Friday, February 27, 2004

In another life, I would have been a sociologist, or behavioral psychologist, and not a lawyer. This story, for instance, fascinates me. Why did the crowd turn on the woman like that? I suppose probably for the same reasons that people have such a soft-spot for William Hung, the horrible "banger" from American Idol. (If you don't know the story of William, watch his original audition and then read this news story.
Quote of the Day:
"I am tired, Beloved,
of chafing my heart against
the want of you;
of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it."
~ Amy Lowell

Song of the Day:
Reba McEntire, "Till You Love Me"

Happy Birthday:
Chelsea Clinton
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ralph Nader
Ariel Sharon
John Steinbeck
Elizabeth Taylor

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Movie Review

In the new Kurt Russell movie Miracle, an opening montage that strings together a decade of bad-news reports establishes that by 1979 the land (the U.S.) is struggling under a curse it cannot lift. The king (Jimmy Carter) is suffering from a wound that will not heal. Our precincts (in Iran) have been invaded without opposition. Then a knight (hockey coach Herb Brooks) steps forward with a vision of how to lead a straggling band of young, unlikely heroes (his hand-picked Olympic hockey team) to do battle with the arch-enemy (the Soviet team). (The rink functions at once as Round Table for companions, tourney ground for rivals, and battlefield for foes, while Brooks as both leader and teacher combines King Arthur with a tutelary figure like Trevrizent in Parzival.) The U.S. team's victory at the 1980 games in Lake Placid (with the gold medals serving as Holy Grail) ends the long devastation and brings about a return of confidence in the people.

In other words, Eric Guggenheim's script takes this famous headline news story and shapes it to the canons of Arthurian romance. It makes sense, that a real-life event that has attained the status of lore should be treated as romance, the narrative form that for millennia has been the way humans have preserved and transmitted heroic lore. It gives a gratifying, familiar shape to a story the ending of which the audience already knows. (This is not a problem: aesthetically speaking, originality and surprise just aren't that important.)

I can't say that Gavin O'Connor's direction makes it a truly memorable example of the genre, in large part because he hasn't accepted how much the script has transmuted reality into romance. O'Connor wants to levitate you with the feats of these "knights" but he works as an extremely literal-minded realist. He puts sequences together classically, with no elisions. A tiny but telling instance: we see Brooks get out of his car in the pouring rain, run through it into his suburban house, enter and then comment to his wife how hard it's raining outside.

And yet O'Connor isn't a committed realist. He does not, for example, convey such potentially absorbing information as the negotiations among the committee members who reluctantly give Brooks the job; the basis on which Brooks chooses each of the boys who makes the team; the boys' individual styles of play and how they change under Brooks's training. O'Connor doesn't even clue us in to the rules of hockey, which he could do in passing without boring hockey fans.

At the same time the script doesn't have enough anecdotal detail for romance. In other words, the boys are not as individuated as the Knights of the Round Table, capable of sustaining strands of narrative of their own. There's tons of material there; if the movie weren't fighting itself over its approach it could even go in for the supernatural--with a title like Miracle, why not? (All we get to single the boys out are a few minor injuries and the goalie's unemployed, dispirited Dad who perks up as the team moves on towards victory and thus stands in for the whole country. He's like a Saxon yeoman cheering on Ivanhoe at a joust.)

The movie's Brooks himself insists throughout the nine months of training that there's no larger message involved, no romance amplitude, that it's just about getting the boys to play the best game they're capable of. (He's scrupulously trying to pull back from making it all about himself, getting back the glory he felt he was robbed of by being cut from the victorious 1960 team. Click here for background information.) But when Brooks sees and hears how the fans and media go wild over the victory he's aware there's been more to it. In essence, though it isn't put explicitly, he acknowledges the romance element. It's there, but it's been assumed without really being developed.

It's certainly not as if the movie's interpretation transcended the limits of romance. Despite the unlikeliness of the heroes it doesn't contain a nuance of irony (which is perhaps why Kurt Russell as Brooks can wear plaid jackets without looking retro, much less cheesy.) This also means the movie misses out on the great irony that Brooks's inspiration is to implement a more communal style of play in order to defeat the Soviets. It's beating the Soviet team at their own game, but it's also using a principle of Communism to win a p.r. victory in the Cold War against the bastion of that system. The best you can say for the movie's approach is that it does avoid melodrama. For instance, the committee that hires Brooks doesn't have any underhanded motives, and the Soviet team is simply shown as a group of more experienced, rougher players, intimidating-because-it-works but not evil.

Clunky as Miracle is, if you have any feeling for this country it will probably work for you. And I don't mean that it will work despite such sequences as the breakthrough in Oslo when a disgusted Brooks keeps the team on the ice after they've lost to the Norwegians and practices them until after the rink manager has turned off the lights, the payoff coming when an exhausted player finally gets that he's playing for the UNITED (wheeze) STATES (wheeze) OF AMERICA (wheeze) and not his college team anymore--it will work because of such sequences. (A quick shot of the Twin Towers in New York gets its effect, too, and updates the movie's concern for American confidence in the world.)

Without more focused attention on Brooks's working processes for their own sake (e.g., we're told about a trio of players who develop an offensive specialty but we're not shown exactly what it is) and without greater efflorescence of the romance storytelling, the movie, at 133 minutes, is a little protracted. The romance elements are brought out in as squarely realistic a way as possible and thus given the most mechanical kind of informational lift (e.g., this is the moment when they became a team). But the movie survives that, and furthermore survives the uttering of my favorite camp line from movies about the struggles of a misunderstood genius--"This is madness!" (I've heard it as early as the 1936 Alexander Korda production Rembrandt, starring Charles Laughton as the painter, but it's got to be older than that.)

So, although I'll admit that the corny high points are goosebumpily effective, I also have to say that they're not really distinguished. What's distinguished is Kurt Russell's performance as Brooks. Russell singlehandedly anchors the movie's realism. He keeps his head down, way below the romance, and plays nothing but the man who has the will to put into practice an idea that requires the cooperation of twenty unruly boys. Without gush, Russell makes you see that Brooks's way of working is a creative process. There's nothing extra and there's nothing missing in his performance, which is totally unified and yet not monotonous. This is as honest as acting gets, a real reproach to awards-grabbers like Sean Penn and Russell Crowe. Russell makes you feel that earning the gold is at least as important as getting it.

The script keeps bringing on Brooks's wife to round his character out with the things he couldn't plausibly say directly, and Russell is even able to make her comments seem plainly true without disturbing the singlemindedness that is Brooks's strength. (It also helps that Patricia Clarkson brings her own gingery style to the role of the wife, a classically thankless role composed alternately of nagging and admiring-from-the-sidelines. It's a minor miracle that you never regret her presence.)

Finally, it's interesting to compare Miracle, that ultra boy-movie, to Robert Altman's The Company, which is also about communal effort, in this case the rehearsal and performance regimen of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Whereas Miracle presents romance by means of plodding realism, Altman dispenses with the romance (in a ballet movie!) and is instead relentlessly observational. Neve Campbell is the nominal star, but Altman has never so thoroughly diffused a central story, which is cut up and merely glimpsed on the margins of the Joffrey's working routine. Shooting the company's preparations for performance Altman focuses on all the details that are so hard to get right, in order to set us up for the transporting moments when the difficulties seem to have melted away and the dancers realize the choreographers' visions.

With The Company (even more so than with Miracle) you do miss the emphasis on personality, which has been the mainstay of American moviemaking almost from the beginning (including such dramatically diffuse movies as Altman's masterpieces McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975)). But Altman catches you up totally in the specifics of the ballet company's working processes. (The Company is even better in this way than Mike Leigh's amazing rehearsal scenes in his Gilbert and Sullivan movie Topsy-Turvy (1999).)

By contrast Miracle too readily jumps from realism to its overriding romance. It gets to you, but overall it's kind of a blurry experience. Altman sticks to his naturalistic recreations of the company's laborious efforts until he's sure we'll be able to follow his stunning leaps to the rapturous finished product. (He can bring out the swooning beauty of a piece just by showing one foot and the hem of the dancer's skirt sweep across a black background.) We don't need the enlarged context of national struggle as in Miracle, and the overwhelming effect of the dances on audiences doesn't have to be reported to us; we are the overwhelmed audience. What's most stunning of all, perhaps, is the fact that in his late 70s Altman is still capable of renewing his talent.

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Kate has spilled orange juice on her computer and is currently engaged in a key-by-key cleaning. I am keeping her apprised of internet developments via phone.
Jonah Goldberg feels oppressed by gay marriage.

I knew there was a reason I never read The Corner anymore.

There's better stuff on Andrew Sullivan.
"Tots and Tonic"

Women who miss going out for a drink on account of their new babies have come up with a solution: bring the babies with you.

Another solution? Join the ranks of the "child-free movement."

I'm not sure which is more disturbing to me.
Gay Marriage = Polygamy?

I've been asked at least twice since this post about staking marbles against "the polygamy argument."

Well, here goes.

I understand the polygamy argument as follows: if we allow gay marriage, what keeps us from polygamy, or worse yet, marriage to animals?

Better articulated, the argument either is (1) that we will fall down the slippery slope, or (2) that there is no way to make a principled distinction between gay marriage and these other "marriages." As to the first point, I offer the fact that this nation used to prevent marriage between people of different races. The law changed, and yet we have not fallen down the slippery slope. Moreover, in some states you can marry your first cousin. Yet these states have not fallen down the slippery slope to allowing marriage between siblings or other relatives of closer degree. As to the second point, a principled distinction can be made: marriage is a legal union between two consenting adult human beings.

Frankly, I can't help but draw parallels between those who resist gay marriage to those who resisted the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The resistance of the 60s was rooted in a desire to maintain an economic and societal advantage over a certain class of persons. Is that what the resistance of today is about, as well?
David Bernstein charges law schools with consumer fraud:

Only 58% of African American matriculants to law school complete law school and pass the bar exam, compared to 86% of white matriculants.... Of the 42% who never become lawyers, about half don't make it through law school, while the other half never pass the bar exam.

At the top third of law schools, 91% of African Americans graduate, and 84% of them pass the bar. These statistics suggest that once one gets to the bottom half of American law schools, well less than half of African American matriculants ever become attorneys. This is all, of course, a result of admissions policies pursued in the name of "racial justice."
Haven't opponents of affirmative action been claiming for years that the problem with the system was that African Americans who would have been better off at a UC-Davis or UCSD were getting into the Berkeleys or UCLAs, struggling there, getting discouraged and dropping out? These statistics don't support that theory, at least at the law school level. African Americans at the top law schools do pretty well. It's those at lower-ranked schools who struggle, according to the numbers Bernstein cites.

I'm not sure this is as much of an indictment of affirmative action as Bernstein claims. These particular statistics suggest that African Americans at top law schools aren't having problems. But at the lowest-ranked schools they are, so... what? Fewer African Americans should go to law school? I suppose you could make that argument, but it's a little weird. And it's very weird if you apply it at the college level. I doubt even the fiercest opponent of affirmative action would want to be caught claiming that too many black kids go to college.

And out of curiosity -- what are the overall graduation and bar passage rates at the bottom half of law schools?
David Ignatius on Democrats' dishonest trade talk:

In the run-up to last week's Wisconsin primary, Edwards was proclaiming himself the anti-NAFTA candidate, which to me is the economic equivalent of joining the Flat Earth Society. A defensive Kerry was almost apologizing for his support for the 1993 free-trade pact with Mexico and blasting "Benedict Arnold CEOs" who export jobs overseas in an effort to cut costs.

This anti-trade talk is dangerous nonsense, and the Democrats should be embarrassed by it. It suggests to U.S. workers that there is an alternative to change and adaptation -- to getting the skills that are necessary to compete in an increasingly competitive world. That's wrong, most of all because it misleads people about their real options.
As Ignatius says, "escapism isn't an economic policy."
Quote of the Day:
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
~ Aristotle

Song of the Day:
The Six Teens, "A Casual Look"

Happy Birthday:
George Harrison
Sally Jessy Raphael

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"Close at hand, oh I'm better for the smile you give."
Genesis, "Follow You, Follow Me"

Happy Birthday:
Kristin Davis
Steve Jobs
Joe Lieberman
Billy Zane

Monday, February 23, 2004

Longtime reader MS sends this important warning for us ladies:

I hate those hoax e-mail warnings, but this one is important. Send this warning to everyone on your e-mail list.

If a man comes to your front door and says he is conducting a survey and asks you to show him your boobs, do NOT show him your boobs.

This is a scam! He only wants to see your boobs.
Thanks, MS, for that important message.
Re losing one's mind, Dean Jens writes: "About a year ago I panicked because I couldn't figure out where my keys were. I did this while I was driving my car."
Lyric of the Day:
"I've been so lucky; I am the girl with golden hair."
ABBA, "Thank You for the Music"

Happy Birthday:
W.E.B. DuBois
Peter Fonda
George Frederic Handel
Howard Jones

Sunday, February 22, 2004

I am losing my mind. Another real-life scenario from yesterday:

Me: [Pacing around while on the phone with Kate, gesturing to Iris] Where is my cell phone?

Iris: [Looks baffled]

Me: Where is it? [Frustratedly rummaging between the sofa pillows]

Iris: [Totally confused] Aren't you talking on it?
I used to be intelligent. Lately I feel like I do a lot of things: fiddling around with technology, baking stuff, tax law, various things with textiles, etc. But I don't do any of them very effectively.

And I absolutely must decorate my bedroom; it's getting ridiculous. Before I moved here I wouldn't go a week without having a new place completely decorated -- pictures on the walls, electrical cords tucked away, everything arranged.

This room is neat enough (and the closets are wonderfully organized), but there are no decorations whatsoever on the walls. It looks like a man lives here. A geeky man, with two laptop computers on his desk.
Success! I managed to get the old computer back online and have been able to transfer some of my most important files using a free version of LapLink. But LapLink is pretty slow, so the bulk of the collection will have to wait till this gets here.

Still, it's nice to have accomplished something.
Gregg Easterbrook looks at poverty in the United States and says we shouldn't blame the rich:

It is the country's middle-class, middle-income majority that endlessly demands new government benefits for itself, locking up public funds that could otherwise help the impoverished. It is the country's middle-class, middle-income majority that does not pressure politicians for higher minimum wages or similar reforms, because the country's middle-class, middle-income majority--much of which boasts of being Christian--doesn't care what happens to the forgotten poor at the bottom, or even likes the poor kept that way, as this ensures a cohort of lawn workers and burger-flippers who will accept low wages.

Most important, it is the country's middle-class, middle-income majority that endlessly demands the lowest possible price for everything, and instantly shifts its loyalties to Wal-Mart or whatever firm offers the lowest possible price. The lowest-possible-price sellers that increasingly dominate the United States economy get their low prices by paying less than a living wage, by cheating minimum-wage workers on overtime, by cutting health care benefits.
Caitlin Flanagan has a different take:

Every rich person I know hates Wal-Mart. Every poor person I know loves it. They love the cheap milk, the heavily discounted toys, the DVD players they can buy for $30. In fact, in some poor communities, Wal-Mart has actually raised the standard of living by lowering prices so dramatically.
I think that logic is hard to argue against. The middle class doesn't go price-shopping because it's a fun game; they're feeling real economic pressure, too. Blaming them for whatever Wal-Mart does to its workers is beside the point. It may be an amusing intellectual exercise for the punditry to rail against large constituencies -- seniors, the middle class -- for acting self-interestedly, but I haven't seen any great solutions yet.
Here we go again?

Nader's in...
Lynne Duke writes that some people are "smugly satisfied that one as seemingly perfect as Martha is getting some comeuppance for pushing women back into the kitchen."

I won't go on another rant about how women need to quit projecting their own insecurities onto Martha Stewart. But they do. Any woman who's willing to admit she's been pushed "back into the kitchen" by a magazine is hereby encouraged to write me. I will tell the world your story!

In the meantime, continue to follow the Martha trial here.
Lyric of the Day:
"Made me a pair of angel's wings, clear vision and some magic things."
James, "Seven"

Happy Birthday:
Drew Barrymore
Michael Chang
Julius Irving
Ted Kennedy
Lea Salonga
George Washington
David Brooks writes on the surreal experience of campaigning for the modern presidency:

You begin to notice that as the image of you is magnified, the actual you becomes lost. But there's nothing you can do about it because the hopes of a party, of half the nation, rest on you, so you have to go on with your queen bee life. You have to surrender yourself to your handlers' schemes. You have to boast about your own character in a way that would be repulsive in any other context. Every day you are scheduled to do a series of "events," which are not really events, just speeches. You enter cavernous halls, always to the same music, the same waves of applause, the same introductory jokes, and you pretend it is all happening for the first time.
I'm watching Kerry and Edwards on This Week right now. They both seem to want it badly enough.

One thing's for sure: George Stephanopoulos has fallen hard for John Edwards. Check out that smitten/wistful look on his face during the interview.
To "schume," as defined by the Washington Post:

The verb comes from what Hill staffers say is [Chuck] Schumer's periodic habit of stealing the limelight from other House members. Three senior Hill staffers who have worked for downstate New York Democrats and who do not want their names published agreed on this definition:

"When you wake up in the morning and find out a colleague has issued a press release on an issue that you have been working on for days, weeks, months or years, then you have been Schumed."
And now this, via Kausfiles:

"Frankly, sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey. Take a little bite of it, and he will throw his own feces at you."
~ Schumer's colleague, Sen. John Corzine (D-N.J.) at the Washington Press Club Foundation Dinner.
Schumer was "irked." No wonder relations between New York's Senators are reportedly a tad frosty.
George Will has 28 questions for John Kerry, including:

Other than denoting your disapproval, what does the adjective mean in the phrase "special interest"?

Is the National Rifle Association a "special interest"? Is "special" a synonym for "conservative"?

You say the rich do not pay enough taxes. In 1979 the top 1 percent of earners paid 19.75 percent of income taxes. Today they pay 36.3 percent. How much is enough?

Praising McCain-Feingold restrictions on political contributions, you said: "This bill reduces the power of the checkbook, and I will therefore support it." In December you saved your sagging campaign by writing it a $6.4 million check. Why is your checkbook's unfettered freedom wholesome?

You deny that restricting campaign contributions restricts speech. How much of the $6.4 million did you spend on speech -- in the form of broadcast messages?
Will promises there are more questions where those came from.

And Will continues the fight against McCain-Feingold here.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Sex and the City is ending, apparently. I don't watch the show and don't plan to see the finale, but here's a Slate article on the show's final season if you're interested.
Lest Quote of the Day become stale, I'm introducing a new occasional feature: Lyric of the Day, which is what happens when Quote of the Day mates with Song of the Day.

And that's not the only change afoot here at the KC. Stay tuned...

Lyric of the Day:
"Every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser."
Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"

Happy Birthday:
Erma Bombeck
Charlotte Church
David Geffen
Kelsey Grammer
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Alan Rickman
Would you have been drafted during Vietnam? See where your birthday fell in the draft lottery.

And click here to see how the random selection process wasn't really random.
"Surely, there was a Mr. Zoe Baird," says Barbara Ehrenreich in a Slate dialogue about how professional women exploit their nannies.

Why yes, there is a Mr. Zoe Baird. I took Federal Jurisdiction with him, and though for various reasons I don't remember much of the class, I do remember him talking about his kids and scheduling lectures around family responsibilities. I don't think we can shove much of the blame for Nannygate onto his shoulders.
I got an egg blower for my birthday. Iris and I are going to make Martha-style eggs again, and this year we're going to keep them.
Naomi Wolfe appears to be about to claim that Harold Bloom sexually harrassed her when she was an undergrad at Yale. Bloom wrote her a recommendation for a Rhodes Scholarship.
"You've got questions. We are morons."

Part of a real interaction I had with a Radio Shack salesperson earlier this afternoon:

Me: "Hi. I'm looking for a cable I can use to transfer files from my old computer to my new computer."

Radio Shack Guy: [points to a row of serial and USB cables]

Me: "No. I'm not networking them, and I need something that comes with some kind of program that will transfer the files."

RSG: "This is the the best thing. This will work. It's very easy." [Points to a mini external hard drive that costs $79.99 and, judging from the "256k" written in large type on the box, holds 256 megabytes of data.]

Me: "Uh-huh. Now, I have a 10-gigabyte hard drive, so that won't really work, will it?"

RSG: "Ten? Then it will definitely work! This holds 256."

Me: "I have 10 gigabytes. This holds 256 megabytes."

RSG: [blank expression]

Me: [fleeing store] "Thanks anyway."
I had an equally unproductive experience at CompUSA. Well, it was actually a worse experience, because they convinced me to buy something. They told me it was ten times faster than the one I was looking for. Well, it might be fast. Unfortunately, the old computer does not recognize it. The new Lilypad is eagerly awaiting the files, but as far as the old Lilypad is concerned, I am asking it to transfer data through a piece of dental floss. So that was $14.95 down the drain.

My advice: never trust the people who work in these stores, no matter how competent they seem. Get online (if you can) and do your own research. If the CompUSA people really knew much about computers, they wouldn't be working at CompUSA.

UPDATE: Chris at Signifying Nothing sympathizes with my plight and offers some solutions. Sadly, I've tried both, and neither have worked for me.

This morning I had both computer online through our wireless router (one connected wireless-ly, the other on a cable), but when I tried to make them talk to each other, not only did it not work, it killed the old computer's internet connection. So now LapLink isn't even an option.

The crossover cable was what I foolishly bought from CompUSA. They assured me it would be "easy" and "fast" but were vague about what exactly would happen when I plugged in the cable. Nothing happened, because the computers have to be set up for "direct cable connection," which I can do somewhat laboriously on Windows XP but can't do at all on Windows 98 because you need the Windows installation disk. I don't have that disk, because my movers broke it in half.

Obviously the broken disk isn't CompUSA's fault. Still, I'm angry at their salespeople for pushing a "solution" that was supposedly fast and easy but clearly takes a fairly high degree of computer sophistication and tinkering, even if everything's running as it should be. It's pretty clear to me that they had no idea how a crossover cable actually worked, so they just assured me it was easy to get me out of the way.
I smell a lawsuit

This is a country built on due process, equality, and fairness. But now:
A year ago, the TSA quietly began assessing fines against airline passengers who violate security policies. But it wasn't until this week that it issued guidelines that specify which of the thousands of passengers who turn up every day with knives, box cutters and other banned items will be fined.

''Attitude'' is listed among the ''aggravating factors'' that can result in a fine. Other criteria include the type of item, evidence of a passenger's intent and history of previous violations. Civil penalties now range from $250 to $10,000.


TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said Thursday that he was unable to disclose the number of passengers who have been fined so far because the agency's legal department computers are temporarily inaccessible. The new guidelines were posted Wednesday on the agency's Web site.

At least 800 people had been fined through last October, according to a California lawyer who spoke with TSA's chief counsel on behalf of Susan Brown Campbell, a Los Angeles attorney who was fined $150 for having a steak knife in her briefcase. Campbell, who like Rohani was stopped at BWI, says she forgot she had the knife, which she used to cut apples and cheese.

Each day, the TSA intercepts more than 15,000 prohibited items at airports across the USA. Since February 2002, TSA has confiscated more than 3 million knives and more than 57,000 incendiary devices such as fireworks, TSA Assistant Administrator Tom Blank told Congress last week.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee, which oversees the TSA, questioned how the guidelines could be uniformly applied. ''Where do they draw the line if they are confiscating that many items every day,'' he says. ''Judging attitude is extraordinarily subjective. . . . Unless they felt it was intentional, then the person should be given a warning.''

DeFazio says he has arrived at airport checkpoints carrying his mustache scissors and has been allowed to mail them to himself. ''The TSA could be in trouble for not equally applying the law,'' he says. ''They didn't fine me for my mustache scissors, but they did fine someone else for a cake knife.''
The TSA is starting to sound like a bad combination between Kafka and Orwell.
Stupid Sports Cheers, part II

A reader writes in with this:
As bad as the “We’re number one” folks, actually worse I think, are the people at golf tournaments who scream “in the hole” on every shot. The tee shot on a 575 yard par 5 is not going to be in the hole.
Preach on. Preach on.

A cheer I've never understood: "the ref beats his wife." ???

In other sports news, I said this the other day:
Also, it's a bit silly when the Red Sox moan about the Yankees spending so much. Why does it so frequently escape notice that the Sox outspend everyone but the Yankees? Yes. That's true. It's like Donald Trump whining that Bill Gates outbid him on something.

Well, now the team with the second-highest salary roll is calling for a salary cap. Because it lost a bid to the Yankees. Wow. Now that's petty.
Peter Gammons said this today:
the fact is for the Red Sox to cry about it sounds whiney considering they have the second highest payroll in the game and are more than 20 percent higher than the third team. For Larry Lucchino to vent his frustrations on Bud Selig trying to get the commissioner to void the trade by invoking the best interests of baseball raised this question: if it's not in the best interest of the game to go to the highest payroll, why is it in "the best interest" for him to go to the second highest payroll?
Wow. I'm channeling Peter Gammons.

Gammons also reported this interesting tidbit:
"I was coming down in the elevator in our hotel in Boston last season," says [Yankees Manager] Torre, "and this man asks me if I'm Joe Torre. He then said not to take it personally, but given the choice of the Red Sox beating the Yankees or capturing Osama Bid Laden, he'd take beating the Yankees."
Someone takes his sports too seriously.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Crazy parents -- figuratively or literally

I've been gently chastised for being quick to the trigger on Mel Gibson with regard to his comments about his father.

Joanne Jacobs sends this along:
I think Mel Gibson was saying that his father is crazy and/or senile, and that his mental problems are being exploited by the media. "Gotta leave it alone" appears to mean "I can't attack my father in public."

I do excuse mentally ill people for their delusions. If it's not Jews, it's Martians in space ships.
That's fair. And I thought briefly that that might be the case. And, of course, I too excuse mentally ill people for their delusions. I think Joanne is responding to these statements that I made yesterday: "Is Mel telling us that his father's not in full control of his faculties? Is that the excuse for the plainly anti-semitic statements?" Joanne seems to have taken a different implication from this than what I meant. She took these questions to be slightly sarcastic, I think. I actually meant them in totally good faith. What I meant was, is that what he's really trying to say? If so, why couldn't he say it more clearly, more directly ...

I understand the need for subtlety, but there are more direct yet still subtle ways than what Mel said. I think his approach is far more vague than Joanne contends. I think her interpretation is one possibility. My interpretation is another.

And a long-time reader sends in a third interpretation, which to an extent speaks to my unspoken question (that I've just spoken) about why Mel wasn't more direct:
What Mel Gibson actually said (although not a direct quote, but I did watch the whole interview) before the remark you quoted was that he was his father and the media people were trying to drive a wedge between him and his father and he wasn't going to let the media do that because he was his father and he loved him and he would not let the media generated because of his movie drive a wedge in family. She persisted in her usual form and he told her to back off. There was nothing threatening about it at all - just a clear implication that he was not going to let her try to drive that wedge between him and his father. I think it speaks volumes about his character. He was not about to be baited into saying something negative about his father. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Maybe you will understand more when your parents get old and start saying wacky things...
An excellent point. My parents do say wacky things. And I imagine as they get older -- I in fact worry that as they get older -- they will say crazier things. I guess I just put a greater onus on Mel, as I would put on myself, to speak to my parents about not speaking to the media. I'm far from a fan of the media, but it just seems a little pompous to tell the media to stop asking your parents for their nutty opinions than to get your own house in order, so to speak. Moreover, I'm not sure it drives a wedge, or is negative, to acknowledge in public that you love your parents but that you disagree. And I don't know that this is that debatable a topic. Although, let me reiterate, if Hutton Gibson is mentally ill, we've got a different issue on our hands.

But those are just my two cents, and the points are well taken.
Episode V: The Pasta Strikes Back

So there's saying low-carb will be the next nutrition craze. And they're not just saying the next diet craze. They're comparing low-carb to the way low-fat took the nation by storm in the nineties.

Well, pasta makers and pasta lovers aren't going to sit idly by.
There comes a time when a besmirched, besieged food must step up to the plate and defend its honor, or at least its carbohydrate count. In Italy, the land that has loved and cooked it best, pasta will make its stand.

For three days this week, physicians, chefs, pasta manufacturers and other pasta partisans will gather in Rome for a full-boiled response to the advances of the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, which threaten to put rigatoni on the run.
I say, it's about time. I love my pasta. I also think it's rather telling that the whole nation of Italy consumes vast amounts of pasta and yet Americans are the fat ones. The Chinese eat rice. Every day, frequently for every meal. Who's fatter? America or China?

I just haven't seen the scientific evidence to shake me of my love of carbs. I have heard some mildly persuasive arguments about how lower carb diets likely work better for weight loss. Weight loss is only one part of a person's health -- I want to know if low carb diets are, on the whole, a healthier choice. No answers yet.
And the moon landing was really in the desert in Arizona...

Mel Gibson's father thinks the Holocaust was fiction. Er, well, not all fiction, but definitely mostly fiction.
In his interview on WSNR radio's Speak Your Piece, to be broadcast on Monday, Hutton Gibson, argued that many European Jews counted as death camp victims of the Nazi regime had in fact fled to countries like Australia and the United States.

"It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is," he said, adding that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people.

"Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?" he said. "It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That's why they lost the war."
Not at all at the same level, but also aggravating is the way Mel Gibson has handled his father's opinion on the Holocaust.
Gibson's father caused a furore last year when he made similar remarks in a New York Times article.

In a television interview with Diane Sawyer this week, Mel Gibson accused the Times of taking advantage of his father, and he warned Sawyer against broaching the subject again.

"He's my father. Gotta leave it alone Diane. Gotta leave it alone," Gibson said, while offering his own perspective on the Holocaust.
He warned Diane Sawyer against broaching the subject again? What does that even mean? Does Gibson think he's entitled to some special rules because he's a celebrity? Is he gonna break her legs if she pursues something of journalistic interest? Please. And how did the Times take advantage of Gibson's father? Hutton Gibson appears to have offered these statements of his own accord. Is Mel telling us that his father's not in full control of his faculties? Is that the excuse for the plainly anti-semitic statements?

I used to like Mel Gibson. I'm not so sure anymore.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Movie Review

I finally got off work early enough to see Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. All the same, by the end I felt like I had stayed up too long. For most of its 155-minute running time you wait for the shy carpenter-hero Inman (Jude Law) to foot it back from the Civil War battlefields he's deserted so that he can consummate his love for Ada (Nicole Kidman), the shy preacher's daughter he barely knows. The movie is crammed with characters and episodes and yet the unexpressed passion between Inman and Ada which is meant to give a surge to everything we see stifles it instead.

I think that's because Kidman is too recessive a screen personality to frontload a movie with smoldering, barely contained sexuality. (I felt that way about her in Gus Van Sant's To Die For (1995), too.) Her bloodlessness functions at times as delicacy here, especially in the awkward courtship scenes, but her acting always seems like play-acting to me. It's not entirely her fault: Inman and Ada need to be busting their britches for a taste of each other to sustain this eternal-yearning plot arc, but the characters are too well-behaved for that. As a result, these naturally cool stars don't generate much heat. Law is more skillful, but playing a taciturn character he has to do most of the heavy-lifting, emotionally speaking, with his eyes. He's improved a lot since his early pretty-boy days, but he's not a magician. In one scene we see him hauling a pile of corpses he's manacled to at the wrists, and that could be a metaphor for the way he ends up carrying this deadweight movie.

The more basic problem is that although such repression would have been expected of young ladies and men in the 1860s, it doesn't really speak to us today (when we have the opposite problem--too much experience too soon). And since the movie fails pretty badly to recreate the place and era the love story feels pointlessly drawn-out. The failures of historical recreation include a chorus of flat, inconsistent Southern accents; Kidman's figure, make-up, and her feminist complaint about how her upbringing has left her unable to cope with the hardships of the war years; the anti-war sentiment; some of the sensitivity to the peripheral black characters; another character's therapeutic outbursts about her father's abuse and abandonment of her; the colloquial language, such as the use of the slang term "asshole," which the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang says was first used in 1935--props to the New York Public Library's Ask Librarians Online Live Help service for this info; and the highly-skilled sex that Inman and Ada finally enjoy (their first time is like high-class porn).

Kidman's reading of the voice-over narration is so high-flown poeticky that it put me in the mood to laugh. With the whole thing motivated by two characters impatient for the Civil War to end so they can fuck, I couldn't help hearing double entendres in Inman's heavily plain self-declaration, "I work wood," and later Ada's diffident-flirtatious, "I have a lot of buttons." But the story is so very drawn-out I couldn't even work up the combative energy derision requires.

It certainly has enough antiquated romance elements for a parody of a Walter Scott novel. These include a well in which you can glimpse the future by gazing at the water in a mirror; Ruby, a rough-hewn mountain girl who repeatedly strikes poses with her hands on her hips as if she were about to sing "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"; a gypsy goat lady with wispy facial hair; a blind peanut-selling seer; a rapscallion of a preacher; two healing women; three strolling minstrels; a houseful of lustful witches headed up by a pasty-faced Judas; and at least half a dozen paramilitary demons, one an albino with violet eyes, who torture women and a swaddled infant. Oh boy. Minghella has the inventory but lacks Scott's skill at combining realism and romance and historicism in one surging narrative, as well as his progressive intelligence (so astute as to what is gained and lost in historical change, an awareness that justifies his use of backward-looking romance).

If the movie went by faster and weren't so flossily soulful, it might work as overripe historical camp, like Verdi's Il Trovatore, full of stolen pleasures amid torrid agony and armed conflict. As is, the movie is like Trovatore without the music and with about half the theatrical zest. The only time the audience roused was when Renée Zellweger came on as that mountain girl Ruby who teaches Ada how to take care of herself without men and servants. It's a robust comedy turn, given "depth" by dragging in her hard-drinkin' daddy with whom she's reconciled when they're both attacked by a self-elected Confederate Home Guard that hunts down and dispatches deserters. Zellweger uses eccentric vocal tricks in breathless readings that whip you right past the pathos; unlike Law she does seem like a magician, though what she accomplishes doesn't push the movie into a higher realm but merely enlivens it with intentional camp. It's a coarser bit of work than she normally does, but that suits the character and is almost necessary to dispel the movie's soporific erotic fog.

The pairing of Ruby and Ada in the long central section is like the pairing of resourceful, defiant Scarlett and sweet, passive Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939)--a movie the scope of which makes Cold Mountain seem like a postage stamp expanded to the size of a billboard. But Cold Mountain also makes a very old-Hollywood choice in focusing on wan, refined Ada instead of fearless, spunky Ruby. It's too long a movie to ask us to identify with the girl who shrieks at the approach of a symbolically aggressive rooster rather than with the gal who knows a meal when she sees one and promptly rips the cock's head off. I also wonder if Minghella is aware of the black-widow shadow the tragic outcome casts over the supposedly idyllic ending. Ada enjoys Inman once before his death, and for all we see once is enough, to last a lifetime, now that she has a (female) child and knows how to skin a lamb.

Without period accuracy the movie can't really have historical depth, and for all the movieishness it plays out as a peculiarly muted version of the simplest of quests: homecoming (from the Odyssey, Xenophon's Anabasis, and the Book of Exodus to The Wizard of Oz (1939)). The air of tragedy just makes you want to fast forward to the no-good you know is coming. To keep things violent enough for the men in the audience, two sections of Home Guard and a passel of Union soldiers come on by turns for some melodramatic attacks, which only have the effect of making all the likeable characters into victims. The movie might as well be projected on a wet blanket.

There is a superb battle sequence at the beginning, which opens with an explosion of mines under the Southern encampment at Petersburg. We see one soldier puzzling as the ground slowly lifts upward beneath him and you feel that the moviemakers have really got how disorienting a surprise attack must be. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat is the muddle that many battles must have turned into before modern weaponry, but I don't see how this makes the movie anti-war. What makes it anti-war is that the hero is fighting for the Confederacy and the movie was made for an audience that is not expected to root for the Southern cause. In other words, it's anti-war only from the Southern perspective.

In her letters we hear Ada encouraging her beloved to desert, though the movie stops short of making her an abolitionist or a Union sympathizer. She has no political opinions that we hear of at all, which deprives her exhortations of context. They're a little odd if we're to take them as general principles. Would the moviemakers expect our spirits to soar if a Union enlistee deserted before Appomattox Court House and his lady love kept writing him letters begging him to abandon his fellow soldiers so he could come home and screw her?

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

Presidential hopeful John Kerry:

Yale Law Prof Jed Rubenfeld:

For those who have heard Prof Rubenfeld speak, listen carefully the next time Senator Kerry is on television. Close your eyes. It's uncanny, I tell you.
Dissension in the Ranks

A federal prosecutor sues John Ashcroft. Perhaps soon to be "ex-federal prosecutor sues John Ashcroft."
Boy Discovers He Was Abducted

"The boy spotted his own photo, taken when he was 3, on a Canadian missing children's Web site a few months ago and told a teacher about it, authorities said." Yet another of the myriad ways the Internet has changed our lives.
Another Take on Sports as a Replacement for War

So, you know that theory about how sports plays an important role in society as a proxy for war? I was just thinking this weekend after a viewing of Miracle about how seriously Eastern Bloc countries took the Olympics. Seems to add weight to that theory. A victory on the field -- a gold at the Olympics -- was valued as a much larger victory, a victory that in the Ancient days would probably have required some serious bloodshed.

Good movie, by the way. A real "stand up and cheer."
Sports Miscellany

Most recent pet peeve: those fans who hold up their index fingers and scream "Number One!!" into the tv camera when their team is in fact not number one, nor is it number two (and on the verge of becoming number one), or anywhere near number one. "Number one" is not synonymous with "Let's Go Team." Figure it out people.

I'm very happy about the recent trade. I think people who cry about the Yankees spending too much money should instead try to change the rules, within which the Yankees always act. The Yanks don't spend more than they bring in -- let's get that straight. The problem is not one of a lunatic owner making bad business decisions for the sake of winning. Steinbrenner (with significant help from GM Cashman) runs one mean ship. No, the problem is strictly one of small-market versus big market. The Yankees are the biggest big-market team. If you really want to counter-act that problem, you need to impose salary caps. Steinbrenner only has one vote -- if everyone else thinks the situation is so unfair, vote to change it. Stop whining.

Also, it's a bit silly when the Red Sox moan about the Yankees spending so much. Why does it so frequently escape notice that the Sox outspend everyone but the Yankees? Yes. That's true. It's like Donald Trump whining that Bill Gates outbid him on something.

Well, now the team with the second-highest salary roll is calling for a salary cap. Because it lost a bid to the Yankees. Wow. Now that's petty.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night."
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

Song of the Day:
John Michael Montgomery, "Home To You"

Happy Birthday:
Red Barber
Paris Hilton
Hal Holbrook
Michael Jordan
Huey Newton
"British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands."
"Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge."
"Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead."

Click here for more hilarious headlines, plus classified ads for an "'83 Toyota hunchback" and a "Star Wars job of the hut."
Much has been blogged about the controversy at Duke over a professor's "conservative equals stupid" comment. I first read about it on Volokh:

"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," said the chair of Duke's philosophy department in response to concerns about the faculty's ideological diversity. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire."

Andrew Sullivan features an even worse example from a Duke professor in 2002:

In seeking faculty, universities look for people who can analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, who are unafraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, and who have a sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy influence. Such people tend to be put off by a political party dominated by those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of the marketplace as a solution to all economic problems, or else in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality. In short, universities want people of some depth, subtlety and intelligence. People like that usually vote for the Democrats. So what?
More from the Durham Herald-Sun:

Robert Munger, chairman of the political science department, said he was impressed by Duke's intellectual diversity, which he called "relatively healthy" compared to other universities.

Still, Munger recalled a recent meeting in which he heard a fellow department chairman say it was Duke's job to confront conservative students with their hypocrisies and that they didn't need to say much to liberal students because they already understood the world.
InstaPundit has a round-up here.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The KC apologizes for being absent lately, and during the beginnings of a promising political sex scandal, no less!

Kate and I spent the weekend with our respective Valentines, and I am going easy on the old LilyPad while I wait for the new one to arrive. Alan, meanwhile, is no doubt worn out from practicing tax law and taking the time to be better than average.

But for your Kerry-fix, check out Kaus, who's got the goods as usual.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Chinks In One's Armor

Steve Jens responds to my complaints about "Chink's Steaks" and the arguments made by Philadelphia locals:
I don't think "chink" is automatically an Asian racial epithet. I would be more likely to associate the word with a "chink" in one's armor. Much like "cracker", it can be meant as an epithet, but it doesn't have to be. I don't think that particular analogy is entirely false.
Well, I know the Jens boys are regular readers, but I have to disagree strongly here.

Steve's point is flawed in two ways.

(1) Let's assume Steve's basic argument is correct: Chink is not automatically an Asian racial epithet. His next point -- that the "particular analogy is [not] entirely false" -- does not follow. Reason? Steve either has misunderstood or is mischaracterizing the analogy. The analogy used in the letter to the editor that I cited stated the following:
Why doesn't Cracker Barrel change it's name because an overweight white man once heard it as slang for a fat white person by a black male?
This argument is not a question of whether "Cracker" is automatically racist. Rather, it states that Chink is no more than "slang" used "once." That argument is entirely false. Chink has an extended history that has a meaning to Asian Americans that runs far deeper than mere slang. And if Steve disputes this point, I'd have to suggest respectfully that Steve doesn't have all the facts.

(2) Now let's get to Steve's basic argument. The argument seems to be that chink is not automatically a racial epithet, or that people most or much of the time think first of chink as used in the phrase "chink in armor." This may be true, but I would posit that it is not at all true among Asians or Asian Americans. This raises several important questions: if it is inherently offensive to Asians and Asian Americans, should it be, even if it is not now, inherently offensive to everyone? I think yes. Why isn't it inherently offensive to most people when it is inherently offensive to Asians and Asian Americans? Is there subtle discrimination embedded in that differentiation? By comparison, N--ger is inherently offensive to everyone. Are Asians and Asian Americans "second-class" minorities?

As an aside, I'm also not sure what led Steve to say he thought of "chink in the armor" first given the context of the discussion. The name of the restaurant -- "Chink's Steaks" -- does not use "chink" in a context that would lead to Steve's inference.
Gay Marriage

I just saw on the news the "compromise amendment" that's being bantered about in the Mass legislature. They're talking about defining marriage officially as a union between a man and a woman. A "civil union" is between two people of the same sex, but it receives the same rights as a marriage.

Jeez. Speaking of stupid arguments -- I have yet to hear one remotely persuasive argument for why marriage must be between a man and a woman, either as a semantic issue or otherwise. Not one.

Reader DS sends this in:
Thanks for drawing attention to yet another moronic example of the "procreation calculus" that poses as justification for excluding gays from marriage. The implication (never the argument -- the pro-creation folks won't go that far) is that marriage is either a pro forma declaration of intent to breed -- which is the divine objective of the mortal coil, after all -- and should be protected as such, or that marriage is the 'gateway drug' to adoption rights for gays...and all the attendant evils that your piece ably ridicules.

As to the former: Had my wife and I known that infertility would tap-dance its merry way into our married life, we wouldn't have bothered getting hitched three years ago: hey, we know where we're not wanted. It broke her heart to learn last year that she has premature ovarian failure. Of course, informing her that her biological failure to live up to traditional marital expectations makes our marriage fraudulent did little to cheer her up.

I've never really apprehended the "marriage is for making kids" suggestion/defense. It's backward, anti-intellectual, insensitive and absurd. And when I read things like "special consideration to marriage is its unique role in the procreation and education of children," I get the willies. Examples of that "unique role" uniquely abused abound...
Well, that knocks down one of the anti gay marriage arguments. Bring on the other ones -- I'll bet the rest of my marbles (I think I bet some yesterday) that I can knock down any of them.

No Stupid Questions

It's really true here at this website: check out The Straight Dope.

Why isn't there a channel 1 on tv?

What does OK stand for?

If Teflon is nonsticky, how do you get it to stick to the pan?

And there's much much more ...
O'Reilly Apologizes

Speaking of lack of reasoned argument, Bill O'Reilly is in the news.
Conservative television news anchor Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday he was now skeptical about the Bush administration and apologized to viewers for supporting prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The anchor of his own show on Fox News said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons program poised an imminent threat, the main reason cited for going to war.
When I heard this I almost ... well, let's just say I was surprised. (link via Notes from Ground Level)
Dewey Beats Truman

Ray Fair, reknowned for his presidential election predicting model, has called the 2004 presidential election: Bush with 56.3 percent.
Silver Lining

Notes from Ground Level doesn't find my post about stupid letters to the editor sad, but rather he finds it heartening.
This indicates to me that people in Cincinnati who write letters to the editors of our papers have no special intelligence deficit. Letter writers in east coast cities apparently are just as dumb.
A nice upbeat take on the issue.

I stumbled across this quote from the Reverend Dr. King that really speaks to the issue:
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Lastly, another letter -- this one is from the Times and it's about gay marriage:
To the Editor:

Considering the clear biblical admonitions against homosexual behavior, "Gay Couples Seek Unions in God's Eyes" (front page, Jan. 30) makes no sense.

The key reason for giving special consideration to marriage is its unique role in the procreation and education of children, which is impossible with "gay unions," and the consequences of properly doing this for all of society.

Drug abuse, crime, poverty and educational difficulties are reduced when children are raised by a mother and a father.

Traditional marriage is in enough trouble today without further adding the absurdity and degradation of "gay unions" to its problems.

Port Washington, N.Y., Jan. 31, 2004

The writer is state director for the American Family Association of New York.
I would like to focus particularly on the statement regarding "drug abuse, crime, poverty." This statement alone, Mr. Russo, does not make your point. These problems are reduced when children are raised by a mother and father as compared to what? I'd be willing to bet a lot of marbles that the "statistic" Mr. Russo refers to is in reference to children being raised by two parents as opposed to one.

In the positive, upbeat approach of Notes from Ground Level, I guess this is heartening in that it means that Philadelphia does not have a monopoly over nonsensical argument.
Reality TV vs. Game Shows

I don't understand really why reality tv is considered this new big thing. Aren't they what we used to call "game shows"? True "reality" television should just be "real life" tv -- like the subject of The Truman Show or Real World on MTV. All these other things with voting people off and prizes and whatnot seem an awful lot like elaborate, extended cousins to Card Sharks, Price Is Right, and that no whammys show.
Quote of the Day:
"All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true."
~ T.E. Lawrence

Song of the Day:
Dido, "Here With Me"

Happy Birthday:
Judy Blume
Charles Darwin
Arsenio Hall
Abraham Lincoln
Lily Malcolm
Cotton Mather
Arlen Specter
Bill Russell

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance: they make the latitudes and the longitudes."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "To Make You Feel My Love"

Happy Birthday:
Lloyd Bensten
Thomas Edison
Tom Haught
Leslie Nielsen
Mary Quant
Burt Reynolds
Carlee Ann Vaughn
Google Bombing

For those not in the know, the search words "miserable failure" on Google at one point led to the official presidential biography of George W. Bush.

The explanation was the phenomenon called "google bombing," where "a group of bloggers working together can make a webpage come up when someone searches Google for certain keywords." In short, since the Google algorithm works off of the number of links a page has, a group of people can work to link to a site with the use of certain words and thus influence a search for those words on Google.

When the Bush/Miserable Failure story broke, there were reports that others had decided to get Michael Moore to turn up first on a search for Miserable Failure. As of today, they appear to have succeeded. Also in the running: Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton.
The French Have Come a Long Way Since Joan

"France's National Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority today to ban Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols from public schools."

Whatever happened to religious tolerance? I tend to see the political spectrum as more of a political circle. These nuts have gone so far left that they've come all the way back around to the far right. They've become conservative and intolerant of other religions -- it appears the only religion allowed in France is that of secularism.
Weeping for Our Country

A controversy brews in Philadelphia these days. A movement has started to change the name of a 55-year old restaurant named "Chink's Steaks." Many Asian Americans contend that the name is offensive. Many locals defend the name of the restaurant, arguing among other things that "Chink," as used in the name of the restaurant, derives from the nickname of the white founder. Here's the Philly Daily News article that, so far as I know, broke the story about a month ago.

Personally, I don't see that there's much of a question here. Replace the word "Chink" with almost any other racial epithet and the debate ends rather quickly. The name is offensive. Change it.

But I don't want to get into that debate here. The purpose of this post is to point out the sad state of public debate and reasoning in this country.

Even though I'm resoundingly in favor of changing the name, I can understand some of the arguments made by the opposition. Some of the arguments have some merit, or are mildly persuasive, or are based in some discernible logic. What I've discovered, however, are a disturbing number of Americans who make with complete conviction arguments that do not even begin down the path of persuasiveness, arguments that have no logical value, arguments that not only do not persuade me, but that further convince me of my position. It is appalling, shocking, sad that people in this country make contentions that they not only mildly buy, but believe are knock-down persuasive when those arguments as an absolute matter could be no further from being knock-down persuasive.

The Philly Daily News published two examples today. From the letters to the editor:
Why doesn't Cracker Barrel change it's name because an overweight white man once heard it as slang for a fat white person by a black male? We should start worrying about real issues like homelessness or our children's education and forget about this.
What? The argument here is that "Chink" was merely once heard by one Asian American as slang for an Asian American by a white male. That contention is wholly fallacious. "Chink" is a racial slur with a history in the same vein as "N--ger" is a racial slur with a history! Ah, but he doesn't stop there. He then makes clear that he believes his point is so persuasive as to be obvious, referring us to "real issues." The point isn't persuasive; it isn't even based in fact.

As a side note, I love how the letter writer tries to create credibility by pointing to "homelessness" -- his way of signaling that he isn't just some crazy racist conservative. Because he thinks homelessness is a "real issue," he's some sort of social liberal -- so there's no way he could be racist. And yet he is.

Example 2:
In the 1870s, cowboys all had nicknames. No one got offended. In the early 1900s, Italians put a nickname on almost everybody. Everyone accepted it. It just shows how sensitive you are - you want to change and rearrange everything.
I don't even know where to start with this one. If anyone figures out what the contention here even is, let me know.

I'm going to go cry myself to sleep over the sad future of this country.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"I reached for sleep and drew it round me like a blanket muffling pain and thought together in the merciful dark."
~ Mary Stewart

Song of the Day:
The Beatles, "Help"

Happy Birthday:
Mia Farrow
William Henry Harrison
Joe Pesci
Mena Suvari
Kate refers in a post below to the Little Golden Book "Cars," my very first book.

My father, optimistically convinced I would be a boy, bought it for me before I was born.

"Cars come in many shapes and sizes, just as people do. Great big people often drive great big cars. Small people often drive small cars... But not always!"

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Now that the Damage Is Done and There's Nothing To Be Done About it, We're Sorry We Did It

"CNN's top executive believes his network overplayed the infamous clip of Dean's "scream" after the Iowa caucuses."
On Anonybloggers

Steve Jens has excellent, but altogether unnecessary, commentary on the issue of anonybloggers (like us). I say unnecessary because, as Dean points out, the point to which Steve spends time responding is in fact quite stupid.

To be sure, anonybloggers have more freedom in what they say as compared to real people, to the extent that we could just abandon this blog and start something new under a new pen name. On the other hand, new anonymous bloggers have less credibility than anonymous bloggers who have been around for a year. That is a circuitous way of saying that we've built up certain "street credit" or "good will" (to take a phrase from trademark law) that we put on the line every time we say something. We, in real life, because we can dump our pseudonyms, are freed from the prospect of being forever stuck with something stupid we say. But on the other hand, the tradeoff is that every time we dump a pseudonym, we have to start all over.
A movie for Lily and her father

Pixar is under contract to produce three more films for Disney. Of those three, Cars.
For holiday 2005, Pixar is in production on Cars, with John Lasseter returning to the director’s chair to helm his fourth film. A high-octane adventure comedy, Cars features a wide assortment of cars as characters that get their kicks on Route 66.
Maybe Lily will entertain us with the story about how her father got her "Cars and Trucks and Things that Go" (I think, or some other car-related Little Golden Book).

More on Cars:
In addition to Paul Newman, the voice cast includes NASCAR legend Richard Petty, as well as Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Knights," "The Royal Tenenbaums"), Bonnie Hunt ("Monsters, Inc."), and Dan Whitney (Bravo's "Larry the Cable Guy"). "Cars" is being produced by Darla K. Anderson ("A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc."), and is due to be released holiday, 2005.
For those who don't know (count me in that group), here are some fun facts for your next dinner party.
In conjunction with this new role, Newman will take the wheel of the Disney/Pixar sponsored racecar on January 31st and February 1st at "The Rolex 24 At Daytona" race in an attempt to break his own record. Newman holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest driver to win a professionally sanctioned race in 1995 at Daytona. Racing on a team with NASCAR champ Kyle Petty, Michael Brockman, and Gunnar Jeannette, Newman is hoping to establish a new record at the age of 79. The car he will be driving is a Fabcar-Porsche Daytona Prototype.
And I thought he just made popcorn and salad dressing.

The editors of the Weekly Standard want to nationalize the Super Bowl.
The reliably Republican George Will has this wake-up call for Bush:

Once begun, leakage of public confidence in a president's pronouncements is difficult to stanch. This president's certitude that $400 billion "is enough to meet our commitments" for 10 years under the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement was followed by a one-third upward revision of the estimate.
And it's not just Bush, it's his party: "Republicans are swiftly forfeiting the perception that they are especially responsible stewards of government finances."

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Senator Roth Dies

... two months ago.
Former U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a fighter for tax cuts during his five terms in Congress and creator of the popular retirement account that bears his name, has died. He was 82.
I came across this today because I was fiddling with my Roth IRA account and got curious about Senator Roth. I googled him, and discovered he died. At first, I thought it was weird that no one really covered this -- then Lily pointed out to me that December 14, 2003 has other significance. It was the day we caught Saddam.

In other interesting, but unnoted news, the ctrl-alt-delete guy has retired from IBM.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell!"

Song of the Day:
The B-52s, "Rock Lobster"

Happy Birthday:
Hank Aaron
Barbara Hershey
Sir Robert Peel
Roger Staubach
Adlai Stevenson

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Claudia Winkler wishes we'd had more time to get to know Judy Dean:

The most appealing figure [of the campaign], and the author of the most memorable line: "I'm not a thing person." In third-millennium America! A woman without cable TV, innocent of malls and makeovers, who says that she has everything she wants! Yet no dreary bluestocking, either, or preachy crusader for voluntary simplicity.... A straightforward, serious person whose priorities, by her own telling--and we have no reason to doubt her--are her husband, her son still in high school, and her work.
And she's probably breathing a sigh of relief right now.
Quote of the Day:
"A belief is not true because it is useful."
~ Henri-Frederic Amiel

Song of the Day:
Vonda Shepard, "I Know Him By Heart"

Happy Birthday:
Alice Cooper
Charles Lindbergh
Rosa Parks
Dan Quayle
Howie Kurtz links to John Ellis (Bush cousin, formerly of Fox News), who writes about the tongue-bath the media are giving John Edwards:

Watching Chris Matthews of MSNBC slather all over Senator John Edwards tonight was embarrassing on any number of levels, but it was a useful reminder to Ellisblog that one must never underestimate the power of the national news media when it seeks a desired outcome. "Is it just a matter of having people see how good you are, Senator Edwards" asked Mr. Matthews of his somewhat startled guest. "Yes, I think that's right" said Sen. Edwards by way of reply. You really can't make this stuff up...
I've noticed that about Chris Matthews. He can be an aggressive interviewer, but when he pitches softballs, they're real softballs.
Dear Public Forum/Debate

I'm so sorry to tell you this way, but it's the only way I could.

I feel as though we've been growing apart for some time now. I've continued to value reason and logic and intelligent, nuanced discussion. You've forsaken those things. You're now all about sound bites and straw men. People talk past each other. No one engages. You've become about who talks, and who talks louder. Intelligence not only seems to have become scarce in supply, but in fact actively shunned.

It's not that there's someone else; I'm not sure what I'll do without you -- probably while away the hours on Yahoo's Odd News. I still care about you. I just can't be involved with you anymore. It's me. I'm stuck in a different world where people look for the reasoned voice and seek out diverse opinions. I'm too naive, I suppose.

Take care.


Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The best line I've read yet about the Janet Jackson fiasco. From the NY Times:

"Perhaps the one moment of honesty in that coldly choreographed tableau was when the cup came off and out tumbled what looked like a normal middle-aged woman's breast instead of an idealized Playboy bunny implant."

Monday, February 02, 2004

Subways and Human Nature

What is it about subways that brings out the worst in people? I see every day on my commute to work people become self-centered and willfully blind. How hard is it to walk into the subway and away from the door, people? This is particularly frustrating when people are literally falling out the door, but you can look in the window and see that people away from the doors have so much room they're practically spreading out and having a picnic!
Movie Quote of the Day:
"You wanna throw up here, or in the car?"
"I think... both."
~ Groundhog Day

Song of the Day:
Martina McBride, "Independence Day"

Happy Birthday:
Christie Brinkley
Graham Nash
Ayn Rand
Tom Smothers
Sorry I've been out for a week. Comcast had my internet service down for all of last week.
Stu Taylor approves of Ted Kennedy's push to make colleges disclose statistics on their legacy admissions. But he wouldn't stop there.
Enough tawdry sports news -- on to tawdry politics news!

The New Republic is debating John Kerry. Even the pro-Kerry side agrees he's a pompous weasel.

Andrew Sullivan wonders if there's any Boston political journalist who can stand him. "All the ones I come across don't just dislike Kerry. They loathe him."

The man's being Gored by the punditry, and it's only February. How many cycles of backlash and backlash-against-backlash can we squeeze in by November?
University of Maryland officials are seeking advice from the state's Attorney General about what to do about the school's own classless fans.

"When [students] recognize that these cheers tear down precisely what they want to build," said the school's president in a letter to the student newspaper, "we can move to a place where heated, intense fan support uses biting commentary and clever jibes rather than spewed profanity."

Methinks that place already exists. The Maryland basketball team -- minus its loser fans -- will visit there on February 22. But this week we have much bigger fish to fry. Or rams to fry... or something.
Here's a picture of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" from last night's Super Bowl halftime show.

Mickey Kaus is calling for MTV and Viacom executives to be fired.

I think it's hilarious. Even more hilarious are the lame attempts to make booby-gate seem like an accident when it so clearly wasn't.

The only real proof you need is that she was wearing a medallion on her nipple. As the Telegraph dryly notes, it's "unlikely that Jackson would wear a stripper's accessory under her bra unless she was planning to expose it."

It's not the kind of thing you just paste on there for kicks. Leaving for work in the morning... "Slacks? Check. Sweater? Check. Socks? Check. Gold sunburst nipple-thingy? Oh, wait... there. Now I'm dressed."

This is just the kind of publicity the Jackson family needed.

Allen Barra, critiquing the actual game, says "There has never been a Super Bowl—not even the infamous 1971 "Blunder Bowl" between Baltimore and Dallas—that featured so many bad plays, blown officials' calls, and wretched coaching decisions."