Friday, July 30, 2004

"All systems go, Michael."

A KITT car is for sale.

In the same vein, Lily, Iris, and I once made a trip to Cooter's where we saw a Dukes of Hazzard car.
Quote of the Day:
"Income tax, if I may be pardoned for saying so, is a tax on income."
~ Lord Macnaghten
 
Song of the Day:
Boston, "The Launch"
 
Happy Birthday:
Emily Bronte
Delta Burke
Kate Bush
Henry Ford
Vivica A. Fox
Tom Green
Lisa Kudrow
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Thomas Sowell

Thursday, July 29, 2004

On-the-scene Observations

Changes in Boston this week:

(1) MPs on the T.

(2) Free Washington Posts passed out on the street.

(3) ATF bomb-sniffing dogs outside the Ritz.

(4) Lots of signs. Signs on the T where there previously were none. Buttons. Lots of people covered with buttons. "Sheet metal workers for John Kerry."

(5) Police, police, everywhere. Federal police. Capitol police.

(6) News trucks in Boston Common.
Kerry Speech

If you're a recent YLS alum, close your eyes the next time you listen to Kerry speak. You'll find yourself wondering why Jed Rubenfeld is running for president...

I'm so tired of the Democrats trying to paint themselves as the legatees of the American Revolution just because the convention happens to be in Boston. We're all the legatees of the American Revolution.

They said there was no Bush bashing, but there seemed to be plenty of implied Bush bashing. He will not lie to the nation, his attorney general will uphold the constitution... That's not Bush bashing?

I'm so tired of the Democrats trying to claim equal treatment and equal rights. Right. Republicans believe in racism. That's the implication isn't it? Please.


Quote of the Day:
"The tax bar is commonly referred to as a 'special priesthood,' and it is only slightly more tolerant than the Catholic Church in ordaining women tax priests."
~ Paul L. Caron

Song of the Day:
Boston, "Used To Bad News"

Happy Birthday:
Elizabeth Dole
Peter Jennings
Martina McBride

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"The avoidance of tax may be lawful, but it is not yet a virtue."
~ Lord Denning

Song of the Day:
Boston, "Higher Power"

Happy Birthday:
Elaine Barber
Bill Bradley
Rita Haught
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Beatrix Potter

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"A tax lawyer is a person who is good with numbers but does not have enough personality to be an accountant."
~ James D. Gordon III

Song of the Day:
Boston, "Party"

Happy Birthday:
Jerry Van Dyke
Peggy Fleming
Normal Lear
Alex Rodriguez

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Movie Review

Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in De-Lovely: Stiff

De-Lovely, a biography of Cole Porter (1891-1964), has a relatively accessible "avant-garde" framing device, in which the elderly songwriter is taken to a theater by the archangel Gabriel for a revue in which his actual family, friends, and associates, revived in their youth, put on a show about his adult life. Though the life unfolds chronologically, for some reason the passage of time isn't marked (other than by a succession of obvious hairpieces), and there's no world beyond the theater, of course. And yet the movie offers nothing like an interpretation of Porter's life, certainly not one that necessitates the framing device. (I wish they'd given the playwright John Guare, a lover of old show tunes, a crack at reshuffling Porter's deck.)

By raising our expectations the distracting frame merely emphasizes a common paradox in artist biographies: the subject's accomplishments are the reason for the movie but it wouldn't have been made if his life hadn't been full of confusion and torment. (This was true of Frida (2002) and also of What's Love Got to Do With It? (1993) even though Tina Turner pulled herself together before the end. In the future, look for a biopic about Courtney Love but not Madonna.) You end up feeling the opposite of envy for the subject. All that talent and all the triumphs and adulation couldn't begin to make up for the anguish.

This is odd in the case of Cole Porter because the movie itself shows that he takes everything too lightly. An independently wealthy homosexual, he marries a highly companionable and beautiful socialite who accommodates herself readily to his nocturnal prowling and gives him the professional drive he lacks. All he has to do is produce the songs, which he's been writing for amusement and playing at private parties while lounging away the late '10s in Paris anyway. At first Cole and Linda Porter seem like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald with the money they wanted and without the personal disturbances. The French reportedly referred to them as "les Colporteurs," i.e., "the peddlers," which, given their combined unearned wealth, seems like a pointedly ironic pun, until Linda begins superintending her husband's career. He becomes a spectacular success but that can't keep trouble from their door.

The movie could have worked despite its squareness and downtrending arc (miscarriage, blackmail, the famous horseriding accident, tuberculosis, amputation), but for a few central blunders, foremost among them the miscasting of Kevin Kline as Porter. Kline gets good reviews without fail, maybe because he always seems to take himself more seriously than the occasion warrants, which is the opposite of what we're told is Porter's nature. Even in comedy Kline is showing us how it oughta be done, though he makes me laugh much less than almost any comedy star. (If only they'd cast Robert Downey, Jr. instead. Why not Jim Carrey, for that matter? At least he might have had fun with it.) Kline has the vanity of a theatrical star without the commanding style, high or low: all ham, no glaze. (Think of Kevin Spacey for telling contrast.) He does know a few stage tricks, though: the way he speaks to Porter's famous friends, particularly the way he hails Monty Woolley, somehow relegates them irretrievably to supporting status (as if all beings acknowledged him as the sole source of radiance).

As Cole Porter Kline's job is to play a cut-up who discovers in the long run that easy-goingness itself can make for misery. (His inability to grasp the indignity when husband and wife discover they've both paid a blackmailer for the same photos of Porter in flagrante delicto breaks the connection between the couple.) Kline does come across as good-humored and he also seems boyish, but this has the effect of making Porter into a perpetual Yalie, until he's nearly a mummy.

Kline's "accomplished" manner hasn't cracked in over two decades in the movies, but neither has it broadened or deepened. He looks great for 56 but here that seems like a curse, to be perpetually callow, especially since his high spirits fall short of "infectious." Kline simply isn't engaging as the effervescent 27-year-old Cole Porter; when he galumphs in a Parisian park to entertain Linda, "outrageous" and "contagious" do not seem like a Porter rhyme. And when at length affliction overtakes him, he acquires moroseness but not gravity, as if all his problems were bad turns but not consequences. (I'm not sure the moviemakers understand the difference.)

Kline doesn't even register as homosexual, which should be a minimum requirement for the movie, seeing how much it makes of giving us a more accurate portrait than the airbrushed 1946 Warner Brothers "likeness" Night and Day starring Cary Grant. (For some of De-Lovely's own variations on the truth, see this article by Franklin Bruno on Slate and this one by John Lahr in The New Yorker.) Kline lacks the insouciance, the predatory gleam, the tentacles, of a gentleman who openly and successfully chases pretty young men. (He could use some of what Tommy Lee Jones strutted in JFK, minus the malevolence.) Kline doesn't seem defiant of what people think, but oblivious to it. (Porter, born in the 19th century and raised in Peru, Indiana, which is still a small town, must have known that his behavior would cause comment.) Actually, Kline doesn't seem sexual at all. He moves his imposing frame through the crowded scenes as if he were carrying a door--i.e., he's stiff in every way except the one that would count. (This performance belongs in the Unconvincingly-Gay Pantheon next to William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.)

Kline doesn't have much going on below the neck, not to mention the waist, but he's not much better from the neck up. In the movie's most pungent comic moments, when Porter tries to tell Linda that he prefers men, for instance, or later when he comes to her bedroom to make a baby, Kline's delivery is merely sheepish. Altogether his delivery (for instance, his bon mot on first hearing an attractive young man's name, Bill Wrather) fails to convince us that Porter is the author of all those teasing, quick-witted lyrics. Kline gives a performance in which the uninspired detailing doesn't even match what the movie is telling us about his character.

Ashley Judd as Linda Porter ends up carrying the movie. It isn't that her interpretation of Linda's character deepens, exactly, but that as Cole's antics wear on Linda, Judd's manner becomes more and more appropriate, and more redolent. Her self-containment works for a woman who would make a bargain of a marriage. That, along with the fact that Linda doesn't guess how much work it can take to realize gain on a bargain, then make sense of Judd's tearlessly disappointed air. Judd is rosy-marmoreal where Ida Lupino, that bring-your-own-nectar goddess, was brazen, and Judd seems more naturally comfortable in front of the camera, but she has Lupino's tenseness, and Linda Porter's story gives it texture.

I love watching Judd react; here she grows into the arch poise of a fashionable woman gaining intimate acquaintance with other people's bad behavior. (She manages to seem more mature than her husband, which compensates for the fact that whereas Linda was eight years older than Cole, Judd is 20 years younger than Kline. Hollywood, that great big notional bordello, has to provide trophy women even for homosexuals.) As Linda's freshness turns into a high-polish veneer, Judd makes you feel that it's one thing to make a deal with your husband and another to live it out. You might even feel that this is the truth of all relationships--Judd makes Linda's metamorphosis over the course of this managerial marriage both specific to the Porters' arrangement and universally applicable. She may not have the grandeur to get the full, triumphant irony out of the dying Linda's supplying her husband with a suitable male companion to take her place, but she's worth watching throughout.

Even without an adequately charismatic actor in the central role, the movie might have worked as a revue, if the director Irwin Winkler had the sense to shoot full-on production numbers. For the first twenty minutes or so (it passed like an eternity), Kline, with a voice he admits in the movie is limited at best, does most of the singing. Then Robbie Williams appears as a nightclub singer giving a snappy rendition of the title tune and I felt like I'd grown new ears. Williams looks reborn, too, and all at once you feel in your entire body why you'd want to make a biography of Cole Porter. With those songs, how could it miss? Well, it could miss by cutting away from Williams as haphazardly as Winkler does so that we don't get the full impact of the singer's revved-up work.

Winkler does give us two ingenious musical sequences, one in which Porter has to teach John Barrowman (an English star of stage musicals) to sing "Night and Day" in the late stages of readying the new Broadway show in which it's to debut. The actor doesn't get the song and so Porter explains that it's about romantic fixation and has him look into his eyes and sing it along with him. In the process of rehearsing, which sweeps seamlessly into the bravura opening night performance, the two fall for each other. In an even more suavely shot sequence, Vivian Green sings "Love for Sale" splendidly while Porter's catting about in the Hollywood gay scene is summed up in what feels like an unbroken 360-degree scan.

Otherwise, Sheryl Crow's version of "Begin the Beguine" is given the fullest attention, while Alanis Morissette raises the roof with "Let's Do It." After Judd, the pop stars provide the movie's only highlights and easily explain why Porter's songs have survived. They sing as if they'd never had such well written material, and with the exception of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall that's probably so.

I also give the movie credit for subtly balancing the excitable, risqué numbers like "Let's Misbehave," "Let's Do It," and "Anything Goes" against the darker, slower songs like "Night and Day," "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and "In the Still of the Night." These are the poles of Porter's work, songs about kicks and songs about obsession, from light-hearted arousal to post-coital pensiveness. In this view, Porter sells you the good stuff and then guides your rueful contemplation while nursing the after-effects. Within his range he definitely had a style, which encompassed seductive rhythms, both fast and slow, and intricate rhymes, but still ...

you don't want to overrate him as a "composer." Porter's best songs are works of popular craft, offering no resistance to immediate, wide enjoyment. But when he had to compose a romantic eardrum-perforator like "Wunderbar," he was up to that task, too. I don't care if some people call Richard Strauss (honored by Porter with a mention in "You're the Top") a second-rate composer, the same year Porter wrote "Wunderbar" for Kiss Me, Kate Strauss at 84 wrote his Four Last Songs and there isn't seriously any choice between them, even if you throw the saucy Lois numbers from Kiss Me, Kate (even the original Lisa Kirk versions) in the balance as well.

As a stylistic matter, De-Lovely in itself represents a regression of the American movie musical back to a point before Rob Marshall's spectacular Chicago (2002), Dennis Potter's Pennies from Heaven (both the British tv version from 1978 and the Steve Martin movie version from 1981) and The Singing Detective (the British tv version from 1986), Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979) and Cabaret (1972), Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), and even Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977), which Irwin Winkler produced, for God's sake.

Despite its frankness about Porter's homosexuality, neither does De-Lovely have the honest naturalism of Sweet Dreams (1985), the Patsy Cline story starring Jessica Lange (at her finest). Instead, Winkler and his scenarist Jay Cocks revive the sudsiness of such '50s musical bios as My Foolish Heart (1952), Interrupted Melody (1955), and Love Me or Leave Me (1955). De-Lovely's approach to movie biography was exhausted before the historic Cole Porter was.

If you're interested in Porter's songs, a lot of us learned to love them from the invaluable Ella Fitzgerald recording of the Cole Porter songbook on the Verve label, still in print.

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

Friday, July 23, 2004

Slow News Day

Jenna Bush sticks tongue out at photographers. This is news.

And somehow, I didn't hear about the rash of suspected terrorist "dry runs."
I'll Just Take Lard Through an IV, Thanks

Krispy Kreme unveils "a drinkable version of company's signature doughnut."
Quote of the Day:
"[R]elying on the legal and accounting professionals to prescribe appropriate standards of practitioner conduct . . . is an idea whose time has surely passed."
~ Michael J. Graetz

Song of the Day:
Billy Joel, "Baby Grand"

Happy Birthday:
Nomar Garciaparra
Woody Harrelson
Don Imus
Monica Lewinsky
Daniel Radcliffe

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Movie Review

Richard Linklater's Before Sunset: Walking and Chewing 2

The cheesiest thing in romantic movies is often the montage sequence that shows the stars falling in love. They stroll through the park or along the shore, share a meal tête-à-tête, and though we see that they're totally absorbed in each other's conversation, we aren't ourselves given to know what they're saying. (Not that we'd be likely to hear it over the music.) Last year's Something's Gotta Give offers a classically bad example. How are we supposed to respond, what are our faces actually supposed to be doing, while Diane Keaton laughs and laughs at Jack Nicholson's jokes that we can't hear? The movie flashes the international symbol for "falling in love," a symbol without dimensions, because bare recognition is adequate to writer-director Nancy Meyers's purposes. Jack & Diane walk, talk, fall in love; you get the picture.

In his 1995 movie Before Sunrise writer-director Richard Linklater goes all the way in the other direction. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as college students Jesse and Céline meet on a train approaching Vienna and on an impulse get off and spend the evening together in the city. Linklater daringly follows them around all night as they talk and talk, flirt and have sex, and then part, promising to meet again in six months but otherwise exchanging no contact information. Linklater doesn't use conventional devices to push the romance, he lets the dialogue and the actors carry the entire burden. He doesn't even hint at whether they'll show up in six months, whether the night had a future.

Before Sunrise is an interesting experiment. Linklater's insistence on naturalistically replicating the two young people's experience of a single night is inherently in tension with the urgent romanticism of this kind of movie. (The kind you see in American movies from World War II, like The Clock (1945) in which Robert Walker as a soldier on leave meets Judy Garland in Penn Station and spends the day with her; the two bond so intensely they get married right away.) Linklater has called Before Sunrise a "romance for realists," which suggests that for him the movie is most alive in the tension between the naturalistic technique and the romantic effect.

I can respect him for going so far, saying, essentially, I'm not going to use movie tricks, I'm going to show you exactly what it would look, sound, and feel like for a young man and woman to click in this random way. But an experiment can be valuable without being successful, and I for one was not eagerly awaiting Before Sunset, which is a sequel to the first movie, set nine years later when Jesse is a novelist on a book tour talking up the fictional version of that earlier night that he has turned into a best seller, and Céline shows up, and they walk and talk in the brief time before his flight out of Paris. (In the Salon interview linked to above, Linklater jokes that Before Sunset is "the lowest-grossing film to ever spawn a sequel.")

Frankly, both movies are long on talk, and it's not the kind of stylized witty banter with which lovers in '30s comedies circled each other before coming together. As I recall, in the first movie Jesse and Céline mostly exchanged ideas they were excited about. Admirers of that movie praise it for getting right what two college kids who barely knew each other would actually talk about in that situation. (At the time, Roger Ebert wrote, "'Before Sunrise' is so much like real life--like a documentary with an invisible camera," and in Salon Linklater said of the look of Before Sunset, "I wanted it to seem like an eloquent documentary.") But that's more of a description than an aesthetic evaluation. I can believe that a date might run very much like what we see onscreen in Before Sunrise without wishing I were there to witness it. I wouldn't even want to sit through a faithful movie version of a date I had been on.

The new movie is even more painful in that Jesse and Céline spend a good part of the time talking about the earlier movie, which is halfway to assuming it was as momentous for us as it was for the characters. (Linklater has said that in making Before Sunset he and his stars were concerned about "capturing the magic again.") This is where the disjunction between naturalism and romanticism becomes a problem. The movie assumes that we'll be as involved in the couple's "magic" as they are, but the naturalistic approach to the dialogue can't help hook us. If it's supposed to be romantic, the movie needs some of the tricks that Linklater eschews, because a transcript of other people's experience just isn't romantic in aesthetic terms. It doesn't have the stylistic enhancements that convey the couple's intoxication to you, the lubrication that glides you past the improbabilities.

I don't actively want slickness from Linklater; I like his jeans-and-t-shirt approach to moviemaking. It's especially unusual in that he is interested in ideas. As he laments in this 2001 interview with IndieWire when speaking of his wonderful animated movie Waking Life:

The film culture has no room for ideas. The literary culture has some room, but not less than they should, and the academic culture has a lot, but there's no way to communicate it in a wide way. The pop culture tends to go to the lowest denominator, so cinema is in a weird place, due to its mass nature. It's diluted down to very little: simple stories and simple politics. So [Waking Life] is really challenging in that way. I thought I was sort of a conduit to a lot of ideas and energies and I honestly spit it back out in an interesting way.
For all the talk, however, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset don't convey any ideas about anything except Linklater's naturalistic aesthetic experiment. Jesse and Céline's conversation could be on any subject.

I much prefer Waking Life (2001), in which a college-aged guy wanders around, running into one person after another who explain at length their pet ideas--about language, philosophy, physics, life, death, God, movies, whatever. The kid knows he's asleep and keeps trying to wake up, but every time he thinks he's awake he spots some signal that tells him he's still sleeping. One possible explanation we hear is that dreams seem longer than they are and he just hasn't woken up yet; another is that he's dead; yet another is that all life is just a dream. (Hawke and Delpy appear as a couple in bed exchanging notions just as they had in Before Sunrise.)

Waking Life is by far Linklater's most visually distinctive movie, with exquisitely detailed renderings of settings and faces that are at the same time unstable, floaty, in a way perfect for a dreamed reality. (Linklater used a different animator for each character, which adds to the movie's effect without compromising its unity.) It also doesn't matter that the ideas are expounded at a college-survey-course level (e.g., broad generalizations such as what Sartre thought, or what existentialism means) because the point isn't what's being said but that such a broad assortment of things are being said and that the helpless dreamer can't make use of the ideas to determine what is really happening to him. That is to say, unlike Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the outlook in Waking Life is ironic rather than romantic.

The guy in Waking Life is on a simple quest: to know whether he's alive or dead, dreaming or waking. The people he encounters speak around the subject of the nature of existence but nothing they say enables him to come to a definite conclusion. Structurally, it's the same ironic quest to answer the big questions of the modern condition as in Moby-Dick in which the signs of universal intentions seem both malevolently insistent and yet totally elusive.

What's particularly appealing about Waking Life is that Linklater has rendered this quest, probably endless and fruitless, in pop terms. This is also a limitation in that what the characters say aren't the most searching or provocative examples of their ideas and the speakers aren't developed enough so that their ideas help round out realistic characters (which they aren't). Linklater doesn't refer to "great" ideas as superficially as Woody Allen does, but he's on that side of the spectrum (unlike Melville, of course).

This superficiality is especially apparent in Before Sunset in which Jesse and Céline are assigned dashing careers that their dialogue doesn't convincingly back up. Céline's is particularly lame--she's an environmental activist, which sounds like it's intended to make "alternative" guys in the audience think she'd be a cool girlfriend. But Céline doesn't talk about her job in enough detail, and when she says how important it is in political work not to think solely about the larger, abstract goal but to enjoy the process of accomplishing the goal, the example she gives of getting pencils to third-world schoolchildren isn't an example of enjoying the process but of practical focus. (I found some of what she says, for instance, an anecdote in which a New York City cop tells her she should carry a handgun, which we're meant to take as a telling emblem of American life, downright excruciating. I won't even start on the fact that she refers to the United States as an "imperialist" country.)

All the same, if you filter out Delpy's accent Céline doesn't even seem French. For one thing, a foreign speaker with a noticeable accent isn't going to speak English with flawless grammar and word choice, including slang, no less; that's how she would read a script written by Americans. (I say this knowing that Hawke and Delpy worked on the script with Linklater in a process lasting over a year.) And Céline's references seem plainly American. She comes across as an educated American boy's fantasy--an exotic girl who talks dirty and puts out but with whom he can communicate perfectly. I can't help thinking that Hawke and Delpy would have had a lot more to "say" in character if Linklater had done the straightforward thing and made Jesse and Céline actors.

Despite Linklater's wish to serve as a conduit of the ideas spoken in his movies, his ideas are all about narrative, which is fine, that's enough for a narrative artist. (A movie's ideas aren't the ones it quotes but the ones it successfully dramatizes.) In Waking Life, however, the ideas themselves matter somewhat more than in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in that we need to register that they pull the dreaming boy in multiple directions and can't be sorted out. The irony gives meaning to the very confusion of ideas, their individual lack of grip.

In Before Sunrise the ideas are relatively heterogeneous while in Before Sunset they center more on Jesse and Céline's relationships and how they feel about experience as they get older. But while the ideas are more focused and grounded in experience in this second movie, they are not much more involving in themselves. (Hearing Jesse talk about his relationship with his wife and son, whom we have never seen him with, makes for pretty dry moviegoing; it's the converse of the romantic walk through the park with mimed dialogue.)

By design Linklater has kept away from the kind of theatrical virtuosity that makes great-lovers romanticism so broadly engaging (Wagner, Verdi). At the same time, while I didn't enjoy Before Sunrise and Before Sunset any more than Lost in Translation, their directness avoids that movie's sleeping-princess preciousness. What Linklater is after in these movies is also far more readily articulated than Sofia Coppola's whispery, inner-directed intentions. But then Linklater doesn't take it upon himself to entertain us even to the extent Lost in Translation does, i.e., the Japanese-are-short-and-talk-funny jokes, the aerobic machine slapstick, the karaoke excess. (And when he did attempt mass entertainment, in School of Rock (2003), he let slip most of what distinguishes him as an artist.)

Finally, however, Coppola's movie seems "personal" in a fairly limited way compared to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Linklater attempts to strike out in a new direction, to develop a naturalistic approach to dialogue in movie romance that will be objectively available to other moviemakers, and to extend the audience's patience for such an approach. But I think that what was once said of Henry James in his magnificent late phase is far truer of the all-walking-and-talking Before Sunrise and Before Sunset: the characters chew more than Linklater bit off.

You can find this review and a lot besides at Blogcritics.
Quote of the Day:
"A tax adviser who instills confidence and trust in his or her client or corporate partner becomes highly valued. Indeed, the term guru is generally reserved for two types of individuals -- spiritual guides for followers of Eastern religion and tax advisers for adherents of Western capitalism."
~ Franklin L. Green

Song of the Day:
Don Henley, "You're Not Drinking Enough"

Happy Birthday:
Albert Brooks
Willem Dafoe
Bob Dole
Daniel Glover
Don Henley
Dean Jens
Steven Jens
Alex Trebek

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Until further notice, Quote of the Day will be devoted to the tax field.

In other news, there will be a mini-KC gathering on the west coast this weekend as Kate and I head out to San Francisco for a wedding.  And I am preparing to move next weekend.  Blogging may or may not suffer.

In further news, here's a weird search that brought someone to the KC today:  "email addresses of french men above forty years looking for african ladies to marry."

I'm amazed that yielded anything at all, let alone our site.
Quote of the Day:
"We have always been fascinated with the mysteries of the tax code and with the people who struggle so mightily to plumb its depths."
~ Joel and Ethan Coen

Song of the Day:
Nelly Furtado, "Turn Off The Lights"

Happy Birthday:
Earnest Hemingway
Don Knotts
Jon Lovitz
Kenneth Starr
Cat Stevens
Robin Williams
File under "whatever happened to?"

Today's Boston Globe had an article about the original creators of "Jams." Must have been a slow news day.

I'm on the prowl for articles about Z Cavariccis.
Fun with Law

I'll pause for a moment for laughter and snide comments about how the title to this post is oxymoronic.

Okay. I stumbled across a website yesterday devoted to humor in the law. My personal favorite part of the site is the section devoted to strange judicial opinions. Some samples ...

A 1983 opinion from the Michigan Court of Appeals, affirming a trial court's decision:
We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy's crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court's decree.
Affirmed.
The case was Fisher v. Lowe. And it's not the only rhyming opinion. There are too many to link.

Judge Evans of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is a sports fan, it seems. This little detour can be found in a recent opinion:
In the Seventh Circuit, some large schools--Wisconsin (Badgers), Purdue (Boilermakers), Indiana (Hoosiers), Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish), DePaul (the Blue Demons), the University of Evansville (Purple Aces), and Southern Illinois (Salukis)--have nicknames that would make any list of ones that are pretty cool. And small schools in this circuit are no slouches in the cool nickname department. One would have a hard time beating the Hustlin' Quakers of Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana), the Little Giants of Wabash College (Crawfordsville, Indiana), the Mastodons of Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and the Scarlet Hawks of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

But most schools have mundane nicknames. How can one feel unique when your school's nickname is Tigers (43 different colleges or universities), Bulldogs (40 schools), Wildcats (33), Lions (32), Pioneers (31), Panthers or Cougars (30 each), Crusaders (28), or Knights (25)? Or how about Eagles (56 schools)? The mascots for these schools, who we assume do their best to fire up the home crowd, are pretty generic--and pretty boring.

Some schools adorn their nicknames with adjectives--like "Golden," for instance. Thus, we see Golden Bears, Golden Bobcats, Golden Buffaloes, Golden Bulls, Golden Eagles (15 of them alone!), Golden Flashes, Golden Flyers, Golden Gophers, Golden Griffins, Golden Grizzlies, Golden Gusties, Golden Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Golden Lions, Golden Panthers, Golden Rams, Golden Seals, Golden Suns, Golden Tigers, and Golden Tornados cheering on their teams.
And it goes on. Here's another sporty opinion by Judge Evans.

A classic "strange" judicial opinion is one by Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, in which more than 200 movie titles are embedded in the opinion. They are highlighted and linked at this site.

Law students and lawyers will appreciate this page, which contains the greatest law review article of all time.

 

 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"A dog who thinks he is man's best friend is a dog who obviously has never met a tax lawyer."
~ Fran Lebowitz

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

Happy Birthday:
Sir Edmund Hillary
Diana Rigg
Carlos Santana
Natalie Wood
InstaPundit has the goods on Berger-gate.  Click here and scroll down.
Slate explains what "Hemi" means in those Dodge ads.

The piece concludes that, with the Hemi campaign -- which emphasizes both solidity and butt-kicking -- Dodge is trying to appeal both to "the parental yin and the redneck yang."

Monday, July 19, 2004

Sticks and Stones...
 
May break my bones, but names will never hurt me. It turns out that this may not be true. Research shows that blondes who read a bunch of "dumb blonde" jokes before they take an intelligence test end up performing more slowly on the test. The German researchers offered the following explanation:
Foerster explained the result by saying that when people are told they can't perform a task well, they work more slowly but more cautiously, to try to make fewer mistakes.
Perhaps. I'm familiar with another set of studies that shows something similar. This Yale Daily News article from a few years ago describes the work of Margaret Shih. It doesn't go into all that much detail, but it gives a general description. From a talk I heard recently, Margaret says that her studies now show a number of things: (1) Asian American women who read about how women are bad at math do more poorly on subsequently administered math tests. (2) Asian American women who read about how Asians are good at math do better on subsequently administered math tests. (3) [This one's the real kicker] People who read about how Asians are good at math do better on subsequently administered math tests.
 
Foerster's explanation of the blonde study may explain some of Maragaret's findings (namely number 1), although Margaret's study revealed that the women actually performed more poorly and not just more slowly. Foerster's explanation definitely doesn't explain all of Margaret's findings -- in particular, numbers 2 and 3. Although, come to think of it, maybe the real problem with Foerster's explanation is that Foerster's study looked only at speed of performance rather than actual results.

Saw Spiderman 2 this weekend. Did anyone else notice how similar it was to Superman 2?
I just don't understand the economics of spam.
 
An article in the Chicago Tribune (reg. req'd.) today described how one 22-year old spammer makes $7 off every response he gets to his spam. Apparently people actually click on the links with which he spams them. These links bring up forms that the spammees go on to fill out. Mr. Spammer sells this information to legitimate corporations that pay him $7 for every form.
 
Why do spammees (1) click on the links spammed to them, and then (2) fill out the forms that come up? The first step is the one I really don't understand. Although, I guess if there are people who will open and respond to junk mail, there are people who will open and respond to weird, misspelled spam email.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

For those of our readers who don't read many other (or any other) blogs, you probably haven't gotten wind of Lileks's piece on Michael Moore. It's worth the read -- you'll thank me when you get to "Chimpy McDeath" and the "Hulk" references.

In other Michael Moore news, this commentary from the CS Monitor is the best take on Moore that I have read.
You may love Michael Moore or you may hate Michael Moore. You may say that Mr. Moore is a one-man force for truth and justice out to save America from itself. Or you may say that Moore is a venomous character assassin who will say whatever it takes to get the president.

But whatever you say about Moore, don't call him objective. Don't say he's out to give a balanced view of anything. He'll tell you that much. His films are made with a definite point of view, a liberal point of view, and he does not apologize for it. This distinction is important, because it should affect how you view his latest adventure in filmmaking, "Fahrenheit 9/11" - if, indeed, you view it at all.
Indeed.
Of Rock Stars and Federal Judges

I find this blog -- the equivalent of E! for the federal judiciary -- bizarre and rather unsettling. You get the sense that the judicialphelia is in part tongue-in-cheek, but also in part (very large part) very stomach-turningly real. That said, to the extent that any gossip about public figures is interesting, the blog delivers. It's so bizarre that Newsweek has even picked it up. (As an aside -- not to imply that this blogger has done this, but what would you post about just to get the attention of Newsweek?)

A few things to check out:

(1) The bit on SDNY Judge Kimba Wood in this post. The former Playboy bunny-in-training (as opposed to Playboy playmate) was engaged in a torrid love affair with one of New York's prominent. The details of his diary have been published.

(2) The gossip pages (here and here), which include tidbits such as:
This West Coast appeals court judge required her clerks to go on a ski vacation with her this past winter. Clerks had to pay their own way--and there was mandatory hot tub time with the boss!
And this:
This southern appeals court judge has a caste system within his own chambers. His two clerks from "top" law schools assist the judge with his work on published opinions, while his two clerks from "lesser" law schools work on unpublished dispositions, provide research support to their two co-clerks, and run miscellanous errands.
Yikes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Lyric of the Day:
"I'm not used to liking that."
~ Alanis Morrisette, "Head Over Feet"

Happy Birthday:
Gerald Ford
Woody Guthrie
Tommy Mottola
Gregg Easterbrook thinks the Kerry-Edwards campaign has a secret weapon:

Elizabeth Edwards is overweight but still attractive. There's a huge demographic of Americans who are overweight though still striving to look good: Elizabeth Edwards could become their champion! ... By being an overweight yet still attractive traditional mom, Elizabeth Edwards radiates "I am a real-world person" in a way that none of the other three wives can.
Interesting point, and I agree with his hunch.
Happy Bastille Day

Here's a Best of Jonah Goldberg on the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Jonah notes that "[m]uch of our English heritage is derived from our forefathers' eagerness not to seem French."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Maggie Gallagher has a lame list of the "Top Five Reasons to Oppose Same-Sex Marriage." I simply cannot resist responding. But this is not a "fisking." I hate dumb blog words, and I do not "fisk." (Mother says nice girls don't.)

Top Five Reasons to Oppose Same-Sex Marriage:

1. Marriage is about affirming the ideal. And when it comes to children, science and common sense both say: Mothers and fathers both matter to children.
Affirm the ideal? Yes, let's do. Let's affirm the ideal even more by outlawing divorce and stoning women who get pregnant out of wedlock. Your spouse has died and you have young children at home? Whoops, not ideal. We'll have them adopted by a nice married couple so they can have both a mommy and a daddy.

Give me a break. Even assuming Gallagher is right that "mothers and fathers both matter" (whatever that means), we routinely accept, on both an individual and a societal level, less-than-ideal situations. If it's true that what's one hundred percent ideal for my children must trump every other consideration, I suppose I can look forward to a child-rearing experience featuring compulsory breastfeeding, mandatory stay-at-home motherhood, and weekly government audits of my dinner menus.

Divorce and single parenthood create situations that are not ideal for children. Nor is it ideal for children to grow up in an inner city, watch too much TV, or eat Twinkies. But we allow all these things because other important values and rights are at stake, and because we recognize that it's possible for kids to grow up in less-than-ideal situations and still turn out pretty much all right. Throwing one's head back and howling, "The children, the children!" in a debate about the rights society grants adults is, well, childish.

This "affirm the ideal" stuff is also wrong (and a bit creepy) on another level. We affirm the ideal -- not to mention debate it -- in our churches, in think tanks, on the pages of policy journals and blogs. We don't, I've learned, create standards of perfection in our laws governing the basic structure of social institutions. Our marriage laws exist to affirm the rights and obligations of imperfect, everyday citizens, not some glorious vision of "the ideal." Islamic theocracies use their legal systems to mandate their cultural notions of perfection. We set boundaries and give people the freedom to choose within them.

2. Same-Sex Marriage sends a terrible message to the next generation: alternative family forms are just as good as traditional families, children don't need a mother and a father, and marriage is about adult desires for affirmation or benefits, not about the well-being of children.
And it can't be about both? Question: How many couples today marry purely for the benefit of their future children? The marriage-is-for-children ship sailed decades ago, and good riddance. In marriage, society has created an institution that is manifestly about much more than procreation. It's about things like taxation, and health benefits, and inheritance -- not to mention social status, companionship, and (gasp!) "adult desires for affirmation." Having created this institution and reaped its many varied benefits, it is hypocritical for heterosexuals now to pretend that it's all about biology.

3. It's just wrong for the law to pretend that two men being intimate are the same as a husband and wife, especially when it comes to raising children.
I don't even know what she's talking about. Is she expressing the junior-high opinion that "two men being intimate" is, like, yucky? What that has to do with raising children is a mystery to me, unless she's trying to imply that gay men are child molesters.

Beyond that, the "argument" in the above sentence boils down to: "It's just wrong." Oh.

4. Marriage belongs in the hands of the people. Four judges in Massachusetts have no business rewriting the moral rules our kids are going to live by.
So let the people decide. Bring it on.

And this is tooth-gnashingly obvious, or should be to anyone who calls herself a conservative: The moral rules by which you and your children live will not be dictated by the state in any event. This concept -- that something can be both immoral and entirely legal -- is one that most of us grapple with and reconcile in our teens. There's no denying that moral judgments underlie many of our laws. But try to substitute public statutes for a moral code and you'll end up with a pretty arid morality.

5. Marriage isn't a special interest, it's a common good. Every American benefits from a healthy marriage culture. All Americans pay the price in increased taxes, social disorder, and human suffering when mothers and fathers fail to get and stay married.
So this is what it boils down to: Gay marriage will raise your taxes.

Look, we are a long way from a "healthy marriage culture" as things stand. Heterosexuals have been sowing social disorder and human suffering left and right with their troubled and broken marriages for decades, if not millenia. Marriage will forever be a flawed institution entered into by flawed human beings. Admitting couples* to that institution who sincerely seek to accept its responsibilities in exchange for receiving its benefits is not going to screw things up any more. It may even help a little.

* That means two people, not five -- and not a person, a goat, and three box turtles. And do not resend me all the e-mails about incest. Society draws and re-draws lines all the time. We used to draw the line at interracial marriage. We re-drew it. Civilization has survived.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in The Weekly Standard on "The Sorry State of the CIA," and he has a prescription:

The entire system for finding, training, and deploying overseas case officers of this type needs to be completely overhauled. The "farm," the legendary training ground for case officers in the woody swamps of Virginia, ought to be abandoned. It has never had much relevance to the practice of espionage overseas. It is a symbol of the Agency's lack of seriousness. This new cadre needs to be a breed apart. Their operational half-life in the field might be at most ten years. It is hard to imagine them married and with kids. It is also hard to imagine their coming into being unless these jihadist moles are well paid.
Gerecht recommends a salary of $250,000.
I ordinarily have great respect for our friends over at Jajdejo, but I can't lay off of this post.
Homeland, homeland uber alles
Al-Qaeda Attack Might Delay U.S. Election
U.S. Homeland Security officials are considering ways to delay the November presidential election if the al-Qaeda network carries out a terrorist attack aimed at disrupting the campaign, Newsweek reported, citing people it didn't identify.

The Department of Homeland Security, headed by Secretary Tom Ridge, last week asked the Justice Department to review a letter from U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairman DeForest B. Soaries Jr. saying no agency has the legal authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election, the magazine reports in its July 19 issue, according to its Web site.

Ridge must seek emergency legislation from Congress giving his agency the power to delay the election, according to Soaries, Newsweek reported. Ridge and other officials have said they have no information about specific terrorist plots, the magazine said.

``We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election,'' Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, according to Newsweek.
And by "secure" he means guarantee victory for the Republican Party?
Come on now. This is just partisan for the sake of being partisan, which is why I don't have the stomach for politics. Is there a serious criticism here? There might be a plausible criticism if Ridge intended to delay the election on the basis of a threat alone. But look closely at the contents of the article -- Ridge would hope to delay in the event that an attack was carried out. Is that really that objectionable? Is it really objectionable to be preparing for and anticipating that possibility? What if he didn't prepare and, god forbid, an attack was carried out days before the election? Imagine the criticism that would rain down on the Administration for not being prepared! Sheesh. You just can't win.
More from the mailbag

Several people also have written in supporting the serial comma! Dean Jens, though, offers a good point in response to my contention that serial commas more frequently eliminate ambiguity.
I know I've read "A, B, or C" such that I thought B was an appositive rather than part of a list. ("... please see Mary, the corporate counsel, or your direct supervisor...." Mary's the corporate counsel?)
To avoid this problem, I try to use parentheses. That is: Please see Mary (the corporate counsel) or your direct supervisor.
Editors for the Internet

More on the point I just raised in my moving post -- that the Internet facilitates too much communication. We've gotten several incredulous emails over the past few months regarding Lily's post on John Kerry and BC Law School. Lily asks: "What's the story behind John Kerry getting his law degree from Boston College?" Here's the latest email response:
BC Law has been in the Top 25 among all law schools since 1970.Is that the answer.How glaringly obvious!
My complaint is that this person, like the other people who have dashed off equally irate emails, appears not to have read Lily's post. For instance, Lily says the following:
By the time he applied to law school, the guy had a resume that should have made admissions offices salivate: St. Paul's, Yale, Skull & Bones, the Silver Star, testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he couldn't do any better for law school than BC?

Look, BC is a fine law school (US News currently ranks it 22nd, just behind the University of Iowa and tied with George Washington and Notre Dame). John Kerry probably learned way more law than the Kitchen Cabinet did. But the legal profession is mindlessly obsessed with prestige; most people attend the most highly regarded school they can get into. And you'd think an overachieving, hyper-ambitious snob like Kerry wouldn't settle for less than the very best unless he had no other choice.
Sheesh, people. I wish we could automatically filter out emails from people who haven't thought about what they're writing, or who only have read the first lines of our posts.

This is an excellent post over at Steve Jens's place. Here's a snippet:
In case you haven't seen this: someone claiming to be from the Kerry campaign has been sending around an email starting as follows:
Yesterday, the Bush-Cheney campaign, losing any last sense of decency, placed a disgusting ad called "The Faces of John Kerry's Democratic Party" as the main feature on its website. Bizarrely, and without explanation, the ad places Adolf Hitler among those faces.

The Bush-Cheney campaign must pull this ad off of its website. The use of Adolf Hitler by any campaign, politician or party is simply wrong.
It concludes:
P.S. It's hard to believe that the Bush campaign would use images of Adolf Hitler. See it for yourself: http://www.georgewbush.com.
As Josh Chafetz says:
Indeed, do see it for yourself, because here's what the ad is: It's a series of clips of Al Gore, Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, and John Kerry making totally over-the-top denunciations of Bush. Interspersed are clips from MoveOn.Org ads comparing Bush to Hitler. The ad ends with, "This is not a time for pessimism and rage. It's a time for optimism, steadly leadership, and progress. President Bush."
There's much much more. Go check it out.
Skin Types

This page is totally bizarre. One significant group of people is missing from the list.
Moving Woes

I'm starting to plan my move, which is to happen in about six weeks. Trying to find a mover is giving me a headache and a half. I feel like a deer in the headlights, totally paralyzed, after reading this website and this website.

What am I supposed to do? It's not helpful simply to say that I should never hire a moving company. What if I must? Certainly there are situations where a person simply cannot move herself. Then what?

The advice here is as follows:
The first thing that you should do is put down your keyboard and step away from your computer. While there are some reputable moving companies that have web sites, nearly all of the victims that contact us found their moving company on the Internet.

Your next step is to pick up your phone book, or call your local real estate agents and find at least three moving companies that have offices in your area. Try to find moving companies that have been in business at least ten years, and do not hire a moving broker. Current consumer protection laws related to the movement of household goods only apply to Motor Carriers and not to Household Goods Brokers.
Pick up my phone book? How is this helpful? There must be twenty pages worth of movers and advertisements for movers in my phone book. And they all have offices in my area.

This is an instance, I think, of too much information being available as a result of the internet. All of these people who have had poor experiences with movers get together and their frustration just feeds off of each other.

Yugh.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The WP reports that some colleges are taking steps to reduce parents' influence over the college application process. Some even give students-only tours, so kids can ask the questions they really want to ask and won't be overshadowed by their pushy parents.

My parents' involvement -- after the weekend when they locked me in my room and made me fill out my applications -- consisted of driving me to visit places and then leaving me alone for a week while I made up my mind. I will always be grateful.
The NYT has a huge investigative article on accidents at railroad crossings, which have killed more than twice as many people since 2000 as commercial plane crashes.

Friday, July 09, 2004

An article gives a possible scientific explanation for why many people find it hard to listen to atonal music.
Turn your sound on and click here.
Lyric of the Day:
"Don't need no credit card to ride this train."
~ Huey Lewis and The News, "The Power of Love"

Happy Birthday:

Courtney Love
Tom Hanks
Fred Savage
O.J. Simpson
Jimmy Smits
John Tesh

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The New York Times today says renewing the 1996 welfare reform bill is "a no-brainer."

Oh really?

Stuart Buck, in a masterful post, searches Lexis for how the Times has previously opined on welfare reform:

[B]ack in 1996, the welfare reform bill was a "draconian" means of "punishment" that would throw "a million children into poverty." Not only that, it was "atrocious," "harsh," "extreme," "devastating," "not humane," "punitive," "odious," "shocking," and "arrogan[t]."
Read the clips; they're hilarious.

As Buck notes, it's fine to change one's mind. But it sure would be nice for them to acknowledge that eight years ago they were working themselves into a lather about the very thing they now call "a no brainer." Today's editorial notes "the partisan angst and philosophical conflict that marked the original passage," but it manages to skim over the fact that the paper itself was the source of a lot of that angst.

Or, as one of Buck's readers suggests, "Maybe the Times meant draconian in a good way."
New book by Hugh Hewitt: If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It.

Hey, wasn't that the attitude that made Nixon and his boys, well... cheat in 1972?
Lyric of the Day:
"It was never enough, it was always too much."
~ Chely Wright, "It Was"

Happy Birthday:
Kevin Bacon
Anjelica Huston
Toby Keith

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

As Kate mentioned, I am reading Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves and enjoying it vastly.

But not everyone is a fan. Here's what happens when the high priests of grammar at The New Yorker review a grammar book:

The preface, by Truss, includes a misplaced apostrophe ("printers' marks") and two misused semicolons: one that separates unpunctuated items in a list and one that sets off a dependent clause. About half the semicolons in the rest of the book are either unnecessary or ungrammatical, and the comma is deployed as the mood strikes. Sometimes, phrases such as "of course" are set off by commas; sometimes, they are not. Doubtful, distracting, and unwarranted commas turn up in front of restrictive phrases ("Naturally we become timid about making our insights known, in such inhospitable conditions"), before correlative conjunctions ("Either this will ring bells for you, or it won't"), and in prepositional phrases ("including biblical names, and any foreign name with an unpronounced final 's'"). Where you most expect punctuation, it may not show up at all "You have to give initial capitals to the words Biro and Hoover otherwise you automatically get tedious letters from solicitors."
I think we can safely say that the Tina Brown era is over at The New Yorker. A glorious prissiness reigns again!
Lyric of the Day:
"I like the way you like me best."
~ Nickelback, "Figured You Out"

Happy Birthday:
Pierre Cardin
Michelle Kwan
Ringo Starr
Rachel Toor on college reunions, inspired by her recent attendance of her 20th:

It was indeed a comfortable group. A survey of the class revealed that (of those who responded) 79 percent had given money to the school. A mere 7 percent had been divorced. We were all, indeed, who we were. My financially aided, divorced self slunk along the periphery and got another glass of wine.
Toor's conclusion: "It's easier to return to the past when you are happy with the present."

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

WSJ's Best of the Web contrasts John Kerry's recent "nuanced" statement on abortion ("I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception.") with his decidedly un-nuanced voting and speaking record on the matter:

"Personally," he claims to agree with the Catholic Church's position that life begins at conception, full stop. That means abortion is murder. But politically he never met an abortion he didn't like--not even the partial-birth kind, which 17 of his fellow Senate Democrats voted to ban last year. This isn't nuance; it's trying to have it both ways.
Click here for a good TNR dialogue on Kerry's veep selection.
Go to Hell, NBA, Go to Hell

"Duke has always taken up my whole heart."

And there was great rejoicing throughout the kingdom.

Here are takes from The Chronicle (with the letter from a student that moved the coach to tears), Andy Katz, and Dick Vitale.

But I think Mike Celizic of NBC says it best:

By staying at Duke and turning down $8 million a year, Krzyzewski said as emphatically as possible that the job he has is the best job he can get. He said that coaching college kids, even if they come for a year or two and leave, has more intrinsic value than trying to get NBA players to do what you tell them to do. He said that education is important, that a college can be as big a franchise as a city.

Most important, Krzyzewski said money isn't everything. He said there is a point at which a bigger paycheck doesn't justify tearing apart your life, leaving a place you've loved for nearly a quarter century and come to think of as your own, and moving to a land of bigger headlines and more camera crews. He said that personal satisfaction and a sense of belonging has a value that can't be measured in digits to the left of a decimal point.
Well put.
Great Leaders, But Not Great Grammar

I saw a bumper sticker this weekend. It said:
Women make great leaders. Your following one!
Sad. So sad. If you don't believe me, check out this very similar and equally sad bumper sticker.

On the same topic, Lily has been reading "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." She says it's a great book. If you haven't heard of the book, here's a quick synopsis courtesy of Publisher's Weekly:
Who would have thought a book about punctuation could cause such a sensation? Certainly not its modest if indignant author, who began her surprise hit motivated by "horror" and "despair" at the current state of British usage: ungrammatical signs ("BOB,S PETS"), headlines ("DEAD SONS PHOTOS MAY BE RELEASED") and band names ("Hear'Say") drove journalist and novelist Truss absolutely batty. But this spirited and wittily instructional little volume, which was a U.K. #1 bestseller, is not a grammar book, Truss insists; like a self-help volume, it "gives you permission to love punctuation." Her approach falls between the descriptive and prescriptive schools of grammar study, but is closer, perhaps, to the latter. (A self-professed "stickler," Truss recommends that anyone putting an apostrophe in a possessive "its"-as in "the dog chewed it's bone"-should be struck by lightning and chopped to bits.) Employing a chatty tone that ranges from pleasant rant to gentle lecture to bemused dismay, Truss dissects common errors that grammar mavens have long deplored (often, as she readily points out, in isolation) and makes elegant arguments for increased attention to punctuation correctness: "without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning." Interspersing her lessons with bits of history (the apostrophe dates from the 16th century; the first semicolon appeared in 1494) and plenty of wit, Truss serves up delightful, unabashedly strict and sometimes snobby little book, with cheery Britishisms ("Lawks-a-mussy!") dotting pages that express a more international righteous indignation.
My one problem with the book is that Truss doesn't take a stance on serial commas. I am a stickler for serial commas. "With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope." Needs a comma! I know many people say that serial commas should be used on a case-by-case basis. But I just don't understand the argument. No ambiguity ever results when you have serial commas. Ambiguity may result when you don't have serial commas. Now unless you have some serious space issues or an allergy to commas, I don't understand why you wouldn't just go with the sure thing. I'm not the only loon out here.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Johann Hari on "the strange, unexplored overlap between homosexuality and fascism."

Some of the possible explanations are fascinating.
Lyric of the Day:
"Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west
A state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness"
~ Tupac and Dr. Dre, "California Love"

Happy Birthday:
Princess Diana
Dan Ackroyd
Pamela Anderson
Olivia DeHavilland
Missy Elliot
Carl Lewis
Liv Tyler