Fraysters spin the web on the capture.

Fraysters spin the web on the capture.

Fraysters spin the web on the capture.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Dec. 14 2003 8:38 PM

Spiderhole

Fraysters spin the web on the capture.

How important is the capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein? How pervasive is the story in the news cycle? To wit, when's the last time Chris Berman and Tom Jackson led off NFL Primetime's broadcast with an extrapigskinnial missive, as they did Sunday afternoon with their hearty congratulations to the troops of the 4th Infantry Division?

In War Stories Fray, readers contemplate some of the inchoate issues. Zathras addresses the juridical question, "namely arranging a trial of some kind for Saddam Hussein in Iraq prior to disposing of him." Z's prescription?

The trial will have to have some claim to fairness, yet be brief and allow those Iraqis brutalized by this man over the last three decades some sense that their suffering and has been avenged. Already we have seen commentary about a procedure dragging out over months or years (in an effort not only to be fair but to be thorough about making Saddam face up to all his crimes) and even the monumentally unwise idea of following a trial in Iraq with a Milosevic-style international tribunal at The Hague.

Zathras writes, "... the aspects of the American commitment in Iraq most likely to be handled badly are those we have not had occasion to handle before"—so while "Saddam's capture represents an opportunity," it also presents a hefty challenge for an administration that isn't tackling the unprecedented with great aplomb. Speaking of opportunity, Arlington suggests here that:

This would be a nice time to kiss and make up with out European allies. In the celebration of Saddam's capture, our president could get all generous and open the contracts to everyone, invite the UN to help shape the government, and so on. He could get beneficent without looking weak, now that his reelection looks assured.

That's a safe bet, according to Adam_Masin, if the Democrats proceed with the anointment of Howard Dean. AM here in Ballot Box Fray:

Hussein's capture will only strengthen voices within the Democratic Party that Dean cannot beat Bush. If Dean has any chance to beat Bush—assuming he manages to win the nomination—he must reintroduce himself to Americans on a major domestic issue. He has to be known as "the health care guy" or the "education guy" or some such thing. Otherwise, as Lieberman noted today, he will be known as the guy who would rather have had Hussein in power than in prison. Without more, that guy won't be President in 2004.

Speaking of Lieberman, TT notes that the candidate's logic is anything but Talmudic when he commented today that "Saddam should be put to death because in addition to all of the people he killed in his wars and persecutions, he is responsible for the deaths of the 462 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since we invaded." TT gets Socratic with his Spiderhole Pop Quiz.

Among the most important benefits to Saddam's capture? Thrasymachus says that while seizing Saddam "is a significant victory ... the practical benefits of capturing him are being undersold." Among them:

He can now be interrogated. That will yield a final chance to uncover any hidden WMD programs or ties to al-Qaida within his regime.

In addition, all those specialists who were busy looking for Saddam Hussein can now be sent after somebody else, like (a random suggestion) Osama Bin Laden.

Others? Submit your list here ... KA5:35 p.m.

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Friday, December 12, 2003

A Frayster declares a civil war in the Democratic party and boomers decry the national ponzi scheme. 

Subject: "And Say 'Hi' to Their Stupid Kids, Too"

Re:        "Meet the Greedy Grandparents: Why America's elderly are so spoiled."

From:     The_Bell

Date:     Thu Dec 11 1459h

Our parents, the so-called Greatest Generation, got much longer rides thanks to numerous breakthroughs in medical technology. However, none of them enjoyed the luxury of tax-deferred IRAs and 401Ks or pre-taxed Roth IRAs to supplement government largess. And while they paid in less while they were working than we are now, neither did they have the corporate-sponsored health insurance and prescription drug programs that have helped our generations defer medical expenses far beyond those of catastrophic illness. So while they had their share of advantages over us, we have had ours over them and today's "spoiled grandparents" are about an even draw with us in that regard. ...

But if the Greatest Generation's negligence regarding Social Security was derived primarily out of ignorance, that of our own Boomer generation has been out of the grossest stupidity. We are quite aware that our average life spans will outstrip what the program was designed to handle, we know that—bad as they were—our payments into the program were mitigated by the fact that we outnumbered the seniors we were supporting, and we know by the same logic that the reverse of this situation will make our children's ability to enjoy the same standard of living we aspired to—and often insisted upon—virtually impossible. We have witnessed several emergency bailouts of the program, so we know it is in crisis. We even know that those of us with middle-class and upper incomes had numerous savings alternatives that could supplement or even supplant Social Security. ...

Although the tragedy of September 11 and the threat of terrorism may seem to have emerged as our greatest challenge, I think we are far more likely to be remembered for our ability or inability to keep our children free from crushing tax debt than we will ever be for battles won on desert sands. ...

Are we up to that challenge? Are we willing to pay that price, make that sacrifice?

[Find this entire post here.]

Subject: "Ballot Box by James Buchanan"

Re:        "You Have the Power: Why Al Gore was wrong to endorse Howard Dean."

From:     WVMicko

Date:     Thu Dec 11 1929h

Deaniacs have known that Democrats are heading towards our own little Civil War within the party, and so has the party establishment, aka the Clinton wing. Yet as with most Civil Wars, the vast majority of the public is still undecided. As such, to win such a war, it's vital to force the other side into firing the first shots. The Patriots knew this, and by thumbing thier nose at English Law forced King George to make the first, outrageous move to put down the incipient rebellion. Lincoln knew this, and by a variety of unsavory means, forced the rebels to fire upon Fort Sumter.

And so it is with the Big Endorsement. The Dean campaign knew that the latest poll, to be released the day following the Big Endorsement, would show that they had broken through the 20% barrier of nationwide support and had finally gotten their national bandwagon moving. The reaction of all the other candidates—and the Clinton wing—would be immediate and powerful, once the news was reported and the implications analyzed. So in order to gain the sympathy of the party's fence-sitters, it was necessary to accurately frame those coming attacks as the "establishment" cynically attacking a successful and principled non-Clinton insurgent to protect their own power, rather than the usual and predictable pile-on against a front-runner.

Saletan recognizes and applauds the idea of change within the Democratic party. But as any moderate will, he laments the occasional violence against norms that an insurgency brings. So does anyone, for that matter. Still, change must come. Gore framed the decision facing Democrats: Clinton's insider triangulation or Dean's public-empowering principle. Knowing what we're deciding is worth a few bruised norms.

[Find this entire post here.]

Subject: "Coherence?"

Re:        "Iraqing Their Brains: How can the Democratic candidates escape the trap they set for themselves?"

From:     debater30

Date:     Thu Dec 11 1419h

I think the question posed is disingenuous: If it was wrong to waste American lives when Saddam was in power, and Saddam is no longer in power, then why should we waste lives now?

First, that question presumes that life is better for the average Iraqi. That's actually hard to say. I agree that removing Saddam ends a brutal persecution of the people, but in doing so, we should have taken care to not destroy all vestiges of civil society in the process.

Second, it's entirely coherent (even though the Mr. Kinsley may disagree) to suggest that if we have injected a new type of misery into the lives of Iraqis by increasing the threat of terrorism, destroying infrastructure, and lowering general quality of life standards, then perhaps we should have some moral responsibility to clean up the mess we made. ...

I hear people constantly say that we have our own problems here. And that is definitely true. I also agree our government's primary obligation is to our own citizens. BUT ... to absolutely say that no amount of suffering by "foreigners" is worth the occasional sacrifice of American life or even quality of life is fundamentally xenophobic and chauvinistic.

You may disagree with this, but to say that position is incoherent?

[Find this entire post here.]

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Fray Notes: On Wednesday, Fraywatch highlighted a post suggesting that Jeremy Kahn's portrayal of Charles Mubio, the commander of Genie Company, and rebel forces in the Ivory Coast were "racially motivated."  Kahn offers a response here, noting that, "The rebels self-consciously style themselves after the images of American gangsters they see in hip-hop videos."

This Just In: ElboRuum's sobriquets and analysis of the Democratic presidential field.  To wit, "Ah, the pretty boy young'un. Every time I look into John Edwards face, I say, now son, when the real candidate comes along, you have to quit playing in his chair."

Department of Astral Affairs: For those keeping a scorecard, go ahead and add Robes, RWJones, and ToddT (who reclaims a previously relinquished star) to the ranks … KA 3:15 p.m.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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Are political endorsements nothing more than a branding? Is sporting a Dean For America T-shirt no different than donning the swoosh? Is Al Gore America's version of a Parliamentary President—ceremonial in stature, but utterly powerless?

Subject: "Why didn't Bazell write this a year ago?"

Re:     "No Immunity: Why this year's flu outbreak is a looming public health crisis"

From:  Ananda

Date:  Tue Dec 9 1507h

Bazell wants to know why we let "market economics" dictate the number of vaccine doses manufactured. Maybe for the same reason that he wrote in Oct 2002: "Health officials expect a record 94 million doses of the vaccine to be available this season and are urging Americans to take advantage of the ample supply." (http://www.vaccinationnews.com/DailyNews/October2002/FightingFlu4.htm)

So 94 million doses was "ample" in 2002, according to 2002 Bazell. But 2003 Bazell says the drug companies should have known in advance that many more would be needed this year. Why should they? He sure didn't.

The simple fact is that the alternative to allowing market economics to dictate the number of vaccine doses manufactured is allowing politics to do so. Bazell himself thought 94 million doses was more than enough last year, and gave no indication in any of his writings that this year would be any different. Is it his fault that he did not psychically anticipate the arrival of the "Fujian strain"? Of course not. Nor is it the drug companies' fault.

Perhaps what's needed is a law requiring all Americans, on pain of criminal prosecution, to get flu shots. That would be an optimal political solution, since it doesn't leave anything to bureaucrats' discretion, nor does it leave this important issue in the hands of money-grubbing Big Pharma. Surely Bazell would have no objections to this policy.

[Find this post here.]

Subject: "Gore: A Certain Kind of Greatness"

Re:     "Today's Papers: Gore Score"

From:  RicNCaric

Date:  Mon Dec 8 2052h

Al Gore's has to be the most interesting political personality in the country. In a way, Gore has everything a Democratic politician could want: eight years of experience as Veep, the political skills that presidents need, a powerful work ethic, and a real agenda of his own. There is also a sense that Gore's experience of just about reaching the top has given him the real depth of someone who's a better man as a result of highly public trauma. Indeed, Al Gore might be the great man that Bill Clinton could never be. However, all of Gore's experience and qualities don't add up to anything definite in American political life. I doubt he'll ever be President and I'm not sure he'd be a good one if he were elected. Whatever magnetism Gore has, I just can't see him galvanizing the country through the medium of television. But where does Gore fit besides the big chair in the Oval Office? I'm not sure he knows. Perhaps there just isn't a place for him.

As for Gore's endorsement, it's a plus for Dean because it shows that Dean's earned the respect of a political powerhouse. It moves Dean's candidacy another step forward. But you can't help but wonder if Gore will be able influence his own wife to vote for Dean let alone anyone else. That's Gore's dilemma. He's a powerhouse without influence.

[Find this post here.]

Subject: "Party Politics"

Re:     Campaign 2004

From:  chango

Date:  Wed Dec 10 0831h

When I say "I support so-n-so for President," I am engaging in branding much like when I say, "I smoke Winstons." It's about AFFILIATION and the construction of identity.

I enjoy politics because I view it as the struggle over the definition of reality.

As an intensely image-conscious person, I choose a Presidential candidate very carefully, since the question is one of with whom do I want to be affiliated. But I'm not really choosing the candidate, since the candidate qua individual is irrelevant, but rather choosing the tribe that has already affirmed their allegiance to the candidate. To what tribe do I want to belong?

Would I want to be seen in public with these people? This most basic question usually disqualifies half of the candidates. More specifically, would I want to be at a dinner party with these people? This question usually eliminates the remaining choices…

[Find this entire post here.]

Subject: "Description of Mobio racially motivated?"

Re:     "Dispatches from Ivory Coast"

From:  applesauce

Date:  Tue Dec 9 2005h

In his description of Chief Mobio and the Ivory Coast rebel forces, Kahn manages to compare Mobio to a rapper, an NFL running back, and a gang leader (twice). In one 286-word paragraph, he writes:

- "The chiefs are essentially warlords, and some of them bear a striking resemblance to gang leaders from back in the States, especially since half of their soldiers are wearing hip-hop gear."

- "Mobio is built like an NFL running back."

- "Talk about bling-bling: This guy was wearing more gold and silver jewelry than P. Diddy."

- "Despite looking like a gangland enforcer, Mobio seems fairly thoughtful."

Are the influences of black America on Les Forces Nouvelles really strong enough to justify these kinds of comparisons? Since I've never been to the Ivory Coast, I don't know the answer to that question. But, if Kahn thinks that the resemblance really is that strong, he should justify this belief more explicitly instead of simply suggesting it by referencing black American culture. Some of his descriptions (especially the "bling-bling" sentence) make me a bit uneasy. I don't feel comfortable just trusting that his comparisons are apt, since it is possible that a superficial resemblance between black Americans and the black rebel forces in the Ivory Coast could lead an American reporter to think "hey, these black people here are a lot like the ones back home." I think that it would be wrong to make that kind of racially motivated comparison, which is why I'd like to see Kahn flesh out the comparison in order to show that there's more to it than that…

[Find this post here.]

Fray Notes: In Today's Papers Fray, Hitman pastes the text from a recent Howard Dean stump speech in the Palmetto State. In it, Dean picks apart the Republican's Southern Strategy and delivers his poverty-knows-no-color message. Comments or concerns? … KA10:35 a.m.

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Monday, December 8, 2003

YiLeng Chen-Josephson's roundup of top dictionaries on the market ("Word Up: Which dictionary is the best?") summons wordsmiths and grammarians into the Fray. As a self-admitted "lexi-geek"TransMun feels exonerated by the piece:

YiLing Chen-Josephson's "Word Up" piece is a spoonful of marzipan to lexi-geek like me.

When I find utter excitement in books like Jepperson's "Growth and Structure of the English Language" or "The Professor and the Madman," my wife, my friends and my associates all think I'm nuts.

TransMun then fires a shot on behalf of hard-core descriptivists:

Dictionaries began as a reflection of the English language in the 18th century. They have no business prescribing the law through which we speak and write. Those grammarians who cling steadfast to prescription will find in fifty years that they're left standing there looking for their dangling participles...

In the same spirit, radical descriptivist David Foster Wallace laid out the case against descriptivism, here, in the pages of Harper's in April 2001. Here, TransMun prefers a briefer analysis (sans footnotes) by Utah-transplant-cum-humorist, Tommy Kirchhoff.

Some Fraysters, such as Harry_BW, want to know when web dictionaries "will make the cut." Here, HBW confesses that he gets warm fuzzies when Merriam-Webster's "word of the day feature" appears in his inbox. Back in August, andkathleen noted that "Merriam-Webster has a sense of humor." To yuk it up with the marketing folks at M-W, click here.

Here, when paragenic wants to judge a dictionary beyond its cover, "the first word I look up is 'fuck.'"

So far as etymological efficacy goes, The Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman, editor of Roget's Thesaurus, is a favorite of Fraywatch … KA9:10 a.m.

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Thursday, December 4, 2003

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Fray boomers take stock own draft decisions, take aim at Christopher Hitchens, and take the New York Times Book Review out to the blue bin.  

Subject: "Kinsley on Vietnam Draft"

Re:        "Skiing Through Vietnam: Does it matter if a candidate dodged the draft?"

From:     JimmytheCelt

Date:     Thu Dec 4 1402h

Kinsley's two reasons why military service-avoiders of a certain edge shouldn't feel guilty are, to my mind, valid: 1) the prosecution of the war did not require, or ask for, a mass effort of millions of conscripts; and 2) it was a bad war. It was a "bad war," by the way, not only from the bleeding-heart moral point of view but also from the professional, Clausewitzian point of view.

The reason for feeling guilty -- and I felt and feel guilty -- was because of disparities of class and education. Among the kids with whom I went to parochial school in a small New York town (pop. 6000), many were drafted and four were killed. They were close friends. Among my college classmates at Ritzy U, few were drafted and only one died. Me and my college buddies (like George W. Bush and Howard Dean) had a network to plug into that provided letters and medical reports and whatever you needed to avoid combat. Now it's useful to remember that, with the huge exception of the Second World War, American combat formations have never included significant numbers of the bourgeoisie. Vietnam was the historical norm, not the exception. But still, it felt bad to know that I could get off but non-college-boys couldn't, or at least didn't.

So what social good is served by "feeling bad?" Good question...

[Find this post here.]

Subject: "Let slip the dogs of peace"

Re:        "The Liberal Left: Have opponents of the war been vindicated? Not so fast."

From:     gtomkins1

Date:     Thu Dec 4 1323h

Mr. Hitchens might reflect that perhaps he encounters dogged literal-mindedness so frequently because he induces it. The last, desperate defense when confronted with his mental gyrations, for that majority of us who are limited to the operations of Sense and Reason in our understanding of the world around us, is to insist that words mean what they say, and not the opposite of what they did a paragraph, or a month, ago.

Blair and Bush were very literal-minded in their statements about the imminence of the WMD threat. The "dodgy dossier" gave us a very specific number for the latency period of this threat -- 45 minutes. Had the actual latency been a matter of hours, or days, or even weeks -- perhaps even those of us whose minds are limited to a classical mechanics world-view would be able to allow for enough of an uncertainty cloud to let that pass…

Up until now, Hitchens has savaged those of us with the temerity to even suggest that perhaps Saddam was more symptom than cause of Iraq's woe, that this country might be inherently so conflict-ridden as to require a brutal hand to keep in check an underlying chaos of even worse consequence than his regime. Now our reluctance to invade is upbraided as an unwillingness to assume the mantle of the brutal enforcer that Iraq needs to prevent chaos, a mantle that would soon have slipped from Saddam's shoulders even if we had not invaded. A certain moral agility is definitely in order if Mr. Hitchens is to remain in support of a US occupation that will evolve into Baathism without Saddam. Just today they floated the trial balloon of bringing back the Mukhabarat to maintain order in Iraq. Near the beginning of a long career of support for factions all over the political map, Mr. Hitchens had been accused, falsely, of being a Fellow Traveler and Useful Idiot for the most extreme left tendencies. Now he actually has been these things -- for the radical right.

Plato maintained that dogs were natural philosophers because they are so apt at recognizing, and then barking at, what they don't know -- a capacity he thought more humans should emulate. No one disputes Hitchens in his recognition of what we all know, that Saddam was evil. But the folks who brought us the war and occupation of Iraq let that knowledge of Saddam's evil lead them imperceptibly on into what they didn't know, how to improve on Saddam's regime, without recognizing that they were moving beyond their knowledge. For myself, I try to be at least as smart as the dogs.

[Find this entire post here.]

Subject: "O'Rourke on the NYTBR"

Re:        "The Wonder Years: When people loved the New York Times Book Review."

From:     hazbeen

Date:     Thu Dec 4 1406h

O'Rourke's sketch of the Leonard era is accurate and well-composed…

…[S]ome questions that O'Rourke never gets around to asking: How did a publication that she calls a goliath become such an intellectual midget? Is it inconceivable that the culture czars at the Times actually like having a midget in goliath's clothing? Maybe they don't mind cranking out an innocuous product every week; after all, they've been doing it for years. Or has week after week of innocuous product hurt the section's bottom line, dooming it to be even more innocuous?

On the whole, the NYTBR is nowhere near as opinionated, intelligent, or pungent as some other weekly newspaper and magazine book sections. If you're looking for something to catch the crumbs of your toast on Sunday morning, it's fine; if you're hungry for nourishing commentary on books and ideas, it's often worthless. In fact, the NYTBR would have to do a lot more than return to the Leonard formula, since what the NYTBR did well under Leonard others now do better. Just look at the weekend book sections of the LA Times, Wash Post, and the Guardian; the back of the book at The New Republic; the London Review, the TLS, the New York Review.

[Find this post here.]

Power of Understatement: "When you are using American credibility as a tool, please take proper care of its integrity, if you don't mind."

--Narcolepticus, here, in Fighting Words Fray. 

Fray Notes: Christopher Hitchens replies belatedly to Edward Jay Epstein's "Prague Revisited." Hitchens qualifies his remarks by first stating that, "Anyone who knows either of us knows that Mr. Epstein and I dislike each other intensely, so I thought it only right that I should confirm one aspect of his essay from my own knowledge." Hitchens goes on to deliver an account of his visit with Jan Kavan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign and Security Policy of the Czech Republic … The_Bell delivers the Fray's best analysis of the proceedings between the SCOTUS and Allan J. Favish, who — under the Freedom of Information Act — is trying to get his hands on snapshots of Vincent Foster, post-Army Colt .38 Special … KA 9:55 p.m.