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 18 2003 10:57 AM

Needles & Threads

A weekly spin through the Fray.

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.


Saturday, July 12, 2003

You don't know JAG: National Institute of Justice President, Eugene Fidell, quoted in Dan Cullen's War Stories piece on the Air Force rape scandal, writes to refute Cullen's interpretation of his position:

Dear Mr. Cullen:

I am writing this on behalf of myself and Professor Scott Silliman. Both of us were quoted or paraphrased in your July 9, 2003 piece, "The Air Force Academy's Show Trial." Prof. Silliman and I understand that it was an opinion piece. Your very next (and last) paragraph, however, conveyed the impression, by using the words "in other words," that we agreed with your view that "it is reasonable to court-martial an innocent man just to send a message to the troops." That sentence materially misstates our views and distorts the comments we made to you in our separate interviews. In fact, any commander who sent to trial a case in which he or she actually believed the accused was innocent would be engaging in reprehensible conduct.


Eugene R. Fidell

Sports Nut Fray: Traditional admirers of Allen Barra knock him around for his All-Star grumble. BarkinJ comes up and in ("Barra has apparently lost his mind.") with a point-by-point rebuttal here. Kardinal offers up some nice field work, too, "in defense of the All-Stars" chosen for Tuesday's game.  Joe_JP and CaptainRonVoyage develop drinking games for suffering Mets and Dodgers fans respectively. Fray Editor briefly experimented with CRV's model, but lasted only three-and-a-third. 

ReadMe Fray: In response to Michael Kinsley's " The Lawsuit Lottery," on medical malpractice…reform…(apologies, Shafer)…medical malpractice do-over…Ben K launches a lively thread with, "Society has a problem differentiating between malice, negligence, simple incompetence, and bad luck." Joe_JP here (Is this the society we signed on to? One in which the state "owes nothing" to those unlucky?), Mitch here (…we have the notion of "social justice" which increasingly has posited that "society" through the government…has a duty to ameliorate bad luck), and bk_in_nj here (Frivolous lawsuits are a real problem but for a subtle reason that is rarely discussed, according to a doctor friend of mine in New Jersey…:the legal machinery that kicks in when a lawsuit is filed) all answer Ben. 

Poems Fray: Shannpalmer publishes the Frayster Poem o' the Week with " Sequence," a sensual rush. Shann receives a long-deserved star for her ongoing contributions to Poems Fray. Rob_said_that mounts a defense of Patricia Traxler's word choice in her poem, "Luna": "I don't understand why everyone's got this animus against the word 'zaftig' in this poem. I think it shows an unfettered use of language, and is very apt." MaryAnn's objection is its "connotation of comfort, which is not at all in keeping with Traxler's description of a moon on a Mexican night, when she 'knew the damage, yet I stayed.'"

Moneybox Fray: Lord_Wakefield thinks that Russ Baker (" Bush's Data Dump") "has a woeful deficit in his own realm if he thinks the Social Security is truly 'funded' in the 'surplus' to any real world extent. And most real economists…realize that the minimum wage fallacy is one of the biggest and grandest of lies in the modern age." Lbnalnoor jousts with Wake on minimum wage here. RugbyHun is a not-so-closeted QVC enthusiast, "QVC has a simple and good plan. It works better than hi-tech internet companies because the technology is old, proven and nearly fool proof." For an elaboration of its attributes, including its "reverse snob appeal," click here

Fighting Words Fray: Though Fraywatch highlighted FW Fray earlier in the week, doodahman gets this blast on Hitchens after the fact: "Hitchens was one of the crowd…who did not sully himself with the sordid lies about Iraq's oh so dangerous stockpile of WMDs. Nope. To him, it was all about 'liberating' Iraqis at the point of US cannon muzzles. Typical Bolshevik morality. Meaning that Hitch is not an evil, murderous pig. He's just a stubborn, besotted simpleton." For the complete transcript, go here. … KA11:35 a.m.


Wednesday, July 9, 2003


Erica Jong enters the Fray in response to Tim Noah's condemnation of both Lillian Ross'self-referential obituary to Katharine Hepburn in the New York Times and her confessional Here But Not Here, in which she spills the goods on her affair with longtime New Yorker editor, William Shawn. While Jong "had the same initial response" as Noah after reading the obit, she takes issue with the wholesale criticism of Ross as an insensitive gossip:

You ask: why did Lillian Ross write Here but Not Here? She wrote it because she is a writer. Writers, like painters, use what they have at home. Just as the portrait painter paints his family, so the writer uses the materials she knows best.

But beyond the issue of authorial license, Jong asks:

If a man can use the details of his most intimate life, why can't a woman?

So far as critics who assail Ross for publishing Here But Not Here while Shawn's widow was still alive…

I hardly believe they were worried about Cecile Shawn. Mrs. Shawn was just a convenient excuse for the rampant misogyny both female and male critics love to wallow in.

For Jong's complete response, click here. … KA7:25 p.m.

A.D.D.: After reading Fred Kaplan's piece on the aftermath of the Iraqi war, Zathras has "the odd feeling that [Kaplan] is not really paying attention." What gives Z this impression?  Among other observations,

he also attributes postwar violence to Iraqi units bypassed in the drive to Baghdad. This is wrong, and anyone reading the papers will see instantly why it is wrong. Attacks against Americans are coming overwhelmingly in Baghdad itself and in the areas to its north and west that were not in the American line of advance (the mostly Shiite areas that were are comparatively stable). Organized resistance to the allies had collapsed by the time American forces reached Tikrit and Fallujah, as well as some of the Baghdad neighborhoods where our guys are having the hardest time now.

More from Zathras on Kaplan, including "the question of international involvement in Iraq," where "Kaplan likewise focuses relentlessly on only one side of the coin," here.

Kulther introduces this popular analogy:

Well how can you BLAME the Iraqis who're fighting the American OCCUPATION—if Iraq invaded the USA wouldn't YOU be fighting THEM!? It's the SAME THING. Leaving aside the idiocy of that comparison, consider the shaky post-war reconstruction in a similar, but opposite and more reasonable, manner. …

For Kulther's rebuttal, click here

JumboBurrito poses the question, "Why would NATO occupy Iraq?" then proceeds to answer it:

The question that these recent converts to multilateralism have failed to pose is why France, Germany or Turkey would want to involve themselves in this mess? Now that the Bush admin has made this bed, the US military has to lie in it.

TomFitz piles on the administration: "Bush and Rumsfeld gave them all the finger last fall, and the Administration has continued its bellicose behavior towards 'Old Europe' on a lower lever ever since. They are still threatening Germany with base closures."

Awards! They Do Nothing But Give Out Awards! Greatest Fascist DictatorAdolph Hitler: Speaking of Teutonic baseness, Chango assumes the role of Fraywatch's East German judge with the inaugural presentation of The Black Hole Awards. Among the spoils:

The Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Award for Illogical Conclusions
The Fray is filled with lawyers and wannabe lawyers (hard to believe such a thing exists) who have yet to master the rules of logic. I submit, for your consideration, EFriedemann's less than compelling arguments against the decriminalization of sodomy, continuing here.

Apparently, they still teach the term ad nauseum in law school.

Biggest Arrogant Bastard/Insufferable Bitch No contest. Doodahman. What an ASSHOLE!!!. This guy makes James Carville look like a Pollyanna!

For the full roster of winners, click here. Statuettes in the likeness of Salvador Allende can be picked up from the Awards Office at either the Elizabeth IKEA or in the parking lot of San Dimas High School. … KA 3:00 p.m.