March 23, 2017

What incorrect belief did you carry around for the longest time and how did you find out you were wrong?

A question that occurred to me in this context.

I'm not looking for philosophical, religious, or political beliefs of the sort that people disagree about, where you shifted sides — such as realizing that God does/doesn't exist, that free markets are good/bad, or the world is real/unreal.

I'm looking for facts that turned out not to be facts, such as believing that Jacques Cousteau and Jean Cocteau were the same person.

"The Most Beautiful College in Every State."

According to Travel + Leisure.

Lots of pretty photographs, but the one chosen for the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a bit puzzling. It shows the roof line of the stock pavilion against the sky. You should show the placement of the campus on the isthmus:

"What's the most pointless argument you've been passionately involved in?"

A Reddit discussion. The top-rated answer is:
My junior year of high school I got into a very heated debate with my friend over whether Cheetos were considered chips. After half an hour of yelling about this he finally called frito-lay headquarters to ask their opinion on the matter. I was right, they're not chips :)
Via Metafilter, where somebody says:
I remember an epic argument about whether Minnesota is "almost in Canada."
A famous argument I remember having was whether or not the crust of the bread is indeed considered to be "bread" itself, or if it is in fact another, distinct product known as "crust."
I'm amused by that use of the word "famous."

Here are some things I've found myself arguing about far longer than sanity would advise:

1. Whether butterflies are insects. I found myself resorting to statements like: "If you don't think they're insects, what do you think they are? Birds?!!???"

2. At what age do you become "middle aged"? I was in my 20s and saying "middle age" must start by 40 or 45 because it's considered the longest period of one's life, and I was talking to a woman who was almost 60 and wouldn't even concede that she was middle aged. One of her arguments was that the President of the United States — Gerald Ford, in his early 60s — shouldn't be considered middle aged yet because he played golf.

3. Who was conceived in the "immaculate conception"? I was at a dinner party with Madison academics and their spouses in the 1980s and got hooted down by people who sure the answer was Jesus. I was hampered by: a. No iPhone and no Google to make the correct answer obvious, b. Not seeing any social benefit in arguing about religion at a dinner party with people who were ready to be so ignorant and assholian about religion, c. Thinking about how much money I could make taking bets and distracted by the static of the idea that it would not be religiously correct.

4. Whether it is possible to picture infinite planets. I was willing to concede that there could be an infinite number of planets, but stood firm on my own personal subjective inability to imagine such a thing. How can you argue with that? I was with someone whose point of view was: How can you NOT argue with that? I could not be left alone with my imaginative shortcoming. I said I understood the idea of infinite space and could imagine infinite space, but a whole planet.... I'm picturing each one with a number on it. You never run out of numbers. So how could there be any planet that could not have a number to go with it? I don't need you to agree with me, you can even pity me in my disability, but leave me alone with it. NO!!! It's as though my non-infinite-mindedness was contagious and he had to cure me so he didn't catch it. Or maybe he was so angry because he did catch it and it horrified him.

"I just googled 'mutton busting,' which was a new topic for many of us yesterday, when one of the Republican senators asked Gorsuch about taking his clerks to the Denver rodeo."

"Now I really want to see it in action," wrote Amy Howe, at SCOTUSblog, where they were doing something I just can't bring myself to do, live-blogging the Neil Gorsuch confirmation hearing.

But how can you not know about mutton busting?!

You'd think these eastern elite types would at least have seen it on PBS. What's the point of funding PBS if you're not even up to speed on mutton busting? I think this relates to why people don't understand how Trump won the election.

The NYT also made much of the mention of mutton busting:
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, wanted to hear about the Denver rodeo. And Judge Gorsuch, elusive all week as Democrats have strained to pinpoint his judicial leanings, turned instantly expansive.

“Mutton busting, as you know, comes sort of like bronco busting for adults,” he began on Tuesday. “You take a poor little kid, you find a sheep and you attach the one to the other and see how long they can hold on.”

He went on.

“…You know, it usually works fine when the sheep has got a lot of wool and you tell them to hold on — I tell my kids hold on monkey-style, you know? Really get in there, right? Get around it…”

The Democrats stared blankly.

“…Because if you sit upright, you go flying right off, right? So, you want to get in. But the problem when you get in is that you’re so locked in that you don’t want to let go, right? And so, then the poor clown has to come and knock you off the sheep.”
Key line:  The Democrats stared blankly. 

In real life, the rich clown has come and knocked you off the sheep.

Excerpt from the new Supreme Court opinion about the copyrightability of a cheerleader's uniforms.

Breyer dissented, if that helps.

Here's another excerpt:
... Van Gogh’s painting of a pair of old shoes, though beautifully executed and copyrightable as a painting, would not qualify for a shoe design copyright... Courts have similarly denied copyright protection to obects that begin as three-dimensional designs, such as measuring spoons shaped like heart-tipped arrows, candleholders shaped like sailboats, and wire spokes on a wheel cover. None of these designs could qualify for copyright protection that would prevent others from selling spoons, candleholders, or wheel covers with the same design. Why not? Because in each case the design is not separable from the utilitarian aspects of the object to which it relates.... [S]poons, candleholders, and wheel covers are useful objects, as are the old shoes depicted in Van Gogh’s painting....

[A] copyright on Van Gogh’s painting would prevent others from reproducing that painting, but it would not prevent others from reproducing and selling the comfortable old shoes that the painting depicts...

Consider Marcel Duchamp’s “ready-mades” series, the functional mass-produced objects he designated as art.... What design features could not be imaginatively reproduced on a painter’s canvas? Indeed, great industrial design may well include design that is inseparable from the useful article—where, as Frank Lloyd Wright put it, “form and function are one.”... Where they are one, the designer may be able to obtain 15 years of protection through a design patent.... But, if they are one, Congress did not intend a century or more of copyright protection....

Consider designs 074, 078, and 0815. They certainly look like cheerleader uniforms. That is to say, they look like pictures of cheerleader uniforms, just like Van Gogh’s old shoes look like shoes. I do not see how one could see them otherwise....

Were I to accept the majority’s invitation to “imaginatively remov[e]” the chevrons and stripes as they are arranged on the neckline, waistline, sleeves, and skirt of each uniform, and apply them on a “painter’s canvas,” that painting would be of a cheerleader’s dress....  Hence, each design is not physically separate, nor is it conceptually separate, from the useful article it depicts, namely, a cheerleader’s dress. They cannot be copyrighted.

March 22, 2017

Utah color.


Talk about anything.

(And shop via the Amazon Althouse Portal.)

I've been watching a lot of the Gorsuch hearings.

Don't have anything I want to say other than that it's going well for him and everything's under control, and — maybe this is a significant observation — he's successfully distancing himself from Trump. Trump's over there, the man who nominated him, but Gorsuch is his own man, thinking for himself (which means, for him, assiduously following the judicial method and not infusing his work with anything personal or political (but you should know he has DAUGHTERS! and a WIFE! and he's experienced END OF LIFE TRAUMA!)).

"In... Scottsbluff [Nebraska], which will experience 1 minute and 42 seconds of totality, the 81-room Hampton Inn & Suites is about 90% booked at a premium rate of roughly $300 a night..."

"... said Clarence Gealy, managing member. 'Some of the first people to book were from Europe... We’ve talked about having a steak fry or something like that for our eclipse guests to help make it an enjoyable adventure for them.'"

"Designs for 'The Big Bend,' a slender tower that would transform Manhattan’s skyline have been unveiled."

"Described as the 'longest building in the world,' the project's concept drawings reveal a skyscraper reaching an apex then curving back down. And featuring an elevator system that can travel in curves, horizontally and in loops."

"A knife-wielding assailant driving a sport utility vehicle mowed down panicked pedestrians and stabbed a police officer outside Parliament on Wednesday in a deadly assault..."

"... prompting the hasty evacuation of the prime minister and punctuating the threat of terrorism in Europe. At least five people, including the assailant, were killed and 40 others injured in the confusing swirl of violence, which the police said they assumed had been 'inspired by international terrorism.' It appeared to be the most serious such assault in London since the deadly subway bombings more than a decade ago.... For more than two hours, astonished lawmakers inside the House of Commons, some of whom had ducked for cover, were told to stay in place as officers searched the premises office by office."

The NYT reports.

"There's nothing worse for the credibility of all of Washington than an intel 'leak off' — entering a potentially destructive phase."

ADDED: "President Donald Trump said he felt 'somewhat' vindicated on his wiretapping claims against former President Barack Obama after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he had seen evidence that members of the Trump transition teams were surveilled following November’s election."

At the Desert Morning Café...


... talk about whatever you want.


The photos are from Arches National Park, March 11th.

Only 1% of Trump voters now wish they'd voted for Hillary Clinton (and another 2% wish they'd voted for some other candidate).

According to a new McCourtney Institute of Democracy poll conducted by YouGov and reported by WaPo.

"I think on my tombstone it’s just going to say, ‘Gonged at last,’ and I’m stuck with that."

Said Chuck Barris, who has died at the age of 87.

Barris was not only the hilarious, ridiculous host of "The Gong Show," he also invented "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game." And before all that he wrote the old Freddy Cannon song "Palisades Park." Wrote some books too, including that one that claimed he was an assassin for the CIA, which the CIA denies, which of course it would.

There was no bigger fan of "The Gong Show" than me, but I've already told you that, here.

Last night I took a walk after dark
A swingin' place called Palisades Park
To have some fun and see what I could see
That's where the girls are
I took a ride on a shoot-the-chute
That girl I sat beside was awful cute
And after while she was holdin' hands with me
My heart was flyin'
Up like a rocket ship
Down like a roller coaster
Back like a loop-the-loop
And around like a merry-go-round
We ate and ate at a hot dog stand
We danced around to a rockin' band
And when I could, I gave that girl a hug
In the tunnel of love
You'll never know how great a kiss can feel
When you stop at the top of a Ferris wheel
When I fell in love down at Palisades Park

"That even the disfigured corpse of a child was not sufficient to move the white gaze from its habitual cold calculation is evident daily and in a myriad of ways..."

"... not least the fact that this painting exists at all."

From the petition to remove the painting of Emmett Till from the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

There's also the tweet that says that the artist — a white woman, Dana Schutz — "should have read Saidiya Hartman before she turned Emmett Till into a bad Francis Bacon painting."

That's quoted here, at the NYT. You can see the painting at both links. The "bad Francis Bacon painting" description is apt (and would be funny if it were not the case that nothing about Emmett Till is funny). Here's what Francis Bacon paintings look like (in case you don't know). And here's a Wikipedia page for Saidya Hartman.

Why did the Whitney include this painting? They're in a position to be awfully choosy, so why pick this?

Schutz is certainly free to make bad paintings in bad taste. She can also use words to speak freely defending herself with dumb banality:
“I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. Their pain is your pain. My engagement with this image was through empathy with his mother.... Art can be a space for empathy, a vehicle for connection. I don’t believe that people can ever really know what it is like to be someone else (I will never know the fear that black parents may have) but neither are we all completely unknowable.”
But why would the Whitney choose this for its vaunted biennial? You could say that the Whitney should want art that challenges us, but this is simply bad. The historical photograph speaks for itself. What did Schutz contribute with her simplified and smeared paint job?

Unless you view the painting as step 1 in a performance art project that includes the protests, it's just bad.

I watched some, but nothing close to all, of the Gorsuch hearing.

I mostly watched the Al Franken excoriation, but also, merely by chance, some of Hatch and Cruz softball interludes.

It is, of course, what I expected (as briefly outlined in "Can we expect the Gorsuch hearings to be anything but bland blather?").

Gorsuch is doing the usual routine as well as it can be done. He looks great. Wonderful voice. Not only unflappable but never giving rise even to the slightest anxiety/hope that he could become less than rock-solid unflappable.

The Democrats on the committee know there's no stopping him, so what are they doing? Each one gets so much time to labor through their questions, which — if I can judge from Franken — all seem to be paraphrasable as: Aren't you a big meanie who, like all Republicans, hates the little guy and wouldn't shed a tear if he froze to death before your very eyes?

The Democrats need to do some theater, enough to skirt criticism from their base. It's a little tricky. If they bear down, they look like they're politicizing the judiciary, and every damn time Gorsuch will deploy one of his 10 elegant ways to inform them — as if they're the slowest learners on the planet — that it is not the role of the judiciary to engage in politics.

I can only take so much, but I did watch Franken. You can watch the clip and hear him go on and on about a man who got fired for driving a truck — despite its malfunctioning brakes — because he was freezing and the truck would warm him up. [NOTE: That's not quite right, as explained under  "ADDED," below.] There was a statute that protected truck drivers from getting fired for refusing to drive a malfunctioning truck, but this was the opposite. His employer wanted him not to drive the malfunctioning truck, and he did it anyway, to save himself from freezing (or so we are told).

The legal question was only whether the statute applied, not whether we feel sorry for the man or whether we would have fired him. Judge Gorsuch used the plain meaning of the statute. But judges might depart from the plain meaning of the text when it is necessary to avoid giving the language an absurd meaning, but it's obvious that the statute had a non-absurd meaning (which was to protect drivers who decline to drive defective trucks). But Franken, blatantly twisting the meaning of "absurd" — and reminding us that he was once a comedian — said:
“It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity. And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment.”
If that's what counts as "absurd," then judges could take any statute and twist it to mean whatever it would need to mean to allow them to bestow victory on any party the judge feels empathy with. That's a terrible idea for statutory interpretation. But Franken was into his own cuteness, chuckling at the wittiness of "I had a career in identifying absurdity." But the absurdity is in thinking that the ways of comedy would transfer to legal analysis.

And did Franken even hear himself? He said it was absurd to fire a man who chose his own life over the lives of others: "the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or caus[ing] other people to die possible by driving an unsafe vehicle." What's absurd about saying we don't want you driving for us if you'd choose to warm yourself up by driving a truck with defective brakes? The truck driver risked freezing to death if he didn't drive the truck, but driving the truck risked the death of himself and others. It's not absurd to say, he was wrong to drive the truck.

But even if you think it would be absurd not to drive the truck, the truck driver could only win if the statute that protected drivers who refused to drive defective trucks has only an absurd meaning if it's not stretched to protect drivers who don't refuse to drive defective trucks.

Gorsuch put up with the nonsense and didn't let all that taunting exasperate him. He knew that any show of irritation with Franken, any patronizing tone, might look like that lack of empathy Franken wanted to dramatize.

In Franken's heat about cold, Gorsuch kept his cool.

ADDED: I've got something really wrong about the case. The brakes on the trailer had locked, but the tractor unit could drive. Somehow the heat in the tractor unit was also broken. The man decided to unhitch the trailer and drive the tractor unit. The tractor unit itself was not defective, and he wasn't endangering others by driving that tractor unit in an effort to get somewhere to warm himself. But he disobeyed directions to stay with the trailer, and that's what got him fired. But the problem remains: He wasn't refusing to drive something that was defective. He was choosing to drive. We may agree that he made a good decision and think the company was cruel to fire him, but the legal question was whether he had a right to keep his job for doing something the company thought was a firing offense — abandoning the trailer.

Here's a detailed discussion of the legal question that brings out the issues much better than Franken did. I'm sorry I relied too much on Franken's emotive presentation of the case. There may have been some room to stretch the statute to give the man credit for refusing to pull the trailer (as he proceeded to drive the unhitched tractor unit). In fact, as you can see at that link, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had interpreted the statute that way. This gets to the important subject of deferring to the agency's interpretation (Chevron deference), which is what the majority did in the case. Gorsuch was dissenting.

ALSO: While empathy has been central to the Democrats' idea of judging and this case gave Franken material to push that theme dramatically, it's the Chevron deference question that is most important from a legal perspective. Here's lawprof Philip Hamburger in "Gorsuch’s Collision Course With the Administrative State." Hamburger concludes:
Chevron is a widely cited precedent, and precedents should never be casually overturned. But Chevron deprives Americans of their right to have judges who exercise their own independent judgment without systematic bias. Chevron is thus grossly unconstitutional — not least, a persistent denial of the due process of law.

Judges have a duty to reject Chevron with candor and clarity. Judge Gorsuch has done this. Rather than be berated for it, he should be congratulated.

March 21, 2017

The Landscape Arch...


... in Arches National Park, March 11th.


Talk about whatever you'd like in the comments.

(And consider shopping through the Althouse Amazon Portal.)

"But as unsatisfying as the show was as a mystery, it was fascinating as a study of what we ask of public figures — of what we feel entitled to ask of them."

"If there's one thing that the podcast showed, and in fact if there's one thing on which Taberski rested his thesis that Simmons' withdrawal was worthy of further investigation, it's that Richard Simmons gave a preposterous amount of himself away to the people who bought his products, came to his classes, went on his cruises, and simply told him how much pain they were in because they thought he would understand. The thesis of the show is largely that a man who was so close to people and loved being close to people would never just stop doing it.... The sad thing about Missing Richard Simmons is that if Richard Simmons finally decided to drop all of those rocks and rest — whatever state he was in when he did — then nothing makes it clearer how he got to that point than someone making a hit out of demanding over and over some kind of explanation. Perhaps he finally drew a boundary."

Writes Linda Holmes at NPR now that "Missing Richard Simmons" has released its 6th a final episode.

You can listen to all 6 episodes here. The first 3 episodes are excellent, setting up the mystery. The last 3 are less good, because Taberski is too wedded to his own ideas of why it's a mystery... and that it is a mystery. How can he just come out and say actually it's not a mystery? If it's not, what's the point of the podcast? If Richard Simmons doesn't need help, then why are you pestering him?

I think Richard Simmons put immense energy and emotion into playing the character he inhabited in public. He decided the show was over for whatever personal reasons he had, and he's gone private. That's his point: He's private now, and his reasons are private. Accept it!

Viewpoint neutral — a sign in the UW Memorial Union seeking art for a show about Trump's "First 100 Days."


Here's the website. You don't have to be a student (but you do have to be in the Madison area) to be in this show. Quite properly, the group putting on the show — The Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee — is not dictating a viewpoint. It says:
Are you angry, satisfied, scared, ashamed, proud, disturbed, or something else entirely? What has Trump accomplished within his first 100 days and how will you evaluate his time in the White House?... Artists from all political backgrounds are welcomed and encouraged to submit a work for consideration.....
The "first 100 days" limitation seems to exclude the idea of just painting Trump's face (and hair). You can do that and express either pride and satisfaction or fear and rage, but that wouldn't be sufficiently specific to the first 100 days. But I think it you just really George-W-Bushed the hell out of a colorful painting of Trump's head, you'd get in — first 100 days be damned.

But I'm not part of the The Wisconsin Union Directorate Art Committee and have no idea how they will judge this thing. The Wisconsin Union Directorate is "the student programming and leadership board for the Wisconsin Union." And its student-run art committee is "dedicated to bringing novel and challenging exhibitions to the Wisconsin Union."

I sure hope there is some pro-Trump material in the show, because that would be challenging.

"In reaction to the growing globalization of the Roman Empire, elite corruption, the banality of bread-and-circuses, and the end of the agrarian Italian Republic, the Stoics opted out..."

"... choosing instead a reasoned detachment from contemporary life. Some, like the worldly court philosopher Seneca, seemed hypocritical; others, such as the later emperor Marcus Aurelius, lived a double life of imperial engagement and mental detachment. Classical impassiveness established the foundations for the later monastic Christians, who in more dangerous times increasingly saw the world around them as incompatible with the world to come — and therefore they saw engagement as an impediment to their own Christian belief. More and more Americans today are becoming Stoic dropouts. They are not illiberal, and certainly not reactionaries, racists, xenophobes, or homophobes. They’re simply exhausted by our frenzied culture.... Monastics are tuning out the media.... When everything is politicized, everything is monotonous; nothing is interesting... For millions of Americans, their music, their movies, their sports, and their media are not current fare. Instead, they have mentally moved to mountaintops or inaccessible valleys, where they can live in the past or dream of the future, but certainly not dwell in the here and now...."

Writes Victor Davis Hanson in "Monasteries of the Mind," which I'm reading because because it was recommended in the comments to a post I'd put up earlier today. The commenter, Jeff Kuebler, said:
Standing off, interesting--I clicked here right after reading Victor D Hanson's column on people tuning out.
What I'd written was:
Speaking of very, very ugly,* I feel myself drifting away from politics. In the early years of this blog, I had a subheading under the blog title "Althouse" that read: "Politics and the aversion to politics, law and law school, high and low culture, and the way things look from Madison, Wisconsin." The aversion to politics had kind of been the story of my life, and blogging had me just dabbling in actual political opinion. The opinion has always been tinged with the aversion. I'm standing off at some distance observing how other people are political.

* The post began with a quote from Joe Biden imagining the world turning very ugly, very, very ugly.