But Is It Good for the News?

Fraysters on candidate schadenfreude.

The power of incumbency lies not only in name recognition and the ability to raise campaign dollars in fistfuls, but in the luxury to embrace good news. Challengers must measure their viability by the potency of the question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” As such, Michael Kinsley “can’t blame” challengers for the mixed emotions when it comes to a boon in national morale. Where do readers stand?

Subject: “I can blame them”
Re:     “When Good News is Bad News: The politics of mixed emotions
From:  Mike_Murray
Date:  Thu Dec 18 1404hHow did they get into a position in which good news for the Nation was bad news for their candidacy? How many Republicans do you think had mixed feelings about Midway or the successful outcome of the Cuban missile crisis?

Lieberman did not appear to have mixed feelings. Opposition does not have to imply that all of life is zero sum. The point at which good news brings mixed feelings is the point at which they have gone down the wrong road in trying to become an American leader.

Some things are still pretty simple. If you are not happy at my success or saddened by my losses you are not my friend.[Find this post here.]Subject: “Mixed emotions need not be selfish”
Re:     “When Good News is Bad News: The politics of mixed emotions
From:  Sissyfuss1
Date:  Thu Dec 18 1508hIs it selfish or narrowly partisan for me to wish that an economic recovery be delayed? Not necessarily. Voters won’t see much of the harmful long term effects before they vote in 2004, and may approve of Bush policies in the ballot, taking the recovery as an indication of the policy’s overall success. Given the constraint of voter perceptions and timing, it is perfectly logical for even a benevolent and public spirited challenger to have mixed emotions when the indicators turn good before the elections. From the public interest viewpoint, it may seem like the gain of a penny at the cost of a pound.

Of course greedy office seekers will have the same negative feelings for somewhat different reasons. The reverse schadenfreude cannot be a basis for distinguishing pure office seekers and idealistic challengers.[Find this post here.]Subject: “The Literalist School of Tolkien”
Re:     “To Mordor and Back: Peter Jackson’s wondrous Return of the King
From:  DeanWormer
Date:  Thu Dec 18 1459hIt’s become abundantly clear with the release of each of these movies that there exists a certain subset of those that have loved the books that insist on letting their expectations of a LITERAL translation of the books to film ruin or dampen their experience of Jackson’s movies. I find these people’s P.O.V. distressing and not the least bit logical.

Is it that they expect Jackson to break completely with the Hollywood style narrative, translate every line of dialog and smallest bit of exposition from the text directly to the screen in fun, six-hour segments? Is it that they’ve focused so completely on the minutiae of Tolkein’s world that they can’t bring themselves past the absence of a Tom Bombadil or a Voice of Sauron? Along these lines has their micro focus on The Lord of the Rings gradually eroded their ability to focus on the macro? Are they unable to see the forest for the Ents so to speak?[Find this post here.]Subject: “no child left behind in really poor taste”
Re:     “No Child Left Behind: Strom Thurmond’s illegitimate daughter
From:  coffeegrrl2003
Date:  Fri Dec 19 0723hThe last line of the “Recycled” comment on Strom Thurmond’s daughter Essie Mae Washington Williams was in such poor taste it left me stunned:

“Or that—dude!—he wasn’t such a racist bastard after all?”

No, the “bastard” in question is Ms. Washington Williams, and the stigma & other personal burdens she obviously felt as an illegitimate child – remember, before Murphy Brown, the social stigma of illegitimacy was huge, even after the 60s; heavens, think what it was like earlier in the century! – is the reason she proclaimed that she was “finally completely free.”

While you at Slate clearly felt this use of the word bastard was a witty irony, I found it a questionable editorial decision.[Find this post here.]
Fray notes: Metrophobia is a fear of poetry, as we learn from Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “Dinner with the Metrophobe.” MaryAnn, nobody’s metrophobe, initiates an active thread here with an “alternate reading” of the poem. Rob_said_that wishes for an alternate poem altogether here. Over in BOTF, FreitagsPyramid offers up the rhyme, “I do not like you, Doctor Dean.” … KA10:45 a.m.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Hawks continue to flex their partisan muscles in the Fray, though critics of the administration are hardly eating humble pie. Meanwhile, video gamers crowd into Gizmos Fray to wax nostalgic about Intellivision.

Subject: “Thus, Saletan”
Re:        “Howard the Hawk: Dean’s foreign policy message — I’m no sissy
From:     bmcburney1
Date:     Wed Dec 17 1037hThe list of knowledgeable people who believed, prior to the war, that Iraq possessed WMD includes every major politician in America and Europe, Democrat, Republican, Labor, Socialist, Social Democrat, Christian Democrat and Communist. It includes the UN and every security and intelligence service of every nation which has a security or intelligence service. Reasons given for supporting this view include the actual discovery of such weapons by UN inspectors after the first Gulf War and the dead bodies of various Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians. I could go on. …

How did W. convince the UN, NSA, CIA, Defense Department, State Department, Congress and virtually every member of the Clinton Administration to adopt this “ideologically distorted” intelligence before actually becoming President? Isn’t it possible that Saddam actually had the weapons but hid them or destroyed them before the war?[Find this post here.]Subject: “Compared to Whom is Bush a ‘Bumbler’?”
Re:        “Bush the Bumbler: The real trouble with the president’s foreign policy
From:     LegalCodger
Date:     Wed Dec 17 1245h…the military history of Lincoln’s presidency is of one major blunder after another until finally Lincoln in the third year of the war selected Grant, whose crucial quality was being implacable in the conduct of battle regardless of setbacks or casualties.

FDR’s presidency was marked by endless controversy within his administration, which Roosevelt clearly enjoyed. Although Roosevelt tried in many ways to pull us out of the Great Depression, he never did learn what we now know about business cycles and as a result the Great Depression really began to lift only with the advent of wartime economic activity.

Microscopic examination of every presidency will disclose many examples of what in hindsight are seen to be blunders. The same is true, for example, in the case of Churchill and Britain during World War II. In all these cases, the test of greatness is not absence of mistakes, it is unwavering adherence to a great goal through thick, thin, and critical, including academic, non-acclaim.[Find this post here.]Subject: “Game design”
Re:        “Blasts From the Past: What today’s game designers can learn from Space Invaders
From:     eLocke
Date:     Wed Dec 17 1356hGames today are designed with the idea in mind that the game should have the pacing and flow of a movie. That a story must be told. That’s fine in itself, but they have completely neglected the concept of gameplay.

The industry standard is that a game bought today should take about 60 hours to go through. After that the consumer should go and buy another game to play, ideally a sequel or expansion of the last game. This is sort of planned obsolescence, so the game companies can keep on cranking out titles, and the manufacturers can keep on cranking out media to packaged and put retailers shelves in time for Christmas. They have lost the art of making the game itself fun to play.[Find this post here.]Subject: “Why I’m a fanatic”
Re:        “To What Are They Most Loyal?” — The_Bell
From:     Arlington
Date:     Wed Dec 17 1151hThe Bell points out that most Dean supporters are fanatics. Yes, but our fanaticism falls into two categories—those who are fanatic IN their support of the candidate, and those who are fanatic BY their support of the candidate.I don’t belong in the first category and I’ve never really understood people who do belong to this group. … These are the people who think one man, their man, will save the world. He has the answer to every problem. In fact, if he’s elected, there won’t even be problems, so we won’t need answers. … I am definitely in the second category, made up of those who support candidates who are different or interesting. I supported McCain in the 2000 primaries, just because he represented a different, perhaps more honest, way of running for office. I support Dean now because it appears he approaches campaigning and the concept of politics similar to the way McCain did, although the two men are very far apart in terms of left-right.[Find this post here.]
Fray o’ the Day: Faith-Based Fray, where readers open the good book and unfurl their prayer rugs to contemplate Steven Waldman’s “Commandment the First: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?IOZ won’t “ever presume that Abraham in fact existed or ever had his little Eureka moment out there in the suburbs of Ur,” but has some commentary nonetheless here, as does doodahman here, and Picoluomini here, who finds the National Association of Evangelical president’s characterization of God as encouraging of freedom, love, forgiveness, et al, to be akin to a divine “Surgeon General.” … KA1:50 a.m.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The capture of Saddam Hussein dominated chatter in the Fray on Monday, with 90 percent of the posts a variation of two general themes—”Yeah, so what?” and “the Left cries for Saddam.” Apart from the big news story, there was some excellent work in the outer fiefdoms, including Culturebox Fray, where posters took on the pugnacious Dale Peck and in Ad Report Card Fray, where fraysters revved up the new design-whore fave, Dyson vacuum. 

Subject: “I humbly disagree”
Re:        “The Lector Effect: HBO’s new Angels in America gets Kushner wrong
From:     sammie
Date:     Sat Dec 13 1612hTruly, the original masterpiece was designed for one medium, HBO delivered it in another. Much cannot help but be lost. Vastly more cannot help but be gained. I am a 24-year-old gay man. I have never known anyone who died from AIDS. Pause to consider that for a moment, for I know people just a decade or two older than me who count those they knew and loved and lost forever in the dozens. I never knew any of them. Some of those among us, 20 years ago, who were among the most beautiful, the most lovable, the most amazing, they were to be my generation’s mentors, and they are lost to us. I never knew a single one of them, and yet Angels in America brought forth that sense of loss in me. I had been aware of it before, but I had not wept over it before. Is there anything else on any other network that can deliver so much? Not “Will & Grace” on NBC, which I adore. Not “Queer Eye” on Bravo, which I adore even more. This piece deserves a rave, not condescension.[Find this post here.]Subject: “Dyson’s masculine design”
Re:        “Hoover Glam: The ad that makes vacuums seem cool
From:     RTev
Date:     Mon Dec 15 1024h…Designers tend to throw adjectives out in the air to justify a design. The adjectives they pick will often seem initially incongruent with the designed object, but can help us to refocus on the object and see it in a new way.

I can only guess, but I’m assuming that the industrial designers of the Dyson used adjectives like “tough,” “aggressive,” “muscular,” and maybe “buff” along with verbs like “tackle” and “attack” when they were first showing their design. They might have argued that their design would result in a tool with “low body fat.” Its mechanics ripple on the smooth but hard surface. And those are, of course, all conventionally masculine terms. And the designers would probably have pointed out that that is appropriate when the primary target consumer is a woman.

And note the color. Designers are intensely aware of our ever-shifting color perceptions. Where else have we seen that yellow color used in industrial products? I can think of only two recent auto commercials that paint the machine yellow. One is for Hummer. The other for Nissan Xterra. Both cars are presented as tough, utilitarian vehicles. And both are, in some ads, yellow. The designers of the product and the designers of the superb ad for it seem to be assuring the potential buyer that her vacuum cleaner, at least, can have a Brad Pitt aura about it.[Find this  post here.]Subject: “What about informed articles and bioethics”
Re:        “Not-So-Public Relations: How the drug industry is branding itself with bioethics
From:     jrs18
Date:     Mon Dec 15 1629hI suppose we can place a value on what we are willing to spend but I would like to know how Dr. Elliott would propose to explain how a relative reduction in mortality of almost 20% is too costly. He is correct in identifying this as a problem but he misses the mark. The real question is probably why don’t we use this drug more in the correct patient population. It is expensive, the hospital has to pay up front and it has the potential to eat up a huge hole in the pharmacy budget. It is not the science that is a problem; it’s the cost. One can argue about whether this is money well spent, but I think a more interesting topic might have been just who is deciding whether we get this drug or not. I believe that was the point behind the Lilly project. Of course they want their drug to be used, but in this case it is justified by the highest of all our studies a randomized placebo controlled trial. I’m thinking if my loved one were in the ICU with severe sepsis that I would want it used, is Dr Elliott suggesting he wouldn’t?In the real world now drug companies are now increasingly involved in research studies. One can hope that the majority of researchers will evaluate the potential without influence of the sponsor … Would it hurt to have a bioethics person involved in this process, seems to me it can only help. I suppose sometimes there aren’t really people on the grassy knoll.[Find this post here.]
In response, goldcoin here:
… of course we can and SHOULD place a value on what we are willing to spend for any outcome. You argue for bioethics, then try to subtly invalidate one of the primary metrics that bioethics uses to make decisions. You can’t have it both ways. A (main?) purpose of bioethics is to balance the costs to society with the costs to any individual and his/her loved ones, in this case presumably a higher chance of dying. …
Dr. Elliot’s argument, plain and simple, is that people who make decisions about public policy shouldn’t be beholden in any way to entities which have a stake in such decisions. As Zoloft has demonstrated, what’s good for the drug companies (sales) is clearly not necessarily good for citizens (higher chance of suicide).

The obvious solution, in light of the LA Times article (see Slate’s article here) on the NIH and this article, is that drug companies need to be removed from funding bodies which give a thumbs up or down on their products. I know, blindingly obvious. It’s the follow through that will be a bitch. Still, it needs to be done.
Are You Experienced? For electoral statheads, the debate between Adam_Masin and historyguy in BOTF is intriguing. Here, AM highlights the respective datebook entries of Gen. Wesley Clark and Howard Dean:
Today, Howard Dean gave a foreign policy speech. Although Dean has no foreign policy or military experience and was never in a position to meaningfully impact either, Dean said today that he supported the U.S.’s military action “to halt ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, [and] to stop Milosevic’s campaign of terror in Kosovo.” Dean also spoke of the importance of NATO, an organization he has never worked with.

Yesterday, Gen. Wesley Clark testified at Milosevic’s war crimes tribunal in the Hague. While Dean was in Vermont impotently taking his positions, Gen. Clark, as Supreme Allied Commander for NATO and Commander-in-Chief of the US forces in Europe, negotiated the end to the Bosnian conflict that resulted in the Dayton Peace Accords and lead NATO forces in Kosovo in their successful efforts to return 1.5 ethnic Albanians to their homes, all without losing a single American life.
In response, historyguy opens up the political almanac here:
…since 1976 there have been seven Presidential elections. In five of them, one candidate had foreign policy experience, either as incumbent President, VP, or Senator, and the other didn’t (exceptions: ‘84 and ‘96). the candidates with foreign policy experience went 1-4.

Military service: to the best of my recollection, every major party candidate between 1968 and 1988 served in the military. In ‘92, ‘96, and ‘00, one of the two candidates had wartime combat zone military experience and the other didn’t. Military experience went 0-3.
…to which AM replies, “We’ve had a generation of politicians running things. Now Democrats have the choice between a proven leader (Clark) or another politician (Dean).”RTev earns this week’s star. You can check out some of his oeuvre here, here, and hereKA8:55 p.m.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

How important is the capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein? How pervasive is the story in the news cycle? To wit, when’s the last time Chris Berman and Tom Jackson led off NFL Primetime’s broadcast with an extrapigskinnial missive, as they did Sunday afternoon with their hearty congratulations to the troops of the 4th Infantry Division? In War Stories Fray, readers contemplate some of the inchoate issues. Zathras addresses the juridical question, “namely arranging a trial of some kind for Saddam Hussein in Iraq prior to disposing of him.” Z’s prescription?

The trial will have to have some claim to fairness, yet be brief and allow those Iraqis brutalized by this man over the last three decades some sense that their suffering and has been avenged. Already we have seen commentary about a procedure dragging out over months or years (in an effort not only to be fair but to be thorough about making Saddam face up to all his crimes) and even the monumentally unwise idea of following a trial in Iraq with a Milosevic-style international tribunal at The Hague.
Zathras writes, “… the aspects of the American commitment in Iraq most likely to be handled badly are those we have not had occasion to handle before”—so while “Saddam’s capture represents an opportunity,” it also presents a hefty challenge for an administration that isn’t tackling the unprecedented with great aplomb. Speaking of opportunity, Arlington suggests here that:
This would be a nice time to kiss and make up with out European allies. In the celebration of Saddam’s capture, our president could get all generous and open the contracts to everyone, invite the UN to help shape the government, and so on. He could get beneficent without looking weak, now that his reelection looks assured.
That’s a safe bet, according to Adam_Masin, if the Democrats proceed with the anointment of Howard Dean. AM here in Ballot Box Fray:
Hussein’s capture will only strengthen voices within the Democratic Party that Dean cannot beat Bush. If Dean has any chance to beat Bush—assuming he manages to win the nomination—he must reintroduce himself to Americans on a major domestic issue. He has to be known as “the health care guy” or the “education guy” or some such thing. Otherwise, as Lieberman noted today, he will be known as the guy who would rather have had Hussein in power than in prison. Without more, that guy won’t be President in 2004.
Speaking of Lieberman, TT notes that the candidate’s logic is anything but Talmudic when he commented today that “Saddam should be put to death because in addition to all of the people he killed in his wars and persecutions, he is responsible for the deaths of the 462 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since we invaded.” TT gets Socratic with his Spiderhole Pop Quiz. Among the most important benefits to Saddam’s capture? Thrasymachus says that while seizing Saddam “is a significant victory … the practical benefits of capturing him are being undersold.” Among them:
He can now be interrogated. That will yield a final chance to uncover any hidden WMD programs or ties to al-Qaida within his regime.

In addition, all those specialists who were busy looking for Saddam Hussein can now be sent after somebody else, like (a random suggestion) Osama Bin Laden.
Others? Submit your list hereKA5:35 p.m.

Friday, December 12, 2003

A Frayster declares a civil war in the Democratic party and boomers decry the national ponzi scheme. 

Subject: “And Say ‘Hi’ to Their Stupid Kids, Too”Re:        “Meet the Greedy Grandparents: Why America’s elderly are so spoiled.From:     The_BellDate:     Thu Dec 11 1459hOur parents, the so-called Greatest Generation, got much longer rides thanks to numerous breakthroughs in medical technology. However, none of them enjoyed the luxury of tax-deferred IRAs and 401Ks or pre-taxed Roth IRAs to supplement government largess. And while they paid in less while they were working than we are now, neither did they have the corporate-sponsored health insurance and prescription drug programs that have helped our generations defer medical expenses far beyond those of catastrophic illness. So while they had their share of advantages over us, we have had ours over them and today’s “spoiled grandparents” are about an even draw with us in that regard. …

But if the Greatest Generation’s negligence regarding Social Security was derived primarily out of ignorance, that of our own Boomer generation has been out of the grossest stupidity. We are quite aware that our average life spans will outstrip what the program was designed to handle, we know that—bad as they were—our payments into the program were mitigated by the fact that we outnumbered the seniors we were supporting, and we know by the same logic that the reverse of this situation will make our children’s ability to enjoy the same standard of living we aspired to—and often insisted upon—virtually impossible. We have witnessed several emergency bailouts of the program, so we know it is in crisis. We even know that those of us with middle-class and upper incomes had numerous savings alternatives that could supplement or even supplant Social Security. …Although the tragedy of September 11 and the threat of terrorism may seem to have emerged as our greatest challenge, I think we are far more likely to be remembered for our ability or inability to keep our children free from crushing tax debt than we will ever be for battles won on desert sands. …Are we up to that challenge? Are we willing to pay that price, make that sacrifice?[Find this entire post here.]Subject: “Ballot Box by James Buchanan”Re:        “You Have the Power: Why Al Gore was wrong to endorse Howard Dean.From:     WVMickoDate:     Thu Dec 11 1929hDeaniacs have known that Democrats are heading towards our own little Civil War within the party, and so has the party establishment, aka the Clinton wing. Yet as with most Civil Wars, the vast majority of the public is still undecided. As such, to win such a war, it’s vital to force the other side into firing the first shots. The Patriots knew this, and by thumbing thier nose at English Law forced King George to make the first, outrageous move to put down the incipient rebellion. Lincoln knew this, and by a variety of unsavory means, forced the rebels to fire upon Fort Sumter.

And so it is with the Big Endorsement. The Dean campaign knew that the latest poll, to be released the day following the Big Endorsement, would show that they had broken through the 20% barrier of nationwide support and had finally gotten their national bandwagon moving. The reaction of all the other candidates—and the Clinton wing—would be immediate and powerful, once the news was reported and the implications analyzed. So in order to gain the sympathy of the party’s fence-sitters, it was necessary to accurately frame those coming attacks as the “establishment” cynically attacking a successful and principled non-Clinton insurgent to protect their own power, rather than the usual and predictable pile-on against a front-runner.

Saletan recognizes and applauds the idea of change within the Democratic party. But as any moderate will, he laments the occasional violence against norms that an insurgency brings. So does anyone, for that matter. Still, change must come. Gore framed the decision facing Democrats: Clinton’s insider triangulation or Dean’s public-empowering principle. Knowing what we’re deciding is worth a few bruised norms.[Find this entire post here.]Subject: “Coherence?”Re:        “Iraqing Their Brains: How can the Democratic candidates escape the trap they set for themselves?From:     debater30Date:     Thu Dec 11 1419hI think the question posed is disingenuous: If it was wrong to waste American lives when Saddam was in power, and Saddam is no longer in power, then why should we waste lives now?

First, that question presumes that life is better for the average Iraqi. That’s actually hard to say. I agree that removing Saddam ends a brutal persecution of the people, but in doing so, we should have taken care to not destroy all vestiges of civil society in the process.

Second, it’s entirely coherent (even though the Mr. Kinsley may disagree) to suggest that if we have injected a new type of misery into the lives of Iraqis by increasing the threat of terrorism, destroying infrastructure, and lowering general quality of life standards, then perhaps we should have some moral responsibility to clean up the mess we made. … I hear people constantly say that we have our own problems here. And that is definitely true. I also agree our government’s primary obligation is to our own citizens. BUT … to absolutely say that no amount of suffering by “foreigners” is worth the occasional sacrifice of American life or even quality of life is fundamentally xenophobic and chauvinistic.

You may disagree with this, but to say that position is incoherent?[Find this entire post here.]

Fray Notes: On Wednesday, Fraywatch highlighted a post suggesting that Jeremy Kahn’s portrayal of Charles Mubio, the commander of Genie Company, and rebel forces in the Ivory Coast were “racially motivated.”  Kahn offers a response here, noting that, “The rebels self-consciously style themselves after the images of American gangsters they see in hip-hop videos.”

This Just In: ElboRuum’s sobriquets and analysis of the Democratic presidential field.  To wit, “Ah, the pretty boy young’un. Every time I look into John Edwards face, I say, now son, when the real candidate comes along, you have to quit playing in his chair.”

Department of Astral Affairs: For those keeping a scorecard, go ahead and add Robes, RWJones, and ToddT (who reclaims a previously relinquished star) to the ranks … KA 3:15 p.m.