Vox Populi

The persistence of memory.

Subject: “The persistence of memoryRe:     “Forget Me Not: The genius of Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindFrom: Sissyfuss1
Date:  Wed Mar 24 1018h David Edelstein calls Eternal Sunshine the best movie he has seen in a decade. I haven’t seen it yet, but from the plot outline, it seems one hell of a concept. Like the best of science fiction, the story delves into an imaginary future, but only to confront us with timeless questions. Can we achieve happiness if we could selectively erase memories of pain and loss? Or do they constitute such an essential part of our being that shedding them will reduce us to soulless, cheerful zombies? That is a fascinating question, even though the idea will remain more fiction than reality for a while.

I think a major part of our emotional experience is constituted by recollection or anticipation of events, rather than consuming the present. Manipulating memory is not cosmetic surgery, therefore, but a triple bypass on our souls. Gotta be careful.

One of the essential conditions of enjoying a novel or a movie is that you, reader or viewer, have no control over how events unfold. A great narrative will draw you in, trigger identification and empathy, and unleash strong emotional expectations. You will ardently wish that Lara and Zhivago will find each other again. But imagine what fiction will come to if readers are allowed to customize the characters’ fates. Literature will die! Film will atrophy! Our powerlessness over the script is essential for our pleasure, even though there are moments when we madly want to change it. I am inclined to think that the same is true of life.

Even if everybody agreed on this philosophy, I don’t think the problem will go away. Erasing or blunting a single painful memory is unlikely to compromise the overall integrity of our experience. Imagine the problem of self control faced by a long time smoker trying to quit, and multiply that a hundred times. If the technology were easily available, can we trust ourselves not to succumb to a happy make over? I don’t think we can, given the great lengths we usually go “to forget.”

Social interactions will be profoundly affected if we could control memory. It would be too easy to fire people, to exploit them or break their hearts, or even to kill. I suspect suicide will be a lot easier and common, at least among the clinically depressed. If anguish becomes like heartburn, curable by popping a pill, our conscience is likely to go on a permanent holiday. What’s stopping you if you cannot cause lasting psychological damage to others?

I am not a Luddite even when it comes to our bodies. I see great potential in genetic engineering or cloning technology. But the idea of controlling memory scares the hell out of me. A designer mind is a terrible thing to gain. In the eternal sunshine, everyone wears plastic smiles, burying their happiness right next to where they buried their sorrow.

On a scale of 0 to 5, rate how extensively you are likely to use a technology that allows you to be rid of unhappy memories. 0 indicates total rejection, and 5 indicates fullest possible use. I am a 0.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Hitting the Clubs: William Saletan christens  Campaign 2004 Club Fray by posing this question:

If Kerry’s a flip-flopper and Bush is stubborn, which is a worse flaw in a president?
Geoff tackles the riddle with a Socratic query of his own:
Is flippery-floppery a procedural offense or a cosmetic one?
He then elaborates by reasoning that
It’s admirable to be stubborn and right. Dangerous to be stubborn and wrong.

It’s good to flip-flop if you’re in the wrong. Not so good to do so if you were right to begin with.

I tend to admire people who flip on account of compelling evidence.
Evidently, Geoff faces a pivotal choice as to how to spend his summer:
In the end, they’re both pretty mediocre politicians. So, reaching deep to find a rationale to actively back Kerry instead of just getting high and watching Cartoon Central for the next 6 months, I’d have to focus on the “character issue.”
Where does Geoff come down on the character issue?  Click here.  Most fraygrants qualify their responses by measuring the nature of flip-floppery and stubbornness. Here, GodOfWine delineates between “a weather-vane approach” to f-f, and a  changing of coursed “based on a variety of concerns and factors [that] prevents devious and disingenuous internal and external intrigue.”The Fairiazation of Masculine Iconography? “Much like the incurable diseases plaguing mankind a worse disease is infecting and destroying all male symbols of masculinity,” rantsmassaman in response to Seth Stevenson’s close read of the “Kindler, Gentler Brawny Man.” massaman is just getting started:
Albeit, they are more stereotypes than anything else, nevertheless, they are being eroded into feminine, wimpy, touchy-feely, symbols of the fairyistic agenda entrenched in the media. Will any real men, if there are any left in the media, please take a stand for the few remaining real men in the world? I implore you, please. The last thing you want is a real man, like myself, having to take it upon my shoulders and purchase one of these media conglomerates and turn it right side up, reeking havoc in the process…I will give you six months. If things do not change then Hell is coming for breakfast!
Shabu, correctly notes that “the old Brawny dude meshed with gay stereotypes much more neatly.”That Volatile Exchange Rate:  From the inordinately busy Dispatches Fray, regarding Girls Gone Wild, Evil_Burrito here:
Hats? They strip for hats?

And all this time I’ve been offering them money…
More Club Fray Invitees:  audonben, yggy, JV-12, W_H_Sleeman, JohnLex7, GovernorJohnson, Marylb (previously, if informally, invited), RichMahady5, Patient_Observer, biteoftheweek. Many more to come .. KA 1:30 p.m. 

Monday, March 22, 2004

Time is Money: “The economic theory of faking orgasm misses a salient point,” writes janna1g here in response to Steven Landsburg’s “The Economics of Faking Orgasm“:

she probably DOES care about her own time, and if the sex isn’t doing anything for her, and her partner knows it, he may go on and on, grimly determined to MAKE her have an orgasm. She can save time by pretending to have an orgasm, thus ending the encounter, and conserve time spent unproductively.
Evie_C goes in a similar direction here, as does BeingFrank here, who adds, “It takes a certain amount of time and effort to achieve orgasm, and that cost is higher for women. Sometimes, the cost is infinite, in that no amount of time or effort would be sufficient. The cost of faking an orgasm, on the other hand, is low.” Geek Love: Best new pickup line overheard at UT’s Econ Department?
So baby, why don’t we figure out the cost/benefit ratio of faking an orgasm … back at my place.
Courtesy of twiffer here. Taking issue with Landsburg and graduate student Hugo Mialon’s econo-sexual model, wisp protests:
In a sexual relationship, we presume that the two partners have some mutual incentive to make each other happy. Even in one so utilitarian as prostitution, there’s a mutual exchange of benefits. Are we to assume that any conclusions to be drawn from this are applicable to a courtroom setting where the defendant and the jury have absolutely no mutual interests at all? Or must we depend on a very slender (and not stated by Landsburg) assumption that mutual interest exists because the jury believes that this particular defendant may someday be on a jury that’s trying them?

As if that weren’t sufficiently suspicious, take a look at this whopper from Mialon’s paper:

The model predicts that love, formally defined as a mixture of altruism and possessiveness, increases the probability of faking ecstasy …

I like Economics. I really do. I read books about it. But anyone who would describe love in those terms either has never experienced it or doesn’t perceive it in any way I would trust.
TheJew tries to mollify wisp here —an expansion of his post here. Meanwhile, satish_desai finds Mialon’s entire course of study objectionable here:
Scientific research is directed towards finding fixed relationships between physical objects. One can scientifically determine if a diamond is real by making certain scientific tests that define a diamond. Orgasm is can not be defined like a diamond, because it is not a physical object like diamond. Therefore, genuinity of orgasm depends on the state of mind of the man at the other end of the line.

Does it not sound more political than scientific?
Mangar responds here:
Only if you are a dualist. If you take the assumption that the area you are studying boils down to matter eventually, then you can study it under your definition of science. However, that is by no means THE definition of science.
Tonto_Goldberg expresses skepticism over Landsburg’s claim that “Mialon uses game theory to investigate why women (sometimes) fake and why men (sometimes) doubt them”:
I didn’t see any actual discussion of game theory in sexual role-playing. I read some discussion of motives for game playing but that is not the same thing.

Even though the writer said the author used it, I don’t see it in the article. Game theory is generally used to analyze player behavior and thus allow a prediction of the probability of something happening in the future; not to analyze something that may or may not have happened in the past.
The_Bell deftly weaves the recent Naomi Wolf mishegas into his discussion of “The Economics of Feminism.” And Jack_Baltimore breaks down “the classical liberal and moral defense of the proposition that ‘It is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to wrongfully imprison one innocent man’ ” here. Groucho Politics: Club Fray is not intended to be an either/or proposition. With the Club Frays, our wish is to set up topical boards—apart from Best of the Fray—that are slower-paced, where a top post can be discussed, for instance, over the course of several days, even weeks. Readers should continue to respond to specific articles of interest in the appropriate Fray, but—as demonstrated by twiffer here —the clubs can be a place for general, but not necessarily timely, conversation. We realize that the exclusivity of the Club Frays is an issue that needs to be worked out. Right now, the only way to ensure that Club Fray realizes its goals is by initially limiting the number of participants, particularly given the explosion in the volume of users in the Fray. Please don’t think of the Club Frays as a means to segregate some readers from others so much as a bonus to longtime users who have put in the time and effort to post cogent, thought-provoking stuff, or have shown a sincere interest in the sort of discourse best cultivated in the Club Frays. We encourage the invitees to continue responding to Slate’s body of articles, while enjoying the privileges of the Club Frays. Please be advised that the About Us Club Fray will be terminated in 10 seconds. Fraywatch kindly asks for your patience as it takes inventory of the thousands of users on the Fray. Hundreds of invitations will be issued to those who have contributed to the Fray in a constructive, thoughtful manner. These invitees will be posted on Fraywatch Fray periodically. Please give us some time to determine the identity of these readers. If you have nominations, please feel free to post them in Fraywatch or, if you prefer to do so privately, please e-mail them to with the title header “CLUB FRAY INVITATION.” Thanks for your patience. … KA 11:35 a.m.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Hyphenate Warfare: There’s some good work in Culturebox Fray tackling the to-keep-or-not-to-keep conundrum discussed in Katie Roiphe’s “The Maiden Name Debate.” TeeCee leads the board in responses for her remark here:

Isn’t the logic of keeping the maiden name a little silly in this day and age? Rodham after all isn’t some self-created feminist cypher for Hillary; it’s her father’s name. And Chelsea isn’t Chelsey Rodham-Clinton, though some parents use the hyphen. It’s going to get cumbersome when hyphen-named named boys and girls start getting married.

A last name identifies a family unit, not a bond of service. Keeping my maiden name seems like a self-righteous protest against convention, not an original statement of who i am.
Several Fraysters allude to Spanish tradition (and BrainyPirate even goes Icelandic here) as a more gender equitable solution, though Jester2459 points out the pitfalls of present-day compromises:
If the wife keeps her maiden name then the kids become the point where the name of one parent is given preference over the other’s. And if we adopt the Spanish method, then it is at the level of grandchild that the surnames of grandfathers finally trump those of grandmothers. Neither solution answers the fundamental question of equity; it just makes all of our names a bit more unwieldy.

I don’t mean to be critical of those proposals in particular. In the end, it is simply an intractable problem. There is no way to have family names indicate a relationship (e.g., ancestral lineage, or which kid is yours when you show up at the elementary school) in a standard fashion that can be interpreted by the rest of society as you encounter it while still maintaining perfect gender equity.
And JackCerf claims that:
The Spanish practice is regular though still male-centric; the father’s family name is the principal one for the children, while the mother’s family name is the secondary one. The father’s family name continues, while the mother’s is passed down one generation.
Elbee here and akermitj here like this solution for the naming of kids:
Let the gender decide. If we have a daughter, she’ll get my wife’s last name; a son gets mine.
Here, for Joe_JP
Ms. Roiphe is being a tad to disdainful about this whole matter. Names have for a long time had a certain sort of power and prestige, and being able to control their use depending on the situation is a weighty power indeed. Just how “shallow” is being able to not be known as “Mrs. Smith” in many contexts, if one doesn’t want to be? Being able to play with your name depending on the particular role you wish to play is a quite important matter of personal identity. The fact it can be altered underlines, not belittles, its importance.
Here, Kassandra agrees, as does SpringWillBeSoon here.  Fray etymologist Auros-4:
One other slightly patriarchal aspect. Consider the dictionary definition of “maiden”, then consider what “maiden name” implies.
Consideration should reply to Auros hereMagnificent Mileage: Waxing nostalgic, run75441 recalls his days as a teenager in the shadows of the edifices that would become the gothic and deco treasures of Chicago:
I spent part of my summers working North Michigan Avenue mostly on the Wrigley Building with its huge clock. We would rig the building using manila hemp rope and wood scaffolds with a 2 x 4 rail to keep you from backing off it. Pulling the scaffold up the building would numb the arms. Each summer the building was washed and it would take on a new white appearance standing out amongst all the other buildings as you looked northward up Michigan Avenue.
In response to the proliferation of right angles and shimmering box towers in the skylines of Manhattan, the Gold Coast and the Wilshire Corridor, run, the stone mason’s son, pleads:
While I would not recommend building another Wrigley Building, I would hope there would be more imagination put into play in the appearance of newer buildings. No more boxes please!
While John Portman and like-minded postmodernists certainly don’t have a fan at Fraywatch, the Modernist boxes of R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra nearly perfected space forms.  We space freaks thank them — and FLW — for it.  In Defense of Kaus: Brian-1 appeals to fellow Fraysters on Press Box Fray who lumped Kausfiles with Wonkette and Gawker:
Work with me, people. If you seriously confuse Wonkette and Kausfiles I have to seriously challenge you to prove you are not mentally disadvantaged. Kaus is a real wonk (who wonks the wonk as it were), Wonkette (aka Ana Marie Cox) is a gossip fiend who covers politics because she lives in D.C. There’s no substance, and zero debate of any issue, in Wonkette…let’s face it, most if not all of the bitching is from Lefties who find it terribly inconvenient that Kaus is spotlighting Kerry’s (significant) flaws in a liberal publication…Any one Kaus piece is necessarily light on substance because his format is more stream of consciousness…taken as a whole, he provides interesting left-of-center commentary that is unique for not coming out of the DNC hivemind. I’ve long believed that every publication needs a quasi-apostate like this to check its biases and blind spots (too much of Slate suffers from having so many biases and such enormous blind spots). It’s always depressing to encounter partisans who strenuously assert that the party line must be parroted by all.
Disagree? Spar with Brian hereKA9:45 a.m.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Glass Houses, Stones, Pots, Kettles: Press Box Fray can be best summarized as a collective “you’ve gotta to be &*@%^# me!” since Jack Shafer published his takedown of Wonkette and Gawker last week. Take lxanth’s post here:

All too often (and especially where national politics is concerned), Slate is little more than a repository of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom, dressed up in just enough knee-jerk contrarianism and gratuitous snark to look “edgy.” Seeing a Slate writer getting all huffy about the nastiness of a couple of blogs that never pretended to offer anything more than a little guilty pleasure is more than a little…if you’ll pardon the expression…ironic.
…or SwingingMeat’s diatribe here:
Jack, you never bust the balls of your fellow scribes or media figures, do you? You’re never gratuitously mean in your take-downs, are you? You and Kaus are all sweetness and light, right? Tim Noah is a “We are the World” kind of guy, just like Suellentrop and young Mr. Ballbuster who spends his days trashing what’s in other people’s magazines. Not to mention all those folks who excerpt the dirt from people’s books and pepper their excerpts with puerile comments. Maybe you wanna stop over at McSweeney’snarkwatch site and rat out these evil people to Heidi Julavits, Dave Eggers and company.
To Shafer’s point that most web outfits are “generally written by one person on a tiny budget and not produced by a team of professional editors, reporters, and artists; and that the Gawker/Wonkette design is to conquer the blogosphere, not recapitulate the journalistic values of a dead magazine,” doodahman pshaws on behalf of prolific Fraysters:
Oh, how we here dream of having hours to produce copy; to have a budget, or editor, or even creds. Seems like if there’s really going to be a free market place of ideas, as well as a full and frank exchange of information, the number of stalls would be pretty vast. There’s got to be someone on the outside fringe. There’s always somebody pushing the envelope. How could it be otherwise? The fringe isn’t supposed to fit in with the rest of your bullshit world. “Journalistic values” huh?– the last refuge of a lap monkey.
Several readers — such as Iron_Lungfish, here  — take the opportunity to heave a salvos at Kaufiles:
All of the above and more certainly applies to Kausfiles — including bumblebee attention span, toddler-level complexity, and Ahabesque obsession (of late) to top it off. At least as gossip goes, Gawker and Wonkette are unpretentious and damn entertaining - the gossip-blogger in Jack Shafer’s own backyard is borders on the depressing, and seems to have mistaken himself for an actual journalist.
TheNewSnobbery explains the phenomenon of cross-pollination between “big media” and blogging spitballers here:
Maybe it’s proof that the net still doesn’t have enough gravitational pull to exert a true influence without hanging onto the apron strings of the old media. If you talk about the big boys they may just talk about you in return, producing a sense of equivalence in the process.

The whole phenomenon is a little like the relationship between a radio talk show host and his favorite, witty caller. It’s not that there’s no dialogue but you can’t ignore that the power of agenda setting runs one way only.
But are Gawker and Wonkette anything more than satire? CaptainRonVoyage opines here. And here, ScottStock feels that a Drudge or Spy parallel is anything but an “unfavorable comparison”:
[F]act is this kind of cheeky commentary has a “Made ya look!” factor that’s irresistible. In the olden days, it would be High Satire. Now that nearly everyone has mastered crude irony, perhaps it’s currency is worth less. But it’s still fun.
Shafer has at least one defender in Press Box Fray — Zerruballah here.The Fray’s Roger Baldwin Prize Goes to: … We have co-winners!  Sissyfuss1 for his defense of Jeffrey Dahmer:
Early in his life, Dahmer became heavily influenced by the writings of Gandhi and Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”. He was convinced that death was a commodity more suited for cottage industry rather than mass production. Imagine our collective benefits if his insights were known before the world wars, or even Vietnam. He ran into trouble with the law because experimentation on human subjects was still taboo. Today, he would be sitting on half a dozen NSF grants.
Sissyfuss’ submission launches a modest thread about creative serial killing. Installments can be found here and here. And Cid_Hamete_Benengeli’s “In Defense of Cain” earns a piece of the award:
Anyone out there the oldest child? You know what I’m talking about – for a brief shining moment you get to the only one, the center of attention, and the apple of your parents’ eye, then all of a sudden have a new little squirt comes along. Mom and dad forget all about you except when something goes wrong, and meanwhile this new kid can do no wrong.

Ok, now imagine if God’s also getting on the action. Yeah, he’s picking favorites too. This is the OT God we’re talking about, and you’re the only four people on earth, the Big Guy has plenty of time to micromanage.  
For a chuckle, Cid offers a very brief defense of Yoko Ono hereKA10:10 a.m.