Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Randy Barnett has a way to shake up the judicial confirmations stand-off. He wants George W. Bush to threaten to use his recess-appointment power to put some judges on the bench (albeit temporarily) who Democrats will find even more objectionable than the Estradas and Owens:

President Bush could threaten to line judicial openings with committed conservative and libertarian recess appointees, people who are too old, too young, too smart, too conservative, or too burned by previous failed nominations to ever be considered for ordinary judicial appointments.... It would be like a judicial clerkship program for conservative and libertarian law professors that can continue as long as there is a Republican president.

If the Democrats don't think they like "stealth" candidates like Miguel Estrada, just wait until they experience the delights of judges Richard Epstein, Lillian Bevier, Bernard Siegan, Lino Gragia, and dozens more like them on the Courts of Appeals. Or how about Morris Arnold, Alex Kozinski, Richard Posner, Frank Easterbrook, Edith Jones, or even Robert Bork as recess appointments to the Supreme Court?
An interesting idea, but I don't think you end an impasse like this by raising the stakes yet another notch. As I heard a Court of Appeals judge say the other evening, what's needed now are statesmen who are willing to put the health of the federal judiciary above their own political interests. Unfortunately, statesmen are a dying breed.
Tomorrow is the Czech version of Valentine's Day:

"A woman who is not kissed on May 1 will dry up during the year," goes a Czech saying.

And so under cherry trees and with warm spring winds blowing, Czechs can be seen kissing on May 1 in the capital and the countryside.

According to tradition, lovers should embrace near a flowering tree, by preference a cherry tree.
Fortunately, there are plenty of flowering cherry trees here in New Haven...
Slate's Jack Shafer likes Keith Olbermann's new show on MSNBC:

Yes, Olbermann indulges his talent for playing to the cheap seats, but this isn't "Weekend Update" from Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. On Countdown, the gags are spice, and the news is the main course. Nor do Olbermann's bits undermine his news credibility the way that Shepard Smith's look-Ma-I'm-a-grinning-loudmouth-alien-with-a-rubber-human-mask histrionics on Fox News Channel obliterate his.
The show airs weeknights at 8 p.m.
Page Six reports that Larry Flynt is hot on the trail of a nude video of first daughter Barbara Bush:

Flynt's cronies are scouring the New Haven, Conn., campus of Yale University, where Barbara, 21, is a student, in hopes of buying a video supposedly made at one of Yale's notorious "naked parties."

"We definitely have heard the story and we definitely have a rep over there but so far we have not been able to substantiate anything - yet," Flynt told Page Six yesterday. "But usually where there's smoke, there's fire, so we're still looking."

A source says Barbara has attended plenty of the bare-all bacchanals, a Yale tradition in which overworked Ivy Leaguers relieve stress by doffing their duds and drinking some suds. The footage in question was allegedly taken at a naked party several months ago, and Flynt's foot soldiers have been in talks with a student who says he is friends with the guy who has the tape. "Flynt offered the person $1 million," says our source. "But he doesn't have it -- he says his friend does. So it's kind of in limbo."
Go to a "naked party," shoot some video, and get a million bucks from Larry Flynt. Not a bad day's work.

Iowa State University basketball coach Larry Eustachy is another public figure caught on camera behaving badly at a party.
Quote of the Day:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
~ A.E. Housman

Song of the Day:
Terry Jacks, "Seasons in the Sun"

Happy Birthday:
Eve Arden
Willie Nelson
Robert Shaw
Isiah Thomas
Alice B. Toklas

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

As the Kitchen Cabinet, I feel obligated to post this: "Best cookbooks of 2002 awarded in Montreal"
The former Iraqi information minister has a fan website (Can't link to it because "welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com, sprang up only to be forced offline by a rush of global interest that attracted up to 4,000 hits a second."). And this from Bush: "He's my man, he was great," Bush enthused in an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw. "Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic."

This is a weird weird world. I just live in it.
Remember the post last week or so about PETA and Hamburg, NY? Well, they're at it again and they're on to bigger fish--er, or cows, or something. "The German port of Hamburg has been offered $10,500 to change its name to "Veggieburg" by animal rights activists who are unhappy about the city's association with hamburgers."
My apologies for being AWOL the past few days. I seem to have sparked some discussion on other blogs about the numbers behind the affirmative action debate with my posts last week. I plan to respond tonight some time to both Number 2 Pencil (who takes me to task for my use of "bias") and Ben Rodian. In the meantime, check out their stuff. Neither of their permalinks are working, but for Ben Rodian go to Wednesday, April 23 and look for "Affirmative Action Gordian Knot Corner." For No. 2 Pencil, it is the April 28 post "Discussions of Test Bias."

Do check back later tonight or tomorrow--I will have something up then. It will probably be long...
The Hotline takes note of the following:

"They lobbed accusations and innuendo aimed at using my sand drawing to destroy a 33-year career far more distinguished then anything to which either of that hapless pair can aspire." -- Geraldo Rivera on MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Keith Olbermann. (New York Post, 4/29/03).

"He said he was honoring the requests of his adoring fans." -- FNC spokesperson Robert Zimmerman, on why Geraldo "signed" Hooters waitresses while covering the DC sniper. (10/16/02).

"It makes me sound like a tabloid talk show host goes to war. It's so unfair." -- Geraldo, on criticism of his gun-carrying ways (12/12/01).

"It's broken. It clicks when I move it." -- Geraldo, on the state of his nose after being broken on the set of his talk show (11/4/88).

"What can I say? I'm sorry." -- Geraldo, after opening Capone's vault (4/21/86).
Distinguished? You make the call.
Vanessa Jean is back, and posting about a dairy product called quark. Kate tells me we received a lovely postcard from Vanessa's trip to Germany.

Less than two weeks left of classes. Still mega-busy around here. I'm trying to wrap up my bar exam application, among other things.

Had a funny moment in the library today. I was in a study carrel in the stacks, and a group of undergrads approached me. They said their TA was a law student, and he'd left some papers for them to pick up in his carrel, but they didn't know his carrel number. So I told them to go downstairs to the library office, where they keep a list of carrel assignments.

About an hour later, another undergrad came up to me, looking panicked and stammering something about a carrel. I assumed he had the same issue as the others and told him to go to the library office. "But they sent me up here," he said plaintively.

As I was scratching my head, he blurted out, "What is a carrel, anyway?"

Turns out he knew what carrel number he was looking for; he just didn't know what a carrel was. Hilarious.
So, Christie Todd Whitman sounds a little high-maintenance:

The lists of do's and don'ts instruct agents who chauffeur the EPA administrator to ensure they rent only a Lincoln Town Car, tune the radio to smooth jazz or classical music and set the volume low, and keep an eye out for a Starbucks coffee shop or Barnes & Noble bookstore.
They're also instructed to address her as "Governor."
Movie Quote of the Day:
"I love you. And not... not in a friendly way."
~ Chasing Amy

Song of the Day:
Debbie Gibson, "Lost In Your Eyes"

Happy Birthday:
Andre Agassi
George Allen
Dale Earnhardt
Duke Ellington
Steven Gyory
William Randolph Hearst
Hirohito
Michelle Pfeiffer

Monday, April 28, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"Money can't buy friends, but it can get you a better class of enemy."
~ Spike Milligan

Song of the Day:
Rod Stewart, "Some Guys Have All the Luck"

Happy Birthday:
Jessica Alba
Penelope Cruz
Saddam Hussein
Jay Leno
James Monroe

Sunday, April 27, 2003

A study has concluded that some Virginia public schools may be "carbo-loading" their students on test days, giving them higher-energy lunches to make them perform better on standardized tests.

In 2000, the nutrition and calorie content of test-day school lunches in 23 randomly selected school districts had roughly 110 calories more than lunches in the weeks before or after the testing period.

And it might have worked! "Districts that offered the higher-energy lunches reported an 11-percentage point increase in the number of children who passed the mathematics exam, while pass rates in English and history/social studies both increased by 6 percentage points."

Studies show that high-energy, "empty calorie" foods boost cognitive ability, but it's a very short-term effect.
Like Civil War re-enactments, but more fun:

One real family and 12 volunteer servants re-created life in an Edwardian manor house in Scotland for three months, chamber pots and all.

All participants were given rule books telling them how to dress, how to behave and what their duties would be. To keep mansion life running smoothly, the servants worked long days, had little time off and were told when to take their weekly baths. Lower servants were not allowed to speak to the family and were expected to avert their eyes and do their best to be invisible when a family member passed by.

"It wasn't a nice time to live with such hard work and only one bath a week," said second-footman Rob. "But everyone in the group reinforced the hierarchy. That's what society at the time imposed on you. On the modern side, we formed quite a close family bond and everyone got along quite well. But it's kind of sad that a system can grind you down and you end up not fighting it but reinforcing it."
You can see it all up close in a documentary, "Manor House," airing Monday through Wednesday on PBS beginning at 8 p.m. and repeating at 10 p.m.
There's a controversy at CUNY Law School over a student group's attempt to give an award to Lynne Stewart, a lawyer for accused terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman. She's currently awaiting trial on charges that she helped Rahman direct terrorist operations from prison.

The law school's dean won't allow the students to present Stewart's award at graduation, partly because the school itself is on shaky ground -- its bar passage rate was just 50 percent last year, prompting the CUNY chancellor to ask "that the rate be improved."

"The law school is a political stepchild, and I think this could have been a death knell for us," said one third-year student.
Quote of the Day:
"Creation is a better means of self-expression than possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed."
~ Vida D. Scudder

Song of the Day:
The Police, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"

Happy Birthday:
Ulysses S. Grant
Casey Kasem
Coretta Scott King
Samuel F.B. Morse
Herbert Spencer
Mary Wollstonecraft

Friday, April 25, 2003

Movie Review

The central irony of Anger Management is that although Adam Sandler's character can't assert himself no matter how badly he's treated, a state of paralysis that has blocked his love life as well his career, he's arrested on a plane for assaulting a flight attendant he barely touched and assigned by a judge to round-the-clock therapy with a specialist in getting a grip on rage. Jack Nicholson as the therapist explains that there are two kinds of angry people: explosive and implosive. Because the implosive kind lets his anger build up he may be more dangerous to others in the end, if less of a pain on a daily basis. Sandler's specialty has been to play the implosive kind at the point that hard knocks have so fissured his crust his anger turns explosive. The classic moments are the quavers in the voice that suggest responses the nice-guy face can't express, and then the overcompensatory outbursts, singing "Love Stinks" at a wedding party, for instance, in his best role so far in The Wedding Singer (1998).

At times American pop culture strangely rewards and withholds from an artist for the same work: The Wedding Singer was a career-making hit for Sandler and yet no one noticed how unforced and sensitive an actor he could be (or believes me when I say it). Rent it and check out his line readings in the nightclub scene when he keeps getting Matthew Glave as Drew Barrymore's fiancé to expose how coarse and dishonest he is. Sandler has an incredible touch with the tricky, duplicitous dialogue. There's a glint in his eye because the sad-sack protagonist is sneaking one past his confident rival; this is how the implosive type gets and savors revenge.

Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002) finally got Sandler the reviews he deserved for The Wedding Singer; it was the same kind of role only in a much more consciously artistic (i.e., critic-pleasing) movie. But Sandler's performance wasn't as good in Anderson's movie precisely because the director exerted so much stylistic control. Punch-Drunk Love is a conventional delayed-coming-of-age romantic comedy but shot in a suavely discordant style, a Bruce Nauman objet d'art of a date movie. Oddly for a sketch comedian, Sandler isn't at his best in movies when his performing is most stylized (unlike Jim Carrey). He's far more distinctive playing low-stress guys breaking in high-stress situations, his way in to the characters through their unassumingness, their lack of ambition, their small-voiced desire for things just to go on as they are when that's already past impossible.

Anger Management is a considerable step down for Sandler in, once again, the same sort of role--the adolescent boy who has to learn to stick up for himself, not just verbally but physically. Here he has to take on the bullies in his life--all of them, from his childhood nemesis to his rivals in love and his current boss--in order to win the girl. The story is a romance that connects the successful wielding of violence to adult male sexuality. I think it's accurate about men's lives, to a point, the problem is that it requires the star to play a stunted, repressed boy for most of the running time.

Nobody was better at this kind of material than Harold Lloyd, TCM's star of the month this April. (The last night of Lloyd movies is tomorrow, Sunday the 27th, starting at 8:00 pm.) Lloyd's heyday was in the 1920s, during the silent era, when American audiences could identify unselfconsciously with his boyish slapstick heroes. Several of Lloyd's features are about a young man who has to assert himself physically in order to win the girl, including Grandma's Boy (1922; showing on TCM at 12:30 am), and the best of them, Why Worry? (1923), The Freshman (1925), and The Kid Brother (1927). What works so wonderfully for Lloyd is that he can cut the pathos inherent in this kind of story by the ingenuity of the slapstick staging. People remember the stunts, not the moments when Lloyd's eyes fill up, though he performs them quite well. And when he plays an oblivious rich boy, as in Why Worry? and For Heaven's Sake (1926), he bypasses pathos altogether. When the hero of Why Worry? sees the villain ravishing the girl next door, and his pal, a giant, tears the entire balcony he's standing on off the façade and carries it to the other building so Harold can cream the guy, nothing gets in the way of the joke.

Anger Management also employs the storyline of the intruder who makes the meek, repressed hero's life better precisely by turning it upside down. Probably the best example of this in American movies is Bringing Up Baby (1938), starring Cary Grant as the paleontologist and Katharine Hepburn as the ditzy heiress whose dog steals the bone he needs to complete his dinosaur skeleton. It's also the storyline of The Cable Guy (1996) starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick, and while I prefer it in its romantic comedy form, because it supplies a natural avenue for the inevitable reconciliation of the stars, it can be unnerving for popular audiences when a woman invades a man's space as Hepburn does. Anger Management is technically both male-female and male-male versions at once, but the male-male version predominates, and the risk with that is that every outrageous thing the intruder does has to be over-the-top hilarious or the movie stalls.

Nicholson, the only star since Dean Martin who has managed to stay cool for his entire career, doesn't embarrass himself, but does show that you can be cool and still end up trying too hard. He managed to keep his cool even in square junk like Terms of Endearment (1983), and was certainly right in there on the joke in the tip-top mafia-themed black comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985) and in About Schmidt (2002). But here, as in Goin' South (1978), Batman (1989), and his Vegas shitheel-magnate role in Mars Attacks! (1996), when he really throws himself into broad comedy you end up wishing you were sitting behind a splatter screen. (He's better at irony, a natural at it by disposition.) At times in Anger Management he mugs so vigorously you can see the skin on his entire head move--I thought he was about to undergo one of those special effects wolfman transformations.

It's not Nicholson's fault--the material is very hit-or-miss and Sandler's jokes aren't any better calculated. Sandler's outbursts need to be much more elliptical than they are here: even giving a Buddhist monk a wedgie doesn't work because the wackiness has to come from inside Sandler's character to be really funny (like the song in The Wedding Singer written half before and half after his ex-fiancée dumped him). I think the general problem is that the makers of Anger Management expect us to share Sandler's recoil from Nicholson and his fellow therapy victims and some random oversexed nutjobs Nicholson introduces him to. John Turturro, Luiz Guzman, Woody Harrelson, and Heather Graham generate some good will in these roles, but like The Cable Guy the movie is caught in the uptight central character's clutch on normalcy. (There are also funnier group therapy scenes in Richard Rush's thriller Color of Night (1994) starring Bruce Willis.) True, in Bringing Up Baby we must feel the threat to the priggish hero's sexless life and career for the movie to have suspense, nevertheless we also find the topsy-turvydom introduced by Hepburn breathlessly entertaining and can see that it loosens Grant's character up. At the end, when he says that the day she destroyed his life was the most fun he'd ever had, we can believe it. We were there having the time of our lives as well.

Finally, Anger Management just doesn't feel as if it had been made by comedians--people who understand crazy. (And the big climax at Yankee Stadium with New-York-celebrity cameos is executed as blandly as it is conceived.) It's the kind of movie you laugh at because you can't get your money back and don't want it to have been a total waste. Just playing a regular guy Adam Sandler has the kind of ease in front of a camera that Jim Carrey would sell his soul to attain. But it won't do Sandler any good if he doesn't figure out how to pick scripts better than this.

You can find this review and a lot besides at blogcritics.
The Discovery Channel has a new documentary about the Ruby Ridge events. This review says the documentary sidesteps "the most incendiary themes associated with the 1992 stakeout and killings," but still praises it:

These themes are left out in favor of a well-rendered and fairly strict—though perhaps not universally accepted—chronology of events. But if you're wondering whether right-wing survivalists are paranoid or if the government is out to get them, you won't find an answer here. Both are true, timorously concludes Ruby Ridge—at least in this one appalling case.
The documentary includes long interviews with Randall Weaver and his daughter Rachel, now in her teens.
Morning Miscellany:

* Here's a reality TV competition worth entering. The prize is a one-year job on ESPN's SportsCenter.

* Conan O'Brien: "Next week, new age musician John Tesh will launch a music and talk show on radio stations nationwide. On the lighter side, North Korea announced it has nuclear weapons."

* A new study of murder rates in America's 32 biggest cities finds that Washington, DC, has reclaimed the title of "murder capital" of the U.S.
Quote of the Day:
"It's better to be looked over than overlooked."
~ Mae West

Song of the Day:
Bon Jovi, "Bed of Roses"

Happy Birthday:
Hank Azaria
Ella Fitzgerald
Al Pacino
Renee Zellweger

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Affirmative Action, hat trick

So, the emails keep coming in. I should start by saying it's sort of a misnomer to be titling these posts "affirmative action." My point has been less about whether affirmative action is appropriate or not--Dean Jens tries to push me in this direction in his post (permalinks not working, but you can find it under April 23)--and more about the following:

(1) Numbers are important in the affirmative action discussion. And as a corollary, so is reality. Too much race theory/affirmative action discussion operates in the abstract, unplugged from what actually is happening or what the actual effect on real people may be.

(2) Numbers mislead. Too often, when numbers are used, they are taken out of context or not fully examined. Assumptions are made, or not considered, or not questioned.

At any rate, here's a snippet from reader WR:
Do consider the anecdotal but very widespread evidence of systematic social pressure in American Black culture against academic achievement or anything else considered "white". Until that is changed, it will be that much harder to help kids get ahead. (And those who make it will be treated like Justice Thomas... think what would happen if it had been whites saying the same slurs- about a different Black - what Blacks said about him!)

Sowell has data which seem to support this, in that Black immigrants from the Caribbean - often with only mediocre educational backgrounds - tend to far out-perform American Blacks in academic and economic achievement. The hypothesis is based on the observation that Caribbean Blacks have much less of the "don't be like whitey" ideas floating around in their culture.
Like I said in this post, I have not ruled culture/attitude out. But my hunch would be that if it's culture based, it's not entirely internal--though WR has a point. In other words, as I suggested yesterday, it's probably a mix.

Renewing my main point--an objection to numbers qua numbers--what's more interesting to me is that the Sowell data alone doesn't really tell me much. They could still suggest systematic, external bias. "Caribbean Blacks" could be out-performing "American Blacks" simply because discrimination against "American Blacks" is greater. WR's conclusion is one possible interpretation; my conclusion is another. We need more numbers.
Too funny:

A Headline: "Toddler Twins Go on Rampage, Shed Clothes"

Police initially feared an abduction by a pedophile when the missing boys were discovered late in the evening walking through their home town of Deols, western France, stark naked and holding a bedside lamp.

But a call from a neighbor to report a suspected burglary revealed the boys had broken into a nearby house and gone berserk, emptying out drawers, bouncing on beds, scribbling on walls and gobbling up orange-flavored vitamin pills.
TOO FUNNY.
The Hotline has more on the Santorum anti-homosexuality controversy. First, "Was Santorum absent the day EVERYONE discussed the perils of commenting on controversial issues while Congress is in recess?"

Next, an interesting tidbig in light of Santorum's "man on dog" comment -- Santorum made the following statement on the Senate floor in 2001:

I rise today to introduce the Puppy Protection Act of 2001. Introduction of this legislation comes as a continuation of my interest in the protection and humane treatment of animals, specifically, dogs and puppies.
Finally, they note that Microsoft spell check offers "sanctorum" as a possible replacement for "Santorum." Among the definitions of "sanctorum": "A place of inviolable privacy."
Quote of the Day:
"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."
~ Mario Andretti

Song of the Day:
Elvis Presley, "Blue Suede Shoes"

Happy Birthday:
Jill Ireland
Stanley Kaufman
William de Kooning
Shirley MacLaine
Barbra Streisand
Anthony Trollope
Robert Penn Warren

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The WSJ's Brendan Miniter claims that Senate Democrats are trying to impose "a religious test" on judicial nominees. Their latest target is James Leon Holmes, an orthodox Catholic nominated for a federal district judgeship. His views on abortion are the main issue, but it's more than just that:

Judiciary Democrats took issue with Mr. Holmes's view of marriage. Citing an article Mr. Holmes and his wife wrote about the traditional Catholic teaching of a wife "subordinating" herself to her husband, Ms. Feinstein claimed he was antiwoman.
Miniter says that "[t]he truth about Mr. Holmes's views is that he sees women as equal to men and in marriage each must assume collaborative roles."

Miniter should have simply argued against a religious test and not tried to defend Holmes's opinions about marriage. A Lexis search reveals that the 1997 article Holmes wrote with his wife states that in marriage "the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man."

One hopes that Holmes understands that federal judges apply man-made law and not Catholic marriage doctrine. Still, can you blame Senator Feinstein for being a little uncomfortable with putting him on the bench? Let's face it: this is creepy-sounding, antiquated stuff that makes sense only if you buy into a certain set of religious beliefs. It would certainly give me pause if I were an attorney appearing before Judge Holmes in, say, a spousal abuse case.

In the universe most of us inhabit, "subordination" does not mean "equality," and placing a woman "under the authority of a man" is not how you make her his equal. (I love it when people tell me that this subordination stuff is really good news for women because the husband has the responsibility to use his power for the woman's good, while the woman's only duty is to go along with what he says. Well, okay then! Gee, what a relief to know that I don't have to bother my head with those tough decisions and all.)

Holmes can structure his own marriage any way he wants, but it's fair for the rest of us to demand assurance that his judicial decision-making won't be contaminated by beliefs about the sexes that this country has flatly rejected in its statutes and jurisprudence. If Feinstein doesn't get that assurance, she's perfectly justified in voting no on his nomination.
Conan O'Brien: "Over the weekend, Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas had a baby girl. Afterwards, Jones said, 'If she's anything like me, her future husband is in his late 40's right now.'"
A young lady is turning down a space in this fall's entering class at Duke University for reasons that are rather fuzzy but have something to do with both a "significant elitist mentality and an aura of pretentiousness" and "academic competition that is more destructive than it is edifying."

I've often heard it observed that the less prestigious a school is, the more competitive its students can be. People at less elite schools know the name on their degree won't impress potential employers, so grades become hugely important.

I've certainly observed this to be true in the law school context. You haven't seen slacker-dom until you've seen it practiced at Yale Law School, but one hears horror stories of cutthroat competition at lower-ranked law schools where only the top grads get the plum jobs.

So I hope she won't be unpleasantly surprised by the competitive atmosphere at whatever less "elitist" ACC school she's chosen. But I wish her the best of luck wherever she ends up.

In other news from the great state of North Carolina, the NC legislature has passed a resolution honoring stock car racing, saying that it is "intertwined with the cultural heritage of this state." Indeed it is.
One of my professors announced this morning that UCLA law professor emeritus Jesse Dukeminier died on Sunday. Dukeminier was the author of widely used casebooks on Property and Trusts & Estates.

His casebooks are known for digging up the real-life details behind famous cases, going behind the published opinions to help explain why the court might have ruled the way it did. Thousands of law students have had reason to be grateful to him for the color and clarification his research provided.
If you've been following the controversy over Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's comments about homosexuality, here's the transcript of the AP interview that started it all.

Note the part where Santorum concedes that homosexuality is "not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be," and the AP reporter blurts out "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out."
Eugene Volokh has a roomba! He's posting periodic updates as he tests whether it's ready for "prime time."
More on the RIAA and the horse's heads they are leaving in college dormitories. By the way, the students are right; technology is changing and the RIAA needs to get on board rather than fighting it. They will find that the money they are dumping into enforcement and litigation will be missed later down the line when they realize they need to adapt and haven't invested in figuring out how to do that.
Affirmative action numbers, take two

Got two emails of note this morning in response to my affirmative action post--both of which have good points that deserve quick clarification:

(1) From reader DS, a self-described "hair-splitting" email:
Race isn't "only skin deep," it never has been, and to believe this is has you ignoring centuries worth of cultural identification and socioeconomic influences, among other things. We'd all likely be better off if it were so, but it's not, and it's naive to state otherwise.
And other similar comments. The gist is that I am being too glib when I say race has no basis in biology. DS is right, and I am actually writing a paper right now (the VIP--very important paper that Lily always refers to) in which I discuss how the notion that "race is a social construction" does not magically dispel the potent and actual role race plays in American society. The point is simply shorthand for the increasingly accepted understanding that races are not an absolute truth, but that the differentiation we now so automatically make developed over time; and that whatever biological differences there are between races do not account for the differences people ascribe to races (like variances in grades and test scores).

(2) From reader DM:
The unstated presumption underlying the "Affirmative Action Numbers" posting seems to be that the distribution of scores on the LSAT and for GPAs for EVERY group (whites, males, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, etc.) should be the same. Is that presumption based on facts or wishful thinking? For example, it's possible that some groups value education (and therefore openly encourage studying) more than some other groups. If so, one might expect that a group that explicitly places a high value on education would do better on the LSAT, or have higher GPAs, than a group that does not value education. If so, then changing the attitude of the lower-scoring groups to education would seem likely to be more effective in raising the scores of that lower-scoring group than other methods.
A frequently made objection and a valid one. My response to this is that it's probably a mix of what DM suggests (cultural/attitudinal difference) and what DM believes I suggest (systematic disadvantagement). If you look again at my post, you'll see I actually suggest both of these points. Questions (1) and (2) wonder about testing and grading systems (systematic disadvantagement) and question (3) wonders about whether black students are applying in lower numbers to law school (attitudinal point).

Is this based in fact or wishful thinking? Well, I guess I can't say it's based in fact, but that is because we need more numbers. What I have suggested in my post is that we need more numbers to find out what's actually going on. My educated guess is that the gap is too large to simply be attributed to cultural/attitudinal differences. He cites me these numbers
1.7% of blacks had scores of 600 or more on the Verbal SAT. For whites, the percentage was 9.6%, and for Asians 10%. The differences are magnified on the Math SAT. 2% of blacks had scores of 650 or better, compared to 13.4% of whites and a whopping 25.8% of Asians
and asks if what a comparison of whites to Asians tells us. I think the numbers don't really tell us enough of anything. Percentages alone are not as useful as real numbers. Moreover, "Asian" as a category is less useful than "white" as a category or "black" as a category (for reasons related to the very large, recent [post-1965] influx of Asian immigrants). And we need to delve into these figures--who are the people, where are they from, how many don't take the tests, how many do? Numbers alone are useful, but, as I said, they can also be very very misleading. But all that being said, I still think that the problem is probably a bit of both and that it isn't all a question of attitudinal difference because the gaps are too big to be attributed solely to culture and attitude.

At any rate, a very good question and one that lies at the heart of the affirmative action debate, and I'm glad it was asked. Dean Jens also has a good post on the question--though his permalinks aren't working (it's a post today, April 23, not too hard to find).
China Watch:

For those of you who get all of your China news from the Cabinet, I should be fair and point out that China issued a mea culpa on Monday with regard to SARS.
Wow. This can't be for real. "[PETA] has offered Hamburg officials $15,000 to change the town's name to Veggieburg." Have they nothing better to do?
Pin-up priests

"The priests featured in 'Calendario Romano 2004,' which aims to promote tourism in the Italian capital, are photographed standing in front of famous Rome landmarks. . . . December's picture is of a swarthy priest with a goatee beard and curly hair in Piazza Venezia while March depicts an angelic-looking seminarian in a procession."

Hmm... Is this really what the Catholic church needs right now?
Bullies

I missed this interesting piece on bullying in the CS Monitor the other day. The argument is that the fix for bullying is not to focus on the bully, but to focus on changing the behavior of the bystanders, and to do so through books:
[There is] the prevailing idea that bullies often suffer from low self-esteem. This belief often shapes the approach that many school officials take to the problem of bullying.

But some recent reports suggest the contrary, she says, and efforts spent to enhance the bully's opinion of himself may have been overemphasized. Instead, the bully may need exposure to more positive social role models.

....

Wellesley's Mullin-Rindler promotes the use of children's books at home and in schools. Literature provides adults with a day-to-day opportunity to begin a dialogue with children about what bullying behavior is and how they, even at very young ages, can prevent it.

She, like many experts, believes attention needs to focus on the silent bystander. "We need to send the message that siding with the bully is not cool. That's the bigger issue, raising empathy with the group as a whole," says Mullin-Rindler.
Interesting. I agree in large part. The focus on the bully has been overemphasized. It's almost offensive to the victims to turn around and say that the problem is that the bully is actually the victim--the victim of inattention, of society. On the other hand, the problem of the silent bystander runs much wider than the schoolyard--it is endemic to society as a whole. The question then is whether we are fighting against a norm that can be altered, or a "flight" syndrome that is particular to human nature itself.

Deep Throat

No, not that deep throat, the other one.
Attempting to solve one of America's greatest political mysteries, student investigators at the University of Illinois have concluded that former White House lawyer Fred Fielding is the Deep Throat who broke the Watergate scandal wide open.

....

Using 16,000 pages FBI documents and other Watergate records, Gaines and his students said that Fielding knew about or likely would have known about many of the key Watergate revelations that Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, made in their news stories that won them Pulitzer Prize.
Journalism students from Illinois have been in the news before. Northwestern Medill journalism students helped bring about former Illinois Governor George Ryan's remarkable death penalty moratorium.
In exciting Illinois news, very popular former Republican governor Jim Edgar may run for the U.S. Senate seat Republican Pete Fitzgerald plans to vacate.
Affirmative Action Numbers

The Washington Post ran an article the other day on admissions numbers for med schools and law schools:
Michigan's law school, which is considered highly selective, admits students who average 165 on the Law School Admissions Test and a grade-point average of 3.5. Last fall, 4,461 law school applicants nationwide achieved or exceeded those grades, according to a brief the Law School Admission Council filed at the Supreme Court. Of those students, the council said, 29 were black and 114 were Hispanic.
Stop right there. Of 4,461 law school applicants nationwide who both (1) scored over 165 on the LSAT and (2) achieved a GPA of more than 3.5, only 29 were black? TWENTY-NINE. Wow. This has to give you pause, no matter where you stand on affirmative action. Something is wrong with the system. Whether affirmative action is the solution is another question entirely, but these numbers tell one tale clearly: something is wrong with the system. (Unless, of course, you believe the outdated theory that race actually has any basis in biology--that black law applicants are somehow physically different from other applicants. If so, none of this will interest you. But you also need to figure out that race is only "skin deep." Update on this is above.)

The question, then, is why this is happening? Are black students being disadvantaged in a systematic way? Several questions come to the fore here—questions that demand some numbers.

(1) Is there a bias in the LSAT? What I would first like to know is how many black students with GPAs over 3.5 are scoring below 165 on the LSAT as compared to the overall number of law applicants with those numbers.

(2) Is there a bias in GPAs? This would be a far more outrageous and endemic problem. Useful to this inquiry would be how many black students are scoring above 165 on the LSAT, but have a GPA below 3.5, as compared to the overall number of law applicants with those numbers. Richard Atkinson, the President of the U California system, sheds some potential light on this:
The most recent study found that 30 percent of Asian American students in California and 13 percent of white students met UC eligibility requirements; the figure was a disheartening 4 percent for Latinos and 3 percent for African Americans.
Hmm...

(3) Finally, are there simply fewer black students with high numbers applying to law school? If so, why? A starting point here would be how many black students with GPAs over 3.5 do not apply to law school…

What I am saying is that the numbers call for more numbers. 29 is disturbing. But it does not tell a whole story and it would be wrong to brandish that as proof that affirmative action is necessary. It does mean there are deeper problems. Rather than stopping here, let's find something more. Have the LSAC answer the tough questions, reveal the numbers that might show their own test--the LSAT--is the problem.

One further implication.
In the past decade, Michigan has enrolled 21 to 37 black first-year law students per class.
Consider the numbers for the other top law schools.
Yale’s 25th to 75th percentile GPA range: 3.75-3.97
Yale’s 25th to 75th percentile LSAT range: 168-174
Stanford’s 25th to 75th percentile GPA range: 3.67-3.93
Stanford’s 25th to 75th percentile LSAT range: 166-170
So, Yale and Stanford's means are above Michigan's means. Only 29 black applicants were above Michigan's means. But Michigan enrolls 21 to 37 black law students per class. See the dilemma?

Finally, the article speaks to the question of using economic means as a proxy for race.
But achieving diversity through race-neutral means has proven much more difficult for professional schools. Part of the difficulty is that low-income whites and Asians, on average, score significantly better than middle- and upper-income blacks and Hispanics on standardized tests, making them more compelling candidates under most race-neutral admissions scenarios.

In 2001, for example, underrepresented minorities from families with incomes of $80,000 or more averaged 21.9 on the Medical School Admission Test; whites and Asians from families with incomes under $30,000 averaged 25.7 and 25.5, respectively.
Hardly a good proxy. Where does this leave us? Swimming in numbers already, but looking for more. Or maybe not?

There is one larger point to this whole mess, which is the worry that numbers are incomplete or that they mask the truth or don't tell the whole truth, and that the numbers will nonetheless be taken at face value. Any statistician worth her salt will tell you that she can get numbers to say almost anything. As a once and former math geek, it saddens me the way numbers are abused and used, and that in the end, empiricism almost always gives way to spin. The antidote to that is the push the numbers further. Where do they come from? Get more. 29 black law applicants with high numbers tells me only one thing: something is wrong with the system. What that problem is, much less what the solution to that problem is, is not at all apparent from that fact.

Carnival of the Vanities, Week 31

The Carnival started once upon a time at Bigwig's place (who is always looking for new hosts of this travelling freakshow) and has been roaming from place to place for weeks now. We pick up on the restless roaming this week in Carnival 31 as we bop from place to place and post to post. So pack your bags, remember your sunscreen, grab your laptops, and get on your way... and don't forget to tip your waiters. (Next week: Clubbeaux)

The Middle East

Frank J. at IMAO gives us some facts about Syria: "Syria is currently as poor as dirt. Without oil, dirt would actually be giving Syria foreign aid."

Seth Farber at The Talking Dog has some musings on dealing with fools and knaves in post-war Iraq: "To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, 'Lucy, we got some stabilizin' to do.'"

Michele from A Small Victory remembers Leon Klinghoffer: "The terrorists shot to death a helpless man who could not defend himself. I could not let go of the thought that he went into that ocean in his wheelchair. . . . May Abu Abbas meet a worse fate than Leon Klinghoffer did."

Bryan S. from Arguing with Signposts ... pokes at the media for the story about an army chaplain who allegedly offered baptisms in exchange for baths: "It should be noted again that a search of Google News found no major news outlets covering the follow-up to this story. A search of miami.com contains no mention of the army report acquitting Chaplain Llano. . . . Meanwhile, the 'baptisms for baths' meme continues to spread like cancer around the Internet. Stories are still being posted with the original Miami Herald take and no follow-up."

Da Goddess thinks those "Iraqi Bastard" playing cards look an awful lot alike: "Hand me a jaunty black beret, a cheesy moustache, and take a bad photo of me and I'd look vaguely Iraqi as well."

The War at Home

Justine Adamec at Calblog takes note of the Coast Guard patrols spotted in the waters near LAX recently: "Even if there weren't a state of orange alert, this boat would have drawn attention."

Lesley from Plum Crazy thinks the blogosphere feels powerless about the Patriot Act: "With the Patriot Act we have an interesting combination of an issue that is very pervasive in its reach but was made a fait accompli in such a short period of time that there was little time for public debate. We collectively blinked, and there it was."

Michael Finley from World Gone Wrong takes to task what he calls the "Wurlitzer," the "many-headed disinformation network" of the Right: "Do they habitually over-reach? The key to the Wurlitzer's is repetition ad nauseam. They don't just tell a lie. They tell it a thousand times until people cave in to it. The Wurlitzer equates protesters with 'leftists,' calls Democrats traitors. Al Gore a liar, and those who lament a stolen election are 'sore losers.' Losing an election, they nevertheless ram through an arch-conservative agenda, against the wishes of voters."

Madeleine Kane from MadKane riffs "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from "My Fair Lady": "All I want is a new regime, In the White House a brand new team, From ear to ear I'd beam, Aow, wouldn't it be loverly? // No more war talk from Bush and Blair, Say good-bye to that plund'ring pair, Bush out of my gray hair, Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?"

Paul from Smell the Blog points us to celebrities and McCarthyism: "But with a war being waged and American lives in harm's way overseas, anti-war celebrities have been experiencing quite a backlash in the past year. . . . At a press conference attended by Pelosi, actor Sean Penn, singer Barbra Streisand, Farrell, actor Martin Sheen, Sarandon and Robbins, Pelosi unveiled the 'No Celebrity Left Behind Act'."

Around the World

Steve Kruczek from The Grille looks at why nations hook up: "The very concept of a 'coalition of the willing' is a direct return to the old nature of alliances. We accept the help of repressive regimes in formerly Soviet central in the fight against terror and Saddam Hussein while 'natural' allies like France and Germany, due to domestic politics and economic self interest – the exact ratio depends on your level of cynicism – decline to join our alliance in any meaningful capacity. This is clearly a return to pre-WWII style alliance building as nations form and break alliances on a case-by-case basis with decisions decided by sovereign national interest."

Northstar at The People's Republic of Seabrook evaluates London's newest attempt to solve its traffic woes: "Me? I'd just go out and buy the biggest damn SUV I could find."

Back in the USA

The World According to Pete puts hysteria over serial killings into perspective: "All too often, in our society, the killer is all but glorified....This is a story about one of the victims."

James DiBenedetto from The Eleven Day Empire wants to keep his money: "But I don't think that my tax money should go not only to pay Rep. Moran, or to pay for his policies, but to also pay for his election in the first place, or political ads that promote his ideas and views. That seems unfair, and contrary to the First Amendment, to me."

James also administers this fisking to Marc Fisher of the Washington Post: "Marc, Marc, Marc. The separation of Church and state does not mean that no tax money can go to anything that has any religious connotations; or that religion must be kept out of education or the public sphere generally."

John Ray at Dissecting Leftism observes the 10th anniversary of Waco and makes the case that Christians should be treated differently from Arab Fascists.

In Theaters

Our own Alan Dale has recently reviewed The Good Thief, Phone Booth, and Laurel Canyon.

Find a list of all of Alan's reviews here.

The Blogosphere

The Raving Atheist has drawn "a thuggish, violent, dimwitted Nigerian con man into a wide-ranging theological discussion (all e-mail correspondence guaranteed genuine)."

Kiril Kundurazieff from Sneakeasy's Joint regales us with dogcatching exploits: "There I am, the other morning, walking down a major street in the neighborhood near where my sister lives, minding my own business, when all of a sudden 2 huge dogs come lumbering happily across the street heedless of the pack of SUV's bearing down on them, hellbent for leather...."

Speaking of dogs, Chuck at You Big Mouth, You! slams a fire chief for having a man cited for saving a dog: "Because he's pissed at a civilian doing what he was unwilling to commit trained and well-equiped firefighters to do, this petty bureaucrat fire chief has the guy cited."

And then there's this rumor going around about InstaPundit.

Finally, Solonor at Solonor's Ink Well looks back on how he met his blog friends: "We walk in the door of a stranger's house, criticize the furniture (even if it's a good comment), and invite ourselves back over whenever we feel like it."
Quote of the Day:
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."
~ William Shakespeare

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "Piano Man"

Happy Birthday:
Valerie Bertinelli
Jan Hooks
Lee Majors
Roy Orbison
Shirley Temple
William Shakespeare

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Movie Review

One of the great, ambiguous pleasures of movies is that they allow us to indulge in illicit fantasies, and moralists who think something should be done about this might as well try to do something about the weather. If the hero is disreputable, as he is in Neil Jordan's new heist picture The Good Thief, starring Nick Nolte as an expatriate junkie, compulsive gambler, and big-time thief living on the French Riviera, the movie pretty much inevitably glamorizes his undesirable and even criminal behavior. This gives the audience a kick without a hangover and here it does something for Jordan as well: I can't remember a movie of his that hopped this fast.

In the opening passages the great cinematographer Chris Menges whizzes through the underworld locations where Nolte's Bob gambles, shoots up, and gets into fights. Like the recent Brazilian picture City of God about juvenile crime in Rio de Janeiro, you have to work to keep up with the information recorded on the fly, and it's graphically thrilling. Menges has the venerable movie skill of making the seedy look beautiful, and in this opening he does it in heated magic marker colors, complete with fumes. The world where Bob plays is peopled by recent immigrants, from North Africa and Eastern Europe, and the movie has a look appropriate to poor folks integrating into the bottom of a developed culture. The night spot scenes look toxically synthetic and when a Russian man plays electric guitar to a sound-sensitive laser machine emitting algae-green light, the very air seems to be freaking out. The purposely disjointed garishness of the post-Impressionist masterpieces we later see look soothingly neoclassical to our eyes by comparison.

Menges's fast shooting style is matched by the breathlessly edgy editing, which cuts between scenes on flash-frozen frames that almost make you lurch in your seat at the sudden arrest of the movie's propulsion. Likewise, Jordan directs the actors to speak much of their dialogue as rapid banter among familiars. Even Bob and Roger (Tchéky Karyo), the French cop who tails him, just knowing he's up to something, interact like a former vaudeville team, almost affectionate and practiced in the art of keeping one step ahead of each other. (Bob is the naturally deft partner, Roger the one who has to work at it.)

Of course, Nolte is playing a drug addict with a diminishing amount of future left, as he points out to Roger; his voice rumbles out of him as if the treble had been burned out of his sound system long ago; and at times he makes walking look like a miraculously controlled form of falling on your face; and so he's not a spry criminal figure. He's like the older Jean Gabin--a seasoned outcropping of rock. Not just monumental, like John Wayne, but expressively rugged. (Their characters know how to use their bulky mass to dominate without bluster.) But Nolte never seems left behind by the technical wizardry, and at the end, when he goes to the casino in Monte Carlo for a night of high-stakes gambling, which he thinks is a cover-up for a heist being carried on at another building, he's the most elegant figure in the whole movie.

The movie certainly isn't boring, and the script (adapted Jean-Pierre Melville's 1955 French picture Bob le flambeur), features an intricate, twisty plot that reverses the usual irony by which crime pictures used to adhere to the movie censors' requirement that crime shouldn't be shown to pay. It strikes me as appropriate to indulge immoral fantasies at the movies, as opposed to doing it in your life, and not at all improbable that for the vast majority of moviegoers such fantasies amply satisfy any stray urges to act on them, and yet as skillfully as Jordan and his team have made this movie, it has no mass. It's not a planet, just a thin spherical plane of swirling gas, all surface.

First of all, Bob never seems like a junkie--his brainy-bear grace is steadier off the stuff than on, but his personality is the same, and we're meant to find him a romantic kind of dropout. (One who entertains mathematical concepts and appreciates modern art.) Bob rescues the teenaged Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze), a Russian immigrant, from her pimp while supposedly high, and maintains a gallantly protective paternal attitude towards her. (The best part of their relationship is how he teaches her to turn her exuberance at winning at the gaming tables into poise sleek enough to be worthy of him.)

In addition, there are no ethnic tensions among the various nationalities and religious groups, and even Roger uses the threat of deportation in a limited, impersonal way, to get information. The foreign-born characters also speak heavily accented but perfectly idiomatic English, even among themselves. But more importantly, even when it comes to the relationships among the individual characters the movie is underdeveloped. We're not asked to waste any feelings on a snitch who gets blown away--in this instance the script just assumes the primacy of gang and prison rules. On the lighter side, nobody thinks much about one of the member's having had a sex change operation. These criminals verge on an "Our Gang" assortment of wacky adorables; Quentin Tarantino's intentionally cartoonish Pulp Fiction (1994) had more tension among the characters.

Kukhianidze as Anne is a real find. In the classic film noir way, the female is the source of trouble among the males, but Kukhianidze plays Anne as an innocent troublemaker, free of the nasty perversity of the type. Kukhianidze, who is as natural as a gosling hatched in front of the camera, seems like a young girl experimenting with the corrupt possibilities presented to her, and it's reasonable that someone so young wouldn't be fully aware of the consequences of the games she tries out. Currently this is the Chloë Sevigny type, though this Georgian actress is more innocent, erotically sculpted baby fat. And that's part of the problem--drug addiction and prostitution and gambling are conceived as too victimless, more dark-colorful than anything else. Anne's love of excitement gets one boy killed and another exiled, but instead of grounding her, Bob takes her out for a night at the casino. Kukhianidze's performance works because those round, smooth cheeks don't show the signs of the wretched experience she's racked up--she's living for sensation, without a moral compass to evaluate it, or even feel it, by--but the movie fails by the same measure because it doesn't suggest that this she's unusual or incomplete, that such experience usually has a cost. (Certainly over time--but the movie isn't about to warn us that we wouldn't want to grow up to be like Bob.) Nor does it tie her amorality to the situation she left in Russia or to her status as an immigrant in France.

At one point a computer techie warns Bob that a computer image will be "emotional." Bob says, "Emotional?" and the guy explains, "Kind of fuzzy." As magnificent a figure as Nolte is, and as fluid a presence as Kukhianidze presents, this is about as unfuzzy a movie, in those terms, as you can imagine. There is an acute sense of place and of character, but only in the limited terms of the heist picture. When Bob explains his theory of gambling to Anne he says, "Always play to the limit; damn the consequences." That's the romantic-feckless male adolescent ideal at the heart of the movie, and nothing done with the characters or storyline complicates it in more than a superficial way. You'd have to be quite young and romantic indeed to take the junkie thing at the level at which the movie plays it. Apart from its visual and rhythmic flair, this is a very ungrown-up movie and it takes no more than a random exhalation to get the smoky atmosphere out of your system. I have no problem with the basic fantasy, I just feel the deadness when it's no more than basic (the downside to a kick without a hangover).

French and American moviemakers have been making richly characterized and even poeticized crime movies at least since the 1930s, and if you aren't familiar with their appeal, this wouldn't be a bad place to start getting into them. (I was first seduced by Stanley Kubrick's tricky-efficient heist picture The Killing (1956), which is terrific but no masterpiece.) But if you want to see all that a moviemaker can spin from this kind of material, take a look at François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960) or Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders (1964). And even if you're stuck on the glamour of gambling on the Riviera, you'd do better to catch (if you can) Jacques Demy's Bay of the Angels (1962), which features Jeanne Moreau's great starring performance, and manages to find an almost-musical style to convey the compulsive appeal of gambling without getting us into that Hollywood-Vegas head of wanting the characters to win big. Its view of the desperate characters is dazzlingly lyrical and yet coolly impersonal in a way all but unknown in American movies.

You can find this review and a lot besides at blogcritics.com.
China Watch:

"Chinese authorities ordered doctors in Beijing to hide SARS patients from a team of World Health Organization experts last week in an attempt to play down the extent of the epidemic, Chinese doctors and other sources said today."
I was pleasantly surprised to find a page-long thank you to basketball from Michael Jordan in this Sunday's New York Times. Entitled "Dear Basketball," Mike concludes, “I love you, Basketball. I love everything about you and I always will. My playing days in the NBA are definitely over, but our relationship will never end. Much Love and Respect, Michael Jordan.” We will miss you, MJ.
Quote of the Day:
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins."
~ T.S. Eliot

Song of the Day:
Amy Grant, "Lucky One"

Happy Birthday:
Peter Frampton
Immanuel Kant
Vladimir Lenin
Charles Mingus
Jack Nicholson
Robert Oppenheimer
Aaron Spelling

Monday, April 21, 2003

This article claims that in the war against spam, the spammers are still winning. And if your inbox is filled with spam, it may be your own fault: "Many people still will type virtually their life history into an unknown Web site that claims to be offering a chance to win a Lexus."
George W. Bush will host a party on the White House lawn in honor of his 35th Yale reunion.
Trouble is brewing between the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East. The Big East claims that the ACC is trying to lure its schools away.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese made the following allegation to The New York Daily News:

"I have no use for the ACC right now. They're a bunch of hypocrites. They operate in the dark. They'll never acknowledge this, but I'm aware that the ACC for the last couple of years, without ever picking up the phone or calling me, has basically gone out and tried to convince our teams to enter their league.

"They have already made two presentations to the University of Miami -- and have been turned down -- but they continue to come back, hoping to get the right answer. They've gone to Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech."
Meanwhile, this professor wants Duke to leave the ACC and join the Ivy League.
Quote of the Day:
"The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern."
~ Ronald Reagan

Song of the Day:
Take That, "A Million Love Songs"

Happy Birthday:
Catherine the Great
Queen Elizabeth II
Charlotte Brontë
Tony Danza
Britta Heath
Patti LuPone
John Muir
Iggy Popp
Anthony Quinn
Max Weber

Sunday, April 20, 2003

"The poor get used to going without. But going without a baby is hard to get used to." The Washington Post Magazine has a piece on people who want children but can't afford the treatment necessary for them to conceive.

"Infertility is just treated cavalierly. People think: You're breeders anyway. They think: You already have too many children," [a doctor says], summarizing a persistent myth about lower-income communities. The myth is that the less money a person has, the more babies a person has: that the poor are unstoppably fertile, popping out baby after baby that they cannot afford to clothe or educate or feed. The flip side of the myth is that only the rich have trouble conceiving. In the modern American version of that myth, infertility is the affliction (some would say, the comeuppance) of ambitious, upper-income working women who have delayed childbearing until their thirties and forties. The curse of the female litigator, the high-powered woman broker.

Real-life infertility, however, doesn't discriminate by race or class. It strikes between 10 and 20 percent of Americans of child-bearing age: supervisors with a window office, yes, but also car mechanics, immigrants, students. And there is some evidence that the less money you have, the more likely you are to be infertile.
It's hard for poor people to adopt, too; most birth mothers want their babies to grow up in well-off families.

And then there's this school of thought, voiced by a fertility doctor:

"[I]t's very noble to treat people who are infertile, but if they're poor and can't even take care of themselves, some would say, 'Gee, they can't take care of themselves and be able to finance that, why should we help them have more children?' I think it's a legitimate question."
Does not being able to afford expensive fertility treatment mean that you're not able to take care of yourself?

I like the story in the article of the wealthy Cincinnatti woman for whom all fertility treatments failed. She set up a charity that pays for in vitro fertilization for poor Cincinnatti couples. Now her Christmas cards each year show a picture of her surrounded by all the babies who were born because of her gift.
None of the usual Sunday links to direct you toward. Punditwatch is still on hiatus, and I've already checked out the NYT weddings on a borrowed hard copy (real yawners today -- don't bother).

I'll just mention in passing that somebody visited the site this morning looking for "mermaids fornicating."

Other than that, all is quiet at the KC on this Easter Sunday. Iris and I dyed Easter eggs last night. We made them marble-y, just like the ones on the April cover of MSL. They are beautiful! Next year we are going to use blown eggs instead of hard-boiled so we can keep our creations forever.

Kate is immersed in the VIP (Very Important Paper). But the warm weather is bringing us out of the woodwork. I'm happy to report that on Wednesday the entire Cabinet made it to class -- the same class. That hasn't happened since at least early March.

Elsewhere in our little blogworld, Steve Jens has a nice post on self-esteem, Katherine has had it up to here with the "ying yang," Vanessa Jean checks in from Venice, and Property with Bob Ellickson has sent Tim tumbling off the wagon.

I'm going out for a nice sunny walk.
Quote of the Day:
"What good fortune for those in power that people do not think."
~ Adolf Hitler

Song of the Day:
Abba, "One Of Us"

Happy Birthday:
Carmen Electra
Don Mattingly
Phil Hill
Ryan O'Neill
John Paul Stevens
Luther Vandross

Saturday, April 19, 2003

We haven't posted about the latest campus controversy here at Yale, mainly because we've been busy and away and thus out of the loop. Basically, it involves accusations of threats and violent intimdation toward anti-war activists by other students. One undergraduate says people entered her dorm room uninvited and left a threatening note on her message board; another says someone came in her room and re-arranged a flag she'd hung up-side down outside her window (there are many upside-down flags hanging out of dormitory windows here now in response). Read an account of the controversy from the Yale Daily News here.

One YDN columnist complains that there's a witch hunt targeting pro-war students, and another questions the motivation of at least one of the campus groups lobbying the Yale's administration for a stronger response to the allegations. (A leader of that group defends it here.)

Now we have The Weekly Standard criticizing a piece by Yale lecturer Jim Sleeper that ran earlier this week in the Daily. Sleeper's column was a call for civility, but the Standard finds it outrageous that he called two pro-war freshmen "Fedayeen Uncle Sams." (Here's a student response to Sleeper, and Sleeper's counter-response.)

Without knowing exactly what happened in these incidents, it's hard to know what to make of all this. Obviously, if students are really breaking into other students' rooms weilding two-by-fours, they should be dealt with severely. On the other hand, it seems to me that anti-war folks would need to be awfully skittish to sense a general environment of intimidation at Yale. Anti-war people are not what you'd call a tiny minority here. My impression is that the administration's measured response -- condemning any sort of intimidation, promising a thorough investigation -- has been appropriate.

Here, to provide one example, is type of "peace hysteria" that is all too common at Yale (and no doubt at campuses all over the country). This is from a Yale freshperson:

It frightens me to the core that we are all going through the motions of our daily lives like drones, while bombs are dropping and people are dying and cities are crumbling. Every day for the past three weeks, I have cried. War is terror, period, regardless of your political stance on attacking Iraq.... A peaceful world cannot be achieved through violent measures or intimidation; violence will only lead to more violence.
Happily, the Daily been great about publishing other viewpoints. Here's another student responding to the freshperson and noting the obvious: "History is rife with instances -- from the 'Pax Romana' to World War II -- where [the above] assertion is patently false."
The Federal Trade Commission is suing one of the biggest originators of pornographic spam.

It's great that the FTC is attacking this problem. The article reports that spam made up about 8 percent of all e-mail traffic in late 2001; just 18 months later, it's more like 40 percent. If that trend is allowed to continue, spam will threaten the appeal of e-mail as a communications tool.
Adam Baer rates the networks' theme music. NBC gets high marks for being "both symphonically and structurally sophisticated," but ABC's war music is just "an amped up little-drummer-boy variation on the weak melody of its Nightline theme."
Quote of the Day:
"Maybe the dingo ate your baby."
~ Seinfeld

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "An Innocent Man"

Happy Birthday:
Lucrezia Borgia
Jayne Mansfield
Dudley Moore
Paloma Picasso
Al Unser, Jr.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

From the NYT, an Easter cake made with the best Easter candy ever. Picture here. Recipe here.

And here's a tribute to Easter sweets ("Because nothing says 'Celebrate the rising of our Lord and Savior' like candy!")
A new trend: dining in the dark. And I don't mean dim lighting; I mean pitch black, where the waiters wear night-vision goggles and don't tell you what you're being served.

Judging from the article, it's not the greatest culinary experience, but on the plus side it's a chance for couples to make out in public.
The Weekly Standard has an exclusive:

Tom Daschle may no longer call himself a Catholic. The Senate minority leader and the highest ranking Democrat in Washington has been sent a letter by his home diocese of Sioux Falls, sources in South Dakota have told The Weekly Standard, directing him to remove from his congressional biography and campaign documents all references to his standing as a member of the Catholic Church.
This isn't the same thing as excommunication -- Daschle is already ineligble to receive communion because of his divorce and remarriage.
Michael Moore is claiming that CNN edited its reporting of his Oscar outburst to make the booing sound louder. According to a posting on Moore's website:

CNN and CNN Headline News aired a significantly different audio response to Moore's speech than was originally broadcast on ABC. It seems that someone has manipulated the audio to give the impression there was constant loud 'booing' throughout Moore's speech, when in reality, there was only marginal booing often overridden with cheers and applause. This needs to be fully investigated... [H]ere we have a clear and shocking example of unethical behavior through manipulation of an historic event."
"Historic event?" Hardly.

CNN's response? "It's ridiculous. That's our response."
The Washington Post reports on a study that found that 40 percent of Americans don't use the Internet:

It's not just a matter of not being able to afford a computer or a connection, although cost did play a role for about a third of the nonusers. What PC enthusiasts overlook, but skeptics don't, is the time it takes to learn to use these technological tools, and the fact that the technology is often frustrating.
Indeed. We forget that people don't emerge from the womb knowing how to use Windows.
Yesterday CNN inadvertently let us see how its website will report the death of Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan, and other people CNN apparently thinks are close to death's door. The pages were only up for about 20 minutes, but The Smoking Gun has captured them here.

There are also obituaries for Fidel Castro, Bob Hope, Pope John Paul II, and Nelson Mandela.
Quote of the Day:
"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
~ Krishnamurti

Song of the Day:
Air Supply, "All Out Of Love"

Happy Birthday:
Nikita Kruschev
J.P. Morgan
Harry Reasoner
Thornton Wilder
Carnival

This week's Carnival of the Vanities has gone up at Billegible. (Here's the exact link in case it starts working).

We will be the hosts of the travelling freakshow next week, so please send in your entries by 5pm EST, Tuesday April 22.
Jordan Says Goodbye

I watched Jordan's last game tonight--and was moved. Here's a tabulation of MJ's top forty moments. The #1 Moment? "The pose. June 14, 1998. Mike hit the game-winner for title No. 6, held the pose and everyone was convinced Mike was signaling goodbye to the playing basketball world. He was 99.9 percent sure. He also had 45 points in that game and hit his shot after swiping the ball from Karl Malone."

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Teach for America

Some time ago, I posted a link to a piece written by a college friend of mine about his experience teaching under Teach for America. His title, "How I Joined Teach for America--and Got Sued for $20 Million," basically speaks for itself. Let's just say he didn't have the best experience.

Well, from Calpundit, I discovered that Josh has been written up in the Washington Post. The Post article gives both sides of the Josh Kaplowitz story, and it appears that Josh deserves some of the blame for his experience. But who can say? Calpundit also pastes in a letter from one of Josh's Teach for America colleagues, Nick Ehrmann, who gives a heavy dose of a different perspective.

I think the lesson to be learned here is one much bigger than Josh, and I worry that the back and forth on what happened and who thought what will bury the important point. And that point is that one needs to seriously wonder about what Teach for America is doing. Can we really pick people who are ready to be teachers in an inner city school? I understand that part of the premise is that inner city education is at the point that we are looking for innovation and novelty, and that bringing in bright young college students, while possibly not conventionally a good idea, might just "do the trick." I just don't think that seeking innovation and novelty means throw caution to the wind. Say what you will, but there are certain traits, certain intangibles that make some people "better" teachers than others. Plain and simple: Some people just can't teach. And I worry that Teach for America either doesn't screen for the right traits, can't screen for the right traits, or is screening for traits that are unimportant as compared to, less important than, or incompatible with the traits that make good teachers. As Lily posted in response to Captain Indignant, "A" students are not always who we are looking for, whether that be in war, in the classroom, or in the middle of a war in the classroom. Maybe it's time for Teach for America to do some serious soul-searching.
Slate's Jack Shafer continues his one-man crusade against Johnny Apple:

Never before has Apple soared to such heights of self-parody! Just two weeks ago, Apple had the United States choking on quicksand; four days ago, the United States' big problem was to know how to define victory. Now, the United States is a latter-day Roman Empire. And he gives a history lesson about U.S. interventions since Vietnam that would not look out of place in Highlights for Children.
Just more wasted ink on the front page of the NYT.
Good Times for Bulls Fans

Michael Jordan is sealing up the scoring record. To paraphrase Bill Walton, thanks Mike. And Jerry Krause, the man who singlehandedly destroyed the Bulls basketball organization and turned it into a glorified rookie squad, is out and John Paxson is in. Things are looking up.
David Tell complains about an NYT editorial on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Virginia v. Black. The editorial praises the Court for upholding Virginia's statute against cross-burning, but Tell notes that all the justices except Thomas and Scalia found Virginia's "prima facie evidence" provision unconstitutional:

A little legal Cliff's Notes tip to my friends at the Times: When seven justices conclude that a law is "unconstitutional," that law has been struck down, not "upheld."
In the NYT's defense, most of what I've read about the decision has been similarly murky.
Stephen Moore notes that in 1894, the New York Times called the first income tax to pass Congress a "vicious, inequitable, unpopular, impolitic, and socialistic act....The crusade for an income tax is the most unreasoning and un-American movement in the politics of the last quarter-century."
Eugene Volokh has a PG-13 post on male vibrators.
Quote of the Day:
"It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not."
~ Andre Gide

Song of the Day:
Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Grow Old With Me"

Happy Birthday:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kingsley Amis
Charlie Chaplin
Anatole France
Henry Mancini
Peter Ustinov
Bobby Vinton
Wilbur Wright

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Gulfport mayor Ken Combs says he regrets calling some of his political opponents "dumb bastards," but he will not resign over the comment.
I am shockingly tardy in reporting how delighted I am with my new Vanessa Jean bag, which was delivered in person last week by Vanessa Jean herself. I used it this weekend and got raves from my friends.
Captain Indignant calls this "the C student's war."

[T]here's the acceptable performance--not nearly as good as the kid had promised, not so bad you want to fail him outright--followed by the immediate loss of interest, incuriosity about how it all turns out, and shift of attention to something bigger and splashier.
Seems I read a book once about how Vietnam was the A students' war. B students, report to the Pentagon!

My impression is that the correllation between raw intelligence and general competence is imperfect at best. I spend my days here among the A-est of A students, many of whom I wouldn't trust to water my plants, let alone conduct a war.
In honor of one of today's birthday boys -- not to mention those delicious little eggs -- here's The History of Chocolate.
Quote of the Day:
"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."
~ Albert Einstein

Song of the Day:
Madonna, "Like A Prayer"

Happy Birthday:
Tom Barber
George A. Cadbury
Kim Il-Sung
Emma Thompson
Henry James
Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, April 14, 2003

Back from a nice weekend in North Carolina. The weather was lovely, and I was hosted by a good friend (and loyal KC reader) who I will soon see again in even happier circumstances!

Posting from me will be light as I ease back into my routine and take care of the many things I have to do this week.
Quote of the Day:
"I think we might be going a bridge too far."
~ Frederick Browning

Song of the Day:
Cake, "Italian Leather Sofa"

Happy Birthday:
Julie Christie
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Loretta Lynn
Pete Rose
Rod Steiger

Sunday, April 13, 2003

More on the Masters

Lest the protest get lost in the excitment over the play at Augusta, here's a good on-the-scene account from John Donovan at SI.com. His opening line really sums it up:
The sad thing is, there were some serious messages just dying to get out Saturday on a bright, blue, beautiful Masters day.
Donovan then recounts some of the odder things he saw:

--PARP, which stands for People Against Ridiculous Protests, had a sign erected. As you might expect, no PARP members were around.

--In one of the more enlightening moments of the day, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, Jack Batson, explained to me how the courts, in keeping protesters away from the front gates of the club, decided that the pursuit of happiness of Augusta National was more important than the right of free speech for the protesters. "The preamble of the Constitution takes precedent over the enumerated rights," he said. "I thought of that in the shower this morning."

--Finally, sometime before 11 a.m., a bus pulled up on Washington Road and, as the sound system set up for the rally blared Helen Reddy's I Am Woman, the protesters stepped off the bus. By best count, there were somewhere between 20 and 30 of them. At that point, police had protesters outnumbered probably four or five to one. It was almost the same ratio for media members to protesters.
The Masters

Why I love sports: There's always hope. Always hope for the miracle. The come from behind, the prayer shot, the hail mary. Two goals in thirty seconds, three touchdowns in two minutes. Eight strokes in one round. Bottom of the ninth homers, on back to back days, at home, in Yankee Stadium, when you've got your back to the ropes in the Series.

Why I love Tiger: He epitomizes why I love sports. When you say you can never count him out, that's the damn truth. Sometimes sports fans are engaged in wishful thinking when they gut it out to the end of the game hoping for that 12 point comeback in 45 seconds. But with Tiger, you can never, never count him out. And that makes it exciting. It makes it moving. It makes it a true testament of the human spirit.

Tiger Woods makes two scrappy shots to barely make the cut this morning. He turns around, has lunch, changes his shirt, and comes back to shoot a 66, to move from 11 back on the leader to 4 back. To go from tied for 43rd to tied for 4th. "Proof you should never doubt Tiger."

Will he win tomorrow? Who knows. Will he make it exciting? Probably. Will he falter? Maybe. If he does, will I still watch to the end? Yes. Will I still hope against hope for a double eagle on the 18th? Yes. Why? Because I love sports. And because you can never--never--count Tiger out.

Here's the one bad thing about Tiger's ability to work miracles. You can't get an unbiased prediction about his chances at a tournament. Sportswriters become like meterologists when they talk about Tiger. Everyone just hedges their bets and says that he'll storm back and win--it's like predicting a snowstorm; no one wants to be the shmuck who didn't do it.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Movie Review

For maybe the first five minutes of Joel Schumacher's new thriller Phone Booth we follow Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell), a hustling young publicist, as he walks west through Times Square making cell phone calls to editors and columnists and clients trying to get print space and arrange a party. At the bottom of the game, Stu is desperate, but he doesn't plead, he pushes--playing one magazine off another when he doesn't have interest from either, trying to recall an item he faxed to a columnist in order to pique her interest in it. Already an inveterate multi-tasker, he isn't just working by phone--he hands concert tickets to a cop in return for celebrity tidbits he feeds to the columnist in exchange for space, and we see him pull the same thing in person on a hotel manager that he pulled on the editors by phone.

Stu is trailed by a young, unpaid assistant, who also has a cell; they use their phones in coordination like players in a furious duet. The relationship works in part because Stu alternately promises to teach the eager kid everything he'll need to know about p.r. (and to pay him) and threatens to replace him if he can't keep up. Both approaches make Stu seem like a barely attainable ideal--as a matter of largesse he gives the kid cash to buy a slick suit like the one Stu is wearing. (This common kind of entertainment industry S/M relationship is the subject of George Huang's terrific black comedy Swimming with Sharks (1995), with Kevin Spacey abusing Frank Whalley. In Huang's picture we see what living up to the boss's demands does to the kid in the long run.)

Schumacher started out in the fashion business in New York thirty-odd years ago and has worked in movies since the mid-'70s. A lot of experience informs this opening, which is like a condensed version of Alexander Mackendrick's classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring Tony Curtis as the press agent Sidney Falco, scrambling to stay in good with the fearsome columnist-god, J.J. Hunsecker, played by Burt Lancaster and modeled on Walter Winchell. Both movies create an atmosphere out of the sweat of parasitic operators on the margins of the entertainment world and manage to keep their self-loathing sharp enough to slice fine, avoiding self-pity. That describes most of the running length of Sweet Smell of Success, however, but only the first five or ten minutes of Phone Booth.

Stu is heading to a phone booth on Eighth Avenue--the last one on the street with a door that closes providing some privacy, we're told--where he takes off his wedding ring to smooth talk a young actress into meeting him at a hotel after she gets off her job at a restaurant. She turns him down and before he manages to leave the phone rings. It turns out to be a sniper with a laser-guided scope rifle trained on his chest who knows everything about him and is going to punish him for his dishonesty and nastiness--to his wife, the girl on the side, his assistant, his clients, random people he interacts with on the street, himself.

The movie then turns into a contest of will and wits between the psycho Caller, whom we don't see, and Stu, forced to stay in the booth upon pain of death. The script by Larry Cohen has its nutty moments, for instance, when some hookers try to get Stu out of the booth, which they consider "theirs," and when the NYPD show up and Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) tries to talk Stu out of the booth. Stu's problem is that the Caller will shoot him if he tells the cops what's going on, so he says he's on the line with his shrink, which causes Ramey to start talking about his own experience in therapy. Unfortunately the handling is so uneven we have to guess whether Ramey does this shrewdly to get Stu to identify with him, or whether he's just a too-much-information kind of guy. Either way, it should be funnier than it is.

But the script isn't after the comedy of how New Yorkers respond to an explosive situation on the streets (unlike Sidney Lumet's great Dog Day Afternoon (1975)). It takes the Caller's moral dissection of Stu seriously, presenting as the dramatic high point Stu's confession to his wife and the crowd. This is a drag, in no small part because in movies negotiations tend to be more interesting than confrontations. How we actually get through the business of our lives is more absorbing than these symbolic standoffs that explicitly bare the essence of the characters. To get at that essence (always too neatly preconceived) the movie sacrifices all the specific, practical details and gives us instead simplistic moralizing. I realize this is an argument for realism as against romance as a genre, and I don't mean that categorically, I just mean that the romance you get in the movies is not very high grade. Once Stu is trapped in the phone booth the movie shifts down to something it has much less feel for.

Phone Booth is a coherent romance, at any rate. Because we don't see the Caller while he's on the line with Stu, the situation functions symbolically. The Caller represents conscience at its most relentless, least forgiving. The story line seems to arise out of the familiar guilty conscience of movers and shakers in the entertainment business--doing whatever's required to get their overpaying job in the crap factory. (It has some affinity in this respect with The Player, Michael Tolkin's novel about the movie industry, which deploys, however, a much subtler punishing conscience.) At one level the movie is thus confessional, and at another hypocritical--Schumacher's career has benefited far more from publicists than from critics!

The movie is also condescending. When Stu confesses, he not only apologizes for all the things he's done, he explains them as compensation for fear or a sense of inadequacy. It's as much an outburst of pop psychology as of religious atonement. But among the things he apologizes for is how he dresses, which the movie has used as an accurate sociological sign of his being a working-class guy from the Bronx. (I once saw Schumacher at the Polo boutique on Rodeo Drive--he was wearing jodhpurs. There's a call for you in the phone booth, Mr. Schumacher: you have some explaining to do.) The absurd idea seems to be that once enough pressure is brought to bear on Stu he'll see through his own taste and habits. In other words, he'll see how he varies from some supposed ideal of middle-class taste and realize how wrong he's been to hide behind that flashy suit.

In some ways a worse problem is that Stu is the third of the Caller's victims. The first was a German porn producer and pedophile, the second an American businessman who sold his stock before the market tanked while small guys got stuck, and so it's clear that the audience is supposed to see some moral validity in the Caller's attack on Stu, and thus may enjoy the "retributive" sadism. (Picky questions: how does the Caller know the German was a pedophile--did he watch him molest children without stopping him? And unless the businessman was guilty of insider trading, isn't it perhaps a sign of admirable acumen to have got out before the market tanked?) Classing Stu with these other two has a double function, to make the audience feel that Stu is worse than any short-tempered hotshot really is, and to make the audience feel that Stu in fact isn't all that bad, so we can root for him to survive, a new man, purged of his sins. (Like One Hour Photo, the movie features a lunatic more interested in correcting the errant husband than killing him, which enables them to spook us with psycho vibes and still end happily.) Phone Booth does have this in common with Sweet Smell of Success: I have never understood why Sidney the small-timer has to be punished so roughly, while J.J. is merely abandoned but left in power. (J.J.'s bronze colossus isn't pulled down, we're just shown that it's hollow.) Maybe it's representative of the world's sadism toward the weak, but I also think that both these movies can't get over their awe of "titanic" winners in the game. They'd never stick someone like Winchell in a phone booth and torment a confession out of him.

Schumacher makes his style memorably buggy here (like the traffic jam opening in Falling Down (1993)), but faster to keep up with the connection speed made possible by current technology. The people Stu talks to are patched onto the screen so there's no intercutting, which oddly makes it even harder to keep up because it's all happening on one screen. He employs something like the split-screen style of Norman Jewison's Thomas Crown Affair (1968) but the point here isn't just to create live-action designer wallpaper. Schumacher wants to replicate the brain-frying synapse speed necessary in the crowded, constantly buzzing, contemporary city, and the movie does have some of his most engaged work. (Generally Schumacher has taken the most obvious, packaged kind of material and played right into its hyped-up fakeness, and that's also true of Phone Booth. The only element of personal interest in his canon is a vague homoeroticism.)

But once the movie switches from Stu operating to Stu stuck in the phone booth, you realize Schumacher has thrown the baby out and is serving you the bathwater. It's hell on the actors. Stu's idiom is so specific that the Irish Farrell has to work too hard creating it from the outside; when he's forced by the Caller to strip away the surface there's nothing underneath. Whitaker can be a wily actor, but he's defeated by the wobbliness of his scenes. As for Kiefer Sutherland as the Caller, here's my suggestion for a casting test: if you wouldn't buy an audio tape of an actor reading poetry, don't cast him in a voice-only role. (In movies Sutherland manages to be pushy and bland at the same time. The only memorable work he's done is his unintentionally hilarious white supremacist in A Time to Kill (1995), Schumacher's epically bad and morally reprehensible Grisham adaptation.) I liked the hookers best, especially Paula Jai Parker. When she literally gets hopping mad that Stu is hogging her booth you feel you're seeing the single act of real conviction in the entire movie. It's her damn booth.

You can find this review and a lot more at blogcritics.