Grand Old Protofascists

Jonah Goldberg’s greatest fan.

“You don’t read the conversations closely enough.” There are recurring themes among the symphony of complaints the Fray Editors hear each day. One fair objection, if a tad perfectionist, is that we often neglect the give-and-take of hard conversations in favor of the well-polished opening essay. Though we may not make much mention of it, one of the Fray’s greatest strengths is the quality of discussion which routinely happens there. So, in honor of our critics, we will be dedicating this space today to a close reading of an unusual Fray conversation.

Our discussion begins in Chatterbox, in response to Timothy Noah’s aggressive report on publishing delays for Jonah Goldberg’s forthcoming book, Liberal Fascism. First-time Frayster and evident Goldberg fan, SCP (aka, “Not Jonah Goldberg!”) sticks up for the coming book:

As someone who had a chance to talk to Jonah Goldberg about his book, I would advise Noah to reserve comments on how “stupid” Goldberg’s argument is until he actually […] learns what Goldberg is saying. […] Owing to the fact that this conversation occurred several months ago and I did not take notes, I won’t risk mischaracterizing Goldberg’s book by going on further, but at least my characterization has the advantage of being based on more that just the title, unlike, apparently, Noah’s.

Is the title provocative? Sure. Is it accurate? Based on what I was able to glean, pretty much. As for its release date, while I find myself disappointed to have to wait so long, I am not surprised; from what Goldberg had to say, I gathered it was a massive undertaking. […]

Indeed, the most perturbing thing about Goldberg’s book is that it undercuts me personally. You see, I’m a political scientist and I’ve been toying with the idea writing a paper that would be titled “Theodore Roosevelt: Protofascist?” I now have to wait to see how Goldberg’s book might impact on my own research.

A post like this sets off klaxons in the head of any seasoned Frayster. Can he possibly be for real? Is this some kind of sprezzatura? The post purports to refute Noah’s argument, but it rests upon the basis of a personal experience conveniently beyond challenge. Does this putative academic, beavering away at exposing TR’s inner-Hitler, not realize what he’s doing? Citing personal authority on an anonymous chatboard is like citing to an “As-Yet Undiscovered Manuscript” in an academic journal.

Is it odd that this poster anticipates the substance of Goldberg’s eventual response by several hours? If you spend too much time reading chatboards—as I certainly have—”odd” loses all referents. But I can safely describe this as unusual.

MojoMojo, cartoon villain, clearly senses chum in the waters, and takes a lazy bite:

You must not be much of a political “scientist” if are intimidated by a hack bloggers’ book. And are you really defending Jonah Goldberg?????? That is quite sad. Let the hack defend himself.

Reading this entry, one could forgive SCP for concluding he’s speaking with an idiot. Note the missing pronoun and the over-use of question marks. But, despite appearing to dodge any substantive question, the reply draws a circle around the new poster’s greatest rhetorical liability—his unverifiable credentials.

In reply, SCP cloaks his own authority with the same veil of potential he’s draped over Goldberg’s upcoming book:

Hmm. Engaging in ad hominem attacks on a person you know jack about […]. The creators of this forum must be so proud at the high level of intellectual rigor you’ve brought to this site. [We take it where we find it – ed.]

As for being “intimidated” by Goldberg’s book, not at all, but I also don’t want to merely recapitulate Goldberg’s work. You see, as anyone involved in scholarly endeavors can tell you, the point of any sort of research is to add to the sum total of knowledge and understanding of a subject, not to merely repeat what others have done. That would be pointlessly redundant.

At this point, MojoMojo appears to realize he’s not speaking with an ordinary online hack. Dropping the snark (if not the profanity), he makes himself more clear:

Indeed it is ad hominem (and ad hoc, but who really cares), but come on, are you really stalled in the face of Jonah Goldberg? And political “scientists” should not be worried about the ventures of journalists, much lest politico bloggers. Real “scientists” do not care about the Coulters, D’Souza, or Goldbergs. You’ve not read the book either, yet you are intimidated by it. As for scholarly works? You think that Goldberg is peer-reviewed?

It’s not like any friendships are forming, but conversation is finally beginning to happen here. After prefacing his remarks with some rookie flames, SCP sticks to his guns while shrewdly kicking the topic up a level of generality:

I have to wonder why you persist in thinking that I am “intimidated” by Goldberg. I merely stated that I now feel I need to wait to see what Goldberg has had to say on a subject that I may wish to discuss. As I have some inkling about what the book covers, I can say that from what I’ve heard, it sounds as if Goldberg is engaged in a fairly serious scholarly endeavor and not simply a partisan hit piece.[…]

Actually, I do have some idea as to why you persist in using the word “intimidated,” as well as your insistence on using quotes for “scientist.” You appear to subscribe to a rather snobbish conception of scholarship, in which an elite few with the letters “PhD” after their names gaze down from their ivory towers, a contemptuous sneer upon their lips, at the endeavors of everyone else. As I refuse to dismiss Goldberg out of hand, you seem to think that a) I’m not really a political scientist and b) I must be intimidated by Goldberg.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but having been in academia for the last twenty years and having interacted with hundreds of academics running the gamut from tiny liberal arts colleges to the Ivy League to gigantic state schools, I can say that your worldview is pretty much 180 degrees the opposite of reality. Most of the social scientists I’ve known will accept well-reasoned, well-researched arguments from just about anyone. In fact, the close-minded attitude you exhibit is the very opposite of what scientific inquiry is supposed to be about. Science is about evidence and the strength of your argument, not pedigree.

It’s a tactically effective response. SCP has managed to simultaneously bolster his credibility as an academic, while downplaying its relevance. The topic has subtly shifted to the basis upon which claims of credibility rest. MojoMojo engages the issue:

Okay, fair enough. With the caveat that I have been slumming in The Fray, let me say that I was out of line. […] Yes, you are right on Noah jumping the gun, but I still do question your openness to Goldberg. As an academic I still wonder about why anyone would be receptive to any of the shock schlocks. Yes, ideas can come from a variety of places, but Goldberg? Really? I can’t imagine that you are worried about Sean Penn, Ted Nugent, or Pam Anderson’s new books. […] If you have original ideas, write your book! But if your ideas require amassing tropes that serve a political-trade book market, then surely you can do better than Goldberg (and D’Souza, Coulter, et al), no?

SCP climbs on up to the proffered common ground:

Okay, I understand your point, and if this were Ann Coulter or Al Franken or a host of others I’d be inclined to agree. My point was and remains that having had the opportunity to talk to Goldberg, this book sounds as if it is a serious scholarly work and not just a partisan hit piece. One of Goldberg’s colleagues at National Review, Richard Brookhiser, has written some excellent books on the Founders, and another of his colleagues, John O’Sullivan, wrote a very good book on Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II. Given that his colleagues have done some good, solid work, and what I’ve heard from Goldberg’s own mouth, I’m inclined to give Goldberg the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. […] If Goldberg’s book lives up to the promise of what I’ve heard so far, it will be a wide-ranging, comprehensive treatment that very well may hit all the points I planned to address. If so, there would be little point in my continuing further as I currently plan. If his take is different than mine or if he doesn’t hit the points I wanted to or if he does just put out a hit piece, then I’ll proceed.

At this point, MojoMojo winds the conversation down with some closing introspection and unsolicited advice:

As an historian, I take particular offense to polysci encroachment […] because of the general shoddiness of the work. Way too many political scientists venture into historical topics solely to mine for answers to contemporary issues. There is far too little analysis of context and processes. In the pop world of the Goldbergs, the little nuggets of the past get polished into perfect stones of truth. “Liberal Fascism” seems to be just another one of those fallacies. So that might explain more on my general animosity.

And if you are writing a book, the Goldberg thing shouldn’t stop you.

Which brings us to the closing argh:

Are you reading my posts? To repeat myself one more time, I’m not writing a book. At most, I suspect that what I’d end up with would be a journal article, and I’m not inclined to put the effort in if Goldberg is going to come out with a more extensive work that would supersede what I was going to say.

As something like a writer myself, I’m still upset with Dave Eggers for beating me to the title of my own unreasonably delayed magnum opus. I have to admit the truth here. I’m green with envy that the mere anticipation of Goldberg’s scholarly tome on Liberal Fascism is throwing a pall over the academic press. It may defy belief, but it’d be churlish not to acknowledge the point. The Fray clearly shows Jonah Goldberg has the greatest fans any writer could ask for.  GA 4:05pm PDT

Saturday, Mar. 23, 2007

Thursday’s headlines here on Slate featured a story, beneath Barack Obama’s image, described as “Why Obama is Like a Serial Killer.” The featured article, by Jacob Weisberg, was entitled “Candidates and Killers.”Generously, we could say it was a light-hearted piece sending up the vapidity of childhood clichés. Somewhat more awkwardly, we could acknowledge that its tentative concluding note about Obama’s lonely childhood, in tandem with our promotional headline, struck some readers as downright racist.

I should probably point out that I’m conflicted up the wazoo on this particular topic. I make regular donations to Barack Obama’s campaign and Jacob Weisberg is my boss. I’m a scrawny white guy, so I can’t speak from a black perspective (I’ll leave that to BLACKMOSES). But, aside from the guys talking about God knows what, I can say we created a pretty grumpy mood in The Big Idea Fray.

Clark_maxwell most eloquently expresses the theme of several complaints:

If Weisberg was trying to be cute and clever with this article, he failed miserably. Likening presidential candidates to serial killers in this most juvenile and idiotic of ways should be beneath Slate and the Post.

But why single out Obama, the only black candidate in the race, to put in the headline like that? Why not say, “Why Presidential Candidates Are like Serial Killers”? That would have been more reflective of the gist of the article.

The editors at Slate and the Post understand the impact a headline can have, especially one like this. It’s as if this entire waste of page space was undertaken just so as to have an excuse to take this sick, ugly shot at Obama. […]

If the Post had any decency, it would apologize to Obama and its readers for befouling the internet with this offensive exercise in character assassination.

Strong words, but a fair point. It deserves a fair say.

Your thoughts are welcome in our introspection chamber.

Relatedwise, Rrhain has a pretty good point, too, about Al Gore and the internet. GA 12:30am PDT

Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2007

From my heart and from my hand
Why don’t people understand
My intentions… weird science.

There is some strange stuff indeed happening in the world of science lately, and William Saletan has been on the beat. In Saturday’s Human Nature column, Saletan looked in on science’s progress at defining the physical properties of thought.

Mangar launches a full-throated assault against such philosophical contemplation of science’s progress:

Enough of this metaphysical nonsense from Saletan. [Neuroscience] is a materialist enterprise. I’m getting pretty sick of Saletan coming at us again and again with the “we’ve found the soul, we’ve scanned choices, natural selection is shaped by freewill.. Did I blow your mind?”

No, dooood, you did not. The reason it sounds so freaky to scan “free will” or “the soul” is because you haven’t…no one can and no one will. If these things exist at all they are nonphysical, so, for the purposes of science they can safely be ignored.

What you scan in an fMRI, or an EEG, or measure with a key press are the consequences of the physical events which are thought. Cognition is a material activity. Once you get this concept through your head then you can stop with the mysticism.

For instance, “thinking about faces” is a cognitive state instantiated in matter…thus, it has a chance to show up on an fMRI. The cognitive state that we experience as “the intention to add or subtract” something is also instantiated in matter. The fact that an fMRI picks this up, too, is not a transcendental experience unless you willfully misinterpret what’s going on. Who’s to say a cognitive “intentional state” is uncaused, separate from the material world, or otherwise special or supernatural? Why cannot an intentional state be caused just like anything else? The answer is “it can”.

There’s plenty of wonder to be had in the science itself…this is very cool stuff. We don’t need Saletan’s injecting inappropriate, outdated shorthands and concepts from Cartesian dualism and medieval philosophy muddying the waters in order to hook us.

It’s a compelling argument, though I’d say Mangar sadly mistakes ethics for mysticsm. Caromer answers the implicit ethical question (“what should we do?”) with a sarcastic exercise regimen:  practice your schizophrenics.

“Under controlled conditions, they can tell from a brain scan which of two images you’re looking at. They can tell whether you’re thinking of a face, an animal, or a scene.”

The way to beat this is to be paranoid, and carry false images in your head, to deliberately fool the machines. Mutter constantly about all kinds of nonsense. That way, they can’t “see” your mind. if you don’t want them to “see” you thinking about a cow, then force yourself to imagine a chicken instead, while waving your arms about wildly. Oh, and possibly tinfoil hats help, too.

They can even tell which finger you’re about to move.

Probably not, if I’m alternating with my mind: left, right, left, right, and then I make a split decision. Because even I didn’t know which finger I was about to move until I did it.

While I’ll admit this is all fun and games, someone should be keeping an eye on Degsme, who’s liable to humanize his machine while we’re still debating whether to worry about mechanizing humanity.

Well it seems that Ray Kurzweil’s predictions of CPU and MRI technology are tracking pretty well.

Given the rate at which technology accelerates - it isn’t all that far fetched to think that somewhere between 2025 and 2035, we will have the ability to scan the neuron and synaptic states of the brain and to replicate them within a computer using neural networks or something similar.

And the question will no longer be one of “mental nudity” or of epistemology but instead one of defining what is life. Is the scan of your cognitive state that then continues to run forwards INSIDE the computer any less cognitive than you?

Can a soul reside inside a computer?

NickD dares to search for a political response to these ethical dilemmas, and comes up with the suggestion that we form a mob:

The rights of the people to be secure in their persons, their houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause……

Our thoughts are our own, they are to our persons as personable as can be. Other than our very soul our thoughts are who we are. Indeed our real thoughts known only to us perhaps describe and identify our soul as no other means could hope to achieve.

The all intrusiveness of this technology flies in the very face of the freedoms we claim to be fighting for. This technology is in its infancy but given the rapid pace of development today this technology could possibly mature in a few short years. Strong, ethical safeguards must be put in place now along with strict limitations as to who may have access to this technology and for which purposes. Without such safe guards in place perhaps we should be as the throngs of people in the movie Frankenstein and surround this castle with torches and pitchforks, though I would hope we do a better job of preventing the monster’s release.

It’s a Heideggerian Dead Man’s Party at the Human Nature Fray. Just leave your body and soul at the doorGA 2:00am PDT

Sunday, Mar. 18, 2007

I’ll spare you the small-talk. Below is a sampling of the many fine conversations taking place in the Fray:

James’ account of Soviet literary history, like those of so many amateur literary historians, seems more like an entry in the history of martyrology than an account of 20th Century reality.

It’s important to remember this. Mandelstam’s insistence that survival was accidental, purely by chance, becomes meaningless if we insist on creating an ex post facto saints’ lives hierarchy out of the literary ruins.

Commentary on Clive’s Lives, from this post by MarkEHaag, in the Clive’s Lives Fray.

I have been spat on for being too faggy. One day I wasn’t being gender normative enough and some red neck in a pickup spat at me on the mean streets of hick-town USA. So, you know, I was bummed out. But I haven’t built an entire sob story about my “Oppression by assholes in pickups” around it either. That’s what the righties have done with the hippies-spat-at-America’s-heroes event.

From this post, by whith, discussing Jack Shafer’s vet-spitting story in the Pressbox Fray.

Does anyone else notice that when each performance is over, every Idol wannabe has that glazed over, brain frozen look like they’ve just eaten a tub of Rocky Roads when Randy and Paula are critiquing, but when Simon starts to talk they’re all jarred back to reality? Proving once again that Simon is the only one sitting at that Coke-laden product placement seminar they call a table who’s not completely useless to the human race?

From this post, by switters, posted to the Idolatry Fray, where participants discuss each week’s episode of American Idol.

Didn’t they ever make you take a couple of bullshit philosophy courses and didn’t you study Buddhism in one of them? Life is suffering – it’s as simple as that. The only release from suffering comes from escaping the wheel of life.

Of course we initially get depressed as we age. We lose muscle tone. Gravity pulls down that which used to remain erect. We get fatter and flabby. We have to work harder to get fewer results and we have less energy to do the work in the first place. Both sexes begin to grow hair in places where we previously never had it – for women it is their upper lips, for men it is inside their ears.

But then we get older and wiser. We realize there is no going back and death – glorious death – is waiting ahead to take us away from it all.

In this post, The_Bell enlightens the Dismal Fray  with the truth behind  life’s miseries.

The unabashed display of eugenics, child-abuse, and tyranny on the part of the Spartans in the first portion of the film undermines the idealistic, crypto-patriotic jingoism of the later scenes. The Spartans’ ideological single-mindedness, their worship of professional soldier-dom, their obsession with dying in battle, with maintaining biological purity, with the nobility of war–and, by implication, of warrior culture–seems to render them as grotesque as the monsters they fight. They’re only the good-guys because they’re the grotesques we’ve been given to root for, an accident of their placement at the center of the story. The art direction, coupled with the surly treatment of Spartan culture, almost does the deconstruction for us, asking us to wonder almost immediately how the story would play out if we were asked to “de-center” the narrative.

thelyamhound offers his own excellent review of 300, in this post submitted to the Movies FrayGA 2:30am PDT

Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2007

Voters do it. Job recruiters do it. Consumers most certainly do it. Conscious or unconscious, our cultural obsession with beauty influences almost every decision we make. From Kant to Elaine Scarry, philosophers have long debated the role of aesthetics in moral judgments. A new study analyzed by Tim Harford for Slate would seem to suggest that beauty might also make people more intelligent and successful  in life.

In affirmation of Harford’s thesis, sdsander points to the Nixon/Kennedy Presidential Race as

a perfect example of the beauty premium at work. As many of you know, this was the first presidential race to feature a televised debate. In the debate, about 2/3rds of polled radio viewers felt that Nixon had won the debate. Roughly the same proportion of polled television viewers felt that Kennedy had won.

According to goshdurnit, the playing field is evened out by the creative ways those not conventionally beautiful compensate for their unattractiveness. PaxTerminus considers beauty not a state of being but of becoming:

Beauty is a product. It takes time, it takes work, it takes sacrifice, it takes marketing and trend-making and finally it takes money.

No woman or guy wakes up beautiful in the morning. The beautiful is a result of smart life choices, smart shopping choices, smart diet choices, smart makeup choices, smart outfit and accessories choices and even smart chair-stylist choices.

So maybe it is the other way around: people are not smart, because they are beautiful – maybe simply smart people have better chance to look beautiful by given set of standards, if they choose to do so.

revrick hangs the success of beautiful people on “our innate desire for perfection…It has nothing to do with accomplishment or virtue. It simply is.” Delving deep into aesthetic theory, Mangar believes our attraction to beauty is rooted in an evolutionary imperative:

Beauty isn’t just some random factor, totally uncorrelated to anything else except the things it causes. It’s an INDEX of something. Perceptions of beauty serve a PURPOSE, because they tell us about things we can’t directly see. Fact is, what we call “beautiful” has (over evolutionary time) been highly correlated with mate value. I’m sorry, but in general female beauty peaks with fertility (if not fecundity). The effects of disease, parasites, age and other factors which are likely to lower your evolutionary fitness are considered unattractive. The wrong (or the right) hormones change your face in such a way that you become more (or less) attractive…

So anyway, when it comes to elections and such…you may never have come across any rational reason to think more attractive people are a better choice (even though those reasons do exist). However, you’ll still be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt…not because it’s rational, it’s just a part of human nature.

On a related front, Seth Stevenson weighs in on Dove’s much-hyped campaign to expand our definition of beauty by featuring “real” women in its advertising, analyzing the winning spot from an amateur competition.

Budapestia takes Stevenson to task for judging the ad on the model’s attractiveness: “Dove wasn’t trying to sell m****rbation material to men, they were trying to sell soap to women.” Giblina is even more blunt about the inappropriateness of the male gaze in this context.

a_majority_of_one gives the spot generally low marks for its “monotone” and “unappealing” visuals though finds its message “charming and on target”: “A sanctuary is where women can live out their underlying desires for personal spiritual fulfillment, while the ‘sold-out auditorium’ plays to a slightly shallower but no less sincere longing for stardom and popularity.”

While its motivations may be purely commercial, Dove’s body-affirmative message nevertheless holds “a powerful emotional appeal to many women,” acknowledgessprint. For foxtoast, the Dove ads are not exactly a public service announcement for feminists but a savvy marketing strategy:

Nobody is being conned into thinking Dove is an altruistic nonprofit, established to make girls feel good about themselves. We all know we’re being pitched a product, and being pitched it in a way that ad execs feel we’re most likely to respond favorably to. What people like about the Dove ads is that they’re being pitched the product by women to whom they can actually relate. Every depiction of women in mass media affects our collective culture, and the more common ad campaigns like this become, the less time and thought will be given over to the size-0 sunken in model who looks as if she exists on a steady diet of heroin and celery.

Ad Report Card and The Undercover Economist are the Fray hotspots for further musings on beauty. AC 4:09pm PDT

Monday, Mar. 12, 2007

Steven Landsburg isn’t calling the poor lazy. But he does say they have an awful lot of free time on their hands.

The Fray hasn’t made a Marxist of me yet, but it’s slowly convincing me that our economic system is gravely disordered. Landsburg notes that poor folks have more free time today than they did forty years ago, and suggests this compensates for rising income inequality in America. Respondents in the Everyday Economics Fray strongly disagree.

According to lloyd67, Landsburg has made an elementary economic mistake:

Elementary economics tells us that if something costs more, we buy less of it. Put differently, those whose opportunity cost of leisure–that is, whose reward for work–is highest, will consume less of it.

This is, to no one’s surprise, those who get paid the most and who, therefore, are rich. Mystery solved.

Also, Landsburg’s notion of redistribution is wrong. We redistribute income by giving more to the poor. Likewise, redistributing leisure would give more to those who have less of it, not forcing those who have more of it to work longer. That is, work laws on overtime and the like, that now affect salaried workers (poor in income but rich in leisure time), would be extended to all.

TonyAdragna represents for the disgruntled wage-earner:

As a member of this so called “leiure class” I’m here to tell that I’d rather work at least 40 hours a week.

See, we lesser paid folk earn hourly wages, and there exists a great incentive to employers limiting the number of hours that we get paid for: Less pay in our pockets means greater profits. You can get an hourly employee’s paid time down to 37.5 hours per week very easily: Schedule an eight hour work day, but exclude a .5 hour unpaid lunch break. You can get actual hours worked down to 36.25 by excluding a daily 15 minute break.

The company I work for is currently working our slow season, during which management has a problem letting us work even those limited hours – each member of my crew is only allowed to work four of the six days that our shift is scheduled, and wednesdays, thursdays & fridays are limited to six hour shifts. We’re lucky if we can get 30 hours per week.

What does the future hold for this “leisure class”? Let’s ask Wal-Mart’s “just-in-time” scheduled employees if they can see the future…

True to form, Sarvis cogently notes the policy connection between spare time and working conditions:

If you are curious as to why the blue collar workforce works less; look no further than WalMart, who holds their staff down to between 20 or 30 hours per week so as to keep them from polluting the full-benefits pool. Not to mention the rise in temporary workforce, which leads to reduced average hours. […]

If you want to redistribute leisure; go ahead. Just be warned that allowing WalMart’s staff to work a full 40 won’t be popular with Sam’s spawn.

TJA brings everyone’s grievances together most concisely:

A more competitive marketplace has put pressures on businesses to produce more for less cost. Result? They pressure their exempt, salaried employees to work more hours. The exempt office worker no longer works from 9 to 5 but from 8 to 6 or worse. This is great for the company because they pay them the same salary regardless. By that same token, they have LIMITED the hours worked by non-exempt workers in order to control costs. The result is that exempt workers who tend to make more money work more hours and non exempt workers who tend to make less money work less. Simple isn’t it?

Maybe not. Rabble-douser Dyske throws some cold water on the flames, arguing that people work more because they like their jobs:

Someone who does his job mindlessly cannot beat someone who works hard at it, but even the latter cannot beat someone who enjoys his job. In the end, those who enjoy what they do will beat those who do not. So, they are in the top income bracket. Since they enjoy their jobs, they don’t mind working long hours.

It’s not like mowing the lawn. They WANT TO work longer hours. When you work in an assembly line, your soul can only take so much. Over the course of our history, the labor market has become very accurate, and became increasingly easier to find jobs that we enjoy. Being able to find a job that you enjoy was very difficult 100 years ago. You just did what your father did, or whatever businesses that existed in your area. Opportunities weren’t so equal back then.

So, what this analysis of leisure shows is that the rich are enjoying what they do more than the poor are. It is wrong to assume that “job” means something all of us hate. Enjoyability of one’s job is a big part of the quality of life. I would say it’s more important than the amount of “leisure” we get. In this sense, the poor have it all-around worse.

I’m still a card-carrying liberal, but even I find that explanation a bit of a stretch. Weigh in with your own opinions on the Everday Economics Fray.  GA2:20am PT

When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
when grief has been made so public, and exposed
to the critique of a whole epoch
the frailty of our conscience and anguish,

of whom shall we speak? For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but
hoped to improve a little by living.

–W.H. Auden

On February 8, 2007, Jesse Keller Smith passed away at the tender age of 22. To Fraywatch, Jesse was only known as the eldest son of Isonomist-, herself one of the Fray’s finest posters. The relapse of his leukemia was announced on January 17, the circumstances of his condition explained more fully on January 23, and his demise declared upon February 9.

I’m one of those to whom the mere dawning of a new day sometimes seems a tragedy of unbearable dimensions. I can’t even imagine the pain Isonomistmust feel in the face of such a palpable loss. We here at Fraywatch join the Fray in offering her our sincerest condolences.

A widely remarked feature of the internet is its extensive documentation of the trivial and the everyday. Even the bowel movements of a British minister can be frozen for posterity.

Too often, we treat this as a bad thing. In so doing, we allow ourselves to overlook the precious experiences expressed by compelling voices, which would have been completely overlooked in earlier ages.

Jesse chronicled his last days on a blog entitled “The Only Thing Worse Than Law School.” It’s a fascinating glimpse into a mind and life which has been prematurely silenced.

Up until early January I was a law student. Now, after bitching non-stop about how much it sucks to be a law student, I’ve rediscovered the one thing that sucks more. I’m in the hospital with a leukemia relapse and I’ll be here for 30 days, give or take. My best tool at this point is humor, because otherwise this is tragic. Hopefully some of the humor in my situation comes through.

I’d argue that it does. Jesse was a keen observer, and he provides a compelling and amusing narration of the strange roommates, daytime television, petty indignities, and visual hallucinations of his final hospital stay. Even a complete stranger, such as myself, can get a sense of the remarkable potential which has just been lost to this world.

It’s a marvel of the modern age that such words can, do, and shall continue to emerge from such unlikely situations. The outer boundaries of this magnificent gain are marked by the losses to which we’d otherwise be unaware.

Jesse was a student at Fordham law school. In his personal statement, he explained what he hoped to accomplish through the practice of law:

While working for the court, I watched a preliminary hearing for a man charged with raping his nine-year-old daughter.  I watched as the courtroom was emptied so the little girl could testify without being overwhelmed.  She walked into the courtroom wearing a pink dress and had her bright blond hair in pigtails.  She sat down in the witness seat and could barely reach up to the microphone.  After being asked about whether she understood the difference between the truth and a lie, the prosecutor asked her about what had happened the last night she had seen her father.  She described how she gave her pet hamster, Buttons, some food, changed into teddy bear pajamas and got into bed.  She then told the court how her father got into bed with her and the things he did to her.  The entire time she was speaking, her father, dressed in a prison jumpsuit, was grimacing and shaking his head at her.  From that point on I knew that for me, criminal law was about protecting those that can’t protect themselves.

Jesse’s family has established a fund in his name through the Development Office at Fordham Law School, dedicated to carrying on his intentions. The express purpose of the fund is “to help improve the treatment of children in the criminal justice system.” Readers interested in contributing may either contact Fordham directly and inquire about the “Jesse Keller Smith Fund,” or write to the Fray Editor at for further information.  GA2:20am PT