Meet the Parents

Readers wonder if Heather should have two mommies.

I Ate the Sandbox: Traditionally, articles addressing gay issues bring out the worst in Fraysters. But Ann Hulbert’s “The Gay Science” on the questions surrounding gay parenting elicited quality — if only a few — posts. Post_hoc_prior posits this, which dovetails with Judith Stacey’s differences-don’t-have-to-indicate-deficits premise:

[U]pon which side does the burden of proof devolve? Are gays obligated to furnish proof that they are equally capable at childraising, and to surrender all claims if they are unable to do so?

Or is, er, the other side obligated to prove that gays are not capable of raising children properly, and to concede freedom of activity in this arena if *they* are unable to do so?

My personal take is that the burden of proof always must fall upon those wishing to restrict freedom of activity.
While bing agrees with php’s “burden of proof” thesis here, he challenges the overreaching argument that gays and lesbians are equally capable of raising children:
The freedom of activity of which you speak is that freedom of gays to raise kids… The problem then arises, that in the long run, greater freedoms of activity than that one of which YOU speak, will be restricted due to the lesser ability of gays to successfully raise children…that proposition is supported IN PART ONLY, by the observation that nature didn’t set things up so that children are procreated by homosexuals (though nature COULD have, but didn’t). This would give a heterosexual the freedom to be as “nature intended.”
In response, php here:
Er… Nature didn’t set things up so that primates are faithful by nature, either. Hence the institution of marriage. Nature didn’t design eyeglasses and false teeth; is it sinful to use these prosthetic devices?
CaptainRonVoyage suggests, “Maybe science doesn’t really enter into this debate?” CRV expounds here with these hypotheticals:
I’m sure someone could find a study somewhere indicating that children adopted by black households “have more problems”–does this mean we should deny adoption rights to blacks? (I know some would argue that this already happens as a de facto practice, but work with me). How about Scientologists? How useful can “scientific evidence” be in this type of debate?
Want a primary source? Click on Willigula’s post here for a testimony from an adult son who grew up with lesbian parents. They’re Money: The armchair — and presumably a handful of professional — economists in Moneybox Fray have been lighting it up in recent weeks. Credit Dan Gross for a steady diet of grist for the Fray mill, but the regular posters have been weaving threads like a knitting group on speed. PhilfromCalifornia comments on Robert J. Gordon’s social security fix here vis-à-vis productivity projections. For his contributions, Phil earns a star this week. Moneybox champion run75441 has been running point on the board for a while now, sustaining top posts with cogent replies (see RMolineux on Warren Buffet and the trade deficit here.). Want a primer on the trade imbalance? Click on Scott_TOO — another new star — here. Given the complexity and thoroughness of the aforementioned posts, Fraywatch will refrain from excerpting mere morsels of these comprehensive posts. Fray Notes: A new version of the Fray should be up and running in the coming days. Fraywatch, with the assistance of Slate’s crafty technical team, will be briefing the Fray … KA7:10 p.m.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Daley Show?“I agree with the skeleton of your remark,” writes Speldid_IREny to Chris-4, “but, as you did not make your point better, I will do so here.”The skeleton of Chris-4’s remarks in response to “You Say You Want a Revolution” by Ted Widmer:

Great, more talking about how amazing things were when the boomers finally came of age.
SI’s elaboration:
The baby boom generation does focus on its successes and failures, political and cultural and social, to an agonizing degree. And, since most of the (at lest established and respected, not underground/new/alternative) television/print media is run by those of the baby generation, those of us in the following generation - that ever-lowering Generation X gap - get treated to stories of protest days of yore.

Speaking as someone who likes to know my country’s history, there’s a necessity to listen to boomers when they’re discussing the ‘60s. Just, as I listen to my grandmother talk about the Depression. You get what I’m saying here?
To Chris’ charge that “the first truly stupid President we have ever had is a boomer,” Certain responds:
I give you Warren G. Harding, and spot you 15 IQ points. GWB is still smarter than WGH.
Referencing WGH’s penchant for “whores, gambling and graft,” lordgoon asks Certain here:
Aren’t you confusing stupidity with venality?
For Certain, the mere question encapsulates “why I love the Fray,” because …
In my workaday life it’s so hard to find someone willing to defend Warren G. Harding.
In this spirit, Fraywatch asks users to submit the most improbable defense of a person or institution to Fraywatch Fray. The winner will receive the Fray’s prestigious Roger Baldwin prize. Department of Parks & Procreation: Gtomkins1 pens an interesting post here contrasting the actions of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Some have offered a parallel between Newsom’s recent flouting of California law by issue marriage licenses in San Francisco and Moore’s defiance of a federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments:
Newsom’s action is often wrongly characterized as civil disobedience. Even people sympathetic to gay marriage often speak in these terms, comparing the act of issuing the marriage licenses to Rosa Parks defying segregation law. But Rosa Parks, and Judge Moore, were defying settled law, laws that had been tested through litigation for their compatibility with the Constitution, and other laws, and been found constitutionally sound …Newsom, in contrast, finds himself faced with a new law against same-sex marraige, the result of a recent voter initiative, that seems to him to be in conflict with the California state constitution that he is sworn to uphold. This is not an area of settled law. It is perfectly appropriate, and involves none of the law-breaking which is the essence of civil disobedience, for officers of government, who typically swear to uphold a state, or the Federal, constitution, upon assuming office, to refuse to uphold laws of dubious constitutionality.
So far as Moore’s wanting to empower Congress to limit judicial power (rather than amending the Constitution), Nemo offers a word of caution here. Thread o’ the Week: … goes to Juno here for the eschatological “Is Death Necessary?” header … KA9:00 a.m.

Monday, March 8, 2004

Grand Unified Theory? Kausfiles Fray generated heavy traffic this morning in response to Mickey Kaus’politico-quantum theory of John Kerry in an attempt to break down the essence of the Kerry flip-flop. Arkady gets things started:

the “Kerry Flip-Flops” meme is “Gore Lies” part two.
According to Arkady here, “Back in 2000, the meme that was being pushed hard by the Rove war machine was that Gore was a compulsive liar.” Arkady continues by contending that the characterization was built upon any number of dirty tricks, such as “a willfully libelous misquotation (“I invented the Internet”) … an actual fact mischaracterized as a lie (working on his father’s farm as a youth) … an innocent and understandable mistake …” What’s Arkady’s take on Kerry’s shifts?
If anything, an honest examination of these supposed flip-flops will leave a person with much more respect for Kerry, since, to the extent a minority of them do represent a migration of his beliefs, they point out that he’s someone who takes his positions based on the dictates of his heart and mind, based on the available evidence, not based on blind adherence to a dogma written into stone by his party (Hello Mr. Bush.)
This dovetails a bit with William Saletan’s piece from last Thursday. JustMe comes back hard at Arkady here, launching an active ping-pong dialogue between the two. Publius takes on the Unified Kerry Theory’s Vietnam combat component. Kaus works from the premise that a gutsy soldier turns tentative and expedient in the political arena. Read Pub’s full extrapolation here, where he reasons that the UKT “is a theory without its supposed foundation.” “As a Democrat who considered Al Gore to be a disastrously bad candidate in 2000,” ShriekingViolet “can sympathize” with Mickey Kaus’ deep distaste for John Kerry. But she frames the question to Kaus this way:
the time has come for Mickey Kaus to ask himself a tough question: What the hell am I trying to accomplish?During the primary season, Mickey’s Anti-Kerryite rants possessed a sense of purpose: convincing Democratic primary voters to support candidates other than Kerry. But now the purpose is considerably murkier …
Arlington still sports the Dean icon and believes that Kerry is
not the actor Bill Clinton was. In fact, he’s a bit stilted and wooden, to dredge up old Al Gore adjectives.

In spite of my intention to vote for him, I think Kerry will lose the debates and lose the election.
GaryWModerate brings up a salient point here. If Kerry is an unreformed flip-flopper, then how can he be the most intractably liberal senator? Doesn’t prevaricating, by definition, require staking out positions all over the political spectrum? And if a voting member of the Senate is casting yeas and nays without regard to any ideological conviction, wouldn’t he compile scorecard ratings in the middle-third of the scale? As GWM asks, “Which is it?” … KA 7:15 p.m.

Saturday, March 6, 2004

Fraywatch doesn’t intend to limit its coverage to the work of a single Frayster, but when commentary such as this gets pushed off Ballot Box Fray within minutes, it warrants a more enduring home.  Subject: “Lying Down the Rabbit Hole
Re:        “Confidence Man: The case for Bush is the case against him
From:     The_Bell
Date:     Fri Mar 5 0759h At the recent Academy Awards ceremony, Hollywood’s celebrities resisted their natural impulse for political activism on a stage viewed by over one billion people and largely abided by the gag rule imposed by producers. Tim Robbins – the one-time bad boy – was immaculate. And Sean Penn’s reference to “WMDs that weren’t there” was passed over so quickly that you missed it if you blinked. Only one person was openly critical of the President’s policies, though never mentioning Bush by name.

Errol Morris, winner of the Best Documentary Oscar for his look at Robert McNamara – with a strong focus on his decisions regarding the Vietnam War – had this to say after the usual round of thank-yous:

Forty years ago this country went down a rabbit hole and millions died. I fear we’re going down a rabbit hole once again.
This was not the over-the-top sensationalism of Michael’s Moore’s acceptance speech last year decrying a “fictitious war.” It was a sincere expression of concern, rationally expressed, from a thoughtful, intelligent man. It received polite but restrained applause. It was only afterwards when host Billy Crystal quipped, “I can’t wait for his tax audit” that the audience responded with hard laughter tinged by anger. Dislike of Bush within Hollywood … or Los Angeles, for that matter … or California for that matter is no surprise. But it struck me as kind of interesting in retrospect that the crowd’s purest derision was directed less at the war they oppose and more at the perceived vindictive, underhanded quality of this Administration.

As a Republican, I regretfully but thoroughly agree with Mr. Saletan’s view of President Bush as “too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends.” I have said since I started posting in The Fray – with increasingly little agreement from my Democratic peers – that Bush is not an evil man and not nearly so unintelligent as commonly portrayed. Rather, I have always seen him as a sincere man but overly simplistic thinker, who probably makes no more wrong choices than the average resident of the Oval Office but who – as Mr. Saletan posits – is incapable of recognizing that error on either moral or pragmatic grounds.

And I agree that Democrats could suffer from negative blowback if they get too vicious and – especially – too repetitive in their attack ads. But I am not sure I agree at all that they cannot prevail by (selectively and strategically) questioning the President’s honesty. Because, as Saletan points out, not matter how sincere and well-intentioned he may be, Bush holds a fundamentally dishonest worldview or at least a disingenuous view of how he operates within the world. He is naively one-dimensional and unable to divine any useful appreciation for dissent. That he believes in himself unquestioningly over the facts does not change the reality that when he makes statements in opposition to the facts, he is telling lies – or coming close enough to it in the eyes of many people.

Ronald Reagan was one-dimensional but he was never naïve and although on a few occasions during his eight years in office he was painfully slow on the uptake, he always knuckled under even his most cherished principles to popular realities. And when he had to do so, he was extremely good at making it look like he was just being a reasonable guy. Do not underestimate George Bush’s charisma – he has qualities that are very attractive to a lot of people in the heartland of this country. But again, as Saletan points out, those same qualities make him anathema to others, so the same broad appeal that Reagan enjoyed is impossible for him to achieve – or at least hold.

Bill Clinton was not one-dimensional and he was as far away from being naïve as is capable by a human being. He was often highly unpopular during his time in office and the GOP was his blood enemy for eight muckraking years. But he not only survived but prevailed precisely because he appreciated the value of listening to and analyzing dissent. When popular opinion was against him, he shifted where he stood; when it was in his favor, he was an immovable rock.

George W. Bush probably sees himself – and believes others should see him – as a combination of Clinton’s savvy with Reagan’s teflon affability. In reality, of course, he is more Reagan’s stubborn simplicity combined with Clinton’s (lack of) belovedness.

Kerry and the Democrats can use that against him. Kerry can effectively call Bush a liar and get away with it because while Bush is not a stupid man, he is an inarticulate and clumsy one and he is an almost shockingly insulated politician. He almost never feels the need to justify or explain himself and he has an awful tendency to frame denials that play into the very charges being leveled against him. Ask him if his Administration is too tight-lipped and he replies “No comment.” Beg him to explain why he changes his story on anything and he bewilderedly inquires, “What’s the difference?” John Kerry does not so much have to be effective as Bush’s opponent as he needs to be savvy at setting the President up as his own worst enemy.

I still believe this will be a close election. Even if Mr. Saletan is right and Democrats are headed for the worst possible strategy by making the election solely a referendum on Bush’s honesty, the GOP are clearly committed to what I see as their worst possible strategy – making the election solely a referendum on homeland security and the fight against terrorism.

Now do not get me wrong – Bush has every right to talk about this issue. Democrats deploring his use of September 11 sound an awful lot like Republican rolling their eyes at Kerry’s simultaneous promotion of himself as war hero and Vietnam conscientious objector. The attack happened on Bush’s watch, he responded to it, and a lot of people – myself included – felt he did a good job initially at responding to it. The problem for many – myself included – is what has happened since. And it is not just what Bush has done (i.e. Iraq); it is what has not happened (i.e. any further major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil).

Naturally, Bush will argue this is due to the swell job that he and his Administration have done on homeland security and national defense. It may be impossible for Kerry to disprove this assertion but it will be equally problematical for Bush to prove straight cause and effect. The more time passes from the initial aftershock of September 11, the more unavoidable and compelling is the almost unbidden thought in the minds of voters that maybe the reason there have been no more attacks is because the threat is not nearly as pervasive – or at least an imminent – as we keep being told.

And as Mr. Saletan neatly concludes, President Bush’s inability to see any fundamental difference between Bin Laden and Saddam, any difference between al-Qaida and the Baathists, tends to cause the questions of sincerity and honesty raised by the latter to cross-over and infect the former. That does not mean the threat of terrorism has gone away. But in making it a harder sell, Bush’s over-confidence once again takes what should be his greatest strength and turns it into a potentially toxic liability.

Certainly, lots of people in this country do not feel that way about the developments within Iraq but just as certainly lots of people – and I think the tide is moving in this direction – do feel that way. Combine this with very legitimate concerns about the economy and the President is in a far weaker position than he ought to be right now. The new Iraqi constitution will be signed today but Bush’s over-optimism about being able to get out of Iraq by June – without explaining exactly how – downplays that achievement. The stock market has posted gains and unemployment is at least getting no worse but this Administration’s over-exaggerations and selective use of economic data present a picture so rosy that it flies in the face of most people’s everyday experience.

So Bush has dived down the rabbit hold of homeland security, partly in search of sanctuary against the criticism flying against him and partly because – like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland – he sincerely and urgently believes that he has a “very important date” with destiny in that general direction. The problem with rabbit holes that Bush might want to take care to remember is that they are narrow burrows, providing little wiggle room. This election may not be a referendum on his personal honesty but it most certainly ought to be a referendum on the integrity of his vision and the effectiveness of his attempts to achieve it. He will certainly be found wanting in the latter category by many but I think the former is equally open to question by Democrats.

If so, Bush may find his rabbit hole of choice less sanctuary than asylum, a road less to Wonderland than back to Waco.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Paper Tiger, Paper Moon: The only comment on Peter Bogdanovich’s television biopic, The Mystery of Natalie Wood, is a solid one. Always a fan of Bogdanovich, candide applauds Dana Stevens for a “great take on Bogdanovich, whose fall from grace to made-for-tv purgatory is entirely shocking.” Here is candide:

As you pointed out, from his outset, Bogdanovich was always synonymous with erudite cinephilia. And his pre-Stratten films certainly featured their share of behind-the-scenes bravado (as in the underappreciated “Nickelodeon”). But I still think there’s something obsessive and sad about this returning and returning to the same thematic of the tortured love lives of those on the sidelines or in the spotlight of show business. There a shrinking of scope in these films, far removed from the epic historical sprawl of his early work that mirrors his movement from the giant cinema image to the small screen.

By no means is candide an anti-small screen snob. On the contrary, “[a]n avowed tv lover, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that this trajectory is a tragic one—and tv certainly can use its share of smart auteurs —but the sad truth seems to be that Bogdanovich’s art and commitment has shrunk to fit the new medium.”

Bravo to candide for not overlooking Bogdanovich’s portrayal of Eric Stoltz’s group therapist in Noah Baumbach’s Mr. Jealousy (a precursor to his role on The Sopranos as Melfi’s shrink).

Tribal Warfare: Fraywatch is trying to make some sense of TheObservor’s experiment in National Geography—his homemade Slate Tribe Game. At the outset, it looks something like this:

1. I am going to create ten of what your people call “sub-threads” below this one. Each one will represent a “tribe”. Tribes will be identified by totem animals.

2. Please tell me which tribe you want to be a part of by placing a post in the “sub-thread” of the tribe you want to join. It is like each one is a “flag” and you are standing by the flag of your tribe. I am guessing the first posters will want to join tribes because they feel a special bond with the totem animal. …

Bylaws three through six appear in the body of the message. Subsequent rules have been posted here. An early headcount gives the nod to the Gnu Tribe.

At ARM’s Length: Aptly named mtgbanker tells Daniel Gross that he’s “totally missed Greenspan’s point” regarding the variable benefits of adjustable-rate mortgages:

Greenspan’s argument for ARMs has nothing to do with Monday morning quarterbacking about what you should have done in the early 1990’s. His point is simply this—almost no one under 60 has lived in the same house for 30 years straight, and it’s unlikely that they will. Most people average about 7 years depending on the part of the country. Paying ridiculous premiums to lock an interest rate for 20 years after you move out is a waste of money. Put another way, it’s silly to pay for what you won’t use.

Scott_TOO here and run75441 here respond. Certain makes the most forceful argument against Greenspan. He equates a fixed rate to insurance, and charges that Greenspan’s ARM fancy is an invitation to bankruptcy:

So guess what professor Greenspan wants to do: have you borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars with ARMs. He’s right: across decades, wise investors will pay less, on average, with ARMs. However, those investors have enough money to pay much higher house payments during the high interest years, and they have enough time to make it all up in the low interest years.

What’s the alternative? Fixed interest rates. With fixed rates, you pay a higher rate, but you don’t have to worry about rate spikes bankrupting you. What does that sound like? Insurance. You pay a higher rate to someone who has more money, so that they assume the risk of a rate spike for you.

Fundamentally, what is the good professor suggesting? That we all go without insurance, risk the bankruptcy of our families.

Certain’s full post is here.

Say It Ain’t So: “In recognition of the old adage that you don’t appreciate anything until it’s gone, this will be the last My Two Cents for some time,” writes doodahman in Dear Prudence Fray. Fraywatch encourages doodahman, á la network television, to air reruns each Thursday morning until the hiatus is over (which, according to doodahman, will be the “second Wednesday in November”). In lieu of MTC, he needs to provide Fraywatch a compelling reason to wake up on Thursday mornings … KA1:10 p.m.