Needles & Threads

The week’s best on the Fray.

That the Fray was relatively quiet on the new H.R. Clinton pulp came as a surprise to FrEd, and he wishes to extend his gratitude. This week, Fraysters gravitated to the Downing Street memo and the inscrutable Kelo decision, giving peripheral attention to the downward spiral that is Tom Cruise. 

It is true that the Downing Street Memorandum and other documents from London tell us little that is new, at least to attentive observers, about the timing of the decision to go to war with Iraq. That, however, is the less important question. I think anyone sensible agrees that Saddam had to be removed, sooner or later.

The far more important question is whether the Bush administration was and is competent enough to be entrusted with the dangerous and demanding task of invading Iraq, destroying the old regime, and rebuilding the country.

The answer to that, as supplied by documents prepared by America’s closest ally, is a resounding no…In one of the more damaging documents, a British diplomat urged prime minister Blair to get into contact with Bush, because the president clearly needed to know things that his own advisors were not telling him. In other words, the incompetence of the American government was to be resolved by personal intervention of the British PM — no doubt a rather too optimistic view of how US policy is made.

What these leaked documents show us is that although Britain allowed itself to be dragged into this war, British officials at the highest levels had serious misgivings about the competence and responsibility of their US counterparts.—MutatisMutandis, here, on the true import of the Downing Street memo.
The inexplicable Kelo case has ignited a firestorm on the talk shows which looks likely to build steadily over the coming weeks. In brief, the Court decided 5-4 that a local government can force a homeowner to sell to a developer if that developer can promise higher property taxes to the local government. This apparently is a public good. Just checking the 5th amendment (which several of the justices neglected to do):nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.As the Bill of Rights have been held to apply to state and local governments as well as the national government, one is at a loss to explain this decision.

I’m sure that a number of lefties won’t be pleased at the idea of mom and pop getting kicked out of the old homestead to make way for a Walmart; the decision was announced today, and we’ll likely hear howls of protest from all sides. But the fact remains that the dissenting justices were the conservative bloc and O’Connor. One is therefore unlikely to overturn this decision by nominating a Breyer.

The opportunity beckons, therefore, for the GOP to use the next Supreme Court nominee as something more than a base-cranking exercise about abortion or affirmative action silliness. Something that hits people where they live.

“Runaway activist judges say it’s OK for the government to evict you from your property to make way for fat-cat developers. Vote Republican, and send a message that the court should keep the government away from your family’s home.”

It’s glorious, I tell you, can’t miss…—Quirinus, here, offering his services to the RNC.
Will I be able to burn something that looks like a flag, but isn’t? You know, something with fifty-two stars, or fourteen stripes, or thirteen stripes - but one of them is pink? How about an oval flag, or one with a picture of Tom DeLay where the stars should be?

I’m not asking because I’m already going through flag-burning withdrawal and need the equivalent of flag-methadone. I’m thinking there might be a real market out there for pseudo-flags. Flags for people who want to burn a flag, but want to stay legal. All those flag-burners with all those unused matches. There may be a whole sector of people who have always wanted to burn a flag, but don’t like the stigma attached to burning a real one. Maybe even people who want to protest flag-burning by burning something that’s not a flag.

Maybe self-starting flags that don’t need matches? Like charcoal flagettes? I’m serious here, I smell real money. Of course, once it’s burned up, it would be hard to prove it’s not a flag, so they would have to have a fireproof non-flag proof-of-non-flagship emblem.

I need a website for marketing. Is taken? What about

Oops, sorry - gotta go. I smell something burning.—Ducadmo, here, getting into business for himself.
The sense of growing aimlessness and isolation that so many Americans are experiencing may not be so much because the U.S. is but a life raft adrift on a wide and stormy sea of anti-democracy hatred but rather of our own leadership’s poor choosing. It is interesting to note that Brennan Hawkins, the boy who was lost in the Utah desert, definitely delayed his own rescue and might have missed it altogether because he was following his parent’s instructions regarding “stranger danger.” He hid from rescuers on several occasions because he was not sure if they were “good people” or not. Alternately, authorities say Patrick Hannon, the man adrift off the Hawaiian shore, aided his rescue by sitting atop his life jacket, rather that strapping it around himself and lying low in the water – thus making himself a larger target for searchers.

How much longer then will we be content with failure to engage the rest of the world at any level other than militarily on the justification that too much of it does not understand and hates us – a truly self-fulfilling prophecy.—The_Bell, here, trying to chart a course.
…the confluence of world economics and world popular art have combined to make Mr. Cruise arguably the most successful movie star of the past 20 years.

He was at or near the top of the list back when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled the charts, and that’s over for them now. Eddie Murphy and Kevin Costner used to be as big as Cruise, too, but no more.

Is Tom Cruise in the dramatic ballpark as James Stewart or the iconic star range of Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart? I don’t see it myself. But the audiences of the world think so. And with percentages of his worldwide grosses, the frivolous and unimportant Mr. Cruise can earn upwards of 60 million a movie.

Cruise is also famous for backing up his performances with non-stop worldwide promotion of his films and himself. Which is where “TomKat” comes in.

Ostensibly, possibly because he fired his longtime PR guru, something has gone wrong with Cruise’s usually savvy self-promotion. Or has it? He’s all over the summer media.

The judgment lies ahead: will Mr. Cruise’s charmed star career finally start to fade, ala such Number One stars as Rock Hudson, Burt Reynolds, Kevin Costner? Or will he go another 30 years, like Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman?..–lucabrasi, here, probing the TomKat appeal

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

After F1 gave its fans a big “FU” on Sunday, Fray editor expected to see commentary in Sports Nut Fray from the Fray’s leading Formula One maven, TheQuietMan. After being prodded from his hiatus, TQM jumped into SNF to assign blame for a jilt he calls “unprecedented in sports history.” Who’s responsible for Sunday’s anemic six-car race at Indianapolis? According to TQM:

First, Michelin. There is simply no excuse for not having a second set of tires. Worse, there is no excuse for not having the first tires meet safety requirements. Bridgestone’s tires were fine. There was no secret in the makeup of the road at Indianopolis. True - the road had been ground in a certain way 5 months earlier - but there is no way Michelin could have not known this.

Overall, I see no choice but for Michelin tires to be banned for next year. This was gross negligence on their part.

Second, the Michelin teams deserve a dollop of blame. a) They aren’t blind to their tires. They should have ensured the safety of the first set and the existence of the second; b) they should have raced and reduced speeds at the appropriate times. The F1 authorities were right to say that there was nothing wrong in giving the Bridgestone teams an edge - as F1 is built on teams having edges; c) they should have not insisted on the chicane addition. There was no reason to punish the Bridgestone teams for their own stupidity.

Third, the F1A gets their fingers dirty here. At least a small part of the problem is due to tire rule changes that started this year. It has meant we don’t get to see those remarkable tire changes at pit stops. And we do have to see some potentially serious accidents due to tire fatigue. A few weeks earlier Kimi Raikkonen literally wore his tire out on the final lap of the race and had to retire.
While Fray editor can’t reasonably call himself a race fan, he feels that Ferrari —the spoiled brat of open wheel racing—has to take a measure of responsibility. On Ferrari, TQM writes:
Fourth, Ferrari is to blame. They should have refused to race (the other two teams too - but really, they don’t count). This would have forced F1 to bend and add the chicane.
So, what should F1 do to mitigate Sunday’s betrayal?
F1 has never been successful in America. Its revenue base comes from everywhere else. So the direct impact won’t be great. But the lost opportunity - I’d wager the race won’t be invited back next year to Indianapolis - will have a major impact. And F1 fans elsewhere remain stunned at the colossal stupidity it took to generate such an outcome.

The paying public are demanding refunds. And they deserve them. But then the question becomes who takes the hit? The immediate answer would be the Indianapolis F1 people and the Speedway. And this seems a tad unfair. But I don’t think those who paid really care at this point. The event was a disgrace.
Sailorwalk responds to TQM, adding these as responsible measures for F1 to take:
1. Penalize Michelin in the selection process for a sole supplier for F1’s dubious future.
2. Better yet, a plague on both tire firms and choose a third firm.
3. Fine Bernie for his promoters fees and return it to the fans who were cheated on site.
4. Give one point for participation to each driver and two points to Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi for the Constructors title. The race wasn’t worth full points.
5. If it ever happens again, have a race ready to go or just allow the fans down to the pits to visit. A Fan Appreciation Day by the teams and a track walk might have smoothed a lot of ruffled feathers with F1 fans.
Elsewhere, sports nutters lambaste Felix Gillette for his unfortunately timed piece on Robert Horry. Gillette has composed terrific work for Sports Nut, and there’s probably no one outside Detroit Metro more distraught at Horry’s freaky heroics in Sunday’s pivotal Game 5. But, as you can probably imagine, fraysters like JimWum are piling on:
I understand that sports journalism is a Slate sideline, a racket undertaken … to fulfill Slate’s mission to appeal to a broad readership. And I generally find the articles well-written and occasionally thought-provoking. Mr. Gillette’s June 16 article, however, was disappointing and, indeed, maddening. Again, while recognizing that sport resides on Slate’s periphery, that does not absolve Slate’s editors of their fundamental responsibility to insure that a given piece, especially one of opinion such as Mr. Gillette’s, contains well-reasoned arguments and, at the very minimum, expresses a basic understanding of the topic in question. For example, would the Slate editors publish a piece on the war in Iraq that began, “When Saddam Hussein’s agents attacked New York on September 11, 2001 …”? They certainly would not, but Mr. Gillette’s piece was published despite expressing similarly contrived conclusions; so egregious are these conclusions that Mr. Gillette’s credibility as a commentator does not survive the first - the very first - paragraph.
For more target practice, see CAguy hereKA 11:50 a.m.

Monday, June 20, 2005
Mr_Dick reasons that the dominoes that the Bush administration wanted to set into motion with the invasion of Iraq have been thrown into disarray. “So how do we put the dominoes back up in place?” Mr_Dick asks, soliciting this response from Fritz_Gerlich:

Shaking things up and setting things right are two different things.

There is little doubt that popular restlessness and discontent with traditional power arrangements are sweeping (or at least creeping) through south Asia. Most of the nations of the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia are showing symptoms of one degree or another. And the natural (almost inevitable) ideological form for any popular resistance to centralized power is “democracy.”

The problem is that there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the constitution. (Hmmm … that needs work.) Shaking things up may indeed be, as Samuel Adams Bush argues, a necessary precondition to the spread of “freedom.” The old idea that Westernized elites would gradually “modernize” their “traditional” societies into constitutional democracies was getting a bit far-fetched by the late 1960’s, and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was rapidly abandoned for the extreme cynicism of Reagan foreign policy, i.e., any caudillo in a storm. There things have more or less remained; and there but for the grace of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atta, and Godfrey de Bouillon Bush, they would likely remain indefinitely.

(Well, that’s oversimplifying a tad. I mean, the crackup of the USSR does have something to do with it. But the rapid growth of popular restlessness, expressed some places through electoral politics (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Ukraine), some places through street politics (e.g., Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine), some places through armed insurgency (e.g., Uzbekistan, Iraq, Afghanistan), and some places through a mixture of some or all of the foregoing (e.g., Pakistan)–all this has accelerated in Asia since Lev Davidovich Bush made clear that his policy was to use military force to upset the existing power arrangements in the Mideast.)

To borrow a metaphor from physics, high energy states cannot be sustained for long. Systems will rapidly seek their most stable configuration. No, they won’t maintain such configurations forever, either, because of the inevitability of perturbation. But absent constant energy input, they will spend much more time in stable than in unstable configurations. And I take it as a given that there are limits on energy input. Long-term states of active crisis are indeed possible, but they are not common.

So with societies. There surely is, as Patrick Henry Bush asserts, a very wide and deep yearning for change in much of the world. That yearning is the social equivalent of energy. It is not self-forming, self-defining, self-stabilizing. Once a social-political system enters disequilibrium, factors other than the desire for change will decide what configurations it can fall into, and ultimately, and what configurations it will fall into, for shorter or longer periods. Those factors consist primarily of existing social and cultural arrangements and institutions. These things do not depend very much on changing political fortunes. They are necessarily what people fall back on in times of uncertainty. Sticking with your tribe (ethnic, religious, clan, or however defined) is not, as Americans tend to think, mere backwardness. In most of the world through most of history it has been an indispensible survival strategy. Its day is far from finished, especially in the sector of the globe we are talking about.

Of course, Simon Bolivar Bush and Toussaint L’Overture Rice don’t see their excellent adventure as just a whole lotta shakin goin on. They see it as a stately waltz to constitutional democracy in places that have never known it. But this is a bit like predicting that the next eruption of Mount St. Helens will form a recognizable likeness of Paris Hilton in the sky.

Well, gamblers do win sometimes.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

In response to Fred Kaplan’s war stories on the Downing Street memo, Montfort issues a lengthy rebuke for “glossing over the main accusation against Bush” through questionable semantic parsing:

Either way—”fixed” or “fixed around”—Bush and his aides had decided to let policy shape intelligence, not the other way around; they were explicitly politicizing intelligence.But that doesn’t necessarily mean they thought their claims were false. … They just knew Saddam had WMD, and if the facts didn’t quite prove he did, they would underscore and embellish the tidbits that came close. …Does this distinction matter? If all you want to know is whether Bush was deceptive, no; he was deceptive. If you want to know how government works, how officials make bad mistakes, yes; it matters a lot.See how Kaplan minimizes the crux of the issue? “If all you want to know is whether Bush was deceptive…” If all you want to know… The subtext: well shoot, is that all? Big whoop. Oh you simple little unsophisticated citizen. Look, we should be talking about more important things than whether he lied. Like, how government makes mistakes. So he lied (shrug). What else is new?Being concerned about how government officials make bad mistakes is not the crux of the charge against Bush. The crux is what Kaplan euphemistically calls “deception” - i.e., lies. Bush had a policy of war against Iraq long before he implemented it, and he “fixed” the intelligence to support the policy. Kaplan understands this, but somehow he seems to think it doesn’t really matter because Bush thought, wrongly, that Saddam had WMD.So he couldn’t prove it. So what. He thought the WMD were there. So he repeatedly and passionately told the American people what amounted to lies, and had his cabinet officials do the same. He enlisted the support of rightwing radio and TV talk show hosts, had an entire network at his disposal, sent his Secretary of State off to the UN to repeat the lies. They were lies because they were not facts; the intelligence simply did not support his beliefs. So he fixed the intelligence to fit his beliefs. That’s beyond mere deception because of the result: war. Bush was in a state of cognitive dissonance - he lied to himself and lied to us - and in thrall of such willful delusion he led us into war and is directly responsible for the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of people, and made all of our citizens complicit in this mass murder.I can’t tell from all the hemming and hawing whether Kaplan thinks the memos say “anything new,” which requisite the mainstream media pundits are using to judge the memos’ worth - and many are saying there’s nothing new (shrug), we’ve known all this for a long time (Kaplan reiterates this) and so … so what?The so what is that the American citizens did not know. That is Bush’s great malfeasance, his crime. He lied, half of the nation believed him, and on this basis gave him permission to send 1,700 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians to their deaths. If he thought there were WMD and Saddam was an imminent threat, but he knew the intelligence didn’t support his belief, he had the solemn duty to inform the citizens of this. He would have had to say, “Look, I think he has WMD. Yes, I know the facts we have don’t back me up, but I’m really really sure of it anyway.” Do you think that Congress or the media would so readily have followed him into war?That is what’s new, Mr. Kaplan. That “deception” is an impeachable offense.

ThinkMan also expresses outrage at Kaplan’s apologist stance:

I am furious that the first article (I think) Slate publishes that really takes a hard look at the Downing Street memo simply reinforces the media’s reluctance to have a backbone about this issue. Kaplan writes, “Many critics see the memo as the ultimate proof of Bush’s duplicity—and, given that no U.S. newspaper picked up the story for two weeks (and then buried it deep inside), as further evidence of the mainstream media’s cravenness.” Kaplan does nothing to change this fact. In the face of a smoking gun (some politicians are calling for impeachment), Kaplan makes excuse after excuse for Bush and Blair. Poor guys, he says, “they seemed to believe in their product at the time,” even while admitting weak evidence and ulterior motives. Is this the standard we want for going to war? And why should the media make excuses and explanations for Bush when he has essentially refused to do so for himself?

J_Mann, for his part, finds no smoking gun:

As a Bush supporter, my belief has always been about what Kaplan assumes here:1) Bush assumed, by early 2002, that war with Iraq was inevitable, or almost inevitable;2) Bush, Blair, and everyone else with access to intel believed that Saddam had WMD;3) Bush agreed, for diplomatic reasons (largely to pick up Britain and the possibility of other coalition members), to give Saddam “one last chance” to cooperate fully with inspections.Given that, I have a hard time seeing the President’s comments about his intention to go to war as a lie. Yes, Bush said that he hoped war wouldn’t become necessary, but that doesn’t strike me as a lie, just diplomacy.As an example of Bush’s public comments, see his October 16, 2002 comments on signing the use of force resolution. Some highlights:- In an unfortunate choice, the White House Staff have titled the page: “Iraq: Denial and Deception.” They are obviously referring to Saddam, but still, I wish I was a lefty, so that I could make more fun of it.Bush’s key comments that conflict with his supposed intent to go to war include:- “I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary.”- “On the commands of a dictator, the [Iraqi] regime is armed with biological and chemical weapons, possesses ballistic missiles, promotes international terror and seeks nuclear weapons.”- “Iraq’s combination of weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist groups and ballistic missiles would threaten the peace and security of many nations.”- “Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action.”- “If we go into battle, as a last resort, we will confront an enemy capable of irrational miscalculations, capable of terrible deeds. As the Commander-in-Chief, I know the risks to our country. I’m fully responsible to the young men and women in uniform who may face these risks.”The bottom line is that, while I’m sure a lefty could make hay with this thing, Bush’s comments strike me as fundamentally true. I’m sure that he “hoped” that Saddam would comply with his demands without war. I’m also sure that Bush didn’t believe that Saddam would, and therefore assumed that war was almost certainly necessary. The Downing Street Memo supports this idea, but since it’s what I already believed, I can’t see it as a revelation.

awestruck2 questions here whether, in exonerating Bush from the charge of deception, sincerity of belief should trump absence of evidence.

Could it all just be a transatlantic malentendu? Patlowa says it “depends on what the meaning of ‘fixed’ is“:

In the Downey St. Memo..the serious ‘bone of contentions’ circles around the ‘intellegence’ around regime change and WDM’s being ‘fixed’. The assumption is this refer’s to definition #7, which is the decidedly American definition/terminology for ‘fixed’. However, this is a British memo, thinking and terminology, my guess is a combination of #1,#2 is #5a, although with BUsh and his Vulcans…#5b is entirely possible…this could refer to a combination of these three, I think it is highly unlikely that the Brit was referring to #7 since [this is a] rather unique American concept. fixed (fkst)adj.1. Firmly in position; stationary.2. Determined; established; set: at a fixed time; a fixed price.3. Not subject to change or variation; constant: pensioners on a fixed income.4. Chemistry a. Not readily evaporating; nonvolatile.b. Being in a stable, combined form: fixed nitrogen.5. a. Firmly, often dogmatically held: fixed beliefs.b. Persistently occurring in the mind; obsessive: a fixed, delusive notion. 6. Supplied, especially with funds or needs. Often used in combination: a well-fixed bachelor.7. Illegally prearranged as to outcome: a fixed election.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Emily Bazelon’s analysis of the prosecution in the Michael Jackson case, coupled with Jacob Weisberg’s reflection on the childhood origins of the pop star’s condition, yielded numerous plaints on the Fray about justice-for-sale, opportunistic gold-diggers, the nation’s misplaced attention on sensationalistic news, and the media’s alternate deification/toppling of celebrity figures. The retrospective reflex to examine MJ’s past behavior and statements as harbingers of his current situation proved especially strong, as did the coining of puns by fraysters and journalists alike referring to his “moonwalking away” or ability to “just beat it.”jane2 notes that what MJ may or may not have done to others he has been doing to himself for years, as the “first entertainer to publicly fondle his own genitals while performing his compellingly staged dance routines.”Combining a sense of outrage with a general lack of surprise, Wolfmaiden’s reaction to the verdict invokes yet another prior instance of MJ’s apparent mental instability:

This man has been sick in the head for a long time. What parent dangles his child over a balcony. I mean come on. He is a threat to his own children. He thinks he is Peter Pan. That is so ridiculous. The man is sick.
Thrasymachus gloats over his now-prophetic words about the jury outcome:
Personally, I predicted this exact result on December 30, 2003, in a post entitled (optimistically, as it turned out), “The Radioactive Issues of 2004.”So far I’m batting about .500 on those predictions, but this was the full text of my prediction, on 12/30/03, about the Jackson trial:MICHAEL JACKSON BEATS ITThe rap, that is. Everyone will think he’s guilty, but -presto!- he’s going to walk. Charges of police evidence tampering and brutality (possibly true) will persuade a jury to acquit him and send him back to Neverland. That there will then be another charge of child molestation against Jackson is a tiresomely obvious prediction; but it won’t be 2004. All we’re going to see this year is the endless, and endlessly tedious trial. It won’t be televised; courtroom sketch artists’ attempts to assay Jackson’s plastic features will form a mainstay of late-night comedy routines in the year ahead.Much soul-searching about America’s flawed judicial system and “malefactors of great wealth” lies in store for us. You are warned.
RoyJaruk-18 concludes that the prosecution suffered from a lack of focus:
The prosecution didn’t do all that great a job with the case as presented. Casting their charge net as widely as they did, I rather got the impression they were thinking if they scattergunned enough charges at Wacko Jacko, some of them would stick … It’s far better to concentrate on ONE charge where you can present clear-cut evidence than it is to spray a bunch of charges at a defendant in the hope that the prosecution can convince the jury that there’s more to them than just “He said/She said.”
but notes that the real ramifications of the trial lie elsewhere:
The result will be that while the blindly fanatic supporters who love his work may turn out for him, there aren’t enough of them to support his lifestyle. A personality in his business must appeal to a wider audience than just the dedicated fans; and after this, Michael Jackson has all the appeal of a gut-split skunk ripening on the highway. The not-guilty verdict of the court of law does not matter a damn in the court of public opinion. There, he has been tried and found guilty of the crime of deviance from the norm; and the penalty is career-death. If you think I’m kidding, just look back 80 years or so and examine the first so-called “trial of the century,” the rape accusation leveled against the great comedian Fatty Arbuckle.
The_Bell too has a long rumination on the court of public opinion.The rare compassionate response can be found here from Rainey, who aims his disgust at the “money hungry people that saw him as an opportunity to make their fortune.”Mirroring Weisberg’s line of reasoning, SuperDuper delivers this defense:
As a society, most can’t comprehend the idea that a grown man would choose to surround himself with children. If he does, then he must be a pedophile or be touching them inappropriately. Some how we’re programmed to believe that if you’re an adult, then you should spend your time with adults not children. If you choose kids, then you must be a weirdo. Michael Jackson isn’t a normal guy. He’s eccentric and strange. He’s odd and has identity issues, but he’s no pervert. He surrounds himself with kids because he’s a kid himself. He had children so he could have friends. In his statement after the case, he says, “Children didn’t let me down, adults did.” That says it all.
But omnibus1reader objects to the equation of childhood with a state of “innocence”:
Michael Jackson is not J.M. Barrie. The present-day Americans are not Victorians, and are far more likely to have encountered explicit sexual materials, available constantly in the media. Being naive as a child is hardly an option for anyone nowadays, even a child. Certainly, given the admitted childhood of Michael, naivete was never an option. Recapturing innocence is impossible.
Also in disagreement with Weisberg is fozzy, who argues that MJ displays “a classic array of signs of pedophilia”:
it can be precisely the asexual nature of childhood that attractst [sic] the pedophile. The pedophile, however, is an adult with sexual urges, so one question becomes: how long can they run from their adult selves?
Read a more extensive diagnosis of MJ’s “3 correlating traits” here.As a final footnote, satish_desai provides a helpful clarification on the legal question of “admission of past evidence” in California courts. Tucked away amidst all the Jackson reaction, be sure not to miss TheMaxFischerPlayers snob test in BOTF. AC7:44a

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Fraywatchextends congratulations to Betty_the_Crow, TheBrewmeister, Publius_Too, and the rest of the contributors who are making BTC News one of our favorite sources for discussion in the blogosphere.   This week, Pub_Too offers an examination of the culture war, filtered through an “intriguing exchange” over at the American Prospect. After taking in both sides, Pub_Too concludes:

…The correct approach, I would argue, is to engage the culture debate, but to do so within a liberal framework. In other words, we should acknowledge that there are concerns about the entertainment culture, but that the root of this problem, which is how we are raising our kids. We have a general problem with child-care. The content of television programs is a minor issue; the fact that tv is raising our kids is a major one. This acknowledges the concern while placing it in a broader context. It also shifts the debate to an area amenable to policy-making. In other words, the problem is not what’s on the tube. The problem is that the tube has become too important…
Some highlights from inside the Fray City Limits:
I’d be interested to know what percentage of Americans think abortion should be legal for an 18-year-old girl whose boyfriend promised to love her forever but dropped her like a lead balloon as soon as he heard she was pregnant.That would be the percentage who are willing to allow a woman to choose when to have an abortion, albeit with certain restrictions, rather than banning abortion in most cases and legislating a few exceptions.—ShriekingViolet, here, on what constitutes a pro-choice position.…there has been a great deal of blather … over many years about the UN and “non-zero-sum” choices that come with a subtext that assumes there was a halcyon time when the US acted “multilaterally” in the blessed spirit of FDR, while it no longer does. This is simply not so. FDR conceived the UN as a vehicle to extend US power, not limit it. Wright and others see what they call multilateralism as a means to modify and curtail US action, not a vehicle to implement it by appealing to mutual interests and summoning alliances founded on those interests…—Publius, here, asserting that the United Nations “was the creation of a comprehensive web of international institutions that would embody and give further impetus to post-war American leadership” across the globe.…reading all these posts and replies on the costs of lower and higher income commercial sales of the world is depressing. It shows that everyone, at least in america, is willing to slander anyone who doesn’t fit in their own community of income. You know, it’s great that people with higher income can shop where they want, but it doesn’t give them the right to downplay other hardworking people that don’t happen to make the same amount of money. On the other hand, people with a lower income don’t have the right to slander those with more money in their wallets…—17-year-oldjadedcustomers, here, trying to make sense of class warfare and Wal-Mart on Moneybox Fray. …As intended, “American Gothic” was a slightly smutty joke about a farmer’s daughter, lame and tired and not very funny. But as a painting that has been completely misperceived by the public, it is a masterpiece of Americana, inspiring countless interpretations, all more interesting than the original.

Its immediate recognizability has a lot to do with the strength of its design. Not so much its full frontal stare, as Ms. Fineman suggests … but rather it’s strong play of verticals and horizontals, combined with a lively use of pattern. The picture is strongly vertical, not just in the two standing figures, but in the slats of the house and barn, the piping on the farmers shirt, and the tines of his pitchfork, nicely counterbalanced by the perpendicular lines of the awning and the stairs and the windows cutting across the painting. The design of the woman’s dress rhymes with the design of the drapes, creating a contrasting polka-dot pattern to the prevailing grid. The heads of the man and the woman are physically connected by the peak of the roof, balanced on either side of the picture like scales. The head of the man, especially, is wonderfully painted; the linear style that limited Wood’s depiction of a young woman works well for the gaunt and wrinkled old man. It’s a solidly crafted composition, and as such is instantly memorable…—Utek1, here, on Grant Wood’s American Gothic.…If anyone can explain why Americans have become so willing–almost universally–to conduct their lives only by grace and permission of a monumental central government authority, then IOZ is all ears. Frankly, the phony world-changing import of 9/11 is no proper answer. There has been some other fundamental shift in our collective psychology that seems to compel us to accept on the flimsiest tissue of an argument that our wasteful, venal, and corrupt government should be and must be the permission-giver for the most minute aspects of our lives.

I don’t believe this is a result of our obscene and juvenile desire for universally assured safety.

The desire for safety is a symptom, not a cause. It’s rooted in the faulty belief that this government or any government can keep you safe through the exercise of authority. It’s rooted in the idea, pounded into our collective head for decades now, that the government can do it for you, and all you need to do in life is get a job and buy a lot of shit on credit. Whether that manifests as misplaced trust in economic authority or police authority or military authority, it’s endemic across party lines and throughout the political spectrum. It’s rooted in intellectual and personal laziness–the sort of laziness that allows so many, for instance, to support wars in which one is not fighting and would not fight oneself…—IOZ, here, on the perils of national security