Playing Against Type

Supply-siders and SNL alums step out.

Paving the Road to Hell: Economist Paul Craig Roberts writes in this morning to take issue with Tuesday’s Chatterbox, in which Tim Noah continues to examine “the schism between neoconservatives and supply-siders.” Noah includes Roberts among a catalog of “key players in the conflict.” Roberts writes:

My opposition to the invasion of Iraq is independent of the fate of tax rate reductions. The invasion was a strategic blunder, period. The purpose of supply-side economic policy was to cure “stagflation.” It did. I am a classical liberal. I disagree with conservatives (all camps) on a number of issues. For example, on “law and order” issues and civil liberties, I am allied with Harvey Silverglate and Alan Dershowitz (the old, not the new). See my book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions. I have aroused the ire of DC think tank conservatives for raising questions about the basis for free trade. Recently, I asked if airline deregulation had failed. I could go on at length.

Is Noah unfairly pigeon-holing Roberts?  Is Roberts flying the coop? To respond, click here.

730 Days: Joe_JP here and imreallyperplexed  here turn in posts more soulful than mournful — narratives of how even the most potent events can be temporal if you look closely enough (imreallyperplexed), though they have an enduring effect on your sensual memory (Joe).

An die ferne Geliebte: Paul Breslin and MCroche share a labyrinthine doozy starting here over in Music Box on the possible disparity (if such a delineation can be drawn) between Beethoven’s composition and performance. A brief excerpt from Breslin comprehensive post:

[T]here is a difference between composition and performance. To compose, you need to be able to grasp the relative durations of pitches and create a pattern. To perform the piece, however, puts you into physical contact with instruments and their possibilities and limitations. There are many reports of Beethoven’s deteriorating abilities as a performer as his deafness advanced. By the time he added the metronome markings, he had not been able to perform publicly for years.

MCRoche retorts,

Breslin’s blinkered, pitches-and-rhythms account of the act of composition resembles a 20th-century modernist caricature of Anton Webern at his desk, not the act of a composer who so thoroughly delved into questions of sonority and dynamics.

The discussion has spawned several threads. Get in on the discussion at Music Box Fray

Murray Hill: Trumpets for Bill Murray over in Movies Fray this week, starting with Spledid_IREny’s general rant on Saturday Night Live — a pretext to her praise of Murray as “the one SNL alumnus to actually create characters of real depth”:

[H]e’s the character actor’s character actor, and the one person from SNL who deserves such description. Other SNL cast members need to study Murray to figure out how it’s done. That’s not to say Murray isn’t hip (at least to me, he’s always projected the real thing, not Spade’s smarmy scurrying), but there’s always a touch of humor and vulnerability…

Naturally, TheMaxFischerPlayers agrees. “Murray’s last couple of semi-dramatic performances have been criminally overlooked. Here’s hoping that he at least gets an Oscar nomination for [Lost in Translation].”

Publish or Perish? “By professional obligation,” elle_loco must cull Publishers Weekly each week. According to elle, there’s something faintly Travoltian about PW:

I’m intrigued to know whether anyone else has ever discerned a certain Scientological slant to the industry bible. A while back, a big trade show people pic featured a huge Dianetics display filling the entire background. Then last month, I was surprised to see a sci-fi anthology by L. Ron Hubbard get a raving red-starred review. L. Ron, whattup dawg?

For undoubtedly the most extensive personality test ever composed for the web, courtesy of the Church of Scientology, click hereKA 8:35 p.m.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Wolfe at the Door: This week’s installment of v.p. comes from Zathras (“The Me Generation Presidency“), commenting in War Stories Fray, on the new egocentricity of the Presidency:

I have a theory about American politics that is somewhat the reverse of Ralph Nader’s, namely that the two parties are still very different but the politicians running for office are increasingly similar.

What they have in common, of course, is their preoccupation with the mechanics of getting elected, and then getting reelected, and then – if they are a second term President ineligible for reelection – with fine-tuning their “place in history,” a kind of election campaign to win the votes of people who have not been born yet. They may have in addition things they want government to do, and ideas for changing government itself, but when these have to compete for time with fundraising, positioning and the other things needed for the care and feeding of the perpetual campaign, the campaign always wins.

This can hardly be a source of much regret for the most partisan Democrats, who can honestly say they elected the best guy they had to the White House. No Democrat in the last 15 years who had any prospect of getting elected had more knowledge of policy and public spirit than Bill Clinton, except perhaps the late Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (whose health problems, we now know, would have abbreviated his term had he somehow gotten elected). It is true that Clinton was self-absorbed, carried into the White House a substantial sense of entitlement, and was accustomed to winning favor abroad by the convenient expedient of telling foreign leaders what they wanted to hear – and it is also true, of course, that al Qaeda grew and prospered for years on Clinton’s watch while he plotted against Newt Gingrich. But the Democrats had no one better.

The Republicans, on the other hand, in the three elections since 1988 when their candidate was not an incumbent President could choose from Robert Dole in 1988 and 1996, Richard Lugar in 1996, and John McCain in 2000, all men long accustomed to dealing with foreign policy and foreign leaders, all men able to talk about America’s place in the world without notes, and all men at least as interested in what happens after Election Day as what happens before it. And whenever Republicans had a choice, they preferred the entitled mediocrity, mania for fundraising and banal electoral calculations of the Bush family, men of Clinton’s character lacking only Clinton’s appetites.

For such men encouraging Iraqis to rebel against Saddam Hussein and turning away when they actually did so or ignoring allied offers of help and cooperation after 9/11 are actions that come naturally. At the end of the day what counts is Me: the good of the country of course, and the country’s role in the world if I think of it, but always and first, Me.

It can’t be an accident that we have elected three men of this type in succession to the White House, and in 2000 almost elected another, Al Gore. One President can be vastly different from the America that elects him in values or ability, but a succession of Presidents who wear their zeal for self and their boredom with the admittedly often difficult and uncongenial work of government alike on their sleeve must say something about the people who chose them.

Monday, September 8, 2003
In case you’ve missed it, there’s a jingoistic, rather animated block of Jarlsberg dashing across the front page of Slate today with a pair of biceps that the Fray editor has been trying to cultivate at the Downtown Los Angeles Gold’s Gym for the better part of two years. 

Nothing profound from the “Food” Fray, but there’s plenty—from pungent to cultured—to be sampled elsewhere: Stilton (rich flavor, sharp aftertaste): Publius, in response to Will Saletan’s “Mission Creep: Bush’s perversion of the ‘war on terror’“:

While he has to speak in diplomatic niceties, Bush has hardly concealed what we’re up to and the stakes invloved. For me, the most important thing he had to say the other night was this: “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness. And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans.”

This comment repeats and underscores what W has said many times: the US went into Iraq to avoid offering the terrorists, or anyone else who would like to attack the US, a sense that the United States is weak, as it was when his own father let Saddam off the hook. He went on to say, referring to Somalia and Beirut but having enough filial devotion not to include Desert Storm, that the enemy thinks “if you inflict harm on Americans, [Americans] will run from a challenge.”
For a heartier serving from Pub, with specific bullet points, click here. Gorgonzola (complex creation): MikeBeers, also on the president’s address:
Many supporters of the President were moved by his last night’s rhetoric, especially this line: “terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength but they’re invited by the perception of weakness.”

That is a self-serving and irrelevant statement, but we should probably take a moment to review how and why the United States was targeted by Muslim extremists that led to the attacks on 9/11. Maybe if we can get that established, we can begin to separate 9/11 from Iraq as we should.
Taste Mike’s well-aged logic and TheQuietMan’s accompanying port here. Roquefort (made from sheep’s milk; sharp, peppery, piquant, and distinct): doodahman in the “Today’s Papers” Fray, reading the tea leaves from last Thursday’s economic report:
Yesterday it was reported that, as a sign of a more robust US economy, economic productivity soared a whopping 6.4% in this quarter, on the heels of a large increase in productivity last quarter, at 5.7%. These figures are gleaned and highlighted out of a list of disparate economic statistics because they mask the underlying reality that the economy, regardless of positive GDP growth, increases in security market values, resurgent capital good orders, corporate profits and housing starts, isn’t doing anyone any good. Unless, of course, you are one of the 5% or so of Americans who live off the labor of the remaining 95%.

This tactic of duping the sheep with rosey numbers is becoming SOP. Just last month, they pulled the same thing, which I noted in Dupin’ the Sheep.
To read this month’s entire block from doodahman, click here. Provolone (slightly aged, smooth): rob_said_that’s week-old musings on Kevin Costner and OpenRange:
[W]hile I appreciated much of the cinematography and the unusually subdued performance by Kevin Costner, I have to say that this is a movie that simply couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

This was not for want of trying. OpenRange apparently wanted to be a lot of things, mainly things that had preceded it on the screen.
Rob spins an evocative yarn, replete with a procession through the movie’s narrative strengths and undoings, as well as some nice cinematic reference points. Check it out here. Velveeta (oy): JV-12 for “Madonna is a slut“:
Madonna is a self centered whore. Neither cares a whit of how their actions play out on the lives of youth. Madonna sees her star fading away and this is one clear act of shock value to bring her back onto Page 1. Oh good for her. (Britney and that Christina girl must not be far behind in desperation either?) Meanwhile, young, impressionable minds are witnessing outrageous behavior and calling it “cool” or acceptable for themselves as well. They cannot possibly comprehend the long term moral or social implications. It’s all about image and impressing your peers.
With 14 responses, JV is anything but. JV’s Burning Up … KA8:25 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 5, 2003

Los Lobos: Exactly how bloody was Howard Dean when he emerged from the debate Thursday night in Albuquerque? The_Bell doesn’t know whom to believe:

This morning on NPR, the report was that the other candidates “seemed reluctant” to criticize Dean and largely left him alone. Then I read the articles by Mr. Suellentrop and Mr. Saletan. Both saw a number of attacks on Dean but while Suellentrop saw Dean as failing to respond adequately and thereby raising serious doubts about his reputation as a straight shooter, Saletan saw him as simply laughing off these attacks and the attackers made to look fools by their use of hyperbole.
In the same spirit, Zathras suggests that since Slate’s pair of pundits “appear to have watched two completely different debates it might have made sense to get them together in a Breakfast Table.”Why does The_Bell deem a clueless cameraman the most astute pundit on the trail? Click here to find out.   Extensive debate analysis is available in the Fray: From The_Slasher, who finds Dean more saccharine than sensible, here:
I’m more invested in getting rid of the preppy twit than I am in “feeling good.” And THAT, it seems to me, is the limit of what Dean is useful for. I am gratified to hear the truth spoken forcefully and plainly, but I am not going to choose the next President. People who are confused about the issues, and who voted for Bush in 2000 because they distrusted Gore, will.
From locdog, glowering from the other side of the bluff, here (with a prologue on redistricting in Texas, among other sundries):
the democrats have begun their attack on bush-iraq with safe-seated spear-chuckers like tom daschle busting the sod. they’d better hope that one of their candidates finds a way to make some hay because the economy is turning around, and that right quick. what will edwards say when people start going back to work? what kerry say when the market continues its climb? what will gephardt say when anything good happens?
And from Publius, who found Lieberman’s uncharacteristic pugnacity the most notable sideshow of the parade, here:
The rest of these guys seem to be so taken aback by Dean’s surge, held back by their innate caution, frightened of what they take to be the stranglehold on many early state primaries held by atypical, left-leaning voters, and worried about being accused of generating intra-party strife that they are laying down before the Dean challenge. This is no way to win an election. Dean has to be taken down a peg or two, and inevitably he will be. Joe sees this as his opportunity to break through by playing this role.
To Will Saletan’s question “why does the former governor of Vermont speak better Spanish than the former governor of Texas?” Paul Breslin responds,
For the same reason, I should think, that he speaks better English.
By and large, the Fray has been in a protracted slumber on the Democratic field since the initial Dean surge. On The Trail Fray offers Fray delegates a convention hall — think Atlantic City in 1964. Fray Editor will be Fannie Lou Hamer … KA4:40 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2003

Fray Course Catalog, Fall Semester 2003 History 101: Appropriation of Wartime History, 1945-present
Instructor: Condoleezza Rice Section 1, TA: wewhite

Of all the differences between the occupations of Iraq and Germany, I’ve heard no one mention one of the biggest. Before VE day, the allies had already destroyed Germany with a thoroughness never equalled. The morally troubling question, that no one wants to deal with, is: was our success in Germany despite this terror,or because of it? Machiavelli had some worthwhile things to say on this subject.
Section 2, TA: Robes
Condi Rice is a very bright woman. Also Rumsfeld. Why would they resort to lies to forward their purpose of drawing parallels between post-war Germany and post-war Iraq? … Mostly, I believe, it is because they both now have contempt for the American public they believe they can still keep lying and get away with it. On the “Threat Matrix” they have proved themselves their own worst enemies. These folks don’t need al Qaeda terrorists, they cruise along believing what they say will be taken as rote by the “true believers” …
Section 3, TA: Zathras
… the statements by Rumsfeld and Rice left me scratching my head. Not only were they wrong, but they were the kind of thing that could easily be proven wrong, and within a couple of days. A reasonably clever person who wanted to make a deceptive argument should be able to do a better job than that … [Rice’s] main function in the Bush administration seems to be to provide quick briefings and emotional support to a President seriously out of his depth on foreign affairs. How well she has done at that only the President can judge, but at the other things past National Security Advisers have done – planning strategy, making sure all points of view get heard, being an honest broker between the Departments of State and Defense, explaining administration policy to the public – are things Condi Rice either does not do at all or does not do particularly well. You wouldn’t have guessed that from all her academic credentials, but maybe those don’t mean as much as they used to.
Musicology 1965: Kim Il Song, Strangelovian Protest Hymns
Instructor: Tom Lehrer TA: raprap
… France got the bomb, but don’t you grieve,
’Cause they’re on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb, but have no fears;
They can’t wipe us out for at least five years!
Who’s next?…
Agriculture & Mining 301: Chicken & Eggs in the Political Hatchery
Instructor: William Saletan TARufRuf
…the primary obstacle with politics is not the limited comprehension of the electorate. Rather it is the absolute lack of interest on most of the public’s part to actively investigate and analyze the fundamental issues that will affect their daily lives. It is certainly proper to condemn those who willfully deceive the public with their political commercials. (Vote Bush because McCain is bad for the environment!) I’m more outraged though at the overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens who are the recipients of the gift to choose their leaders, a gift the Founding Fathers fought and died to bestow upon them, and who then exercise that choice on the basis of a 30-second attack ad.

Paid commercials are a very limited medium with which to convey comprehensive information on a given topic. It is excellent though to transmit slogans, propaganda, and emotions. Drink Pepsi and you’ll be young. Vote Bush and fight against Big Government. Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and brings out the worst in various manners, including this one … Aside from a few screamers, most people come [to the Fray] for the right reasons. With TV though, I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. Is it that people are drawn to TV solely for its entertainment value, and they are then reachable through the medium of commercials with all its corrupting consequences? Or do people only want to form their political views from TV commercials, Leno, and SNL, and don’t read the papers since it doesn’t touch them the way they want? They don’t want to take the time to read and digest a variety of opinions. They simply want an easy to digest image with a side order of sound-bite. We’ve moved beyond fast-food to fast-thought.          
Professor Saletan responds here with today’s assignment:
I had a philosophy professor in college who often complained about the mentality of “the bottom line.” Nobody cares how you think through an issue. They just want to hear your bottom line. When I go on TV to talk about anything, it’s the same. The host only wants to hear the bottom line. I could be a total idiot or a liar. They don’t care. They just want the bottom line, and an equally unexplained bottom line on the other side. Thanks, and cut to commercial.Question 1: How widespread is this mentality? Where do you see it in politics or elsewhere in your life?

Question 2: Do you think it’s a big problem or not?

Question 3: Who’s to blame? The manipulators or (as RufRuf suggests) the lazy manipulated?

FrEd has uncovered blue books by TheQuietMan here, biteoftheweek here, and PresterJohn here. Fray faculty members are encouraged to submit their syllabi to Fraywatch Fray for the upcoming semester. Past grade inflation will be punctured like a carnival balloon. … KA 11:25 a.m.

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003

Blind Lady of Alabama: Our weekly feature—in which FrEd highlights a single post—takes us to Fighting Words Fray, where locdog answers Christopher Hitchens’s judgment against not only Judge Roy Moore, but the juridical efficacy of the Ten Commandments (see “ Moore’s Law: The immorality of the Ten Commandments“). “One Christian’s response to Hitchens,” locdog:

i like hitch. i really do. i think that he’s pretty much the perfect slate writer: witty, iconoclastic, contrarian but not reactionary, charming … he’s everywhere slate wants to be. and he’s an excellent writer to boot. his columns positively crackle.

but he’s got that western atheist’s disease. you know the one i mean. the one where they suddenly lose all control of their bladders whenever the Bible is mentioned. it’s not enough, you see, to voice one’s objection to the decalogue in the courts, no, we’ve got to turn the book of exodus into our own private portajohn.

and miss some very obvious things in the process.

i can understand why, i suppose. i don’t go searching the bottom of my toilet for wisdom. that said, i have the wisdom to know what is and is not a toilet.

for instance, it may be that the first four commandments serve no place in our culture, but do they really seem so out of place in the context of a theocracy? granted hitchens doesn’t believe in God, but he’s playing the reductio ad absurdum game so all i need to do is demonstrate coherency within the Biblical system.

there’s a reason, after all, those first four commandments are the first four commandments. the ones that come after are predicated entirely on the authority of God Himself. why not steal? why not kill (it’s “murder,” and that’s perfectly clear in context)? why not covet? because God says so. if you don’t respect God, why would you respect God’s law? i’m not saying atheists can’t be moral, what i’m saying is, if i’m laying down the law on the basis of God’s authority alone, then that authority must be absolute, unquestioned, and treated with the utmost respect.

sensing this, hitchens supposes no real God would be so insecure. any of you ever been in the military? back in basic training, were you allowed to mouth off to your drill instructor? what would have happened to you if you did? one more question: would you describe your DI as an insecure man? i didn’t think so.

ultimately, what the DI is telling you will save your life. he knows more than you do, is acting in your best interests better than you yourself could, and deserves your respect whether you think he does or not. if he doesn’t get it, in the long run, it’s younot him—who’s going to suffer. roughly speaking, that’s how God’s law works as well.

hitch has some other, rather generic objections but i think they’re beside the point. i’ll go over them in brief but you can skip this next paragraph if you’re getting bored.

rape, he says, was left out. well no, it wasn’t. rape is a form of theft, after all. it’s taking someone else’s body without their consent. oh, it’s dealt with specifically later on in the mosaic law but one needn’t be a torah scholar to see that it’s against the rules. and genocide. genocide is what happens when one group of human beings, on their own authority, exterminate another. when God exterminates a group of human beings, it’s called judgment. in the OT, God Himself commanded the conquest of canaan and the extermination of the wicked tribes that lived there. maybe that doesn’t sound very Godlike to you or hitch, but sometimes things that would be wrong for us are perfectly just for God. God, if He exists, is the author of life, and as such, He has the right to end it as He sees fit. if He wishes to use one nation to judge another, that is also His right. and there wouldn’t have been any doubt about whether or not it was really God or merely some lunatic cult leader giving the orders, either. the Bible describes a pillar of clouds by day, a pillar of fire by night, an audible voice from heaven that rumbled like thunder, a plainly visible presence in the tabernacle, manna from heaven, hail mingled with fire, parting seas, three days of darkness, etc, etc. now maybe you don’t believe in any of this hocus pocus, but we’re only checking for internal consistency here: if there is a God, He has the right to judge humanity whenever and however He sees fit, and could certainly make His wishes known beyond any shadow of a doubt. finally, if we’re made in God’s image, why are we so bad? again, the Bible passes the consistency test: we weren’t made bad, we became that way after rebelling against God. at that point, our perfect nature was corrupted and we became slaves to sin. the mosaic law exists not because we are expected to follow it (there would be no sacrificial system—or Christ—were that the case) but to demonstrate to us our imperfect nature, the mercy of God, and the need for a savior.

anyway, that’s all beside the point. hitch’s real problem is that he, as an atheist, obeys what he thinks of as the really important commandments while flouting the first four. so why bother with the tired old symbol at all? it’s very simple, really: hitch lives a moral life (he doesn’t—if he were being completely forthcoming, he’d admit that he, like the rest of us, frequently falls short of his own standards, and that’s to say nothing of God’s) because it seems good to him to do so. if it didn’t, he wouldn’t bother—or he would but only because he was a coward and didn’t want to go to prison. if in the final analysis laws are merely a contrivance of man then we have no real reason to obey them. if someday the clear majority of the human race decides that stealing and killing are ok, then that’s it. there is no higher court of appeal.

“ah,” says hitch “but we are smarter than that.”

are we? atheists love to bash the Biblical accounts of genocide, but the major accounts of genocide in the last century were authored by the godless, or rather, by those who stood in the place of God themselves. stalin killed twenty million, hitler killed six million jews alone, pol pot killed two or three million of his own people, hussein killed around one million. there was no one, they thought, to tell them otherwise.

and hitchens can’t condemn them.

oh, he can say that their conduct was offensive and outrageous and that he found it personally distasteful and that’s all fine, but he could never say that it was wrong because wrong, to him, never means anything more than “inconvenient.” he could use the word “wrong,” trying to get the emotional impact of a violation of an absolute moral imperative, but that’s empty sophistry: no such thing exists to him. and yet we know that there are absolute moral imperatives. i know that it’s wrong to torture children for fun. everyone does. it’s not wrong because it’s counterproductive to the human race (which is as far as an atheist’s morality can carry him) but because some immutable law is being transgressed, some universal imperative is being disregarded. on some level, everyone knows that to be true.

locdog thinks atheists do too.

For locdog’s constitutional perspective on Moore’s court, click here. K.A.10:15 a.m.