A weekly spin through the Fray.

A weekly spin through the Fray.

A weekly spin through the Fray.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
July 27 2003 5:53 PM

Needles & Threads

A weekly spin through the Fray.

Kausfiles Fray: Though it was a light publishing week at Slate, KF loyalists continue their crackling dialogue and political needling. NeoCon tosses an Andrew Sullivan morsel into the Fray that poses whether President Bush is truly a conservative, given W's apparent comfort with governmental power. This launches several active discussion about a workable delineation between neoconservatives and traditional libertarian conservatives, answered by BigGovernmentKills here and here. James and laocoon weave a tremendous thread that tries to identify empirical truths in the morass of political claims we hear daily from pols and pundits: "What becomes frustrating is when you approach a discussion with the assumption that you are debating a question of demonstrable truth, when beneath the surface of your opponent's position is a refusal to process data because they are arguing from the perspective of values." Laocoon's beautiful first reply can be found here, a sample from his oeuvre that earns him a star. For good measure, Birkbeiner provides a rebuttal in the thread here, and zinya's always dependable contribution can be found here.  

Jurisprudence Fray: It's not surprising that the return of Dahlia Lithwick to Jurisprudence -- this week writing on the missteps of the Department of Justice in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial (" Ashcroft's Folly") – elicits a collection of pensive posts, highlighted by BeverlyMann. Here, Beverly maintains that the origin of Ashcroft's gaffe was his lack of anticipation "that the case would be assigned by the federal district court (i.e. trial court) clerk's office's computerized random judicial-assignment system to a Clinton appointee." Beverly goes on to write that Lithwick "misreads the signal of the Court of Appeals in refusing to intervene in order to assist the prosecutors now." The signal? According to Beverly, it's one of timing not judicial philosophy. Beverly suspects that the ruling of said appointee, Judge Leonie Brinkema, will be overturned by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. GMG speaks up with some legal prescriptions, and mikkyld is troubled by the notion "that somehow there should be different brands of judges sitting on the bench." To destor23, the " central issue" resides in the DoJ's flouting of the sixth amendment, "that Moussaoui is being prevented from mounting a plausible defense because the government is denying access to what everyone agrees will be an exculpatory witness." Questioning Ramzi Binalshibh's credibility as a witness, baltimore-aureole plays the contrarian by asking, "don't you think it's just a little bit possible that the government is COUNTING ON Judge Brinkema dismissing the charges against Moussaoui?"

BOTF: Geoff " clear[s] up some confusion about Catholics" in a mere four bulletpoints. Tiresias answers Geoff on Papal infallibility here, while TheQuietMan follows up with some probing questions here and here. From the Fray's Neologism Packaging Plant, check out the new rollout from Abre_los_ojos here.… KA2:40 p.m.


Friday, July 25, 2003

On message: While culling InstaPundit over the weekend, Joe_JP found a conservative blogger on the site who proclaimed of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "I'd vote for him," irrespective of the fact that "Blair, at heart, is a socialist."

It interests me that someone who clearly opposes much of what the Prime Minister stands for is still willing to vote for him. Why? Inspiration, eloquence, and a message the listener wants to here.


Joe continues with a perspicacious post on the alchemy of leadership and message. Referring to a busy top thread from laocoon that begins, "I sure wish I had a Tony Blair to vote for next year," JP draws a delineation between reactive—albeit legitimate—criticism of the administration ("what we do in the fray mostly ... ") and a more transcendent exploration of "certain issues that concern us," whatever the political ramifications may happen to be.

Question time: Michael Kinsley's "Humor, Humility, and Rhetorical Courage" expands on what, besides the British accent, draws Americans of all feathers—from Icarus Hawks to Lonesome Doves—to Blair. 

AngryPatriot here and artointc here attribute Blair's erudition to British political rearing, whereby "Blair is practiced in being succinct and to the point, because the British political process *demands* it" with brief campaigns and, as laocoon points out, "that pesky House of Commons row when the PM must actually face and answer questions from hostile opposition MPs."

Neddy notes that

Like many British politicians before, their popularity in the US (Churchill, Thatcher) had long expired in their homeland whilst still being regarded as heroes in America.


Kinsley takes a lot for his statement that, while he admired it for the most part, Blair's "speech was built around a very tired cliché—the importance of freedom." SlipperyPete takes umbrage here. Splendid_IREny retorts with the best defense of Kinsley, with an honorable mention to DBR_Storyteller here and Retief here:

When Kinsley referred to "a very tired cliché," he was merely commenting on the prevalence of the mention of freedom in politicians' speeches. In this light, a "political evergreen" like freedom does become a cliché. This does not mean that Kinsley does not believe in the freedoms on which our country is based nor does it imply that Blair does not believe in freedom. Simply put, Kinsley was saying via "very tired cliché," that the overuse of the word freedom does not lead to any true discussion of freedom as a concept, which was how Blair used the word.

To Readme's point that "Blair's revelation that America will not be the No. 1 country in the world forever, whatever we do, is important news indeed. And it took a foreigner to clue us in," BeverlyMann here, teapotdynamo here and doubtingthomasina here refer Kinsley to Howard Dean. Here's doubting:

He said it, in nearly exactly those words, a few months ago, and the press, if they paid attention at all, ridiculed him as politically tone-deaf. Exactly how do we parse the difference in politics between courage and tone-deafness? Maybe here we have a prime example of Kinsley (whom I adore, by the way) being seduced by that English accent?


Hardie Labour: "A reference to an unrepentant socialist in front of a rabidly conservative US congress makes Blair all the more fascinating as a speaker," writes diamondback87 here. D'back is referring to Keir Hardie, the Labour Party's first leader, on whom Kalimac provides some good biographical info hereKA12:05 a.m.


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Webhead Fray: Steven Johnson ("Digging for Googleheads") mixes it up in the Fray with MsZilla who, in addition to reiterating points expressed by Geoff (The problem with Google is you …)and T_Weldon_Berger (God helps those who help themselves) in a couple of snarky, well-articulated posts, prescribes—with actual bullet points—sensible Google search techniques to ward off some of the quirks encountered by Johnson. The author answers his critics in various threads, and top posts one of his own here addressing Google's intrinsic biases, "The point is that when Google quite understandably fails to read your mind, it doesn't direct you randomly to the wrong URLs—it directs you to certain types of URLs more often than others." Later, Johnson returns to discuss Googleheads' unmindfulness of said biases, "That they seem logical to many of you is a sign that you have internalized the skewed logic of Google's system. You've grown so accustomed to figuring ways around its biases that you don't notice them anymore. Which is great—I've done the same thing myself. But that's not reason to ignore those biases altogether."

International Papers Fray: Regarding Tuesday's International Papers report ("Tourist or Terrorist"), Splendid_IREny writes, "June Thomas mentions the 'long and dishonourable Irish republican tradition of hostility to Jewish national aspirations,' going further to assess that this bias has 'permeated the official culture of the Irish state, as well as of contemporary paramilitary groupings.' Is it enough, under the circumstances of this latest terrorist investigation, to let go unexplored, the historical context for this alleged solidarity?" June Thomas clarifies that "it's the Daily Telegraph that made this claim." Splendid looks forward to exploring "an ongoing dual solidarity/enmity between two areas of the world that could not be more disparate, culturally or historically." For Larry2 here, the parallel is obvious: "Gee, I can't imagine why the Catholics, whose land has been colonized by foreigners and who are treated as second class citizens in their own country, would support the Palestinians, whose land has been colonized by foreigners and who are treated as second class citizens in their own country."


Culturebox Fray: Time suckage has a new window on your monitor, and its handle is Friendster. Douglas Wolk explains the whole phenomenon in his Culturebox piece, "Six Degrees of Procrastination." Splendid_IREny pops up in Culture Box, as well, with a gem that leads with "I thought immediately of the Groucho Marx line that Woody Allen borrowed for Annie Hall, from which I'll paraphrase: 'I'd never want to join any club that would have someone like me as a member.'" For chango, "Enemies are generally more fun, much more reliable and far less expensive." Here he recommends, "a website that traced the relationships between people who hate one another…Kinda like Chatterbox." In contrast to Splendid, assfractal regards Friendster as a positive force, "equal parts—a dating site, a hipster resume post, and a forum for unfettered, public immaturity. But in a good way."

Finally, sad news from Colonel Bull Kurtz on the passing of the Fray's most notoriously inflammatory poster, a man who elevated hate speech to performance art: "Patrick J Lillis (you knew him as 'Fearless') died when the flamethrower he was repairing exploded late Saturday night in his garage. The police believe he had been trying to make his own napalm with gasoline and Knox gelatin, and a faulty tube connecting the fuel tank to the nozzle failed to hold." While he was a polarizing weedwacker of a voice, Fearless Pat nevertheless gave us such zingers as "shit or get off the Pol Pot." The Colonel notifies the Fray that "Fearless asked in his will that- in lieu of flowers- donations be made to the Eric Rudolph legal defense fund. As well, I would like to ask you posters on the Slate to help with the handling of his animals. Goethe and Blondi - his Bolivian police dogs - need a good, loving, Aryan home. Currently they refuse to eat since they were trained to do so only at Fearless's command, but we'll figure it out. Also, if anyone would like a combat-trained gas detector Canary- Hindenburg- I'd like to find him a home as well." Chango pays tribute to FPL in this week's Black Hole Awards. Though WVMicko expresses grief, he's bemused by Pat's WMD: "Knox gelatin? Any idiot knows that you make homemade napalm with Ivory soap. 99 44/100% pure!" WV will be fielding questions on such matters in Home Fires Fray…KA7:35 a.m.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Gates of Hell: The_Bell responds to both Michael Kinsley (" Who is Buried in Bush's Speech?") and Will Saletan (" The Buck Stops There") in a single post titled, " It's Not the Smoking Gun; It's Hiding It." It follows that The_Bell subscribes to the it's-not-the-lie-it's-the-cover-up school of oversight:

Kinsley…writes, "Many a miscreant has escaped with his reputation undamaged . . . because there was no 'smoking gun' like the Watergate tapes. But now it seems that the standard has been lifted." No, the standard has stayed the same, in my opinion but Kinsley is looking at the wrong standard. As in any of the great scandals of the past - Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky affair - there seems to have been minimal outrage over the actual act perpetrated. What got all the press, what turned a minor burglary or an all-too-typical covert operation or a stupid but harmless dalliance with an intern into big fat juicy scandals were the lying and cover-ups and subterfuge that went on in attempts to shift or deny the blame. The bigger and more elaborate the exposed cover-up, the greater the outrage upon its exposure.

The_Bell maintains "it is important to understand WHY" public opinion is "turning against the President on this issue." To find out why, click here.

Abre_los_ojos here and BenK here insist that "[t]he question of who let that particular disproven intel into the speech... is maybe annoying but rather trivial." Ben K:

It is clear that Iraq wanted nuclear weapons. Nobody disputes it. The question is what they were doing to get the materials and equipment, and fissable elements. International intelligence services run on rumor. When they can, they confirm, or disprove, but until then they need to work with "I heard it through the grapevine." In fact, if they hear that Palestinians are making bombs... well, it hardly requires confirmation, because it makes sense, it's been done in the recent past, etc. So, to believe the italians, the british, that Saddam was seeking uranium... is a 'well duh!' type of observation.

Abre goes even further, suggesting that

as central as any issue is whether the infamous statement is a 'whopper' in the first place. Because if it isn't, perhaps no one should be either apologizing or taking blame at all.

We Mustn't Underestimate American Blundering: DallasNE takes to Kinsley's Major Strasser analogy: "The political scientists have a great comparison because the reason who killed Maj. Strasser remained a mystery [was because] so many people had motive." Zinya places "Condi in the Oval Office with the Aluminum Tubes", and nods to a stellar post by BeverlyMann that aims to tackle the semantics surrounding the sixteen words in question:

OK. So Bush believes that a statement that the British government "has learned" that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa is not a statement that the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. He thinks it is instead a statement that the British government has said it learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Placing the proto-scandal in context, WVMicko poses rhetorically in his top post, " You see why this is so important?" then rolls out a wire story with the following headline: "CIA: Assessment of Syria's WMD exaggerated."

Finally, "Urain'tium" belongs squarely to historyguy, who dubbed the ordeal as such hereKA3:05 p.m.

Monday, July 14, 2003


Out on a Limb: Carl Elliott's "Costing an Arm and a Leg" on Whole, "a riveting new documentary by Melody Gilbert … about an increasingly visible group of people who call themselves 'amputee wannabes'" elicits indignant responses, most profoundly from amputees, such as bryan_bridges, who are "shocked and nauseated" by said wannabes. Bryan expands on the day-to-day hardships:

[M]ost insurance providers consider artificial limbs optional 'durable medical equipment' and have huge co-pays, unrealistic limitations, and poor coverage often providing only one limb per lifetime. To put that in context, my legs wear down every two to five years. I pray that scientists at least eventually find some way to put their discarded limbs to use restoring function to REAL amputees.

So far as the stigmatization of the fetish, bryan suggests that the

whole subculture of disability wannabes and mutilation enthusiasts out there, from Deaf wannabes to people who mutilate their genitals when they become bored of piercing and tattooing…all have one thing in common: before the internet, they would have been isolated nuts ashamed of having a bizarre fixation, but now they are able to find one another and rationalize their behavior, as well as sharing tips and strategies.

Booty Call: "The glossing-over of amputation's sexual side in the documentary was shocking" to Thrasymachus for two reasons:

First, because the sexual side of anything is the way people get money and audiences for their documentaries; and second, because it's so clearly what the issue is all about.

WatchfulBabbler provides ME Fray with its most thoughtful delineation of misomelia, generalized paraphilia, and psychosis. After a studied exploration of the various questions, WB is relieved that "we don't have to answer them, and can confine ourselves to wild speculation and bioethical meanderings." Eric_Schenck heredraws the comparison to " Munchausen by proxy (whereby a parent or guardian secetly causes their child injury in order to gain attention and praise by caring for the sick child)." Additionally, Eric poses whether "hacking off healthy limbs violate[s] the Hippocratic oath," a sentiment shared by Splendid_IREny here

Anthropologist Ang_Cho has these piercing words for the Fray:

Body modification was the topic de jour a few years ago in anthropological circles. The 'modern primitive' movement embraces surgical implants, amputations, piercing, branding, surgical reconstructions as a way of transcending the body and experiencing spiritual enlightenment...or wholeness, as the wannabes call it. Not much different from the mortification of the flesh practiced by many religious sects throughout the ages, the Fakirs being an instructive example.

Ad Watch: Tigercat here and FromtheEast here inform us that the eshop.msn.com folks have "a well-developed sense of irony":

The … ad in the amputee article is for Moby Dick. The book ad in Kinsley's malpractice reform article is for Hillary Clinton's book.

Let's give 'em an A-, because the correct product placement would have been for Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, as luxelucis explains here, or for Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, on which 1-2-Oscar expounds here. … KA 5:25 p.m.