Needles & Threads

The week’s best in the Fray.

Mr. Noah, you claim that your assessment of Jack Abramoff when you were 17 was adolescent then, and it’s still adolescent now. To pat yourself on the back because you had a knee-jerk reaction to someone in high school who, in your limited imagination, somehow fulfilled your childish bad impression is something one does in private, or with some equally intellectually dishonest friends over cocktails. “Hey, I knew this guy in high school…never liked him…boy, am I prescient…”…Don’t give yourself too much credit or gloat too loudly over your brilliant 17-year-old mind. And for sure, don’t pass it off as intellectually compelling journalism.—jschechter, here, not amused with Timothy Noah’s epithet for Jack Abramoff
It’s a shame to see that a smart guy like Blodget has fallen for the Chinese government’s propaganda, hook, line and sinker. I’ve lived in China for more than 4 years, speak Chinese, and have contacts in both business in government here and I can tell you, Blodget is wrong about most issues he touches on… …The real reasons Chinese aren’t out there protesting for democracy aren’t complex but are visible to anyone who’s actually looking. One is that a lot of Chinese have bought the same line that Blodget has, that they aren’t interested in democracy. When you hear something over and over for years on end with no opposing viewpoint, it becomes the truth. That’s why dictatorships take control of the media. Other people know better but are simply hoping it’s true. And still others are just plain afraid of going to jail or getting a bullet in the back of the head…—IronBuddha, here, lacing into Henry Blodget
…the Republicans have a base that’s close to 50% of the electorate. You can see this because they routinely break the 50% mark in elections and even approach 60% on occasion (as Nixon, Bush Sr. and Reagan all did). Where the Dems have a base that must be closer to 40%, since they have a very hard time even breaking 50%– Jimmy Carter was the last one to do it by even a hair, and Clinton never did (he was elected only because Perot split the rightwing vote twice to his benefit). Ignore party affiliation and divide each race leftwing/rightwing (so that you combine, say, Bush Sr. and Perot as both being rightist candidates) and you have a strong rightwing tilt over time (albeit with one anomaly in 2000 when Gore and Nader combined to top 50% for the left side).

What does this mean? Simply that Democrats always have to get a LOT more of the middle than Republicans ever do. The Republican base is probably not enough to win but it’s damn close; only when they nominate a stiff and/or face a significant rightwing spoiler (and only Perot has fit that bill in decades) do they lose enough of the middle to lose the election. So while Perot is certainly a precedent for the idea that the middle could be lost to someone MORE rightwing than the Republican nominee, there’s very little precedent for the idea that the Republicans will lose a lot to a McCain-Giuliani type centrist.

Meanwhile, there are lots of “Reagan Democrats” who would defect from almost any typically wussy-seeming Mondale-Kerry-type Democratic nominee if a tougher-sounding but non-evangelical Republican occupied the center. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 1980– the Republican party spawned a center candidate (John Anderson) and he mainly took liberal votes away from people who were happy to vote for anyone but Carter. I should know, I was one of them….—Emsworth, here, debunking the conventional 40-40-20 paradigm of the American electorate.
The dominant narrative in our time posits that the composer’s intent is knowable, reproducible, and paramount … But it’s highly doubtful that we can really know authorial intent, since intentions go beyond the printed score. It’s even more dubious that we can understand a work’s original frames of reference well enough to reproduce the composer’s intent in a way that would have seemed authentic when the work was written. As for the idea that the interpreter’s insights ought to be completely subordinate to the “architect,” just try applying it to theater. Should actors and directors be primarily concerned with presenting a play “exactly as written,” whatever that means? Would that be entertaining, edifying, inspiring, moving? No.

O’Rourke gives the lie to his own claim when he writes about Aida, “Muti feeds this drama by drawing out climactic passages, creating a riveting sense of anticipation.” Where, exactly, does Verdi tell the conductor to do this? And the contradictions in O’Rourke’s positions are even more obvious when he claims that Muti “— being a purist — tries to honor what he believes are the intentions of the composer” by presenting Nino Rota’s film music in synthetic concert suites. If he were literally a purist Muti would play the scores exactly as composed for the films.

In retailing the platitudes of current discourse in the guise of talking about Riccardo Muti, O’Rourke says little that is useful about either.—Radioguy, here, rebutting Liam O’Rourke’s contention that the best conductor doesn’t inject personal aesthetics into a composer’s work.
If the matzo balls make you sick, would the appropriate cure be chicken soup? —historyguy, here, to Emily Yoffe, who’s going mano a mano (or boca a boca) on the competitive eating circuit.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dancing About Architecture: After nearly a century in a cozy, Renaissance-style gallery in suburban Merion, the Barnes Foundation and its diverse collection have one foot out the door. According to Witold Rybczynski, the Barnes wants to move to a glitzy new ballpark in downtown Philly.  In his slideshow presentation, Rybczynski offers several images ranging from Daniel Libeskind to Renzo Piano and a bevy of factors that a new architect should be mindful of when cultivating a space for the Barnes’ impressive display of work. Not so fast, says Utek1, who objects that

The author asks the wrong question: What would the new Barnes museum look like? When the paramount question is: Should the Barnes collection be relocated to a new building at all? The answer to that question is a resounding NO.
For Utek, part of the Barnes’ appeal is its “idiosyncratic” display that is “understood only by Dr. Barnes himself”…
a Renoir might hang next to a soup ladle over an old chest with a Baroque masterpiece on one side and a picture by some forgotten artist on the other. All because Dr. Barnes discerned some formal relationship connecting the pieces in the room.
But wouldn’t the collected works better serve the public in a major city center?
It’s like saying that Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece “Fallingwater” should be uprooted from Bear Run to Pittsburgh because it’s too inconvenient for the public to get to. Part of the Barnes charm is its location in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia.
TheQuietMan respectfully disagrees and writes that it’s all about the work:
the real value is in each individual work and not in their relative arrangements. That was the intention surely, for each work. Insight into Barnes, while interesting, in the big scheme of things is something of a big sidebar - big, but only in sidebar terms.
So which is it? Should a unique collection be more attentive democratic concerns and accessibility or its commitment to the unique mandate of its benefactor and the particularity of its experience? Get in on the discussion at Architecture Fray. Have Gun, Will Travel: Over in Today’s Blogs, Careener offers up this on England and gun laws:
England: Take Note of our Gun Laws? They do. There has been plenty of analysis of the different rates of crime and various restrictions on gun ownership in these two societies. (Keep in mind though, that England is far more urban than we are, with a much higher population density.) The data is in plain view, even if the argument isn’t clear:

The rate of crime in England is higher for every type of crime…EXCEPT RAPE AND MURDER, which are more common in the US.
Here, tsi1 counters with the “Guns of Brixton” shtick:
Jamaica’s gun laws are the same as merry old England, so you can add that rape and murder are far higher there than America.
Fraywatch thinks wide-reaching gun control is probably a good idea in a civil society but feels that social liberals, whose insights find the right to virtually anything in the 14th Amendment, should have the intellectual integrity to call for a repeal of the 2nd Amendment if they want true gun control. The BOTF Files: Some good energy from The_BellKA9:50 a.m.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Did Daniel Gross get it wrong in his most recent Moneybox column, in which he claims that credit card behemoths like MBNA are suffering because consumers are paying off their debt? After spending some time at MBNA’s site and reading the company’s business presentation, that’s exactly what run75441 concludes. In his well-organized rebuttal to Gross, run lays it out:

The first tip off is that Sales are up (page 7). This leaves you with the alternative that costs are also up which results in lower income. However I did not see this as a factor to destroy Earning per share. Losses are down from the 1st quarter of 2004. Money made in Europe is up due to the weakening dollar (page 12)…It also looks like MBNA is playing the dollar game well in Europe and increasing sales there to the tune of $4 billion. This has nothing to do with consumers paying down loans and more to do with MBNA playing a business strategy. Sorry Daniel Gross. I think you missed this one.
Similarly, baltimore-aureole believes that
consumers ARENT paying down debt … they are simply shifting it . .. they are taking out 2nd mortgages, or refinancing their existing mortgage and taking out equity, to pay that card balance in full.
On the correlation (or lack thereof) between balances and sales, Game_Warden adds:
There might be some irony (but not necessarily error) in the notion that lower credit card balances contributed to the weak retail sales number in March. After all, volume data from the credit card companies pointed to blowout strength in retail sales during March. The miss from credit card throughput to recorded retail sales was large enough to imply that the latter may get revised higher eventually.
EducatorDan has gone to a cash diet:
I have gotten a car loan but do not have a single valid credit card. I only spend what I make and not a dime more. Do I sometimes have to wait and put off and do without? Yes but damn its nice to be paying down all my old education and credit debt from 1995 (freshmen year of college) to 2002 (charged my last purchase to a credit card.) It makes one feel more alive. I have a debit card but hey on mine you can only charge what you have in your checking account.
On the same note, gbpa suggests that we expend less energy on indignation and more “voting with your dollars” by weaning ourselves from credit cards.  But How Does It Play in Peoria: Brendan Koerner’s piece on Jeff Foxworthy’s station atop the comic world generated this from andkathleen. Taking special note of the prominent placement of Foxworthy’s material at Wal-Mart as a factor in his burgeoning sales, &k suggests:
It seems to me that the redneck humor is indicative of an ability to laugh at—not yourself, but people who are, as you see it, a step lower on the social ladder. Wal-Mart people laughing at K-Mart people, so to speak. The problem arises, though, when the non-redneck-humor fans pigeonhole the humor as being about the Wal-Mart people. Class warfare based on stupid humor. It’s safe, white, and probably of the non-thinking Christian variety. Totally non-threatening.
Mountebank offers a smart defense of Foxworthy in response to &k, in which he suggests that “Foxworthy’s world is not so different than middle class America. That is the beauty of comedians who do the racial/class schtick. Whether its Rock, Pryor, Paul Rodriguez, George Lopez, Margaret Cho or Foxworthy … they open their world up to us and show us it’s not so different.”The BOTF Files: Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Thanks, -IsoKA8:10 a.m.

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Aardsma, Aaron, Aarons…
: HLS2003 appreciates the spirit of the filibuster…

Jimmy Stewart stands exhausted, reading the Declaration of Independence in a cracked whisper, sleepless and haggard, waiting for support that may or may not come. High drama ensues…

Contrary to conventional wisdom, minority party leaders don’t whip out the Capitol phone book and begin burning the midnight oil each time they’re looking at a 51-49 loss on an appropriations rider:

It requires a set of persons to be very committed to, and strongly identified with, their cause, enough that they are willing to completely shut down any other business of the government. You can filibuster, but you have to be willing to stand up and be visibly identified as the person who values your cause so much that you’d rather see the government crash to a total and complete halt rather than give up.

And there’s a natural deterrent to the filibuster:

If there’s a backlash against halting government this way, you’re willing to take the brunt. If there’s a backlash against what you stand for, you’re willing to take the brunt.

But HLS delineates between the good ol’-fashioned traditional filibuster and the procedural filibuster that has much of the Republican leadership in the House contemplating the nuclear option:

In comparison, the procedural filibuster eases these burdens to irrelevance. One doesn’t filibuster; one simply declares a filibuster and moves on to other business. This eliminates the key requirements that act as natural deterrents against abuse of the filibuster: the personal cost (including dramatic visibility) and the societal cost (shutting down all other functions).

In that spirit, HLS parts with Jacob Weisberg, suggesting that we “get back to Jimmy Stewart” but eliminate the procedural filibuster.

Tim Noah, meanwhile, declares that we should end it, not mend it. PhxJustice cries, “What are you thinking, Noah?

People need to get over this idea that we actually have a democratic form of government. Our founding fathers wanted no such thing. They were actually scared of the uneducated masses making decisions. That’s why they created a representative republic.

I like the fact that the Senate can be held up by a minority of Senators. It means that no one can just shove through their ideas without a modicum of compromise. I don’t care who is in control of the Senate, I want it, no change that, I need it to temper the masses of the House…

Count Joe_JP as a “small ‘r’ republican,” too:

I believe that majority doesn’t always rule, the government needs to be restrained and should act slowly … and that supermajority … sometimes should rule…And, judicial appointments are the last group in which filibusters should be removed, especially given the lifetime appointments involved … In fact, strategic limited filibusters are best used in special instances such as this.

Immediate action, and delay by any means … arguably violate democracy if a majority doesn’t expressly support them, is a dubious strategy … Caution, delay, and respect for minorities are essential.

I’d think a small ‘d’ democrat would sort of realize that.

For Thucydides’ take on the filibuster, consult coffeegrrl2 here.

Fraywatch can’t really manipulate the margins the way he’d like to for this section: On E.E. Cummings’ legacy, MarkEHaag carps, “Oh, stop the damning praise already!

Many, many of his poems have a lively, original, ineluctable rhythm, to say nothing of verbal energy that both surprises and coheres, creating imagery and narrative seemingly out of nothing but a series of non sequiters. His work is eminently readable, in my experience. I always always always enjoy opening up my cummings.

So he’s so not popular anymore? Who is?!

Here, RyckNelson wonders why Billy Collins subjects solely Cummings to such damning praise. And johnnythunderpants here, Toot here, and melvil here challenge Collins’ notion that, “These days Cummings is rarely mentioned.”

Music Box Libertarianism: Fraywatch liked this rant from Swift on the commercial music landscape. He even managed to drop in a Brill Building ref … KA1:40 p.m.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater: William Saletan suggests that there isn’t an appreciable difference between a baseball player being injected in the ass with BALCO’s finest and the practitioners at TLC zapping a golfer’s cornea with some corrective love.  Both procedures aspire to enhance performance.  Yet athletes implicated for steroids must don the scarlet S, while those treated with laser eye surgery wax poetic on the wonders of medical technology. As “one of the success stories for laser eye surgery,” Arkady offers a personal testimonial. Does Ark feel that LASIK offers golfers an advantage?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Over the short term, it would probably be a detriment, in that your brain has to readjust to the new focus, which, for me at least, threw off my depth-perception for a couple months. It wasn’t a dramatic problem, but I’d find myself clumsily knocking over drinks at the dinner table, or air-balling easy shots in basketball, just because I’d slightly misperceived the location of an object. But, even after that effect had faded, and I was used to the new vision, I didn’t notice any net improvement in my performance at sports.
Since eye surgery offers little risk of permanent physiological damage, Ark feels that
the anti-enhancement argument becomes purely aesthetic, rather than pragmatically oriented towards health and public policy. We might as well ban weight-lifting as ban laser-eye surgery, from the safety perspective.
The_Bell delivers an argument based on personal narrative, as well. Like many on HN Fray, The_Bell feels conflicted by the proliferation of LASIK, though it’s a practice he’s willing to live with as a fan:
One reason that I think so many fans tend to see medical/pharmaceutical enhancers as cheating is that, while we have no objection to athletes honing their bodies like pieces of equipment – it’s called “practice” – we admire that fact that such enhancement comes at a price of time, effort, sweat, and pain. Steroids or LASIK are disagreeable to us because, even if they are safe and everyone has equal access to them, they break the paradigm by making performance too easy. It is all gain with no pain, so to speak. Steroids and LASIK are more like a corked bat or a spitball than spring training or batting practice in that regard.

But if a player is not significantly impairing their long-term health – which they are definitely not with LASIK and may soon not be with performance-enhancing drugs – or failing to gain a unique/rarefied advantage over their peers – which the growing ubiquity of LASIK and, alas for that matter, even steroids suggests they are not – then I think as fans we are letting idealized notions from the world of amateur sports unfairly intrude on the vocations of professional athletes.
For TheAList, the distinction is more cut-and-dry:
LASIK isn’t cheating because probably tens of millions of people naturally have 20/20 vision or better. In other words, 20/15 vision is not abnormal for humans, rather its well within the range of normal human eyesight ability. As such, while players who get LASIK are enhancing their own abilities, they are not doing so beyond the range of normal human ability.

Steriods is cheating NOT because almost no one can naturally enhance their musculature with the speed or precision of steriods. Steriods is cheating because with almost no exception, the end-product of steriod-fueled muscle growth is not achieveable by humans, even well-trained atheletes, much less those who must also have time to maintain the skills necessary to succed in their individual sport.
In response, track athlete whitetrashpopulist takes issue with AList’s line of reasoning.  Fray logician gtomkins1 begins with the premise that “you have to make a two-stage argument”:
Anabolic steroids are now forbidden to players in competitive sports because, unlike Lasik, they are not a recognized medical treatment, therefore they are not avialable to all on even a roughly equal basis…Correcting vision to better than 20/20 is arguably an enhancement (Only arguably. The opposing case could be made that 20/20 is only the standard because it was the empirically observed mode among young, otherwise healthy people, a group that includes many people whose unaltered, unassisted vision is better than 20/20.). But it’s an enhancement we’ve learned how to do, whose risks and benefits we can therefore explain with a high degree of certainty, in the course of learning how to correct the vision of folks with clearly disabling vision problems.
Here, fozzy cites a slew of scientific data to support the notion that eyesight is the critical factor in sport. Fraywatch enjoys reading hiztoria, who laments:
Why is sport so popular?

One appeal is because it’s democratic: sports ability (like intelligence and beauty) falls fairly evenly across the population …

We like to see athletes compete and win because of their vulnerabilities, because of their imperfections, not despite them.
Unless, of course, you live in Philadelphia … KA9:10 a.m.