Friday, March 14, 2003

CALLING ALL LAWYERS: Quick request for assistance.

Wednesday night, I'm going to be judging in a local law school's moot court competition. The case being argued is the Newdow pledge of allegiance case from the Ninth Circuit -- you know, "does the First Amendment allow a state to require its students to recite the Pledge", etc. For competition purposes it's being limited to those First Amendment issues, with standing and all other procedural issues shunted off to the side.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions for good, probing questions for me to ask the student-litigants on either or both sides, I'd appreciate it. Email me with your thoughts, and I will be most grateful.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

DON JOHNSON, INTERNATIONAL MONEY LAUNDERER? Maybe. Maybe not. For insight, recall the words from Johnson's 1986 top-ten single "Heartbeat":
I don't care what you say
You can give it away
Your money don't mean much to me
I've been out on my own
Going to go it alone now
Cause that's the way it's got to be

Via, of course.

"Miami Vice" costar Philip Michael Thomas could not be reached for comment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

SPEAKING OF THE DEAN: This week, Robert Christgau writes about five-time Grammy winner Norah Jones:
Unless you believe Eminem had a snowball's chance in Harlem, or can name a bizzer other than L.A. Reid and maybe Clive Davis who knows how brilliant Pink is, Jones's five-statuette victory wasn't surprising or especially unjust. The Rising and Nellyville and Home (Dixie Chicks, you remember, great title gals) are overrated feel-good albums too, and The Eminem Show is for newbies. But though the biz needs Norah Jones structurally, it doesn't need her aesthetically, and in both respects, as hasn't been said loudly enough, Come Away With Me is the same record as last year's surprise winner, O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Sincere left-field entry on music man's corporate imprint wins aging voters and consumers alike by proving that young people can too play real/ honest/ genuine/ authentic music. This means music that cossets neither computers nor scary black guys. It also means music that pays fealty to an aesthetically respectable past authorized by public broadcasting, tony feature stories, and an educational system in which jazz is a major at North Texas State.

Christgau concludes:
My advice is that Norah Jones study the career of Tracy Chapman, who for 15 years has exploited the unexpected multiplatinum of her debut for all the privacy and autonomy it's worth — and who has thus remained honest and unpretentious whether you like her or not.

The full article is here.
"AT SOME POINT I'M GOING TO WANT TO SIT ON THE FRONT PORCH AND WHITTLE." Does Pat Sajak have anything interesting to say? Ever?

Yes. In this week's New York Observer, Sajak discusses why his late night show failed:
"We had a couple of things going on at the time," Mr. Sajak said. "No. 1, the conventional wisdom was that Johnny Carson was going to be leaving after that season. Our thought was, ‘We will do The Tonight Show.’ Essentially, that was what we were doing—Johnny will leave, Pat is already there, the format is there, the audience will just move over, turn the dial a couple of notches and there we are. Johnny screwed up and didn’t leave for a couple of years—so I’m still upset about that."

Mr. Sajak laughed. "The other thing that happened was that Arsenio Hall came on the air," he said. "The conventional wisdom then was that younger people didn’t watch late-night—but suddenly it was a very hip kind of thing and introducing a different audience. So we were kind of stuck in the middle. We were Johnny Carson Lite, and why do you want that if you’ve got Johnny Carson, and I was a 42-year-old white guy — I wasn’t going to be doing Arsenio Hall stuff. So I don’t think we ever found our footing."

Good read.
WHICH MAKES YO LA TENGO WHAT -- RIDER? Sure, this online chat with WaPo music critic David Segal is darn entertaining, what with its nice share of sniping at the Village Voice's Robert Christgau ("I’ve never enjoyed rock criticism as an Uncle Miltie-style whose-is-bigger contest"), but the real reason to review the chat is to uncover one of the coolest analogies I've ever seen a cultural critic employ.

In writing about a recent Bon Jovi concert, Segal explains:
The rap on the New Jersey-born Jon Bon Jovi is that he's a lower-brow, pop-metal version of Bruce Springsteen -- Rutgers to the Boss's Princeton.

Like, whoa.
WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS? Phillies closer Jose Mesa is not a fan of former Cleveland teammate Omar Vizquel. Really:
"We were tight,'' Mesa said.

No more. Now, when speaking of Vizquel, Mesa can't even bring himself to say his name. He refers to Vizquel as "he" or "him."

Mesa, a Dominican, even went as far as saying this about Vizquel, a Venezuelan: "He's not Latin.''

Mesa and Vizquel had a falling out during spring training a few years ago, their friendship soured and now they're enemies.

Last year, their feud got ugly. Vizquel ripped Mesa in his autobiography, saying he choked in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. . . .

Mesa badly wants to face Vizquel again. He wants to drill him again. And this time, Mesa, a 6-3, 225-pounder, wants Vizquel, a 5-9, 165-pounder, to be a man and charge the mound.

"If he comes [today] and I face him, I'll hit him," Mesa told the Courier Times. "I won't try to hit him in the head, but I'll hit him. And if he charges me, I'll kill him."

. . .

"If he comes to apologize, I will punch him right in the face," Mesa said. "And then I'll kill him."

Thankfully (for Vizquel), the two did not face each other in yesterday's exhibition.
FUN WITH CAPTIONING, CONT'D: My good friend Charlie Glassenberg pointed out to me yesterday that the leaflets currently being dropped on Iraq are also prone to misinterpretation.

Some of his examples (click on each picture to enlarge):

Your little children defecated in our pool! Thus we must destroy your country.

Why waste your time delivering giant golden eagle figures to the pit dug by our miniature aircraft? If you visit the French Amputee he'll show you a piece of lettuce shaped like your home country!

Up next on Q-100, it's Justin Timberlake's latest hit, followed by a description of the geography of your own homeland!

"Wouldn't you rather die or surrender than go home and sit on a tacky couch or listen to your pedantic son lecture at you?"

Our miniature planes will destory the tanks that came out of the giant blue egg if you don't lead your children back into the giant blue egg! Nanoo nanoo!
IN RUSSIA, PARTY ALWAYS FIND YOU! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Yakov Smirnoff sighting. Despite our best efforts to confine him to the Branson, MO area, Mr. Smirnoff has apparently purchased freedom in a box and his on his way to New York City.

The suspect is armed with bad jokes and is considered very, very past his comedic shelf life. Be warned. Whatever you do, don't encourage him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

TODAY'S SCIENCE TIMES: Mmmm... universe-sized doughnut...
THE WAY HE MAKES US FEEL: Jimmy Wales thinks he's figured out an easy way to decode the Michael Jackson/Mister Rogers quiz below.

Take the quiz yourself first, then turn to Wales' findings. I'd say he's got a point.

Monday, March 10, 2003

WELCOME: Greetings to those of you coming over from The Volokh Conspiracy. I hope your visit will be enjoyable, and please, if you like this place, spread the word and come back for more.

I first met Professor Volokh back in 1995 when he spoke at a symposium on The Law Of Cyberspace sponsored by my legal journal. He is as entertaining and interesting in person as he is in the blogosphere -- even more so, really -- and I appreciate his mentioning my blog today.
IMMOVABLE STONE MEETS IRRESISTABLE SLYDER: A stolen $40,000 diamond. A criminal bent on concealing the evidence for as long as possible. Could his intestinal fortitude foil Chicago's finest?

Not when there are seventy White Castles in the Chicagoland area. It took a few days, but the criminal eventually released three carats of evidence to a waiting police officer.

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune provides both before and after columns on this gutty performance by the Chicago police (registration required), and the Sun-Times adds this gem of an article on some perilous police work.

[Query: Are there any Fifth Amendment issues here? What if he didn't want to eat what was offered?]

Via Obscure Store.
IF YOU ARE VIN DIESEL, YELL REALLY LOUD: While we all appreciate the efforts our government is making to prepare us in the event of terrorist attack, some people believe that the graphics being used by our government to inform us are, well, subject to "reinterpretation":

In the event of emergency, find a 3-story, 10-foot-high building. The midgets inside will be sure to help you. Remember, just follow the enormous red arrow protruding from your crotch.

Do not breakdance under piles of rubble.

Those captions came via this link. Beyond that, check out and this site for more Fun With Captions.
"I LIKE THEM, BUT NOT WHEN THEY COME FLYING THROUGH THE AIR": Well, that's what Norwegian death metal music fan Per Kristian Hagen, age 25, said after being struck in the head with a flying object a recent Mayhem concert.

But what object? Read on: it's baaaaaaaaaaad.
HEADS CAROLINA, TAILS CALIFORNIA: After the last few weeks of I'm A Celebrity -- Am I Hot Enough To Be Married By America? and a sadly Frenchie-free American Idol (go Kimberlies and Ruben!), I've been pretty down on reality tv lately. Until now.

And I can't believe I'm about to say this.

God bless Nashville Star. I don't even really like country music, but this show won me over. Why?

1. Talent. Without question, the men and women competing in this competition were better singers, across the board, than anything American Idol has ever seen. Just beautiful and strong voices even among those not picked for the final twelve. And unlike AI, for this competition they've got to be able to write and perform their own original songs as well.

2. Diversity. The final twelve represent a wide range of singing styles, body types, performing styles, everything. It's just interesting watching people addressing country music from so many different angles, from Tejano-based to Patsy Cline to the woman who did a Warren Zevon cover to make it to Nashville. Also, on the whole, these performers are a little older than those on AI, which may have something to do with the better talent level.

3. Structure. This show adopted the American Idol structure, and it works: smart, funny, honest judges who aren't gratuitously mean, who aren't trying to steal the spotlight for themselves. Local competitions begat regional competitions which now move into the national finals, starting next Saturday, with two performers eliminated per-week -- one by the judges, live that night; one by us viewers, via telephone, announced the next week.

One little thing that made a big difference: unlike AI's regional competitions -- a capella, isolated room with just the three judges -- these regionals took place in crowded clubs, with a full backing band. Made for better singing, and just more entertainment.

The hour-and-a-half debut episode re-airs four more times this week, and fresh episodes of Nashville Star air live Saturday nights at 9pm.

Good television shows find a way to make you care about a universe you might otherwise have no interest in, be it "guys in a Boston bar", "Baltimore homicide detectives" or "eight-year-old kids growing up in Colorado". I don't much care for country, nor would I want to see a "country music talent show" in the abstract, but I sure liked Nashville Star. Do try and watch it.

Sunday, March 9, 2003

WHAT MR. ROGERS TAUGHT MICHAEL JACKSON: Joyce Millman asks in this morning's Times about the lessons Michael Jackson could have learned from Mister Rogers, noting:
Watching [the Bashir documentary], many viewers who had tuned in for a freak show came away instead with new sympathy for the embattled and cosmetically mutilated King of Pop. Mr. Jackson seems to be suffering the poisonous after-effects of a traumatic childhood.

And wasn't that what Fred Rogers was trying to teach us: that emotionally unhealthy children become emotionally unhealthy adults?

"The way Rogers saw it," Millman concludes, "A secure and happy childhood was of the greatest importance not because we stay children forever, but because we don't."

But did Michael Jackson really learn nothing from Mister Rogers? Actually, I think he learned a lot.

Don't take my word for it, of course. Instead, take the following quick quiz. I'll provide the quote; you decide if the speaker is revered television legend Mister Rogers or the King of Pop, Michael Jackson:

Rogers or Jackson?

1. "I love, I feel, I think what they get from me, I get from them. I've said it many times, my greatest inspiration comes from kids. . . . That consciousness of purity. And children have that. I see God in the face of children. I just love being around that all the time."

2. "People don't even eat with their fathers any more, or their mothers. The family bond has been broken. It's an outcry for attention [when] kids are going to school with guns. They want love, they want to be touched, they want to be held. . . . I'm just very sensitive to their pain."

3. "When I was angry as a child, my family wouldn't allow me to crash and stomp around through the house, but they did encourage me to play out my feelings on the piano. That's when I discovered the real power of music. I'd begin by banging random notes -- anything (like a punch!). The longer I played, though, the calmer my music became, the calmer I became, too. That piano probably got me out of a lot of trouble. To this day, I can still laugh and cry and express anger and dissapointment through the tips of my fingers on piano keys. It's just as natural for me as breathing."

4. "Children are loving, they don't gossip, they don't complain, they're just open-hearted. They're ready for you. They don't judge. They don't see things by way of color. They're very child-like. That's the problem with adults. They lose that child-like quality. And that's the level of inspiration that's so needed and is so important for creating and writing songs and for a sculptor, a poet or a novelist. It's that same kind of innocence, that same level of consciousness, that you create from. And kids have it."

5. "You know, you don't have to look like everybody else to be acceptable and to feel acceptable."

6. "My best friends in the whole world are children and animals. They're the ones who tell the truth and love you openly and without reservation."

7. "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."

8. “I love whimsy, don’t you? If you’re going to be working for children, you need to do your best not to lose your childlikeness . . . it’s wonderful to be able to just be yourself.”

9. "I've always wanted to be able to tell stories, stories that came from my soul. I'd like to sit by a fire and tell people stories -- make them see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally. I'd like to tell tales to move their souls and transform them. I've always wanted to be able to do that."

10. "The number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three. 'I love you.' Isn't that wonderful?"

Answers (highlight text to reveal):
1. Jackson
2. Jackson
3. Rogers
4. Jackson
5. Rogers
6. Jackson
7. Rogers
8. Rogers
9. Jackson
10. Rogers

Blame Todd Bonin for the concept.
BALLOONING, JINGOISTIC GOAT SPOOR: Tom Zeller of the New York Times steals some of my turf this morning, reviewing Gods and Generals' bad reviews.