Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Reader DS sends an email in response to my post yesterday:
Herewith, my own two cents: It reminded me of a televised interview with Norman Mailer. Mailer is ordinarily too obnoxious to take in anything but small doses, but he was spot on here.
Let me interrupt here and say I agree with this statement. But on with the email...
The interviewer asked him a question (the forum was a university ampitheatre), and Mailer was interrupted by an audience member after his answer seemed overlong. "You ask me a question that requires an
intelligent answer, and I'm going to take the time to construct one. You've been spoiled into accepting a soundbite, but I refuse to answer that way," paraphrased.

Mailer had hit on the point that I'm taking overlong, myself, to make: that Americans are not so stupid as they are Pavlovian. The media delivers in bite-sized morsels, and demands bite-sized compliance.

No radio talk show call-in guest would be allowed to explain, with any kind of thoroughness, his or her answer to a question. The staccato intimidation characteristic of hosts is to blame, a function of the market imperative. Ppeople must be "hooked" into a radio show or television program, and channel-surfing into the middle of a long screed about Iraq, say, or public education, leaves the surfer unsure of the topic. Alienated, bored, he changes, searching for instant
intellectual gratification. Click goes the tuner, and that show loses audience share. And revenue.

Callers know this, and imitate the format. They're more interested in hearing their voice on the radio for 20 seconds than they are in addressing the issue -- a case of momentary fame trumping intellectual honesty. The host is more interested in plowing through several conditioned callers rather than one or two informative ones, in the interest of "objectivity," and perceived "balance."

In sum, I blame the format. The sheep that participate are silly proles, but they're behaving as taught: they're really reacting to a crappy format that rewards super-simplified thought and confrontation over intellectual substance.
I think DS is definitely on to something here. But I don't think this at all determines whether America is stupid. For one who believes in the market, I have to entertain the argument that it is America who not only tolerates, but demands--in literal economic terms--"the format." Nevertheless, I do think DS has put his finger on a key problem. And I think this point of his really gets to the worst of it:
The host is more interested in plowing through several conditioned callers rather than one or two informative ones, in the interest of "objectivity," and perceived "balance."
You see, not only has the public debate gone to pot, but people believe that the lack of nuance is a good thing! Take O'Reilly for example. His baloney program, on which people have no opportunity to explain or even begin to articulate their points, is billed as a "spin-free" zone. People love O'Reilly because they think he is keeping his guests from giving their pat, prepared answers by keeping them off guard. He does nothing of the sort. The only thing I get from O'Reilly is that he's afraid of a real debate--a real, thinking debate.
On a very crappy day, only two things have made me smile:

(1) the clear onset of fall (about which Greengourd, the fall-hater, has an extended post: "Yes, friends, I want you to realize that the congestion and the horrible, unending hack-ack-acking cough (and, really, can you just keep that away from me, please?), well, they go right along with those rusty leaves and that chill in the air.")

and

(2) this quotation from this morning's Boston Globe: "He's not a criminal of any sort. He's a gorilla."

The quotation is in reference to the escape of Little Joe, the gorilla, from the Franklin Park Zoo. I like this quotation for several reasons. One, it's funny. Two, it poses some interesting questions. One inference that may follow from these two statements is that Little Joe is not a criminal because he's a gorilla. That is, gorilla's are incapable of being criminals. I suppose this is, as a matter of law, technically true. Interestingly, though, I would wager this probably is not what John Linehan, Zoo New England CEO, meant. He probably meant something more like--"He's a gorilla so cut him some slack."

Um... I don't know where I'm going with this, so I'll stop here.
Step aside Warold Roe, this is news.

The favorite in the Louisiana Governor's race is a 32-year old Republican who is the son of asian Indian immigrants.

At 32, his resume will make your head spin. He has already been the President of the University of Louisiana System.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Not impressive as thinking beings

I haven't posted much worth reading lately. Well, I haven't posted much lately. This is due in part, I think, to a cynical downturn I've entered. As I said yesterday, I've come to wonder if we, as Americans, aren't that impressive as thinking beings. Put more simply, are we as a country just plain stupid?

My cynicism, I guess you can call it, is rooted primarily in the media--radio talk shows in particular. Who are these people who call in to radio talk shows? There isn't even the pretense of making or understanding nuances and subtleties in argument. The question for me used to be: why can't people try to see both sides of an issue? I thought for a while that the problem was one of communication. People weren't able to see both sides because they weren't exposed to other arguments. The internet convinced me that the problem was less one of exposure and more one of choice. When given the option, people preferred to surround themselves only with the viewpoint they wanted to hear. I've come now to believe that it isn't a preference for particular viewpoints, but rather an inability to understand multiple viewpoints. Why else would we have people like O'Reilly and Begala who, if they listened for a minute to what they were saying, would be ashamed of themselves as allegedly thinking beings? Perhaps we Americans are not stupid, and it is our pundits who believe we are stupid and treat us as such. Or perhaps, we let them treat us this way.

What led to today's diatribe? That we need "experts" to tell us this:
Karen Jo Koonan of the National Jury Project West, a jury consulting firm, said the danger of a long trial is that jurors might be tempted to decide on a desire to be done rather than on the basis of law.
Whatever happened to common sense?

Anyway, so this is why I haven't posted much lately. I've been fed up with the lack of nuance in the public debate.
Shhh.... the next dean of the law school will rhyme with "Warold Roe." Next they'll be telling us that the sun's going to come up tomorrow. Crazy kids.

"In principle, a plastic sheet covered with electronic ink could display an entire library, page by page."

Intrigued? Check it out.
Haven't checked our mail in a while. Dean Jens passes along this interesting tidbit about the holistic human mind:
My grandmother has an interesting decoration made of wood; four pieces of wood form stripes, red-white-red-white, and a fifth is a blue star attached to the corner. This is all wrong, but one looks at it and immediately knows that it's an American flag. I bet the same thing is going on as in reading scrambled words.
For some context, see my post here.
Speaking of women's soccer, I went to a game at Gillette Stadium the other day. The turnout, sadly, was 14,000. I think Yale football games garner a greater turnout.
I have a friend who wonders whether we, as a species, are simply not that impressive (as thinking beings). This keeps him up late at night. I sometimes wonder whether we, as Americans, are simply not that impressive as thinking beings. Quotes like this one that I found, aggravatingly enough, in what should be the spin-free zone of ESPN.com add force to those thoughts.
"If the leadership of the Bush administration decides to sit down with North Korea, there will be some type of result, and I assure you it will be positive,'' Egan said.
I mean, in what hole has this guy been living?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Charles Krauthammer thinks Ted Kennedy is losing it. He dissects the latest Kennedy pronouncment:

"There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud."
Note the scorn for Texas, says Krauthammer -- it's anti-redneck!

A lovely and telling geographic tic, betraying the Massachusetts liberal's regional prejudice. For a president to unleash an unnecessary, cynical war he needs to be as far removed as possible from sanity (Hyannisport?). You head south and west -- to redneck country -- to plan your killings.
Has Ted Kennedy ever been to Texas?

Saturday, September 27, 2003

I am outraged.

Locals 34 and 35 at Yale are contemplating imposing penalties on those workers who did not go on strike.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Embrace the singular they, says The Vocabula Review:
One of the surprise downsides of triumphing in the battle for nonsexist language is the dilemma created by the fact that English doesn't have a "grammatically acceptable" gender-free third-person singular pronoun to reference a person. This doesn't particularly matter in speech because native speakers of English automatically rely on singular they (their, them) as the pronoun of choice; for example:

I don't care what everyone else is doing; they're not me.
If someone calls, tell them I'm out.
But singular they can be problematic in writing.... In the good old days — between the mid-eighteenth century and the late 1960s; specifically, before women insisted on being included in the human race — writers employed the allegedly generic he to fill the void.... [W]e embraced the idea that he meant she as well as he and rejected the notion that feminine gender mattered. Thus embracing the ideal of genderless he, we didn't even smile at the absurdity of a sentence such as, "No person shall be forced to have an abortion against his will" or "Man, being a mammal, breast-feeds his young."
Apparently I'm a total square -- I think I even use he in speaking sometimes.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The publishers of the Chinese edition of Hillary Clinton's memoir have tinkered with the text:

Clinton's memoir, "Living History," runs 466 pages in Chinese and contains at least 10 segments where sensitive topics have been changed or deleted. They include material on Harry Wu, a Chinese-American human rights activist, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

One section in the Chinese version says Wu had been detained and was awaiting sentencing for spying. The original version says Wu is a "human rights activist who had spent 19 years as a political prisoner in Chinese labor camps."
Simon and Schuster is outraged and has put up a website with the correct text in English and Mandarin.
Picture of the week.
Today was a special day. Flowers came to my office!
Quote of the Day:
"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
~Dinah Craik

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

Happy Birthday:
Michael Douglas
William Faulkner
Heather Locklear
Scottie Pippin
Christopher Reeve
Will Smith
Barbara Walters
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Here's one for the "who knew" files:

Someone owns the Dewey Decimal system. And they've gone to court over it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"I feel like I win when I lose."
~ ABBA

Song of the Day:
Liz Phair, "Why Can't I"

Happy Birthday:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Phil Hartman
Nia Vardalos

Monday, September 22, 2003

X-rated Handel

Jess puts her finger on the reason we were always told to enunciate carefully during certain Messiah choruses.
Quote of the Day:
"Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score; Then to that twenty, add a hundred more: A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on, To make that thousand up a million. Treble that million, and when that is done, Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun."
~ Robert Herrick

Song of the Day:
Avril Lavigne, "Sk8er Boi"

Happy Birthday:
Scott Baio
Andre Bocelli
Joan Jett
Tommy Lasorda
Isabel knocked out my electricity last week, but only for about 24 hours. (The lights came back on just in time to welcome Kate to town for the weekend!) Several people at my job are still without power.
Matt Labash does a post-mortem on the media spectacle that was Bennifer:

So excessive was their consumption, that at one point, gossip sheets were abuzz with Affleck's plans to buy his princess a toilet seat adorned with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls at a cost of $105,000. At first, I thought Affleck, who occasionally displays self-awareness and a sense of humor, was slyly signifying to the world, as if in a hostage video, that he knew he was engaged to a royal pain in the ass.
Funny -- Kate and I have both joked about pulling a certain acquaintance of ours aside and saying, "C'mon now -- you've taken this engagement joke far enough." Sadly, now it's too late. (If you're reading this, it's not you.)
Andrew Sullivan looks at two would-be first ladies -- Theresa Heinz and Judith Steinberg -- and is refreshed at the prospect of something different:

Hillary's poll-driven hair-styles, her dishonest books, her bland rhetoric and schmaltzy cynicism were the result of a woman who put power before integrity at every stage of her life. Steinberg and Heinz are like cold showers after that muggy, sticky mess. But America is still, at heart, a traditional country. And Americans, in general, like the representations of their family lives to reflect more their nostalgia than their own reality.
Sullivan predicts that both women will complicate their husbands' White House bids.
How Appealling is, of course, all over today's oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit California recall case. Eugene Volokh has a post on how today's panel of 11 was chosen.

Stuart Taylor has a column in National Journal (link unfortunately requires paid registration) about how this case is different from Bush v. Gore:

The constitutional problem in Bush v. Gore was not the fact that some Florida counties had used old, relatively error-prone punch-card voting machines. It was the rushed, chaotic, unreliable process that the Florida Supreme Court had invented -- after Bush had won the machine recount mandated by the state's election code -- to keep alive Gore's effort to overcome Bush's freakishly small margin of victory. That court had invented a right to an unprecedented statewide manual recount, while allowing local elected officials to choose vote-counters and to use subjective, non-uniform, inconsistent, and thus easily manipulable, standards....
Over at the Weekly Standard there's this prediction:

Assuming he votes against the delay, Judge Alex Kozinski could be the senior member of that reversing majority. Why is this important? Whoever writes that opinion becomes national news. For a conservative 9th Circuit judge, it's a chance to become a darling of the right--a Left Coast Scalia, if you will--and maybe start appearing on short lists for Supreme Court vacancies.
Nothing against the man, but I think Alex Kozinski has about as good a shot of getting on the Big Court as Richard "Let's Sell Babies on the Open Market" Posner.

And Kaus is recall-blogging at a furious rate.
Movie Review

Harvey Pekar is an exceptional sort of blue-collar hipster. He's a college dropout with a highly developed interest in classic jazz recordings, literature, and comic books, and one who's suspicious of anything "co-opted" by Establishment institutions, but unlike the Counterculture generation which followed his, he didn't develop a lifestyle to match his interests. Instead, he began working as a file clerk in a V.A. Hospital in his home town of Cleveland in 1966 and stayed at the job until his retirement in 2001. Unlike his friend the artist Robert Crumb, who was also born before the Baby Boom and whom he met while buying old records at a garage sale, he did not remove himself to a youth culture hub and become an icon to a younger set. He never even developed a personal style to express his unusual tastes and thoughts. In the '80s David Letterman told him on camera that he looks like a man you'd see sleeping on the bus.

Pekar is not, however, a contentedly little man. He's a grouser whose mind fixates on irritations (forgetting his keys; getting stuck behind an argumentative, bargain-hunting old Jewish lady in a grocery store line) but he's also an observer with an ear for intriguing oddities (the distinctive conversation of two of his loquacious co-workers; a random exchange he overhears between two guys hauling a mattress to a dumpster). He nets details like a standup who constructs routines from all the little things that go wrong in a day, all the weird little things that people do, but without the slickness. Life never feels normal or very satisfying to him, and though he's all wound up about it he has a connoisseur's appreciation of its weirdness.

In American Splendor, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's terrific movie about him, Paul Giamatti playing Pekar rattles his grocery cart when the old lady argues with the cashier at the grocery store, but he stomps out without having interfered effectively, vented adequately, or bought anything. Generally his sense of powerlessness attacks his voice; when life is very stressful it gets fainter and scratchier until he has no way to communicate at all. The funniest scene shows him trying to keep his second wife from leaving him when he sounds like an emphysemic doggie squeak toy.

As Pekar explains in this Time Online Edition interview with Andrew D. Arnold, he loved comic books, like most American boys of his generation. In the movie, when he gets really frustrated in the early '70s he begins to illustrate his life in cartoon frames. His concept is so basic--putting into his narrative all the details that other writers leave out and taking out of his narrative all the superheroics of most comic books--that he can convey his idea in pencilled stick figures. Although such a comic book might have been amusing to read, it's not a loss that Crumb offered to illustrate the stories. At that instant in the movie Pekar's voice returns to normal. The stories, illustrated in turn by Crumb and other artists, have been published annually since 1976 as American Splendor.

In silhouette Pekar is a schlub, a comic sadsack. But the movie doesn't make him loveably harmless, the way Woody Allen presents himself in Take the Money and Run (1969) and Play It Again, Sam (1972). Pekar is too prickly for that, and though he's Jewish he doesn't have the runt's paranoia about goyim and bigger, more successful men. Nor does the movie make him pitiably loveable, like Ernest Borgnine in Paddy Chayefsky's Marty (1955), or Pruitt Taylor Vince in James Mangold's Heavy (1995), a more sophisticated version of the same approach. The point is that the movie isn't emotional, thank God for once. Berman and Pulcini aren't trying to get you to feel a particular way about their protagonist but to get you to see his story they way he sees it.

The squeaky response to his wife's departure, the stick figures, and the sequence in which Pekar and his wife heatedly argue about whether Revenge of the Nerds (1984) is just another Hollywoodization of marginal experience or whether it will be the equivalent for nerds of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, might suggest that American Splendor is a work of irony, but it isn't, really. Pekar's aesthetic doesn't have the necessary detachment. Some of the characters, especially Toby Radloff (Judah Friedlander), the nerdy co-worker the Pekars see Revenge with, are as loopy as in a Christopher Guest comedy, but they're presented straight-on, without implied held-in laughter (or the alienated iciness of hipper forms of irony). One of the best qualities of American Splendor is that it doesn't assume that "we" are of a different species from the dysfunctional people on screen. They're not so passively "seen" as that.

The movie's Pekar has a discussion about Theodore Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt and like Dreiser he becomes committed to representing exactly what his life is like, which makes him straightforwardly heroic in a way true to his unvarnished idea of representation and impossible for an ironic protagonist. Pekar has cited Henry Miller as an inspiration but though he's a truth-teller, he isn't a flagrant wallower like Miller, or a Whitmanesque visionary. He doesn't seek an elevation above the mundane. It thus makes sense that Pekar keeps a weblog. His webpage features a cartoon of him with a dialogue bubble reading, "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff!"

The movie begins, in fact, with young Harvey trick-or-treating as himself alongside little boys dressed as comic book superheroes. When a woman is confused by what he's supposed to "be," Harvey gives up in disgust and kicks his way down the street alone. This opening doesn't have the practiced-comic punch of the young Alvy Singer's Coney Island childhood scenes in Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), but it has a much bigger payoff in the conception of the movie. The point of Pekar's comic books, and of Berman and Pulcini's movie, is that there should be a niche for artists simply to tell you what life is really like, without superhuman heroes, inflated rhetoric, florid symbolism, and pumped-up battles over polarized values.

Of course, Pekar's attitude isn't a reasoned proposal that there be such a niche, it's an outburst of depressive disgust that you even have to tell people there ought to be such a niche. This also means that the comics and the movie aren't just examples of naturalism; the subject of both is in part the choice of narrative genre, of naturalism over romance and melodrama. Pekar is a natural-born naturalist and this movie, at once a tribute to him, a documentary about him, and an illustration of his life and work, serves as a reprieve from the mass-marketed heroic conventions of big-movie entertainment.

Pekar does compact his observations in comic book frames, but he doesn't package them in the way we're used to. That's why his appearances on Letterman were so buggy and heated. The moviemakers generally don't recreate the Letterman appearances but show the actual footage, and Pekar is not like the usual talk show guest, desperate to seem in on the joke in order to peddle his wares more effectively. Pekar is (rightly) suspicious of Letterman's attitude toward him and hence combative. He picks a fight before Letterman has even begun to smarm him. The "magic" is that Pekar's combativeness makes him an even better butt for Letterman. He's so serious he can't sell himself at all. His prickliness is inseparable from his integrity, and he can't sell that, either, though it is a Hollywood trope. Selling it requires an assumption of dignity not in Pekar's repertoire. He's a permanent, rumpled drop-out, and it's fascinating to watch a movie catch a quality that isn't catchable by movies, or by what Pekar means by "Hollywood."

Pekar and Crumb are much less comfortable with their success, and the media distribution networks that have made it possible, than most Counterculture icons. It always feels compromising to them, as if they must have sold out if a lot of people like them. (They don't distinguish between selling and selling out.) James Urbaniak, who impersonates Crumb, is especially good at embodying this without "putting it over." He keeps his head down over his sketch pad to indicate that the main relationship is always with his work and that the audience and institutions of distribution are a baneful necessity to be tolerated. Even his slight drawl suggests his total skepticism about anything outside his work.

American Splendor treads tactfully around this, innovatively combining animation, documentary techniques (both period footage and current interviews with the real Pekar), and dramatic reenactments, but without losing the feel of entertainment. (Berman and Pulcini are a married couple whose previous works include such documentaries about Hollywood culture as Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1997) and The Young and the Dead (2002), which is about the transformation of the bankrupt Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, where such celebrities as Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Marion Davies, Douglas Fairbanks, Paul Muni, Bugsy Siegel, and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer are buried, into the interactive, "sexy," and profitable (which is the sexiest thing of all in Southern California) Hollywood Forever.) American Splendor is a good time without being coarse or obvious and the casual handling of Pekar's relationship with Crumb is especially good. Crumb's disappearance from Pekar's Cleveland life and Pekar's resultant loneliness is conveyed in a beautifully simple fade.

I have to say, however, that while American Splendor is entertaining, the subject has escaped the makers a bit. The key is in the Letterman appearances featuring the real Harvey Pekar. The movie honors Pekar by not going in for suspense: we aren't made to feel he's blowing his big chance by being so hostile, or to feel like he's won the lottery when his hostility pays off with an invitation to return to the show. But it also makes you aware that there's something in Pekar that the movie can't get at any other way than by showing the man himself.

Paul Giamatti does inspired work as the cartoon version of Pekar. With his fried-egg eyes and his schlumpy carriage, Giamatti looks as if he's got one of those individual-portion black clouds that depressed cartoon characters walk under. The moviemakers haven't brightened up Pekar's character or life and yet Giamatti rounds the contours, dampens Pekar's aggression. (He's recognizably Pekar, but he's also Charlie Brown.) It's surely the fullest performance ever given by an American cartoon character, but it doesn't have the resistance-to-capture that the real Pekar shows on Letterman. Giamatti as Pekar is more representation than man, which is a bit of a failure when naturalism is your ideal.

This is just to say that the movie doesn't go beyond the comic books, it merely animates them. Don't get me wrong, that's a lot. But the movie seems a little meandering, especially toward the end, and I'm certainly not someone who gets antsy when there isn't a gun battle every twenty minutes. Part of the problem is the introduction of Pekar's third wife Joyce Brabner, played by Hope Davis. Davis always has an air of defensiveness and is a bit remote--sometimes she looks like a burrowing rodent just come up into the sunlight for the first time this season. Her role as Joyce uses this quality better than any other movie has. Joyce has as many peculiarities as Pekar, maybe more, but luckily for her she's combative enough to avoid being drawn entirely into his story. This means that she gets depressed until she comes up with projects of her own, which involve getting children in her life.

The movie mostly resists the impulse to present the Pekars' story as a journey to wholeness (it gets soft, understandably, only when it introduces the child for whom they serve as guardians), but there's another, subtler, problem. The movie never gets "behind" Harvey Pekar. It dramatizes his view of life and even more his view of what comic book narratives should be. It does much less with the semi-fictional Joyce--she is just a character in Pekar's comic book (a perception the actual Joyce seems less than enchanted with in her documentary-interview appearance in the movie).

This presents the same problem for Davis that it does in Alan Rudolph's Secret Lives of Dentists. In that movie, Campbell Scott as her husband suspects her of cheating but does not want to find out whether he's right. He's a slightly frightening control freak and when control doesn't accomplish what he wants he begins hallucinating a Doppelg?nger, played by Denis Leary, who can express anger (which actually takes the husband to a new, more purely masculine, form of control, making him even scarier). It's bad enough for Scott that Leary gets to play all the recesses of his character and gets all the good lines. But it's worse for Davis that the script doesn't tell us any more about the wife than her husband glimpses or guesses.

While you may often wonder what makes the willowy Davis so mopey, she is not a fascinating creature. She's not openly sensual enough for that. Neither is she a waif, at least, but then she lacks the man's-woman directness that makes Helen Hunt appealing. (Hunt is among the least girlish American movie stars ever; she makes even Cameron Diaz seem coy.) Davis is there and not there, but not in a way that makes audiences wonder where she might be instead. Because it doesn't develop the wife's side of the marriage, The Secret Lives of Dentists seems protracted by an hour; it would have made a wonderful short.

Joyce wouldn't have to be fascinating but she's in the movie too much not to have more dimensions. She needed either to be a cartoon or a woman. It would have given the movie depth to suggest what it is about her that Pekar can't reach or comprehend--what gave her that stony look of forbearance in the documentary footage. It's odd that a movie co-directed by a woman wouldn't have got past the comic-book-loving boys' view of girls as appendages. Davis is very good, but the assignment raises more expectations than it allows her to fulfill.

All that said, the experience of naturalism at an American movie is so rare that the movie almost feels like a cleansing. In that respect it couldn't be truer to Pekar's beliefs as a narrative artist. And though the setting is grungy and it may seem balky to a lot of people not to be prompted for movie-ish emotions, Berman and Pulcini also shape American Splendor enough that it's enjoyable right on the surface. Packaging observations isn't the only way to make them entertaining.

You can find this review and a lot besides at Blogcritics.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Modern Art

How about:

A room decorated with frames in which you leave the package "picture." Genius, I say! Genius!

Saturday, September 20, 2003

At least have the guts to admit to what you're doing:
Two Bronx girls reportedly had to wear skirts made of trash bags to class as a punishment for coming to school in jeans rather than their uniforms.

...

Damiba called the garbage-bag skirts "Damiba fashions" and said they weren't meant to be humiliating.
Well, what the heck are they, then? It's a shaming penalty. Sheesh.
From last week's Sports Illustrated:
This week's sign of the Apocalypse:
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss how teams are selected for BCS games.
Indeed.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Destroyed, smishtroyed. I'll never fly Jetblue now.

This isn't the same, but something in the article made me think of it. In the article, they note that Jetblue has made a splash by having such low fares. Well, it made me think of those NetZero commercials (I think it's NetZero) where they say that it's the same Internet and ask why then does NetZero (or Juno or somebody) only charge $10 a month when AOL charges $29.99. I always find myself yelling at the TV: "It's because they don't sell their subscribers' information to the highest bidder!"
Lily is without power, but at least her cell phone still works. I have a plane ticket to go down and visit this weekend, but we shall see whether I will make it there or end up spending all day tomorrow in the airport.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Who killed Jesus? Slate's Steven Waldman is on the case.
Andrew Sullivan on hurricane coverage:

I also love the way weather people on the telly pretend to be terribly upset that a hurricane may come and give us hell, when quite obviously they're having the time of their lives. The crushing look of disappointment they feel telling viewers it isn't going to be as intense as they first 'feared' has to be seen to be believed.
WMAL is reporting that the federal government will remain closed tomorrow.
NYT correspondent John Burns on reporting from Iraq when Saddam Hussein was still in power:

I felt from the start that this was in a category by itself, with the possible exception in the present world of North Korea. I felt that that was the central truth that has to be told about this place. It was also the essential truth that was untold by the vast majority of correspondents here. Why? Because they judged that the only way they could keep themselves in play here was to pretend that it was okay.

It's not impossible to tell the truth. I have a conviction about closed societies, that they're actually much easier to report on than they seem, because the act of closure is itself revealing. Every lie tells you a truth.
Burns has some harsh words for his fellow reporters.
Kimberly Swygert at Number 2 Pencil takes on the arguments against merit pay for teachers.
For what it's worth, there's now a banner headline on the front page of the Washington Post: "Isabel Pounding N.C., Southern Va."

I just took a walk. It wasn't too bad yet -- just moderate rain with occasional gusts of wind -- but there was already a large piece of a tree down, and things seem to be going downhill. The power has flickered several times.
From The Onion: "Supreme Court Gets Free Box Of Shoes After Mentioning Nike In Ruling"
WASHINGTON, DC—The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were treated to a free crate of athletic shoes Monday, following an offhand mention of Nike during a ruling in the case of McBrayer & Company v. The City Of Detroit. "... The Supreme Court will begin its new session Oct. 6, with Case 03-130: Sony High-Definition Widescreen Televisions v. Fossil Sterling Silver Multifunction Watches v. Bombay Sapphire Gin.
Also, DC is back on top.
Jess at Jadejo is begging for more movie reviews by Alan Dale.

And I'm wondering if he's seen "Flirting With Disaster," a 1996 Ben Stiller comedy that I think is a gem. I was reminded of it last month when Kate and I caught a scrap of it, and I'd love to hear if Alan thinks it's any good.

If you haven't seen it, go rent it before the storm hits. Speaking of Isabel, it's finally started to rain here. Here's the latest from the Post.
Here's a new website -- www.WafflePoweredHoward.com -- that chronicles the policy flip-flops of Howard Dean.
A new "power sausage" is enhanced with caffeine. The inventor, a butcher, says the sausage "picks you up like an espresso."
I just tried to check my work voicemail and reached Evan Thomas of Newsweek. I'm interpreting this as a sign that I've chosen the wrong career path. (Although I note from Thomas's bio that he has a law degree.)
Just went out to the grocery store for a few necessities, like tofu. The Safeway was pretty busy. But the streets are fairly quiet -- I suppose most people are staying in today.

It's cloudy and windy here, but there's no rain yet and certainly no wind that would blow anybody off a Metro platform. It's amazing to me that the city has already shut down. They're now saying the worst of the storm won't hit here till late tonight, so it all seems a little premature.

But there's no question that the current weather feels very.... ominous. I'm guessing that, in the old days before forecasts, these were the kind of conditions that made people "batten down the hatches," whatever that means.
It appears I don't have to worry about how to get to work with the Metro shut down, because my office is closed. So I will be cozily tucked in my apartment all day, waiting for the hurricane -- and blogging, if you're lucky.

Here's hoping our readers in the Carolinas stay nice and dry.
Quote of the Day:
"Feel it on my finger tips, hear it on my window pane..."
~ Madonna

Song of the Day:
Jesus and Mary Chain, "Happy When It Rains"

Happy Birthday:
Lance Armstrong
Frankie Avalon
Robert Blake
James Gandolfini
Greta Garbo
Jada Pinkett Smith

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The DC Metro is shutting down at 11:00 tomorrow morning in anticipation of Isabel's arrival. This will complicate my fourth day of work.

Hurricane watchers, check out Drudge for the latest radar maps.
A "superhero" who protects truth, justice, and the ... British way.
This tasteful blurb comes via Amazon:
This Shock Absorber sports bra was designed especially for Anna Kournikova, because only the ball should bounce. Available exclusively at Amazon.com, for a limited time.
Classy. Very classy.
An email from a friend:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?
I haven't been able to find an article on this, so let me know if you do.
Jeopardy (the game show) has decided to postpone indefinitely its plans to tape this year's college tournament at Yale due to the labor strike. From the Yale Daily News:
Local 35 President Bob Proto said union members across the country were expected to respect the strike, which could have posed a problem for the tapings.

"Those are union workers that work on [JEOPARDY!], and if this is not settled, we don't expect any union members to cross picket lines," Proto said.

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said JEOPARDY! officials were concerned about how the Yale strike would affect their operations.

"I think they were worried that their workers who are largely unionized may not wish to cross a picket line if the strike continues," Lorimer said.
That's just fantastic. Who was worried that the power of the labor union was waning? This broad-reaching "solidarity" reeks of socialism.
Truth is at least as strange as fiction.

The Chicagoland area has had its third incident in recent months of teenagers partying in a home when the owners were away. I always thought this was the stuff of movies.
Does anyone know anything about motorcycles? Doesn't it suck not to have a radio or to be able to talk to your passengers?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Katha Pollit reviews the latest career-vs.-motherhood books, noting something I've often wondered about: "The paradox of books by mothers disparaging the fast-track life is that almost by definition the authors aren't following their own advice."
Like Kate, William Saletan didn't like what Democrats were serving at last weekend's Harkin Steak Fry, and he has a message for all his liberal friends: "If you think Republicans play dirty and Democrats don't, open your other eye."

Are Republicans nasty? Do they refuse to accept election defeats? Do they subvert respect for democracy? If so, they have no monopoly on these vices. They aren't the ones claiming that our current president "was not elected by the American people." They aren't the ones declaring "a nonmilitary civil war." And it was Clinton, not a Republican former president, who asserted at the Iowa steak fry that the other party "tried to put more arsenic in the water."
David Frum thinks Clinton is "competing to be the most disgraceful ex-president in history."
Andrew Peyton Thomas advocates splitting the Ninth Circuit.

And Andrew Sullivan is being consistent on judicial oversight of elections.
Via Jens, here's Dave Barry's Hurricane Preparedness Guide.
I stayed up late last night and watched my beloved Giants blow a 3 point lead with 11 seconds left in the game. It was almost entirely the kicker's fault. So here's my question: are you telling me that in a country of almost 300 million people that there are only 32 people who can kick a football for a few million bucks? Sheesh. Hold open tryouts. There's gotta be someone better out there.
Politicians and the Limits of the Human Mind

Here's something I've been thinking about since the road trip...

The limits of human rationality are truly astounding. Consider: I knew that this country is composed of a whole heck of a lot of empty space. But what did I know? Knowing something on what I frequently call an "intellectual" level is far different from having experienced it. I now know not only that there is a lot of space, but I know what it feels like to have drive across it without stopping for several hours, I know what it feels like to worry about having car trouble there on a day with no cloud cover, and I know how it feels to be completely out of touch even in this day of cell phones and satellites.

You know, for example, that space is a big place. You know that it's probably so large it would blow your mind. You know that you'd probably lose perspective on life once you saw the earth from space. But what do you know? Does this blow your mind? Does this change your perspective, or give you a sense of utter loneliness? But what would a trip to space do?

Is this an earth shattering proposition? No, not really. But I do think it is one that is often overlooked. And it poses an important question: how does someone who hasn't seen the whole country, who hasn't walked in the shoes of every kind of citizen, actually govern this country? Ask that of your politicians, my friends.

UPDATE: Dean Jens doesn't buy that these are just idle musings and calls me on what I'm actually doing. It is interesting to think of this as an argument for anything because the argument, at its core, is grounded in the notion that we just aren't that great of a species and who wants that notion used on their behalf?
New Classics

I walked by a Thomas Kinkade dealer on my way to work this morning. Lily, I know, despises the whole concept of Thomas Kinkade, and an entire store dedicated to the products is almost too much for her to handle. But I have my own two bones to pick this morning.

First, he calls himself "Painter of Light." Now come on, man, painter of light? When I hear painter of light I expect cubes, colors, German expressionism (I made that up, people). Or this. Or this. Kinkade isn't a painter of light, he's a painter of ... homely cottages.

Second, the store this morning had a display out front proclaiming the arrival of a "new holiday classic." Okay, what the heck does that mean? New classic? How do they know it's a classic if it's new? Are they saying they're going to make it a classic by parading it out every year during the holidays? But that begs the question: can something be a "classic" if it's forced on you? Doesn't society make something classic? Maybe they mean "a new holiday tradition." It could be a tradition for them to subject the world to that particular painting every year during the holidays. Ah, well then say what you mean! Sheesh.
Happy Birthday To Us

Below is a repost of the inaugural Quote of the Day from a year ago.

It's been a great year. Thanks to everybody who has linked to us, sent us e-mail, or stopped by from time to time.
Quote of the Day:
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."
~ Oscar Wilde

Song of the Day:
Paul Simon, "Born at the Right Time"

Happy Birthday:
Henry V
Lauren Bacall
Nadia Boulanger
Caroline Charles
Dennis Connor
B.B. King
J.C. Penney

Monday, September 15, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"Estoy loca enamorada de ti."
~ J-Lo

Song of the Day:
Ben Folds Five, "Kate"

Happy Birthday:
Tommy Lee Jones
Dan Marino
Oliver Stone
A new book co-authored by a Harvard law bankruptcy professor looks at the "two-income trap" and posits that the reason personal bankruptcies have skyrocketed among the married middle class is that two-income families lack the built-in safety net that comes with having Mom on hand to jump into the workforce when Dad loses his job. And so many wives are working because the middle class has been competing against itself:

[F]amilies were swept up in a bidding war, competing furiously with one another for their most important possession: a house in a decent school district. As confidence in the school system crumbled, the bidding war for family housing intensified, and parents soon found themselves bidding up the price for other opportunities for their kids, such as a slot in a decent preschool or admission to a good college.... Mom's paycheck has been pumped directly into the basic costs of keeping the children in the middle class.
The book looks interesting, but I'm suspicious of the premise that you keep your kids in the middle class by sending them to the right preschools. Many parents in fact believe just the opposite: that the way to keep kids on track is to ensure that someone's around to drive them to piano lessons and check their homework after school -- in other words, to keep Mom at home.
The NYT reviews Richard Posner's new book, "Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy."

Posner is an intellectual to the end of his fingers, and like most others of the breed, he hates to leave his opponents in possession of any territory that he can seize. This means that ''Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy'' is several books in one. Roughly a third of it will be useful to students in law school who need a quick route into the role of pragmatism in American law. Another section of the book does some very neat work on the connection between what we nowadays call ''liberal democracy'' and what the ancients called ''mixed government.''
Where does the man find the time?
Half Jewish? Here's a site just for you. (I noticed this on yesterday's NYT weddings page.)
Arnold Steinberg predicts that the Ninth Circuit's delay of California's recall vote will be overruled quickly:

Judges must tread very carefully when it comes to elections. They don't throw people out of office. They don't schedule new elections. They don't overturn elections. And they don't postpone elections.
Steinberg also notes that the three judges on the Ninth Circuit panel (Pregerson, Paez, and Thomas) all have a high rate of being reversed.
Our one year bloggiversary is today, er, or tomorrow. What better way to celebrate than to start blogging again! I've taken an extended break because of my new job. For a while, I was having some serious trouble making the transition from school. Sadly, I wasn't able to come to terms with actually putting my work away at 5pm or 6pm and just going home. I've come almost to need that sense of everpresent work.

But I'm getting better. ("She turned me into a new-et! I got better...")

Saturday, September 13, 2003

I'm watching the Harkin Steak Fry. I'm trying to keep myself from either gagging or kicking a hole in my television.

The worst of this whole thing is that each of these clowns seems to think he needs to demonstrate passion by awkwardly chanting some lame slogan. Kucinich screamed "U.N. in, U.S. out" about six times in a row. Also, every one of these Democratic candidates wants to reclaim something. The flag, America, "our manufacturing base," blah blah blah. Why don't you reclaim some common sense and tell me something believable? Although sweeping platitudes about crossroads and jobs in America seem to be enough for the mindless, cheering hordes in attendance. Sad.

This article suggests the Ninth Circuit may delay the California recall:

On Thursday, a three-judge panel battered arguments that the recall and a vote on the controversial "Racial Privacy Initiative" should go forward as planned. Comments by the judges had lawyers for a coalition of minority groups wondering after the argument whether it could have possibly gone any better.
The minority groups are claiming that California's heavy use of punch-card ballots in minority areas means that the vote will be counted unfairly.

Thanks to kausfiles for the link.
I have made lots of progress on my apartment since last posting. Last night I visited the local Target. It was orderly and serene -- a vast improvment over the Target in Alexandria, where I used to live. The old one would have been jammed and chaotic on a rainy Friday night.

Anyway, the kitchen and bathroom are done. A new bed will be here in a week, and the new living furniture will arrive in installments until mid-October.
Quote of the Day:
"It's raining rain from the skies / It's raining tears from my eyes."
~ Cindy Bullens

Song of the Day:
Paul Simon, "Kodachrome"

Happy Birthday:
Fiona Apple
Jacqueline Bisset
Nell Carter
Roald Dahl
Jean Smart
Mel Torme

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Ali Wentworth is blabbing about her sex life yet again, and, says The New York Daily News, "That rustling sound you hear is her husband, George Stephanopoulos, squirming."

Wentworth writes in the new issue of Cosmo that she loves their baby daughter, Elliott Anastasia. Still, she remembers the day when she and her personal ABC newsman spent the whole day "in bed having sex ... My daughter has kept it from ever happening again."

Now that's something for the roundtable to contemplate on ABC's "This Week."
She also tells Cosmo that she regrets never baring all on a topless beach before motherhood.
Who knew Barbie was Jewish?

"Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful," says the Saudi Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on its website.

Barbie dolls are illegal in Saudi Arabia but can be had for around $27 on the black market.
Quote of the Day:
"I fear that all I have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
~ Admiral Yamamoto, December 7, 1941

Song of the Day:
Counting Crows, "Perfect Blue Buildings"

Happy Birthday:
Harry Connick, Jr.
O. Henry
Moby
So, I complain about how many of the support lines for American companies have been outsourced to India. But I guess it sucks for the people in India, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Quote of the Day:
"Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something."
~ Thoreau

Song of the Day:
Counting Crows, "Raining in Baltimore"

Happy Birthday:
Charles Kuralt
Roger Maris
Arnold Palmer
Ryan Phillipe

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I have my father's knack for remembering anniversaries in terms of "52 weeks ago," rather than by the calendar date. So today I'm thinking about waking up to that horrible Tuesday two Septembers ago. Christopher Hitchens suggests how not to commemorate it here.
After spending the weekend hanging out with Abby, who may or may not be spending this fall in Russia, I am back on the disaster scene of my new apartment. Next missions: buy a bed, a couch, and a new cell phone.

Yesterday AT&T informed me that the reason I have to stand outside on my patio and shout to be able to use the cell phone is because my apartment — in the heart of northern Virginia — is in "an AT&T dead zone." They have no plans to remedy this problem; therefore my 4-year relationship with AT&T Wireless is about to come to an end.
Jonah Goldberg understands why some people have been so eager to call George W. Bush a Nazi:

They believe they are so important, so noble, their hatred and fear must be rooted things of Great Consequence. It's just so prosaic to hate Republicans. I am better than that. So, Republicans must be Nazis. They must be a threat to the whole world and to the sanctity of everything I hold dear because anything less would not be worth my time. George Bush can't simply be someone I disagree with. No, his popularity must be an indication of mass hysteria, of Nuremberg-style devotion to evil.

So desperate are these people to live in interesting times and play the hero, that they are willing — eager — to topple every significant moral and historical category so they can role play as the Heroes who Would Not Stay Silent.
If you want a glimpse of the full extent of the hysteria, click on Byron York's piece and follow some of his links.
Quote of the Day:
"I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something."
~ Jackie Mason

Song of the Day:
Counting Crows, "Omaha"

Happy Birthday:
Hugh Grant
Michael Keaton
Adam Sandler
Here's the 13th edition of Tyler Cowan's DC-Area Ethnic Eating Guide, which I believe I've posted about before. It's very thorough, and I will refer to it often now that I'm down here.

He even recommends a restaurant in Culpeper ("That's right, *Culpeper*"): Pancho Villa, which he says has "by far the best chile rellenos in the area."

And he even includes a Fine Dining section -- because "all food is ethnic food."

Saturday, September 06, 2003

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is changing the Oath of Allegiance that new citizens take at citizenship ceremonies. Here's the new one:

Solemnly, freely, and without mental reservation, I hereby renounce under oath all allegiance to any foreign state. My fidelity and allegiance from this day forward is to the United States of America. I pledge to support, honor, and be loyal to the United States, its Constitution, and its laws. Where and if lawfully required, I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant, or civilian service. This I do solemnly swear, so help me God.
John J. Miller wants the BCIS to slow down and get more input. He's worried about that "if lawfully required" clause.
Quote of the Day:
"I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out."
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Song of the Day:
Counting Crows, "Rain King"

Happy Birthday:
Jane Curtain
Rosie Perez

Friday, September 05, 2003

You know it's time to return to blogging when you start dreaming about InstaPundit. Last night I dreamed that he was this big machine that Kate and I were going to visit, sort of like Optimus Prime. I'm not sure exactly why we were seeking him out, but it may have been to pay him tribute, or something else equally weird.
I'm proclaiming it Counting Crows week on the Kitchen Cabinet. And I've decided that Blink 182's "All the Small Things" may be the best driving song of all time.

Speaking of songs, Kate and I found on our trip that one thing that unites our great and varied nation is pop music. No matter where we were, every time we turned on the radio we were sure to find Matchbox 20's "Unwell," Train's "Calling on Angels," and Uncle Kracker's version of "Drift Away."
Quote of the Day:
"It won't rain all the time. The sky won't fall forever."
~ Jane Siberry

Song of the Day:
Counting Crows, "Anna Begins"

Happy Birthday:
Freddie Mercury
Raquel Welch
Dweezil Zappa
Linda Greenhouse previews the special McCain-Feingold oral argument that will take place at the Supreme Court next week:

Nearly everything about the campaign finance case that the Supreme Court will hear in a special session on Monday is outsized: four hours of argument (compared with the usual 60 minutes); eight lawyers (compared with the usual two); a lower court record of some 100,000 pages along with opinions totaling 1,638 pages that left the law in a greater state of confusion than it had been before.
E.J. Dionne is predicting the Court will uphold the law.
"Britney would not kiss another women besides Madonna."

Oh, it was nice to be out of touch with the culture for a month.
I'm attacking the kitchen this afternoon. Usually an enthusiastic unpacker, I'm having difficulty getting motivated this time. Three years ago I would have given my left arm to be back in Virginia in a nice apartment. How ironic.

But it's nice to have a real kitchen, with real appliances and space (oh, blessed space) for the KitchenAid and all her accouterments. I'm going to have to bake something soon.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I'm now unpacking in my new place after making the trek from Kate's yesterday. I was in New Haven briefly getting some last things from her old apartment yesterday. I had mixed feelings driving away. On the one hand, the place is the armpit of New England. But on the other hand, it was very good to me. It is, after all, where I met most of the Kitchen Cabinet -- three years ago this very week.

Speaking of anniversaries, several are coming up, the least momentous of which is the 1-year anniversary of the founding of this blog. Send your lavish tributes to the usual address.

In substantive news, Estrada has thrown up his hands.

Back to unpacking.
Quote of the Day:
"A woman unsatisfied must have luxuries. But a woman who loves a man would sleep on a board."
~ D.H. Lawrence

Song of the Day:
Mark Wills, "Wish You Were Here"

Happy Birthday:
Paul Harvey
Mike Piazza
Daymon Wayans

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

My posting ambitions vanished in a haze of temporary domesticity this afternoon. I found the long-sought silverware holder! Now dinner is in the oven, and Kate is on her way home. Yay!

Best of luck to Tim, Jess, and all the other YLS-ers starting school again. Sadly, I will actually be in New Haven myself tomorrow -- can't seem to leave the place.
Today is Kate's first day of work. I just walked her to the office and am now back at the apartment enjoying her high-speed internet connection. Lots to do today, but maybe I will be able to post a bit this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan is back from vacation.

Monday, September 01, 2003

One of the things Kate and I were suprised to learn upon returning from our trip was that Howard Dean will be our next president. Here's John Kerry trying to mount a comeback.

I'm helping Kate settle into her new digs. Would you believe there's not a silverware holder to be found in this entire city? Wednesday I'll head to DC to settle into mine. Happy Labor Day, everyone.