Form & Function

Efficient posting in the Fray.

Early Impressions: Ele_ writes in BOTF:

There are two major events today. The important one for the country and the world is of course the second inauguration of George W. Bush. But there is another one perhaps no less important, even though no one likes to think about it - we are all 4 years older than we were on this day in 2001. They say wisdom comes with age, so we are also 4 years wiser, though not all, for it only comes to some. Mr. Bush is definitely 4 years wiser. How do I know? If there is indeed someone who writes the script for our Earthly events, irony would be the last thing this entity is lacking. Four and some years ago candidate Bush was asked in an interview to name the Pakistani president and for the heck of him couldn’t answer. So there were chuckles all around, which I must say I didn’t share. After all, why would anyone expect a governor of Texas to know each and every world leader by name? A year later this nameless leader of Pakistan became our major ally. I suspect today Mr. Bush if awaken at night would not only know the name Pervez Musharraf, but also quite a few names from Musharraf’s cabinet.
The_Bell “was not among those voting for President Bush this time around. Yet I still retain optimism about that election and this day in the sense that the people spoke. I may believe they made a mistake but it seems to me better they have the freedom to speak regularly every four years – at the cost of sometimes making mistakes—than having the ‘right answer’ imposed upon them.” More from The_Bell:
Like every person who has taken the Presidential Oath in my lifetime, I will hope that he leaves office universally beloved and universally acclaimed. It has not happened for any of my past aspirants as yet but hope and this nation continue to spring eternal for me. To those of you who supported him this time around, I offer my gracious congratulations. The election is over, the oath is taken and he is no longer “your candidate” but rather “our President,” which of course he never really ceased to be.

In the next four years, I will continue to try and offer praise when I think it is fairly deserved and criticism when I believe the same is true for it. That also, I believe, is the duty of the citizens of a republic.
Read TheAList “On Inaugural Overkill and Freedom” here. Mass Mailing: To bring you up to speed, Bryan Curtis’ tribute to Dave Barry last week generated this anti-Barry tirade from rob_said_that, which, in turn, generated a kachillion rebuttals from Barry partisans. Thoughtful frayster that he is, rob felt that he owed each of his 32 respondents a reply of some sort—but didn’t have the time to answer each individually. So what’s a resourceful frayster to do?
I figured the fair thing to do would be to categorize the responses for readers here, and respond to each group. So here are the groups, each group’s list of responders, and my rebuttal to each. If you see your name here and think I placed you in the wrong category, you may fill out a Response Reassignment Form and send it to me with your check for $25 and I will reassign you to any category you wish. (Takes 6-8 weeks for completion.)
Here’s a sample of rob’s taxonomy:
Thinks I’m funnier than DBsanzMy response: You are obviously a person of refinement and taste, or else your sarcasm is so subtle as to be undetectable by the best scientific instruments I have at my disposal.

Supports booger jokes
pattywMy response: Pick me a winner.

Makes coherent rebuttal / has valid point
LarsonzooMy response: Thanks for playing our little game.

Thinks I have no right to post criticism of DBnonickname
bellybabyMy response: You see, the idea of a forum like the Fray is that people get to post differing opinions on the topics at hand. It is not necessary for everyone to think alike (unless, of course, you want to keep your membership in the Republican party).
For rob’s comprehensive reply, click here. Gotta B+ in Lunch: In BOTF, FreedomLost points out that Texas lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require school to include a student’s Body Mass Index on his report card. Good thing or bad thing? MsZilla authors this thoughtful reply, which begins with practical concerns such as privacy and computers, then moves on to “touchy-feely issues,” including:
For adolescents and children, it’s a frickin’ joke. Every teenage girl has a drastic upswing in their BMI when they hit puberty due to the growing of their breasts and the changes to their pelvic region that go along with reproductive maturity - for girls who are well-endowed it can be over 10 points. This is perfectly normal and no amount of HEALTHY dieting will change it. This can happen at any time between the age of 11 and 16 depending on the girl so you can’t exactly account for it without knowing the rest of their medical history. A doctor knows that and can counsel a kid and their parents and determine if that’s the basis for this. A school can’t. So, let’s just dump that number on a piece of paper and send it home so they have that to add to the rest of the societal BS that distorts their body image. A boy’s number goes haywire every time they have a growth spurt and there’s no way to tell if that 15 year old whose BMI just went down 10 points was because of good diet and exercise regime or because he grew three inches…Yes, I know that you think if you’re helping even a few kids it would be worth it, but what about the ones you’re putting at risk? The reaction of the average parent who is confronted with this isn’t going to be “oh, I need to make some changes”. It certainly isn’t a frickin’ surprise, and “bringing it to their attention” doesn’t motivate people to get out and deal with their problems. In a tragically many cases, they are going to be embarrassed and angry. And not at the school, but at the kid.
Fraywatch wonders if Texas will issue class rankings … KA12:10 p.m.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

NightFalls on Manhattan: Slate’s culture editor, Meghan O’Rourke, gets a lot of run in Poems Fray for “ Meditation on a Moth.” MaryAnn offers this analysis:

I think the speaker is a New York City resident troubled by how that city or any place of commerce and greed can attract and throw her off her true course. She begins by lamenting what has happened to her “poor eye,” which has seen the “dark-fretted gold” of the business world represented by the Chrysler Building and has also seen the colorlessness (with no life or emotion) of Wall Street traders (“the opium dens of ‘High and Low,’ / where bodies sway like white flowers – / amount due, amount due”)…Then, because she likens herself to a moth, she retreats to the night…

But once the night is over, you have to get up and face the colors of the world again. Like a moth, you can allow yourself to again be thrown off course by the “brute, blind glare of snow in sun” or, refreshed by the night’s dreams, you can “look again, and up you may rise / to something quite surprising in the distance” – hopefully your true feelings and identity.

…O’Rourke’s poem sounds quite wonderful. At first, I feared that her “sound” interfered with her “sense.” I hope my analysis indicates her ability to combine both “sound and sense.”
After offering comparisons to Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, Ted_Burke tackles this stanza:
Do ghosts have neuroses?
What is the point of the haunting they do?

O’Rourke’s question sounds rhetorical, since she might as well be asking why it is that she’s seemingly lured to the streets in the far reaches of the late night/early morning. The activity here is no less neurotic than what a ritual-locked specter would suffer from. This wonderfully condensed musing on what over-alert senses bring to you on dark, wet nights comes from the sort of agitation of the soul that is too familiar with the terrain, and one finds themselves wrestling with ambivalence, to make the move to new climes, or to look further and harder at where one has been for years, seeking another nuance of light or angle of skyline that rewards the soul just a little more than the agony of not changing punishes it.
For a fun homage, check out DemiMundane’s “ Meditations on Mothra.” Drinking Like a Sailor: In Human Nature, William Saletan reports that several states are clamping down on cold medicine. While suburban teens may prefer Robitussin as their over-the-counter hallucinogenic of choice, MaoSayTongue writes that “ NyQuil got me through eight years in the Navy“:
Actually, it was the generic, Navy Exchange brand of Nyquil—tasted the same and gave the same sort of high. It cost about $1.50 for a bottle.

I would usually run out of beer money long before payday, so I would just go to the exchange and buy a couple bottles of the green elixir. When we were in a US port, I just take it back to the ship and sit in the TV lounge, swigging it from the bottle.

Halfway through the first bottle, I’d be talking to the TV … as well as the chairs and tables and anyone else who was in there. The high felt a lot like herbal ecstasy and alcohol–understandable since it basically IS herbal ecstasy and alcohol.
ElboRuum is a big NyQuil guy because JägerCrank
was the first to address the 2 primary irritations with having a cold… the inability to sleep because you keep nose-drooling into the pillow, and your face permanently screwed into an uncomfortable shape resembling a carp hanging off a fisherman’s hook because you can’t breathe through your nose.

How does NyQuil do this? By KNOCKING YOU OUT. If I’m asleep, I don’t care that I’ve got post-nasal drip and sinus clogging.
To Elbo, “If you needed any indication that this nanny state BS has gone too far, here it is.” Offer some homeopathic cold remedy to Elbo here. Leni? Is that you? The only original take on the Prince Harry flap comes from Ang_Cho:
Of course I am troubled by Prince Harry’s choice of costume, but I am even MORE troubled by the reaction of the press and the public … Not that the media is overreacting (they aren’t) but what troubles me is the way in which they are reacting.

If it was one thing the Nazi’s got right, it was aesthetics. One need not ignore the PURPOSE of the aesthetics, to simultaneously admire the sheer emotive force of Nazi architecture, cinematography, choreography and yes: COSTUMING.

Simply put: the Nazis were terrific art directors.

Nazi regalia have a sleek, terrible BEAUTY, that RESONATES. The whole fashion package is hard to resist (as in Indian Jones or, more surprisingly, The Sound of Music). Nazi costume, with its swastikas and death skulls, fetishize death.

And the public is a sucker for a sexy danse macabre.

Images of a dashing young playboy Prince dressed as a Nazi shocks us, not because we are disgusted, but because we are TURNED-ON. We are ashamed at our own erotic response.

The full color tabloid photographs are MEANT to titillate…
Ang_Cho wins the Fray’s Mel Brooks Award … KA4:30 p.m.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Fourteen Pointed? “[T]here is a long-standing political observation that virtually all Presidents—and most certainly those of the modern era—have a tendency to be ‘sucked in’ by foreign policy and end up spending far more time dealing with it, willingly or otherwise, during their Administrations than any of them imagined at the start,” writes The_Bell in response to Chris Suellentrop’s prognosis of G.W. Bush’s second term. Looking for “another historical rule for two-term Presidents”? According to The_Bell,

they tend to focus on promoting/defending their re-election chances in their first terms and then do the same for their legacies in their second terms.The poster boy for these two trends working in combination had to be Wilson.
While maintaining that “Bush seems to defy pigeon-holing,” The_Bell suggests that it’s Wilson—not necessarily Reagan, as Suellentrop would have it—”that liberals hope George W. Bush emulates.” How so? Read The_Bell hereRobertR reminds us that while Reagan had to heed a Democratic House (and Senate the final two years of his administration), Bush has the likes of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist running the point on the Hill. DemiMundane equates Suellentrop’s wishful thinking to battered wife syndrome:
Chris Suellentrop writes: “Conservatives keep praising George W. Bush as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Let’s hope they’re right.”

He says this as if it were something earnestly to be wished. The context is the luck Reagan had in his second term (or, more specifically, toward the very end of his second term and the beginning of Bush Sr.’s, when the Soviet Union’s lease on viability just happened to run out). The subtext is more interesting. It appears to consist of Suellentrop’s cringing, “don’t-hit-me-again-please” defeatism. He’s like the battered wife who believes her man will change if he has enough time and she finds a way not to piss him off too much. In other words, Suellentrop is looking at the same dynamic brought about by the same agent and expecting a different result. In some circles outside the Beltway that’s one definition of psychosis.
Finally, conservative frayster, EarlyBird, scoffs at any parallel between Dutch and W.  Barry Me Not: Don’t screw with the booger-joke contingent in the Fray—at least that’s the message to rob_said_that whose lambasting of Dave Barry (Bryan Curtis, “Dave Barry: Elegy for the humorist“) has generated a howl of protest. Rob writes:
Call me curmudgeon, but I may be the only person in America who starts drumming the desk with impatience every time I start to read a Dave Barry column. His bag of tricks is so small, and so shopworn, it’s almost as if he’s writing the same column every week. His favorite trick is the Giant Hyperbole. Here’s how it works. You start with a mundane premise—say, going to a barber—and then you cast the familiar, ordinary barber in some kind of monster by taking a “new, humorous look” at barbers. You say something outrageous like: “The barber then took out a pair of pruning shears and trimmed my ears down to the size of pussy-willow buds.” And that kind of shit has America spitting Sunday morning coffee all over their newspapers? And he does that again and again and again. It’s like playing peek-a-boo with a baby. No matter how many times you pop your head up over the couch, the baby still thinks it’s funny. Well, as Mencken said, nobody ever went out of business underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
Larsonszoo cracks back:
Whoa, are we a bit swollen with our estimation of our own intelligence? I am an intelligent, well educated American, and Dave Barry still makes me laugh out loud. Because you prefer a certain type of humor does not make you more intelligent, or the rest of us less intelligent. I also love subtle humor, but I don’t discount the genius behind Dave Barry’s style either. Perhaps because of your prejudice against this type of humor, your ponderous intelligence is kept from perceiving the wit and freshness behind the style.
Read the bevy of replies to rob and you can chart the chasm between middlebrow and the Upper West Side, the resentment between those who worship at the altar of fake vomit and whoopee cushions and those who prefer Woody Allen’s August Strindberg references … between red and blue? Nah … KA12:10 p.m.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Subject: Torture: the last superstition
From: TheVeiled
Date: Mon Jan 10 2005

Looking at all the hand wringing over alleged torture by our troops makes me want to pull my hair out. Nothing better can be expected of liberals, whose hatred of America trumps common sense, but I am surprised with the pussyfooting and appeasement being adopted by Republicans and conservatives on the issue. Why does no one have the courage to stand behind an obvious principle—we need torture to win the war on terror?

Qualitatively speaking, torture is no different from bombing. Both inflict pain, and in some cases death, on enemy combatants and civilians alike. The distinction is often made that in torturing captives, we are inflicting pain deliberately, while the collateral damage from our bombing campaigns are unintended side effects which we try to minimize. This argument turns out to be bogus if you so much as scratch its surface.

As far as enemy soldiers are concerned, our objectives are no different across the two methods. In fact, torture is usually more humane, because we control the process and stop short of maiming or killing in most cases. For civilians caught up in the mess, I don’t see why narrow interpretations of intentionality should be considered more important than effect.

When our military launches massive strikes against densely populated cities like Baghdad or Falluja, it is a statistical certainty that thousands of civilians will be killed as a result, and many more horribly injured. It is utterly naïve, and in fact dangerous, to say that we make these decisions without fore-knowledge of such consequences. In any event, if we could separate the innocent from the rogue among detainees, we would target our torture with precision just as we would eliminate collateral damage from our bombs if we could. We are not God, so we do the best we can.

The only difference between bombing and torture, as far as I can see, is that we can put a face on the people we torture, while those who are affected by the fury of our missiles remain anonymous. However, ask yourself this—is it any consolation to our victims that we got to know them before breaking their limbs or burning their skin? Or that we made sure to draw lots before unleashing our awesome power on their bodies? I don’t think so. If they don’t care, why should we?

I know at this point even my conservative brethren will step in to say that our bombs are directed at armed combatants on the ground, who are still fighting, while torture victims being disarmed prisoners, are no longer a danger to us. This is precisely the kind of obtuseness which drives me up the wall.

Nobody, least of all President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld, is advocating torture for retributive or sadistic purposes. Its potential usefulness is as an information gathering tool—valuable information that may help us win the war. Tactical decisions in warfare are not made based on situational cost-benefit calculations, but in terms of the broader objective. Of course the threat from captured enemy has already been diffused, but their comrades are still out there plotting more 9/11’s against us, and torture is aimed at reducing that outstanding threat. If we are so often willing to accept grave injuries and loss of lives on both sides to secure a bridge, why is it wrong to impose pain on some of those scoundrels for the sake of securing our cities and troops?

There is the pragmatic counter-argument that torture simply isn’t effective as a method, that the tortured will tell you whatever you want to hear. This is typical liberal tripe, dreamt up in Manhattan cocktail parties. First, a bunch of false leads bundled with some genuine ones is still better than no leads at all. More importantly, relative to military hardware, our torture techniques have suffered due to neglect and having to operate under a cloak of secrecy. If we honestly acknowledged its importance, I’m sure the Pentagon has the resources to come up with more effective ways of extracting information. The lack of potency argument is far from empirically established, and we’ll never know until we really try.

There is also the view that stuff like the Geneva Convention confers reciprocal benefits, which we stand to lose if we unilaterally violate its provisions. If you believe that, I have a deal on the Statue of Liberty just for you. People who are willing to blow themselves up to bring down our buildings and kill women and children are not going to be deterred in their treatment of captive soldiers, no matter what we do. The argument may have applied to more conventional armies and governments in the Cold War era, but in this unipolar world, we have plenty of other means to make sure our POWs are not abused. Case in point – captured American soldiers were well treated in Gulf War I, but it’s absurd to suggest that Saddam worried about the health of his Republican Guards who fell into our hands. No, he worried about Baghdad being sent back to the stone age, along with himself.

Finally, there is the New Age mumbo-jumbo that opening the door to torture will corrupt our souls and sully our greatness as a nation. To these folks, I say: put down the bong and find a job. Our souls survived deep frying Dresden or flattening the Vietnamese countryside, and it can survive some regulated electric shocks sent through a few genitals.

There is the (slightly) more sophisticated argument that revulsion to torture is a psychological state which provides useful restraint in our internal affairs. If we lose it, the cops will start routinely torturing suspects, men will start beating their wives, parents will resort to corporal punishments, and all hell will break loose, generally speaking. One should know better than to pay heed to the cataclysmic nightmare scenarios the left regularly dreams up. In the past, we have had to do some nasty things in the defense of freedom, and we have survived spiritually each time.

What troubles me when I read the typical defense of the administration on the Fray and elsewhere is the apologetic, conciliatory tone that has crept into the ranks. It’s only accusations, it wasn’t really torture, a few bad apples, the orders didn’t come from the top, blah, blah, blah. Gimme a break. The picture you’re painting of the world’s greatest military is one of a chaotic organization run amuck, over which its top brass has scant control, and which is rife with unprofessional excess while fighting a war, such as sophomoric hazing rituals and near fraternization with the enemy. I refuse to believe that the brave men and women who put their lives on line for our sake have lapsed into such hedonistic decadence. I’d like to think our government has the right plan to make us safe, and it is being executed professionally. If it’s only panties-over-heads, the problem isn’t that it’s disrespectful, but that it’s ineffective.

Our enemy in the war on terror is a clandestine, underground network spanning many countries. As the difficulties in Iraq have shown, traditional firepower and “clean” war is of limited value in this conflict—we cannot invade Syria, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan one after the other and diffuse the problem through military occupation. We have to sniff out the network from one node to the next, and burn its tentacles as we move along. Torture and intelligence-gathering, much more than explosive force, will be our best aid in this task…
[Find this post here]

Monday, January 10, 2005

Lamb-Beau: Richard Weintraub has to be feeling giddy this morning after effectively calling his shot in Friday’s Sports Nut, then watching the Minnesota Vikings pound Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers. SN Fray was particularly active before and after Sunday’s debacle on the frozen tundra, with fraysters expounding various theories. FromtheEast chalks up the Favre-pimping to longevity, while ThePragmatist2 draws the love-of-the-game parallel with the less-than-lionized-in-his-time Terry Bradshaw, and harvey1933 provides the comprehensive Favre résumé.  Sure enough, there’s a lot less approbation in fray posts marked Jan 9 5:00 p.m. and beyond. Writing “Favre is no Starr,” kaycee looks to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packer beat writer Bob McGinn to suggest that Favre’s demigod days may be waning.  McAgo may have the best rebuttal when he points out that:

the fact that Peter King is in love with him is Peter King’s fault, not Favre’s.
On the matter of Favre’s appeal, McAgo offers this:
And if Weintraub bothered to look a little bit closer, it’s possible he would see some of the reasons Wisconsin fans look up to Favre the way they do. I grew up in WI, and you hear countless stories of people running into Favre around the state, in Green Bay etc. He doesn’t charge people for autographs, he’ll shake as many hands as he can—he’s a friendly guy. While T.O. or Moss may have overcome these incredible hurdles to get where they are, they’ve given me no reason to like them. They don’t care if I like them—they don’t care if I respect them. So why should I offer them my respect? …The difference is, when [Favre] steps on that field, you understand that he knows he’s playing a game. He’s there to win, but he’s also there because he loves playing a game.

Weintraub doesn’t seem to respect the fact that most fans consider Favre a “normal” guy. But then again, Weintraub’s the kind of guy who makes fun of places like Wisconsin because they’re a cheese state. Favre brought us some respect. He started out a third string quarterback and moved his way up to starter. He had a horrible first season—25 interceptions, but kept playing. And he got good. And when he got good, and won 3 MVPs and a Super Bowl, he didn’t go shopping around for another team that would pay him more money. He even took salary cuts during some of the Packer’s really bad seasons to try and entice more players there. He made the Packers into a national football team again—and he did it by playing as hard as he could every game. For two or three seasons there, he nearly got sacked every play because the Packers had no offensive line. But he got up, kept shooting, and eventually won a Super Bowl. I don’t think that any household in WI, or in a lot of the U.S. even, would mind having Favre over for dinner- he’d be polite, good company.

Can Weintraub say the same about T.O.?
Fray Editor waits with anticipation for his hometown Falcons to take the field Saturday afternoon against Mike Martz, who’s beginning to appear and act suspiciously like Dick Cheney … with top hair.Shrimp Forks & Lobster Bibs: Over in Jurisprudence Fray, BarberofSeville takes issue with “Dahlia [Lithwick’s] indignation” that AG nominee Alberto Gonzales was unwilling to defend his legal positions. Here’s the Barber:
The Orwellian missive Gonzales wrote for his boss wasn’t a legal or moral argument for changing the law. It was a piece of legal whoring meant to explore how far the intent of the law can be bent through parsing and semantic jujitsu. It’s like a tabulation of tax loopholes, and to call upon its author to make economic arguments for tax cuts is missing the point. Whatever Gonzales’ failings, you can’t accuse him of chickening out of defending his principle. After all, he hasn’t displayed any!
Lysander takes a similar tack, arguing that
a Senate confirmation hearing is not an opportunity to defend a position or persuade your opposition. Its an opportunity to lose a job.

I suspect Mr. Gonzales and his advisers were fairly certain of his confirmation - provided he didn’t say something that would generate a controversy in the media. If he wanted to be Attorney General, the only safe course for him was to go in and spew politically correct, neutral platitudes. Once he gets the job, he can be more aggressive in advocating positions, if he likes. Confirmed cabinet members, like tenured Yale law professors, can come before Congress and tell them how the cow ate the cabbage if they want. Aspiring cabinet members cannot, at least not if they hope to be confirmed.
Thrasymachustheory is that Gonzales isn’t more forthcoming because the “infamous Bybee Memo was solicited by Mr. Gonzales in his capacity as Counsel to the President.” And Demosthenes2 manages to filter the Gonzales proceedings through the world of Monty Python. Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution: Echoing Paul Krugman, modicum offers this “random thought”:
If you believe, as I do, that privatization of Social Security does not bring more money into the system—i.e., does not solve insolvency - then there is no hurry to implement privatization. It could be done any time, or not at all. The only thing unique right now in this regard is Republican control in DC.

Health care, on the other hand, is a critical problem on multiple levels: social, economic, international relations, even national security. Voters care more about this than reforming SS. It requires deeper changes, greater leadership and clearer long-term vision than SS reform, whether one looks at it from the left, the right, or the center.

Perhaps we are working on the wrong problem at the wrong time, regardless of whether one supports privatization or not?
Help start the discussion here. The New Season: The wait is over. The doctor is back in session. The Fray is proud to introduce newcomers and old-timers alike to the 2005 season of doodahman’s “My Two Cents.” … KA11:20 a.m.