LATE TONIGHT SHOULD RANGE FOR THE MOST PART BETWEEN 1 1/2 AND 2 FEET.

THOSE VENTURING OUTDOORS MAY BECOME LOST OR DISORIENTED SO PERSONS IN THE WARNING AREA ARE ADVISED TO STAY INDOORS.
At least the rest of my classes have been cancelled.
The Washington Post website has been almost entirely taken over by snowstorm-related coverage. It appears that I might be missing the biggest snowstorm in my hometown since 1922.

This article calls it "in a day of unending snow globe enchantment... [an] Ansel Adams-like tableaux of black and white, eerily silent, with groves of trees bowed earthward under a thick topping of meringue."

My parents are, I'm sure, happily snowed in on the farm. It'll be a while till the neighboring farmer comes to plow them out. Snowstorms are so much fun there; one of my best childhood memories of snow is of my grandfather having to rescue me from amidst a huge snow drift outside the farmhouse when I was about 10. He laughed and laughed.

We are waiting anxiously for things to get under way here in New Haven. So far we have seen nary a flake.

UPDATE, 1:00 AM: Kate reports that it has started snowing.
An article on duct tape in the NYT reveals that there is a grade of tape called "nuclear" for use in power plants.

Speaking of duct tape, it has happier uses.
Quote of the Day:
"The best there ever was. The best there ever will be."
~ Inscription on Michael Jordan statute outside the United Center

Song of the Day:
Sarah McLachlan & Jewel, "Song for a Winter's Night"

Happy Birthday:
Red Barber
Hal Holbrook
Michael Jordan
Florence King
Huey Newton

Sunday, February 16, 2003

On the much lighter side, Tiger Woods, who has returned to competitive play for the first time since his knee surgery in December 2002, is pouring it on in the last round of the Buick Invite. He is dominance personified. And, unlike people who hate to root for sports dynasties, I am cheering for Tiger to add yet another victory to his belt. Why can't we embrace the privilege of watching and experiencing greatness? Why must we always tear down? Why do we love to hate the best? In related news, Duke won last night.
Talked to my mother this morning; she reported that snow is falling thick and fast in Virginia (read the WP story here). The Kitchen Cabinet is hoping that southern Connecticut will be similarly scathed come tomorrow. No school! No school!

Nothing falling from the sky yet, though. I'm going out for a walk while I still can.
That Washingtonian piece skewering Maureen Dowd is finally online.
A professor at the U.S. Naval Academy has a piece in the Washington Post about his experience on the Academy's admissions board.

The Academy uses race as a criteria in its admissions decisions, and this leads to predictable controversy about "how black" or "how Hispanic" a candidate must be to qualify for preferential treatment. This professor felt like the people around him were talking in code: "When we say 'Hispanic,' do we really mean 'brown-colored and poorly educated'?"
Being in publishing myself, this move by leading scientific journals is quite interesting.
Punditwatch is up, with Tim Russert asking Condi Rice the question of the day: "What up with the French?"
A reader complains about my including Eva Braun on the Happy Birthday list several days ago. He asks, "Do you do the same for Stalin's mistress and others similarly situated?"

I'm sure most of our readers understand that The Kitchen Cabinet does not endorse the actions, viewpoints, or associations of everyone on the Happy Birthday list on any given day. "Happy Birthday" is just our way of telling you whose birthday it is. You really need not read any more into it than that.
Quote of the Day:
"This book fills a much-needed gap."
~ Moses Hadas

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "And So It Goes"

Happy Birthday:
Sonny Bono
LeVar Burton
George Kennan
John McEnroe

Saturday, February 15, 2003

A friend of ours has this charming way of expressing when she's had it up to here with something. She says she's "done" with it. "I'm so done with people who bash SUV-drivers!" she said the other day. "So DONE!" I like the way this phrase expresses exasperation and dismissal all at once. It says, "You have exhausted my patience with your foolishness; I'm just not taking you seriously any more."

I have lately been feeling so done with Yale Law School. I'm finding myself on the "wrong side" of the two biggest issues of the day -- war with Iraq and the threatened strike at Yale -- and holding my tongue in the face of all the banality and empty posturing is exhausting.

Here we have Professor Balkin accusing George W. Bush of "stubbornness, tunnel vision, narrowmindedness, over-aggressiveness, belligerence, and hubris." Oh, and he also stands for "greater and greater tax cuts for the rich." It's standard liberal-academic stuff: Bush isn't articulate and pensive like me; ergo he's narrow-minded and aggressive. He's a Republican, so the goal of his presidency is to screw the poor. Etc., etc.

It seems that the biggest reason for Balkin's opposition to the war is that he just doesn't like or trust Bush -- at least, he doesn't spend much time explaining why the Europeans are right and Bush is wrong. Okay, so maybe Bush is moron and the French are very sophisticated. That doesn't tell me a thing about whether it's in America's national interest to remove Saddam Hussein. Or is it belligerent and hubristic to use terms like "national interest?"

You'll probably hear a lot more about the strike at Yale on The Kitchen Cabinet in the next few weeks. If you care, you can get background from the Yale Daily News. Suffice it to say that the clerical and custodial unions are threatening a strike in March, and if this happens we will have to cross picket lines to enter the law school building. Several professors will attempt to show solidarity with the strikers by holding classes off-campus. Many of my classmates are vowing not to enter the building at any time during the strike.

The assumption around school tends to be that everybody wants to support the unions. I don't know much about the underlying reasons for the strike (nor, I hasten to add, does anyone else -- the pro-union position is merely reflexive in most cases), but what if I just want to go to class like a normal person? I am, after all, paying a rather large amount of money for the privilege. Furthermore, how does my presence or absence in the law school building help or hurt the union cause? As long as I'm not pitching in to help run the dining hall or bag up trash, isn't walking into the building a pretty neutral act?

But apparently there's no such thing as neutrality. One must take a position, however ill-informed and meaningless.

A few more months till I'm out of here for real, but I'm already feeling so done.