log (2005/05/27 to 2005/06/02)

All sorts of things I should be writing about and attending to (apologies if you've sent me mail and I haven't responded; and I do promise to get around to fulfilling the latest viral meme I've been tagged with), but the world is just Too Busy! Two days worth of Project Reviews at work, and last night I was once again sleeping in a cabin with a bunch of fifth-grade boys. This time there were only fourteen of them, one of them was my son, there was only one other adult (instead of three), and the other adult had to leave at seven aye em, and for some reason the whole cabin was awake at five-thirty instead of six. (And at least two of the boys were Champion Snorers.)

So I'm Real Sleepy!

(And my computer here has been all wonky, but I think it's mostly fixed now, touch wood, except for one thing that I installed during the wonky period that's now all confused about its "license", and won't run or reinstall, sheesh.)

Was that all?

I feel like there was something else I was going to say.

Memorial day, 2005. Two recommended ways to support the troops: the most obvious one and, until we can make that happen, my favorite military charity (since it seems like it benefits actual soldiers directly, rather than the abstract idea of soldierness or militaristic patriotism).

Operation Uplink

Like most spoiled suburbanites without anyone directly in harm's way in any recent war, we're mostly just enjoying the three-day weekend, and only occasionally hearing something on the radio, or noticing a parade, or whatever. I went off to The Mall and got the little daughter's pictures from the weekend developed at the One Hour Photo place (she was at an Orchestra Trip on Saturday and Sunday, which involved mostly amusement parks and teen bonding and only slightly anything orchestral, and she took lots of pictures). I also got a pair of reading glasses (my first!) at the One Hour Glasses place.

Ben Franklin, eat your heart out.

Great idea for an invention!

I wrote up yet another book; apologies to any ardent Stephen Donaldson fans in the audience.

Favorite search phrases from the recent referer log:

Avril Lavigne Nobody's Home (Instrumental Excerpt) lyrics

which is a favorite because, note, it seems to be asking for the lyrics to an "instrumental excerpt", and

Judaism stuff about other stuff that has stuff about Judaism but also a little bit about Judaism and the hats they all wear and stuff about jews

which I can't help but suspect was intentionally inserted into the reflog just to amuse me, and

appendix (related to the Greek God Hermes) also somehow related to pictures(i'm looking for the name of a website)

for the innocent assumption that the search engine is intelligent enough to understand that, and finally

dreams languages liar liars smoke coffee loving depending wind

just because.

We're also looking for pictures:

Pictures of Iguanas
pictures of clitoris
pictures of iris chacon
pictures of naked women
Pictures of Anacondas eating
pictures of naked women -porn
Pictures of young girls sleeping
pictures of Halle Barry+Miss Teen
pictures of a jagged haircut
pictures of comedy and tragedy
pictures of dragonflies to paint
pictures of medieval doctors
pictures of naked ladies
pictures of naked ladies no sensors
pictures of naked princess Leia
pictures of nigerian women
pictures of nude mature women
pictures of the clitoris
pictures of chess boards

I like "no sensors". Tired of all that Borg porn, I guess. *8)

(I remember a Tom Swift, Jr. book a long time ago that annoyed me because it was always talking about Tom picking up things on his "censers". Imagining extremely scientific incense was amusing the first couple of times, but really...)

Now That's Validation: finding an entry in Wikipedia about you (that you didn't write yourself).

Cheese monkeys:

Not tasty, unlike lemons, which tend to be sour.



money chees

got no rhythm.

Warning: Cheese monkeys can melt in hot cars.


Sliced aardvarks.

And more extendedly:

Cheese monkeys. What the hell is that supposed to mean? "Let's put two completely random words together! Oh, I'm so creative!"

Hah! Tell it to Chip Kidd. Although actually that was the log prompt that week because the little boy started saying "cheese monkeys" constantly for no discernable reason, and was most amused when I told him it was the name of an actual book. I don't remember (if the novel even says) why the novel is called that. Maybe something about melting in hot cars.

And finally:

Ah mon ami, please don be coming on like zees. Are we not bruzzers? Do we not all sirst for lucrative beelding contracts in the middle east? And we adore le rock and roll, les gangsters, et bien sur Jerry Lewis, Le Roi du Crazy. Ave peety.

I'd love to know (A) what fraction of the American people were actually mad at France, and (B) what fraction of those people still remember that they were, and why.

Ooh, lots and lots of stuff queued up to log, here.

I've been using del.icio.us, although I'm still not positive what I'm going to use it for. It occurs to me that I could use it as a tagging backend for the log here, but first I want to ask the owner if e minds someone having two different accounts (one for normal uses, and one for the log-tagging stuff), since that seems like the most logical way to do it.

(Another thing I could use it for is a web-resident queue of things to log. But I'm so used to this text file sitting here...)

We noticed del.icio.us again because someone bookmarked our old satirical piece about CSS there. Sort of ironic (although not about elves, ha ha ha!), given that now we really are fully CSS-enabled (albeit still table-layouted).

While wandering around del.icio.us, we find a bookmark that points to How to be a Programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary, which looks pretty clued (we should actually read it and see; but we're too busy!).

Miranda points us at this world-view quiz, which is at least superficially more interesting than your typical "which Teletubby are you?" quiz. Turns out I'm a little of everything:

You scored as Idealist.
Idealism centers around the belief that we are moving towards something greater. An odd mix of evolutionist and spiritualist, you see the divine within ourselves, waiting to emerge over time. Many religious traditions express how the divine spirit lost its identity, thus creating our world of turmoil, but in time it will find itself and all things will again become one.

Idealist 81%
Cultural Creative 69%
Existentialist 69%
Materialist 69%
Postmodernist 63%
Romanticist 38%
Modernist 31%
Fundamentalist 25%

Well, not quite everything. *8) I'm not sure why I'm not very Romanticist or Modernist, but Fundamentalist is no surprise...

From Miranda I also wandered to The So and So's, notable at least partly because they have lots of music online for free. I've only listened to a bit of it (omg, so much music, so many words, so many pictures, help, help!), but it didn't suck at all.

Speaking of music, I did win the vinyl copy of Nancy Ames's "I Never Will Marry" that I bid for on eBay the other week, and it did come, but before I got around to do anything about ripping it Dad found his vinyl copy (the very one that I grew up listening to) in his house somewhere, and ripped it, and sent me the CD. So now I have it!

It's so cool to hear those songs again.

I dunno if I would like the music so much if it didn't remind me so overwhelmingly of my kidhood. Probably / perhaps it would sound quaint and old-fashioned. Because it seems to be entirely out of print, here's an mp3 of I Never Will Marry (I'll take it down if the copyright owner complains, or if it turns out to be in print somewhere, or if it being here hurts Extremis's bandwidth or anything.)

And for that matter here's Elsa Lanchester doing "When a Lady has a Piazza" (from "Songs for a Smoke-Filled Room"). Dad ripped half a dozen old vinyl records and mailed the CDs up, and I haven't finished assimilating them all yet.

I loved "When a Lady has a Piazza" because I was savvy enough to tell that it was probably naughty, but innocent enough that I didn't actually know what the naughtiness was, so there was this mysterious thrill to it. Same for "If You Peek in my Gazebo":

If you peek in my gazebo,
As you are passing by,
You'll see a sight
That will delight
The most fastidious eye...

Actually that one I still don't actually know what the naughtiness is. But it sure sounds naughty!

(And it's especially surreal because it's being sung by the voice of the Previous Nanny from Mary Poppins.)

I finished and wrote some notes on that audiobook about the Diamond Sutra. It was very inneresting.

A relatively new book site called Between the Pages has picked up some of our reviews (after having asked politely, which was nice given that the CC license on the reviews doesn't require them to).

Our having found plogress the other day is thanks to flutterby, by the way. And from plogress I find my Senator well occupied:

(a) In General - Section 55(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to alternative minimum tax imposed) is amended by adding at the end the following new flush sentence:

'For purposes of this title, the tentative minimum tax on any taxpayer other than a corporation for any taxable year beginning after December 31, 2005, shall be zero.'.

The Alternative Minimum Tax seems like a good thing to get rid of for various reasons (not only because for the first time this year I had to pay it), although the fact that Frist thinks so too does worry me.

Isn't the wording of the law great? What's a "flush sentence"? And why did they leave the tax in but set it to zero, rather than removing all reference to it from the tax code entirely? Very odd.

Let's see. Two bits of SCOTUS stuff here.

First, a rather yucchy decision in Johanns v. Lifestock Marketing Association, finding that it's okay for the government to tax certain businesses and use the money in ways that (in the opinion of those businesses) helps their competitors.

Scotusblog sees worrying consequences:

Today's decision is likely to be extremely significant for First Amendment jurisprudence, as it signals that the government has a free hand not only to communicate its own views without oversight by the courts but also to require financial support for that communication from a discrete segment of the population.

And see lots more discussion in other recent Scotusblog entries.

The decision of the court tries to make it all sound very logical. After all the government uses tax money to say all sorts of things that not all taxpayers approve of:

"Compelled support of government" -- even those programs of government one does not approve -- is of course perfectly constitutional, as every taxpayer must attest. And some government programs involve, or entirely consist of, advocating a position.
Citizens may challenge compelled support of private speech, but have no First Amendment right not to fund government speech.

Even the dissent basically objected only because they thought it was insufficiently obvious that the speech involved was actually government speech:

No one hearing a commercial for Pepsi or Levi's thinks Uncle Sam is the man talking behind the curtain. Why would a person reading a beef ad think Uncle Sam was trying to make him eat more steak?

But basically the Supremes say that if we don't like the idea of the government advertising beef we ought to talk to our legislators. And they're probably right, more's the pity.

Saving the best for last, another reader has written us a thoughtful letter about Scalia:

Subject: Questions on connotationism and denotationism

Hi David -

I'm enjoying your discussions of denotationist and connotationist interpretations of law. A few questions, unrelated to Justice Scalia's interpretation of "originalism":

The connotationist interpretation implies that the contemporary meanings of words, according to whomever is doing the interpretation, are always preferable to the intentions of the original creators of the law. The examples you've been discussing that support the connotationist interpretation are all quite agreeable to contemporary ears: it's great that "equal rights" applies to both genders and all races, even if that wasn't the intent of the first congressman to utter the phrase. If it doesn't apply to people with certain sexual preferences in the eyes of the law today, one may hope that it will tomorrow. The connotationism principle seems preferable if we assume that the meanings of laws can only "improve" in this way, that the words used to define laws embody an essence of meaning that persists through the evolution of the language and the ideas described by the language.

Is there a danger that the meanings of laws may "degrade" in a similar fashion? If a future society at large decides women are not "equal" when it comes to the rights of people declared by law, does the connotationist view accept or applaud that interpretation? Could this threaten the defense of a minority provided by the law in this way?

I'd say there's a difference between changes in public opinion and changes in language, and it is on this difference that we can rely for a sane application of the scholarly interpretation of law. But it seems only due to my faith in the long-term evolution of humanity-- that the slow evoluation of language will always proceed toward truth and virtue, despite the ebb and flow of short-term public opinion, and that the people we entrust to interpret the law are capable of and willing to pursue linguistic truth above public opinion-- that I can support the connotationist interpretation of law.

All interpretation is culturally relativistic, and I'd say an interpretation relative to our own culture is likely to be preferable to one relative to a culture of the past, if only for its accessibility. The denotationist view implies that a sentence from the context of one culture is inherently corrupted when re-interpreted in the context of the same culture at a later time, as if the two cultures spoke entirely different languages. This isn't the case, and while I can imagine such changes in meaning happening in the slow evolution of a culture, the democratic process is faster and ought to be able to revise laws with problematically antiquated language.

Related question: Is the denotationist view threatened by our limited perspective on human history? Revisionism is not limited to the domain of crackpots and ill-doers. Can the process of on-going historical interpretation provide the same kind of stability as the connotationist view hopes to find in pure linguistic interpretation?

-- Dan

Thanks much for the note, and the thoughts! A couple of small points: First, I don't think the connotationist is committed to saying that contemporary meanings are always preferable, or that the correct interpretation is up to the person doing the interpreting.

It's more that the proper interpretation of words in the Constitution (and, in a more realistic and moderate version of connotationism, of certain of the words in the Constitution) looks to their denotation today, rather than what was thought to be their denotation on the day that they were adopted. The connotation, on the other hand, generally stays the same. So "cruel and unusual punishment" means now, and meant then, punishment that is cruel and unusual. But exactly what constitutes punishment that is cruel and unusual, what the denotation of that concept is, has changed (or our opinion about it has changed) in the interim. It's not that each interpreter gets to choose his own meaning; it's that each era gets to choose (by the usual process of discussion and hermeneutics) that era's denotation.

And similarly the denotationist doesn't have to claim that interpreting the words with their modern denotation is a corruption; the position just says that it's the wrong way to do Constitutional interpretation. (I don't know why Scalia thinks that it's wrong; one of the frustrating things about his overlooking the connotationist position is that we don't get to hear why he thinks it's wrong.)

But now to your actual point. *8) I think the connotationist position is the right one on the grounds of common sense and common practice, and on a proper understanding of the role of the Constitution in our system of laws. I don't think that whether or not it's correct hinges on whether or not it leads to better or more humane or more agreeable-to-me interpretations over time; that is, my belief in its correctness isn't primarily a pragmatic one.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that if I thought connotationism would lead to worse results over time, I would have thought of some excuse to prefer denotationism; I make no claims to intellectual purity. *8)

I think you're right that in general connotationism does lead us to get better with time, because our opinions get better with time. We do learn and mature as a species. (See "Idealist" way above up there.)

It's by no means a strictly monotonic progress, though, and as you note there are ups and down. So it's possible that the connotationist method of interpretation will sometimes say that the meaning of a piece of Constitution now involves less freedom than it did when it was adopted, because we've decided to narrow or otherwise fetter the meanings of some words. The connotationist view does allow the interpretation to "degrade" in this sense. That would be too bad, and it would indicate a problem in society that progressives (small p) should work on fixing. But I don't think it would mean that the general connotationist idea was wrong.

Connotationism says only that the meaning of the Constitution mirrors the meanings that we give to its words today. If those meanings get worse rather than better in some time period, we need to work on that problem; but we don't need to abandon the mirror because we don't like the image it's showing us.

(Ooooh, it's always fun to close with a profundity, isn't it?)