Readers debate who's minding the store at the DNC.

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Dec. 31 2004 2:17 PM

My Left or Your Left?

Readers debate who's minding the store at the DNC.

Who's in Charge Here? Fray_Editor loves nothing more than seeing potentially partisan flame bait evolve into a quality thread. Responding to a query by Taller as to whether the "radical left" has taken over the Democratic Party, ShriekingViolet writes:

The policies put forward by Clinton, Daschle, and Kerry would generally have been considered conservative 30 years ago, back when the words "radical Left" applied to people like the Weathermen. Consider the Chomsky and Nader wings of the Left, or the Nation editorial page and the agenda they advocated for America—no invasion of Afghanistan, defunding Israel, nationalizing health care, living wage laws, etc. etc. These people are so marginalized in the Democratic Party that they generally don't consider themselves Democrats anymore.

But in politics—as in any marketplace—perception equals reality:

the more relevant question is whether the 527 groups and Hollywood volunteers representing the Michael Moore wing of the party controlled too much of the party's PR during the last campaign and gave voters the impression that they had too much power in the party.

JLF insists that "there isn't a 'radical left' left in American politics," and subscribes to "a rule for voting that I think was attributed to David Dellinger: 'Vote for the left-most candidate with a realistic chance of winning.'"

Travelociting the Tragedy: Today's moral conundrum comes courtesy of StormyWeather who is outraged that, according to news reports:

For some tourists yesterday, however, the tragedy was becoming a memory, albeit a vivid one, as they made the most of the weather and topped up their tans. Many in bathers and bikinis, some lounged on sunbeds and others took a dip in the water that had claimed so many lives a few days earlier.

--Isonomist-- plays devil's advocate, suggesting that:

in a country that depends mightily on the tourist dollar, I'm sure the people who work at that resort are thanking GOD someone has the courage to show up on the beach and act like everything's back to normal. I'm sure you've had disasters in your life. Doesn't being able to restore the routine help?

SW responds:

We are watching a situation where, perhaps, 20% of a local population has been wiped away. Hunger, disease and the lack of the necessities of Life are rampant. It is this kind of "indifference" which allows Genocide to continue in the Sudan and atrocities to be tolerated in much of the Third World.

Is there some ancillary benefit for the locals when a Western tourist pays 200 bahts for a Mai Tai on Karon Beach? Get in on the debate here.

The Name Game: The decimalization of time has always been a curious exercise. Publius, for one, thinks it's silly:

This whole business of naming decades—and, I think, of referring to the march of time and events as if it fit neatly into decades—began with the 1920s being dubbed by the press "the Roaring Twenties," which happened in part because the period following the slaughter of the first world war was a genuine boom time for many, as well as a time of noteworthy social changes …

The emergence of the mass media may have been the most important of these changes, since it was the media that named the decade. …

Of course, the truth is that there is no particular unifying quality about a decade save for the numbers. To identify the first decade of the 20th century, it works well to say "in the period before the great war" or "during the Progressive Era" or "in the Edwardian period" or "in the last years of the Romanov dynasty" or whatever, depending on what it is you are talking about. I suspect the same will be true of the years we are now experiencing.

For the record, Fraywatch likes Mycenea's entry: The Ground Zeroes.

In Memorium: Not surprisingly, Susan Sontag's death has incited a range of responses on the Fray—and not necessarily along partisan or critical lines. Fray_Editor was surprised to see this rebuttal from MarkEHaag, who calls Sontag a "pompous ass" in his subject line (and takes down Christopher Hitchens in the process):

I know it's wrong to speak ill, but there's no point in hiding the truth … Sontag was mostly a grandstanding popularizer, a little too clever by half and a little too successful for her/his own good. That is, if they ever hoped to become real intellectuals. What they possess in abundance is a pithy writerly facility, a certain gift (and, truly I'm not pooh-poohing this) for bringing home off-the-rack ideas with brio and panache, and conversely, for liquefying original thoughts propagated by others just so that they could fit more easily into the most conventionally shaped linguistic and rhetorical vessels.

On the flip side, jerseyman confesses that while Sontag was "on the polar opposite of me politically,"

Against Interpretation meant more to me as an undergrad than about anything else I read … God rest her. Let us be glad that there are people to whom thinking still means living, a special kind of New York of the mind. I think her best work will live. What more can be said of a writer?

Frozen-Pie-Crust sees Sontag as a guardian of democratic principles:

In this democracy of ours that constantly toots its own horn as the defender of freedom, the words and actions of people like Sontag can be a useful measure of the actual politico-cultural climate versus the recycled Johnny Tremain-like hype…

Dissent has a value of its own in that it can stand as a canary in a coal mine. When the pie-in-the-sky intellectual dissenters start to be silenced, that's when the rest of us can start worrying about when it is that our own more moderate views might no longer be permitted.

But MarkBrown has no patience for Sontag's brand of litcrit:

The late Susan Sontag was an author of decay, of intellectual malaise. Her essay "On Camp," celebrates a vision in which aesthetics triumph over morality. This vision "neutralises moral indignation". Sontag told us that camp divorces beauty from truth. She maintained that aesthetic pleasure was morally inert (although by appreciation of the beautiful she maintained we are morally edified). A more recent essay, "An Argument about Beauty", was no more enlightening. She wrote of "the beautiful [being] colonized by moral judgments", as if ethics were an invading army raping and oppressing the poor put-upon aborigine that is beauty. She was a vanguard of radical chic and the drivel that proceeded from such a sensibility. …

In tribute to Jerry Orbach, check out BML's account of the actor's stage career, and lucabrasi on life after Orbach at Law & OrderKA11:10 a.m.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

Between Christmas and New Years, the Fray resembles the Los Angeles freeway grid —abnormally devoid of traffic … except for that guy three lanes over who got into the cooking sherry at the Rotary holiday bash. FrayEditor took his vacation before the holiday and just missed this thread initiated by Fritz_Gerlich:

Whatever Christians say theologically, as a practical, devotional matter, they in fact treat Jesus as someone who can be known personally, like a best friend. This is a common "witnessing"-type statement, which I certainly have heard, and you probably have, too: "I came to know a man named Jesus." Similar statements have been multiplied ad infinitum in various ministries and popular publications, especially in America. Everybody in the world has a standing invitation to come up, shake Jesus' hand, and get to know him. The implication is that, at some level, you can relate to him as you would to another human being.

Rarely does a revelatory top post get its responding equal, but Montfort rose to the occasion with this:

Jesus isn't a personality; he's a fully realized human being. And you're just like him, only you don't realize it. That's what he's telling you, only you don't realize it. …

Jesus doesn't want you to look at him as if he were outside you and you outside him; he wants you to look through him, with his eyes. There's no meaning to him—ascribe meaning to him and you've already pulled the blinds down. Don't look at him in the context of biblical bagasse—this-that-this, walker on water, scourge of the money-lenders, raiser of the dead, loaves and fishes, foot-washer, crucifyee—but at what he says he is: the way, the truth, the life.

Montfort closes his remarks with this:

If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him, because meeting him means you're seeing him as separate and distinct from you. The biblical Jesus, the historical Buddha, I don't care—you see him on the road, whack the sucker. He's not real. He can't be hurt, and you can only wake up.

What he is, you are; that's what he's being trying to tell everybody for 2,000 years. He's no savior; he's an alarm clock. What do you do when the alarm clock finally wakes you up? Whack that summabitch, toss it out the window, you don't need it anymore, from now on you can wake up on your own.

Read Montfort's entire post—with poetic litany— here.

On the List: If it's the last week in December, then it must be time for a bevy of Bests 'n' Worsts. Check out rob_said_that's "Bombs and Gems," which include:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Charming, poignant, surprising all the way through. A bizarre fantasy that had such true-ringing nuggets of reality all the way through (especially the great interactions of the memory-erasure technicians at Jim Carrey's pad). This was one of those movies you just sit and grin through. Charlie Kaufman is a sly genius.

And …

Alexander Was there ever this much huffing and puffing to absolutely no purpose? You'd think Oliver Stone could have found at least one tiny facet of Alexander's character to reveal in three hours, but if he had any insights he kept them to himself. The film looks as if Stone realized in the cutting room that his narrative line was tawdry and opaque, and decided what would fix it would be to scramble the time sequence. Pure horseshit. Colin Farrell is exposed as a star of the dimmest magnitude. And I wish someone would have sneaked up behind Anthony Hopkins while he was intoning his banal lines and given him a gigantic wedgie.

Administer your own critical wedgies here.

Red Province, Blue Province: Buried in a thread on Canadian nationalism is a revealing post by Schadenfreude on Canada's own "tainted" history, something forgotten when "Canadian chauvinists" wax poetic on Canada's legacy of tolerance:

You seem to be unaware of the KKK influence in Western Canadian politics, the overwhelming influence of the Orange Order in Ontario politics and the strong fascist following in Quebec.

Should we be talking of the internment of Japanese during WWII? Or the treatment of Chinese immigrants?

Our history is just as tainted and suspect as anyone else's. It is plain dishonesty to suggest otherwise.

Always remember that when you say things like "Canadians are more tolerant", you're dealing on the margins (as in Canada 51%-49%, US 49%-51%) to the point where you're mouthing meaningless platitudes.

Holiday ELFs: AdamMorgan initiates a discussion on whether the Earth Liberation Front's tactics amount to "terrorism":

I don't believe this is terrorism; primarily because vandalism and arson, which are the primary instruments of sabotage used by ELF, don't cause terror. ELF has explicitly stated that they will never harm any human—or any life form. If it doesn't cause terror and if the only damage is to property, the classification of a terrorist group is inappropriate. …

this form of sabotage isn't any different from what was done in British India and Apartheid South Africa. That is, it's a way to politically lobby when you have no other options.

Read AM's entire post and get it on the discussion here.

Department of Astral Affairs: Fifteen new stars are up for nomination hereKA 10:35 a.m.

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Friday, December 24, 2004

What's the Point? Over in Low Concept Fray, WhiteRabbit  introduces an alternative to Josh Greenman's "sarcasm point." Rather than punctuate sarcasm at the end of a declaration, WR suggests that we…

use the acute accent to indicate a rising tone on a syllable, the grave accent to indicate a falling tone on a syllable, and a circumflex accent to indicate a combination of both on a syllable. Precisely what these accents would indicate, of course, would depend on their precise combinations with the verbal text.

Consider the following short phrase as an illustration:

Oh, réally? (genuine surprise)
Oh, rèally? (distaste)
Oh, rêally? (sarcasm)

The beauty of this system is that no other punctuation marks as such would have to be added to English in order to bring out such distinctions of meaning. There would be some confusion, at first, with the tonal accents that some loan words from French (like blasé) still carry, but we could solve that problem by dropping the French-derived accents.

Yet another way to stick it to Old Europe. 

Mosquitoes on the Windshield: Grudgingly, both Ex-Fed and The_Slasher-8 come to Alberto Gonzales and—by extension—the White House's defense in response to  Dahlia Lithwick's characterization of the presumptive AG as "plumber" and torture defender. Here, Ex-fed sheds some light on the entirety of Gonzalez's notorious "torture memo." And here, S-8 expresses "sympathy for the devil":

Much as I hate to say anything that can be construed as a defense of this morally bankrupt promoter of torture, anyone who thinks the AG of the United States is ever much more than a blocking back for the President is out of their mind.

The AG has two jobs: to prevent The Boss from being indicted/honestly investigated/whatever and everything else. What, you thought Janet Reno was nominated for her crime-fighting background? Bobby Kennedy? Ed Meese? If the criterion is honesty and competence, well yeah, there were better choices than any of these people. But Gonzales is hardly the first yes-man to be put into this office.

S-8 reminds liberals that:

It remains a fact that Alberto Gonzales made one of the great denunciations of the last ten years when he wrote, for the Texas Supreme Court, that a Priscilla Owen anti-abortion ruling was the worst case of judicial activism he had ever seen. For a conservative justice to say that took some stones.

Joe_JP responds to S-8:

Your post has a certain flavor to it that supposes even small victories, including somewhat less offensive hacks, is probably impossible. This is not true, since there are just too many appointments, decisions, and so forth for even this administration to win them all.

And fozzy brings up an interesting point—that the "AG is just going the way much of the [legal] profession is"—here

An iPod Christmas: Check out IOZ's recommendations for your yuletide soundtrack here. … KA9:45 a.m.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004.

Rolling Back the Odometer: Is General Motors' financial outlook a clunker? That's the effect of Daniel Gross'Moneybox column, and MarkWade has a theory of his own:

I'd like to offer my guess: creative accounting

We've seen how Hollywood studios do it, but how do the boys in Detroit cook the books? According to MW, here's how it works:

Let me offer this quick and ugly example. Auto company makes car for $28,500 and sells it for $30,000 at zero percent interest for 36 months. The value of the zero interest incentive is rightly considered to be a marketing cost and should be factored into the cost of the automobile using present value calculations…

At a low interest rate assumption, say 3%, the present value of this incentive would be about $500. Therefore an additional $500 of "Marketing Costs" would be added to the sale and is then used to reduce the face value of the loan as it is transferred to the finance company. So the finance company now has a loan on their books at $29,500 and a payment stream for the $30,000 at zero percent, yielding the 3% as laid out in the beginning of the paragraph. Auto company makes $1,000 at the point of sale. Finance company makes $500 during the life of the loan.

Now let's say the accountants come in with a high interest rate assumption for the value of the zero percent marketing cost. At an 8% assumption, the "Marketing Cost" then becomes about $1,200. Loan goes onto finance company's books at $28,800. The automotive company now makes only $300 from the sale of the car and the finance company makes $1,200 during the life of the loan.

All present value accounting is essentially guesswork that can be manipulated by adjusting the interest rate assumption higher or lower according to whatever suits the company's purpose best, within the bounds of reason. Keep that in mind the next time you see an auto company report $5 billion in profits and pay next to nothing in profit sharing.

Spin your wheels in Moneybox Fray here.

Open Secrets in the Fray: Slate Culture Editor Meghan O'Rourke explores how Canadian author Alice Munro "captures perfectly … a bare resignation, a confrontation with truth that lends a dark precariousness to the tidy denouements so often staged in short fiction" in her most recent short story collection. There's some discussion in the piece as to how Munro walks the tightrope between "conventional realism" and faddish "postmodern experimentalism." Is Munro's style—elaborate, plotty melodrama—facile and "stagy"? Fray literary resident, DemiMundane weighs in with her own read on Munro:

I happen to like Alice Munro and don't begrudge her a bit of contrivance or gimmickry. Short stories, as Borges has said, are more like compressed novels, whose five-hundred-page mechanics must be sketched within ten or fifteen pages.

Yet while I understand that Megan O'Rourke is mounting a defense of Munro here, I didn't quite understand what she means by "The problem is that we're so accustomed to realism we bridle at Munro's insistence that storytelling like this has lessons of its own." Again, I would refer the reader to, among others, Borges, another writer whose loose affiliation with reality might be condemned in some momentarily fashionable circles. The fact that there is a "[strong] contemporary bias toward realism in short fiction" doesn't address the fact that Munro is writing against the backdrop of a much larger panorama of short-story writing and writing styles. Viewed within the narrow confines of any individual (and undoubtedly passing) trend, anybody's writing has a pretty good chance of not measuring up.

For an excellent illumination of "Tricks" (spoiler alert), the centerpiece story in Munro's collection, read DM's entire post here. … KA8:55 a.m.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Fred Kaplan's latest account of what went wrong with missile defense during a recent Pentagon test caused lots of eye-rolling, with most fraysters practically accepting as a given the overtly political (rather than military) reasons for the program's ongoing existence.

Drawing an interesting analogy to the French and their Maginot line during World War II, wewhite concludes that the success or failure of the program is less important than the complacency and "sloppy thinking" it encourages. Despite his disillusionment with the program, HawkEye defends the concept of missile defense as rooted in historical precedent: "The British started it in World War II (along with the Bomb Squad). Germany was firing V1 Rockets at the time.... the Buzz Bombs. The RAF was tasked with shooting or knocking them down along with Antiaircraft Artillery." 

Arlington2 ends his list of alternative doomsday scenarios not addressed by missile defense with a generous offer:

Well, the SDI system works as it was intended to work.

That is, it provides defense contractors with a two or three decade development and deployment phase to set up a system that will defend against Soviet ICBMs. Or Chinese ICBMs. Or ICBMs from any country loony enough to launch one from its own soil. As long as that soil is far enough away to require a high trajectory and at least 20 minutes or so of flight time required to detect, verify and lock on to the target.

It won't defend against a cheap, makeshift, short range missile launched from a cargo ship sitting 50 miles off New York. Or Florida. Or California. Or... Well, you get the point. We have so many populated areas sitting on so many miles of coastline that an adversary could choose one of the less obvious targets, such as Charleston or Boca Raton, and still kill tens of thousands.

That's how terrorism works, by the way. Don't try to kill everyone. Just kill as many as it takes to send the nation into a spasm of panic and fear. Judging by our response to the 9/11 attacks, it doesn't take much.

Want to run down some of the other things against which SDI is useless? A dirty bomb. A suitcase bomb. A cargo container bomb. A FedEx bomb. Anthrax. (Remember Anthrax? The administration doesn't, judging by the progress of the investigation into the anthrax attacks.) Poisoning water supplies. Stinger missiles. Suicide truck bombers like Tim McVeigh. The list goes on.

Yep. Eighty billion would be better spent reinforcing security in areas where an attack is more likely. That is, if you actually believe the tab for this foolishness will only be $80 billion. If you do, I have a nice 1974 Pinto I would let go for only 20 grand.

Seconded by etjw here, Mackinactroll agrees that it is essentially a big boondoggle for military contractors. Alaska resident norockets writes in to protest the federal largesse of which her own state has been the recipient as a result of missile defense-related appropriations.

According to sorokahdeen, missile defense has ossified into conservative dogma beyond any rational assessment of its viability:

It's been an inexplicable conservative obsession for twenty years and with the economics of joy presiding in the White House and both Houses, no expense and no number of technical setbacks will work to dissuade them. Why should anyone even imagine it was when as recently as 2001, within a week of the 9/11 attacks, some conservative in an expensive suit stood up on his hind legs before the camera and announced that Islamic suicide hijackers with box-cutters, were proof positive of the need for a ballistic missile defense.

The stakes are high and the sense is thin. Missile defense that wouldn't work against an insane, massive Russian missile strike, could, just possibly, conceivably work in twenty years against a suicidally foolish attack by a Kim Jong-Il, or an Ayatollah with two nuclear-tipped, copies of Chinese cruise missiles and a demon-driven need to actually fire them--after granting us a week's notice ahead of time--instead of, say, sending just the warheads to the U.S. in a shipping container.

Missile defense is not a rational policy, it is a religious rite; an indestructible bugaboo given life, in part, by having a succession of governments made of people who have spent too much time praying and too-little in the contemplation of mathematics and engineering. The kind of people who, like Reagan, could be told that engineers could make possible the equivalent of an Apollo mission hundreds or thousands of times, in an emergency using equipment and systems that were untested, pretty much by definition. If, like Reagan, you could ever once start believing in something like that, you were probably not going to stop--and neither would your ideological descendants.

Missile defense isn't going to go away and it isn't going to die.

if it can be understood at all, it can only be seen in the context of something which obsession has given value that transcends any practical real cost. When you think of missile defense, you have to think in terms of the Children's Crusade, or of the Roman Senator who inserted into every speech the words 'Carthage must be destroyed'--it involves the inversion of reason and logic: a situation where all the setbacks and the horrid costs only mean you have to try harder and spend more.

bluescribbler sums up the same sentiment with the more succinct expression "Faith Based Missile Defense."

In light of my final day as guest FrayEditor05 (at least for now), I wish to give special thanks to:

all the residents of moneybox, on whom I could faithfully depend many a late night for mention-worthy Fraywatch material;

MaryAnn for her stewardship of the Poems fray;

modicum, to which I would like to award a star, with Kevin's blessing, for his consistently insightful and thoughtful posts;

run75441 for his keen eye and recommendations;

Tempo-the-Exile for being a self-appointed safety monitor and Fray vigilante;

biteoftheweek for acting graciously;

EnsleyHill for throwing me a farewell party in BOTF.

That cascading thread actually kinda looks like a big party streamer. AC11:24pm

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