Ann Althouse, ATL Idol, Blogging, Contests, Dahlia Lithwick, Thomas Goldstein

ATL Idol: The Judges Speak (Week 2)

ATL Idol Above the Law Idol AboveTheLaw Idol smaller.jpgHappy Friday! You know what that means: time to hear from the celebrity judges in ATL Idol, the “reality blogging” competition in which you will select the next editor of Above the Law. And time to vote, when the polls open later today.
Your judges need no introduction, but for the record:
ATL Idol Judges AboveTheLaw Idol Above the Law Idol panel.jpg

  • Ann Althouse, Robert W. & Irma M. Arthur-Bascom Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and author of her eponymous blog, Althouse;

  • Tom Goldstein, head of the D.C. litigation practice and co-head of the firm-wide Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump, and founder of SCOTUSblog; and
  • Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor of Slate (where she blogged at Convictions), author of two books, and a contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post (among many other publications).
    See what they have to say about the contestants this week, after the jump.

    Same set-up as last week. The judges were called upon to judge only the head-to-head round, in which four contestants tackled two assigned stories (here and here). The judges were permitted, but not required, to read the contestants’ other posts during the week, as well as reader comments appended thereto.
    University of Wisconsin Law School
    Ann Althouse Professor Althouse.jpg[Ed. note: How does this competition make Professor Althouse feel? See here.]
    MARIN relies heavily on exaggeration: “challenged their manhunt expertise to the very core,” “pinpoint the exact location” (which is a redundancy), “[t]he three bandits … will likely be executed.” I found “executed” kind of funny (and a strong ending). We also get pop culture references: Wii (unimaginatively linked to the Wikipedia entry on the subject) and the movies “The Fugitive” and “U.S. Marshals” (with a poster for the latter). I don’t get “No word yet on the brand of water.” Some inside joke? Marin resorts to the paper-thin comedy of the thesaurus: the story is about theft, so we get a synonym for “theft” in nearly every sentence — “caper… stolen… heist… looters… abducted… bandits… stealing… purloining…” That got tiresome and corny. Instead of taking a point of view and — for example — criticizing the government for coming down so hard on these workers, Marin tried to portray everyone as clownish. But since no one here is really that funny, it mostly felt like a rewrite of the original news story. Why not say something elliptical and send us to the news story to get to the details and have the laugh?
    ALEX tries to paint some pictures. First, we see the office workers gathering around the water cooler to make small talk, which is a good image. But he/she has them meeting to discuss “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Would office workers today be meeting to discuss a show that went off the air in 2005? Alex seems to want us to scoff at the lame office workers, but he/she seemed lame for failing to come up with a better TV reference. Alex writes “The employees quickly notified the, um, U.S. Marshal Service, launching a building-wide search that culminated in three arrests,” and I think “um” is a tired device. Here, he/she is trying to create a slapstick picture of a one-building search, but nothing in this language has the feeling of slapstick, so again, the picture doesn’t do what it’s meant to do. Alex serves this up as a punchline: “authorities have not yet released the race, national origin, religion, or breast size of the individuals involved. Apparently, the story is newsworthy regardless.” What is it with Alex? On the previous round, I had to tell him: “it’s not cool to snark ‘lovers’ quarrel’ if a man has punched a woman in the stomach. And you’ve got that right next to a breast-emphasizing photo of the woman. Ugh.” Again, I have to say: Ugh.
    SOPHIST’s best sentence is:

    I briefly toyed with the idea of suing Ms. Greenberg for the environmental damage she caused by driving the 86 miles from her home in Perrysburg, OH, to the vet in Southfield, MI; but the carbon footprint of filing a frivolous lawsuit does more harm than good.

    The first half of that is nice, and it expresses what should have been the focus of the whole post, that Greenberg shouldn’t be driving so far to take the cat to the vet. But the stuff after the semi-colon is clunky. Don’t be afraid to go short. Recognize your best idea and highlight it! Don’t drag it down with excess. Then there’s this:

    When reached for comment about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the legal ramifications of directly billing the government absent a valid contractual obligation, Sammy responded “Meow,” and then returned to furiously licking his balls.

    Eh. Cats licking their balls is a cliché. For a pop culture reference, you’ve got the “Simpsons” cat lady picture, but that is actually pretty inapt, because Greenberg isn’t crazy. She’s just annoying and entitled.
    FROLIC AND DETOUR also picks up the main idea:

    You might wonder why Greenberg was on the road in the first place, given her concern about the atmospheric impact of fossil fuel combustion. She was taking her cat to his allergist, a 173-mile round trip.

    That prose should be tweaked for more comic effect. Polysyllabic tedium like “atmospheric impact of fossil fuel combustion” is no fun at all. Frolic and Detour ends with a nice effort at digging up horrifyingly dreary gossip column crap about Greenberg, but it suggests how the whole post could be kicked up a notch. Greenberg should come alive from the first line to the last as a ridiculous comic figure. The “Nights in Seville” and “Fabulous Vegas” galas could have been used much more aggressively to paint her as a very irritating character.
    Akin Gump
    Thomas Goldstein Thomas C Goldstein Tom Goldstein Akin Gump.jpgJudging by recent comments, it seems we’ve entered a friendlier phase of the contest. Is it buyer’s remorse? (Maybe EXLEY wasn’t so bad.) Resignation? Or did the trolliteriat exhaust itself last week?
    As for the contestants:
    MARIN: What’s your point? That U.S. Marshals are lazy? If so, it’s neither funny nor true. Judging by your own pop-culture reference, I’d have thought Marshals were gung-ho – chasing criminals through dam floodgates and grain elevators (or whatever that was at the close of U.S. Marshals). And while I don’t mind the “thesaurus-exploded-all-over-my-post” style of writing, I’m disappointed “purloin” didn’t make an appearance until the last paragraph. Overall, I’d say your post was shamateurish.
    ALEX: I must agree with Ann. Yes, it’s amusing that office workers gather around the water cooler to discuss [blank]. It’s the stuff within those brackets where you tripped up. Let’s bring our cultural references up to date. Also, were you seriously unaware that U.S. Marshals guard federal courthouses? I guess you’ve only appeared in state courts. Finally, mocking the judges is not a recipe for success – in court, or here.
    SOPHIST: Yes, this is news of the “absurd and generally pointless.” But you need to take it more seriously. Like last week, you failed to include a single quote from the story. Were none sufficiently juicy, or do you simply not know how to weave them into a post? Even more astoundingly, you didn’t provide a single link beside the story itself. Talk about missed opportunities.
    F&D: Like Ann, I appreciate the outside research but think the execution was flawed. If your theme is “crazy lady does another crazy thing,” lead with more craziness. Also, the LOLcat needs work – how about “I can haz fuel reimbursement?” And the ending was somewhat flat.
    Overall a step up, but still a long haul before we get to ATL standards. In the end though, we judges know that our opinions are only guidance; it is the readers of this site that will make the final choice for EIC. And with that, we turn it over to you, and your unadulterated wisdom.
    Dahlia Lithwick Slate Senior Editor.jpgMARIN. “[C]hallenged their manhunt expertise to the very core” is just one short hop from bodice-ripper writing. Ann is spot-on that the brand-of-water joke sort of just limped into position and died. You can do so. much. better! No quotes? No links? I think the execution joke was weirdly executed, so to speak, and it’s too bad because your set up was so nice.
    ALEX. I really liked your headline. But I think both “oh no” and “um” were funny jokes in the early 80’s. You have to reach for the joke more than the sly irony. Like Tom, I couldn’t figure out whether you didn’t know marshals guard courthouses or were being arch. I assumed the latter but it made your piece kind of weird. Oh, and if you mention breasts again I will unload a case of whupass upon you the likes of which you have never experienced. Even if your assignment is about breasts I don’t want to hear it.
    SOPHIST. I laughed out loud at “furiously licking his balls.” So I’m seven. Sue me. I thought yout needed to build the info about Greenberg’s 86 mile drive into your lede and then write it straight to set up the joke later. I agree with Ann that after that the piece writes itself after that but I found your timing in relating that info just a little off.
    F&D. A great effort! But you went and did all that research on the protagonist (and that photo!!) and then failed to really cash in on the most hilarious details. Why? Why? The patchy rash joke kinda sailed over my head. Which is too bad because otherwise I thought your timing was right on
    You guys are getting stronger for the most part no question. But you need to really craft those jokes the same way you’d craft an argument and that means spend some time building them. Thanks for the nice work.
    When “Above the Law Idol” really starts to feel like “American Idol.” [Althouse]
    Earlier: Prior ATL Idol coverage (scroll down)

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