Everybody’s a Critic

Fraysters light into Slate regulars.

The Lay of the Land: As Kenneth Lay surrendered to authorities this morning, the question arises once again—will this story have political legs in the election? For the better part of three years, pundits have speculated as to how Democrats may be able to capitalize on the White House’s cozy relationship with energy bigwigs. GaryWModerate takes aim here. Is it just my imagination, or are we now experiencing a Moore backlash whereby every query into the machinations of the administration is being examined through the filter of “conspiracy theory”? Revisiting Normandy: Fred Kaplan’s review of the internal U.S. Army report of the offensive in Iraq didn’t impress Publius, who takes Kaplan to task for missing the point of the report:

Kaplan writes: “The point is that, to a far greater extent than the Pentagon’s theoreticians would like, war in the early 21st century—while certainly altered (and, yes, in some ways “transformed”) by high technology—remains, at bottom, a hard, bloody, boots-on-the-ground, wheels-on-the-road enterprise.”

But that is NOT the point made by the military analysts. For them, there is no tension between high-tech weaponry and low-tech logistical operations. The tension for them is between the rapid advance of an offensive force and the concomitant ever-increasing length and difficulty of maintaining its lines of communications (i.e., the means by which it can be supplied or reinforced). This tension is not a function of current technology; exactly the same problem arose when US forces, having broken out of Normandy, raced across France so fast that supplies, particularly of fuel, could not immediately keep up. The result was not defeat but a slower advance.
Is Pub’s parallel spot-on? Click here to discuss.   Soarin’ Hatch: Both Betty_the_Crow here and simparker here prefer Daniel Mendelsohn’s review of Dale Peck’s Hatchet Jobs to Laura Kipnis’ critique in Slate. BTC:
I don’t mean Kipnis doesn’t criticize Peck. She does, and every bit as mercilessly as he apparently does others. She begins by dismissing his criticism as criticism—”… if the criticisms seem a bit capricious and private agendas appear to overtake aesthetic judgment, should this collection be read as literary criticism, or is it some other genre entirely?”—and ends by dismissing him entirely, along with anyone who might enjoy his work—”Peck now says he’s giving up the pain game … But can his readers? If big stick literary criticism fills a certain cultural niche (despite not elucidating much in the end), it’s because such attractions aren’t Peck’s patrimony alone.”

In other words, he’s a lousy critic and both he and his regular readers are sick fucks. To document her case, Kipnis provides one review excerpt and some partial quotes from interviews. Not exactly a bloodless or thoroughgoing or convincing review …
Care to eviscerate Peck, Kipnis, or Rick Moody? Join the hazing hereKA10:00 a.m.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Looking Ahead: According to TheAList,

Edwards was chosen for many reasons, but high on the list had to be the thought of an Edwards-Cheney debate…Edwards was the best choice not just because he can spotlight Kerry so well, as Saletan notes, but also because he can best remind voters that Dick Cheney might be Bush’s worst decision.
How so? Click here. Meanwhile, The_Bell frames the Veep selection with this quote from Amelia Edith Barr:
The inevitable has always found me ready and hopeful.
While others are emphasizing the Kerry/Edwards contrast, The_Bell is
inclined to believe that this particular ticket represents less of a dichotomy; that the two men are more complements of each other than many people may realize.
Really? Visit The_Bell’s thread here for a full explication that closes with this bookend to the Barr quote:
It is the mark of a good action that it appears inevitable in retrospect.
– Robert Louis Stevenson, 1878
Taking Conception: EFriedemann, like many abortion opponents, is taken aback by Kerry’s statement that life begins at conception, and Kerry’s reiteration that he continues to be pro-choice. EF here:
Compromise is the currency of politics. Republicans could take the position that the top marginal tax should be 25%. Democrats could take the position that the top rate should be 40%. Both sides could reach a compromise on a 33% marginal rate without sacrificing their humanity. Tax rates aren’t matters of life and death.

Abortion is a life-and-death issue and Kerry won’t compromise. He has voted for elective abortions, on-demand, even on full-term children. Kerry represents the infanticide wing of the Democratic Party.If you believe that life begins at conception, you must necessarily believe that elective abortion is murder. If a child in utero is a “life,” the child must then be legally considered a person with constitutional rights; one of which would be the right not to be killed because the child’s birth might be upsetting or inconvenient to the mother.
DeanWormer insists that “choice is the compromise” on this issue, and TheAList challenges EF’s premise, too:
Whether or not it is appropriate to kill another human being (assuming for purposes of this discussion that a zygote or fetus is a human being) is and has always been subject to all kinds of considerations, many of which on their face allow - even demand - that an elective killing is not even a crime, much less a statutory murder.
Similarly, TheQuietMan asserts that “the fetus can’t exactly be made a ward of the state.” Get in on EF’s thread here on BOTF Fray … KA11:15 a.m.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

A Robe by Any Other Name: Isonomist- points out that the debate over the Sacrament and John Kerry has ramifications far beyond the presidential horserace:

What, really, is at stake for American Catholics, and American Catholic politicians, if Kerry is pushed further?

Holding the Body of Christ hostage in order to influence the political climate of the country is, in my mind a horrifying prospect, and yet there you have it. Kerry is put in the position of choosing silence on his own faith, or renouncing his hard won position on issues that are clearly important to him.
According to Fritz_Gerlich, “Kerry’s timidity is making his problem worse.” What should Kerry say? FG has written up a statement here
I am proud of my Catholic faith, and I deeply respect the Catholic clergy who have devoted their lives to our service. But it is not within the competence of the Catholic clergy to decide the law of this land. That is something decided by the people’s elected representatives and by our courts. As president, I will accept those decisions and faithfully execute them. This will be as true in the area of abortion as in other areas.

I will continue to receive the sacraments of my church, because I believe that to do so is necessary for my salvation. If, because of my political stands, any Catholic priest sees fit to deny me communion, I will accept his right to follow his conscience on the matter—and as soon as practicable thereafter, I will receive communion from another priest. I may, like all of us, be a sinner, but I love God and my church very much and I will not passively accept excommunication because some members of the clergy disapprove of my public service.
Also in FB Fray, Demosthenes2 challenges Steven Waldman with Monty Python. Click here for D2’s interdisciplinary work. Canadian Achin’: Judging from his reply to Juno, it appears as if doodahman will waive his no-trade clause if Toronto makes an offer. Battle of the Isms: William Saletan does some polling in the Fray.

Fray Editor is giddy over an upcoming announcement that should get the Fray buzzing. Stay tuned … KA 6:55 p.m.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Auditing the Course: Please add to this summer’s course directory: ”Remedial Reading 101
Professor William Saletan
Daily, Publishing Times Vary
Office Hours: A Slate contributor’s work is never done. To those who continue to resist Kerryisms, who charge Saletan with deliberately altering the meaning of Kerry’s quotes, Saletan rebuts:

Read the explanation of what a Kerryism is. “The senator’s caveats and embellishments appear as footnotes.” That’s “caveats,” as in, clauses that he adds precisely to change the meaning of the quote. So moving one of those clauses to a footnote would change the meaning the other way, now, wouldn’t it?

We’re distinguishing the caveats by putting them in footnotes. We’re also giving you the exact text as Kerry delivered it, so there’s no confusion about how the meaning would be changed if Kerry had separated his caveats as we did. End of story.
RonnieB signs up for Saletan’s crip course, and finishes his first assignment with élan. Check out his work here. Iron_Lungfish responds to Saletan here with a definitional parsing of “caveat” — using Monday’s Kerryism as his platform:
The “caveats” aren’t the parts of the quotes that are changing the meaning, Will. The “caveats” are part of the meaning. They contribute to it. Take today’s Kerryism, where you strip away Kerry making what is essentially a defense for religious pluralism by excising any reference to anything that isn’t the Bible. Kerry didn’t just stick “Torah” and “Koran” in there willy-nilly. He put them in there because his response was meant to convey the notion that other religious texts were just as “essential” as the Bible.
Dameffy deftly expresses a similar sentiment here. Big Rivers & Southern Comfort: As Slate rolls out its new “Swingers” feature, whose first installment highlight’s Missouri, Fray electoral analyst WVMicko expands on the red-state/blue state discussion with a more elaborate examination of the “Ten Region Model” developed by The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth. Electo-geeks can join Micko’s discussion, “Swing Beat: Mo Better Blues,” here. Let the Dead Bury the Dead: Fighting Words Fray is an all-out melee in response to Christopher Hitchens’ invective, “Not Even a Hedgehog,” in which Hitch takes shot after shot at Ronald Reagan before offering a somewhat opaque caveat at the conclusion of the piece. Most didn’t get that far or, at least, didn’t extract a sufficient qualification from Hitchens’ closing graf. Among the exceptions? Chafe, hereKA10:35 a.m.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

Two Fray stalwarts on the passing of Ronald Reagan:

Subject: “Reagan and the 20-Year Rule
From:     Zathras
Date:     Sun Jun 6 1543hI remember vaguely having once read some Presidential historian write to the effect that no President could be fairly judged until 20 years had passed from the time he left the White House. The reason for this, as I recall, is that about that much time is needed for each President’s words and actions to start to be assessed on their own terms, as opposed to being entangled in current political controversies.

My memory as to how I came across this is hazy (maybe I just saw it in a movie!) but it’s not a bad rule. Following it, we should just be starting to put the Carter administration in proper historical perspective. Reagan both served longer and made a deeper impression on American government and politics than Carter did, so we may need to wait longer before his tenure in the White House comes completely into focus. Right now, assessments of the Reagan years are thoroughly entangled in today’s politics.

For Republicans, Reagan is still the Founder of the Feast; most of the themes sounded by successful Republican politicians today echo Reagan’s, and even President Bush’s disengagement from the details of government is defended by claims that he is imitating Reagan’s “management style.” Reagan showed the political world how Americans value optimism, and the political world has responded by pounding away on that theme like a young piano student who having learned “Chopsticks” has decided the way to Carnegie Hall is to play it over and over.

Democrats for their part spent most of Reagan’s Presidency reacting to him, and they are still doing it. You can’t read Tim Noah and Will Saletan reacting to Reagan’s death without noticing how little they discuss their own thinking on government except as a response to Reagan’s. Saletan claims Reagan taught him that he was “not a conservative,” as if he ever was; to Noah, Reagan was dangerous at first because he was a cold-hearted warmonger and is now a failure because he wasn’t. So to be a conservative is to think well of everything Reagan did, and to be a liberal is to, well, not – reactions that inevitably say more about commentators on Reagan than they do about Reagan himself.

I am making more an observation here than a criticism. With the passage of time – say, another five years or so – Republicans will feel less compelled to genuflect regularly in Reagan’s direction, and those on the left less driven to see Reagan as a proxy for Republican ideas and personalities they dislike today. And I am as guilty as anyone else of looking on Reagan’s Presidency through the prism of the short period since it ended.

While Reagan was President I served in government in a junior staff position. I was driven to distraction by the way his administration stripped the substance from so much of his rhetoric and by how his own inattention to events and program details led to the domestic policy stagnation of his second term. At the same time I took for granted his personal grace and relationship with the American public, not appreciating as I do now how far he exceeded the men who preceded and succeeded him in the White House as head of state – whatever his shortcomings as head of government – and how important that was.

Of course, this view of Reagan reflects my own orientation: my sense of the 1980s’ lost opportunities to reform government and send it in a worthier direction, my exasperation at how completely the demands of the permanent campaign have overwhelmed the business of government under the lesser men who succeeded Reagan as President, my resentment of the petty ill-bred ways in which the last two Presidents have diminished the office by identifying it with themselves. And, inevitably, my perhaps mistaken belief that Reagan’s legacy could have been built on better than it has been by the people who have been active in government and by some people who have not been.

Henry Kissinger once observed that Reagan was fortunate in when he became President – his fervent anti-Communism would have seemed alarming ten years before 1980 and anachronistic ten years after. I suppose there is reason to doubt how well he would have fit into a world dominated by globalism and an ongoing war against religious terrorism, too. But on an emotional level I miss him terribly now. I can’t say that about any other public figure of my lifetime who has left the scene now, including men whose wisdom and abilities I rated above Reagan’s and many whose background had more in common with my own than his did. I’ve heard people analyze the emotional bond they felt with Reagan; maybe that is a topic subject to the 20-year rule, maybe not. In any event bond has now, finally, been replaced with memory, and if this is hard for some Americans surely this more than anything says more about them than it can about Reagan. [find this post here.]
Subject: “He’s a drug store truck-drivin’ man
From:     Betty_the_Crow
Date:     Sat Jun 5 1825hI miss Richard Nixon. He was an evil motherfucker and everyone knew it, even his friends and family and die-hard supporters, with the possible exception of Bill Safire, the exception who proves the rule. Nixon was responsible for one of the great advances in political culture, the removal of the concept of “shame” from the moral glossaries not only of politicians, which would have been no big deal, but, during the course of his “rehabilitation,” of journalists as well. The real heyday of moral relativism began with Dick.

I won’t miss Ronald Reagan, even though his contribution to political culture, government by hallucination, probably outstrips Nixon’s in import. One of the results of employing an Alzheimer’s victim as president was that it came to seem first impolite, and then cruel, and then downright treasonous to make public note of the discrepancies between rhetoric and reality. We’re still reaping that whirlwind, and it’s that, more than his support for muggers and thieves, murderers and genocidal dictators, more than his perhaps inadvertent surrender to and glorification of government by unofficial means, for which I’ll never forgive him.

Nixon killed shame, and Reagan killed reality. It’s no wonder so many of the latter’s former loyalists now worship Bush, who has far outstripped his mentor at the art of living exclusively inside his own mind.

Aloha, Ronnie, and good riddance.[find this post here.]