Olympiad Snow

The Fray goes Turin

Saturday, February 18, 2006

As we reach the last week of the 2006 Winter Olympiad, Fraywatch is proud to present comprehensive coverage of the Fray’s comprehensive coverage of Slate’s comprehensive coverage of NBC’s comprehensive coverage of Turin 2006.

Root, Root, Root for Some Team:  If the Fray is any indicator, the athletes must be one of the least-interesting features of the Olympics.  Fortunately, however, the sports haven’t gone wholly unremarked.  Resident Canadians, Lono and bacon have been treating the Fray to commentary on (what else?) Olympic hockey.  British national, steelbucket takes a moment to savor his country’s success in the women’s tea-tray slalom.  And tmservo gives us a valuable update on the Jamaican bob-sledding.  Anyone caring to crow or keen about their team’s performance, is welcome to join in on the Olympic Fray.

Fanon Ice:  On the Fray, discussion of the games has been dwarfed by discussion of Reihan Salam’s provocative article “White Snow, Brown Rage.”  Is huey_lewis right that the article’s a joke?  Is Rudyeman right that Salam’s take on the Winter Games identifies something about our post-colonial moment?  Or, as MarshallStall suggests, is it a little bit of both?  Feel free to hit the slippery slopes of race, sport, and geopolitics in our Olympic Fray.

Virtual Virtues:  While many lament the unwatchability of the games on TV, Slate writer Neal Pollack laments the unplayability of the games on Xbox.  UnnamedWill, a game developer, blames the mediocrity of Olympic video games on the paradox of game design:  “Because they don’t sell well, video game makers don’t put a lot of effort into making Olympics video games, and therefore the ones that are made tend to suck, and so they don’t sell well.”  Finger-jockey, Archytas suggests Pollack’s dissatisfaction may stem from the game’s title, rather than its topic.  GA 6:30 p.m.


Does Hollywood do anything new these days? That is the heart of the question posed by Edward Jay Epstein’s defense of The Island, the Michael Bay sci-fi actioner best known for tanking at box office last summer amidst charges of plagiarism.


Nothing new under the sun, says Brian-1:

It’s hard to argue with the notion that there is something lacking in Hollywood’s film slate, but originality has NEVER been its forte. Back in the days before remakes, Hollywood relied on cribbing musicals, plays, and books. It’s simply moved on to television and its own back catalogue because that is what the audience is familiar with.


20yearsfromnow seems inclined to let studios off the creative hook:

Hollywood can’t be faulted for behaving with fiscal prudence. Things haven’t really changed much since the earliest days of movie-making.

Before there was TV, and up to the present day, the most profitable movies are based on best selling books: GWTW, TWOO, Potter, Jaws, LOTR are a few of the top earning films that quickly come to mind.

Films that introduced an entirely new cast of characters (Star Wars being perhaps the most successful) have always been the exceptions, and for the filmmaker, the biggest risk.

But no matter what the source, if the movie tells a story badly, its going to fail. Judging by the other posts, that was Island’s main problem.


In an era of escalating budgets, RoboTombo offers a similar rationale for playing it safe:

The suits at the studios are primarily responsible to one constituency: their shareholders.

If it is true (and clearly it is) that movies with a built-in awareness factor are more than original material to succeed in the marketplace, then the studio suits have an obligation to their shareholders to focus their efforts on unoriginal films.

Not mentioned in the article, but equally important, is that up-front merchandising deals are far richer for known properties.

WIth the summer blockbusters, you’re looking at a couple hundred million dollars per film in production and marketing expenses. The studios have a fiduiary responsibiity to maximize returns on such major investments.

So, don’t look to the summer blockbusters for originality. Is this a new phenomenon? I don’t think so.

On the plus side, the success of such 90’s movies as Pulp Fiction has helped fuel an ever-growing market for smaller films. Studios can afford to gamble with $20 million a lot more than can with $200 million.

Look at the line-up at your typical multi-plex, and I think you’ll see a pretty awesome variety of movies, not just cookie-cutter blockbusters. I’d say the variety of film that’s available now is probably greater than at any time since the early 1970’s.

I think the variety that we see now is a result of two different market forces coming together. The first is the success of “independent” movies in the 90’s, and the second is the ever-increasing failure rate of summer blockbusters.


But wait…isn’t The Island already a remake? jhelling is the first to make reference to this controversy, documented at length in a Daily Variety article here. Lump516 explains the chain of derivation this way: “Frankly, the plot to THE ISLAND seems to have been mostly ripped off from a late-70’s sci-fi film called PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR (which itself was ripped off from Robin Cook’s COMA).”


Citing a litany of precedents, Populuxe admonishes us not to “confuse pastiche with originality. Aside from the obscure “The Clonus Horror”, “The Island” is also blatantly imitative of “Logan’s Run”, “Coma”, the Eloi of “The Time Machine”, “Soylent Green”, various episodes of “Space 1999” and any number of bad movies from the 1960s and 70s. In short, there is nothing remotely ‘original’ about it.”  AC 6:20 p.m.


Friday, February 3, 2006

The dialogue between Katha Pollitt and William Saletan over morality in the abortion debate has been overwhelmingly well-received in the Fray and has generated some of the Fray’s finest posts in recent weeks. One such comment comes by way of Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, who writes:

Having followed with great interest the dialogue between Katha and Will and the responses in the “fray,” many things surprise me. I think this discussion embodies the core tensions within prochoice circles at this time. The fact that not a single leader of the movement has entered the dialogue is disturbing. Consider this a plea to those who are providers of services and advocates for reproductive health to use the forum provided to let people know what our values are. Everywhere I go people are eager to know what we really believe, beyond sound bites and spin, about very complicated aspects of women’s rights and fetal value. There seems to be a prevailing liberal sensibility that letting people know what you believe is synonymous with being “judgmental” or imposing your views on others. Saying, for example, “I believe, or my organization believes” (as we do in Catholics for a Free Choice) “that valuing yourself means taking the greatest care not to create life you cannot bring to personhood or into the world is a moral and social good, is jumped on as anti-woman.

Again, my own experience in working with the “persuadables” as well as women who are considering abortion or have had abortions is that they are smart enough to distinguish between the expression of a personal or institutional value and the desire to coerce.

The major difficulty I see for those of us who are strong advocates of a framework for legal abortions that stresses near-absolutism for women as decision makers (a position I agree with) is that it rarely acknowledges or allows room for the public consequences of such a policy. Pregnancy and child birth are private acts with public consequences. The old way of looking at this was the population control impulse – we don’t want to let women decide to have as many children as they want because we as a society end up absorbing the consequences. A newer dimension is genuine public concern about the relationship between abortion and building a society in which many forms of life are valued – fetuses, animals, nature, This concern emerges from a fear that prochoice advocates, who constantly hammer away about the “who” of abortion, may be distancing themselves from the “what” of abortion in a way that devalues all human life.

While I think there is more work to be done on Will’s statement that “It is bad to kill a fetus”, he does a service by putting it out there so boldly. There are many problems with the word “bad” and how it is heard. A more nuanced way of saying this is that the act of abortion is not a moral good. Things that are not moral goods are not necessarily immoral or bad. And they may, as is the case with abortion, be often justifiable and almost always have positive outcomes.

Unfortunately, in the world of politics and in the face of an unrelenting and increasingly successful political effort to simply deny women the opportunity for moral reflection by making abortion illegal, thoughtful moral discourse in which ambiguity is honored is seen as impossible. I say that it is not impossible and it is, in fact, what most Americans are rightly struggling with in the abortion debate. As a prochoice advocate, I want my movement to help shape this struggle, which includes living with public discomfort, as we discuss how to balance women’s predominant right to make decisions about their lives and society’s right to be involved in questions of respect for human life, even for life that is not yet a person and properly is not accorded rights. We are great(?) and correct in demanding the conditions that would enable women to make non-coerced decisions about having children and having an abortion, but we must also be prepared to speak out for personal responsibility as well. I respect women too much to let them off the hook about preventing conception by complaining about how difficult it is to use contraception. Get over it. Women are competent capable moral agents. Being a moral agent means hearing from others what they think responsibility entails. Take it or leave it, but don’t expect not to hear it.
To reply to Kissling’s post, click here11:35 a.m.


Monday, January 30, 2005

Howie’s House of Leather: Michael Kinsley believes that Democrats are masochists, a party that loves nothing more than to engage in “endless self-flagellation about their values and beliefs.” Is that the case, or are Republicans just better at ignoring the self-insights that come with political loss? SmallVoice writes that

A contest between Rovean Republicanism and the Democrats is like a match between a gentleman who plays by the Marquis of Queensbury rules and a Manila street whore with a switchblade.
Demo-masochist Arlington2 maintains that
Democrats sit around and agonize over issues like prescription drug plans. Republicans take bold, decisive action. Sure, it’s always wrong, but it’s still bold and decisive.
And pointpetre1 saw the dynamic Kinsley describes in action on Saturday night, with Slate’s own Will Saletan as an accessory. JLF feels that the (D)s need to articulate something akin to the Contract With America—“saying precisely what they believed in and what they would do about it if put in control.” But Are They Good for the Joooooos?: No one can figure out whether Hamas’ vault to power in the territories is a good thing. The_Bell seems to think so:
Israel is trading an opponent with friendly rhetoric that could never make good on its promises for one with unfriendly rhetoric that has and could prove effective in meeting its own. Fatah is loosely organized and full of dissenting factions, whereas Hamas has a far tighter link between its political and paramilitary branches. That such a link even exists is disquieting but it may allow Hamas to get things done where Fatah never could.

Prior to the campaign, during it, and in the immediate aftermath of their victory, Hamas has shown an insight in dealing with others politically and the discipline to enforce what was required. Hamas has done more than any other armed faction to honor the truce that President Abbas brokered in February. It has not carried out a suicide bombing since August 2004…Yet there is more reason to be glad for Hamas’s victory than simply trying to make a good case for a bad outcome. The fact that Hamas is very separate from Fatah and not regarded nearly so favorably internationally could allow both Israel and the West to undo much of the wrongs they created when negotiating with Fatah. Yes, the chance of Palestinian independence is virtually dead at the moment and the Mideast Peace Process may be set back to square one but it also represents a second chance at that process which I, for one, never expected might happen.
DonaldWolberg takes an entirely different, hard-line stance:
One suspects that little or no damage was done to a peace process that never really existed, and it is either serendipitous or brilliance that Sharon figured all this would happen anyway, and it was far better to disengage, build a strong wall and leave the Palestinians to their own devices and corruption. Israel is now physically and politically separated from the current chaos and bloodletting between Fatah and Hamas.

As its enemies battle over their interpretation of “power,” Israel can regroup, hold its own elections and prepare for its real test, the emergence of an Iranian threat. It is not the chaos in Gaza or elsewhere in the Palestinian territories that threatens Middle Eastern and world peace, it is the madness from the other side of the Middle East, Iran.

…Hammas and Fatah will continue to rip at each other. The Palestinian people will wonder why still more destruction has befallen them. Either Hamas or Fatah will prevail; right now Fatah has more guns and bullets, or the United nations will attempt to intervene with a new mission and the cycle will begin once more.
What bothers ptcruiser most about the elections was “the repeated references to Hamas’ electoral victory as shocking.” For cruiser, this surprise embodies a tone-deafness in the West that goes to underscore why the region is such a mess. His post is here. Indie This!:Bryan Curtis blows the lid off the myth that art houses are more civilized than googleplexes in his most recent Middlebrow column. Splendid_IREny, art house frequenter, bristles at the notion that art house cinemas are caverns for the lonely:
Curtis is implying that going to a movie by oneself at the multiplex is inherently more social than doing the same at the art house? Having attended both by myself, at times, I haven’t gauged one being more or less fulfilling as a social setting. Moreover, if I really want to see the film in the theater, that’s what’s important to me. Not who is or isn’t in the theater at the same time.
… but S_I shares Curtis’ disdain for the social autism of the “Crinkler” and introduces a hi-tech descendent of the Crinkler. Click here for S_I’s ecology of the screening room. Keifus offers a defense of movie theater chatter here. Fray editor tends to fall somewhere between Curtis and Keifus. Sure, the call-and-response crowd at the Magic Johnson Theatres is pretty insufferable, but there’s nothing more annoying that the ironists who insist on chuckling through the funny scenes of ShoahKA1:30 p.m.


Monday, January 23, 2005

Political expression has been the raison d’être of the Fray since its advent, with proclamations ranging from the ad hominem attack to the introspective confession. When Fraysters want to mingle, they partake in a parlor game of political self-classification. But today, Fritz_Gerlich raises the ante for BOTFers with a more insightful exercise:

Can you state your political principles in 500 words or less?
Fritz tenders this stipulation to participants:
I don’t mean labels, clichés, jargon, or facetious epigrams. I mean a deliberate articulation of your guiding political principles, the ones that orient you to more specific issues, parties and personalities. Imagine you were running for office and were asked to submit such a statement. What would you write?
… And starts with his own. Here’s a sampling:
Human rights are the cornerstone of political legitimacy. While the concept of human rights can and does evolve, there is no doubt that at present they include: personal liberty, dignity, privacy, and bodily inviolability; due process of law administered by an independent judiciary; the right to own property; freedom of thought, belief, peaceable assembly, expression, and access to information; the right to participate in political and social decision-making on an equal basis with other citizens.

Aside from human rights, public goods take priority over private goods wherever the two are not consistent. Public goods include not only defense, civic order, justice and prosperity, but also the education, health and safety of all citizens and protection of the natural environment. Public goods are served both directly, through investment of public resources, and indirectly, through incentives for/against private investment or action. For both purposes, taxation is a necessary and beneficial exercise of public power.

Civil society and political government are distinct things. Each has its own nature and parameters, and each is essential to the maintenance of liberal democracy. In general, social order should evolve without political interference. There are occasions when such interference is unavoidable to prevent rapid deterioration of social harmony, but they are few, and the exercise of such interference is fraught with the danger of unforeseen consequences.
What say the civil libertarian?:
… each person has the right to do as he pleases, provided he does not harm others or unreasonably constrain their equal right to do as they please. In the economic realm, a man may compete with his rival in business, even up to the point of putting his rival out of business, but he may not steal his rival’s inventory or deface his advertisements. In the political and expressive realm, a person’s expressive freedom to make any argument or state any case—even dishonestly—is virtually unlimited, except insofar as justice and fairness demand he not conspire to deny any other person the right to rebuttal.

Justice and fairness do not in any way require equality of outcome, but they do require a maximal effort to ensure equality of opportunity, provided such efforts do not unnecessarily constrain the free exercise of personal liberty. It is therefore acceptable for a society to tax its citizens in order to provide for free and universal basic education and free and universal basic healthcare, just as it is acceptable to impose taxes in order to provide for police, courts, transportation infrastructure, and other fundamentals of life. But the economic burdens placed on individuals in order to affect more equal opportunity may not unreasonably constrain the right to self-determination…
… Or the objectivist?
There is no dignity in being a slave. It doesn’t provide for much privacy either. But who is a slave? Obviously, one who has no right to property and is entirely at his master’s mercy as to survival. It matters in the least how benevolent the master is. Thusly the right to own property is the fundamental one in respect to all other rights. Only capitalism provides for this right for everyone, regardless of race, religion and creed.

When the government infringes on peoples’ right to own property by confiscating some at its own discretion, it becomes a master and people become enslaved, because there is no such thing as a part-time slave. Either one is or one is not. That is what the Founders knew all too well and that is why there was no place for income tax in their vision of our Republic. Needless to say, the Republic achieved its present size, prosperity and international status without modifying this vision…
Or the postmodernist?
Politics is the struggle over the definition of reality. Ethics and morality are how we justify our own actions while attempting to limit those of others.
Here’s a follow-up for Fraysters: What is the most profound evolution in your political philosophy?  Get in on the game hereKA3:30 p.m.