The Best of the Fray

Samples and snippets from Slate’s readers.

Subject: “Next big thing?
From:     Mike_Murray
Date:     Thu Jul 15 1231h I think Iraq is turning a corner. The new Iraqi government continues to impress me with just about every decision they make. I think a crisis there may well come but it will not be for another couple years and will not center around Islamic militants and insurgents as much as ethnic groups with competing interests. I think the insurgency is starting to whither.

So what is next? Islamic militants are on the defensive but are anything but stupid. How will they try to regain initiative?

The goal cannot be military but must first be to radicalize more support form more Moslems and create a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ atmosphere to the conflict so that even moderate Moslems support conflict.

In that vein I cannot think of a better target than Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government is domestically unpopular. If they could be overthrown the militants could not win militarily but would be guaranteed to generate Western intervention for fear of a worldwide oil shortage and severe recession.

It would not be governance they seek but the intervention itself. Western troops even near Mecca Medina and present during the Hadj would very likely radicalize increasingly large segments of Islamic population which could create a cycle of violence that would play into the terrorist hands.

And Western Military power would be invalidated because that is exactly the response they are hoping for.

It will not be as easy as it may seem. The rulers of Saudi Arabia are well versed in Islamic philosophy as well as capable of being ruthless in security operations. Worst case, Egypt or Jordan might intervene.

Still, if I was planning for the Terrorists, that is where I would put emphasis next.
Subject: “Sports, Games, and Skills
Re:         ”Is Math a Sport?
From:     TheAList
Date:     Thu Jul 15 1517hThe difference between “sport” and “game” is a subject I’ve discussed for years.

A sport is like an element in physics. It is a targeted test of the highest level of fundamental individual human athleticism. The 100 meter dash is the classic example—how fast can a human run? Indeed, most track and field contests are sports. Here is a bar? Can you jump over it? Here is a line. How far can you jump from it? Here is a shot. How far can you throw it? Though there may be some rules in sports, they are often limited to making the competitors’ experience competing as identical as possible and do not involve subjective judging. The 50 freestyle is a sport, diving isn’t.

Games, like compounds, put individual sporting talents into contests with complex rules and interactions with other people. If you can see why running the 100 meter dash is different from stealing second base, you can see the difference between sport and game. Baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey are games that require varying combinations of elemental sporting talents and, as discussed below, discrete skills.

Many athletic contests are neither sports nor games, but skills tests. Gymnasts are incredible athletes, but the rings and the pommel horse are not tests of elemental physical ability (e.g., subjective judging) nor games with other people. Other skill events include golf and figure skating. Other contests, like chess or poker (which at least require endurance) arguably fit into this category as well.

In short, a home run derby is a skill event as baseball is a game as running is a sport. A free throw shooting contest is a skill event as basketball is a game as jumping is a sport.

In my view, the Olympics have added too many games and skill contests. The Olympics are at their most riveting when their events test the limits of human ability, not the vision or bias of the judges.

: “You are dishonest
From:     Splendid_IREny
Date:     Thu Jul 15 1216h Yet everyone who knows the truth about you keeps their mouths shut. No one could say anything without damning themselves.

Since you could walk and talk, you’ve been twinkling at people, just like you learned to do. It was probably your mother who you overheard as a child telling her friends, “Oh, he gets that mischievous twinkle and I just laugh.” That twinkle made any spanking or remonstrations tempered by a sense of regret. No one really wants to punish me, you thought.

And, now you think no one can. Now, you think you are beyond it. You sat in that classroom with reading, chattering schoolchildren and tried to pull the mental trigger to make you stand up. You failed, but you never thought you would be judged for it. The camera was there for a reason; it was there to capture something else. Were you trying to look like you knew you should stand up, move with due haste? Or were you trying to look like a Hamlet figure, stuck between thought and action? The twinkle’s the only thing you’ve got in your bag. A good actor needs more in such moments.

Now, you’ve made your bid for election—not reelection, since it is true, it is imperative fact that you never were elected—a family affair. See your twinkling expression. See your vapid-yet-harmless daughters on the campaign trail with you. See opportunities galore to push an empty agenda designed to prescribe a way of living that no longer is natural for the new century. Push the right buttons and make the monkeys rail at the horrors of a free world. Ape the same phrases to establish rule by fear and smile as civil rights are eroded. You didn’t invent duplicity. You just thrive under it, as long as you don’t have to answer questions.

Know this: You are not a gifted liar. Regardless of what you think you’ve gotten away with and regardless of the fact that those in the know would, themselves, keep the secret to their graves. Damning you would, again, be damning themselves. There are always more of you to take the place of you. That would explain for the twinkle, if it were a little less arrogant.

Arrogance is not going to save you. It’s the enabling behavior given you by your doting family. Yeah, maybe there were some moments of tough love in the old cocaine days, but those, too, were tempered by a hesitation to really bring it up. They always knew, just as you did, that you were going to carry the name as high as papa could finagle. Hell, it ain’t even finagling when you’ve got the bin Laden bunch breaking bread at your family picnics. It just sounds folksy and humble to say the word. But, lift the blind. See us out there?

We don’t believe you. A great many of us never did. A great many of us watched in shocked submission how you took over an election and pretended to be a leader. Who knows how far back in the planning stages was the invasion of Iraq? Who knows? But, at least we’ve got, courtesy of Mr. Moore, the seven minutes of you visibly incapable of proactive thought. The invasion was already ready. Your performances after 9/11 were just that, for show purposes so folks like us would know how much forethought went into arbitrarily invading a country that had nothing to do with the events of 9/11.

So many others know. So many others know you are dishonest. You ARE dishonest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Cosby Row:  Is Bill Cosby the new John McCain—the straight-shooter everyone across the political spectrum wants to call their own? GratuitousPython touches upon the hazards of “airing the family laundry”:

Cosby took that risk, and just look at how the bigots are piling on with their “I told you so” comments.
Does GratPyth have a point? Are racists exploiting Cosby to reify their own bias or is Cosby actually Dan Quayle With Substance?  Here’s how The_Bell sizes up the talk about the talk:
The only reason that Cosby’s statements are so controversial—at least among white Americans—is that political correctness has caused public expressions about racism and inequality for African Americans to take on one of two highly polarized positions. One is truculent defiance that such problems even exist or to insist that the blame falls entirely upon black Americans for a variety of reasons. The other is apologetic acceptance of responsibility—born out of a combination of enlightenment and guilt—which refuses to assign any blame upon black Americans whatsoever for their current condition.
And The_Curmudgeon offers an ardent defense of Cos here, as does gthomson who points out that Cosby’s comments don’t deviate much from Chris Rock’s 1996 concert special, “Bring the Pain.”A number of Fraysters point out that Cosby’s beef isn’t exclusively a black issue. Here’s moriarty:
Lord knows there are legions of illiterate, low-class white people, many of whom frequent this forum. The whites may not be enamored of expensive tennis shoes, but they do measure their manhood by the size of their pickup trucks. Moreover, both the black and the white versions of calculated imbecility seem to pride themselves on not reading. Perhaps a more provocative notion would be to speak out against the anti-intellectualism rampant in this land in all races, and illiteracy in general.
For a nuanced cultural critique from someone who “agree[s] with much of what [Cosby has] had to say in the past few weeks,” check out TheNewSnobbery’s superb post.

Dickens Does Family Dollar: Left and right alike are jumping all over Daniel Gross (“Wal-Mart vs. Neiman Marcus: In the war between the ‘Two Americas,’ the rich folks are winning“) for setting the rich-poor threshold at $50,000 a year. After taking Gross to task, run75441 returns to Ronald Reagan’s “shining city” and Mario Cuomo’s rebuttal at the 1984 Democratic convention as apt parallels in the discussion. Run writes:

We are the shining city to the world around us. We are the land of prosperity to all around us. Many people want to come here and enjoy the same as what we have today. But again as was during Reagan’s administration we are at a crossroads of sorts, a crossroad that we have never seen before and one which will shape the destiny of this country’s future for decades to come. We have watched this administration set the stage for the largest transfer of wealth and taxes that has ever occurred in this country’s history. We are on the verge of seeing dividends and inheritance go tax free and a landed aristocracy put in place that no longer will contribute to the infrastructure that has evolved over the last 228 years. This will come about through making permanent the 2001/2003 tax breaks during this administration’s next 4 years.
Which two American cities best mirror the two Americas? Click here for run’s picks.  It’s Globalization, Stupid: Conceding that the poor are bearing the brunt of the new economy, freetrader suggests:
Lower income persons, generally speaking, have fewer educational and financial resources, and hence less of an ability to react in a positive manner when global economic change visits main street and shuts down the local widget factory.

Higher income persons, i.e., professionals and those with significant educational and employment opportunities, by definition have more opportunity and ability to respond to global changes, even to take advantage of them.
Mark55 isn’t buying it. To freetrader’s claim that “[g]lobalization increases overall wealth by allocating resources more efficiently,” he responds:
This would be unconditionally true … if we lived in a world that had truly free trade. In such a world, every product would be produced where it was most efficient to do so, and world economic output would be maximized, given the current technology and resources.

Alas, we do not live in such a world. Globalization in a world that still has significant trade barriers can paradoxically reduce world economic output.
How free is free trade? How global is globalization? Get in on the discussion here. Welcome to the Club: New Club Fray invitees include TheFallibleFiend, thehim and, faithbased1KA 12:25 p.m.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Ol’ College Try: It’s coming. Just as soon as the techs over at MSNBC and CNN dust off the red state/blue state map, and the first elaborate poll shows that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is leading by an estimated three million popular votes — but projected in state-by-state surveys to lose in November by a 274-264 margin — the debate will commence. Most electoral college critics — namely Democratic partisans late to the discussion — rarely lay out specifics that debunk the fuzzy math fundamental to the College. For instance, California and its population of 33.7 get 55 electoral votes, while the 26.6 million residents of the 17 least populated states and the District of Columbia comprise 67 electoral votes. What’s a behemoth state getting short-changed at the polls to do? Secede? No. According to GeoffsPneuma, it should dissolve into 23 separate states, and could logically pull it off “without threatening Wyoming’s status as the smallest state in the union.”  Geoff’s plan can be found in his blog, via a top post in BOTF. Intelligence Quotient: In War Stories Fray, Publius offers some insight into the debacle at the CIA, starting with…

The trouble with most past public discussions has been that they have centered on policy disputes (the CIA should/should not do this or that), rather than on structural and organizational weaknesses.
In laying out his argument, Pub decides to subtract from the total sum: “First, however, it is essential to understand what is NOT wrong with the CIA or the IC – and there are many pet complaints that don’t add up.” What works in Langley? Click here for Pub’s post. Color Me Impressed: TheAList tops off an outstanding week in the Fray with a new palette for Tom Ridge. Click here for the swatches, which include:
Jungle Green: On the down-low
Pine Green: Outdoorsy types
Screamin Green: Liberal activists
Asparagus: Smelly people
Forrest Green: Shady people
Brown: Holy S—t!
Atomic Tangerine: Duck and cover
Black: Too late
Periwinkle is awaiting assignment … KA8:30 a.m.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

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.