August 16, 2007
Where Were You 30 Years Ago. . . .
Posted by Christine Hurt

when Elvis died?  On August 16, 1977, I was in the car with my mom.  She must have just changed the channel because we heard the DJ saying something like, "and after the break, more on Elvis' death."  Being the conciliator that I am, I suggested that the DJ had said "deaf."  Maybe Elvis had merely gone deaf, like Beethoven.  My mom cried.  Did your mom cry?

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April 26, 2007
Posted by Gordon Smith

According to Eric Wilson (NYT), "Nature is so in." And:

Nature — or the appearance of embracing nature — is chic these days. Judging by the direction of fashion and home décor and of-the-moment restaurants and shops, you might mistake Manhattan for Montana. The raw concrete floors and white walls of 1990s minimalism have been swept away. In their place, new boutiques and cafes in the city’s glossier neighborhoods resemble overdesigned hunting lodges — dark and moody, with uneven floorboards to trip over and, almost inevitably, a set of antlers hanging from the rafters.

It appears that I really missed an opportunity during my recent house-hunting trip to Utah. When we realized that homes near BYU were priced at a premium, we decided to explore some options further from campus. On one of those trips, my son looked out the window and sighed, "antlers." He had spotted a rack mounted over a garage door.

Not that there's anything wrong with antlers. It's just that I spent most of my childhood with antlers-mounting people (read: my family) in rural Wisconsin, and I run with a different crowd now.

So I told the real estate agent that we could head back toward the campus -- not that Provo and Orem are antler-free -- but she had made appointments at several houses. And doggone it, we were going to see those houses. Well, the first house after the antler sighting featured a large buck's head in the entry way. By the time we stopped laughing about that, we were walking down to the basement, which was organized around a taxidermied bear cub.

So ended our Mapleton adventure.

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August 19, 2006
Beautiful Subways
Posted by Gordon Smith
June 27, 2006
Fun With Jackson Pollock
Posted by Gordon Smith
May 18, 2006
Advice for the Lovelorn?
Posted by Fred Tung

For those who are just fed up with their mates or mating rituals, some folks at Slate offer an alternative to marriage:  Playstation.

[O]n average, people adapt very quickly and completely to marriage. As anyone who's ever consumed seven pumpkin pies in one sitting knows, we quickly get used to our favorite new things, and we just as quickly tire of them. As Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert artfully puts it, "Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage."

We submit that a relationship with a PlayStation 3 is worth at least $100,000 a year in happiness for all individuals. Unlike a nagging spouse, the PS3 doesn't care about your income or your level of education—it loves you just the way you are.

The authors note the high costs of mating rituals:

[Y]ou can't discount the vast amount of money it takes to woo a spouse. The costs of daily grooming—calculated at the minimum wage—run into the tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime, not counting the costs of soap, water, Gillette Fusion cartridges, and Old Spice. Then there are the birthday presents, the anniversary presents, and the occasional meals at popular chain restaurants, not to mention the incalculably expensive psychic toll of accommodating your schedule to the increasingly unreasonable demands of your "partner." Compare with the PS3, which does not demand that you bathe or slather yourself in cologne and is available for guilt-free sensual pleasures 24 hours a day.

Myself, I never got the fever over video games (ok, maybe a little Asteroids, but that's it). 

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October 06, 2005
Wait till I get going! Where was I?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Organizers of the fifteenth annual Cultural Studies Conference at Kansas State University "hope to attract a diverse range of inquiries, methods, textual analyses, and historical perspectives," but if you want to be on this panel, you have your marching orders:

Papers on specific instances are welcomed, and papers considering a variety of issues and concerns:  tabloidization and the neutralization of the political; the personal as political; hypocritical Puritanism; the defense by offense; vast right wing conspiracies; "outing" as a political tactic; scandal amnesia; "spin" and tactical framing; true evil beneath the compassionate, Christian front; why nothing makes a difference; left tactics and despair; the politics of denial and shame; business secrecy vs. personal secrecy; liberal vs. conservative secret lives; sexual dysfunction in conservatives; Laura Bush's private life; scholarly muckraking and shockjocking.

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

P.S. I am assured that (a) this is not a joke, and (b) this is not representative of the panels at the conference.

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July 18, 2005
Curiosity Killed This Cat
Posted by Christine Hurt

Alternative Title:  I have partaken from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and now I don't feel so good.

For a week, I have seen references to the unrated documentary The Aristocrats, and how AMC wasn't going to show it, blah, blah, blah.  The movie is always described as a documentary about one dirty joke, which originated in vaudeville and is still famous today, but the articles never tell the joke.  So, I'm curious and want to know the joke.  I thought it would be dirty, but harmless, like the Nantucket limerick.  Nope.  I googled "the aristocrats joke" and got a website with numerous variations of the joke.  I clicked on the most popular.  Yikes.  Imagine a cross between American Psycho and Rodney Dangerfield.

If you are now curious, I would suggest going to Wikipedia, where you will learn that the basic format of this joke is that a nuclear family wants to break into show business and perform their act for an agent.  The variations on the joke are experiments in how disgusting and outrageous to make the "act."  I think the joke that I read must have won that experiment.  The punchline comes when the agent asks what the name of this base, vulgar family act is, and the name is "The Aristocrats."

The documentary apparently focuses on the fact that the joke is like a "game within a game."  On one level, the joke is about how far this family will go to break into show business, but on another level it is how far a comedian will go to shock his audience, usually other comedians.  So, like a guitar solo that is composed mainly to impress other guitarists, but leaves the audience going, "huh?", the punchline to the joke makes most audiences go, "huh?"  But some variations make audiences like me go, "eewww."

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June 28, 2005
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Posted by Gordon Smith

If you are fan of modern art, you probably know about the Louisiana Museum already. If not, you might be surprised to learn of a museum by that name nestled into the eastern shoreline of Denmark. I visited the Louisiana last Saturday, and even though the weather was rainy, it was stunning, both inside and out. The featured artist was American Michael Bevilacqua, whose large, colorful, pop-art creations captivated my children. The permanent collection at the Louisiana also was spectacular, with samplings from Calder, Moore, Picasso, Rauschenberg, and Warhol, among others. But my favorite part of the day was the Jean Nouvel exhibit. Nouvel is a French architect, and I stayed in an apartment near his Institut Monde Arabe while I taught in Paris in 2002. This exhibit offered an opportunity to see his collected works, and they are fabulous.

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June 22, 2005
100 Most Memorable Quotes
Posted by Christine Hurt

Ann Althouse stayed up with the "stars" and live-blogged the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes.  All I can say is "Where is Princess Bride?"  I will take any line from the movie, but I would settle for "As you wish."

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June 11, 2005
Sad Songs Mean So Much
Posted by Christine Hurt

Ann Althouse is asking for readers' saddest songs.  Here's my take:

High brow:  The Dream I Dreamed from Les Miserable (right before she dies of syphillis or TB or something).  In law school, I used to sing that line over and over:  "I dreamed a dream my life would be/So different from this hell I'm living."

Middle brow:  Bonnie Raitt's Love Has No Pride.

Low brow:  Where've You Been, by Kathy Mattea.  Very manipulative, very formulaic three-verse country song, but I had to pull over and wail the first time I heard it.

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May 18, 2005
Mary-Chapin Carpenter
Posted by Christine Hurt

Last night, feeling extremely hip, my husband and I went to see Mary-Chapin Carpenter live at the Pabst Theater.  Much to our surprise, we were the youngest people there.  Now, we might have been fooling ourselves that we were younger than some, but we were definitely in the youngest 10%. 

The concert was great, but one of the most interesting revelations was Mary-Chapin confessing that she was addicted to American Idol.  She described it as a car accident that she couldn't help watching.  After much prompting, she predicted that "the little country miss" would win.  She added that Bo did not need to worry about his future, though.

At one point while she was chatting between songs, a beer bottle rolled down the aisle in the audience.  "Well," she said, "this is Milwaukee."

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May 16, 2005
Posted by Christine Hurt

Saturday night found us watching Crash.  I generally like movies with intersecting story lines, like Short Cuts, Traffic, and The Hours, and I think this movie is one of the better ones.

The theme that I walked away with was the theme of stereotypes, or as we like to say in law school, proxies.  Proxies (stereotypes) are based in some kind of truth, so proxies can be very helpful.  If I see a pit bull, I may steer clear because I have heard stories of pit bulls being violent.  That particular pit bull may be as gentle as a lamb, but I will generally be safer if I treat all pit bulls as dangerous until I know otherwise.

But is it right to use proxies when dealing with humans?

We like to say "no."  Individual humans should not be judged by the statistical characteristics of whatever race or gender they have been born into by chance.  The movie does not make it easy to answer this question.  In one scene (that appears in the trailer), a white couple, Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser, are walking on the sidewalk toward two young African American men, played by Ludicris and Larenz Tate.  Ludicris' character mocks Sandra Bullock for being afraid of them, and Sandra Bullock berates herself for being afraid.  However, two seconds later the two young men carjack the couple's car.  So, then Sandra Bullock regrets not using the young men's race as a proxy because it could have saved her the experience of having a gun to her head.  A few hours later, though, she uses the locksmith's race (Hispanic) as a proxy to determine that he will sell the keys to their house to his "homies" who will rob them blind.  Of course, she is mistaken.

In the movie, people live up to their stereotypes (a white police officer is racist, a wealthy white housewife is selfish and spoiled, the young black men are carjackers), then the same people transcend their stereotypes.  In addition, characters who have shunned stereotypes to be more enlightened fall prey to their own fears and disappoint themselves.

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April 22, 2005
Star Wars, Volume III
Posted by Christine Hurt

My hometown newspaper (Lubbock, TX) is reporting that the movie theaters there are selling advance tickets for the next Star Wars installment, which will debut at 12:05 a.m. on May 19.  I will have to say that although I'm not any kind of Star Wars freak, I'm interested in this movie.  (I mean "freak" in a good way.)

This movie will answer all the questions of my youth.  If Luke and Leia are really brother and sister, then why were they separated?  How did Darth Vader go to the dark side?  What does Yoda know?  I've had these questions for a long time, but I can probably wait until at least noon on May 19 to hear the answers.

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March 27, 2005
My Crazy Scrapbook Night
Posted by Christine Hurt

My husband took the kids to see Grandma in Virginia yesterday, leaving me home alone.  What did I do with myself?  Three other women in my neighborhood came and we worked on our scrapbooks from 4 p.m. until midnight.  I hesitate to bring up scrapbooking because I don't want to be labeled a chick blogger, but scrapbooking is the quilting bee/sewing circle of this generation.  Women used to sew history into quilts, now we tell our stories in our scrapbooks.  I would tell you more, but what happens at scrapping, stays at scrapping.

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March 23, 2005
The Art Institute of Chicago
Posted by Gordon Smith

This week is Spring Break for my children, and I decided to take my two oldest (and one of their friends) on a semi-spontaneous visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. I have fond memories of the Art Institute from my days as a law student in Hyde Park. It hasn't changed much, but I didn't visit to see how things had changed.

I wanted to introduce my children to some of the paintings I remembered from my prior visits, like these ...








I don't claim much sophistication about art, though I quite enjoy the experience of walking through a fine museum. I tended to read more of the background information than my children wanted, but it was fun to see them react to the paintings, especially (for some reason) the Rothkos.

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