Taking Out China

Politics and sport make for a potent mix.

“First time posters all over the board.” What, NickD, you say thatas if it were a bad thing? Anne Applebaum’s “Foreigners” articleon the Beijing Olympics brought a huge number of posters, many of them new, many of them not U.S.-based. At times, NickD seemed to be single-handedly arguing with all of them, rather like a chess grandmaster playing multiple games. The main arguments concerned what’s really happening in Tibet, whether boycotts or protests are the most effective ways to react to perceived problems, and whether all this is unfair on the athletes. A few people wanted to discuss the direct effect of the Olympics on the Chinese people; an unusually high number of messages got a response from other posters. Anse started a discussionon whether the many journalists in Beijing for the games would facilitate the flow of information and met with some cynicism: “Lots of incisive political commentary from those sports reporters” came from marcparis, while Jascob said, “Of course; just look at all those foreign journalists roaming freely around Tibet right now, giving us the full scoop.”

 Ygalbot looked atthe nuances of protest:

There’s nothing wrong with the Olympics boycotting a team to show it how isolated it is from the rest of the community, “You’re so bad not even the Olympics will accept you.” But for a team to say the same thing to the Olympics is completely different. I know that seems like a weird distinction to make, but as to the effectiveness of boycotting, it’s absolutely true. It’s the difference between a child quitting his family and a family giving up a child. Which one of the two ever has any effect?

And Gialtouridis had another point of view:

You want to punish China, or at least send China a message, by boycotting the Olympics. And how will you do that? By alerting the entire world using your “Made in China” keyboard, which is connected to your “Made in China” computer… If you want to send China a message, shut off your Chinese computer right now. Start with that.

 While NickD wantedno half-measures

All decent people across the globe should refuse to watch the Olympics or purchase any Chinese products anywhere on the planet they are sold during these “Games”. All decent peoples on the Globe should refuse to purchase any goods from any advertiser who associates themselves with the brutal and murderous regime of Communist China.

There were some heated conversations, and people became very angry, but mostly a basic level of civility prevailed, and insults, when they came, were at least witty: Greekislandgirl, tired of one discussion, said,

I’m not quite sure where you are coming from, but I’m glad I’m not there. Please let me know where you plan to go so I can avoid that too.

It’s clear that politics and sport do mix, in the Fray. MR 2.00 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2008

We recently floated the idea of Fray DNA—a line from a Fraypost, from which expert posters could reconstruct the whole argument. The line we gave was Pherdnut’s “you do realize ‘swiftboating’ is a derogatory term now, right?”, coming from this “ War Stories.” This week’s example: “After all, what chubby wingnut chickenhawk out there doesn’t munch Cheetos as he plays computer war sims and urges President Bush on to invade Iran?”—Larry 2, not overreacting at all to an article about ads for the cheesy snacks.

The thought of expert posters obviously led us to the “Best of the Fray” board—no longer attached to any article, it is home to many long-established posters who like to get together to discuss affairs of the day and swap jokes and insults. They have been suggesting—some politely, some not so much—that the Fray team should pay more attention to them, so we went and took a look. Big topics this week were Barack Obama’s race speech and Tibet. There was unexpectedly little about Iraq, but a fair amount about St Patrick’s Day: family history from Fritz Gerlich in “ Why I am not Irish“; and seizing any excuse to bring in Van Morrison, even if he is “a fat old guy in a fedora.” We very much enjoyed Gregor Samsa’s “ The Titanic Test” thread, in which the sinking boat was reimagined as being captained by various presidential candidates and past presidents, e.g., “Nader: Ha, ha, ha, I told ya! Now I’ll be captain for life.”

Best post title was Baltimore Aureole’s on current financial excitements: “[I]ts 12:15 pm - do you know where your pension is?”, though we also liked Topazz’s “hot slutty governor action” which started a thread on hotels suitable for romantic assignments. Dawn Coyote’s post on women and shopping was obviously part of a long-continuing debate.

Inspired by the idea that the Fray is the place to find communal expertise, we went looking on some other boards and found a joyous Fray on finding the right babka—recommendations for bakeries and links to recipes all over. And a welcome post called “I blame Ayn Rand” from Slasher14, commenting on the “Moneybox” article on “The Rise of American Incompetence”—as we’ve mentioned before, we do like an Ayn Rand post.

Teeth don’t feature much in Slate or the Fray, but posters enjoyed the article on dental work in the time of John Adams, and scoot’r-d took the opportunity for an expert sideswipe at foreigners:

I’ll not question whether or not the actors in John Adams were appropriately, dentally attired…But.. if they wanted real actors with teeth in deplorable condition they should have gotten English actors.

Just as we were recovering from this low blow, our interest in the film 10,000 B.C. (articles in “ Explainer” and “ Movies“) and the search for paleontology expertise led us to dig up this from Paxterminus:

Modern man (Homo sapiens) was the only species of man left living on planet Earth 12,000 years ago. They all looked like us and behaved like us. Some of them were probably much sharper than an average Slate employee (sorry guys, I cannot picture any of you inventing pottery).
We may question that, but did appreciate the semiserious posts on accuracy, and sensible contributions like Don Schenck’s: “The thing is, while the movie is probably just a politically-correct fairy tale we can’t be completely certain about the way things were back then.” And then thisfrom Scott C Clark:
This movie sounds like it kicks so much ass that I would go home and look at myself in the mirror and punch myself in the face for being born like12,000 years too [late]. They had elephants in Lord of the Rings and I wanted to ride one after watching it, and now I think when I see this movie I’m going to be mad and sad that I can’t ride a woolly mammoth because they’re stupid and extinct. So basically, that sounds like the one thing about this movie I wouldn’t like.
Clear, vivid and to the point—a perfect Fray post. But please don’t punch yourself in the face, Scott. MR…4:00 p.m. GMTWednesday, Mar. 12, 2008

Here’s a question: There’s a Slate  article—Erik Sofge’s “Orc Holocaust”—on a very well-known game, and many many readers respond to the article. Is it better if those posts are read by someone who is an expert in the field, or someone who knows nothing whatsoever about the popular culture under discussion? It seems obvious that a little expertise wouldn’t come amiss, but we have decided to go with the naive user, whose only qualification is that once, years ago, she did Fray Notes about arcade games, and it is her favorite of all the ones she ever did, ever: (“the stony Fray heart, totally immune as it is to computer games of all kinds, was melted by the many posters who said they loved the article just because it reminded them of their young days in the arcades.” Please go and read the whole thing here). Oh, what’s that you say? Arcade games are not at all the same as Dungeons & Dragons? Oh. Oh well.

While we’re revisiting the past, it may be time to revive the Fray Multiple Post summarizer. There were more than 200 posts, and a lot of them can be filed in the following categories:

1) “As an avid gamer for almost two decades, I disagree with Erik Sofge”—that’s the polite version.

2) “Your dungeon master sucked,” i.e., bad formative experience explains perceived bad attitude.

3) “whiny neckbearded contrarian trollery,” from our favorite Frayname, omphaloskepsis.

4) “I can’t think of anyone who belittles Henry Ford because his automobiles have been transformed into something far superior. Or, for that matter, the first person to come up with the household mop.” NiceGuyMike lives up to his name—many people were much ruder.

5)  “give me a break, those orcs had it coming to them…the only enemy worth killing are other players….[we played] a raunchy adults-only version, titled Dungeons and Drag Queens”—an amalgam of lines that at least were comprehensible to an outsider.

6) “Wasn’t it ‘half-elves’ that were the hybrid mage/warrior?”—totally incomprehensible to outsiders.

Writer Erik Sofge bravely came into the Fray himself, and he had a couple of defenders, but they are thin on the ground.

So we’ll end with Nacoran (who endearingly says, “I know I’m a geek”) and a mysterious account of what really goes on:

As a player I once had a character, a bard, who was mortally wounded by a dragon. Before I expired I recited a taunting poem (a special benefit of my bard kit.) We took a snack break and the whole while I worked on what I would say. It went something like this, ‘A bite, a claw, am I now to have no breath?’ and I staggered towards the dragon. In rage the dragon spent his breath weapon on me, pushing my character ridiculously beyond the point where I could be resurrected. By drawing the breath (dragons can only use there breath weapon 3 times a day and it had already used it twice) I saved my party and they slew the dragon. This was a character I had played for months. I had purchased her a home, drawn up the floor plans, detailed every outfit, every weapon my character owned. And she died. I live a boring life. For that moment I felt what it felt like to be a hero, if only for a moment.

How could anyone, gamer or not, resist the charm of that?  MR  11:30 a.m. GMT

Tuesday, Mar. 4, 2008

Slate readers had money on their minds this week. Cindywags read the article about Oprah’s Big Give and said:

I think this is a noble and worthwhile endeavor! If our world practiced more of this, we could make such a wonderful difference in so many people’s lives. I do this on the scale I am able to, every day.

Her transition from this lovely selfless view to the line “Is this going to continue, and if so, how might I be able to audition for [Oprah’s] help?” won our admiration and should be read in full here.

Two recent articles on foreclosures provoked considerable reader reaction: Both Frays feature long, passionate threads full of serious economic arguments and much more personal views. And when one poster explained why he couldn’t afford a house in a good neighborhood, fsilber was there with some advice:

The solution is for people like you to buy houses in the worst neighborhoods, get together with your neighbors to take firearms training and get carry permits, and for you and your neighbors to kill all the robbers who aren’t deterred by this. Of course, then the housing prices in your neighborhood might rise. But this is no different from when the pioneers settled the Wild West and tamed it.

There’s business advice, too: Prytania looked at the adverts featured in “ Ad Report Card” and after describing, vigorously, what he wanted in the morning (to be left alone) had this to say:

How could Holiday Inn Express have missed the real selling point? Implying both the tedium (middle managers) and the sweaty excitement (anonymous sex with middle managers) of the road just does not hold a candle to the possibility of the Big Bag ‘o Bacon. Take those same four guys, give them grease-stained bags of pork to snarf from, and the whole world would soon be beating down H.I.E.’s doors.

Next thing gzuckier was reminiscing about the do-it-yourself waffles at another chain, while Jerry6532 kindly outlined his “truly sexy” ad idea for us—” Love can happen at the Breakfast Bar, so stay, eat.”

More Fray posts have been picked out for two recent Explainers“—always fertile ground. We love the kind of reader who starts a post, “Even if you were made of iron or Alnico and were permanently magnetized. …” or ends one, “Not on your dipthongs”—and the item on William F. Buckley Jr features a link to a long-ago article with some fascinating old Fray Notes at the end. There are also comments on the “Culturebox” on the fake Holocaust memoir; the “ Chatterbox” on Ralph Nader; and “ Moneybox” on disaster money. OIFVet’s line there was, “I predict with a high degree of confidence that this year, the biggest natural disaster will happen on the first Tuesday in November”—what can he have meant? MR 4 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

“Bravo Michael! Well done! Or at least the appearance of being well done.” MRMslate entered into the spirit of Michael Kinsley’s article on John McCain and New York Times. We think—our irony-testing equipment was inconclusive—that ecdysiast did, too: “You don’t appear to entertain the possibility that your argument does not seem to hold water, which, for all appearances, is transparent.”

WordsMatter had serious, interesting points to make, but most readers were more inclined to make jokes or gibes. Baltimore aureole had some ideas for “stories the Times should get busy on.” Among them:

    • Mitt—sure, he has only 1 wife now … but what about the future?
    • Giuliani—exactly how did he sneak his mistress in and out of Gracie mansion? can we have a tour?
    • Edwards—please release your tax returns so we can see how a poor country boy who barely graduated from law school amassed a fortune of $200 million. really.
    • Huckabee—why are your 2 sons so obese, and why do you force them to dress in sweaters that match yours for every photo op? Something’s not right here.

Northwoods wants to know: “How can I get that babe to ‘lobby’ me? I am more than willing to buy a TV station if that will facilitate some hot, steamy ‘lobbying.’ ” Luckily, PercyVer is there to put him right:

I know where you are coming from, but you have it backwards. (Of course, you’re excited.) Owning a station means you pay the Babe. To get “lobbied,” a most sublime pleasure of Democracy, you have to be the People’s Choice! … It is undisputed, a matter of public record, all the Senators, while “lobbied” a lot, have accomplished absolute zip for as long as anyone can remember! So if you’re hot for that Babe, don’t set your sights low! A future of ecstatic “lobbying” awaits you!

And bcoates calls his post “Sex!”:

Now that we have your attention, here’s a weak story about how a senator leaned on a bureaucrat who wasn’t doing his job in an agency that doesn’t really do anything. This story wouldn’t even be worth publishing if there wasn’t a racy angle to wink at. Is the average American even aware that one media company even needs the FCC’s permission to buy another? Is anyone, anywhere unable to sleep at night for fear that someone at a federal agency is being robbed of their hard-earned bribe money?

Hard to argue with that. MR 4 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008

At the online edition of the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper, the readers have been making waves. Last week, 19-year-old, Max Gogarty began to blog about his planned travels in the year before attending college. The reaction to his first entry was instant: The readers hated it, posted 500 comments in one day—at a quick glance, 95 percent critical—the board was closed, and Max decided to blog no more. The Guardian made some defensive and vague statements (attracting many more cross comments from the readers), and the story simmers on in the British Web community. (You can read more about it in the Guardian here, and elsewhere here.) Inspired by this, your Fray editor decided to look at poster power at Slate. Are you pestering, are you aiming to shut anyone down?

What about the wine column on the “greatest wine ever made,” the Cheval ‘47 Blanc? No, you loved that: The nearest thing to a criticism was this from Savory Goodness: “Mike Steinberger should be reassigned to making wine pairings for truck-stop meals along the entire length of I-95,” but it turned out that was “so that we Frayers can feel a little better about our jobs.” His actual opinion included “Beautiful article … passion … obvious delight.” There was also a nice post called “I thought it was Zinfandel”—the title says it all, really.

Moving on to the “Undercover Economist” on paying too much for a house: Well, there was lots of helpful detail about how the ticket system at Duke University actually works, and many argued with the conclusions of the research mentioned in the article, but very politely. Zarniwoop pointed out that writer Tim Harford is “not buying a house in the London market, he’s buying a house from the collection of houses his wife wants in the current time frame,” and offered divorce as an alternative, but only, we feel, in a spirit of a fair laying out of the options. Meanwhile, Dismal offered this short but perfect comment: “Value in use > value in exchange.”

Of course, everyone loves Flann O’Brien, no use looking for arguments there, just nice, enthusiastic comments. Karl Rove, in his new career as a TV analyst, reviewed by Troy Patterson, attracted a lot of bile (our favorite: “How does he manage to hold a felt pen in those cloven hooves?”), but we don’t suppose Mr. Rove’ll be giving up his job as a result.

“Goats: the teenagers of the animal world,” saysdingoangst, while letmebefell compares them with his 11-month old baby. Criticism at last! But no, readers were mistily charmed by Jon Katz’ article about his “ Rural Life,” and everyone sighed indulgently about those goats, although Topazz has a concern: “Sounds as though someone needs to get off the farm for a few days, maybe go into town, have a beer, take in a movie. Whatever, just don’t let those scheming goats lure you into anything you can’t handle. You’re fragile right now.” And Pennywhistler has some advice: “[I]t sounds like his goats are asking for more of Katz’s participation in their lives; more visits to the pen; (for all I know) a game of fetch or headbutt.” Helpful, that’s what Slate readers are.

Our last hope was Christopher Hitchens’ “ Fighting Words” on the Danish cartoon row: Always room for trouble there, you would think, among the readers as well as about the content. There were strong feelings, and the arguments on both sides were fully explored—but introduced, for example, with the words, “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you.” One particularly firm argument was over whether a poster should “tell my corpulent neighbor that he’s a fat slob.” Answer: Yes, you should, according to ryanlindly, “humiliation may be more appropriate than respect”—harsh words, harsh words.

Over at the Best of the Fray, Fielding Bandolier began a long thread in which posters tried to define the Fray. Fifty-nine tries and counting—no one seems to have mentioned fat-person etiquette tips yet, but there’s still time.MR4 p.m. GMT