In "The International Scene" this week, a Jakarta-based fraygrant kept the Fray informed of breaking news in Indonesia. Following the announcement that B.J. Habibie would be the new president, was offered by the American based there. Fraygrants analyzed the Western media's take on events in Jakarta; the consensus: The media deserve a failing grade.
Even when something new breaks on the Clinton-scandal front, it takes on a familiar sound in "Clinton and the Media." The regular Clinton-bashers the president's imminent downfall now that he has been revealed as a "traitor" by selling satellite technology to China. Clinton defenders suggested that their opponents hold off on the hanging party until all the facts are in--and predicted that this scandal, too, would soon blow over.
The Slate dialogue on "McCarthyism" inspired a new thread, which this week drew parallels with multiculturalism and. One fraygrant recounted the case of Washington state's Canwell Committee red hunt and its victim, Melvin Rader; and Albert Canwell's later attacks on John and Sally Goldmark, which eventually led to the 1985 murders of the Goldmarks' son David and his family. McCarthyism was seen in Ken Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton. A fraygrant even quoted Yogi Berra's "It's déjà vu all over again." But two fraygrants maintained that it is the charges against Starr that smack of McCarthyism: "You don't think Starr is being smeared. Many disagree."
Herbert Stein's Slate article on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World led to discussion in the corresponding thread. While most fraygrants felt Stein's conclusions left something to be desired, the specific points were debated. One fraygrant wondered what was so wrong with the society in Brave New World and materialism, but others took exception to such a pessimistic view of life: "We needn't assume the worst."
The recent death of Frank Sinatra and Slate's article "Jazz Democracy" prompted the return of the "Music" thread. It began with a request for participants to list their favorite rock or world music albums of the past five years. Discussions covered the merits of dance as a social and recreational activity ("facile" or "spiritual"?), and of rhythm in music ("fascist"?), as well as commentary on pop star Tori Amos and avant-garde composer Mauricio Kagel.
The "Bubble Economy" thread began with a discussion of IQ and merit, which set the tone for the remainder of the week. From challenges to just how meritocratic the U.S. economy is to rewarding people for ability and outcomes, fraygrants laid out the various economic and philosophical arguments supporting rewards for results vs. rewards for hard work and effort. One fraygrant fought against the tide and argued that innate ability and inherited wealth should not be determinants of future economic opportunity. The week ended with a discussion of the economic rationale for employers paying people for both effort and performance (outcomes) in an environment of imperfect information and joint production.
The Fray's reputation as a home for hostile, rude, and mean-spirited exchanges suffered a severe beating at the hands of the "Reading" thread, which was so civilized that participants suggested taking insulin shots afterward. The discussion of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury wrapped up with a lively exchange about Faulkner's continuing relevance--particularly regarding race. This week, the introduction of a new Reading topic: Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct.