A Clintonologist responds.

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Feb. 7 2003 11:44 PM

Duck and Cover? Duck and Rabbit.

Clintonology is all about appearances.

Part Duh: It's been a very nachtraglich week, with Margaret Scranton's response below and now Don Kettl's leap into the Chatterbox Fray. Kettl is the author of Team Bush: Leadership Lessons From the Bush White House, which Tim Noah discussed back on January 28th, in "Dubya’s Genius Moment, Part 2." The essence of that moment seems to be a willingness to "redefine the president's vices as virtues and urge private enterprise to emulate them." Here is Kettl's version, from his post:

[T]he book makes the point that Bush certainly isn't the brightest porch light on the block--that he recognizes that clearly--that he's not afraid of hiring people brighter than he is--and that his real knack lies in people skills, in framing the big picture, and in pursuing his strategy with unusual discipline … 8:45 p.m.

Grabs of academe: Beginning here, Betty_the_Crow and Don go round and round about the British government's apparent plagiarism. It seems the Brits stole whole swaths of prose from Ibrahim al-Marashi and plugged them into the dossier Colin Powell touted so highly at the UN. The UK Channel 4 story is here. Don suspects al_Marashi was recycling his own work. ...

Extra Credit: A week after Virginia Heffernan's review of C-SPAN's The Clinton Presidency appeared, Professor Margaret Scranton jumps into the Fray to defend her colleague, archivist David Alsobrook. Heffernan shows him ducking questions about an executive order from President Bush blocking access to Reagan-era records; Scranton recharacterizes:

[H]e confidently addressed the question as a responsible professional, teaching the students that while they have a right to ask, he has a right and the obligation not to comment publicly on certain issues. Just as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not put their personal views on the record when they testify publicly before congressional committees, a federal employee should not take public positions on certain issues, such as those raised by my student.

In support, Scranton quotes a student who concurs that Alsobrook was right to demur, and that, in any case, he answered the question off-camera:

I appreciated his unapologetic yet firm resistance to discussing before the cameras the Presidents Bush situation under the 1978 Presidential Records Act, and his willingness to spend time with students after class to do so. …

Everywhere with VTOL capabilities: In Heffernan's most recent piece, the battle between the "Monica-Lewinsky-mouthed" Boeing X-32 and the Lockheed X-35 makes for gripping television. TheRover asks, "Why should looks matter?" here. BitterShawn contends that looks do matter to the Air Force, while JackCerf thinks cites the aeronautical engineers' maxim: "If it looks right, it flies right." Both stick up for the A-10 Warthog.

Uncle Osama: An excellent thread in Fighting Words takes up Christopher Hitchens' proposition that "I have never seen it argued since that al-Qaida got what it wanted out of the Afghan operation." Joe_JP thinks al-Qaida could have, if

al-Qaida was attempting to accelerate the war between the West and Muslims, cause discontent, scare the U.S., provide a base while the WTC bombing and other efforts was being planned, and so forth. They accomplished some, if not all of these objectives, even if not in the complete way they desired.

J_Mann disagrees

If they wanted "unrest," they're idiots, because unrest wasn't doing nearly as much good as their freedom to commit acts of terror was.

What they wanted was for all of the world's Muslims to unite in war against "Christendom", and for Allah to intervene on the side of the Muslims, leading to the establishment of a number of Taliban-style sharia governments.

What they got was a loss of the one country on earth where the people were ruled as they believed Allah willed, most of their finances frozen, their international prestige weakened, and a secular government in Afghanistan.

Joe defends his position:

Small acts of terror weren't getting them that far. The Taliban was unpopular, not in control of chunks of their territory, and life was crummy. And there was always Pakistan friends to go to. Worth a shot for them to go for the gold.

Publius notes that what al-Qaida probably wanted was to draw the U.S. into a protracted battle for Afghanistan:

they knew their Afgan lair would be attacked in some way, and perhaps they thought it would be hamhanded, kill a lot of people to make more Muslims angry while achieving little, solidifying al Quaeda's legend, bleeding the U.S. so as to provoke a Vietnam-like crisis, and aggravating tensions with key Muslim states ... 8:00 a.m.

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Thursday, Feb. 6, 2002

Bias in the defense of liberty: Unless handled very carefully, press bias discussions are dangerous soporifics. Jack Shafer has avoided the zzzzzz's, as one would expect. The_Slasher-8's post is a comprehensive torching of several points in the bias debate. The most eloquent passage deals with the Goldwater campaign and the necessity of bias. Here's a part:

[I]n 1964 this country had decided to do something about seeing black people get the shit beaten out of them on TV every night by racist cops. And so, in June, Everett Dirksen, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, who had stonewalled the civil rights bill alongside the racist Southern Democrats for months, caved in and threw his support to it.

And a month later, the Republican Party met in San Francisco and repudiated him …Goldwater DELIBERATELY chose to go after racist votes -- his exact words were "I'm going hunting where the ducks are."

The press mugged him for it, and it's kind of hard to see how they could not have. …

Career opportunities, the one that never knocked: As usual, each Dear Prudie letter has aroused its share of interesting posts, even the seemingly banal problem of Troubled, whose boyfriend seems to lack the old Protestant work ethic. Westonted (and Isonomist-) both suspect that the problem could be ADD. But Fraysters everywhere should take heart in Rudie_can-t_fail's attempted answer here:

Maybe your guy is just disillusioned by his career choice. For example, perhaps he wanted to be a hotshot 1st amendment and sundry personal and economic freedoms litigator and instead ended up representing public employees' unions and having a true flair for that was recruited by management and daily faced a legion of unappatizing claimants and only slightly less appetizing bureaucratic types who wish to direct your discoveryfileridulousmotionsandyetnevertake promisingcasestotrialsohespendshistimetyping snideanswerstoCoachReevesformerspou...

What was the question?

I promise: it's perfect: Responding to Nick Schulz's plea that ordinary golfers not spend big bucks on new clubs, bolend3 rallies the troops here:

Duffers unite! And support your local golf pro. $1500 in lessons will do you more than $1500 in clubs.

While Eeyore1968 hews to Ty Webb'stheory that the real opponent is oneself here:

the whole quest to improve one's golf game through better equipment misses the point of the endeavor. The goal is to be a better golfer, not to artificially produce a lower score. Even if golf clubs do shave strokes off, you haven't gotten any better when you use them.

Gentlemen, let's broaden our minds: It probably had zero to do with my pathetic plea for more Movie Fray fraying, but there is an excellent thread, primarily between macbob and rob_said_that, debating the absence of "Jack" moments in Nicholson's About Schmidt—there's a list of the best Jack explosions and a serious underlying question: To what extent does a star's persona-creep alter our expectations of a particular performance, even when the star is an actor of Jack's caliber? ... 11:55 p.m.

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Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2002

Show and Intel: Fred Kaplan argues that Colin Powell's UN show and tell could be very dangerous to U.S. intelligence operations. Many in the Fray think the Bush administration owes the American people an explanation, even at some risk to the intelligence apparatus. JackD points to an antidemocratic impulse at the heart of the administration's wariness:

The notion that proof sufficient to satisfy "lay" obsevers is too difficult a burden for the administration to have to meet belies the essence of our system. Lay people elect the President. ... Lay people, ultimately, decide whether or not governmental policies are deserving of support. If you can't convince lay people of the wisdom of what you want to do, you can't do it.

Or, as Retief puts it here:

The people in our intelligence agencies who collect this data may have "the ability to keep collecting data" at the top of their list of priorities. That doesn't mean that it should be at the top of the president's.

Publius disagrees and kindly begins his post with something like a lede:

What Kaplan leaves out somewhat perplexingly is that blowing "sources and methods" on the brink of war will surely affect the ability to collect operational intelligence that is of value to saving the lives of US troops and, by shortening the war, Iraqis as well.

The best thread begins with The_Bell's long post about "The two Henrys on Secrecy and Foreign Policy"—the two being Thoreau and Kissinger—and turns on the question of where American reliance on Presidential assertions should begin and end. …

Half-Nelson: Christopher Hitchens argues that despite Nelson Mandela's contention otherwise, disrespect for the U.N. is nothing new—and nothing racist. J_Mann captures Mandela's stature this way:

His place in history is secure. Unfortunately, his place in history is now as a brave man who was able to break through what seemed like an intractable barrier to find peace, then gradually decended into paranoid rantings that most of the world was decent enough to ignore.

There are some half-hearted defenses of Mandela here (from Kija) and here (from PXX). Overall, the Fray finds less to take issue with than usual this week. Pacimini stays busy wrestling with "the question Hitchens": What must it be like to be wedged between The Nation and the neocons? (WVMicko, Joe_JP and Populuxe have joined in). Pac: "Now that Hitchens is stuck between paradigms, he's like the rest of us in that he has to make good on his arguments. Poor guy."

The Quiet Fray: How does The Quiet American play in Vietnam? Peter_In_China offers a report here. As for those of us stateside, he notes:

People certainly aren't watching this ponderous film as entertainment, so I can only assume it's for political enlightenment. If so, it needs to be pointed out that the movie's view of Vietnamese history is complete nonsense.

And he provides some historical corrections.

More shameless begging: It is hard to adequately contest a movie review when you haven't seen the film in question. Why not stop by Movies Fray when you roll back into work on Monday? Cleanse your palate of the dreck you've witnessed; share your Brendan Fraser fetish; etc. ... 2:10 a.m.

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Saturday, Feb. 1, 2002

Palestine, TX: The first Fray reactions to the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia  are filled with prayers for the astronauts and their families. Shelia repeats the Challenger memorial here:

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them ... as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

And while there are partisan snipes back and forth, Cicero points to a bigger problem here (and here):

The Columbia most likely went down as a combination of mechanical failure and body fatigue. Twenty-two years in service is too long. I blame government for this, but not specifically the conservatives. NASA assured our government that a shuttle is good for 100 missions, discounting chronological age as unimportant. It's not the conservative government's fault. It is government's fault, period.

Finally, locdog makes this comparison with the attacks on Sept. 11 and America's national image:

in no way could this tragedy ever compare to what we experienced on that black day except one, and in that one it perhaps exceeds it. NASA has never been about anything practical. but throughout its existence, it has served as the most visible symbol of our technological might, intrepid spirit, and national pride. it is one of the few worthless government programs that no one minds seeing the billions pour into because everything that we like to believe is good about ourselves rides up with those brave young men and women in a burst of sound and fury, signifying everything. … part of america dies with every NASA tragedy, a part not told in the numbers or the dollars. ... 8:15 a.m.

J.D. Connor is assistant professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. He is working on a book about neoclassical Hollywood.

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