Monday, May 31, 2004

Michael Moore annoys me, mostly because I think he's about bluster and braggadocio to the same degree that radio and tv talk show hosts are. He's also about a one-sided debate, about pressing an advantage at the expense of nuanced debate; about winning an argument simply by refusing to give his opponents the opportunity to respond.

It's no surprise, then, that I loved this interview printed in the far-from-conservative Observer. Here's a snippet:
What I think, after my short time in his company, is that Moore is a man you would not want as an opponent, but also one you'd think twice about calling a friend. Though a talented film-maker and a clever showman, a populist who knows how to play the maverick, he is too often both big-headed and small-minded. In his desire to be seen as the decent man telling truth to power, he is too ready to blame those less powerful than himself for his shortcomings. He was justly revered in the Palais, but out on the street no one had a kind word to say about him. At Cannes, Moore may have been the star but he was not, it seems, the man of the people.
Read the rest of it. It's fascinating. (Thanks to Steven Jens for the link)
File Under "Bad Idea"

From the news wires:
Two preachers grounded a flight leaving Buffalo, New York, after they frightened passengers by declaring the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a good reason to pray, officials said on Thursday.

One preacher told fellow passengers as the Continental Airlines plane taxied down the runway, "Your last breath on earth is the first one in heaven as long as you are born again and have Jesus in your heart," according to FBI spokesman Paul Moskal.

Passengers on the Wednesday flight to Newark, New Jersey told a flight attendant, who alerted the plane's captain, officials said. The captain turned the plane around.
The two preachers were Pentecostal ministers from Canada. Who knows what possessed them to do what they did at that time...
May was Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Kudos to for noting this.

As a child, I loved C.S. Lewis's Narnia books. It turns out that Lily and I have the same favorite: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Anyone familiar with the series knows that some debate exists regarding the order of the books. The books were printed in one order, but chronologically proceed in another order. It turns out, in fact, that the books were in fact written by C.S. Lewis in an entirely different order.

I found, purely by accident, this fascinating take on the issue.

The writer offers the following:
Let us imagine two innocent readers, sitting down to approach 'Narnia' for the first time.

One takes down from the shelf a big, leather bound edition, with illuminated capitals and line numbers. The big red book is entitled The Chronicles of Narnia. There is a contents page listing 'Vol. 1: The Magicians Nephew, Vol.: 2 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' and so on. On hardback pages, the book would be shorter than Lord of the Rings or David Copperfield. Our reader would be quite clear that what he was embarking on was one long story, telling the story of an imaginary world from beginning to end.

Another virgin reader goes to a second hand bookshop and picks up a cheap paperback edition of Prince Caspian. There is an appalling, lurid fantasy picture on the cover, by someone who has obviously never read the book. The opening pages imply that it is a sequel of some kind, but he happily finds that it is quite self-contained. He goes back to the bookshop, and finds another book, a hardback, in a non-uniform edition. This is The Silver Chair. He comes away with the impression that Lewis wrote a number (he does not know how many, maybe thousands) of fairy stories, all nominally in a linked world and with a recurrent motif (Aslan) but otherwise, not very closely related. He gradually, and out of order, reads the whole lot—although he himself does not know that he is finished because he does not know what Lewis wrote.

It seems to me that these two people have had different reading experiences. They will be inclined to interpret the books in different ways.
If you were at all moved by the books, check out the rest of the article.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"These five words I swear to you."
Bon Jovi, "I'll Be There For You"

Happy Birthday:
Hubert Humphrey
Henry Kissinger
Vincent Price

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Dean Jens writes in with praise for Sandra Day O'Connor:

As the first woman on the Supreme Court, and as perennial swing vote, the way she shines in questioning has been overshadowed. Every time I read a transcript of the discussion, I come away with a sense that she's made the appelant's arguments better than the appelant did when the respondent was up, and vice versa.
I have a different impression, based in part on the one time I've attended oral argument. O'Connor started off on an irrelevant line of questioning (as I recall, she was bringing up questions of fact that were not before the Court), and Scalia swatted her down (it's on p. 30-31 of the transcript).

Then again, perhaps that's just another example of the kind of rough treatment Lithwick was talking about.
Yes, I've posted this before and it's old, but it's so great I should post it every month: Reason's parody of National Review Online's blog.

The 24-hour-a-day vacuousness of "KJL," John Derbyshire's creepy obsession with homosexuality, the clubby Catholicism -- the parody gets it perfectly.

Still, I'll admit that Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Suttaford, and Ramesh Ponnuru make The Corner worth at least a weekly browsing.
Quote of the Day:
"When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice."
~ Marquis de la Grange

Song of the Day:
Fleetwood Mac, "Fireflies"

Happy Birthday:
Lenny Kravitz
Stevie Nicks
Sally Ride
John Wayne
Slate's Chatterbox gives the new World War II memorial a thumbs-up: "[I]t provides relief from the telephone-book style that dominates memorials today -- the endless lists of victims' names that commemorate large national events."
For those of you who like to sweeten your diet cola with a shot of the full-sugar stuff, Coke and Pepsi will soon introduce mid-calorie colas. The new sodas will have half the sugar and calories of the regular versions.

The New Yorker looks at all this segmentation and predicts that some day we'll be able to buy "Double-Diet No-Vanilla Neapolitan Okay-Some-Vanilla Cherry Coke."
Peggy Noonan writes about E.L. Doctorow getting booed for launching an anti-Bush tirade in what was supposed to be a Hofstra University commencement address:

I want to explain to Ed Doctorow why he was booed. It was not, as he no doubt creamily recounted in a storytelling session over drinks that night in Sag Harbor, that those barbarians in Long Island's lesser ZIP codes don't want to hear the truth. It is not that they oppose free speech. It is not that the poor boobs of Long Island have an unaccountable affection for George W. Bush. It is that they have class.

The poor stupid people of Long Island are courteous, and have respect for the views and feelings of others, and would not dream of imposing their particular views on a captive audience that has gathered to celebrate--to be happy about, to officially mark with their presence--the rather remarkable fact that one of their family studied and worked for four years, completed his courses, met all demands, and became a graduate of an American university.
While we're on commencement addresses, here's a very funny one given at William & Mary by Jon Stewart, who's an alum.

Here's the Yale undergraduate Baccalaureate address, given this year by Dean Richard Brodhead, who is about to become Duke's president.

And finally, here's this year's Yale Law commencement address, delivered by the peerless John Langbein.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

In what can only be described as a true silver-lining story, Tim Schnabel notes the 1-year anniversary of the Yale Law School bombing.

One-year-later articles on the bombing are here and here.
Two notable articles in Slate:

1.) Dahlia Lithwick on Sandra Day O'Connor: She "single-handedly blew open more doors for young women than almost any human being alive on this planet."

2.) Explainer looks at the Army War College, one of "the top finishing schools for military minds."

Monday, May 24, 2004

In the wake of the Nick Berg story, I got to wondering whether the Internet has made graphic torture more likely. The reasoning being that the ability for anybody to publish anything that can reach everybody might make it easier for people who want to use "propaganda" (that seems insensitive, but I don't mean it to be) to strike at a country's will. How many people would have seen the Nick Berg video twenty years ago? Like today, no American television network would have run it. Would the Iranian hostage crisis have played out differently if those hostage takers had had Internet publishing?
It's okay if it's your activism...

Berkeley law students protested Professor John Yoo for a memo he wrote while working at the Office of Legal Counsel. The Post reports:
About one-quarter of the 270 graduates of Berkeley's Boalt School of Law donned red armbands over their black robes in a silent protest of a legal memo law professor John Yoo co-wrote when he served in the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.


The Jan. 9, 2002, memo, first reported by Newsweek magazine Friday, laid out the legal reasons why the United States didn't have to comply with international treaties governing prisoner rights. It argued that the normal laws of armed conflict didn't apply to al-Qaida and Taliban militia prisoners because they didn't belong to a state.


"We're embarrassed that he's at our institution," said law student Abby Reyes, who launched the petition. "We came to law school in order to uphold the rule of law, not to learn ways to wiggle our way out of compliance with it."
Well, let's check back in ten years and see if Abby hasn't advocated some judicial activism or tried to wiggle her way out of compliance with certain laws -- say, the sentencing guidelines, to name one. has a more intellectual take on the Yoo protest.

Quote of the Day:
"We all like stories that make us cry. It's so nice to feel sad when you've nothing in particular to feel sad about."
~ Annie Sullivan

Song of the Day:
Hoobastank, "The Reason"

Happy Birthday:
Joe Dumars
Bob Dylan
Priscilla Presley
Summer Nights

Driving home last night after taking Kate to the airport, I realized that summer has arrived in Washington. I love May evenings around here -- the smell of honeysuckle, the lushness of the trees, the softness of the air.

Speaking of the beauty of nature, Jacob Sullum is not impressed with the miracle of the cicadas.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Movie Review

Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World doesn't look like any other movie. Or rather, it looks like a host of other movies--the more intimate of the tumultuous works of such early vision-and-rhythm giants as D.W. Griffith and Abel Gance; the spidery-poetic imaginings of F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Carl Dreyer; the exotic-hypnotic bijoux of Josef von Sternberg; the pulsating output of that one-man genre Jean Vigo; 1930s Warner Brothers musicals; fantasy and horror movies from pioneer Georges Méliès to the Hollywood-studio-era camp master James Whale; experimental underground movies from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's infamous Un chien andalou (1929) and L'Âge d'or (1930) to David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977); the creepy-decrepit stop-motion animation of the the Brothers Quay; in sum, any and all black-and-white movies with fearlessly heightened style. The Saddest Music in the World has the forlorn luster of some impossible combination of all those movies playing on a fuzzy TV inside a cloudy snow globe. In addition, the characters move around on what are plainly sets (as in the most diorama-like of silent movies), the process shots look like process shots, the film speed varies in little jogs, and the sound is intentionally antiquated--sometimes the voices and music are muffled, as if from inadequate recording equipment, and sometimes the speakers are slightly out of sync with the soundtrack.

Maddin and his cinematographer Luc Montpellier and production designer Matthew Davies haven't made a replica of any particular predecessor but rather have externalized the effect older movies have on those of us who love them. If you are at all romantic about black-and-white movies The Saddest Music in the World is pitched at you, but it doesn't simply let you indulge your nostalgia. First of all, the experiences the characters undergo are too improbably extreme for you to identify with. But even if you could, Maddin's stirring visuals take precedence over the story, and yet the imagery, while dazzling, is purposefully clumsy, so you can never look past it and get swallowed up by the movie. The look and the story work in tandem to create an experience of total irony.

Not that the story isn't memorable, in its way. In Great-Depression-era Winnipeg Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), a tough, cynical, and legless brewery magnate, launches an international contest to reward the nation with the saddest music. Her goal is to position her beer at the forefront of world attention in anticipation of the end of Prohibition in America. Among the contestants are Fyodor (David Fox), an alcoholic ex-doctor she had an affair with back when she had legs, as well as his two sons, Chester (Mark McKinney) and Roderick (Ross McMillan). The family is Canadian (Fyodor sings a drippy song about red maple leaves in the contest), but Chester insists he's American and puts American sadness over with show biz oomph, while Roderick insists he's Serbian (and is obsessed with Gavrilo Princip whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the Great War), wears a fake moustache and black veil, and plays morose cello music in mourning for his dead son and his wife Narcissa who has vanished.

In the back story Lady Port-Huntley cheated on Fyodor with Chester and lost her legs as the result of a car accident that happened when she was going down on Chester while he was driving and Fyodor stepped into the road. Fyodor, drunkenly seeing double, pulled out his hacksaw to operate on the roadside and removed the wrong leg. Currently, in 1933, Chester has shown up in Winnipeg with the amnesiac Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) who doesn't remember her marriage to Roderick and who wanders around following the promptings of her tapeworm.

I could go on, but this probably gives you a sense of how deranged the story is. The movie is not, however, an escape from narrative logic, a descent into deeper compulsions and obsessions, as David Lynch's movies are. It's an amplified simulacrum of corny old-Hollywood family dramas overwritten and acted with no investment in its own credibility. McKinney, a graduate of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe, in particular, announces every line as if reading it off a poster. There's no attempt at authentic realism.

According to this June 2003 interview in ArtForum, the script by the English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (author of The Remains of the Day) was a political allegory about the way Third World countries have to present themselves as appealing charity cases in order to get international aid. Thankfully this editorial intent masquerading as a story doesn't come across at all. (The most amusing jab at America is the way Chester hires all the losing countries' musicians for his show so that by the end there's a melting-pot orchestra on the stage.) Believe me, you won't feel lectured to by this movie. Maddin is possibly the giddiest, most accessible of all experimental filmmakers.

It's not that Maddin is an escapist. Elsewhere in the ArtForum interview he says of the (shopworn) amnesia device:

Forgetfulness is a kind of anesthetic for the painful life we all live. We're forced constantly to think about the shameful things we've done, the painful things that have happened to us. We owe most of the feelings we have, as sensate beings, to shoddy memories. The sheer erratic nature of memory keeps life a Luna Park.
The movie is full of "painful" family conflict and shocking action, and Maddin knows how to ride the drama up and down these peaks. I actually gasped at Chester and Lady Port-Huntley's final encounter, but at the same time the movie stays true to Maddin's claim, "I just try and put things into forms that will be fun, and if anything, it feels just too good to blurt out the truth."

The story works itself out coherently, but you never respond to it as a direct representation of reality. As Maddin says:

People talk about irony and melodrama as if they're mutually exclusive, but I'm not so sure they are. When melodrama isn't working, I crave irony. If the sweetness isn't working, I need something savory, something very salty or something horrible, caustic to undermine it.
Anticipating his own jaded response, he builds the undermining irony right into his melodrama. (Read this 3 May 2004 IndieWire interview for Maddin's descriptive definition of "melodrama"; read this page from my new book for my structural definition of it.)

I doubt, however, that morbid-arty self-consciousness has ever been this much fun. In this 17 February 2004 IndieWire interview Maddin says:

Whenever someone asks me to describe the highlights of my own life, I describe them with a mythic quality and they were usually the family tragedies, the most miserable things. So it turns out that I find the best way of showing these things is to play them for comedy.
And in fact Maddin gives the family traumas in the past and present tenses of The Saddest Music in the World something like the flagrant drag-queen humor of John Waters at his most lowdown, in Pink Flamingos (1974) and Female Trouble (1975). Everything is equally "fabulous" and tawdry (the two become inseparable qualities); overstressed pop emotionality is gloried in and derided by the very same gestures; everything is a dirty joke, or a black one, or both, and always an occasion for exhibitionism.

You don't feel for Lady Port-Huntley as an amputee, for instance. When Fyodor tries to win her back with a pair of glass legs filled with beer, the image of her standing onstage with the light shining through them as they bubble, or of her admiring them when they're raised in the air while she has sex with his son, is everything the most imaginatively depraved transvestite could do to turn Marlene Dietrich, that Germanic kitsch goddess, inside out. The strained delicacy of Maddin's style is a high-art retro effect, but the movie unfolds with the rowdy cabaret brio of camp lampoonery. (It's more fun in this respect, and altogether more accomplished, than John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001).)

The Saddest Music in the World has impact, certainly. And it's the rare experimental movie in which the actors are able to make memorably individual contributions. With her sighing voice and her disconnected gaze as she moves through the stagy snowscape, Maria de Medeiros is the doll in Maddin's cobwebby dollhouse. Her weightless presence manages to span the range of his influences--she could be the shadow cast by Nadia Sibirskaia, the most delicate of movie waifs (in Dmitri Kirsanov's fiercely inventive Menilmontant (1926)), or by Janet Gaynor, the most synthetic of them (in Murnau's Sunrise (1927)).

Isabella Rossellini also scores with her best work since David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), but she's less passive here, showing more gusto as a performer. Madeline Kahn might have been funnier (think of her Dietrich put-on in Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles (1974)) but not as abandoned. Rossellini throws herself into the role of this mutilated-but-glamorous pewter-pot empress without seeming like a Warholian specialist in grotesquerie, and has the theatricality of a veteran without the stale air of well-practiced technique. She cranks it up for the movie but plays a coarse, perverse character without coarseness or perversity. (Read Maddin's truly goofy account of meeting Rossellini in this 29 April 2004 piece he wrote for the Manchester Guardian Unlimited.)

But as good as the actors may be, and McMillan in particular is quite funny, you still can't empathize with the tormented characters. And the key, I believe, is in the approach of Chester, the "American" brother, to the music contest. His big production numbers suggest that to the extent Maddin has a discursive point it's the inability of commercial movies to convey emotion. He sees conventional American fare as having the reverse Midas touch--everything Hollywood touches turns to tin. But The Saddest Music in the World isn't a show-biz satire. It resembles a mainstream spoof of a specific, earlier style like Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974) but it also resembles a diffuse, inner-directed, remote work like Eraserhead. Maddin goes in for disturbing, hyperbolic vignettes but gets entranced by the aesthetic problem of how to represent them. He's extraordinary in that he focuses on aesthetics without muffling the whole proceeding: The Saddest Music in the World has the moody abstraction of a nocturne and the open playfulness of a scherzo at the same time.

Maddin may have hoped that his irony would help us experience the characters' anguish because it signals to us that he knows better than to exploit the emotion, and our susceptibility to it, but I don't think that's how the movie plays. Instead it makes you feel that all movies are fake--you're always looking at the window not through it. And that's mostly right, and keeping it in mind should prevent your being carried away by numbingly insistent dramas like The Hours and Mystic River and 21 Grams. Literary hogwash like Cold Mountain and House of Sand and Fog push self-seriousness over the brink into self-parody, which is where Maddin starts, with a knowingness that makes all the difference. The beauty of Maddin's imagery and the seductiveness of his rhythms make you swoon, but it's undisguisedly the result of set design, camerawork, and editing, and the show is a show, inescapably. But you do swoon. Maddin says of himself, "I knew I would never be a neat and tidy craftsman. It's a thrill to be a primitivist." When a director's "primitive" style is as developed as Maddin's, your aesthetic response can seem like all the emotion you need, his thrill your thrill.

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

Alan Dale is the author of What We Do Best: American Movie Comedies of the 1990s and Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I have seen at least one person every week reading one of Dan Brown's books: either The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons. The guy must be a gazillionaire. It's fairly amazine what the former book has done for the latter, as well. It seems that people who can't get enough Dan Brown have gone to dig up his earlier book, Angels and Demons, even though I'm fairly certain it got bad reviews.

Anyway, this is a long-winded introduction to this article I found today:
Dan Brown said that when he wrote the best seller that dissects the origins of Jesus Christ and disputes long-held beliefs about Catholicism, he considered including material alleging that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion.

While speaking at a benefit Tuesday for a New Hampshire writers' group, Brown said the theory is backed by a number of "very credible sources," but that he ultimately decided it was too flimsy.

"For me, that was just three or four steps too far," he told the crowd of more than 800 people.
Interesting. This tidbit, though, is even more interesting.
Brown's discussion of his book, during which he answered audience questions, was a rare public appearance for him. He has declined most requests for media interviews this year, saying he is focusing on writing the sequel to his book.

He said the new book, set in Washington, D.C., would focus on the Free and Accepted Masons, a secretive fraternal organization. He said the architecture in Washington is soaked in symbolism and plays a major role in the novel. He also said the dust jacket of "The Da Vinci Code" contains a code that reveals information about the sequel.
I wonder how long it will be before I see at least one person every week poring over the dust jacket of The DaVinci Code.
No Communist Zone
A Southern California city known as "Little Saigon" because of its large Vietnamese population has become the first U.S. city to declare itself a "no Communist" zone.

The city council in Garden Grove, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, passed a resolution on Tuesday saying it "does not welcome, or sanction high-profile visits, drive-bys or stopovers by members or officials of the Vietnamese Communist government."
Only Vietnamese communists? Come on...

In related news, some Taiwanese residents of Boston are trying to get their local government to take an interest in an Asian democracy.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A note for Alias fans: after this Sunday's season finale, no more Alias until January 2005!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The reason I'm frequenting 7-11: the Crystal Light Strawberry-Kiwi Slurpee.

It's "targeted to females."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Truth and Fiction...

This news from across the pond:
Richard Lancelyn Green, 50, from Kensington, died from asphyxiation, Westminster Coroner's Court was told.

Coroner Dr Paul Knapman recorded an open verdict and said the ex-chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London suffered a "very unusual death".

. . . .

Mr Lancelyn Green was found in his bed, surrounded by cuddly toys and a bottle, after a wooden spoon was used to tighten the shoelace around his neck.
Mr. Green, in the bedroom, with the shoelace!

Pacers aging superstar, Reggie Miller:

Dobby, the house-elf:

No children for you!

About a week ago, the Post ran an article informing us that the Ohio Supreme Court was about to hear the appeal of the following case:
Sean Talty fathered seven children with five women and fell $40,000 behind on support payments, once going two years without making a payment.

When he appeared in Common Pleas Court on felony charges for not paying child support, Talty found himself before one fed-up jurist: Judge James L. Kimbler ordered the 32-year-old Akron resident to take "reasonable efforts" not to get anyone pregnant for five years -- or go to jail.
Interestingly, the very same day, this article ran in the NY Times:
Citing a pattern of negligence and drug abuse that has left a couple unable to care for their children, a judge in upstate New York last week barred the couple from procreating until they prove they can take care of their offspring.

The ruling, by Judge Marilyn L. O'Connor of Monroe County Family Court, came after the mother's four children were placed in foster care and after three of them tested positive for cocaine as newborns.

"The generosity and kindness of society have been abused enough," Judge O'Connor wrote in a seven-page opinion. "The respondents' existing children have been neglected enough, and this court will do what it can in this particular case to end this pattern of behavior."
Judge O'Connor cited the Ohio Supreme Court case.

Those family courts... it's a tough job, I'll grant that, but I wonder if the pressure drives the judges over the edge.

The low-carb diet craze may be skidding to an end, says this article.

Part of the reason is that there are now so many low-carb products out there that there is more food for dieters to choose from -- and more for them to eat. It was easier to lose weight when you could only eat butter and hard-boiled eggs, I suppose.
Quote of the Day:
"The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half."
~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Song of the Day:
George Strait, "Run"

Happy Birthday:
Pope John Paul II
Frank Capra
Perry Como
Reggie Jackson
George Strait

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Second Circuit recently showed that it is in touch with children, concluding that Barbie Dolls can be copyrighted:
Many dolls have [Barbie's] features, Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote for the 2nd Circuit. But ultimately, it’s not about pert noses, bow lips and slim figures, the panel reasoned. Instead, the doll’s "particularized expression" is key.

"One artist’s version of a doll face with upturned nose, bow lips and widely spaced eyes will be irresistible to an 8-year-old collector," Leval wrote. "Another artist’s version, which to a grownup may look very much like the first, will be a dud to the 8-year-old." Mattel Inc. v. Goldberger Doll Manufacturing Co., No. 02-9042 (April 16).
This according to Leval's eight-year old law clerk, I guess.
A few days ago, the Washington Post ran the best explanation for motion sickness that I've ever read:
Temporary trouble, like motion sickness, occurs when the brain gets conflicting signals. You ride in a car, reading. You hold the book still, and your eyes send one message to the brain. But as the car bumps along and dips and scuds over potholes and asphalt, your inner ears and skin receptors sense something completely different. The mixed signals confuse your brain, and it cannot orient you properly. You get woozy and nauseated. The next time you watch the scenery.
I've always attributed it to confusion based on the changing scenery. But who knew it was that ol' inner ear that was at fault?
Lyric of the Day:
"Holding hands at midnight
'Neath a starry sky
Nice work if you can get it
And you can get it if you try."
~ Frank Sinatra, "Nice Work If You Can Get It"

Happy Birthday:
Dennis Hopper
Jordan Knight
Sugar Ray Leonard
Bob Saget

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The WP has an article on standing to the right and walking to the left on Metro escalators, a practice understood by area commuters but unknown to tourists. In Washington, it seems, the sign of summer is clueless middle-Americans blocking escalators while commuters gnash their teeth and miss their trains.

I have always wondered why Metro doesn't have signs indicating where to stand and where to walk. The article clears that up: It's Metro policy that nobody should walk on the escalators.

So actually, the problem is Metro's stupidity, not middle America's.
Lyric of the Day:
"No net, just you to catch me when I fall."
~ Randy Travis, "Look Heart, No Hands"

Happy Birthday:
Pierce Brosnan
Jill Cordell
Janet Jackson
Tori Spelling
Debra Winger
Gay couples discover the wedding industry:

Gays and lesbians have won the right to spend thousands of dollars on bridal gowns, honeymoons, hotel ballrooms, catered parties, multitiered cakes and ice sculptures.
Massachusetts will issue the first marriage licenses to gay couples tomorrow.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

If you're one of those people who thinks any public policy you don't like must be unconstitutional, go read this post by Professor Randy Barnett on Volokh:

For reasons best known to themselves, sanctioning homosexuality really bothers [some people] a lot, and nothing so abstract as the original meaning of the Constitution will be allowed to stand in the way. If they can find a theory, any theory, of originalism that justifies the legal suppression of homosexuality, then that is super. But if not, then their originalism will be bent into a pretzel, or abandoned altogether if need be, to get where they want to go.

A commitment to a written Constitution, however, requires either that one put the law represented by the Constitution ahead of one's even deep-seated desires, or that one candidly reject the Constitution as so morally deficient as to lose its status as binding authority. What is improper is both to jettison the written Constitution AND to wrap oneself in its mantle.
And kudos to the VC on letting readers choose a font for their reading pleasure.
Slate's Today's Papers says the Wall Street Journal's dot-picture artists have made Donald Rumsfeld look "like a deranged sexpot."

Here's the picture. I agree the half-winking eye does make him look somewhat rakish. Or constipated.

I noticed that somewhere during the middle of the Martha Stewart scandal, the WSJ's dot-picture people changed Martha's picture from an extremely flattering one to one that suggested blotchy frumpiness.
This Cicadacam at the Washington Post tracks the infestation at a suburban Maryland home.

It's not very bad around here, or maybe just not as air-thick-with-bugs yucky as I'd imagined it would be. There are a lot of skins on fenceposts on my walk to work, and some crunching underfoot. I don't really hear them or see them flying around.
This Cicadacam at the Washington Post tracks the infestation at a suburban Maryland home.

It's not very bad around here, or maybe just not as air-thick-with-bugs yucky as I'd imagined it would be. There are a lot of skins on fenceposts on my walk to work, and some crunching underfoot. I don't really hear them or see them flying around.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Here's a Slate appreciation of Frasier, which ended tonight. I learned recently that Kelsey Grammer is a Republican.

Apologies for the sorry state of my posting lately. Lots of stuff to do, and not a lot to blog about. Kate promises that she's accumulating a list of things to post about, and maybe I'll get a chance this weekend.

But first, there's a work-week to finish, and a dinner to cook for some of the Malcolm parents.
Lyric of the Day:
"A beautiful song, and it starts with your name."
Doug Stone, "Too Busy Being In Love"

Happy Birthday:
David Byrne
Bobby Darin
George Lucas
"John Kerry: Not a Jew, but not against Jews."

From the Onion.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Hugh Hewitt thinks John Kerry is working through a mid-life crisis. Witness the attire:

The electric-lemon Lycra look probably won't play well outside the metrosexual caucus, and it can't be particularly inspiring to the troops living in holes outside of Falluja. Presidents can golf, and they can run, but they can't get dandied up and dart around on bikes in tights and fluorescent helmets.
Here's my favorite Kerry-ridiculous photo.
More on Teresa Heinz Kerry's tax returns from the TaxProf blog.

Link via InstaPundit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bleh. This new Blogger format is awful. I wish I could claim that as an excuse for not posting in so long.
I find the Olsen twins creepy. Here is some interesting food for thought.
And he ran it stark naked...

Peter Radford, a British sports historian, believes that the four minute mile was run years before Roger Bannister did it -- nearly 150 years before Bannister.
There were no celebrations on May 9 1970 to mark the 200th anniversary of the first four-minute mile, and no tours were organised to visit the gates of Shoreditch Church in London, where James Parrott, a costermonger, completed his measured mile in four minutes.
He had started at the Charterhouse Wall in Goswell Road, crossed the road, turned right and then ran the length of Old Street for a wager of 15 guineas to five (£1,380 to £460 in 2004 values). Parrott had wagered that he would run inside four minutes, but the men with whips and poles who had been positioned to keep his way clear did such a good job, and the conditions were so near perfect, that as he sped along Old Street it was clear he would be well inside the target time.

But James Parrott appears in no history of athletics and he has never received any recognition from the myriad statisticians and enthusiasts of athletics facts and figures.
He goes on to suggest that the four-minute mile was run again seventeen years later -- stark naked.
In the late autumn of 1787, a runner by the name of Powell went one crucial stage further. He engaged himself to run a mile in four minutes and wagered the extraordinary sum of 1,000 guineas on achieving it (£780,000 in 2004 values). As part of his preparations, Powell ran a time trial at Moulsey Hurst near Hampton Court five days before Christmas. This was one of the oldest sporting venues in the country, and some of the best cricket and boxing matches and foot races of the previous 50 years had been held on its turf - several under royal patronage.

. . . .

One of the features of Powell's time trial was that he ran stark naked, as did many serious runners of that time. Naked running is first recorded in 1663 in the reign of Charles II. It continued for 200 years and, in the absence of governing bodies and nationally agreed rules, may well have been a way of trying to emulate the runners at the ancient Olympics.
Well. Maybe he'd have run it faster if he'd had something to keep the drag down.
Disposable Society

Dean Jens can never let an opportunity to bicker over resources pass by. He responds to my post here about pickle waste. I said:
[I]t made more economical sense for consumers to purchase the oversized Wal-Mart jar, eat half or a quarter, and throw away the rest, than it did for consumers to buy the smaller jars at a price slightly lower than Wal-Mart's gallon-sized jars.

It's just another example of the disposable society that we've become. I'll pay the higher per-unit price so that I don't have to waste food. This, apparently, is a minority mindset.
Dean said:
And it's better to waste the resources that go into inefficient distribution? To waste more man-hours of labor, gasoline, advertising, and whatever else might be the difference between Wal-Mart and another retailer? Is it better to throw away more packaging per pickle consumed, as will likely happen when buying in smaller quantities?
Okay. But what about the waste in extra pickles grown? If we do the math, Dean may in fact be correct. But that's beside the point. The point here is, let's not assume that my posts about waste and resources are only half-baked simply because I haven't worked through a full cost-benefit analysis.
Darwin-Free Idiocy

I'm sure most people have heard about the NY Times article from last week that reported on Creationist-themed amusement parks.

Let me start by giving full disclosure. I believe in evolution.

That said, I also believe in freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. I think the creationists are on to something.
"There are a lot of creationists that are really smart and debate the intellectuals, but the kids are bored after five minutes," said Mr. Hovind, who looks boyish at 51 and talks fast. "You're missing 98 percent of the population if you only go the intellectual route."

The theme park is just the latest approach to promoting creationism outside the usual school curriculum route, which Mr. Hovind and others see as important, but too limited and not sufficiently appealing to modern young families. Creationist groups are also promoting creationist vacations, including dinosaur digs in South Dakota, fossil-collecting trips in Australia and New Zealand, and tours of the Grand Canyon ("raft the canyon and learn how Noah's flood contributed to the formation").
He's right. You can't win a battle of ideas simply by writing articles and attending conventions.

My problem, however, is with the following:
At Dinosaur Adventure Land, visitors can make their own Grand Canyon replica with sand and read a sign deriding textbooks for teaching that the Colorado River formed the canyon over millions of years: "This is clearly not possible. The top of the Grand Canyon is 4,000 feet higher than where the river enters the canyon! Rivers do not flow up hill!"
This argument is problematic in two respects. First, it attacks an evolutionary argument without giving full consideration to the evolutionary argument. The contention is not that the river flows uphill! The contention is that the river wore down 4,000 feet of rock into a canyon. Second, do creationists really deny that weathering and erosion occur? Aren't those principles demonstrable in real time?
More NY Times Bias

An article in yesterday's Times reported on a potential shift in salmon counting that might affect whether salmon remain an endangered species.
[I]n an abrupt change, the Bush administration has decided for the first time to consider counting fish raised in hatcheries when determining if some species are going extinct.
The Times article clearly paints this as a bad thing. It reeks of conspiracy theory and Bush favoritism.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I think the policy is a bad idea. Like the scientists quoted in the article, I don't think salmon raised in hatcheries can substitute for wild salmon. That said, the article is yet another example of selective reporting by the Times. The article mentions the following:
Bush administration officials say they are boxed in by a court decision that forces them to include hatchery fish in deciding the fate of a particular run of salmon. . . . .

. . . .

"I think you have a tremendous internal debate" within the fisheries agency, said Russ Brooks, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which successfully sued the government to force a reconsideration of how it uses hatchery fish. . . .
But nowhere in the article does the reporter mention the case name, the court, the time at which the case was brought ... nothing. No details on what is plainly an important aspect of the story -- and what may be a very important reason for why the Bush administration has engaged in its "abrupt" change in policy. Rather than report on the court case, the Times reporter focuses entirely on a Bush appointee and insinuations about the potential power and effect of the appointee on this change in policy. This latter point may be true, but it is at most only part of the story. Where's the rest of it?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I missed 10.5, the big earthquake movie on NBC the other night. A reader writes that the movie included a news report with a caption saying that "marshal law" had been imposed.
Congratulations to Hanah and Sasha on their engagement!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Attack of the Gallon Pickles

Here is a troubling article about Wal-Mart. Well, it's not so troubling about Wal-Mart. Kudos, in fact, to Wal-Mart for its ability to streamline and enforce efficiency. It's more of a troubling article about American consumer tendencies.

The gist of the piece, which you really should read for yourself, is that Wal-Mart puts some major heat on the business operations of its suppliers. The specific example is Vlasic pickles, which got hit hard by Wal-Mart's insistence of selling gallon-sized jars of Vlasic pickles for less than $3. The end result was that Vlasic was unable to sell its normal-sized pickle jars at supermarkets and other vendors, because it made more economical sense for consumers to purchase the oversized Wal-Mart jar, eat half or a quarter, and throw away the rest, than it did for consumers to buy the smaller jars at a price slightly lower than Wal-Mart's gallon-sized jars.

It's just another example of the disposable society that we've become. I'll pay the higher per-unit price so that I don't have to waste food. This, apparently, is a minority mindset.

Another victim of Wal-Mart: long-beloved FAO Schwartz. The laissez faire economist in me is at odds with the sentimental traditionalist.
Lily wrote a few weeks ago about the new, yucky Levitra commercials. Well, those commercials have nothing on "Enzyte." Those commercials have some guy with a forced, ear-to-ear smile and talk about how happy he is, and how happy his wife at home is.

Quote of the Day:
"Some parents say it is toy guns that make boys warlike. But give a boy a rubber duck and he will seize its neck like the butt of a pistol and shout 'Bang!'"
~ George F. Will

Song of the Day:
P.M. Dawn, "Die Without You"

Happy Birthday:
Lance Bass
Audry Hepburn
George F. Will
Pia Zadora

Monday, May 03, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"Whatever it takes, I will stay here with you."
~ Starship, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"

Happy Birthday:
James Brown
Bing Crosby
Golda Meir
Sugar Ray Robinson
Pete Seeger
If you haven't seen this graphic of the changing red-blue electoral map, you should check it out.
Advertising Genius

Honda really knows how to do it. The now-famous Cog commercial takes the cake, but this new one is pretty good, too. These people really look like the cars. Here are some of the photos that weren't selected for the commercial. (Like Hot or Not, but classier.)

Green Gourd points us to this NY Times article about Alias. In short, the article reveals what Lily and I had started to suspect: the writers of Alias are making it up as they go.
The writers decided that Sydney's half-sister would be "the passenger" — the person who has the ability to channel Rambaldi. "She was potentially going to be a catatonic visionary," said Ms. Breen, who wrote tonight's episode with Alison Shapker and Mr. Orci. "And then no one was really satisfied with that because it really limits what you can do with her." Characters had been dropping references to this vague entity for months, but according to Mr. Orci, "we didn't know what the passenger was. We've mastered the art of having the characters say things that are vague and open-ended because we don't know what's happening next." So while, on screen, Sydney and her fellow C.I.A. agents were trying to figure out who or what the passenger might be, behind the scenes the show's writers were doing the same thing. That was part of the appeal of the passenger plan, in fact: as Mr. Orci says with an eye toward the fourth season, "we want to leave our options open."
My reaction isn't really shock or disappointment, though. Like Green Gourd, I love the show. In fact, I think the argument the writers make is compelling, if they keep the fly-by-night creativity from unravelling into chaos.
The spy drama provides the setting, but what Sydney's really fighting for is the chance to connect with her sister. One of the questions the writers ask themselves is, "What is this episode about for Sydney?," said John Eisendrath, an executive producer. Despite its spy versus spy setting, "Alias" is ultimately a show about family and loyalty, just as "The Sopranos" is, and much of the conflict and suspense flow from interpersonal relationships the audience can relate to rather than a world of espionage they can't. As "Alias" accumulates unlikely plot twists — a faked death here, an evil doppelganger there — the writers hope the more personal aspects of the show will help it avoid the fate of elaborately plotted serials like "The X-Files" and "Twin Peaks" that went awry and lost their audiences. " `Alias' has this fantastical spy world but we try to ground it emotionally," said Ms. Schapker.
I buy it. I've said it once, I'll say it again: my favorite character is Syd's dad, Jack.
Low on Fecundity

Speaking of Ackerman and The Stakeholder Society, check out the uncanny similarity between the cover to SS and the cover to Ackerman's new book, Deliberation Day.

What the heck? They're not even related in subject matter...
Money from the Government. Always the Answer.

Professor Alstott co-authored The Stakeholder Society, a book that involved a plan to give $80,000 to young adults:
The main obstacle that many young people face in building their future is a lack of initial resources. Now here's a radical idea--what if every United States citizen with a high school diploma was guaranteed, on their 21st birthday, $80,000, no strings attached? Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott believe it's a doable scheme to ensure that every American will get "a fair share of the nation's resources as they accept the full responsibilities of adult life."
Professor Alstott now has another idea that involves giving people several thousand dollars:
If a society expects parents to provide continuity of care to their children, it should in return give special consideration to the consequences for parents' lives. There are many ways for the state to take practical action, but I want to outline just one. The program that I propose uses "caretaker resource accounts" to improve the long-term opportunities of parents who provide their children with continuity of care. (I refer to these as "caretaker parents" to emphasize that not every legal parent participates actively in the work of child-rearing. Later on, I consider the issues involved in identifying caretaker parents.)

With the creation of caretaker resource accounts, the caretaker parent of every child under age 13 would be given an annual grant of $5,000, which the parent could use to pay for child care, (his or her own) education, or (his or her own) retirement savings in the current year or in any future year. Each participant would receive an equal share of public resources per year, and each would decide for herself (or himself) how to divide the funds among the three alternative uses. The program would expand parents' options to give them maximum freedom to shape their own lives as they think best. Parents differ in their values, talents, and aspirations, and they would use their caretaker resource accounts in different ways—which is precisely the point.
Alstott's nutshell justification for this policy proposal is as follows:
Most parents will be responsible because they genuinely want to do right by their children, but because of the social importance of parenting, it makes sense to provide them with public support. After all, society too takes a hand in setting the responsibilities of parenthood. Parents choose to have children, but they do not choose the specific burdens society imposes on this choice; these are politically imposed, and therefore it is not unreasonable to compensate parents to improve their economic options and prospects.
But can't we raise this argument for everything in society? Nobody chooses all of the specific burdens society imposes on us. I suppose she would agree with this -- and that's probably why Alstott also subscribes to such kooky theories as the one she and Ackerman advance in The Stakeholder Society.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Hate Your Job or Microsoft Products?

Some really funny graphics that I got via email.

I've always liked Andy Roddick. Now he's a hero.

A different sort of hero from Pat Tillman. Although, according to Rene Gonzalez, Tillman's not a hero at all.
I've been mystified at the absolute nonsense of being in "awe" of Tillman's "sacrifice" that has been the American response. Mystified, but not surprised. True, it's not everyday that you forgo a $3.6 million contract for joining the military. And, not just the regular army, but the elite Army Rangers. You know he was a real Rambo, who wanted to be in the "real" thick of things. I could tell he was that type of macho guy, from his scowling, beefy face on the CNN pictures. Well, he got his wish. Even Rambo got shot in the third movie, but in real life, you die as a result of being shot. They should call Pat Tillman's army life "Rambo 4: Rambo Attempts to Strike Back at His Former Rambo 3 Taliban Friends, and Gets Killed."

But, does that make him a hero? I guess it's a matter of perspective. For people in the United States, who seem to be unable to admit the stupidity of both the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, such a trade-off in life standards (if not expectancy) is nothing short of heroic. Obviously, the man must be made of "stronger stuff" to have had decided to "serve" his country rather than take from it. It's the old JFK exhortation to citizen service to the nation, and it seems to strike an emotional chord. So, it's understandable why Americans automatically knee-jerk into hero worship.
One has to wonder if Gonzalez reveals here the true motivation for his scathing article:
Tillman, probably acting out his nationalist-patriotic fantasies forged in years of exposure to Clint Eastwood and Rambo movies, decided to insert himself into a conflict he didn't need to insert himself into. It wasn't like he was defending the East coast from an invasion of a foreign power. THAT would have been heroic and laudable. What he did was make himself useful to a foreign invading army, and he paid for it. It's hard to say I have any sympathy for his death because I don't feel like his "service" was necessary. He wasn't defending me, nor was he defending the Afghani people. He was acting out his macho, patriotic crap and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in.
Sounds like Gonzalez may be taking out his anger about the war on Pat Tillman's grave.
Lyric of the Day:
"Me, I'll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I've got to be
The meaning of my life is she."
~ Elvis Costello, "She"

Happy Birthday:
Bianca Jagger
Benjamin Spock
In a piece on political mea culpas, Jacob Levy has an excellent paragraph on Janet Reno's "apology" for Waco:

I'm one of those cranks who still nurses a grudge against Janet Reno for the deaths at Waco, and for its aftermath. I can still elevate my blood pressure just by calling to mind her statement--"I made the decisions; I'm accountable; the buck stops with me"--and the accompanying adulation she received from the media. Because, you see, she didn't take responsibility. ... She didn't resign. She didn't offer a resignation. She didn't so much as apologize. And she was treated as a hero for having said the word "accountable." It seems to me that one cannot take responsibility for having forced a confrontation and contributing to 80 deaths without that "responsibility" having some consequence. In the absence of such a consequence, the statement is a lie.
Levy also grades apologies by Richard Clarke, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.