Fraysters dissect the government's proposed reforms.

Fraysters dissect the government's proposed reforms.

Fraysters dissect the government's proposed reforms.

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Dec. 10 2004 9:46 PM

Unintelligent

Fraysters dissect the government's proposed reforms.

Fred Kaplan's harsh assessment of the intelligence-reform bill pending in Congress met with a mixture of apprehension, skepticism, and exasperation. Across the ideological spectrum there was little faith expressed in the government's latest pro forma effort to keep the country safe: the creation of yet another agency head.

First off, some facts. EdgeVertigo does us the favor of reading the fine print:

the bill raises the mandatory retirement age for FBI to 65 from 60. don't ask me what that has to do with intelligence.

the bill also creates the FBI and intelligence "reserve services". in "times of emergency", you can be "reemployed." back door operative/agent draft, anyone?

the bill increases the use of unmanned planes over the southwest to enforce immigration laws, and adds border patrol agents and investigators by the thousands. the bill criminalizes being a "coyote" through a "bringing in and harboring" provision. it is thus arguably a stealth hispanic illegal immigration bill.

the bill allows the bureau of engraving and printing to produce currency, postage stamps, and other "security documents" for other countries, if reimbursed for doing so. my theory is that this provision is intended to allow them to make the passports of the type we now require. we create a market and exploit it?...
 
the bill provides a sense of congress that we support the "future of pakistan" and while doing so extends waivers of certain anti-pakistan legislation regarding foreign assistance through 2006.

the bill offers a lot of blather about what american policy regarding afghanistan
should be, which is arguably a violation of the constitutional allocation of foreign policy powers.

the bill says in the sense of congress that saudi arabian cooperation is not what it should be, again, arguably not its business, and then, after wasting power discussing what's none of its business, offers no concrete recommendations. blah blah blah.

the bill whines about the long term results of american support for dictatorships. you can do yur own hypocrisy check on this one.

the bill most amusingly provides that the policy of the US
government should be to "increase training in multilateral diplomacy" and "negotiation." ditto provision for increased cooperation on terrorism. you can put your own punch line in there…

the bill encourages future legislation designed to streamline and speed the return of analog spectrum to the FCC. again, i don't have the foggiest what this is doing in the intell bill.

LannonMac expresses unease at the proposed consolidation of intelligence agencies:

The arrangement since WWII has been that the FBI, Federal Marshals, ATF, DEA and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are responsible for the lion's share of internal security, principally law enforcement, but also some counterintelligence, while the CIA, Military Intelligence, NSA and other dedicated foreign intelligence agencies were responsible for spying on other nations. In fact the CIA is specifically prohibited (with several exceptions, like internal CIA counterintelligence, etc.) from carrying out spy operations in the United States.

I know it makes sense to combine all of the intelligence agencies, it will be much more efficient, much more reliable and make it much more difficult for international terrorism to strike at America's heart, yet I still feel very uneasy about an all seeing, all knowing, all recording domestic intelligence agency spying on American citizens.

I have not had a chance to review the bill presently before Congress, but I hope that there are some very strong checks and balances included (though I doubt it), which will restrain and restrict the proposed intelligence agency's ability to spy on Americans.

wolfkiller disagrees, citing not consolidation but " duplication of effort" and bureaucratic overlap as the primary problem with the reforms.

Demosthenes bookends his frustration at the inadequacies of the Congressional bill with two pertinent quotations:

Politics: the art of keeping as many balls as possible up in the air at one time—while protecting your own.
--Sam Attlesey


Haven't we had enough of the turfism? I'm sick to dearth of it. We listened to Secretary designate Rice explain that nobody could have foreseen 9-11 and that the memos that clearly outlined such a course of action were never elevated to a visible enough level to have an impact. So, apparently the solution is to leave it in the hands of those whose primary concern is the protection of their own prerogatives. Under this compromise bill the new Intelligence director will be about as effective as Tom Ridge
's color coded charts and duct tape warnings and about as ruefully remembered.

The point here is communication and accountability—that requires budget control and the ability to MAKE organizations do things they don't want to do, and more importantly consider things they don't want to consider—like memos titled "Bin Laden determined to attack within US" and paying attention to General's like Van Ripper who win war games with unconventional tactics (you might call them asymmetrical) against our battle plans and are then promptly ignored.

I like the idea of a Director that makes the Department of Defense consider its actions at a macro level and justify them in light of cross checks—I like it because Rumsfeld's record is, simply put, poor and doesn't justify the degree of faith the administration places in him. The Department of Defense needs to be tied in to all available intelligence sources, accountable for justifying its theories and those intelligence sources need to be expanded and less centered around the budgets and single note tracks that military branches tend to follow based upon their disciplines.

An overall Intelligence Director is a response to a spectacular intelligence failure that requires correction, a broader perspective and accountability. I want one neck to grab the next time they fail to protect us, and living in the city twice proven vulnerable to terrorism (and universally voted as 'most likely to be annihilated by terrorists with a dirty bomb'). I demand that sole source accountability and control be a part of that equation. It's obvious the buck isn't stopping with the President, or the secretary of Defense, and the dilution of this position further diffuses the responsibility to a degree that nobody is accountable or responsible for making sure that the next Mohammed Atta never gets off the ground.

This is, in the classic sense of the word. A 'whitewash'—a coat of white paint thinned with water to temporarily cover the dirt.

The 9-11 commission has reached uncomfortable conclusions. I'm not stating that the compromise bill is entirely bad—it implements some of the reforms and its better than nothing but the version prior to this compromise version was stronger and better in that the current budget restrictions hamstring the new director before he takes office. Centralization of intelligence authority has pros or cons, and that's a debate worth having, but this compromise that is neither fish nor fowl circumvents the real conversation we need to be having and the actions we need to be taking. There are many people out there who support this administration over security concerns—burying intelligence reforms and keeping us locked in the same structures that have resulted in past failures is not corrective action.

And the next time people are wondering 'how this could happen' or 'if it could have been prevented' remember this triumph of gutted intelligence reform—of the gut over intelligence—and remember whose prerogatives are being protected, how much budget control and the scope of their vision and interests and at what cost that comes.

The best protection for the people is not necessarily to believe everything people tell them
--Demosthenes

NorinRadd thinks the supposed "science" of intelligence gathering is actually closer to abstract art:

I once heard someone say that you can take any abstract painting, name it the Crucification, hang it on a gallery wall, and viewer after viewer will tell you how it depicts the crucification, some even pointing out the figures, cross, etc.

Our intelligence system, intended to be grounded in logical conclusions drawn form imperfect factual sets of information, is too often not driven by a desire to know answers, but by a desire to support foregone decisions. It becomes an exercise in rationalization…

Moreover, when you are not listening to what is being said ("Bin Ladin Determined to Attack" for example), but instead projecting your own notions about what you expect to hear or want to hear, people get killed.

On a more humorous & snarky note, RealMassLibertarian finds the term "Bush Intelligence Bill" somewhat of an oxymoron. AC6:30pm

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Thur sday, Dec. 9, 2004

Much as Susan Sontag derided the replacement of politics by psychotherapy in her post-September 11thNew Yorker essay, Chris Suellentrop's critique of MoveOn.org as a do-nothing "feel-good" group for liberals provoked an equally strong reaction on the Fray.

chaosboy takes an even harsher tack, describing MoveOn.org as representative of "liberal dems" who are "whiny, angry, unrealistic and incapable of being productive or either averse or foreign to success."

Rubicon1 issues this counteranalysis and challenge:

Mr. Suellentrop is claiming that moveon hasn't been effective, which is easy to do, as the Dems have taken an asswhipping lately. However, the red/blue split is fairly close and it may have been worse without liberal grassroots organizations like Moveon. With Moveon, Al Franken, Michael Moore and Air America, at least the left is finally waking up and getting in the game (Falwell recently said we should carpet bomb Iraq and the media didn't bat an eye). I don't hear anyone saying the GOP would get more moderate swing voters if they unloaded Rush and Falwell, but Dems are quick to blame Moore, and apparently now, Moveon. What is the purpose of the article? To discourage donations to Moveon? Mr. Seullentrop: I dare you to write a followup article with more effective alternatives to get liberal candidates elected (er, but that would be more difficult than just whining).

Expatriate_Z disputes the contention that MoveOn.org is lacking in concrete political victories with a list of the organization's accomplishments here.

Fingerpuppet also rises to MoveOn.org's defense:

It's easy to disdain liberal causes in general now after the recent electoral losses. But this is largely a function of our society being less concerned with right and wrong than with who wins and who loses. The way things are commonly perceived, victory determines merit, and might makes right…

Being politically active often seems like an ineffectual waste of time at first, until the tide starts to change. I give a lot of credit to those who go out to work for something they believe in when the chips are down, when they're scorned by society and their cause seems hopeless. But without them, probably, most of the meaningful progress in society would never be accomplished.

AdamMorgan likens MoveOn.org's function to a sort of liberal DNA that can be passed from one generation to the next:

One important function (from a biological perspective) of a society or a large group is to pass on traditions. Like genes, information in traditions helps the next generation adapt to one's environment more efficiently. So, although moveon.org has been largely unsuccessfully in their stated goals, I think it can be argued that what they're developing, or trying to develop, are a set of traditions by which liberals can, once again, successfully use to win elections…
 
So, perhaps, the struggle of moveon.org is the same struggle that Democrats have, to find a new set of traditions that Democratic politicians can successfully use to define who they are…

TheNewSnobbery thinks Suellentrop's measuring stick for MoveOn.org's victories is unfair, and compares the group to a "digital church":

Suellentrop gives a .org the booby prize for not stopping the impeachment that created the impetus for its own creation? The internet is many things, but (and I can't tell you how often I have to explain this) it is not magical and cannot travel back in time.

As for everything else on Suellentrop's naughty list -- the Iraq war (blame the press, thanks), the impeachment of a supremely unpopular and incompetent California Dem, slavery, Pearl Harbor -- I don't see how any fundraising group is supposed to do those things.

How is moveon any different than a digital church where like minded citizens get together to pass the plate around and bitch about how bad things have gotten. According to at least a hundred thousand essays I've read in the last 2 months, that strategy has worked pretty well for the Republicans. Their hysterical money raisers just seem effective because Bush won.

Which has to be the most facile argument you can make. The swiftboat vets put "hysterical" ads on TV and shifted the debate. Moveon did the same. Now that the election is over, do we simply declare SVFT the tactical winners and Moveon's strategy defunct? Either raising money and putting ads on TV is useful or it isn't, but it isn't fair to deride the Dem faithful as a bunch of circle jerkers without at least acknowledging that the insular, circle-jerking world of Republicans seems to have been perfectly effective.

Continuing with our string of analogies, baltimore-aureole thinks

a closer analogy might be eBay politics. the great success of eBay is that it elevates the unexceptional item to collectable status. people constantly remark that they had no idea that a battered "batman & robin" lunchbox from the 1960's had ANY value at all, and are overjoyed that some idiot on eBay paid them $35 for it. the guy who paid $35 (who probably resembles "comic book guy" on the simpsons) similarly feels that $35 was a screaming bargain). this is because the few people who value damaged school lunchboxes are congregating on eBay and bidding them in a frenzy of "collectableism"…

the concentration of like minded, close-minded people at activist websites - whether these sites are left or right of center - simply provides a mis-impression of the viability of those ideas, and thus causes the ideas to "sell" (via donations) for more then they may really be worth.

the concept that dean is the only person who can "save america" has about as many adherents as those who believe cartoon lunchboxes deserve a place of honor in their homes and are of interest to others who visit said homes.

i now await opprobation from MoveOn contributors and lunch box collectors for my temerity in finding any fault with their world views.

ScottStock yawns at our discussion and has decided to MoveOn himself, declaring internet politics "sooo last year."

For further study of MoveOn.org's psychotherapy-laden lexicon ("painful," "heartbroken," "revelation," "dark"), read this post-election letter from MoveOn.org to its members. AC10:02pm

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Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004

It's beginning to look a lot like … the Holiday Season: recycled's guide to finding the fir tree of your dreams may or may not be responsible for sparking a polemic in BOTF against the steady secularization of Christmas in America. Otherwise said, have we taken the X out of X-mas?

StormyWeather rails against the "Secular Progressive Assault on Christmas":

We have seen a rash of attacks against Christian Values and Christmas of late. These include:

1. Attempts to ban the singing of Christmas Carols in Schools.

2. Trying to forbid even the mention of or reference to Jesus or God in school or in public celebrations.

3. Attacks on the Boy Scouts because of their position on Gays and God.

4. Repeated attempts by the Far Left to paint people of faith as some kind of whacko nuts.

5. Attempts to force Cities and Counties to remove all "religious symbols" from city and county Logos.

The latest and most outrageous example comes from Denver, where the Organizers of the Annual Christmas Parade refused to allow any mention of Christ. A Float, depicting the Birth of Christ was BANNED from the Parade. Ooops .. one correction. The also refused to refer to it as the Christmas parade .. calling it the Festival of Lights.

However, a Float dedicated to Dead Homosexual Indians was allowed.

Fortunately, here in Long Beach, where apparently saner minds prevail, we held our annual Christmas Parade this past weekend. (Documented proof available upon request for a slight fee.)

To the list of politically correct euphemisms, Schadenfreude adds this one.

His rant against the "rightwing" aside, zarquieka feels that the Christmas holiday has skewed our sense of Jesus's religious importance:

Jesus Christ was taken out of christmas long ago. In fact, Jesus Christ was never in christmas! Christmas has always been about lies: Santa Claus, decorated trees, gifts, food, and the christmas story, etc. Religious rightwing christians have been just as guilty as the non-christians in worshiping material things, instead of, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! …

It is what Jesus Christ did in God's plan of salvation that has greater importance to man and not christmas. Thats what God intended for man to worship.

pace deplores gift-giving on Christmas as "revisionism for the retailers" and the trappings of "commercialized worship." IOZ shares with us his bleak perspective on the commercialization of the holiday:

The end of the year approaches, and it beckons us all, like the long sleepless nightmare of a dead and dreaming Karl Marx, to buy, buy, buy. Between the commercials, Charley Brown appears to remind us that the true spirit of Christmas is a spindly, decorated Norse fertility symbol… Everywhere, everywhere, there's terrible music, piped into every public place until we're totally innured to it, as we are to the surveillance cameras everywhere, everywhere.

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ElephantGun weighs the merits of Santa vs. Jesus here:

I like Santa Claus a whole lot better than Jesus. I know that the figure of Santa is over-commercialized in the United States, but I also believe that the deification of Santa is one of the really good things about American society. At a time when our workaholism gives us all a lean, hungry, and cynical look, it's a wonderful relief to contemplate Santa's boundless generosity, bottomless well of happiness, and most pleasing plumpness. Santa's become even better over the last few decades as naughty/nice lists and the spectre of coal have faded into cultural memory. Likewise, Santa is one of the few white European figures who translates easily into other cultures. In our pale-faced household, we used to have a black "Rocking Santa" figure who sang a song in Peggy Lee's voice. Multi-racial, transgendered--Santa makes for an extremely flexible symbol of a giving spirit that demands nothing in return. Now we have a "Saxophone Santa" and the Christmas season doesn't really get under way until he belts out a couple versions of "Jingle Bells." .

To the contrary, I really don't understand the appeal of Jesus story. Although I had a half-hearted Christian raising, the Jesus story seems increasingly less attractive and plausible as the years go by. Where Santa is a carnivalesque figure of fun, merriment, consumption, and over-consumption, Jesus strikes me as an essentially Lenten God of suffering, self-denial, and other-worldliness. Given the unhappy, over-extended character of so much of our lives in the United States, I can understand why we identify so much with Jesus. I mean how many of us chronically feel like we're bearing our own cross. However, just like I often hope for a better society, I often hope for a better god--a god who represents a joy that does not first have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Finally, Patlowa provides this hilarious description of the Celebrity Nativity scene at Madame Tousseau's London Wax Museum:

Beckhams as Mary & Joseph, Wisemen, Tony Blair, Prince Phillip, & Dubya; Shepards Samuel Jackson, a popular English comedian, and one other minor celeb; Angle of the Lord, a tootsey pop girl singer. If successful (which it is) an American version is planned. Jesus is played by a non-descripted dollbaby. Is this what evangelicals had in mind with 'public displays' and public 'interpretations' of the nativity and the true 'meaning' of Christmas?

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For history buffs, StormyWeather also informs us here that "Jesus was most likely born in late September or early October, in the year 3 BCE. December was the date of the Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar, when the Romans celebrated the Feast of Saturn. Most of the modern Christmas festivities are actually a hold over from that ancient Pagan Festival."

Save the date! AC6:52pm

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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2004

The face-off pro and con between Phillip Carter and Fred Kaplan over Bernard Kerik's possible replacement of Tom Ridge as head of the Department of Homeland Security generated additional scrutiny of Bush's pick—and a tad bit of indifference.

furioustote provides this thorough defense of Kerik's record, pointing out the contradictions in Kaplan's criticisms:

Mr. Kaplan … seems to be tending to the left in his appraisal of Mr. Kerik. He neglects to mention Mr. Keriks 3 years in the Army as an MP or his training of Special Forces troops in Ft. Bragg. Both of which bear directly on his knowledge of the war we are in against terrorism.

Mr. Kaplan contridicts himself by saying that Kerik advanced himself:

"not by rising through the ranks ... but through loyalty to Mayor Rudolph Giulani"

but then goes on to say:

"Kerik started his rise to power as a veteran street cop."

Which is it? Political toadie or hard bitten beat cop?

Mr. Kaplan also included a rather flip remark about the NYPD when he characterized police community outreach programs as:

"Saying hello to black people once in a while"

He further fails to mention any of the following of Kerik:

He was commissioner of the Passic County Jail and training officer for its Special Weapons and Operations Unit.

As head of the NYPD he was in charge of the largest municipal police department in the US.

He headed its largest anti-narcotics unit that was responsible for the convictions of 60 Cali drug cartel members

And that Mr. Kerik has won 30 medals while a member of the NYPD.

Is Mr. Kerik the perfect man for the job of Homeland Security chief? Probably not. But who is? Tom Ridge was only the Governor of Pennsylvania and he did just fine. Again not a perfect choice but a good one. Was Mr. Ridges tenure perfect? No, but its easy to throw stones from the safety of the media who are responsible to no one and for nothing.

Kronos adds this to Kerik's list of qualifications: "And he looks like a secret police chief too."

joejoejoe attempts to dredge up some dirt on Kerik with his citation of Deravin vs. Kerik, a complicated lawsuit involving claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Read a summary of the case in his post. Max-de-Winter-2 cites less than glowing reviews of Bush's pick for Homeland Security from other media sources here.

JackD thinks the dispute over Kerik is, in a de facto sense, much ado about nothing: "Given the general attitude of the administration and the Republican Congress to refuse to fund meaningful things like port security, the guy with the title probably doesn't matter."

CovertOutrage asks the more fundamental question behind Kerik's appointment: " Why do we even need Homeland Security?":

I think the entire agency is a wreckless, rather redundant misuse of US tax dollars. There are too many government agencies and contractors designed to serve the same protective purpose, starting with local police officers who are grossly underfunded and inefficiently utilized in the arena of national security.

and describes his one direct experience calling the Department:

The one time I did dial the 1-800-number just to test my connectivity to local Homeland Security, I was thrust into an IVR prompt, which left me wondering what hell would have broken loose had I had something significant to report.

Gives new meaning to the term "first responder." AC8:46 p.m.

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Friday, Dec. 3, 2004

In response to Dahlia Lithwick's discussion of the death penalty and the increasingly overt displays of emotion fanned before jurors in the sentencing phase of capital cases, many fraysters expressed reservations about the appropriateness of manipulating emotions to sway the ultimate verdict in the prosecutors' favor.

fozzy laments the transformation of capital sentencing proceedings into viewer entertainment, a spectacle for public consumption:

I find these types of sentencing hearings to be rather distasteful. It is bad enough seeing, as the article pointed out, relatives/friends of either side acting out like they were on some demented Springer show…

Ultimately, this whole process seems to spring out of the same vein as the "reality show" and "Springer" trends. It's not just the jury, nor the jaded judge, who "needs" to hear the wailing in the courtroom. It is a good show for all of us, and we can justify it by claiming it is "therapeutic" (whether it is or not) for those who do it. Much like a Jerry Springer "paternity special", it is not so much a process to find facts or even to resolve issues as it is a good way to get the screaming/crying/hysterics that are so good for ratings.

JohnLex7 similarly deplores the performative aspect of these hearings:

So, unfortunately, what we are left with is exactly this. Relatives parading to the witness stand, and all of them incredibly emotional. One set, reliving the most horrible moment anyone can imagine, and another set, begging for their loved one's life.

The penalty phase of a capital trial is not easy to watch. It's even harder to live through for either side. However, the news media plays this up as the huge competition between the two sides. I swear that they would love to see a brawl between the relatives, the lawyers, and everyone else in the area in front of the judge's bench.

destor23 considers the emotional effects of the penalty phase on the family of the victims:

It can't be good for the witnesses either. Isn't capital punishment a hard enough ordeal for society without forcing a mother to beg for her son's life in front of a jury? Isn't murder a heinous enough crime without forcing the mother of the victim to relive the nightmarish loss?

On the flip side, modicum argues

…there is no avoiding raw emotion entering in when the moment comes to decide between life and death. It seems very appropriate to me that it all spills out in front of the jury. There is no more emotional issue than, "at what cost, death?" That question, outside the court system, is what drives our hopes and fears for ourselves and our families. It is what challenges us to choose between risk and safety in our lives. When to pull the plug, whether to have an abortion, whether to put oneself at risk to save another, whether to send our sons and daughters into battle. Morality plays about life and death fill our fencepost conversations and media. Lithwick suggests that this is all about vengeance, but I have an alternative explanation: it is about us, collectively reexamining our own values through the jury system and the evidence presented.

Pushing the argument further, lysander views the satisfaction of vengeance as an imperative of the State:

When victims say they want "justice," they mostly mean that they want vengeance. They want the bad guy to be punished for what he did, and they want the punishment to be comparable to the harm he caused. Delivering this type of justice is one of the central responsibilities of the state. To prevent citizens from taking matters into their own hands, the state must deliver justice in a manner sufficient to satisfy the populace. You can do away with floggings for theft or a few hours in the stockade for adultery only when the population comes to believe that such punishments are inappropriate.

In so arguing, lysander turns the classic anti-death penalty argument on its head: rather than setting an example of restraint to its citizenry by not applying the eye for an eye principle, the State keeps the peace precisely by indulging the visceral human instinct for revenge.

Natinha also sees no opposition between emotions and justice: "Emotion comes into it because we are all born with a conscience—part of what makes us human. We feel that it is wrong, because that is how we were made."

edithruth, however, disputes the validity of "conscience" as a defining human characteristic:

unfortunatley do not believe all people are born with a conscience and that is part of what makes us human. Sociopathic personalities often lack conscience or the ability to "feel" that something is wrong. They know on an intellectual level by knowing the law or knowing societies norms for behaviour BUT when it comes to feeling it they are short circuited they just don't feel it.

Other fraysters waxed even more philosophical in their discussion of the death penalty. Taking a methodical approach to the question of forgiveness as a mitigating factor, Tracker recaps the following four-step program laid out by "Richard Swinburne (Cambridge Philosophy of Religion Dept Head)":

When someone has intentionally or cognizantly produced serious, unjustified harm to someone else, they must render,

1 Reparation.
2 Apology.
3 Repentence.
4 Penance.

You (1) repair as far as possible for you the damage done to the victim, (2) say you're sorry, (3) turn from the person you were as perpetrator and begin establishing habits of a life devoted to leaving that personality behind, and (4) constitute your apology as sincere by making it costly: when you apologize, offer some sort of servitude, goods, furtherance of the injured's favorite causes, etc., that could not have been required of you before you harmed that person(s).

AdamMorgan makes an interesting point about the moral exceptionality of capital punishment here:

What I find most interesting about the death penalty is that this is the only case, that I'm aware of, where human judgement is considered certain enough to end a life. In all other circumstances, it's not only considered immoral to think so, it's sometimes also considered barbaric.

Consider, for instance, the case of babies born with severe handicaps. A few times a year, in the hospital next to my extragavent office, a baby is born who has such severe handicaps, both physical and mental, it's likely that it's going to live an extremely painful, short life. The parents, also, are going to suffer horribly. Oddly, however, if the parents and doctors wished to end this life, it would be illegal. The doctor would lose his license, the parents would likely be charged with murder, and the hospital might face severe penalities…


In this example, however, it seems that a doctor and a parent's judgement should be sufficient to decide if the baby's life is worth living. These people, certainly, are better qualified to make this decision than a group of randomly selected strangers are, as in the case of a jury. If vengence and revenge weren't the primary motivations of the death penalty, I believe that "expert" judgements on who decides life and death would be more widely applied.

Lithwick gets kudos from Terpfan here and fuschia here for her original approach to a hot-button issue that often produces the same shopworn arguments both pro and con. Whatever one's position might be, one thing is resoundingly clear from Lithwick's analysis: American law as currently practiced no longer subscribes to the Aristotelian definition of law as "reason devoid of passion." AC11:21 p.m.

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Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004

Nothing like Daniel Gross' foreboding analysis of a multinational's apparent demise to whip the moneybox faithful into a fury.

Of the probable causes of Wal-Mart's decline cited by Gross, the saturation model won out resoundingly among fraysters over the "limits of cheapness" theory. modicum lays out the issue in detail here:

It is not obvious that WalMart's limits to growth are inherent in the discounting model; they may have simply reached the limit of the superstore model.

Figure a typical WalMart Supercenter store at 187,000 square feet draws from a 25-mile radius. That's a tad under 2000 square miles per Supercenter. There are just under 1500 of them in the US. If those stores don't overlap territories, they collectively can cover 3,000,000 square miles. There are just over 3,500,000 square miles in the US, including forest and parkland. In practice, there are overlaps in more densely populated areas, and there are still some untapped places in the US for Supercenters, not least California, which has none, but the point is still obvious: WalMart has to focus on smaller stores and foreign stores in order to sustain long-term growth.

Similarly, baltimore-aureole disputes Gross' contention that Wal-Mart is "failing due to the 'limits of cheapness'":

actually, walmart is failing because of market saturation. everyone now lives within convenient driving distance of a walmart. everyone knows that you can get inexpensive kids clothes, lawn furniture, dog food, toasters, and batteries there.

but the market for people who want to buy unbranded housewares is finite. just as the market for ford explorers, nokia cell phones, and sony tvs is also finite. at some point everyone who wants one of those already has it, and you're just talking about replacement items . . . and sales growth plateaus.

anthropologo supports baltimore-aureole with this anecdotal account of his recent visit to

…relatives in East Texas; small towns, sparse populations, desultory economies. The nearest Wal Marts are 15 to 20 miles from most of these.

However, in every one of these very small towns (pops. 300 to 1000) there is either a Dollar General Store or Family Dollar store and their parking lots were relatively packed.

Could it be that the mega Wal Mart is also being threatened by smaller, more nimble retailers that offer much of what Wal Mart does at prices that make the drive to Wal Mart uneconomical?

Delivering a further blow to the limits-of-cheapness theory, ohthehumanity does his own price check on Wal-Mart here, thereby confirming his status as a human cnet.com. Yet elsewhere he also admits that "the only purchase I have ever made in a Wal-mart was … in Buhl, Germany, just outside Baden-Baden -- and that was over 3 years ago." Do the Germans pronounce it as a 'w' or 'v'?

In his aforementioned post, baltimore-aureole gets Hegelian on us with his reference to the Sears-Kmart / Wal-Mart trio as "thesis and antithesis becoming synthesis." Drawing on a bit of Marx, inthecenter denounces Wal-Mart's business model as " 21st cent. Feudalism," while RealMassLibertarian sees in Wal-Mart " proof capitalism leads to communism":

Lower prices, cheap labor, and an invasion plan which destroyed many a small pharmacy chain, retail store chain, or main street specialty store allowed Wal-Mart to be a case-study in good capatalistic performance.

But what happened? Well, with no more competition, the prices arent the lowest-why be lower when you have few other choices? And the labor? McDonalds pays more than Wal-Mart, thus when the person in the blue smock seems a little distant or even unsympathetic, remember their paycheck barely paid for the gas to get them to work.

So why the comparison to communism? Well, we have no real choices left without the big trip to the city do we? Sure, you can get a membership to a wholesale club or travle to the closest major city, but Wal-Mart did a great job of putting the small town business out of business. Now is capitalism one choice? Last I heard it wasnt.

And what did Marx predict? He said that the sustinance wages (not enough to pay your bills) would eventually anger the workers to the point of rebellion. In America, the middle class represented a major barrier to communism because it meant you had a realistic possibility of making a good living working for someone else. With the gap between rich and poor rising and the middle class rapidly shrinking, the conditions Marx decribed are becoming the sad reality-low wages, few choices, and the reality of the middle class quick becoming a dream...

EarlyBird begs to differ with RealMassLibertarian's understanding of capitalism here.

Are we really seeing the chinks in Wal-Mart's corporate armor, or like Twain, have reports of its death been greatly exaggerated? suggestion and baltimore-aureole duke it out in this thread.

To those hungry for more analysis, Simon Head has an excellent article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books about Wal-Mart's place in the history of American capitalism and the current economic marketplace. AC10:24am

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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004

An excellent exchange in BOTF on gun control and the Second Amendment may or may not be attributable to Emily Yoffe's account of how, in the course of just two weeks, a self-proclaimed member of the Volvo-driving, NPR-listening élite learned to love her Beretta AL391 Urika.

First off, reactions to Yoffe's guinea pig experiment (and apparent conversion experience): She gets  kudos from G_C_, another gun-toting liberal who finds it "refreshing to read about someone willing to approach the issue of guns with an open mind," while ScottStock proclaims "With firearms, like anything else … education is enlightenment. drandy expresses similar sentiments here.

On a complimentary note, Marine2006 extends an olive branch to Democrats he feels have demonized gun owners in the past. info also offers thanks for this humanizing portrait of NRA members.

In BOTF, Diogenesnow speaks of what he calls a "values gap" among conservatives on the issue of civil liberties and gun control:

As I've noted from time to time elsewhere, I'm a moderate on gun control. On the one hand I oppose letting people carry handguns around, because I don't think vigilanteism is beneficial to the maintenance of either public order or public ethics. On the other hand, I think the Democrats are wrong to fight against possession of long arms in one's home, because a) hunting plays a useful role in animal population control; those on the left on environmental and animal rights ought to recognize that shooting some animals is less cruel than leaving a larger number to die slowly of overcrowding and starvation, and b) an armed populace is a legitimate deterrent to undemocratic machinations by tyrants both foreign and domestic.

You might think that this puts me, by and large, in the same camp as the gun rights lobby. I might have thought so too, at one point, but every day I become more and more disillusioned in this regard.

I believe strongly in the value of the Second Amendment, precisely because, as many gun rights activists note, it is a vital guarantee of all the other Constitutional Amendments against encroachment by the government or foreign powers. So I value the Second Amendment, but I see the right to bear arms as a pragmatic right, not a moral right. The right to bear arms isn't God-given (unless you worship Ares or another deity of war) and it is not morally good to bear arms. Bearing arms is a morally neutral means to the end of protecting those rights which actually are moral rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, and the right to due process.

Then the Bush administration began to do some things that people who love our Constitutional liberties should find objectionable…

When September 11th happened, we got the Patriot Act and various other administrative measures which whittled away at the right of habeas corpus, the right to an attorney, the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers, and the right to privacy. But the gun owners had their guns, so they were happy and loyal to Bush…

If the gun rights activists really cared about defending Constitutional liberties, they would, at minimum, have voted against Bush, if not actually risen up in collective protest for the resignation or impeachment of the President.

But they didn't. So I guess that there is a values gap between us. I value my liberty; they just value their guns.

Bob_W has this retort to Diogenesnow's a) and b):

I think that b. is ludicrous in this day and age, where the average citizen or even "well regulated militia" of citizens could never amass the weaponry to take on the might of the world's only remaining superpower or any foreign power. So, the 2nd Amendment is no longer useful for protection against foreign or domestic tyranny.

As for a., I think hunting is a valid undertaking, but the 2nd Amendment makes no mention of it, so hunting is not a right under the Constitution. Hunting weapons of all types should be registered and hunters and others using guns should be trained and licensed.

There is also no inalienable right to keep and bear arms purely for protection of persons and property, other than against forces of tyranny. Again, such weapons should be registered and owners should be trained and licensed.

In all, the 2nd is badly out of date and should be repealed.

For TheAList, the proof is in the wording:

The Second Amendment does not grant a personal right to bear arms absent a connection to a "well regulated [State] militia." That supposed conservatives - "original intenters" (as Bush might say) choose to ignore this fact should be all the indication you need that the gun lobby is not philosophically or politically consistent.

This invocation of Constitutional language generated familiar quibbles with the meaning of this clause, with Demosthenes2 contributing his interpretation here and Diogenesnow a historical primer on the Second Amendment.

Finally, SourMash_PLH wonders what all the fuss is about and accuses liberals of having a gun…

Fetish: "#2 An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality."

That pretty well describes the liberal obsession with guns. To me a gun is a mechanical devise which makes hunting easier than if I were forced to use a sling. It also makes home defense a bit easier than If i had to wrestle an intruder. To liberals the gun seems to mean more, to be more than it is, as if the gun itself is the same as power. Liberals accuse their "gun-nut" characters of finding a power in their firearms, yet the only types I've ever heard of who really get any type of ego-boost from a gun are 1) John Lennon in "Happiness is a Warm Gun", and 2) People on movies, which were probably written and directed by liberals.

So the gun isn't just a phallus; it's a fetish. Something more for Freudian analysts to chew on. Happy Thanksgiving! AC7:45 p.m.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

martingreen's thorough interpretation of Rita Dove's beautiful and difficult poem, " Ta Ta Cha Cha" merited a juxtaposition of the text and his exegesis:

One, two—no, five doves
scatter before a wingtip's
distracted tread:
Lost, lost,
they coo, and
they're probably right:
It's Venice, I'm American,
besandaled and backpacked,
sunk in a bowl of sky
trimmed with marbled statuary
(
slate, snow, ash)—
a dazed array, dipped
in the moon's cold palette.

Rita Dove is the writer. The text presents the thoughts of the character. If that person does not know the difference between a dove and a pigeon, then that is to be accepted. That the poet may be playing with her name is possible. The first stanza is like a Fellini movie, cinematic, atmospheric, focussing on one of those silly American tourists, in love, always.

The speaker does not tell us who and what she is; she is defining herself: "I'm American, / besandaled and backpacked, / sunk in a bowl of sky / trimmed with marble statuary (slate, snow ash)-- / a dazed array, dipped / in the moon's cold palette." It this overwritten? Hardly. It exactly articulates the ga-ga state of this woman (19, 24, no, surely older), who might start to sing at any moment, and begin to whirl about, as though the focus of a fashion shoot.


Who, you? No. But here,
lost from a wing, drifts
one pale, italicized
answer. I pick it up
as the bold shoe
continues conversation
(one two) with its mate,
and the nearest scavenger
skips three times
to the side, bobs to pluck
his crackerjack prize, a child's
dropped gelato cone.

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The second stanza, equally as lush (or overwritten, if you continue to dismiss who is speaking, and in what condition), begins with what some must think a painfully poetic, truly excessive, reference to a pigeon feather, "lost from a wing." She bends to pick it up (stooping to conquer?), as one of the bird's colleagues plucks "his crackerjack prize," "a child's dropped gelato cone." Sure, much too much, but extacy is just like, just too much. (You see how much better it is if you don't take a tour, and are crowded in with twenty people, all about to have to return to the bus, garishly painted, recognizable at any distance?)

Tip, tap: early warning code
for afternoon rain. Gray
vagabond, buffoon messenger
for grounded lovers—where to?
Teach me this dance
you make, snatching a sweet
from the path of a man
who because he knows
where he's headed, walks
without seeing, face hidden
by a dirty wingspan
of the daily news.


Oh the first sound of rain, no doubt forseen. Tip, tap. "early warning code for afternoon rain." But who cares, it is Venice, and where shall we eat?

It is painful to read the end of the poem, because the person speaking is alone, and lonely, and will probably have to eat and sleep alone. Some man walks right by her (she must be thinking touch me, feel me) "who [because he] knows / where he's headed, walks / without seeing, face hidden / by a dirty wingspan / of the daily news." Some people can even drive while reading the newspaper.

Ta, ta? Bye. Cha Cha. She's been to the dance of Piazza San Marco, and now is still alone. The last two lines are a brilliant way of saying "he's in the V fold of his newspaper." Again, he "walks without seeing, face hidden by a dirty wingspan of the daily news."

Brava, Rita Dove.

MaryAnn has a distinctly different take on the narrator's relationship to the man reading the newspaper:

In the third stanza, the narrator asks the bird for help ("Gray / vagabond, buffoon messenger / for grounded lovers – where to? / Teach me this dance you make…" You were able to rescue the gelato cone before the wingtipped man stepped on it. Unfortunately, instead of noticing the day and the woman, all the man wants to do his read his newspaper ("a dirty wingspan / of the daily news"). So teach me a dance, specifically the "Ta Ta Cha Cha," because I'm leaving this guy.

In the same post, she rounds out our knowledge of Dove's œuvre with references to two other poems. MaryAnn further outlines her disagreement with martingreen's interpretation here.

L_Painne fleshes out a fuller psychological portrait of the man:

The wingtips and the newspaper are symbols of the other partner in this strange pair. He is all vanity and practicality. Worldly concerns, while not overly concerned with the here and now. He reads his paper to find out what is going on in the world, but totally misses the immediacy and unique nature of what is right in front of him.

Initially unconvinced of the poem's merits, islandtime declares: "I've decided to like this poem" with the positive reviews of fellow fraysters. Special thanks to islandtime as well for a more inspiring column title.

This taxonomic assist comes from TheBrewMaster: "Rita's doves are almost certainly Columba livia, the 'rock pigeon' of Europe. Another common name that has been used for the species is 'rock dove.'" Additional definitions are provided here.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Doggiedeville offers up this poem by an unknown author, which hopefully for copyright purposes has fallen into the public domain.

Safe travels to all. AC9:22pm