Overheard in Best of the Fray

Snippets and soundbytes from Slate’s most quotable readers.

Though it may be a bit too much inside baseball for the casual frayster, this gem compiled by topazz is Fraywatch’s new favorite feature for a number of reasons, most prominently because it performs the job of building a Fraywatch entry without all the fuss of culling dozens of unsavory Frays:

Who said the following in BoTF this week:

1. “You just don’t understand Vulgarian chic.”

2. “That’s not your resolve hardening.”

3. “So this is what happens when a gay man gets a woody for Bush.”

4. “NASA wasn’t hiring negroes…you see, it was adifferent time…”

5. “Who are you, the fraybarbie?”

6. “Women cannot be generalized. I am not a pig. (I only play the part)”

7. “Who says I can’t be both real and rentable?”

8. “You are InSadeOut. Like the great man who sandwiched bad philosophical critique between great porn.”

9. “imho, of course.”

10. “No doubt she’s intelligent and moderately well read. Honestly, how many full-on educated fascist blowhards do you catch around here?”

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Let’s See Your ID: It appears that the formal Intelligent Design debate between locdog and Thrasymachus has come to a close. For those unfamiliar with this megillah, the debate thread begins here, in BOTF. As a matter of course, locdog lays out the parameters:

this is not a creation/evolution debate. I am not a Young Earth Creationist and do not believe man and all other living things were created 6,000 years ago, or that the dinosaurs died in the flood, or that the apparent age of the Earth or universe is one of God’s elaborate pranks. We’ll be dealing with the question of the origin of life. In particular, we’ll be arguing whether natural causes alone could have produced life, or whether some intervening intelligence was necessary. The exact proposition we’ll be arguing is:The existence of life on Earth cannot be adequately accounted for without positing the intervention of a conscious designer, such as God or an alien life form.
I will take pro and Thrasymachus will take con. Second, We have agreed to the following rules: that we each get three posts, that our posts will be 1,000 words or less, that they will be posted within 24 hours of one another barring a requested for an extension, that they will all be on this thread, and that only official responses on this thread will be considered by the judges.
The boys have done the Fray good; the posts speak for themselves, and any summary of the discussion would be a disservice. For navigational purposes … locdog (1)
Thrasymachus (2)
locdog (3)
Thrasymachus (4)
locdog (5)
Thrasymachus (6) According to debate bylaws, ghostofa-z and Geoff will judge the participants. Sources close to the debate report that said verdict will come down shortly. Nice Work! Who’s Your Mohel? Circumcision never fails to incite passionate debate in the Fray and elsewhere. What’s interesting about the issue is that it’s one of those questions that tests the limits of tolerance on both sides; proponents of religious freedom often find themselves at odds with secularists who find the practice repugnant. Who are the true dogmatists? Ask GimmeCoffee— and she’ll tell you that:
To me it’s clear that folks that obsess about the issue have accorded circumcision an elevated significance for psychiatric reasons unrelated to the merits of it…More to the point, the whole circumcision issue is interesting mostly to the press, in the same way that they have tried to stir up the stay-at-home-mom/working mom difference into some kind of “debate.” It’s also interesting to those folks who clearly have other issues unrelated to circumcision.
GimCof continues her compelling argument in this post farther up the page. Meanwhile, Chris-4 presents a respectful case against snipping here:
I’m circumcised, but my two little boys are not. I was old enough to remember when my two youngest brothers were circumcised, and contrary to what the author reports, they were both crying for days, but afterward, nothing happened. When my wife was pregnant with our two-year old, she said the decision on circumcision would be up to me, so I did a fair amount of research, and found that the cleanliness arguments just did not hold water and decided that the best argument was that the son should look like the father, but to me, that just wasn’t enough to put my little boys through that pain, plus my irrational fear that they would be among those minute percentage of boys who have a little too much cut off.
I have no problem with anyone wanting to do it for any reasons, but I am somewhat disturbed by the author enjoying the carnal, discomfiting nature of a bris as a justification. That just seems somewhat sadistic to me.
In response to Emily Bazelon’s request for anecdotal data, Thugs-Ma offers some “circumcision vignettes” … KA5:05 p.m.

Monday, August 8, 2005
Lunar Escape: Despite getting a universal panning by literary critics in the northeastern corridor, Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis’ new novel, is lauded by Meghan O’Rourke —and fraysters in The Highbrow are backing her up. According to O’Rourke, conventional wisdom by critics—that a novel should start and end with something “real,” that serious work should reside in and convey the conscious—is missing Ellis’ larger accomplishment:

Ellis is up to something serious. The events within—yes, cartoonish, unbelievable, even parodic—are a distinctive way of getting at the book’s preoccupation with the unconscious, with the futility of our strategies for locating a “true” self within the self-protected armor of our public behavior. It’s only fitting, in this case, that the armor be a little absurd. With his alter ego as narrator, Ellis is suggesting that the fictions that haunt us—and the culture that creates them—are what shape our characters (to put it a little grandly). There’s no “genuine” Ellis to be sifted out from the fictional one here: Author and character are one, like Siamese twins. The grotesquerie is a way past the swampy self-reflection involved in trying to locate a personal “truth.”
JacobBrogan  agrees with O’Rourke’s contrarian take on Ellis:
We tend to assume that the relationship between an author and his or her oeuvre is one way street, but in practice every author is likely constituted as much by the pages that he or she has written before as by the facts of his or her biography. Our creations rarely mirror us as perfectly as we might like, and more often than not they reimagine us altogether, warping us as in a fun-house mirror. For the author as concerned with surfaces as Ellis this cannot help but be a concern, threatening, as it does, to transform that visible self with which we meet the world…

…Lunar Park, it could be argued, is also a novel responsibility, constantly in the process of revising and problematizing the relationship between creator and created. That the Ellis character’s encounter with his abusive dead father (his own arguable “author”) is juxtaposed to his reconsiderations of his own deeply troubling authorial creations is likely no accident. Particularly telling is the fictional Ellis’ apparent alienation from his own work. One could make a case on this account that the novel is an investigation of the way our creations, be they filial or fictional, tend to spin out of our control the moment we release them into the world. Whether this fact absolves us of blame for either their actions or our response is, of course, a question that can only be answered in the telling.
Splendid_IREny thinks that “O’Rourke is onto something,” and TedBurke believes that she “makes an interesting case” for Ellis. Where critics saw nihilism in American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, SI found …
dark humor in a book in which Bateman is confused for other characters because they all look alike. Take another read of the way Easton Ellis introduces characters not by what they say but how they’re dressed. Or the competitiveness over the grade of cardstock and quality of font on each other’s business cards. Or of Bateman’s slyly noting that “murders and executions” sounds like “mergers and acquisitions.”

But the critics missed it. As they did with Glamorama, which was as sharp an indictment of the image-obsessed ‘90s as the previous novel was of the money-obsessed ‘80s. Maybe what critics don’t want to acknowledge is how much resonance these themes carry with readers.
TedBurke isn’t so fond of Ellis, though he tips his rhetorical hat to O’Rourke, and agrees with the bulk of Norman Mailer’s criticism of Ellis as a stylist who can’t penetrate inner life:
He has always struck me as someone who could be perfectly fine crime novelist, an edgy combination of James Ellory and Elmore Leonard, if he weren’t so busy gussying up his sensationalist subjects with the window dressing of eviscerated narcissism. Certainly his knowing jibes and dissections of ritual consumerism and attending worship of material accumulation…Mailer is exactly right on this point, which is to say that a novelist, even a satirist, needs to be more than a taker of inventories.
And for danielmartinx here, Ellis’ tone is “dead, lifeless, unimaginative”:
Ellis’s world is about as big as a toilet bowl, and I can’t imagine reading him unless someone wanted to know more about the soulless automatons and mindless spawn who crawl through the schools and institutions of the Eastern seaboard. His sentences are clunky, awkward, and amateurish, and his understanding of the world is stunted, juvenile, and bourgeois.
For a catalog of manufactured hosannas, check out Betty_the_Crow—and hire him to blurb your new novel. Good News for People Who Love Bad News: I loved Bad Santa, which is saying something because other than Office Space, I can’t remember a broad comedy I really liked since, like, Flirting With Disaster. But I couldn’t figure out why I was ROTFLMAOing until a friend told me that I dug Bad Santa because the character arc is brilliantly unambitious. Billy Bob Thornton goes from being the worst guy of all time at the outset of the movie … and he graduates to being merely a garden variety asshole (apparently my affinity for Bad Santa has nothing to do with the fact that editing the Fray is tantamount, in function and responsibility, to being a shopping-mall Santa). So when Bad Santa scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa were brought on to write the remake of The Bad News Bears—a personal desert island Top 10 entry—that seemed promising. Overall, the remake of BNB worked for me, but lucabrasi’s pithy assessment is spot on:
Billy Bob was hilarious in “Bad News Bears”, but the movie tanked.
Is there a sensible reason why BNB’s remake tanked, other than the obvious fact that Paramount decided to release, as lucabrasi says, “an otherwise predictable, dumbed-down and sweetened-up remake” of what was actually a gritty original—naturalism’s unofficial entry in the kids’ flic division? A more troubling theory is that every American born after 1984 thinks that baseball is stupid (gasp). But lucabrasi offers a better diagnosis—“The Billy Bob Problem”:
…Billy Bob now has this perfected Southern W.C. Fields character for the 00’s but needs a place to properly display the work. “Bad News Bears” deserved to flop, and did, despite Billy Bob bringing his best game to the show.

An “unrated” DVD of “Bad News Bears” would be somewhat traitorous to the cause of this “kid’s movie,” but I expect Paramount may say what the hell and release it anyway, to get a delayed hit and show off Billy Bob at his worst…er, best.

Meanwhile, a conundrum: Billy Bob’s got this comic character down pat. I’ve love to see more of it. But how will that happen after the character flopped in the wrong vehicle?
Come to think of it, if that’s luca’s concern—that Hollywood will avoid developing new material for a failed conceit—then I’m not certain he has anything to worry about it. SeriouslyKA9:50 a.m.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Outstanding Portrayal of a Slate Columnist by a Shadow Contributor: The nominees are GeorgeW6, 39 years senior to a shriveling Jonathan Ames, and doodahman for another subversive hijacking of “Dear Prudence” with his My Two Cents feature. It’s important to note that, for all of doodahman’s stylized counterculture, the guy comes correct with some very …well … prudent counsel—stuff that even locdog can get behind. In a single declaration, dood manages to tell a teen besieged by sexual peer pressure that:

It’s quite possible for you to have sex too soon. But it’s almost impossible for you to have sex too late. Worse case scenario, you’ll spend your twenties trying to catch up… …In which case, by all means, write back.
Abstinence, legal-age consort … eat your heart out, Dobson.  Honorable mention goes to relm for his portrayal of Robert Wright … and let’s toss another nomination Khentov’s way as wellBaines of Our Existence: As if being subject to wearing softball uniforms in the mid-70s and having to play second fiddle in their own city to a franchise whose fan base uses its home venue as nothing more than a beer garden isn’t enough indignity, the Chicago White Sox are being dismissed as paper tigers in 2005 despite owning the American League’s best record.  Worse, writes Mike DeBonis, the White Sox’s abject history isn’t even afforded the sort of romantic pathos bestowed to the Cubs and, before last season, the Red Sox. Artegall writes that the White Sox have rightly earned their place in the dustbin of baseball’s collective imagination:
No one talks about the Curse of the White Sox precisely BECAUSE the 1919 Sox committed such a real affront to the baseball gods. It’s no fun talking about your team getting cursed if they actually deserved it.

Look, the Curse of the Bambino is a story for fans to tell younger fans, and of course to put Dan Shaughnessy’s kids through college; a campfire story, really. It’s colorful. It’s whimsical. It’s quaint, even. It allows you to talk about Babe Ruth and Ban Johnson and “No, No Nanette.”

If you talk about the Curse of Shoeless Joe, you’re telling a story that involves the words “gamblers” and “indictment” and “Arnold Rothstein.” It’s not a lot of fun to tell, or to hear. And it’s not a story you want to tell your kids. It doesn’t even have a happy ending; it finishes up with Kennesaw Mountain Landis coming into the tent like an angry dad to make everyone turn off their flashlights and go sleep. “And then the eight acquitted players were banned for life … .” Wow, that makes me feel good about the team.

Nobody tells the man-with-the-hook story at campgrounds where a real serial killer has been. That’s just not funny, man.
For a comparative look at Cubs vs. White Sox…
The South Siders are Che Guevara to the North Siders’ Paddington Bear. They’re Miles Davis to Al Hirt. They’re bourbon whiskey straight up to a sloe gin fizz sipped through a straw…
… visit rob_said_that’s post here.Trekkies on the DefenseMickey Kaus reports on an informal Canadian study that suggests that an overwhelming majority of sexual offenders had “at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest.”Frayster JackLifton went so far as to e-mail Kausfiles to noted Star Trek chronicler Diane Carey. JL reprints Carey’s reply in his post:
The comments about Star Trek and sexual deviancy or domination because Captain Kirk couldn’t make a lasting relationship are off-base and over-reaching. Star Trek was part of a dramatic/adventure style of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, including such serials as Bonanza, The Wild Wild West, Combat, The Rat Patrol, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, The High Chaparral, and many others. They all had in common the classic male adventure hero who had one-episode relationships in which the love interest had to go away, die, change her mind, or otherwise be eliminated by the end of the episode, in order to keep the format open and variable. The box had to remain the same for next week’s writers. This brand of adventure, while seeming to be male-oriented, was very popular also with women, teens of both genders, and family audiences. Star Trek in particular was written by some of the best science fiction and television creative writers of the time: Dorothy Fontana, Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, Jeremy Tarcher, and others, and produced by several different and excellent television producers like Gene Coon. The actors in Star Trek were experienced radio, theatrical and series-TV performers with excellent instincts and stage presence. The licensed Star Trek books were and are written by people like me, then a 26-year wife and now a mother of three who likes good adventure and moral exercise. To inflict running sexual deviance or underlying psychoses in Star Trek, all the writers and producers would’ve had to possess the same Freudian frustrations. That is simply not true, nor even possible. To cite narrow interpretations of one 1960’s television show out of context, and to go slumming for base double-entendres is unfair to the writers, actors and audiences of the wonderful flowering years of adventure television.

Diane Carey
New York Times Bestselling author of 45 novels,
Star Trek’s first Bestselling author, and author of many “anchor” books in the Star Trek novel series.
For more on Trekkie nookie, check out omnibus1reader hereKA8:55 a.m.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Have You Bought Their New EP? Clearly, Utek1 hasn’t—and doesn’t plan to. Responding to Amanda Schaffer’s critique of current trends in evolutionary psychology, Utek1 feels that EP’s are getting waaaaay ahead of themselves:

…evolutionary psychologists evidently have no problems ascribing the thinking and motivations of prehistoric man on any number of subjects. To me, this seems like a warmed-over version of Social Darwinism, which always seemed to be explaining why the rich and powerful had the right to kick around the poor and the meek. The questions that these philosophers asked were always suspiciously self-serving, as if they were looking for some veneer of “scientific proof” to justify their own prejudices. A lot of these questions weren’t even worth asking from a scientific perspective: why is X population better than Y population? That’s not science, that’s propaganda.

But you know, I haven’t bothered reading the evolutionary psychologists very carefully, so maybe I’m missing something. Maybe they do know what went on in the minds of cave men and women. So on the off chance that they know more than I do, I hereby pose a simple question to any evolutionary psychologist who happens to be reading this, based on behavior that was, inarguably, practiced by cave men some 15,000 years ago.

Why did they paint
this horse?

Did they revere the horse? Did they think that painting the horse would help them kill it? Would painting this horse make them feel strong and fast? Was there a story connected to this horse? Was it attached to some ritual? Was it a god? Was the painting meant as decoration? Was it supposed to be beautiful? Terrifying? Educational? Was it something to do to stave off boredom? Was it primitive graffiti?

And why were the cave paintings at Lascaux so much more spectacular than the artwork left at other caves? Why did some people leave chicken scratches, while some cave dwellers left behind spectacular panoramas? Where did they learn such amazing technique? I mean, who was this guy (or gal)? Was it one prehistoric genius who created mankind’s first masterpiece, or was it a tribal community dedicated to some multi-generational project? Why did they paint at all? And why then, and there? Why weren’t they painting before? And why did they stop?

Once the evolutionary psychologists can prove the answer to this basic question, then I can turn to them for wisdom on why the descendents of these cave-dwellers somehow wound up fetishizing underwear, or investing in pork futures, or voting for George W. Bush…

..Or didn’t.
Got epistemology? Join Utek1 hereFor the Glory of Alma Mater: Bruce Reed’s innuendo about John Roberts’ adolescence—both his aversion to “giggling blondes” and his willingness to dress up as the mannish Peppermint Patty in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown—has Fray liberals, including rob_said_that here, rolling their eyes:
Look, I’m a liberal with pretty solid credentials, a New England elitist aesthetic, and an anti-religion bias — yet even I think this particular attack on JR is a little unfair. So what if Roberts was a chauvinist in prep school? Who doesn’t have embarrassing moments from adolescence which, if revealed during middle age, would cause you a lot of grief? If you didn’t do anything questionable during high school (prep school for you upper-class folks), you probably weren’t learning very much.

Do we really expect the silly views of a teenager to survive to adulthood without modification, revision, even total abandonment? OK, I’ll give you Grateful Dead fans—but I’m sure most people wouldn’t want anyone to see that photo of them doing the Double Feature at the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or dressed in KISS makeup, or with a Don Johnson haircut and Miami Vice jacket. And as for what we may have written on paper, for publication or otherwise, surely there ought to be a statute of limitations. There’s a reason courts seal the records of juvenile offenders and later expunge them if the adult shows no recidivism. Can’t we extend the same courtesy? And don’t specious arguments like this one merely detract from real objections to a candidate. This is the kind of thing Karl Rove might consider; surely we’re better than that.
Meanwhile, J_Mann pokes at Slate’s newest blogger here, accusing Reed of a hackneyed “sometimes I’m joking, sometimes I’m making serious policy arguments” school of rhetorical bet-hedging. SUV-Standard: Not quite buying the moral/environmental imperative proffered by Daniel Akst, RedDeath  pokes some holes into the treadmill o’ guilt offered by TerraPass and others for the SUV driver. In his piece, Akst highlights several programs through which SUV drivers can cut a check in an attempt “offset the damage your SUV does to the atmosphere by spending your money to reduce industrial carbon emissions and to promote the spread of clean energy”—a sort of Sally Struthers racket for gas-guzzlers. The guilt-ridden even gets a decal for his behemoth! RD isn’t buying:
These types of programs … are economically wasteful … The $274.00 that the author spends per year clearing his conscience in regards to the environment, would be much better spent on two pairs of American made shoes.

And, in fact, buying the shoes would likely have a similar affect on the environment. Since American factories pollute much less than those in the third world and developing countries, buying American goods is a way of both creating positive economic activity and reducing pollution.

However, you don’t get a nifty bumper sticker that shoes what a great person you are.
Juice Box: Fraywatch, who has been traveling, thanks justoffal for tipping him off to this narrative on the steroid rumpus by _zuko_.Saudade of the Week: From DawnCoyote, hereKA 8:30 a.m.