Lying down the rabbit hole.

Lying down the rabbit hole.

Lying down the rabbit hole.

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March 6 2004 7:37 PM

Vox Populi

Lying down the rabbit hole.

Fraywatch doesn't intend to limit its coverage to the work of a single Frayster, but when commentary such as this gets pushed off Ballot Box Fray within minutes, it warrants a more enduring home. 

Subject: "Lying Down the Rabbit Hole"
Re:        "Confidence Man: The case for Bush is the case against him"
From:     The_Bell
Date:     Fri Mar 5 0759h

 At the recent Academy Awards ceremony, Hollywood's celebrities resisted their natural impulse for political activism on a stage viewed by over one billion people and largely abided by the gag rule imposed by producers. Tim Robbins – the one-time bad boy – was immaculate. And Sean Penn's reference to "WMDs that weren't there" was passed over so quickly that you missed it if you blinked. Only one person was openly critical of the President's policies, though never mentioning Bush by name.

Errol Morris, winner of the Best Documentary Oscar for his look at Robert McNamara – with a strong focus on his decisions regarding the Vietnam War – had this to say after the usual round of thank-yous:

Forty years ago this country went down a rabbit hole and millions died. I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again.

This was not the over-the-top sensationalism of Michael's Moore's acceptance speech last year decrying a "fictitious war." It was a sincere expression of concern, rationally expressed, from a thoughtful, intelligent man. It received polite but restrained applause. It was only afterwards when host Billy Crystal quipped, "I can't wait for his tax audit" that the audience responded with hard laughter tinged by anger. Dislike of Bush within Hollywood . . . or Los Angeles, for that matter . . . or California for that matter is no surprise. But it struck me as kind of interesting in retrospect that the crowd's purest derision was directed less at the war they oppose and more at the perceived vindictive, underhanded quality of this Administration.

As a Republican, I regretfully but thoroughly agree with Mr. Saletan's view of President Bush as "too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends." I have said since I started posting in The Fray – with increasingly little agreement from my Democratic peers – that Bush is not an evil man and not nearly so unintelligent as commonly portrayed. Rather, I have always seen him as a sincere man but overly simplistic thinker, who probably makes no more wrong choices than the average resident of the Oval Office but who – as Mr. Saletan posits – is incapable of recognizing that error on either moral or pragmatic grounds.

And I agree that Democrats could suffer from negative blowback if they get too vicious and – especially – too repetitive in their attack ads. But I am not sure I agree at all that they cannot prevail by (selectively and strategically) questioning the President's honesty. Because, as Saletan points out, not matter how sincere and well-intentioned he may be, Bush holds a fundamentally dishonest worldview or at least a disingenuous view of how he operates within the world. He is naively one-dimensional and unable to divine any useful appreciation for dissent. That he believes in himself unquestioningly over the facts does not change the reality that when he makes statements in opposition to the facts, he is telling lies – or coming close enough to it in the eyes of many people.

Ronald Reagan was one-dimensional but he was never naïve and although on a few occasions during his eight years in office he was painfully slow on the uptake, he always knuckled under even his most cherished principles to popular realities. And when he had to do so, he was extremely good at making it look like he was just being a reasonable guy. Do not underestimate George Bush's charisma – he has qualities that are very attractive to a lot of people in the heartland of this country. But again, as Saletan points out, those same qualities make him anathema to others, so the same broad appeal that Reagan enjoyed is impossible for him to achieve – or at least hold.

Bill Clinton was not one-dimensional and he was as far away from being naïve as is capable by a human being. He was often highly unpopular during his time in office and the GOP was his blood enemy for eight muckraking years. But he not only survived but prevailed precisely because he appreciated the value of listening to and analyzing dissent. When popular opinion was against him, he shifted where he stood; when it was in his favor, he was an immovable rock.

George W. Bush probably sees himself – and believes others should see him – as a combination of Clinton's savvy with Reagan's teflon affability. In reality, of course, he is more Reagan's stubborn simplicity combined with Clinton's (lack of) belovedness.

Kerry and the Democrats can use that against him. Kerry can effectively call Bush a liar and get away with it because while Bush is not a stupid man, he is an inarticulate and clumsy one and he is an almost shockingly insulated politician. He almost never feels the need to justify or explain himself and he has an awful tendency to frame denials that play into the very charges being leveled against him. Ask him if his Administration is too tight-lipped and he replies "No comment." Beg him to explain why he changes his story on anything and he bewilderedly inquires, "What's the difference?" John Kerry does not so much have to be effective as Bush's opponent as he needs to be savvy at setting the President up as his own worst enemy.

I still believe this will be a close election. Even if Mr. Saletan is right and Democrats are headed for the worst possible strategy by making the election solely a referendum on Bush's honesty, the GOP are clearly committed to what I see as their worst possible strategy – making the election solely a referendum on homeland security and the fight against terrorism.

Now do not get me wrong – Bush has every right to talk about this issue. Democrats deploring his use of September 11 sound an awful lot like Republican rolling their eyes at Kerry's simultaneous promotion of himself as war hero and Vietnam conscientious objector. The attack happened on Bush's watch, he responded to it, and a lot of people – myself included – felt he did a good job initially at responding to it. The problem for many – myself included – is what has happened since. And it is not just what Bush has done (i.e. Iraq); it is what has not happened (i.e. any further major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil).

Naturally, Bush will argue this is due to the swell job that he and his Administration have done on homeland security and national defense. It may be impossible for Kerry to disprove this assertion but it will be equally problematical for Bush to prove straight cause and effect. The more time passes from the initial aftershock of September 11, the more unavoidable and compelling is the almost unbidden thought in the minds of voters that maybe the reason there have been no more attacks is because the threat is not nearly as pervasive – or at least an imminent – as we keep being told.

And as Mr. Saletan neatly concludes, President Bush's inability to see any fundamental difference between Bin Laden and Saddam, any difference between al-Qaida and the Baathists, tends to cause the questions of sincerity and honesty raised by the latter to cross-over and infect the former. That does not mean the threat of terrorism has gone away. But in making it a harder sell, Bush's over-confidence once again takes what should be his greatest strength and turns it into a potentially toxic liability.

Certainly, lots of people in this country do not feel that way about the developments within Iraq but just as certainly lots of people – and I think the tide is moving in this direction – do feel that way. Combine this with very legitimate concerns about the economy and the President is in a far weaker position than he ought to be right now. The new Iraqi constitution will be signed today but Bush's over-optimism about being able to get out of Iraq by June – without explaining exactly how – downplays that achievement. The stock market has posted gains and unemployment is at least getting no worse but this Administration's over-exaggerations and selective use of economic data present a picture so rosy that it flies in the face of most people's everyday experience.

So Bush has dived down the rabbit hold of homeland security, partly in search of sanctuary against the criticism flying against him and partly because – like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland – he sincerely and urgently believes that he has a "very important date" with destiny in that general direction. The problem with rabbit holes that Bush might want to take care to remember is that they are narrow burrows, providing little wiggle room. This election may not be a referendum on his personal honesty but it most certainly ought to be a referendum on the integrity of his vision and the effectiveness of his attempts to achieve it. He will certainly be found wanting in the latter category by many but I think the former is equally open to question by Democrats.

If so, Bush may find his rabbit hole of choice less sanctuary than asylum, a road less to Wonderland than back to Waco.

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Thursday, March 4, 2004

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Paper Tiger, Paper Moon: The only comment on Peter Bogdanovich's television biopic, The Mystery of Natalie Wood, is a solid one. Always a fan of Bogdanovich, candide applauds Dana Stevens for a "great take on Bogdanovich, whose fall from grace to made-for-tv purgatory is entirely shocking." Here is candide:

As you pointed out, from his outset, Bogdanovich was always synonymous with erudite cinephilia. And his pre-Stratten films certainly featured their share of behind-the-scenes bravado (as in the underappreciated "Nickelodeon"). But I still think there's something obsessive and sad about this returning and returning to the same thematic of the tortured love lives of those on the sidelines or in the spotlight of show business. There a shrinking of scope in these films, far removed from the epic historical sprawl of his early work that mirrors his movement from the giant cinema image to the small screen.

By no means is candide an anti-small screen snob. On the contrary, "[a]n avowed tv lover, I wouldn't necessarily assume that this trajectory is a tragic one—and tv certainly can use its share of smart auteurs —but the sad truth seems to be that Bogdanovich's art and commitment has shrunk to fit the new medium."

Bravo to candide for not overlooking Bogdanovich's portrayal of Eric Stoltz's group therapist in Noah Baumbach's Mr. Jealousy (a precursor to his role on The Sopranos as Melfi's shrink).

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Tribal Warfare: Fraywatch is trying to make some sense of TheObservor's experiment in National Geography—his homemade Slate Tribe Game. At the outset, it looks something like this:

1. I am going to create ten of what your people call "sub-threads" below this one. Each one will represent a "tribe". Tribes will be identified by totem animals.

2. Please tell me which tribe you want to be a part of by placing a post in the "sub-thread" of the tribe you want to join. It is like each one is a "flag" and you are standing by the flag of your tribe. I am guessing the first posters will want to join tribes because they feel a special bond with the totem animal. ...

Bylaws three through six appear in the body of the message. Subsequent rules have been posted here. An early headcount gives the nod to the Gnu Tribe.

At ARM's Length: Aptly named mtgbanker tells Daniel Gross that he's "totally missed Greenspan's point" regarding the variable benefits of adjustable-rate mortgages:

Greenspan's argument for ARMs has nothing to do with Monday morning quarterbacking about what you should have done in the early 1990's. His point is simply this—almost no one under 60 has lived in the same house for 30 years straight, and it's unlikely that they will. Most people average about 7 years depending on the part of the country. Paying ridiculous premiums to lock an interest rate for 20 years after you move out is a waste of money. Put another way, it's silly to pay for what you won't use.

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Scott_TOO here and run75441 here respond. Certain makes the most forceful argument against Greenspan. He equates a fixed rate to insurance, and charges that Greenspan's ARM fancy is an invitation to bankruptcy:

So guess what professor Greenspan wants to do: have you borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars with ARMs. He's right: across decades, wise investors will pay less, on average, with ARMs. However, those investors have enough money to pay much higher house payments during the high interest years, and they have enough time to make it all up in the low interest years.

What's the alternative? Fixed interest rates. With fixed rates, you pay a higher rate, but you don't have to worry about rate spikes bankrupting you. What does that sound like? Insurance. You pay a higher rate to someone who has more money, so that they assume the risk of a rate spike for you.

Fundamentally, what is the good professor suggesting? That we all go without insurance, risk the bankruptcy of our families.

Certain's full post is here.

Say It Ain't So: "In recognition of the old adage that you don't appreciate anything until it's gone, this will be the last My Two Cents for some time," writes doodahman in Dear Prudence Fray. Fraywatch encourages doodahman, á la network television, to air reruns each Thursday morning until the hiatus is over (which, according to doodahman, will be the "second Wednesday in November"). In lieu of MTC, he needs to provide Fraywatch a compelling reason to wake up on Thursday mornings … KA1:10 p.m.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Super Duper: The Democrats close up shop on the primary season, and Will Saletan "still can't quite believe" that John Kerry is the nominee. For that matter, neither can JimmytheCelt here :

My wife and I were watching the Kerry victory speech last night. So stiff, so lame, so formulaic. As ritually dull in its own way as the Oscar speeches were in theirs.

Nevertheless…

Whatever: I am committed to this candidacy more than to any other of the past thirty years.

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Saletan speculates that juxtaposing Bush with Nixon could potentially be dangerous. Jack_Baltimore disagrees:

I don't find the comparisons dangerous at all, but in many respects, spot-on…

JB parallels Nixon's enemies' list to the measures set forth in the Patriot Act, and Cambodia to Iraq. But the analogy isn't perfect, writes JB:

Here is where the comparison does not hold: Mr. Bush is the pampered eldest son of the highest Eastern economic and political privilege, and Mr. Nixon the son of a southern California lower-middle class family.

Nixon conducted his entire political life with the self-image of an uppity underdog, fighting for the respect of the uber-class. Bush has never known a day when he didn't regard himself as a titled and entitled American prince.

Space_K grudgingly replies that

I kinda agree, but, unfortunately, Bush has "plausible deniability" on most of your points.

Massachusetts resident Steve_R finds Slate's anti-Kerry bias tiresome. He attributes this posture to a

general editorial slant to run contrarian pieces that appear to lend them a hip "edge". After all, how hip or attention-grabbing is it to run a bunch of pieces about what a great guy Kerry is as he keeps racking up primary victories?

Steve's overall take on Kerry as a Bay State rez:

I have misgivings about his weaknesses (which have been exhaustively cataloged and analyzed in Slate). But he has run a strong (enough) campaign so far, and clearly to me (and most primary voters) he is the best of the Dem. bunch this year…

I think Kerry's strengths match up pretty well against Bush, in terms of his experience and credibility in foreign affairs, his ability to recast notions of patriotism and national security on more balanced and less divisive grounds, his willingness to stake out battle grounds and take the fight to Bush and the electorate, and his more moderate stance on a range of domestic and foreign issues. (Contrary to views expressed by Saletan and others on Slate, "electability" is not an illegitimate consideration, or an independent one, but rather it intersects with other important qualities). Kerry has his work cut out for him in clarifying and "tightening" his messages to the broader electorate, and in narrowing the gap in fundraising.

Moving on to the Edwards legacy, as it were, The_Bell — in what's become as good a political column as any — sides with Chris Suellentrop in concluding that Edwards was never a serious candidate. Why?

It is not that Kerry has done something bold and dramatic that defies the conventional wisdom to win nor anything that Edwards has failed to do. It was the Democratic (and Independent) voters who "punctured the CW" this time. And puncture it they did, when you think about it.

The_Bell then look to William Saletan's better half as a demonstration of how this occurred:

Her personal desire to "get the primaries over with and unite the party against Bush" is very much a microcosm for her Party. Saletan labels this as the issue of "electability." I like the term "momentum" better but the concept is the same. Democrats have been loath to break the momentum of their frontrunner this time around…

A final, cogent word from The_Bell on the much-maligned John Kerry/political courage question:

He just has not done anything that defies CW to win. But, when you come down to it, that means that on the whole he went right on being John Kerry even when John Kerry was not an especially popular thing to be. That enabled him to be in the right place at the right time – with a consistent intelligent message – when Democratic voters came to decide that reliable resume was a more important trait than rapturous rhetoric in a candidate. And for all the talk about Kerry's lack of political courage, that strikes me as a very gutsy and sanguine thing to have done.

Who does the stentorian Kerry sound like? According to Neocon here,

Take my word for it, Kerry, sounds exactly like Charles Foster Kane, when he was running for Governor and speaking before a presumed audience of 10,000 in the Madison Square Garden. Not only were the speech patterns identical, the content of their speeches was similar. Kerry has his "Benedict Arnold" businessmen to condemn, and Kane had his crooked opponent for governor, the despised "Boss" Jim Gettys, whom Kane threatened he would jail upon his election.

Fraywatch notes that the convention in The Manchurian Candidate was held at Madison Square Garden — as will Wrestlemania XX. No word on whether the RNC will overlap the Goldberg/Brock Lesnar match … KA2:35 p.m.

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Monday, March 1, 2004

Kiss the Ring: RoyJaruk-18 "was delighted that Lord of the Rings ... made a clean sweep of its nominations this year, to take home eleven Oscars and tie the record for most awards to a single film in a single year." For Roy, the victory was one not merely for Peter Jackson and the trilogy, but for the fantasy genre as a whole:

There is no question that LOTR has at last shattered the glass walls which have kept fantasy and science fiction movies penned in an intellectual ghetto in the minds of the Academy voters. Thanks to LOTR, now such movies may be considered legitimate works of art, just as Cimarron kicked down the fences to permit the Western movie to be so considered. It's about time—past time, in my opinion.

What frosts my cookies, though, is the way it was done. There used to be a saying regarding minorities competing against the supposed WASP male majority in any line of endeavor that the minority had to work twice as hard to be thought half as good. In the case of science fiction and fantasy, it's clear such flicks have to be three times as good for the film to be considered half as hard to make and thus be Oscar-worthy. How often does a project offering that kind of scope come along?

Roy's full post is here.

TheJew notes that, "[t]he biggest theme of Tolkien's writings is power," and, in a lengthy post, posits that "amongst all the piles of Tolkien lore, one mystery emerged." The mystery? Click here to find out.

Speaking in Tongues: Referring to a piece in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, twifferthegnu notes that "many of the lesser known tongues of the world are fast disappearing." A "cause for concern or simply an interesting footnote in the seeming inevitable march towards globalization?" asks twiff. He then frames the question as such:

the answer lies in what the loss of language actually means. is it a complete loss of culture? not really; however, there is a bit of identity stripped away with the native tongue. is that all? what is lost when a language dies?

Here, ANonnyMoose reminds us that, "For New World peoples, who have almost nothing in the way of written history, the preservation of oral history and the study of migration and kinship patterns depends almost exclusively on preservation of tribal languages."

On the other hand, ANM points out that

For the individual in Peru, for example, will he have a better life speaking Quechua or Spanish. Spanish-speaking people are more likely able to take part in the modern economy and provide for their families. Once the first generation starts speaking the majority language at home, then the next generation never learns it. Sure, his kids will never hear their people's legends in their native tongues, and his grandchildren will never hear them at all. But, they'll eat and maybe even prosper, go to university etc.

Juno gives us a Quebecois take here, and wonders if

we'll all be speaking English in the future. I bet it evolves (as it always has) and adapts to absorb the other languages. Maybe it will sort of be like in Blade Runner, where everyone speaks a kind of common patois that is all languages, and none.

For an interesting utilitarian perspective ...

languages are disappearing because the people who speak them find no compelling reason to continue doing so.

Click here for wisp's post.

Numerology: The 10-millionth post in the Fray was composed by il_dionisio in Faith-Based Fray here yesterday afternoon … KA2:00 p.m.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

Take a Seat: The remaining Democratic candidates for president gathered in Los Angeles last night for a sit-down debate—which always reminds Fraywatch of those old panel game shows like To Tell the Truth with Bill Cullen ... the panel part, that is, not the truth part. The best Fray post-debate post? The_Bell here in Ballot Box Fray in response to William Saletan's analysis. On Saletan's assertion that Edwards is overselling his appeal to independents, The_Bell digs up a Saletan piece from last week in which Saletan wrote, "In states where the choices of these groups have been measured, Edwards is matching Kerry among independents and beating him among crossover Republicans." The_Bell responds:

Gee Mr. Saletan, if you seriously believe that you have "been trying harder to get [Edwards] nominated than [Edwards has]," here is my piece of feedback for you. Do not call your boy on the carpet for using the argument that you gave him by employing the same numbers to discredit it that you used to build it with in the first place. Though I suppose you will state proudly and for the record that you have "no regrets" about that.

The post includes an insightful look at job outsourcing vis-à-vis health care costs, a sentiment The_Bell shares with run75441 (go here).

The_Bell prompts William Saletan to jump into the Fray. Saletan responds here:

I have no regrets.

I laid out the numbers. They challenged the CW that Kerry was the more electable guy. What they did not do was show that, in Edwards' oversimplified language, "the independents have been voting for me."

The record is 4-4 in February. If Edwards had said "the crossover Republicans have been voting for me," I would have backed him up. But what he said about independents is an exaggeration.

This is why I'm a journalist, not a campaign aide. If I like a candidate, and he goes one way, and the truth goes the other, I'm going with the truth.

A final word from The_Bell here, and Saletan here. Fraywatch wonders when "electable" and "electability" will be recognized by Microsoft Word.

A Fray Mosaic of a Whole Lotta Somewhat Exemplary and Creative Minds: Culturebox Fray is a house divided on the matter of Naomi Wolf's allegations against Yale and Harold Bloom (Slate's culture editor, Meghan O'Rourke critiques Naomi Wolf's in Culturebox here). Hifisnock has little patience for "celebrity scholars" here and offers a wholesale dismissal of Wolf:

Her 'feminist' writing has always been weak-kneed, more titillating than critical. As Ms. O'Rourke points out, Wolf's complaint looks more like self-promotion than a definitive attack on institutional sexual misconduct. And that makes it truly boneless.

Here, BeverlyMann thinks that O'Rourke is missing the point:

O'Rourke's interest seems to be in pointing out that much has changed concerning sexual harassment policy and grievance procedures, at least at Yale, since 1983, and that Wolf uses instances from an earlier era to unfairly tar Yale now.

But Wolf's complaint is not that Yale has no formal policy regarding sexual harassment nor that it has no formal grievance procedure. It's that the current procedure, lovely as its words appear, still apparently is geared toward protecting the guilty from accountability if the guilty are powers within the hierarchy. It's a truth that certainly transcends Yale, and that transcends the issue of sexual harassment too.

In response to BM, run75441 writes:

Everytime I have seen this come into play for someone at my level, it has been devastating even if untrue. Companies do not take the time to find out if what has happened is true or not. The male offender is gone that day. Managers are guilty for whatever and rightfully so if only for stupidity and not leaving their sex drive at home. However, this does breed insecurity at work because anything can be said and you are at risk.

The BM/run thread continues here. As an English instructor who frequently engages in one-on-ones with students, martingreene offers this:

Every English instructor wants to sit down with his students during his free period, in a library cubicle, to see how "the paper" is doing. I did this in my first term, with students around 17 and 18 years of age, including girls. A senior teacher named Fred S. sat across the deserted room marking papers, as it seemed, while I spent 40 minutes with Ivy, going over her paper on a certain American author. At the end of the period, Fred called me over. He said, I didn't have to be here this period. I did this so you wouldn't be alone with that girl, and expose yourself to a charge of something you wouldn't do, but could be accused of. I stood there like a dummy. I had no idea. I said thanks, I'll never do it again. I didn't. All meetings about writing in progress took place after that in my main class room, with others present, certainly with the door to the hall open. I think Naomi W. is full of crap. But Bloom was an idiot to put himself in that situation.

To MarkHaag, "The real issue here—I would agree with Wolf—has to do with the nature of the institution." MH writes his exegesis in a two-part post, here and here. GovernorJohnson takes issue with O'Rourke's implication that Bloom is innocent until proven guilty. The Guber here:

Why in the world should one's moral / political evaluation of events at Yale be controlled, or even influenced, by the "innocent until proven guilty" standard applied in criminal courts? The phrase means nothing except that the prosecution bears the burden of proof in criminal cases, which involve the question whether to put a person in the penitentiary or even execute him (or, every once in a while, her). It's only muddled thinking that applies the phrase in a discussion of the reputation of a blowhard professor and an academic department. What could be less innocent than Yale???

Finally, FreitagsPyramid "believes" Naomi Wolf here:

is creating publicity and verisimilitude for next and most ambitious book, perhaps a second "Second Sex". This post-feminist de Beauvoir thoroughly subjectivizes her Sartres, however, and everyone else. Hell is indeed other people—especially when they haven't learned their lines and don't adequately grasp their characters' motivation regarding Naomi.

Well, sort ofKA2:15 p.m.